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4th.Oct.18 Bhaktapur 1. We safely arrived in Bhaktapur at a small family hotel just outside the town. Our guide was still with his previous group so that we were met by the local agent, who did not have much time for us and left us to our own devices. The first walk in the town and welcome meal had to be postponed till the next day. Fortunately the hotel owner was friendly and helpful, making suggestions and providing one of his staff to guide us on a short walk up a hill on the other side from the town in the morning. In the afternoon four of us went through the rice fields into old Bhaktapur despite the guided tour which we knew we would be having the day after.
5th.Oct.18 Bhaktpur 2. The restoration work after the 2015 earthquake is still in progress. However I could see some changes and improvements since my visit in April, see Bhaktapur. This was most noticeable in Durbar square near the well known buildings like the Golden Gate and the 55 Windows Palace and in Taumadhi square. Even Pottery square looked much better than before laid out with pots drying in the sun. We visited several temples including one with murals depicting Buddha’s life on the internal walls.
6th.Oct.18 Pokhara 1. The flight was scheduled quite early from Kathmandu to Pokara which would be our last stop in civilisation before departing for the trek. I had a good window seat on the right hand side and it would have been perfect to see the mountains. As it was we could only see the odd very summit of a mountain, the rest being hidden by cloud. The hotel in Pokara was much larger smarter than the one in Bhaktpur but we were not in it long. In the afternoon we crossed the Phewa lake in a paddle raft and walked up the hill on the other side to the Shanti Stupa. It had become more cloudy and started raining so that we did not see anything of the Himalaya and came down by taxi. However we were much luckier at dawn the next day as can be seen from the photos.
7th.Oct.18 Jomsom - Kagbeni. Jomsom still looks very primitive although it has had road access for several years. As we set off herds of sheep and goats kept coming in the opposite direction. However the off-roader traffic of is a bit disturbing, but I expected it. Not all the others did and were not impressed. On the road we met a genuine young Sadhu who was happy to talk to our guide in Hindi and have his photo taken. He was returning from the major pilgrimage centre of Muktinath which we would visit at the end of our holiday. The landscape on either side of the Kali Gandaki is mountainous stony desert similar to that in Tibet. There was only one small inhabited place, Ekle Bhatti, on the route before we reached Kagbeni at midday. It was beautifully sunny weather but around 10am each day a wind gets up and it then feels cold.
8th.Oct.18 Kagbeni - Chaile. Once we left the village it was much quieter and most of the day was spent walking along the still wide Kali Gandaki gorge. At one point we climbed about 200m to avoid a cliff face. On the plateau above we had lunch (noodle soup) at a small restaurant on the road next to an ancient village, Tangbe, which seemed to me to be mostly in ruins. I don't think it still has many inhabitants. They grow apples and even peaches there but they are very small. Further along we bought a bag of peaches from a man sitting all alone apart from his small son outside his solitary house at the side of the road. Before passing through a larger and more active village, Chuksang, we could see the locals threshing corn and brewing beer.
9th.Oct.18 Chaile - Syanbochen. There were great views at dawn of the surrounding mountains and the Kali Gandaki gorge from the roof of the lodge. It was no longer possible to walk along the gorge and was therefore necessary to climb up out of the valley. The original track out of the gorge up onto a higher route had been destroyed by the new road construction but our guide had devised an alternative route which first involved crossing a large foot suspension bridge to the attractive village of Ghaykar. As well as having small fields of beans, potatoes, millet, etc. it was surrounded by plantations of a tree which looks like a poplar.
10th.Oct.18 Syanbochen - Tsarang. A route change was again necessary to avoid road works. This time making the route a little shorter rather than longer by missing out the lower village of Gheling. The highest point of the day was the Nyi La 4020m which was followed after a long and not very interesting stretch by the Ghemi La 3765m. This area is known for the coloured rock formations around Dhakmar. Lunch was in the village of Ghemi and afterwards there would be a climb to another pass at 3870m. I opted again to go with the jeep to the top and then make the long gradual descent to Tsarang on foot. At 3435m we were then nearly back at the level of the nearby but not easily visible Kali Gandaki gorge.
11th.Oct.18 Tsarang – Lo Manthang. After the others had left on their trek I joined a Sherpa and the driver in the jeep. We first crossed another less precipitous gorge with good views back to the castle and Ghompa on the other side. We then drove on over a lower pass 3960m where we had the first views of Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang. It lies at the centre of a broad relatively flat valley which gives it its name. Our lodge lay just outside the city walls which are still intact.
12th. Lo Manthang 2, Choser. On our first non-trekking day we first drove up to the Tibetan (Chinese) border, which is situated 4660m high in the middle of a surprisingly flat deserted area. The journey took about an hour on a mostly good road presumably paid for by the Chinese. They are building a large block on their side of the border but we saw nobody and the cold wind did not encourage us to stay for long. From this high point a short distance back down the road there is a good view of the Himalayan chain from the North.
13th. Lo Manthang 3, Capital of Mustang, This was our last day in Lo Manthang and we visited the main sights within the walled town, which are of course the monasteries. One was a monastic school where at the time of our visit the boys were having to sweep the courtyard rather than play football as in Tsarang. The other 2 which we visited were quite spectacular being of great height with very elaborate Buddha statues and lavishly decorated walls. The huge supporting pillars are made from juniper trees of a size that no longer exists today in the region. Unfortunately it is so dark inside the temples that one cannot really see the murals very well, even the ones which are supposed to have been restored.
14th.Oct.18 Muktinath 1, Finally we reached Kagbeni still in one piece and then drove up a paved road to the village of Ranipauwa (3710m) just below the famous pilgrim centre of Muktinath. Shortly before arrival one passes the village of Jharkot from where there is a good view of the Thorung La (5416m). This is the high pass that has to be crossed on the round Annapurna trek. However the attraction of this trek has also been reduced by road building activity. From the car park just below the village we walked into Ranipauwa but some of the tourists ride in on mules.
15th.Oct.18 Muktinath – Jomsom, In the morning we visited the sacred sights which at first it were rather crowded with local pilgrims. The main temple in the form of a black and white pagoda is remarkably small and unassuming but located in front of it were two holy water pools which attracted many pilgrims. Taking the plunge here is believed to rinse away your sins. Behind the temple 108 water spouts shaped like a bull’s head continuously feed holy water from the Gandaki river. Taking a shower under all these 108 Mukti Dhara is believed to bring salvation.
16th.Oct.18 Jomsom – Pokara 2, From the roof of the lodge we had our last close-up views of Annapurna and Nilgiri before crossing the busy road to the airport on the other side. We had had perfect weather all the time we were in Mustang, clear but cold out of the sun and sometimes windy. Down in Pokara it was very different and the flight in the morning was again delayed because of mist in Pokara. However we were able to take off at about 11am one hour late. The views on the dramatic flight were not so clear as on the outward journey and my vantage point was not so good being directly below the aircraft wing. It was still an experience particularly coming down through the clouds to Pokara.
18th.Oct.18 Kathmandu 2, There were lots of people at Swayambhunath which added to the festive atmosphere, but it was nevertheless not too crowed. It is one of the major Buddhist shrines with a great Stupa with eyes on a small hill on the edge of the city. I remembered it quite well from long ago but we did not visit it in April of this year which I had thought a pity. There are lots of monkeys cavorting about and you have to watch out for them.