Saturday, 6 October 2018

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
Located at an altitude of over 3,700 metres, at the lower side of Thorong La mountain pass, Muktinath is a holy destination for both Hindus and Buddhists. I am positive that Lord Vishnu would forgive my religious bankruptcy when I admit my sole purpose of visiting mystic Mustang. I went there to get closer glimpses of mighty Himalayas and to experience slightly wilder portions of the Annapurna trekking trail. It wasn't a pilgrimage feat for me. Whether you are a devotee or mountain freak, trekking in Mustang is one of the most ethereal experiences to gather once you are in Nepal.

Muktinath Darshan is a two-days trek from Jomsom, the administrative headquarter of Mustang district. There are easier options for non-trekkers to visit Muktinath though- taking a mountain flight from Pokhara to Jomsom and then surviving a couple of hours of bouncy jeep journey till Muktinath valley. If budget is not an issue you can always avail those helicopter services arranged by private tour operators from different hubs of Nepal, obviously the quickest option. Today's narration on Mustang is based on a 7 years old travel diary which was enthusiastically published by some travel magazine back in 2013. Why am I republishing it then? Well, take it as one of those rare memories which we cherish relentlessly in an infinite loop. 

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
This Mustang is neither the iconic motor variant of Ford nor a dark golden mare from a cowboy movie. It is, in fact, one of Nepal's most extravagantly beautiful and dangerous landscapes, destined only for the fortunate few travellers who dare to abandon their luxury couch and taste the raw barrenness of Tibetan plateau over 3,000 metres from mean sea level. In October 2011, I along with my girlfriend and a colleague, responded to the call of mystic Mustang. You realise the eternal harmony of beauty and risk as you sit inside a passenger-packed rickety 4WD, crawling on narrow, bumpy curves, between "anytime ready to slide" rocks and the deepest ravine in the world. Guess what, you're full proof ready for almost any unwanted surprise!

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
You could take the thirty minutes exhilarating air route from Pokhara to Jomsom, or endure the daylong road journey that covers some rare vistas formed by the snow-capped Annapurna, fleet of waterfalls, countless knee-high water crossings, changing patterns of vegetation, magical light play on icy peaks and the roaring Kali Gandaki. We chose the second one. But wait, there's a third option too, of course only for those brave-hearts who are travelling with ample time in their rucksack. You can trek all the way from Nayapul (two hours of bus ride from Pokhara) to Jomsom and then the Muktinath, in 5-7 days depending on your trekking habit, obviously to get more intimate with the spectacular terrain in the best orgasmic way.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
We remained engrossed in the ongoing live documentary before us, silently watching our vehicle crossing shallow tributaries, charismatic setting sun, fading frozen summits, apple gardens of Marpha village, and finally reaching the sleepy town of Jomsom which looked pleasingly mysterious in its late-evening attire. A home-stay with a big board that read "Hotel Jomsom Paradise" welcomed us, and soon we succumbed to the warmth of a wooden room and traditional quilt, after obliging the tummy with some chilli fried rice. The following morning turned out to be cursed by biting cold northern wind. It was difficult to stand even for a minute on the terrace to absorb the canvas formed by barren rocks of Mustang and the snowy Dhaulagiri blushing at the crack of dawn.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
Undaunted, we bid adieu to the quivering prayer flags and orange stacks of corns on the surrounding flat wood-piled rooftops of Jomsom and happily commenced our trek to Muktinath. It was our first Himalayan trek. Fear dominates the coward, but apprehension bothers the experienced. When both fear and apprehension fail to touch a first-timer, you should simply feel pity for his ignorance. Despite the rookie badge, we aimed at climbing north of 1,000 metres in a single day! A couple of kilometres before reaching Muktinath I was hit by mountain sickness. Taking few more steps started seeming such impossible affair. Luckily, we came across a saviour jeep which took us to a tea-house at the Muktinath village.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
In the stillness of the night at 3,800 metres I kept on tossing on a bed with the layer of dust over my skin, light head, lack of interest in exploring any further, inability to pee and a constant heart rate surpassing 120 bits per minute for the next twelve hours. That's when you know you are under the wicked spell of acute mountain sickness (AMS)! Despite the thin and frosty morning wind, we braved it to visit the temple and monastery complex at Muktinath. The pagoda style Muktinath Temple is a symbol of the religious symbiosis between both Hindus and Buddhists. Against a backcloth of incredible serenity, one can simply sit and stare to the south at snow clad Annapurna range, or to the north towards the rugged Tibetan plateau.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
Another attraction for the pilgrims is the bank of River Kali Gandaki, from where one might find out fossils of the prehistoric era, popularly known as 'Shaligram'. After accomplishing Muktinath Darshan we took a jeep to Jomsom. Descending back to 2,720 metres gave genuine relief to my overclocking heart. Jomsom is a quiet and picturesque Himalayan town. Even in broad daylight (supposedly office hours), only sounds you can hear in the pebbled streets of Jomsom are burbling of water streams, whooshing of mountain winds and occasional clopping of trekking poles! We strolled past local curio shops, hotels fitting different pockets, a tiny airstrip, a basic hospital, and concluded our last evening in Mustang with unique apple chips and locally brewed apple brandy.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
Once you accept the silent invitation of this mystic land, don't forget to take your ACA permit from the NTNC office at Pokhara or Kathmandu, as Mustang falls under Annapurna Conservation Area map, the largest protected area of Nepal. Frankly, what we had seen in that trip was just a trailer. Mustang is much more than what we could explore then. Usually tourists succeed to visit this Lower Mustang part. What lies beyond is Upper Mustang which is a restricted zone for tourists and was completely a forbidden territory for outsiders till 1991. Once in a lifetime trek to Lomanthang, the erstwhile capital of Upper Mustang, leads through an intoxicating barren landscape, steep rocky trail, providing breathtaking panoramic views of Nilgiri, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and several other peaks, along with the great Tibetan plateau to the north.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
You can literally smell the soil of Tibet while standing at the margin of Upper Mustang. Other than the flabbergasting trekking trail to Lomanthang, major attractions include- palace, ancient monasteries, ruined caves, unique trans-Himalayan geography and the well-preserved rich cultural heritage. Only hindrance to the gateway of this dream destination is the coast of its permit. In 2011, permit to this restricted area used to cost 500 USD per person for 10 days! In those days our wallets were too thin to fancy such pricey paradise. Life has its own ways of playing around with us. It never provides you with all three essential elements at any single instance- time, money and suitable company.

Mystic Mustang and the holy Muktinath
Always remember to acclimatise before any high-altitude trek to avoid being a spoilsport. Like any other pristine Himalayan destination, Mustang is slowly getting cornered with double-edged sword of rapid urbanisation and unsolicited western influences. So, before Mustang loses its aura, plan your trip into the Annapurna circuit. Be a responsible tourist though. Take nothing, but photos, and leave nothing, but footprints. If you're motivated to do Muktinath Darshan, there are plenty of ways a pilgrim can travel, but above all, devotees strongly believe that one should have the blessing of the Lord to be able to reach His holy doorstep. Imminent Durga Puja has already sprinkled its festive hues in the air of Bengal. Wish you happy Navaratri in advance. See you after a couple of weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Have read similar fond accounts of trips mostly to Leh Ladhak, but I guess that not the only treasure that Himalayas have in their folds. Enjoyes reading about your journey.

    ReplyDelete

I really appreciate your efforts in exploring my poetry of roads. Thank You!