Day 4 30th September Kagbeni – Muktinath – Kagbeni
After a very bad night’s sleep (for me anyway) we somehow managed to get up for our 6.30 breakfast of grilled cheese and tea, setting off on time at 7 for our ascent up to Muktinath.
The first two hours were hard, just up and up on gravel paths, zigzagging our way out of sight of the town. I struggled with each increase of altitude, a really odd sensation to not be out of breath, but have your lungs struggle to get enough oxygen. Our movement was a little slow, and for a while we weren’t sure if we’d make it in time as we had to be heading back by 2pm to get back to the lodge before dark.
The breaks tough, on rocks and occasional benches were a chance to enjoy the incredible views; it seemed like each corner we turned revealed new higher, clearer mountains. There was one scary part though, when we heard a deep rumble and expected to turn the corner to see a landslide. Instead we were met with the surreal sight of two bright yellow JCB diggers, who were clearing the road in front of us. We stood hoping that the driver had seen us and after a moment he stopped destroying the side of the mountain and we were waved past, having to cling to the tread of the machine to stay steady on the foot wide path he had left between the digger and the 500+m drop.
Shortly after that we reached the halfway point of Khingar (3400m) where we stopped only to refill water and take photos of the first trees we had seen, whose leaves were turning golden and falling around us – it seemed very odd to suddenly be in autumn. The changes in scenery kept coming and as we (wheezily) reached Jharkot, perched on the edge of a steep hill, we were surrounded by green fields and animals grazing, the constant trickle of streams that you could follow the whole way up the mountains in front of us.
The last hour, again a steep incline from Jharkot to Muktinath was where we both had to use every last bit of energy to get to the top, collapsing on some very well placed benches that let us put our feet up and enjoy the view. Four hours walking done.
The main part of Muktinath (3800m) was smaller than I had expected after Kagbeni, and only really had buildings to house the trekkers and pilgrims passing through.
After food and a massive pot of tea we began to feel a bit more normal, we began to feel a bit more normal , and headed further up (for the last time) to the walled enclosure of the Muktinath shrines.
We wandered through the garden-like centre and visited the main sites, the 108 cow’s mouth taps, and the Dhola Mebar Gompa, where a natural gas flame burns above a stream. We sat and recovered a little enjoying the view before beginning the much easier task of walking back down to Kagbeni.
By the time we reached the diggers, they had moved to a less precarious part of the road, and it was only when we were walking below it that we had to dodge the occasional rock being thrown our way. We made it back to Kagbeni safely and after showers and packing our bags we headed to bed early, as tomorrow we have to walk back down to Marpha and to the lower altitudes where Rob says it will begin to look very different to up here.
Day 5 1st October Kagbeni – Marpha
We have completed our little circuit of the northern Annapurna route. It was nice in a way to know where we were going and although chunks of the first Marpha-Kagbeni trip are blocked from my memory – must have been sleep-walking it! – seeing a familiar landmark ahead seemed to make the first 2 hours to Jomsom go quickly, but the last half hour was hard as hunger set in and my sunburnt shoulder began to rub against my bag, so that I had to carry it awkwardly.
The road along the Kali Gandaki was busier than the last time we walked it, and we saw Nepali cowboys with hats riding across the riverbed, and long trains of mules carrying equipment for the trekking groups heading north to Upper Mustang.
In Jomsom we went back to the Magic Coffee Bean for a really good breakfast and got chatting with another British girl who was trying to decide what trek to do. We stayed for about an hour feeling more rested before setting off for the last hour and half to Marpha.
We stayed at a different lodge this time in the centre, and it was nice to wander around the streets again, although a few of the shopkeepers remembered us and started hassling us to come and look at their goods “You said you would come back!”.