Story and Photography by Anunoy Samanta
Anunoy enjoys creative writing and loves photography. He has gradually discovered that travelling cum travel-writing is the best way to blend those two different elements of art. Despite being attached to a profession that doesn’t quite match with the liberty of travelling, he always manages to steal time to keep up with his travel-mantra by Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
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 who dare to abandon their luxury couch and taste the raw barrenness of the Tibetan plateau over 3000 meters from mean sea level. In October 2011, I along with two of my colleagues responded to the call of mystic Mustang. This is risky beauty, and you’re prepared for almost anything as you sit inside a passenger-packed 4WD, crawling on narrow-bumpy curves, between ‘anytime ready to slide’ rocks and the deepest ravine in the world.
You could take the 30-minute exhilarating air route from Pokhara to Jomsom, the district headquarter of Mustang or do the daylong road journey that covers some rare vistas formed by the snow-white Annapurna, infinite waterfalls, changing patterns of vegetation, magical rays on snowy peaks, and the roaring Kaligandaki. We chose the second option, but wait—there’s a third option, only for those Bravehearts who’re traveling with time in their rucksack. You can trek all the way from Nayapul—a nearly two-hour bus ride from Pokhara to Jomsom to get intimate with the spectacular terrain in a more sensual way. We remained engrossed in the 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 town of Jomsom, which looked mysterious in its late-evening cloak of darkness.
A home-stay with a big board that read ‘Hotel Jomsom Paradise’ welcomed us and soon we succumbed to the warmth of the wooden room and quilt after enjoying tea, bread jam, and chilly fried rice. The following morning turned out to be cursed by the cold northern wind. It was difficult to stand even for a minute on the terrace to observe the panorama of barren rocky mountains and snowy Dhaulagiri.
Undaunted, we bid adieu to the quivering colored flags and orange stacks of corns on the surrounding flat wood piled rooftops and prepared to trek to Muktinath, an important pilgrimage place for both Hindus and Buddhists. Our aim was to climb more than 1000 meters in a single day. A couple of kilometers before we reached Muktinath, I was hit by acute mountain sickness. Luckily, we came across a jeep which took us to a tea-house at the holy village. In the stillness of the night at 3800 metres I kept on tossing on a bed with dust-coated skin, light head, and ‘120 plus’ heart rate for the next twelve hours! The wind was thin and chilly, but we braved it to visit the temple and monastery complex. 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 sit and stare to the south at the snow-covered Annapurna range, or to the north toward the Tibetan plateau. Another attraction for the pilgrimage is the River Kali Gandaki, from where one can collect fossils of the prehistoric age popularly known as ‘Shaligram’.
The next morning we took a jeep to Jomsom, and descending to 2720m from 3800m gave genuine relief to my lungs. We strolled past local curio shops, hotels fitting different pockets, a tiny airport, a basic hospital and concluded our last evening in Mustang with apple chips, apple brandy and a pure Nepali rice thali.
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 comes under Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area of Nepal. Always remember to acclimatize before any high-altitude trek to avoid being a spoilsport. Like any other remote paradise, Mustang is getting contaminated with rapid urbanization and unwanted western influence. So, before this place loses its virgin hue, plan your trip to the Annapurna Circuit and take home some priceless memories. If you’re motivated for Muktinath Darshan, there are plenty of ways a pilgrim can travel, but above all, devotees believe that one should have the blessing of the Lord to reach His holy doorstep.
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