The morning flight from Pokhara to Jomsom was critical. I knew how unpredictable it could be. Only an hour’s delay later and a rocking and rolling flight between Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri peaks, we landed at Jomsom.
After lunch in Jomsom, we set out. The first leg of the day was a bus ride between Jomsom and Kagbeni. We were advised to go on the bus as we could then make our first halt at Chele from Kagbeni.
Kagbeni – Chele
A few minutes into the trek and out came the cameras. We could not resist taking shots of the Kali Gandaki gorge and the amazing barren mountains along the route. And so it was till lunch at a very quaint village called Tangbe. It was amazing from every angle! Stark white walls with red embellishments, dried firewood on rooftops and extremely narrow lanes with the winds whistling through.
Crossing the Kali Gandaki on a solid truss bridge and we climbed up to the village of Chele. As we walked up, the scenery took on a different form. As you climb, you start seeing beyond the immediate hills and into the distant mountains and layers of massive hills. The warm dining cum kitchen area was very welcome indeed. A few pegs of Khukuri rum with hot water felt even better. Later, hot Daal Bhat and chit chat with a few foreigners and guides with interesting stories are a typical part of tea-house treks.
Chele – Ghiling
Straightaway we start trekking uphill. From my research I know today will be a tough day. We have to cross three passes of about 4000 meters each.
We hit the side of a cliff and traverse sideways and upwards. The drop below is unimaginable. Sometimes the path is just a couple of feet wide. I was thankful for not meeting a horse caravan here.
We trudge into Samar village which is usually the lunch place, but since we were early, we decide to walk on for a few more hours to Syangboche. We climb up to 4000-meter passes only to go all the way down to low 3000 meters and climb again. This part of the trek has a bit more greenery.
We reach Syangboche. The village has just four/five houses. A couple of hours after Syangboche we reach Ghiling, our stop for the day. As opposed to the normal tight-knit houses we’ve seen, Ghiling is spread across a wide plateau. A huge red monastery hugs the cliffside across the village. I settle down to take photos using my telephone lens on my DSLR camera congratulating myself silently for bringing it along.
Ghiling – Tsarang
A slow but steady climb greets us on our way out of Ghiling – a straight up 4000-meter monster. During slow climbs like these, the beauty of the scenery does not register on our oxygen-starved brains.
A very steep incline leads us tumbling into Ghami and our lunch stop for the day. It’s a village of closely packed white mud walled houses. It’s a little green oasis amongst the stark brown hills and rocky mountains.
After lunch, we head out to a lovely wooded slope that leads us down to a mountain stream. We cross a suspension bridge and climb up a small incline. We are greeted by the longest mani wall in the entire region of Mustang. A rock and stone wall stretching to probably over half a kilometer.
Approaching the village of Tsarang or Charang as the locals seem to call it, is a huge chorten. Typically this picturesque chorten is the one you see adorned on most book covers, posters and maps about Mustang.
On reaching Tsarang, headed out to the great monastery of Tsarang. It is indeed imposing and ruggedly photogenic. Built on a small hillock overlooking the village of Tsarang, it completely dominates the skyline.
Tsarang – Lo Manthang
Finally we would get to Lo Manthang today – my dream 15 years in the making. So it was just a 4 hour trek today. The trail today is mostly just following the motorable road to Lo Manthang. After a hot lunch, I did not want to waste any time and we head towards the walled town of Lo Manthang. A two-minute walk from our hotel leads us to an imposing gate of the walled city. The town is arranged within high walls around two huge gompas and an even bigger king’s palace. I explore the small alleys and passages that somehow link to each other going through houses and across private courtyards.
We visit the Monasteries and I could make out absolutely gigantic thankas painted on the walls. I am no thanka expert but these thankas were painted very intricately and seemed be from centuries. Unfortunately photography was prohibited inside the monastery and thus the painting only remain in my memory. We go across town to Thubchen Gompa, among the most revered monasteries in the region. This gompa is on an even bigger scale than the one we had just visited. If the other monastery had fantastic painting, Thubchen monastery had masterpieces. Huge thangkas adorned the walls telling dramatic tales of old.
As the sun began to set, I clicked as many photos as I could and from as many angles as humanly possible. Among all the treks I have done, this had been a journey I had pined for and I was not about to let a mere sunset end it so easily.