Day 123 – Location: Muktinath; Nepal
I had a terrible night’s sleep, tossing and turning, I had a bad headache and felt sick, light headed and weak. In the morning I realized I was probably suffering from altitude sickness, the symptoms fit and in the jeep we’d climbed almost 1000 meters in just a few hours. It might also account for Sophie’s continuing heart problems. We decided to see how we got on and head back down today if possible – the best remedy for altitude sickness is to descend before the symptoms get worse.
After an early breakfast we ventured forth through Muktinath village, it reminded me of a Wild West town with a wide barren high street and balconied buildings lining it. Souvenir stalls, especially of homemade stripey scarves, or fossils, were being set up all along it. We walked to the edge of town to admire the views into the crater below. There were only a few other tourists around.
Next we walked to the other side of town and through Muktinath temple gate, where some babas (holy men) were sitting wanting money for blessings or photos. Then we climbed a long flight of steps towards the white temple walls wiggling along the rocky hillside. Prayer flags were strewn like spider webs on the rock face behind, some attached to seemingly inaccessible rock clusters.
We could really feel the altitude affecting our oxygen, after five steps we would already feel knackered and we kept stopping for rests on the way up. At the top we passed through the wall gate into the temple complex. It was quite large, possibly 300 meters square – a collection of buildings, a copse of trees and a barren section of small scree-like rocks. We explored the temple buildings, and saw homes inside the complex – a few women were going about their daily chores. Presumably the families who take care of the temple. We walked along the scree section which turned out to be full of little stone towers made by visitors for good luck. Me and Sophie made our own too.
The building in the corner of the complex had a nice Tibetan style temple room, filled with colourful carvings on the roof and pillars. Unfortunately photography is banned inside. Out in the courtyard was a circular reflective dish, like a satellite dish. We’d seen these around the area, this one had a kettle on a holder suspended in the dish’s center, confirming that they are used to focus the sun’s rays to heat water or cook food. Ingenious energy saving idea, the sun is so bright up here and they are using it. Solar panels are also used in some of the hotels, like much of Nepal. I put my hand in the heat field and sure enough it was very warm.
We continued wandering through the rocky part past some traditional stone shrines, and into the copse, where the main temple building is hidden. Clusters of different sized bells were hanging in a mishmash on a stand. A pool by the temple was filled with blocks of smashed ice, guess they want to keep it clear. The inner courtyard of the temple was lined with bells as well, had bell clusters hanging around. I haven’t seen the bell clusters before and I wonder what the significance is?
Outside the temple, surrounding it on three sides, were rows of gargoyle head fountains. Long icicles hung from railings where the water had struck. I walked through the copse to get some shots of the prayer flags strewn on the hillside.
We wandered back to the temple complex entrance past a tower and some old locals sitting on their roof in the sun. They were friendly and we noticed how incredibly weathered and wrinkly their skin was. One of the women had her breasts practically hanging out, modesty isn’t such a big thing in this culture! Didn’t really do it for me I’m afraid, I prefer them a few years younger!
Back in Muktinath village we stopped for lunch in a rasta restaurant (yes, they are everywhere in this part of the world!), and watched some of the local kids from the balcony, a little girl was spying on us and gave us a wave. I gave my big zoom lens a go, now it had been repaired. Seemed to be working fine.
We discovered there was a jeep leaving at 4pm back to Jomsom so we walked to the jeep stop. There were a lot of people waiting, locals and trekkers. We bought a rather expensive ticket and piled into a jeep. We bumped our way for a few hours back to Jomsom. Sophie got stuck next to an annoying local man who wouldn’t give her any space and kept nudging her to try and get her to move (we were jammed in like sardines, so much that one girl was bending over sat on her husband’s knee). Us and the other locals kept telling him to stop but he just thought it was funny, though he did relent a little bit. We passed on the opposite side to the “crater” as on the way up, giving us great views of the huge rippling cliffs below, and we passed more of the villages which looked like they came out of a time machine. Again photography was nearly impossible due to the bumpy ride, tiny windows and clouds of dust.
On the valley floor we stormed over the rock field that me and Sophie had crossed, in only twenty minutes, fording rivers and bouncing around all over the place. We arrived in Jomsom as the sun was going down and walked back to the hotel we’d left our stuff at. My altitude sickness had been improving during the day and I was feeling a lot better now. We had a relaxed evening reading and enjoying the tasty restaurant food. I tried to buy a torch from their attached shop, only to find that literally none of their torches worked. They all looked about 20 years old and many were rusted inside. The cheeky woman tried to make me pay for the batteries separately but I pointed out I only needed them for the torch! We turned in early, tired after our restless night up in Muktinath, but we were feeling a bit better.