Grey, green, gold, blue and white
Ranipauwa, Muktinath, Lower Mustang
Those are the colours of the landscape up here at Muktinath (in the lower Mustang region), an elevation of about 12,000 feet. Grey are the mountains; green trees; blue skies, golden wheat and white clouds. It was a precarious plane ride (between mountains, from Pokhara to Jomsom), stopped at the Magic Bean coffee shop in Jomsom for java, before walking to the shared Jeep ride.
I recommend sitting on TOP of the Jeep from Jomsom to Ranipauwa. They do not give you a discount for doing so (the ride is still 500NRS for foreigners) but it is much more fun to have the wind in your hair than to be in the stuffy inside.
Waiting for the Jeep you will see a colourful mix of fellow travellers. The Hindu sadhus are refreshing as, unlike the city "pseudhus," they are genuine pilgrims and not out for spare change. There are Tibetans and Tibetan-descended Nepalis who are native to the lower Mustang region, random "other" Nepalis, a few clean-scrubbed Western volunteers who are eager to teach the locals English, and of course, what I call the Stick Men (over-equipped foreign trekkers with their two walking sticks, one in each hand).
The morning of the eclipse dawned grey and cloudy, as luck would have it; but it was still great to be in a quiet, sacred space.
I am waiting for the camera batteries to charge; then I can upload photos.
At this time of year the region is really empty. Of course there are a lot of monsoon clouds, but they clear off a couple times a day for great views of what I assume are the Dhaulagiris.
Ranipauwa (the base village for Muktinath temple) is surrounded by more traditional villages such as Dzong ("hilltop fortress"), Purang, Lubra, Khining and Jharkot, which is home to the Tibetan Medicine society, a large Sakya gompa and an ancient ruined fort. During these first 3 acclimitization days, my walks to these villages, through golden wheat fields and meadows of flowers, have been nothing short of enchanted.
The "happening spot" in "town" appears to be a place called Hotel Bob Marley which actually is decorated in 100 percent Bob Marley paraphernalia, if you can imagine that, and run by a Nepali transvestite (very nice eyeshadow). In season I guess it is full of drunk Aussie climbers. Now it's nice and empty.
Muktinath temple is actually a walled compound (a complex complex at that) encompassing various religious expressions. The "main" temple to which most people refer when they say Muktinath is a three-tiered pagoda-style structure shoved way up under the very last spot before the mountain turns to cliffside. It's surrounded by the cold mountain streams, 108 spouts coming out of the steep hillside, so it constantly feels cleansed and renewed.
I normally associate Himalayan mountainscapes with Shiva in the Hindu pantheon, so was surprised to find it is a Vaishnav Hindu temple (though most people will claim it is "both Hindu and Buddhist"). The temple darshan (opening and closing of the doors) is controlled by a Buddhist nun. I'm going to read up a bit on the temple history.
The temple is best known for its association with Shalagrams, the sacred stones with ammonite fossils inside, said to be manifestations of Vishnu's sudarshana chakra. The stones grow naturally in the nearby Kali Gandaki river. They are for sale down below in the town, but technically you are not supposed to buy them. I think you are meant to find them, or have them "come" to you.
Additionally there are a Hindu yagnashala (fire ceremony house) where fire pujas go on daily; three very old Buddhist gompas with mostly clay (not stone or metal) statuary; a Shiva temple with an unusual iconic image (not just a Shivalingam, but marble figures of Shiva and Parvati); mountain ponds suitable for bathing, and lots of Buddhist prayer wheels.
Everywhere there are these solar cooking ovens that were thoughtfully donated by some German NGO. Great idea - to cook with solar energy rather than using local firewood, which deforests the land, or kerosene which has to come from down below. Too bad I have yet to see anyone use even one of them.
Development people need to realize: you can suggest all you want, you can lead a horse to water, but people do what they want to do. Not what you want them to do. Even when it means killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Trekking North of Pokhara Jomsom, the Thak Kola Canyon and the Annapurna Sanctuary: No 2 (Nepal trail guide)
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