As much as we'd like to, we can't help but return to the topic of baths.
On the afternoon we completed the Crossing the Thorong La Gorge, had gone a week without showers, or anything we could even match.
At the Bob Marley Hotel in Muktinath, “One Love" was "One Love🇧🇷 We found ourselves gifted with fluid showers, very hot at first, which an excessive simultaneous use soon warmed up.
Worn out from eight hours of walking, most of it above five thousand meters in altitude, almost always very steep, we hurriedly reorganized our equipment and clothes.
Freed from that annoyance, we moved to the terrace, where we were supposed to meet the rest of the crossing group.
At Muktinath, the 5410m altitude of the gorge had risen to 3800m.
Even if incomparable with what we suffered at High Camp, the end of the afternoon brought a chill that the stone on which the hotel was built seemed to accentuate. As soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the terrace became uncomfortable.
They have long been accustomed to the "game of chairs" of guest e tea houses from the Annapurnas, we hurried to the dining room and conquered the surroundings of the salamander. There we gathered to devour the dinners that our metabolism, extremely accelerated from so much walking and effort, forced us to anticipate.
We surrender to a chat as pleasant as the room. Don, our porter, plays snooker with Sara and Manel's pseudo-guide. When they are finished, the porter bursts in, drunk, as he did night after night.
We have to convince him that he could not return to Manang (at least a day and a half away), at that time.
That he had to go to sleep and that he would leave, recovered, the following morning. Despite his alcoholism and stocky stature, from what we had seen on the way there, we thought that, as long as the weather didn't get too stormy, Don would be home in just one day.
Around 21pm, fed and comforted, we felt our bodies giving way. We all went to bed. We thought that, after those three exhausting days, we would sleep until noon. Instead, at 7:30 am we were waking up, rejuvenated and once again famished.
We devoured our favorite breakfast from the menu, between 8:30 and 9:XNUMX.
Half an hour later, we take a look at the main local shrine, Mukti Kshetra (translatable as “place of liberation”), Vishnuite and sacred to Hindus but which Buddhists are used to venerating.
After the short pilgrimage up the slope, we return to the parched street with the hotels. It is between stalls full of clothes and handicrafts that we begin the route to lower lands.
With Don on his way to Manang, we had the two big backpacks on us again. The readaptation to that overweight cost us, but, with the bodies massacred from, not long after, twenty days of intense exercise, it was quickly fulfilled.
The first big difference we found along the way was in the landscape. We had already gotten used to the snow that covered the slopes and peaks since Thorong Pedi to the highest slopes of Thorong La.
There, north of mountains as imposing as Annapurna III (7555m) and Tilicho (7134m), between the rainy season and winter, rain and snowfall were rare. The ground remained rough and even dusty, the vegetation yellow from the cold and dryness.
Coming watercourses would open exuberant exceptions in this scenario. We needed to get there.
From Muktinath to Kagbeni, Almost Always Downhill
We bid farewell to Muktinath. A few hundred meters later, we realized that, unless we avoided it, the continuation of the Annapurna Circuit would be on asphalt.
In an instant, we agreed that, whenever possible, we would find shortcuts and still immaculate alternatives.
In this quest, we reached a point with an unobstructed view. In the distance, the sharp and snowy peaks of the Jakkriojagga mountain range (6402m) stood out.
Just below, an extreme settlement sprawled over an arid ridge. As soon as we spotted it, we cut to the first country trail that seemed to lead there.
The obsession with doing so assured us the Himalayan and Buddhist genuineness with which the Annapurna Circuit had trapped us, to the zenith of Thorong La.
The trail enters a stronghold of terraces that we imagined, from May to September, soaked and filled with lush rice paddies. At that time, they supported any other upland cereal that was slow to emerge.
A peasant urged two cows to pull the plow with which, among the autumn bushes, he turned the earth.
Entrance to Majestic Jarkhot
Shortly after greeting him, we come across a sign that, despite its “prohibited” form, clearly had a “Welcome to Jarkhot".
Jarkhot was thus the next settlement, about three hundred meters lower than Muktinath, closer to the great river that flowed through it, the Gandaki.
As we take the final steps, a large flock of crows takes off from where we don't know. A sudden updraft had invited the black birds to hover over the valley and over us. When we reached the entrance to the village and its long gompa, we had already lost sight of them.
After the Hindu hiatus of the also known as Shree Muktinath Temple, Jarkhot marked a full return to the Buddhist-Tibetan sphere of almost the entire Annapurna Circuit, of sanctuary-villages from which stood out brakka and the much larger Manang.
We went back to walking side by side with prayer walls and crossing the stupas that served as portals of blessing at the entrance and at the exit, reinforced by two khenis, one male, the other female, a duo of guardians molded in clay and tasked with devouring evil spirits.
Prayer flags stood out from the smooth roofs of the gompa's various buildings.
A resident next to the temple appears on the terrace of his home and throws a gift to the chickens that are scouring the alley in front of him.
Seen from the south and from its rear, Jarkhot had seemed like a thing to us.
After having passed to the north and moving away from it, we see its line of buildings being defined, all with white facades, with the exception of the primordial building, the royal palace, towering and ocher.
Gradually, the village takes on an grandeur in keeping with its past.
Jarkhot, a Past Between Royalty and Traditional Nepalese Medicine
In the XNUMXth century, Jharkot, formerly known as Dzarkot, often shortened to Dzar, grew when the kings of the Gunthang dynasty became aware of its privileged location.
Surrounded by land much more fertile than what existed in the Jhong region, from which they were quick to move.
From Jharkot, royalty continued to rule over a vast domain that today encompasses twelve baragaon, the equivalent of villages and their land.
In that era, largely thanks to the fertility and abundance of plants, the people of Jharkot specialized in natural medicine and even veterinary medicine, in its most diverse forms of healing.
That aptitude has developed to this day.
In the large gompa of Jharkot, Buddhist-Tibetan monks preserve a fruitful collection of natural remedies that Nepalese people in the vicinity resort to when they are afflicted.
The number of divisions and the grandiosity of the royal palace, in general, attest that the kings of Gunthang moved to the old Dzar with plans to stay there.
They appreciated the unobstructed views over the Muktinath valley, over Jhong, Putak and Khingar.
Kagbeni, the village we had established as final destination day, it remained hidden by the slope that rose to the west and above Jharkot.
On the way to Kagbeni
The trail leading out of the village descended towards a tributary of the Gandaki River. As Kagbeni was located in another direction, we were forced to take the asphalt again.
Moments later, a distance marker planted beside the road informs us that Kagbeni was five kilometers away.
Even with the backpacks pressing our shoulders like never before, it was little for what we had gotten used to walking around.
The road winds, pointing towards the towering, jagged mountains of Jakkriojagga. We continued without a view to the west. Until we reached the lowered end of the slope that gave way to the road.
There, we discovered a whole new valley, much flatter and greener than that of Jharkot, based on alluvial land accumulated over time by the flow of the Gandaki.
An enormous and stony riverbed preceded the village and the many smallholdings that surrounded and fed it. A new steep and muddy slope closed the whole scene.
Kagbeni, the Gateway to the Realm of High Mustang
To the north lay the long-forbidden domain of Upper Mustang, which inspired plans for future adventures.
Almost 12 km and four hours of contemplation after leaving Muktinath, we were at the gates of Kagbeni.