Sunday, November 9, 2008

from Marpha 23rd October 2008

It seems hardly credible that for half the team the Expedition is all but over. Tomorrow we have a short hike up the road – yes that’s right there are motor bikes and Land Rovers here – to Jomsom. Hopefully at there we will meet up with Sandra Green who flies in from Pokhara tomorrow morning. Tenji from Sherpa Brothers flies in from Kathmandu tomorrow too in readiness for tomorrow night’s party at Jomsom. The following morning half the team begin their homeward journey via Pokhara and Kathmandu.
The remaining 26, those truly addicted to cold, high and uncomfortable places, will then swap their porters for donkeys and head up into the remote and restricted mountain province of Mustang. This should be a huge contrast to what has gone before. We are now in an the arid Kali Ghandaki valley which is hugely different to the jungles and cloud forests of the Magdi Khola which led us towards Dhualigiri. The religion has changed too. We have left behind the Hindu Stupas and swapped them for Buddhist prayer flags, chortens, monasteries and temples.
Marpha glittered in the morning sun as we walked through the narrow medieval streets with player flags fluttering in the strong breeze and water gushing down the irrigation channels that feed the orchards. High on the cliff a Buddhist temple and below it a brand new monestry. The team gorged themselves on apple crumble and fresh coffee in this delightful town that forms a major staging post on the Annapurna Circuit – one of the busiest treks in Nepal. Marpha gives us a taste of what is to come in Upper Mustang which has only been open to Westerners since 1992 and even now has very restricted access. We will be following the traditional Salt Route which, for generations, has been a key trade route between Tibet and Nepal. This will take us into an untainted Buddhist mountain province. Rumour has it that it will be cold!

Dismantling Base Camp

By the morning of the 22nd October all vestiges of Base Camp had been packed away and the site picked clean of litter. We climbed over the Damphus Pass to around 5,250 metres before traversing left on a very spectacular route perched high above the Khali Gandhaki. Eventually, after several kilometres, the path lunged down a ridge descending steeply from 4,900 metres to 3,900 metres. Unfortunately for the stragglers this involved strong winds, a snow storm and a late arrival at our camp at Yak Kharka.
The sunny walk down from Yak Kharka today was a delight. Descending 3,900 metres to 2,800 metres though pine trees, yak trails and always under the watchful eye of eagles and vultures. The Annapurna range dominated the view on the opposite side of the valley all of the way. Then, at last, we came to the delightful Buddhist village of Marpha with its narrow ancient streets and brand new Buddhist Temple. A taste of what is to come in Mustang.