Even the lady of our lodge deserted us last night to visit her mother, so this morning it was just Andrew, myself and the man of the house in his empty residence. Judging by the eery silence it was probably only the three of us in the entire, desolate village, well apart from a couple of broody hens, and one fat cockerel. The lodge is one of the only buildings left perched on the hillside beside a huge waterfall and as we walked back onto the road we witnessed the sheer drop of crumbling rock face, showing the devastation of the landslide. I certainly wouldn't stick around in Monsoon season!
Andrews' stomach was still feeling a bit off-colour so we took it very slowly up the long stretch to Ghasa. Luckily he didn't have to make any mad dashes into the bushes but he was still being grumpy even when I offered to give him a piggy-back. It didn't help that most of the way we were walking on the same rocky, un-inspiring track and being showered in dust by the passing vehicles. It kinda spoils the purpose of the trek when you know you can get to your destination faster and still see the same view. Hhmph!
We were walking through what is thought to be the biggest valley in the world (I wondered who measured that one?) and as we came to Ghasa we were greeted with hundreds of huge, hovering eagle-ish birds who were feasting on the fish below. One big whopper, his wing span as wide as Andy is tall, swooped so low I could see his giant claws, ready to grab me and take me to his giant nest! Luckily he didn't quite get me and my camera wasn't quite positioned for a spectacular shot. In fact none of my photos do these magnificent beasts justice, but I caught a couple as the came gliding past. The Eagle Nest Guest House seemed a perfect place to stop where we could watch the skies and we lunched on pizza made with fresh mushrooms and herbs from the garden.
The mushrooms were not magic enough to make Andy feel better so we went off in search of a jeep - with my camera still poised upwards for another close encounter with Eddie the eagle. In the book I am reading it states that a pilgrimage can only be broken by a bout of illness, So I felt justified that we weren't actually ending our trek.. just enhancing it.
Arriving at the jeep stand just in time gave us the prime spots in the front seats of the 4X4 - while several others, twelve to be precise, squeezed themselves into the back like sardines. How great it felt to be resting our sore feet while still experiencing the fantastic, snow capped Annapurna and listening to the pan-pipey Nepali tunes. Most of the music we have heard here does sound rather similar, quite high-pitched like chipmunks are singing. Andy calls it Whale music but I quite like it, makes a chance from the Phill Collins on his ipod anyway!
It seems customary to pick up any randoms along the way, even when the vehicle is seemingly full. So we were stopped by an extrovert English girl (who we'd previously met at lunch) wanting a ride to Jomsom. With cried of "No Way!" from the Jap's in the back our English friend and her guide had no choice but to ride in style on top of the roof! Every lump and bump was felt and heard with yelps from above, and after two hours the pair emerged rather wobbly and windswept, albeit alive. Phew!
Jomsom is a rather windy, dusty, character-less by the afternoon, but it is transformed in the clear mornings with the most beautiful, mountainous backdrop. As we arrived two days earlier than scheduled we had time to visit the religious temples of Mukinath, which is an important pilgrimage place for Hindus and Buddhists. Upon inquiring for a taxi to the site at 3700m we were met by three Malaysian men who would share the ride. At first we thought these chaps, wrapped in the latest NorthFace, windproof gear, were just rich tourists, but we soon learnt that two of them were Buddhists making this once-in-a-life-time pilgrimage and they explained the importance of the holy shrines. Around the main, large pagoda-style temple there are 108 brass spouts, cast in the shape of cow's heads, which pour forth sacred water. Even more sacred is the water that rises from a rock into two pools below the pagoda. To repent all sins you must walk through the freezing cold spouts and dunk your body in the freezing cold pools, and we witnessed 52yr old Abu and the rather rotund Henry carry out this special ritual. It was actually rather glorifying to watch and I was tempted to make Andy get 'cleansed' in the sacred spring, but it would have taken all day to wash his sins and we had already decided to walk the four hours back to Jomsom.
Later, we regretted this decision when the forceful wind and the stony pathway made for a testing time. Not to mention Andy's quick pit stop behind a rock to empty his bowels. Oh I've seen some sights today! (He will kill me for putting this so I will have a freezing cold shower later to repent!).