Annapurna circuit trek day 8 Thorang Phedi over Thorung Pass to Muktinath
Getting ready for the pass
Breakfast was ready for us before we woke up. I awoke to pots and pans being shuffled through like a deck of cards. I expected a few curse words, but none came. “Good old Nepal” I thought getting out of bed. We were crossing Thorang La Pass today and we were already late.
After a delicious bowl of porridge, my guide and I started trekking. It was dark and snowing. The snow felt like starch on the ground; it griped your feet like a warm handshake. A line of lights serpentined below us like a snake slowly inching its way up a hill. It was 5:30 am and I was happy as a clam.
Be careful if you are hiking at night time. People on the trail will blind you with their head lamps. This is infuriating. Fortunately, I only had to endure it for a short while as the sun began to rise and everyone turned off their lights in exchange for sunglasses.
High Camp and trekking in the snow
It was about this time when we reached High Camp. High Camp is about a 30-minute hike above Thorang Phedi. It has a few hotels and a pack station for horses. Just outside High Camp the trail bends to the left and narrows to a couple of inches above a deep canyon.
Due to the snow blizzard, I could not see further than a couple of yards. I deduced from the guard rail that it was dangerous and most likely beautiful. The trail climbed higher and further around the mountain and eventually widened to provide a safe passage. The parts that I could see were beautiful. I can only imagine how it must look in clear weather.
The trail lead to 2 bridges over a dried up or frozen stream bed. I chose the old bridge for shoots and giggles. An old man ahead of me, higher up on the trail, knocked over part of a rock wall onto the trail and left it there.
If you are hiking, please be a good steward and leave the trail in the same or better condition for others.
When I arrived at the area I picked up the rocks and re-stacked them as best as my frozen hands would allow. They were stiff and felt like rocks. I remember thinking, my hands would make a great addition to the wall. Since I like my hands, I kept them for myself.
After fixing the wall and clearing the trail, I caught up with the man. He seemed to be struggling with breathing. I asked him if he was ok and he said to pass him. I don’t understand how somebody can be so miserable in such a beautiful place.
We shall pass
I had a slow and steady pace and I was passing people with ease. I wanted to spend as much time as I could up there, but I also wanted to get out of the storm. When the weather cleared, it was still beautiful. Snow and rocks under mountainous peaks. The only thing that changed was the direction and slope.
There are a few shelters along the path you can rest in. Be careful about using them, because a lot of people also use them as toilets. Please do not use the buildings as toilets.
We reached Thorung La Pass at 8:30 am. I was surprised it only took 3 hours to reach the top. There is a small tea house at the top. The price of a cup of tea started at $4 and went all the way up to $6! I was astonished. That must be the most expensive cup of tea in the world.
Note: The world’s most expensive tea is from China. The tea is called Da Hong Pao tea and has sold for $28,000 for 20 grams.
I left my gear outside and took a seat in the tea house and watched the people buy cup after cup of this tea. The baristas refused to clean the cups between patrons, which made me question how hygienic this place was. I opted out of buying tea in preference of metabolic warmth and hygienic conditions. Be warned, they do not clean their cups.
When I came out of the tea house one of my trekking poles was missing. Note keep an eye on your gear. People can be trusted, but not when they want your gear.
The abominable trail down
After a brief rest in the tea house at the top of Thorung La Pass, we started trekking down the mountain. The trek down was abominable. Not because the abominable snow man was after me, which he was, but because the trail condition was terrible.
It was like 10,000 old disgruntled men came through and tore up all the rock fences and left the remnants scattered all over the trail. Other parts of the trail narrowed to microscopic dimensions above a deep canyon. Be careful when you do this trek.
At one point along the trail, I could not keep my footing; I started slipping uncontrollably. I turned it into a game and turned myself into a human toboggan. When I slid past people, I would say “quack quack” in my best penguin impression. One girl even said look how cool he is. I tried to keep my composure, but it was too funny.
We reached the bottom of the pass at about 12:00. It was also the same time it stopped snowing. I was happy because I had an excuse to do it again and because there were a few restaurants I could order food at. I ordered French fries and received French fries with bugs cooked in rancid oil. It was very disappointing.
You can read this article about what to expect before coming to Nepal.
Since I was still hungry, I ate the “food” and moped my way to Muktinath. Now I know why that old guy was miserable; a cow must have peed in his corn flakes. It happens more than you might expect.
Muktinath Temples and religious sites
We reached Muktinath around 2:00. We stood under Dajong Paldip overlooking the city and the Dhaulagiri Range. Most of the range was covered by clouds, but we had clear views of the city. To our lefts were Muktinath Temple, Sarwa Gompa, Vishnu and Jwala Mai Temple, Sarwa Gompa, and Nepal’s largest statue of buddha.
We decided to take some time and tour the temples and sites. We first came to a Buddhist monastery, which appeared to be in the process of being built or restored. It had a beautiful court yard with a giant rock in the center surrounded by cobble stones.
We then followed the pathway down to Muktinath Temple. It is a 3-tiered temple surrounded by a wall with water spickets pouring glacial water over a metal grate. Anybody daring or dirty enough to run under the “1,000 water falls” will have their soul cleansed for nirvana.
There are actually 108 waterspouts at the temple. They are called muktidhara. In addition, there are two pools of water called Kunda for submerging your body in. A person is believed absolved of sins if they circumnavigate around the temple walking under the muktidhara then dipping into the kunda.
From here we passed a smaller temple. A group of people were crowding around 2 monks lighting a paper fire in a small room. I did not investigate out of fear of burning alive in a sacrificial religious ceremony I may have happened to walk into.
Next, we came to a large statue of buddha. It cost over $130,000 and 3 years to carve. The largest statue of Buddha in Nepal is at the Swoyambunath Temple in Kathmandu.
Finally, we looped around and walked adjacent to prayer wheels mounted in a mani wall. The trail led us to a path lined by sahdus with open outstretched palms and collection plates. For a group of people who have renounced the world and its material positions, they sure get angry when you don’t give them money.
I saw two sahdus get into a fight over a bottle of water as I was walking away. I almost laughed because there is temple, 30 yards up the trail, that has 108 water spouts.
As we were walking through the “hall of sahdus” we passed several Indian people going to the temple on horseback. The temple wasn’t that far from the Muktinath proper; I wondered why they would hire a horse to carry them when they could easily walk. Maybe it was a religious act or for fun? If you know pleas tell me in the comments.
The hotel managers were very aggressive in Muktinath. Most of them wanted to charge for a room and demanded you eat all your meals as well as beverages there. I chose a nice hotel on the far end of muktinath, that wasn’t aggressive. The hotel had very modest accommodations but the food and atmosphere was nice.