Annapurna Circuit Trek Day 9 Muktinath through Kagbeni to Jomsom
If you missed crossing Thorang La pass you can access it here.
On day 9 of our Annapurna Circuit Trek we trekked from Muktinath through Kagbeni to Jomsom where we took a bus to Tatopani. This was the last day of our circuit trek, in addition it was also the longest. because we traveled for so long it was dark before we reached Tatopani, which made the road conditions extremely dangerous. We crossed the desert plains of mustang, scoured the back allies of Muktinath, and braved the treacherous roads of Jomsom to bring you this blog post. Please, if you have a Pinterest account, pin any of the photos you want. With that, kick back, relax, and enjoy the entertainment.
Muktinath before dawn
I woke up early to take pictures of the Dhaulagiri mountain range. The sun had not risen above the mountains and the sky was still clear. I had about 30 minutes to climb to the statue above the hotel and take some pictures before we left for Jomsom.
I had an excellent panorama view of the Dhaulagiri mountains at the statue. Dhaulagiri 1 (26,795 feet) was easily recognizable as the southern most peak in the range.
I made it back to the hotel and ate breakfast porridge with my guide. My guide was excited to talk with me about his planned route to Jomsom. It was exciting to listen to him explain the itinerary. I eagerly ate my way through breakfast as I was anticipating the days adventure.
We set out, after breakfast, scouring back allies and remote parts of the village on an alternate side trail. It was a lot of fun seeing the rarely visited areas of Muktinath. The trail lead us north across the valley and to the sunny side of the mountains in Jhong.
We crossed a suspension bridge and had phenomenal views of Dajong Paldip and Thorung Peak. We could also see the Dhaulagiri range. Just as we were coming into the outskirts of Jhong an old drunk guy stuck his head out a window, like Jack Nicholson in the Shining, and started yelling at us.
He said, “You’re going the wrong way!” I replied, “there is no wrong way, just straight ahead.” My response seemed to confuse the man and he pulled his head into the house like a turtle retreating within its shell.
A few minutes later we were inside Jhong. The next thing I knew, we were being run off the road by a runaway donkey and a couple of chickens. The runaway pack was followed by a man yelling “whaha, whaha.” I think this is the Nepali equivalent of “whoa.”
After the stampede passed we continued on the path, eventually coming to an old fortress. The building has long since deteriorated to a few standing walls. The ruin was Sakya-pa Gompa. It was rebuilt on a separate site as a hotel and has excellent views of the Dhaulagiri range.
As we were leaving Jhong, we passed a beautiful apple orchard. I could tell the owner deeply cared for the farm and took good care of it. Looking back at it from the trail, it sat under the Dajong Paldip and Thorung Peak mountains. It was picturesque.
The trail to Kagbeni
We crossed Mustangs barren plains and came across two seepage springs that had large salt deposits around them. It was very cool to see. I felt like a nomad crossing the dessert when I was walking along this section of the trail. It reminded me of the Sahara Desert but with a lot less sand. The terrain was composed of rolling hills and sparse shrubs and grass.
The terrain changed to rocky as we approached Kagbeni. I realized quickly that we were on the old Gandaki River bed. The rocks were smooth and rounded; there were layers of different colored sediment on the earthen shelfs lining the trail.
I uncovered some shell fossils poking around in the clay and rocks. I left them in their place and covered them. They are cool to see but illegal to take with you. If you find any fossils, please do not take them with you.
I was happy to play archeologist for a short while. It always reminds me of going treasure hunting as a kid. Unfortunately, I had to stop playing in the dirt and start hiking again. We came to look out point where you could see up the Gandaki River for a few miles. There was a small farming village on the other side of the river too. It looked very prosperous and peaceful.
I saw my guide hike down and around a rock. That was my queue to hurry up and stop admiring the scenery. I made it to the rock where my guide disappeared behind, and he wasn’t there. But what was there was a steep cliff! “dang,” I thought. “My guide fell off the cliff.”
I looked down to see if I could see him. I could only see rocks and the Gandaki river. “What do I do now?” I slowly walked down a very steep path. The view of Kagbeni from this vantage point was beautiful. I was too worried about my guide to appreciate it though.
When I made it to the bottom in the outskirts of Kagbeni, I found my guide alive and waiting for me. I was relieved and happy because he was alive and Kagbeni is beautiful. If you are planning a trip, make sure to factor in an extra day to stay here and explore the city.
We were pressed for time because we had to catch the bus to be in Tatopani by nightfall. I knew we had to be in Jomsom to catch the bus, but Kagbeni was so beautiful I had to walk at a slower than normal pace to take it in.
There are elaborate water channels that run through the village. There is also an amazing temple in the north end of town. Most of the buildings in the village are made with cobblestones and mud with wood beams. The buildings walls are tall, which almost guarantees shady pathways.
Just outside the village are plots of green farms on one side and the Gandaki river on the other. Above the river are old houses carved into a cliff. My guide told me, Kagbeni was established from the residents of those old houses.
The trail to Jomsom
The trail outside of Kagbeni followed the road for some distance then dropped down to a trail alongside the Gandaki River. There was a lot of development along the road when I was hiking by. In 10 more years, you will probably be able to do the entire circuit by car.
Hiking next to the river was fun. There were not any cars kicking up dust, the breeze coming off the river was fresh and cooling, and the trail sloped slightly downhill. We passed a few villages on both sides of the river as well as old cliff dwellings. We had ok views of the Dhaulagiri range too.
It is about 7 miles from Kagbeni to Jomsom. We hiked it in about 2.5 hours. We stopped at a few locations to rest or grab a bite to eat too. As we were coming closer to Jomsom the main road was out of order, due to a landslide, and all the road traffic was diverted to the trekking trail. The last two miles were miserable.
The dust from the cars was not the worst part of this section. The worst parts were the drivers honking at you and trying to swerve into you as you are walking on the side of the road. I’m not even joking. One jeep, and a tractor tried to hit me and my guide. Be careful walking along this part of the trail. try to stay as far off the trail as possible.
Catching the bus in Jomsom
I walked into Jomsom expecting a rather amazing village but was harshly disappointed. I could have been tired and grumpy from all the cars trying to hit us, but I was unimpressed by the village. The one part I did like was the monastery. I didn’t get to tour it, but I did get to take a few pictures from outside the walls.
We made it to bus park with ½ hour to spare, perfect timing. Unfortunately, all the seats on the bus were already booked so we had to stand until someone got off. It is about 37 miles from Tatopani to Jomsom and took the bus 5 hours to make it. We did stop a few different times for bathroom breaks.
The road condition from Tatopani to Jomsom was terrible. It was extremely bumpy, windy and narrow. I thought we were going to fall off the side of a cliff and die. There were other instances I thought we were going to get into a head on collision with other motorists. It was a white-knuckle ride to say the least.
At one point we drove off the road and were 4-wheeling on a floodplain. I hit my head on the top of the bus a least a dozen times before we got back on a paved road. I think the driver wanted it to be as bumpy as possible because he stopped and reversed once to hit the bumps he missed going forward!
At several points on the paved road there were construction sites clearing away the side of the mountain. They were trying to expand the road. One point was extremely dangerous. I’ll just say it involved a ramp, airtime and the bus almost flipping over. We were driving on two wheels!
Finding a room in Tatopani
Almost every hotel in Tatopani charges for rooms. I found one hotel that agreed to let me stay for free, but when I went to bring my bags up, the bellhop tried to charge me for the room. There was no way this was going to play out well, so I left. I eventually settled on a place with modest accommodations for $2 per night.
My room was about 24 square feet with charging outlets and a window facing the bathrooms. Honestly, who puts a window facing the bathrooms? A perv or somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing.
On the positive side, the hotel had a great kitchen. My food order was messed up, but it was tasty. I ordered a burrito and received a large taco. Don’t trust the pictures or the descriptions on the menu. You can read this article about what to expect before coming to Nepal to help prepare you.