Finally after five days, two driving, two trekking and one waiting – we crossed into the fabled Upper Mustang this morning at 7:30! It’s been a beautiful warm sunny day – perfect trekking weather. Our immediate surroundings are quite barren reddish brown rock with a few squat spiny shrubs dotting the slopes. Above the near brown hills, snow caped peaks rise up against the high altitude blue sky. We’ve seen a few flocks of hardy long-haired goats grazing on the shrubs – proof that goats will eat anything. Then again they don’t have any choice!
How to adequately describe the scenery? I’ve never seen any place like this. The rock is mostly quite loose, some is solid bed rock, some striated sedimentary and much is conglomerate. Wind and water erosion have carved all sorts of crazy shapes into the steep cliffs that surround us. There are some natural caves and some human made ones as well. People haven’t inhabited the caves for many years but they used to be a common place to live in this area. Other than the red hills and grey, red or brown striated cliffs, the other major feature is the very wide flat river plain that we’ve been following for the past four days. For the most part we’ve walked along a sort of road. It is very rough and in many places impassible for vehicles due to landslides and washouts. We passed one precariously stuck truck. Up to its front axels in landslide debris from above with a washout threatening its back end. It’s doing a fine job of blocking the road even for foot traffic. We skirted along the cliff edge on the “top side” as the lower side was just too unstable to chance walking on. The villages are not cut off from needed supplies as we were passed by many mule trains going in both directions carrying goods. Clearly a more reliable method of transportation than trucks! In a few places we took short cuts on trails. These were without exception steep and much more challenging to walk up or down.
Now this brings me to the matter of time travel. I think we’ve done this thing. We are staying in the second village since the boarder. These are medieval villages. The buildings are made of mud and rough hewn wood and have flat roofs. They are built very close to each other and right next to the stone paths that run between them. There appears to be no planning so the building pattern is quite random. The connecting alleys are equally so. The building walls are high with small windows at odd intervals. Most buildings seem to be about two stories high but as some are built on steep slopes, two stories at one side might be street level on the other. My room is like this. I climb a ladder to the roof where my room is perched but the path runs right past my back window. Thankfully there’s an outhouse and outdoor tap on the roof as well.
The smells in the villages are pretty medieval as well. Horse, cow and goat dung litters the paths and there’s a good strong smell of – well maybe I don’t need to go into those details. Mules, horses, cows and goats as well as a few dogs wander within the villages and see to know which house to enter in the evening. And enter they do into the courtyards on the ground levels of these abodes.
Thankfully there is glass in the windows of this guest house. I noticed that not all windows have glass so it’s not a given! It’s all single pane so has no insulating properties but does stop the howling wind that comes up every afternoon. Ah the afternoon winds! They are epic. The mornings in this area are calm but about noon the breeze starts picking up and by two or three howling gales are screaming down from the mountains above. It’s great for drying clothes. I washed a shirt and it was completely dry within half an hour! The wind makes all sorts of peculiar sounds as it batters through and around buildings and rocky outcrops. It also picks up a fair amount of fine dust and whips that around into eyes and noses. It’s definitely a good idea to walk early and quit early to avoid being beat up by these afternoon gales. Which is just what we plan to do.
Of final note for today. I met my “travel mates.” They are a family from the UK on a short time line and are camping. We had a great chat over lunch, but likely won’t see each other for the rest of the trip. But it matters not – the bureaucracy is happy I am registered as a member of a group. And so am I happy as I sip a cold “Everest” beer while I await my dinner. I’ve just discovered that this place isn’t quite medieval. There’s a fellow trying to split a couple of wires together to see if he can get the dining-room’s light bulb to light up… Success. We have electric light. I think solar generated.
Good night from Chele at 3050 metres.