The alarm went off at 4:30 am. We got up feeling groggy and tired, every muscle in our bodies aching for more rest. We had some hot tea and felt a little soothed. By 5:00 am we were ready to move. The early hour saw a bunch of travelers trudging slowly along in a single file through the snow filled trails with a dark sky overhead.
We slipped and fumbled to regain balance ever so often, our hearts racing and hands feeling numb. We made frequent stops to catch our breath. Looking back, it was a beautiful experience. As torchlights flashed in a line in those dark hours, the ones walking the trail were united by their enthusiasm. The dark sky faded away making way for the sun. We could barely breathe with the rise in altitude. I felt like my head was about to explode and with each step I took, I felt like I was walking on thin air.
But we pushed on and with each turn expected to be on the top. The final few hours were extremely tough but when we finally reached the pass, an adrenaline rush took over and all the hardships we had to endure along the way were long forgotten. As soon as our eyes fell on the Tibetan flags fluttering around, it was all about celebration. Each one of us was proud of this accomplishment and the whole area was filled with smiling faces.
Standing there, I wondered, looked around, not below, but above, at all the other peaks that surrounded us. The questions came flooding back about why climbers, mountaineers and trekkers return again and again to the Himalayas and maybe, at that moment, I understood that conundrum a little.
We started our downhill journey back from Thorong la pass to Mustang valley. Our knees were starting to fail as we slid down the gravel slopes. The views of the arid mountains in the distance were stunning, as was the feeling of finally walking on flat ground as we approached Muktinath. It was my first time at this holy place so I decided to take a dip in the holy waters of Muktinath. With the Go Pro in one hand taking a video, I first ran through the freezing water pouring out of those water taps as fast as my legs would allow me. I then took a dip in two freezing ponds. I actually took quite a few dips in the ponds in hopes for a better photograph. I guess I really can do anything for that perfect picture.
After spending some holy moments at Muktinath, it was time to leave for that night’s stop at old Kagbeni ‘Ekley Bhatti’. In the evening, we strolled along the gorge of the Kali Gandaki river. The next morning, we woke up to the sound of the rooster. It was time for a walk. We strolled through the valleys and white-walled villages listening to Tibetan prayer songs in the fields of Kagbeni. Kagbeni is filled with hidden doors, and Tibetan monasteries that will leave you awestruck. The landscape of Mustang was unlike anything I had seen in the Himalayas.
After a fine lunch in Ekley Bhatti, we left for Jomsom. Walking by the side of Kali Gandaki river, the only song playing in our heads, as you can probably imagine, was ‘Jomsomai bazar ma bara bajey hawa sararara’. But to be entirely honest, after being surrounded by mountains for so long, Jomson didn’t manage to evoke the same glorious heaven-on-earth feeling in me. It just didn’t attract me after all the grandeur I had recently witnessed. We went for a walk in the evening. It felt a bit weird seeing so many people after so many days of being away. We bought some souvenirs and, after some sips of Marpha brandy, went to sleep.
The next day, we caught a bus home from Jomsom. As I looked out of the dusty bus window, my mind wandered back to the mountain trails. I found myself smiling and looking forward to more such adventures despite tired muscles aching for the comfort of my warm bed at home. I bid farewell to the Annapurna Circuit with promises to come back someday.