All set for a great adventure? Well then, let’s go; let’s go to mid-west Nepal. First stop: Pokhara. While there are plenty of flights from Kathmandu, you won’t regret going by road either (about 200 km; around 8 hrs). The drive is, to say the least, a most pleasant one. You’ll come across fast moving mountain rivers, terraced fields, lots of eateries along the way, and the road is also in great shape most of the time. If you fly, you’ll see some Himalayan peaks like Annapurna and Dhaulagiri on the horizon, provided the weather is clear. You’ll also see Ghorepani and Poon Hill, two popular tourist spots, on the way.
From Pokhara you got to catch one of the flights to Jomsom; these fly only in the mornings since the weather turns pretty windy later on. It’s a short flight, around 20 minutes, but it’s a breathtaking one nevertheless, on account of the closeness of the massive mountains nearby. Located at a height of 2,800 meters, Jomsom is the district headquarters of Mustang district. It is also called Dzongsam (New Fort). It’s a pretty town located on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, and with the soaring Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri peaks in the background. Jomsom is the starting point for the 3-4 hour trek to Kagbeni in the north, which is the gateway to exotic Mustang.
You hike along the river bank and on river beds in decidedly windy conditions. The views are of course as spectacular as expected. On the horizon are the majestic peaks of Nilgiri and Tukuche. The hike takes you through the Kali Gandaki gorge, believed to be the deepest gorge in the world. On one side lies the Annapurna I (at 8,091m, the world’s 10th highest peak) and on the other side is Dhaulagiri (at 8,167 m, the world’s 7th highest peak). Between the two are 8 of the 20 highest mountains in the world. All this adds immensely to the rugged beauty of the mountain landscape.
Thirty minutes down the line you take a break at a place called Eklaibhatti where a filling lunch is the order of the day. You reach Kagbeni about three hours later. It is full of mud and brick houses besides an old fort in dilapidated condition and a red gompa (monastery). You get splendid views from the gompa’s rooftop. Take a walk along the narrow passageways of the old fort to get a feel of medieval times. The Red House Lodge at Kagbeni is pretty well-known to trekkers. It houses an 8-10 ft statue of Buddha and a beautiful temple. After a night’s rest at Kagbeni, you start off for Muktinath the next morning. Starting early, you reach a place called Khingar after some hours and here you can get a welcome respite to have some tea at one of the teahouses around. At about lunch time, you will be in Jharkot, where there’s a restaurant by the name of New Plaza where you get good pizza. After a short rest, you carry in uphill and reach Ranipauwa, which has a lodge name after Bob Marley. After a couple of hours you should be in Muktinath.
Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is famous for its cold springs, ancient fossils, and natural methane fires. The cold water from the mountain springs is channeled through 108 cow’s head spigots behind the Vishnu temple. It is said to flow from the sacred lake of Mansarovar near Mount Kailash (western Tibet), the abode of Lord Shiva. In a temple called Jwala Mai nearby, one can view two tiny blue flames that burn incessantly from a hole that also emits water, which is a source of fascination for pilgrims. Muktinath is also referred to as Chumig Gyatsa (a hundred-odd springs) by Buddhists. It is holy to them as the site of Lokeswar (Avalokiteshvara), the protective deity of Tibet.
Having paid homage to the gods and a cold shower under one of the spigots, you start your journey back to Kagbeni, hopefully rejuvenated. On the return trip, you will be treated to a changing landscape because of the changing colors due to the afternoon light. The view of Dhaulagiri is also splendid. You’ll reach Kagbeni in around three to four hours. Have a chilled beer, a nutritious dinner, and a well-deserved night of blissful sleep.