Our Trek begins to East Upper Mustang
On my last night in Lo Manthang K knocked on my door. Earlier in the night his own guide had finally relented and agreed to take him to eastern Upper Mustang as well. The old man had come to thank me for making this happen. I felt a little awkward as quite honestly I had wanted to trek eastern upper Mustang myself anyway. K had his own guide and journey so it really had very little to do with me. However, the fact I was going with my guide had brought enough bravado to the equation so K could insist to his own guide to take him.
Prema the lovely lady at Norling had given us the name of a place to eat on the way to Yara where we would stay the night. Eastern Upper Mustang does not see many trekkers compared to the classic route and in winter tea houses catering to trekkers often close up. Her thoughts were well appreciated as were the additional tips she gave us all. There would be no electricity or mobile reception. It was cold. The winds were fierce.
We even ran into our horseman from the day before from our trip to Jhong caves who also expressed equally intrepid thoughts and raised eyebrows at our winter undertaking. There was no snow. Granted it was -5 most nights but nothing out of the ordinary. It only added to the growing expectation towards the next stage of our Upper Mustang trek.
Leaving Lo Manthang
We left the walled city at 7.30am retracing our steps back up the way we came into the once hidden kingdom. Normally one would feel some sort of poignant lingering having finally visited the fabled city. However in this case I felt it was more like an accomplishment had been achieved. Lo Manthang was great apart from approaching Chinese influx I felt would be pouring into the area in the coming years. I purposely avoided much sentiment while here for fear of the great change that would eventually occur. I’d learned those lessons already in the rest of Nepal as many Nepali are finding out too.
Little did I know but what would occur over the next few days would far surpass any feelings about Lo Manthang’s future
The first part of the new trek was up to a relatively easy ridge trail over a steep valley. An open expanse with a deep blue sky above eased us into the journey ahead. The views of sheer mountain rock yet again changed from the previous days. They took on a picturesque look with ripples of mountains layering back between two dramatic mountain walls that provided us with a gateway to the east.
Reaching the town of Dhee
A jagged river along a sharp bend marked our downward trek into the village of Dhee. Our pleasant mornings trek was then full on assaulted by the shouts of the large trekking group we’d bypassed in the days before reaching Lo Manthang. They were back! All ten plus ten porters plus random extras. This trekking group that was actually a mountaineering group taking full advantage of the loop hole that allowed them to explore the rest of upper Mustang had made it to the eastern side.
My guide was equally frustrated. They shouldn’t have been here. They were due to climb a mountain close to Lo Manthang and not trek the eastern side. Again, aside from being a large group which is always annoying our concern was with time, food and accommodation. All things a large group eats up. With no bags to carry the group practically ran down the trail kicking up huge plumes of dust into our faces.
At the entrance to Dhee they seemed a little lost. My guide was not. He asked their guide where they were going. The guide replied they were looking for Potala hotel. We headed to Hira hotel. Ordered lunched in haste. Within 10 minutes the group arrived at Hira as if purposely trying to antagonize us.
They filled the small hotel’s restaurant area and began ordering their usual variety of pastas, non-existence steaks and omelettes. They were armed with walkie-talkies and seemed to be guiding the rest of their crew here as well. K was packing his bag when he lost his seat to them. I made room beside me as we ate our meals in a rush over the cacophony of the ensuing party.
From Dhee to Yara
Again, I may seem like a grouch. But large trekking groups of 20 or so are horrendous to encounter. What was more frustrating was that they were a mountaineering group and not a trekking group and in reality shouldn’t have been there at all.
My guide had struck up a conversation with one of the groups porters. Apparently back when we first encountered them half of their porters had decided the trek was too tough so deserted them. They were rounding up more in Lo Manthang when they decided to visit Yara for one night. Thankfully my guide also found the name of the place they’d staying so we could give it a wide birth. Sadly it was the only one with charging sockets in town.
We took advantage of an abruptly short lunch to a look around Dhee. It was a small down with a mix of sandy colored buildings and typical upper Mustang style whitewashed buildings. Horses seemed to be plentiful here and it did have an idyllic quality about it nestled alongside the low river. We crossed the river and stayed within the valley floor to make our way for an afternoon of river bed viewing. Local horsemen galloped by us on occasion with impressive speed.
We soon began an upward trek. Less steep than on the way down to Dhee. The trail was barely visible but all the same quite obvious to follow. Rising up to the ridge we caught our first glimpse of black stone and mountains whose side had been cut into conical shapes once more.
The blackish valley of Yara comes from sediment in the rock above
Arriving into Yara Town
Above the black valley were more caves along a cliff whose sole view were the spartan brown trees below that blended with the rock so well. Yara had a very definite earthy feel to it. As if the town itself was camouflaged by the earth tone browns and black rock it stood on. We’d gone from vivid colors to blacks, browns and dark yellows. Even the whitewashed houses of Yara were disguised behind the last browning leaves of an autumn tree line.
There’s no set trail through Yara as fallen apple tree leaves covered any trace. We passed the hotel the group were destined for and met the first local only to disappoint him that we were not his intended guests. He seemed happier when we told him they were following on. For us we arrived at the Rooftop Guest House where the owner Prem was ecstatic to welcome us. He was harvesting apples and handed out close to a dozen to us all.
We were then met as if on queue by three ladies dressed in Tibetan style blue dresses. It was the first time anyone had approached us to buy trinkets in Upper Mustang so their attention was not bothersome. While focusing on me at first I managed to explain K was a rich Japanese man with no bracelets or wife! K then persuaded them that he was too old for either and that our guides had plenty of money. Bombarded plea’s for a purchase my guide finally told them about the incoming group at the other hotel. The ladies took off to form a new welcoming party as we laughed. I hoped they score some expensive sales.
A side trek to Ghara
Prem told us it was only about an hour to the nearby hillside town of Ghara which my guide seemed rather excited to visit for some reason. K also wanted to join us sans his own guide who was enjoying a beer and more apples. The trail followed a track frequented by horses and cows in the area. The landscape went from Yara’s black valley to rich brown stone.
For a man in this upper seventies K was yet again taking everything in his stride. The journey was slightly longer than one hour and not helped by the afternoon winds blustering around us. As we rounded the valley corner I thought Ghara would come into view. But there was another sight we weren’t expecting. A rather new looking off-road motorcycle perched on a rocky outcrop. There was no owner in sight. Apparently it had broken down so he just left it there as he lived in Ghara. Getting a mechanic in this part of the world is not so easy. Theft is non-existent too. So no better to place to leave it than in the protection of an Eastern Upper Mustang rocky outcrop.
Ghara itself houses one tea house but the whole town looks decidedly deserted. Water shortages have the town barely hanging on by a cusp. I thought back to the ghost village next to Lo Manthang where the villagers had to migrate to the capital and were less than warmly welcomed. Would Ghara suffer the same fate?
A night in Yara
So far Eastern Mustang bore all the hall marks of a traditional trekking route in the Nepal of yesteryear. Barely visited trails, friendly honest people and a great earthy quality. As an example I asked for two fried eggs with my Dal bhat that night. From the dining room I heard a commotion in the kitchen. Apparently Prem’s wife had broken the egg and didn’t know what to do. This went on for two minutes. I very nearly got up to go in and say it didn’t matter.
Instead my guide came into the dining room with Prem’s wife and a long unnecessary explanation on what had happened and would I eat an omelette instead. This is the sheer innocence that’s lost in many other parts of Nepal’s popular trekking routes if not the world.
I nestled into my thick blankets that night, one over me and the other over the hard Nepali style mattress below. A bell tinkled in the wind outside as a horse next door neighed.
Eastern Mustang was living up to my expectations. I rediscovering trekking as it should be. Tomorrow would be different. In hindsight the day would be a mix of bad weather culminating in discovering the very best place in all Upper Mustang.
The following links about Upper Mustang may help you:
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