The long trek to Tange
After yesterdays reasonably short trek to Yara we were now looking at two days with no place to eat or get water until the evening on our trek from Yara to Tange. This is Easter Upper Mustang’s challenge. A lack of trekking lodges or villages along the route. In someways it also protects the trails from over tourism and trekking. Thus it’s a remote trekking area filled with natural surroundings.
We’d been told that at the halfway point on the trail to Tange there was now a small tea house in a place called Dye which offered a room for the night and food. Things were looking up in Eastern Mustang. But water was not always meant be good in that region so we brought extra bottles just in case – no filters or indeed water sources could be found.
Our trek got off to an ominous start as clouds had moved in during the night. During our entire trek this was the only day where there was cloud cover. As ACAP haven’t been in this region for over two years there are also no signs whatsoever marking the trail. This was difficult as directional signs would really have helped due to the difficulty of finding a good climbing path both down and up he plateau. We made our way down to the valley below and climbed up the steep canyon. We were on the way to the top of one of the impressive martian like plateaus we’d spotted the day before.
The cloudy plateau and a race to Dye
At the top of the plateau I was slightly disappointed. The long expanse of terrain was very impressive, but the clouds in the distance did not do this table-top style plateau justice. K arrived behind us with his guide and porter. If there was one solace to be had it was the silence. There was little wind and the tundra looked desolately wonderful in the mornings cloudy chill.
Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed or perhaps it was the cloud cover. But when K’s guide arrived behind us and began excessively hacking up phlegm along with his porter it grated terribly. The open stretch of tundra ahead, I set off at a quickened pace just under the speed of jog. If it were not for the long day ahead then a jog would have been possible. The trail ahead was flat and smooth. Easy to follow and I left the others behind.
At the end of the plateau was a steep valley wall filled with stone, loose gravel and dirt. There’s a trick to trekking on such terrain I wouldn’t recommend. When faced with this type of ground it’s easier and little safer to treat it almost like a ski slope. Walking slowly meant the stones could slip out under you. With speed they didn’t have a chance and at that ones heavier footstep crushed them down further. With that I was off on a downward trail run.
The rubble crunched under my feet as I pounced down on it for a few feet before turning in zig zag fashion to another side of the mountain. If the rubble slipped to much I moved faster and lurched further aiming for a larger stone to slow me down. At times I had to slow down and remind myself that despite having trekking insurance one wrong turn or twist and a rescue would still be days away in such an area.
Believe it or not, despite the Chinese crossing the border regularly to bring over goods and an open road being built – it still took 2 days to get “permission” for a rescue helicopter to enter the area. To put that in to perspective – getting a rescue helicopter to Everest Base Camp takes 30 minutes.
Don’t Let Dye Die or yourself on the way there
Through channels of rocky outcrops I finally emerged on a side of cliff overlooking a river below. There was a tiny bridge to the right and a suspension bridge to the left. A small town appeared below to the the right. This was the longest I hesitated. There was no trail on either side. My guide out of sight behind me. My plan was to reach Dye, have lunch and wait for them. But which way to go?
The river to the right looked so small and would need to be crossed. A mountains trick is that rivers always look smaller than above. Meanwhile the trail to the left was non-existent with tall columns of black and grey rock reaching past 90 degree drops below. There’s one other trick of the mountain which tells you that some of these near vertical chasms have rock with tiny holes and ridges that make for an excellent grip despite the drop below. I opted for the drop and the suspension bridge route.
The chasms were like long stone fingers with a funnel of loose stones in between them. As I gingerly began my descent I discovered two things. The giant fingers of stone were easy to grip on to while the stones in between them could barely hold up air. The result was that I made my way down by placing my feet on a giant rock finger on either side. The journey down was only tainted once when I placed a foot on the stone in between which sent a river of stones plummeting down to the ridge below.
After this hesitation and self-made trail finding I waited for my guide before we crossed the newly built suspension bridge and trekked down the loose earth trail at the other side under the yawning expanse of a cliff face. This was perhaps the most difficult of tasks as the wind was starting up early. Nonetheless we reached the bottom and walked over to the lone tea house which was to offer us our only meal that day.
The tea house in Dye was completely closed up
Surrender our trek or carry on without food
I ventured into the tea house. The rooms were not padlocked but definitely closed. It’s still somewhat customary in remoter areas to never lock a building if you leave it for the night. It means those seeking shelter could use it for protection against the elements. In this case the rooms were unlocked but empty. My guide walked on ahead to scout out if the buildings a mile or so down the road were occupied or not.
There was another building next door behind a gated wall. I went in to investigate in case they offered food. A lone man sat on a bed in front of a desk. He was slightly startled to see me but spoke good English. I explained what we were doing there and he confirmed that the teahouse owner had sold it and only left the day before thinking there would be no more trekkers for the winter.
I will admit to hinting we were in need of lunch and I have no doubt if directly asked the man would have offered. However he explained that he was just looking after the building the community building for the next week or so before also leaving for the winter. The main town had a school that was still open and maybe they could give us some food. My guide offered me the same option however it would mean that we might have to detour around Tange as we’d be short of time. It meant an early return to Chuusang by way of Tsarang again.
The alternative was to trek on up over the mountain in front of us. A trek the caretaker said would be at least five hours. Worse yet he made mention of harsh cold winds given the days weather. I had little doubt what I wanted.
Carry on to Tange
I still had trekking bars. My guide had a packet of dried noodles and a packet of biscuits. I had two liters of water remaining. Would it be enough for a near 5 hours upwards trek? Behind us K, his guide and porter came into view. They would have to make a similar decision. I had no idea if they had supplies of not. Surely with the porter they did. If not they would also be told about the school a mile or so away.
The journey up the tundra covered mountain was indeed blustery. A 45 degree trail all the way. The caretaker made mention of a second trail we should avoid when they joined at a fork. After that it would only be three hours to the top. From there it would all be downwards to Tange. After a couple of hours we stopped. I ate two trail bars while my guide crunched on his dried noodles. We offered each other portions of our food and politely declined all the same.
Three hours later and were indeed at the top of the mountain. Only there was no valley with Tange below. What lay before us was a huge expanse of yet another barren and arid plateau. If the journey up hadn’t been so harsh I might have groaned. Instead I laughed and informed my guide the journey wasn’t over yet. Whatever Tange was it seemed that we had to pass a journey’s test to reach it.
The long road to Tange continues
Crossing the windswept tundra of the plateau was not that difficult aside from the brazen winds that slapped at us for an hour or so. The other side of plateau dropped off into a deep pristine valley below. A river wound its way smoothly along the bottom with a tiny idyllic town across its waters. The terrain beneath our feet changed from tundra to large smooth stones that were similar to stones from the sea.
These stones were difficult to walk on as they were too small to step on without rolling over and too big to step between them. They slowed us down emphatically. Beside us the emerging trail to the right was a near vertical drop down to orchards and a rivers edge far below. Tange was indeed putting up many obstacles on the route there. If anything it would be an isolated village.
The last plateau was an awesome one. Tundra dotted the flatlands and the wind was refreshing as it pushed us along from behind. We laughed at the feeling that Tange was nowhere to be found and all it did was push up obstacles on our way to locating it. It didn’t matter anymore …
We were headed towards somewhere special.
The mythical spires of Tange
Ahead here was a small herd of cows blocking the route down to where a small town appeared around the valleys corner. The thick clacking of bouncing stones sounded to our left where the valley cliff rose up alongside where we walked down to the town.
Then another stone clacked down and then another. I looked up and could see another cow up high on the valley ridge gingerly making its way from a lone green green bush to another. It looked down at us while sending another bone breaking stone clacking down. It took some timing to avoid the assault from the cow that acted like a mountain goat above us. Passed this last obstacle Tange town fully emerged.
Mystical like iron-ore-red spires rose up from brown stone streets. Chortens seemed to split the village in half before culminating at an usually red and white wall at the end of the village. Tange for all in intents and purposes was more than just mystical but magical. It seemed I’d finally found a place in Upper Mustang more enchanting than Lo Manthang.
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