Tag Archives: Braga

Nepal: Wedding Anniversary Spent at Thorung-La at 5,416m

As you may recall, in our last post, we were bedding down over 4,800m to get some sleep before tackling the highest point of our trip, Thurong-La Pass. We had been looking forward to this day since the start of our trip. As this was our 2nd wedding anniversary, I’m already unsure how we’ll ever beat that for our future anniversaries, but that’s a thought for another day. To refresh your memories, here’s ther map of the last few days, as well as the coming 2 days. Read on for the full details!

Thorung La Trekking Map2

Thurong High Camp to Thurong-La Pass, Down to Muktinath

Well, this was it, the BIG day. Not only was this our wedding anniversary, but we’d also be crossing the highest point that we’d ever been at together on foot. The morning started out obviously very cold and dark, but we were pretty efficient at getting moving, packing up our bags yet again, and piling into the dining room to have a warm breakfast before finally taking off well before any light was to be seen. Our goal had been to sneak our before many of the other trekkers, in the hopes of having the summit all to ourselves (or close to it). Based on the distant glow of headlamps spread along the climbing trail before us, it was obvious we’d missed that boat. However, since we are pretty quick, we passed most of these people on our way up anyway, beaten only by one other group. In fact, it was a group we’d seen the past couple days on the trails.

First Appearance of Sun

Frost covered the ground as we picked our way along the trail towards the pass. Due to the cold, and general dark, there wasn’t much to do other than just walk. We could really see much, nor could I take any pictures. But that was ok, as we knew that we’d shortly be at the top, and that [hopefully] the sun would be shining. Just as I was starting to feel a little chilly, I spotted the first signs of sunlight when the peak of one of the nearby mountains was hit with the suns’ warm glow. Hurray!

Interestingly, in the past 2 days. we’d also picked up an extra traveler, in the form of a little furry 4-legged trekker. Yup, we had a doggie tagalong that was following us up and up, and would end up sticking with us all the way up and over, eventually even staying near our hotel at the end of the day. We ended up nicknaming him “Annapurna Arthur” after the adventure racing dog that joined a Swedish AR team at the AR World Championships in 2014.

Laying out the Flags

Even though it was sunny when we finally got to the pass, it was still quite cold up there. Similarly to the last pass we’d climbed over, Deanna and I took the time to bless some prayer flags and add them to the pile of other flags already there. We were also surprised by our guide and porter with a special blessing and given special silk scarves to wear to mark the occasion of our anniversary. It was obviously a pretty special day for us! Even though we were sitting at 5,316m, we spent a fair bit of time up there, since we knew we’d be dropping down pretty low by the end of the day. We posed for quite a few pictures, including the 2nd in our ‘Wedding Inception’ series, where we held a picture of us holding a picture of our wedding day. Our plan is to pose for a new picture each year with the previous year’s picture. As we get older, each picture will remind us of the special parts of each year we spend together married.

Wedding Inception Photo

After the pictures were wrapped up, we ducked into the tiny tea house situated at the pass for a warm cup of tea and some cookies. In the hut, the group of French tourists we’d met the day before and who beat us to the top today actually sang an anniversary song to us and wished us well. It was pretty cool. But let’s also pause and consider the fact that there is even a Tea House up here at 5,316m. Every morning, the owner trudges up from far below at Thurong Phedi in order to open it up, get the water boiling, and ready to serve tea to the first tourists that arrive. Obviously there was quite a premium paid for this tea, but given how hard it is to even boil water over 5,000m, it was pretty cool!

Tea consumed, pictures taken, and general happiness all around us, it was time to start making the downhill journey to our final stop for the day, Muktinath. Mercifully, this was a lot easier than our first pass. The path was a lot less steep, and wound lazily down the mountain. That’s not to say there weren’t still amazing views, because there were, but at least it wasn’t a hair-raising, quad-burning descent like last time. This would make sure that when we finally reached the bottom, we’d still have energy to do a little more hiking and properly celebrate our anniversary. Interestingly, as we made our way down, we could see the lush greenery of the village far below us, and would continue to see it the whole time we made our way there!

View of Villages Below

Once in Muktinath, we checked into our hotel, notably called The North Pole. We once again were treated to a nice room with an ‘en suite’ and with electricity. Yup. Luxury! After cleaning up, and settling in, we had a quick lunch, then joined our guide, porter, and a couple other Nepali guys to make a trek to the Muktinath Temple. This is a very unique place, as it is both a Buddhist and Hindu Temple on the same property. That is NOT a common thing. While here, we received more blessings and got to experience the spirituality of this place. The temple is visited by people all around the world, and is considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists.

After this unique experience, Deanna and I returned to our hotel, and retired to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the sun, watch tourists arriving in the village, and read while lazily drinking Fanta and Beers. Once again, since we’d been quick on the hike, we were well rested and relaxing as other tourists who’d also been to the pass gradually made their way to the village for the rest of the afternoon. We had a nice anniversary supper before turning in relatively early, since we had a pretty long trekking day ahead of us. All  in all, a very memorable way to spend our anniversary. We went to sleep feeling both loved and blessed. What more could you ask for?

Deanna Cleanses her Spirit

Muktinath to Jomsom

Interestingly, this final day in this part of the Annapurna region was going to end up being over 20km. This was rather unexpected, and was the first time we really felt the effects of the fuel shortage / blockade being imposed by India on Nepal. Originally, we were slated to walk a few hours to a place called Kagbeni before getting a jeep to Jomsom. However, due to the fuel shortage, there were very few vehicles, so we’d end up having to hoof it the entire way.

Heading Towards Kagbeni

While this unexpected trekking might have bothered some, we just rolled with it. In fact, when given the chance to cut off part of the hike, skipping the town of Kagbeni in order to walk straight to Jomsom, we didn’t hesitate to say NO and do the entire walk and make sure we got to see everything along the way. I’d love to say the entire day was amazing, but truthfully, the time we spent hiking after lunch was a bit of a struggle, but still very memorable. Let me explain.

The morning was pretty amazing. We made our way along the roads between the small villages in a nice sun. It wasn’t too hot, and the air was still, so it was a nice hike. We were heading very much downhill. Muktinath was at about 3,760m. Kagbeni was at 2,800m, and ultimately, Jomsom at 2,713m. Kagbeni itself was a charming village, with a nice feel to it. This is the gateway to another region of Nepal, known as the Upper Mustang. I suspect if / when we return to Nepal, we’d either go to the Everest region or the Upper Mustang. In Kagbeni, we visited an ancient temple, which was very impressive.

Main Temple Entrance

After Kagbeni, we continued trekking along the road to another little village called Ekle Bhattee. It was a pretty small place, but a nice break to enjoy our lunch. After lunch, things got interesting. We were turning southwards and walking along a dry riverbed. Unfortunately, there is an odd phenomenon that in the afternoons, the winds ALWAYS get whipped up. Add to the fact that this time of the year the river is pretty dry, and you will understand why I said it wasn’t so fun. There was a lot of sand and grit blowing into our faces, and the wind at times made even standing rather challenging! We made the best of it, fashioning buffs into impromptu bandanas, but after a while, I couldn’t even keep the camera out for fear of getting damage to the optics thanks to the sandblasting!

Preparing for Dusty Winds

This continued for the rest of the afternoon. We could see Jomsom in the distance, thanks to the relatively flat, straight riverbed, but it just dangled out there on the horizon for quite a while. Thankfully, the road was nearly traffic-free, so we weren’t attacked by too much flying gravel!

By the time we finally got into the village and checked in at the tourist police station (a normal formality in the permitted areas where we were hiking), my foot was getting very bothersome. I was looking forward to getting off my feet, potentially enjoying a drink, and cleaning up. Thankfully, to make up for the extra hiking in the wind, we scored another nice guest house, with a shower once again! We took advantage of this to both clean ourselves, as well as our [very] dusty clothes. Once cleaned up, and the laundry hung out in the sun to dry, we wandered / toured the village.

Along the way, we picked up a bottle of Apple Brandy from a village by the name of Marpha, famous for its apples (and associated products like this brandy). The plan was to share a nice bottle with Ram and Purna, as the next day was a bit of a ‘rest’ day, in that we’d be traveling by 4×4 from here to the start of our next hiking region, further south in the Annapurna region. We met up with a few other travelers as well that evening, swapping stories. In the end, we hung out with Ram and Purna, enjoyed the bottle, and their company. It was Purna’s first time trying the apple brandy, and he and I had talked about this being our treat after crossing both peaks. All in all, a great and memorable way to end off our time in the high Himalaya and the 2 summits we’d crossed! Next up, some trekking in a more jungle-like environment. Stay tuned for the next chapters!

A Toast to Purna and Ram

Nepal: Restful Days in the Annapurna Valley

Greetings all! In our last post, I took you through the more remote parts of our trek where we wandered the quiet side trails through the Nar Valley and up and over the 5,320m Kang-La pass. Well, for this post and the next, we now join back up with the main trail around the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, but also drag you all up with us up to the highest point in our trip, at 5,416m. This was the Thorung-La Pass, and was also the day of our 2nd wedding anniversary. Hard to top that! Luckily, the journey up to that height also included a couple shorter days spent enjoying the amazing scenery of the region. Here’s a map of that part of our trip. Read on for the full details of the short days before our 2nd major summit!

Thorung La Trekking Map2

Ngawal to Braga

After our incredibly long and challenging trekking on the day before, where we climbed up and over the Kang-La Pass, it was time for a slightly shorter day to recharge. Luckily, we had just the ticket. Ironically, we made this day even shorter than the original itinerary called. Instead of making our way from Ngawal all the way to Manang (a bigger village), we opted only to go as far as a small town called Braga. Why? Well, quite simply, I’d seen on a map that there were a few interesting side trips that could be easily hiked there on the same day, so I thought it might be fun to make a short trek to Braga, then spend an afternoon doing just an easy day hike with no packs.

The actual hike from Ngawal to Braga was pretty flat and just followed along the valley floor between the two villages. The way was quite dusty, but uneventful. Due to the fuel shortage already well in effect (although not clearly appreciated by us just yet), there was almost no traffic on what is normally a local road used by tractors, and motorbikes. So we had the road to ourselves, with just the warm sun keeping us company as we plodded along.

Monk Carvings

The other reason it seemed like a good idea to have a short day was that poor Deanna was really starting to feel the combined impact of being sick along the trek with the general tiredness of hiking every day. In the end, it meant that she could make the decision to spend the afternoon at the guest house with her feet up and just read a book and drink tea in the amazing sunshine and Himalaya views. Our porter also decided he’d take the afternoon off rather than join in the side hike. So, in the end, it was just our guide Ram and myself who made the all-uphill trek to the mystical Milarepa Cave. I was okay with that, as I knew it would make a happier overall trekking party if people had a bit of personal time. After a tasty lunch, Ram and I grabbed water and snacks, and left on foot.

Peaceful Area around Milarepa

After the long climb, which took us through some really nice wooded areas as well as past a few Gompas, we emerged at the top near the cave. It was a very quiet area, and we hadn’t seen a single soul on the entire trek. We quietly wandered around the spiritual site, eating a few cookies and having some water. It was just a beautiful peaceful day up there. The walk back was very uneventful as well, and I took the time to watch the way locals work in the fields during harvest time, using the same tools they’ve no doubt used for centuries. Very interesting.

To close the day / night off, we had another wonderful meal in this guest house. Interestingly, we were once again the only tourists in the area, and were outnumbered by the family members (and relatives) that lived in the area. As our supper was being prepared, we wandered over to a nearby monastery in hopes of getting to hear and see their evening prayers. Unfortunately, things were already locked up tight for the day. However, in interesting thing did happen after supper. They had satellite TV at our guest house, and after supper, we ended up watching (with the locals), a movie. What movie? Well it was The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Why is that interesting? Well, part of the movie takes part in Tibet, and the Himalaya mountains, and has Yeti in it. Here we were, in the Himalaya, watching a funny fictional adventure more set in the same area, but with locals. I got a kick out of watching them laughing at the situations and locations, but also had a different appreciation for the portrayal of the region and the temples in the movie. It just all seemed a little surreal!

Braga to Manang

After our short day from Ngawal to Braga, we followed that with an EVEN SHORTER and easier hike between Braga and Manang. While passing through was certainly possible, Manang is in fact the headquarters for the region, and therefore is a notable stop. It is also tourist central, and pretty much all trekkers and hikers make a stop in this village of 500 or so houses, which is quite large for the region! Again, however, having a short hiking day meant that we’d have the afternoon to go on a side hike.

Carvings on Route

Again, the hike between the two villages was pretty much a flat walk between two points. Probably not much more than a walk from my work office to the Market and Parliament Hill. But talk about a world of difference in scenery and feel! Just thinking about that for a moment really puts the whole trip in perspective. We saw only a few other people on our hike, spotting more people working in the fields for the fall harvest than anything else. When we arrived in Manang, we were quite early for the tourist crowds, so the guest house we checked into was still quite empty, enabling us to snag an amazing room with windows on 3 sides, looking directly into the Annapurna mountains around us. Spectacular!

Not only did we have exceptional views, but this room boasted a first for us in a while. We had an en-suite (of sorts), and, wait for it… electricity! Yup, there was a single outlet in the room (getting power from a solar panel on the roof), which allowed me to charge up everything from camera batteries to my Kindle. The ensuite also had a shower of sorts, so I took my first shower in days, hosing off the layers of dust and sweat with a relatively warm flow of water. We also headed into town to buy some powder detergent, allowing me to do some ‘bucket laundry’ and clean some of my trekking clothes. I’d been heavily recycling my duds anyway, but it was nice to clean them up. Darn western standards stuck in my head right?

Outhouse with a View

With laundry done, body washed up, and devices charging, we grabbed another tasty lunch before finally heading out for another afternoon hike. As usual, when you are in a valley, your options are usually limited to uphill hikes to take in the better views, and that’s just what we did. In this case, it was a hike up and along the Gangapurna Glacier. A nice example of a Himalayan glacier that finished off in a nice glacier lake that we got to walk by. At the top of the hike was a superb lookout area with lots of little snaking trails to wander around  and take in the view from different points. However, for me, I got a bigger kick out of going pottie in what I’d call yet another excellent example of a Loo with a View. The picture above doesn’t quite do justice, but you get the idea. Tiny little squat toilet here at 4000m, with fine views of the glacier and other surrounding mountains.

After our day hike, we settled in back at the hotel to meet other trekkers that had now completely filled up our hotel. I took advantage of the opportunity to get a nice cold Everest beer, and sit outside chatting with other world travelers. Deanna and I enjoyed chatting with new people and hearing lots of interesting stories and sharing in some funny experiences (which I won’t get into here, but hopefully it will trigger my memory about our bare chested Canadian vagabond friend and his bag of weed that he harvested en route….). All in all, a funny and fun night, that went later than usual. And by that, I mean we may have stayed up as late as 10pm, rather than the usual 8pm curfew.

End of Day Relaxing

While the plan had been to spend another day in Manang and just recharge there, we awoke the next morning, and over breakfast chatted over options with our guide and porter. In the end, we decided that pressing on might be the better idea. For two reasons. The most obvious was that it would get us to a higher elevation, thereby shortening the next day, when we’d hoped to get as close as we could to Thorung-La pass (making the summit day a bit easier). The second, and more esoteric reason was that it was ‘too easy’ in Manang. We’d found coffee shops, bakeries, lots of tourists, cold beer, plumbing, etc. Frankly, it had been a bit of a culture shock, and we weren’t ready to go back to the ‘luxuries’ yet. So, the plan was to press on, and move onto the tiny village of Gunsang, not far up the valley from Manang, but a world apart in feel.

Manang to Gunsang

So, with that, we moved on. Another relatively short day of trekking, and this time, with no side treks to follow up with. As a result, we didn’t get going to late in the morning, taking our time enjoying a final morning in Manang. What that really means is that Deanna went back to a cafe to have a tasty coffee. We also went to the local post office to send off a couple postcards. We made our way slowly and deliberately, but still covered the 4.3k in about 1h 15mins. That left us with quite a bit of day, and not too many things to do. Luckily, we’d picked up some playing cards in Manang, so passed the time playing various games.

Looking back at Manang

Lucky for us though, the weather was still quite amazing, so we also passed some time outside just taking in the view. I think that Gunsang, although it was comprised of basically 3 or 4 buildings, was one of my favourite little stops. Our guest house was tiny, but had a nice rooftop terrace with a bench on it, as well as a courtyard. When the sun was up and the air still, the roof was an ideal place to pass the time in a meditative way. When the wind picked up and made it too cold, you could sit in the courtyard, or move indoors where a nice panoramic window looked out from the dining area to the mountains across the valley. I defy anyone to look at the photo below and NOT be moved by the idea of being in that very spot and spending 10 minutes just staring out!

Enjoying the Vista

All in all, the rest and recharge would do us some good, as the next day would be another long one, and also finish off at a pretty high place. Our plans were to make our way from Gunsang all the way to a place called Thorung High Camp. Basically, the closest place you can sleep to the Thorung-La crossing.

Gunsang to Thorung High Camp

Here we are, on October 4th, the day before our wedding anniversary, and the day before we cross the highest mountain pass we’ve ever hiked to together. We got up at a reasonable hour, had our tasty breakfast, packed up, and headed out. The plan was to hike most of the way to High Camp before even stopping for lunch. This meant a near 14km of hiking, ascending over 1000m before eating again. In fact, lunch would be at Thorung Phedi, which sits at 4,525m itself!

Bridge to Head Towards Thorung

Luckily, we didn’t really have any time goals in mind, just to continue to feel strong as we went. Unfortunately, this was to be one of Deanna’s toughest days. The cold was really taking its toll on her, and I could see she was struggling a bit (although trying to hide it). In the end, I took both her daypack and my own on my back, allowing her to carry on unencumbered with anything but a water bottle. This helped her bounce back a little bit, and we still made good time. It was funny to note that even though she was ‘struggling’, we were still faster than pretty much anyone else we encountered on the trails.

The trek just became more and more beautiful this day, as we got ever closer to the high mountains. By the time we got to our lunch break, it was clear we would be done in good time again this day, leaving us with even more time for a potential side hike / acclimatization hike once we arrived.

Watch your Step

The most interesting part of this day would be our endpoint, which was at 4,868m. That’s a pretty high elevation to be sleeping, with a LOT less oxygen than you are used to. I wan’t sure how well we’d sleep and how we’d feel. Luckily, we were treated to tea and popcorn for a snack when we got to the high camp, so I knew that I’D feel great. After all, popcorn is a magical food, right?

Our room was pretty tiny, and the whole camp was in a pretty barren, but protected moonscape of a plateau high up in the mountains. There was a nearby scrambly hike that would take us a couple hundred meters higher and give us a little more chance to acclimatize before the big push on the next day. The four of us took the opportunity to head up that way, take a few pictures and just generally enjoy the views in the area. It was a surprisingly busy place, with lots of trekkers now here, and getting ready for the same push the next day.

Steve Looking Over High Camp

Given the early darkness up here, and the accompanying cold at the high elevation, we didn’t stay up very long after we ate supper. We went over plans with our guide and porter, agreeing to be amongst the first to leave in the morning, to give us the best shot of a quiet and peaceful summit experience. With that, we wandered down to our room, tucked ourselves into our warm sleeping bags, and tried to get some sleep.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we pick back up from here, and climb up and over the Thurong-La Pass for our wedding anniversary!