Day 11: Kagbeni - Tukuche
via the East Bank
Total distance: 238.63km
Total Ascent: 11279m
Total Descent: 9537m
Halfway point of the trip (if all goes to plan). I can't believe I still have so much more to see.
Not a drop of snow on the ground today, but plenty of snowy mountains in the background. After a rude awakening at 4:30am by the noisy pilgrims, I hit the road early. The two hour flat walk down to Jomson along the dry riverbed was by far the most boring part of the circuit so far. With nothing to see except gravel and jeep after jeep passing by, I hurried through this part to make it to the more interesting section.
Once I found my way through the large town of Jomson I took the path on the opposite side of the river to the main road to escape the traffic. This lead me through small villages, past a jade-coloured lake and up to a monastery on a hill with 360 degree views. I didn't see another hiker the entire time.
From there I descended to Marpha, taking a shortcut with the help of some local workers. One advised me to take it. Another didn't. The issue was a narrow bridge further ahead, made of two planks of wood, with no side barriers or railings to hold on to, over a fast-flowing river, with strong winds picking up. I was up for the challenge. It turned out to be easy, and saved me half an hour of walking.
Marpha was a strange village. I felt like I had stepped into an abandoned town from the Wild West. All the buildings were made of white stone fitted with burgundy wooden doors and window frames. There were at least a dozen stores offering yak hair and woollen souvenirs, as well as the usual collection of guesthouses, but all were devoid of visitors. I was half expecting tumbleweed to roll across my path.
I stopped for lunch at one guesthouse, chosen because they advertised organic vegetables grown in their own garden. I browsed the menu and found a spinach and mushroom burger and, after the usual interrogation about ingredients, I ordered it. It was fantastic. Actual vegetables, not canned ones. I'm enjoying the Asian meals but to eat a burger was a welcome change. Later on I even saw a shop selling vegetables. I almost stopped to pick up a bag.
After lunch I was back on the path again, battling the intense winds as I passed through more tiny villages and walked along the edge of cliffs. I was back in the land of pine forests and rice terraces, and it was nice to see a colour other than grey-brown. At one point I made a long, steep climb up to a town that apparently offered incredible views of a nearby icefall. The clouds had beaten me yet again, making me regret the effort exerted.
I couldn't find the exit to the town so I asked a local man. He pointed me down a narrow, overgrown path and assured me I would find steps down to the road. After 10 minutes of downhill walking all I found was the edge of a cliff. I could see the road far below, but after my experience at the Ice Lake I knew I would not be scaling the cliff wall to reach the road. I walked all the way back up to town, found a local woman and asked her which way to go. She pointed down the same path. Nope, I said, find me a different way. She pointed back the way I had come into town, so that's where I went. At the top of the village I found the main road, leading exactly where I wanted it to.
I passed by a school with some interesting facts about Nepal painted on its walls. The national flower is the rhododendron. The national colour is crimson. The national animal is the cow.
After a long day of walking I made it to Tukuche. Like Marpha, it was dead quiet. Many of the houses had those doors that split in half, and the locals would be standing behind the bottom half and watching life go by out the top. At the hotel I ran into a group of mountain bikers who had passed me earlier in the day. They came over the pass yesterday, the morning of the big snow dump, which made for a difficult descent. I still can't believe people can push bikes up that mountain in the first place.