Trekking in Rainshadow

From Nepali Times, ISSUE #7 (30 AUG 2000 – 05 SEPT 2000)

Even though the Pokhara Jomsom trek is the best appointed among the many hill walking routes in Nepal,during the monsoon this too deserves mention.Firstly, here is the place and time for trekkers who turn their nose up when it comes to being with “other trekkers “.Rest assured,the monsoon trek leading from Birethanti to Jomsom is bereft of all but the most intrepid travellers.The pace in the villages is slower,the bhatti pasalnis have more time to chitchat,and there is general renovation and growth all over.Even the black half- mastiff who must be called “Kaley ” at Tikhe Dhunga has the time to gamely accompany you on the killer climb all the way to Ulleri (2240m).

The other thing that accompanies you throughout the trek is the sound of water: dripping,pattering,gurgling, roaring,thundering.Nepal at this time of year is rainland. And as long as you know to scurry across a landslide section when the rain is coming down hard,you are okay.Watch the Kali Gandaki at it becomes of slighter girth as you travel upstream.You are now entering Nepal ‘s most celebrated rainshadow area starting at Thak Khola and to Upper Mustang.The tropical foliage of the southern slopes gives way to alpine,and still further up the stunted growth of dwarf juniper and thorn bushes.

There are other small advantages of walking these monsoon paths:any other time of the year the trail is littered with mule droppings and the ammoniac stench is overpowering.In the monsoon the dung is washed clean by the rains.Also,being a mule highway,the Kali Gandaki trail is rocky and wide so the leeches can ‘t get at you if you walk along the centre of the path.

By the time you arrive at Jomsom and meet up with the throng which has been waiting for flights out for a week,and hence have stopped appreciating the scenery,you are truly in desert terrain.The splendidly fluted curtain of Nilgiri is (disconcertingly)to the south -yes,you are still within Nepal but the Himalaya forms the southern horizon.

At Muktinath is the sacred flame in close proximity to a gurgling underground brook that flows by.In this holy land,fire and water mingle. The trip so far is on the whole a low altitude trek,but if you have the energy and the interest you have the option of “taking a hike ” upwards from Muktinath to Thorung La, the great watershed separating the Kali Gandaki and Manang Valleys.At the top,you take a glass of water and pour half of it to one side and the other on the other side.The eastern half will flow down to Manang and the Marsyangdi to meet the Trisuli (later Narayani)below the great suspension bridge at Mugling. The western half of the glass will join the Kali Gandaki,and the water will be part of the process cutting the deepest gorge on earth.Water from two halves of the glass will meet again where the Kali Gandaki meets the Narayani at the holy sangam of Dev Ghat. It’s good to know your Nepali geography, particularly on a trek.

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