Tue, 18 Jun, 2024

The District Behind the Himalayas

By Bijaya Kumar Shrestha

Mustang District is a part of Dhaulagiri Zone and located to the North of Annapurna at an average altitude of 4,000m. Mustang is called “Himal Pariko Jilla” which means the district behind the Himalayas. Jomsom is district’s headquarter and famous for fast blowing wind in the noon. Land structures of the district are arid and dry with colorful rock formations containing many caves. It seems like a cold desert.

In addition to trekking through Upper Mustang and Annapurna Circuit in lower Mustang, the district is famous for Muktinath Temple. Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The temple is at an altitude of 3,800m, at the foot of the Mountain, Thorong La. Hindus call it Mukti Kshetra, which literally means the "Place of Liberation". The Buddhists call it Chumig Gyatsa, which means "Hundred Waters". The Tibetan Buddhists say that their Guru Rinpoche had meditated at Muktinath on his way to Tibet.

The most suitable time to visit Muktinath is from March to June. The formal journey to Muktinath starts from Beni. On 12th of April, I and Sabitri, my Jahan (beloved wife), started our journey to Muktinath on bike. There, we knew that Beni falls in two districts, Parbat and Myagdi. Passing through Beni of Parbat district, we followed the graveled road by the side of River Kali Gandaki. On the first day, our stop was Jomsom, 76 kilometers from Beni. We biked through dangerous roads of Mahabhir, Bhirkhope and passed Rato Pani and Tato Pani. It is said that bathing at Rato Pani and Tato Pani Ponds kills different skin, muscle and skeletal diseases. Due to lack of publicity, very few people know about this fact. As it is at a short distance from Beni and can be reached easily, these places can be a good tourist attraction points of Myagdi district. Many bikers failed to cross the road by the side of Rupse Chahari. I was one of them and dipped half of my body into the water. Ghasa is the last point of Myagdi district.

The road from Ghasa to Jomsom is far better than the road from Beni to Ghasa. I felt like the government body of Myagdi district is paying less attention towards it than the government body of Mustang district.  As we crossed Ghasa, it started raining. Luckily, we had taken the rain coat and did not have to stop biking. As we moved up, I started freezing because half of my body was wet at Rupse Chahari. After reaching Lete, one of the locals said, “As we go up, the rain will stop.” His words gave us lots of courage. But, his sentence was proved false by the weather. I was not in a condition to drive more because my legs were freezing inside the wet boots. We were looking for some place to stop and sit by the side of fire, and finally found a Thakali kitchen at Kubang. We sat by the side of fire and tried to make ourselves warm and ordered tea. By my experience, I know that drinking tea in journey adds a lot of energy. I changed the socks and wrapped foot by the polythene. Taking some extra socks and polythene will be beneficial in the journey. After drinking tea and having noodle soup, we moved towards Jomsom. The very famous Marpha Gaun was on the way. This place is famous for apple farming and the local alcohol Marpha. Mustangis have decorated and developed it as Tourism village of the district. Sabitri remembered the song “Kya ramro syau bari marpha gaunwai ma”. Finally we reached Jomsom at around 6:30 pm after biking for nine hours from Beni.

The target of second day was from Jomsom to Muktinath and to Jomsom. But, it was raining heavily at night and there was snow fall in Muktinath. We were not sure, whether we would be able to catch up with our plan or not as the weather was going bad. Frequently, I was having a look on the Weather App, but weather report was not in our favor. At around 8:00 am, it stopped raining and we moved to Muktinath on bike. Because of snow fall at night, the road was slippery and we had to leave bike at Jharkot which is above Kagbeni. We started walking up. It was very difficult to walk in the high altitude. Both of us were on fast and really tired. We had to hire two horses to reach the foot of Muktinath temple. Finally, we reached the temple and prayed. It was one of the successful achievements.

The small Muktinath temple has a golden statue of Vishnu. In addition, the temple has statues of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Janaki, Garuda, Lava-Kusa and Sapta Rishi. There is also an old Buddhist monk worshiped according to the Buddhist nuns. The outer courtyard of the temple has semi-circular wall with 108 stone bull faces through which ice cold water is poured. Devotees take holly bath under the water flowing through 108 taps. Water flowing through the mouths of these bulls is the main source of river Kali Gandaki and the Kali Gandaki River, downstream from Muktinath, is the main source of the rare stone Shaligram. It is believed that these stones are required to establish a temple of Vishnu and people keep it in prayer rooms. Selling these rare stones to the visitors is one of the main businesses of the local people. The local people also sale the fur of tail of Chaunri Gai which is also kept in the prayer room by Hindus.

After worshiping at the Muktinath temple, many pilgrims visit Jwala Mai temple. It is the small temple of miraculous fire, situated near the entrance gate of Muktinath temple. As the name suggests, the temple is famous for its continuously burning natural gas fire, which Hindus worship as Jwala Mai. She is the goddess of fire.

I can never forget Rita didi and Damauli bhai, whom I met in the journey. Rita didi served us well in the hotel. Damauli Bhai is from Damauli, aged 13 and working in the hotel. He came there just before three months and was already almost famous in small Jomsom Bazar. Owner of the hotel sends him to the school and treats him very well. They take him to the hospital for regular check ups as he has some stomach problem. Even Damauli Bhai said, “Maile yenha khana pako chu, padna pako chu, paisa pako chu. Damauli ma tei pani paunthena”. It created confusion, is it really child labor?

Besides Rita didi and Damauli Bhai, I cannot forget three beautiful Thakali girls. We gossiped more than an hour, sitting by the side of fire. Two of them are working in Tourism Development Bank and one of them is the daughter of Hotel Owner. One of the two, who are working in Bank, had beautiful dark eyes and white round face. Silky long, black hair flowing through the side of her face was an addition to her beauty. She was not speaking more but smiling. She was looking at me frequently with full attention and seemed attracted. This is just my assumption; I did not know what was flowing in her mind. The lady who was paying more attention towards me was asking to go for evening walk around the Jomsom Bazar together. She said, “Jomsom Bazar looks very beautiful in the light.” I replied, “It may not be as beautiful as you are.” All of us laughed on it. To give them a surprise, I asked Damauli Bhai to call Sabitri down and sit by the side of fire. As soon as Sabitri came, two of the beautiful girls prepared themselves to leave the place.  Their dream was dropped down, I felt pity on them.

The third day of our travel was from Jomsom to Beni. Early at 6:25 am, we left Jomsom. I had heard that Mustang is “Himal Pariko Jilla”, but after having travelled to Mustang, I felt that it really is the district behind the Himalayas. Generally, we turn towards the North to see the Himalayas but in Mustang, we turned towards the South to see the Himalayas. Leaving the Himalayas behind and biking by the side of Kali Gandaki River in the sloppy and slippery roads we reached Beni at around 1:30 pm.