Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 7 - Tatopani to Kagbeni... Into Mustang Territory.

Googlemaps travel times crack me up.  This was a solid 4-5 hour day on a motorccyle.

Tatopani to Kagbeni, Mustang, Nepal

I got up at 6:30am and made my way down to the hot springs.  There were about a half dozen Nepalis there enjoying the freshly cleaned and filled pool.  The environs were basic and under improvement.  They were doing a nice job and seemed to be keeping it simple, which is nice.  It was a 100 rupees, or $1US, entry.  The changing room was a simple concrete surrounding and was definitely built for Nepali sized people.  The wall came up to my nipples at best.  

The pool was flagstone and only about 2 feet deep which was perfect.  You could get in and sit down leaning up against the wall and it came up just to the armpits.  The water was crystal clear and lacked any sort of sulphur smell.  And it was perfectly hot.  Not too hot to get in but hot enough that 15 minutes of soaking required a 5 minute cool down, repeat.

The glacial green river rushed through its rapids a hundred feet away and cicadas sang an interesting morning melody.

When I was thoroughly cooked, I returned to the guesthouse and packed my belongings up, which is getting to be a more orchestrated routine.  I wolfed down some fried eggs and potatoes, loaded the bike and headed into the unknown.  

The views were incredible.  The mountains huge and snowcapped and catching the sunlight that had yet to make it into the valley.  The road was instantly as rough as it had been yesterday.  I climbed further up from the river.  The single lane road was more of a jeep trail than a road.  I had to pick my line very carefully and keep momentum.  The jagged rocks threatened and with such low clearance the chance of smashing a hole in the crankcase was real.  The first half of the day was all slower than first gear riding.  Lots of clutch feathering constantly.  Later in the day, once I’d passed the police checkpoint at Ghasa, I’d left the jungle behind and had reached the high pine forests.  The road flattened out some and got just a little smoother.  It was good enough to allow for some second gear riding but just when I could get up to 30 kph, some hidden road surprise would force me back down into first gear again.  

There were several water crossings but one in particular was deep.  I’m sure the exhaust pipe was getting close, if not submerged so I needed to stay heavy on the gas.  There was an audience standing around as a bus had just come through and trekkers and mountain bikers were making the water crossing as well.  My boots took on loads of water but the rest of me stayed relatively dry.

The smells of the forest were incredible and brought back nostalgic memories of riding in Colorado.  But the views were nothing of Colorado… these mountains are so big they are hard to comprehend and the valleys are vast.  I passed through small villages with gompas on the hillsides and prayer wheels along the roads.  I stopped in Tukuche at a little guesthouse that was advertising Himalayan Organic french press coffee.  I figured that since it was only 1pm and I was making good time, I’d have a cup and enjoy the sunshine and let the Royal Enfield take a break.

The Nepali lady running the guesthouse asked if I’d like some homemade apple crumble with my coffee.  “Is it good?” I asked.  “It’s the best,” she responded with a smile, “that’s why I recommended it.”  I laughed.  “Ok then, let’s have some apple crumble too.”

I sat in the sun and took in the scenery.  I was aware that the wind was picking up and this area of Lower Mustang is know for its blasting afternoon winds.  My coffee was excellent and the apple crumble put a giant smile on my face.  And I’m not even a dessert guy.

I noticed that they had chemical free safe drinking water from the village spring, so I paid 30 rupees to fill up my bottle as well.  I paid and saddled up the bike, pushing off into the wind for Marpha.  Marpha was a little village with whitewashed walls and a huge row of prayer wheels.  Doug, the guy in Tatopani, had told me that some years back a Japanese apple farmer had come to the area and introduced apple farming in Marpha because of the perfect conditions for growing apples.

I climbed on and was soon out of the trees and vegetation and into the high desert.  The wind was kicking up massive clouds of dust, but it was blowing from behind me making it much more tolerable than if I was riding into it.  The road turned back to really rough and rocky.  Like total rock now, back to slower than first gear again pumping the clutch and picking my way through the rocks.  It was then that I decided I needed to find someone who could translate “mighty goat” into Nepalese for me, because that is what I wanted to name the Enfield.

I finally made it to Kagbeni.  It was a charming little village on the very edge of the Upper Mustang Conservation Area.  I looked up the valley with heavy desire.  It was inviting and alluring, especially because it was opened to the public not that long ago and few people have visited compared to the Annapurna Area which receives thousands of tourists each year.   I rode the Enfield through the cobbled walkway of Kagbeni, which was once a part of the Kingdom of Mustang.  When I reached a steep rocky uphill section of the walkway, a young man was washing greens in the water flowing through a rock canal.  He told me that the way got more challenging ahead and I should consider stopping here and staying at his guesthouse.

He told me I could park my bike in the stable next to his and would show me a room.  The room was nice, he was nice and there was hot water to boot.  Warming up in the hot shower and getting my wet feet warmed up tipped the scales.

Some nice college girls from New Zealand were staying the night as well.  They’d crossed Thorung La the day before.  We chatted about trekking and skiing and all kinds of normal traveler chat.  It was nice to have some company after the hours of riding alone.

I had Dal Baht for dinner again but this time with local dried and rehydrated yak meat.

I talked with Tashi Gurung, the young guesthouse proprietor, about Upper Mustang.  He said it is possible to ride a motorcycle all the way to Lo Manthang and beyond to Tibet.  But other than the $500US/10day permit, it was prohibited to travel alone.  At a minimum two foreigners and a Nepali guide were required.  My mind was astir with future expeditions.  Hmmmmm.

I slept well even at this high elevation and cold.  My sleeping bag and liner were performing perfectly.  I added my lightweight long underwear and  kufeiya scarf and was perfectly toasty all night.

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