The late April journey around Annapurna Circuit was made nostalgic by an impulsive decision from the affable Czech friends to stop at Braka and explore the Ice Lake. After a day of jeep ride from BesiShahar and two days of recuperating short nature walks that followed trails along the Marsyangdi river and proceeded through trout farms, huge bee hive in the cliffs, hills that looked like boulders and the continuously varying mountain scenery that dazzled us, the serene and cozy Braka was a welcoming nod.
Braka’s monastery which is the oldest in the region and its small community looked like a primordial settlement of houses built on the rock face. “Himalakokaakha ma cha sanomerogaun” was the feeling that transcended through me during the evening stroll to a small chorten facing the monastery.When we returned, the pasture land below was a playfield for a herd of horses, young and energetic, and watching them was a pleasant pastime for our evening amusement.
The hike to Ice Lake (4600m) the next day was a strenuous journey, breaking us down. However, this was a proper acclimatization scheme.The tranquil blue lake at the top with accompanying view of snowy mountains scantily dressed in clouds –the beauty of Annapurna was beyond description. It got windy in the afternoon, and we had to descend quickly also taking into account the appearing clouds.We packed quickly at the lodge and moved to Manang, which was just an hour walk from here. Manang’s sophisticated settings and all available market were a pleasant surprise as we even found a shoelace to replace a broken one.
Leaving Manang the next day, the vendor at a gift shop told us about the Buddhist philosophy of staying a hermit to avoid sins. She exemplified that faith on good and god made us impervious to pain and suffering. Local farmers were working on the dry and rocky field with the help of two Oxen and the tap water seemed to freeze easily making a slippery layer of ice on the ground.It was a pleasant walk to Yak Kharka, and we became inquisitive about Yarsa on our way as this was the picking season. The chilly mountain wind was more prominent here, drawing everyone indoors as soon as we reached the lodge. We could see lesser vegetation and habitation and were abstained from regular explorations.
We began late the next day, relaxing our mind and muscles. I was caught in malady when reaching ThorungPhedi. The inconvenience of staying at a height of 4,500m was tangled with the cold, thin air and the anticipation of crossing Thorung La Pass the next day.This however was eased by the warm and comfortable lodge full of travelers sharing their experiences at the dining hall. The mandolin, guitar and percussion available at the lodge were an added comfort for the restless. Everyone settled for an early bed for we were to begin as early as four in the morning.
Most of the travelers had started their climb when we got ready and moved out of the room. We had a comparatively late start. The journey to high camp was strenuously steep. As we went higher, the gradient decreased, however, the altitude gave everyone slight headaches and some kind of discomfort. The mountains are considered as deities and this needed no further explanation here. They made me feel strong and free; however, my limitations were so lucid that I became cautionary even over small things. As we arduously climbed higher, the snow peaks got closer and closer. At Thorung La Pass (5,416m), which is the highest point of the trek, people were enjoying their success taking photographs and piling stones or making shapes to form an expression they wanted to leave behind. A celebration was proceeding among groups who had successfully made this feat. The Thorung peak looked so near and so bright. The pass is a borderline between Manang and Mustang and we were told that it acted as a natural barrier during the snow-filled winters in the past.
We descended to Muktinath which was a long downhill, however, felt refreshing as the oxygen levels got denser.After a quick trip to the Muktinath temple and the 108 taps, the evening was spent with a good rest in the lodge.Indoctrinated pilgrims were in plenty, making holy referrals to each symbol they passed. The temple is among the eight most sacred shrines of Hindus and is regarded as the place of liberation. The founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche is also known as Padmasambhava had meditated here on his way to Tibet. The place is sacred for both Hindu and Buddhist followers alike.
The next day we were all relaxed and spent our morning wandering around the small bazaar shopping for souvenirs to take home. We started our walk downhill to Kagbeni quite late. After mid-day, it got amazingly windy as we reached the nostalgic village, and we had difficulty walking along the river banks to Jomsom along the wind channel.
We had a pleasant stay in Jomsom with good food, nice and warm rooms and a celebration to mark the end of the trip.Dried apple and Marpha served as take home gifts. From here, the dilemmatic decision of whether to hike, fly or take a bus back home was concluded when everyone opted for the bus tickets.We took a bus to Baglung and decided to spend a day in Pokhara as a retreat from the tiring trip before returning to Kathmandu.
- Nashib Malakar