Lower Mustang, Muktinath
It was now not far before we swung right to make the ascent up to Muktinath on what was the best road seen so far – a smooth strip of blacktop snaking up the mountain above the snow line. As the altitude increased the bikes grew a little sluggish as the Enfield carbs struggled to suck in the dwindling supply of oxygen.
A few more twists and turns past locals with their mustangs and the occasional pair of young hikers, and we rolled into the tourist village of Muktinath at 3,800 meters elevation. There were a few locals selling tourist trinkets, prayer bowls, and textiles but the area was generally quiet due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
We had now crossed to the northern side of the Himalayas and were close to the Tibetan border. To celebrate our arrival, yak steaks and sizzlers were enjoyed at a local ‘Bob Marley Hotel’ before we geared up for the final ascent to the temple. The irony of listening to ‘Hotel California’ over the sound system was not lost.
It was a short blast on some very hairy single tracks up the mountain to the roof of the world where we parked up and took in the breathtaking panorama. There was too much adrenaline running to worry about the cold.
It was a short ascent up the stairs to the one of the world’s highest temples and the going was made tougher due to the elevation, breathing was noticeably harder. The lack of tourists up here added to the ambiance and serene spirituality of the place and it was easy to get lost in your own thoughts wandering around the ancient complex. The Hindu name for the temple is Chumig Gyatsa, meaning ‘place of salvation’ while the Buddhists know it as Chumming Gyasta, which in Tibetan means ‘Hundred Waters’.
Ice cold holy water poured off the prayer flag adorned mountain and cascaded through 108 stone faucets, from which it was the done thing to take a wash and drink to cleanse the sins. A large Buddha overlooked the entire valley and town in silent contemplation and time seemed to stand still up here – you could almost touch the sky.
It was time to leave this spiritual oasis and head down the mountain to our accommodation for the night. But in the spirit of things we took the direct route rather than that slick road that brought us up here. This yielded even more stunning scenery and was like riding across the surface of Mars. With the adrenaline and altitude came tiredness and there were a few minor spills on our journey down to the rustic little village of Kagbeni.
This quaint little stone hamlet would provide our accommodation for the night at ‘Yac Donalds’, a quirky and popular trekkers retreat. We cracked a beer and reveled in what has been undoubtedly the best day of the trip. Nightfall brought subzero temperatures and very little sleep despite a couple of drams of Jameson that we had brought along for such purposes. It takes time to get used to the elevation and breathing up here was remarkably more strained, especially when you’re trying to sleep.