Day 10 Thorung Phedi to Muktinath via the Thorung La

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Thorung Phedi

Muktinath

North

28°46.35'

28°49.00'

East

83°58.60'

83°52.34'

Altitude

4,550m

3,800m

Ascent

750m

Descent

1,500m

Time

7 hours

Distance

13 kilometres

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A 5am start is recommended to miss the high winds which begin at 11am at the top of the Thorung La. At 5am in October it is just getting light, so you should be able to manage without a torch. Start any earlier and you will be walking in the dark. Why get out of bed too early?

Plod slowly up the zig-zags until the first of many false cols is reached. The path then meanders though the screes (talus if you prefer American English) which look totally undisturbed, perhaps like the surface of another planet. The path is easy to follow in clear weather. In fresh snow and cloud it would be easy to lose your way.

A most welcome tea house (2 hours) is reached at the base of another climb. You may have to queue for a hot drink, such is the popularity of this establishment.

Follow the trail on through mounds of scree, past chortens and rocks worn smooth by porters resting loads on them. In the path may be the frozen hoof prints of Yaks which came over the previous day.

It is important to know your own pace and keep to it. Walk slowly and steadily and soon you will be pleasantly surprised by the chorten at the summit of the Thorung La col [28°47.38'N 83°56.57'E], which by my GPS measurement is at 5,320 metres (4 hours). Amazingly there is a tea house here, run by a young couple. Black tea is sold at black market rates, 35 rupees for a cup, compared with 7 rupees in the valley. ACAP would approve of their use of kerosene. The young couple stay here overnight. They are impressively well dressed in sheepskin coats. There is a small shelter attached to the house.

The snow peak of Khatung Khang 6,481m just to the south looks rather like the Alphubel in Switzerland and looks as easy to climb. Do not attempt it though.

To descend, take the right hand of the two paths leading down from the col, and descend the endless zig-zags down the broadening slope. Even if you have reached the top of the col without an altitude headache, many people find that they get one when they descend. The descent is very steep and can be very tiring. Avoid the tendency to doze off when you are resting. Fantastic views may be had of the ice pyramid of Dhauligiri 8,167 metres to the south west.

A level platform with a ruined building (5 hours) is a good place for a rest at 4,650 metres. An hour below is a tea house at 4,200 metres (6 hours). This tea house has accommodation. Muktinath (7 hours) is another hour below. If you don't have the energy to stop off at the temples, there will be time tomorrow morning. Check in at the police post then look for a hotel to crash in. There are 12 to choose from. As you will probably be completely knackered, my advice is to stop at the first one you come to.

The Muktinath temple complex is a predominantly Buddhist site. In 1956 David Snellgrove listed 5 Buddhist temples at Muktinath, there are now only 4. It appears that the 'Place of Mind Perfection has been superseded by the temple of Shiva. This reflects the hinduisation of this Buddhist region. The schools teach the Nepali language where previously Tibetan was spoken. The locals are adopting Hindu surnames. Even the use of kerosene stoves is culturally Hindu.

The temples of Muktinath are within a walled enclosure.

 

1

Gompa Samba

This is a Buddhist temple whose name in the Tibetan language means 'first monastery'.

2

Temple of Shiva

Shiva is the destroyer and regenerator god of the Hindu religion. The Shiva temple is surrounded by four smaller temples. Vishnu, whose temple is on the left is the protector of the universe and all creatures within it. Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. He was an earthly prince. Rama is another incarnation of Vishnu, this time as a cowherd and charioteer. Ganesh is the elephant headed god. Ganesh is the son of Shiva and the goddess of plenty, Annapurna.

3

Brahmin's House

The priest in charge of the Shiva temple lives here.

4

Lake

Behind the Shiva temple is a square lake which may have been used for ritual bathing in the past.

5

Jomo House

The Jomo house is the home of the Buddhist nuns of Muktinath.

6

Vishnu Temple

The Vishnu temple with its 108 water spouts is a recent Hindu addition to an ancient Buddhist site. The temple is built just below the source of the sacred spring, which provides water for the ritual bathing of Hindu pilgrims. As a consequence this Hindu temple is situated adjacent to the Buddhist jomo house. The Buddhist nuns have the right to collect money in the Hindu temple. Photography is not welcomed in the Hindu temple. The images in the temple are Vishnu (centre), Laxmi the goddess of wealth (right) and 'Sosoti' on the left. After making a donation you may walk around the temple, perhaps ringing one of the magnificent bronze bells. Hindu pilgrims must shower under the 108 waterspouts and bathe in the two pools in front of the temple. It must be rather chilly.

7

Natsin Gompa

This is the Sgar Dong-Pa of David Snellgrove's book, Himalayan Pilgrimage. Sgar Dong-Pa means the temple of the encampment. There is a huge prayer wheel. The central large figure of the statues is Rin-Chen the Jewel Born Buddha. Rin-Chen holds a dorje in his hand. A dorje is an aid to meditation, symbolically it represents the destruction of ignorance. Physically it is a diamond or a thunderbolt. On the far left is the personage we in the west identify as Guatma Buddha. To the right is Garuda. Garuda is a bird man. He is both a Hindu god and a Buddhist vehicle. On the far right is Nathnal who is probably a local deity.

8

Sacred Spring

The spring is particularly holy to Hindus as may be seen by the close proximity of the two Hindu temples. The many Hindu pilgrims take a bottle of water from here home for their friends. Its probably safe to drink without treatment. Don't sue me if you get dysentery. After all the, overflowing latrines of Thorung Phedi are 600 metres higher and only 7 kilometres away.

9

Chorten Garden

The chorten garden comprises chortens built by first time pilgrims. Some as you can see are just small piles of stones, others are more elaborate.

10

Jollo Muki Gompa

Jollo Muki Gompa, or fire and water gompa is also known as Nying-ma pa. Before you go in, you can see the water which flows through the temple pouring through a cow's head water spout below the temple. Inside the magical natural gas flame may be seen behind a grill on the right. This is the temple everyone wants to see.

Copyright Ian P Johnson October 1998