Day 12 Kagbeni to Marpha

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3 hours 25 minutes


16 kilometres

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Leave the town and walk down the left bank of the Kali Gandaki. After about 2 kilometres the path joins the direct route from Muktinath (35 minutes) There are 4 hotels here:

  • Hilton
  • Munal
  • Old Kagbeni
  • Holiday Inn

although there is not a village on the site. Pass the Pandha Khola plantation (55 minutes) which is situated in the Pandha Khola valley on the left. This plantation is an ACAP reafforestation project. A little way up the Pandha Khola valley is the village of Lubra. Lubra is a centre of the Bon-Po religion which flourished in Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism in the 8th century. The Puntsholing Bon-Po Gompa may be seen here. Cross the Pandha Khola itself by a small plank bridge. ( 1 hour 5 minutes). In another 15 minutes Jomosom is visible in the distance. Remarkably there are sand dunes (1 hour 35 minutes) along the bank of the Kali Gandaki.

Jomosom (1 hour 55 minutes) is the administrative capital of the Manang district. Thangmigchen, the Tibetan warlord gave Jomosom its name when he built a fort called Dzongsampa on the site. Nowadays it has more useful facilities including an airport (closed for rebuilding from May 1st 2000 until July 31st 2001), a branch of the Nepal Bank, a money changer, the eco-museum, and 20 hotels of a very high standard. By Annapurna Circuit standards the shopping is very good here. In November 1999 an Internet cafe was seen in Jomsom!

Leave the delights of Jomosom behind. The eco-museum is to be found on the right just outside the town. The Syang Khola (2 hours 15 minutes) joins the Kali Gandaki from the north. There are numerous small plank bridges to be crossed over the Syang Khola. Follow the locals if you are not sure of the way.

Syang ( 2 hours 40 minutes) is a Thakali village. According to Harka Gurung, in his excellent book 'Vignettes of Nepal', Syang is a very ancient village. The Japanese ethno-geographer Juro Kawakita considers that the Syang culture and religion are relics of an ancient pre-buddhist society. The evidence for this includes primitive shrines under cypress trees, lulu cattle (whatever they are), distinctive graveyards and some unusual linguistic features.

There is one hotel in Syang, the Hotel Pratichha and Admiral Benbow Inn. There is also a shoe repair shop in Syang. Syang ends with a 9 wheel prayer wall and the fields below.

The path forks ( 3 hours 10 minutes) and ascends. 5 minutes later the path levels out and the village of Marpha comes into view. The very smart Hotel Transhimalaya lies just before Marpha.

Marpha ( 3 hours 25 minutes) has some of the best food on the Annapurna Circuit. This is the main reason to stay here. None of the big 8,000 metre peaks may be seen from here. The view is only of Nilgiri 7,061m. Marpha is a model of municipal efficiency. It has a sewerage system running the length of the main street. Both the street and sewer are paved over and swept clean. The houses are white washed and many old architectural features, such as carved wooden windows remain along the mainstreet. Marpha gives an impression of what Kathmandu must once have been like. Western style concrete construction is only just beginning to spoil Marpha.

A recent development is a flight of stairs from the mainstreet up to the gompa which has had a large extension built on the front. Marpha has a library open from 5pm to 7pm. There are shops in the village. Above the village an enormous chorten painted onto a cliff may be reached from a path behind the gompa. There is a good view of the regulation stacks of firewood on the house roofs from here. There is a certain conformity about Marpha. All the houses look alike. They are all painted the same colour. They all have the same border of firewood on the roof. If Marpha had trains they would run on time.

Marpha's reputation for food is based on its meat dishes. It is the first place on the Circuit where chicken is reliably available. Indeed, the lodge owners discourage trekkers from eating dhal bhat in order to get the higher margin on chicken. Deserts and cake are good here. The cats are the best fed in the whole of Manang and Mustang. Cats don't grow fat eating dhal bhat.

Wake up in the morning to the clip clop of ponies hooves, the crowing of the cock and the mewing of the cats. Its a great place to stay.

Marpha is an example of a migrated village. The original settlement was to the north by the hillside fields. It migrated down the valley to take advantage of the trade route. Marpha is part of the Panchgaon region of five villages, which begins at Jomosom.

Updated 22nd January 2000

Copyright Ian P Johnson January 2000