More than worrying about whether I would be able to carry my heavy backpack while trekking the Lower Mustang area in the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal, I was concerned about altitude sickness. I had learned the hard way during a two month visit to Ecuador late last year that I do not react well to elevations over 10,000 feet. Though I was fine in Jomsom, Kagbeni, and Marpha, all of which are at lower elevations, the town of Muktinath lies nearly 12,500 feet high, and the temple of the same name is 300 feet higher than the town. Just to be safe, I popped a high-altitude sickness pill the night before and opted for a 4WD jeep rather than making the four-hour trek each way.
As directed, I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and was told the jeep would be delayed until 9:30. Two hours later, I was still waiting; the jeep needs a minimum of 12 passengers to make the run and since I had opted to travel in the low season no other customers had arrived. Fearing that I would miss my opportunity to visit Muktinath altogether, I pressed the issue and the manager finally pointed to a rough, rocky trail leading to the upper reached of Kagbeni. “You go top, get jeep.” Fortunately I had done some day-trekking around the area and knew the road to Muktinath was in the general direction where he pointed, so I scrambled up to the top of town and stuck my thumb out. Sure enough, a dust-caked jeep soon jounced around a corner and rumbled to a stop in front of me. “Muktinath?” I asked. The driver hopped out and unchained the back door of the jeep; I squeezed in with a family on Indians on a pilgrimage to visit the temple.
For the next hour our hotshot driver threaded a needle between soaring cliffs on one side of the rough graveled track and precipitous drop-offs that plunged thousands of feet to the valley floor, at times taking curves at a frightening speed that had us all banging on the roof for him to slow down. When the jeep finally rolled into town we breathed a collective sigh of relief and shakily climbed out.
My rubbery legs carried me through the tiny village, not much more than a handful of brightly-painted wooden structures, to the trail that ascended to the temple itself. Halfway up I turned and looked down upon Muktinath, regally backed by a purple and blue Continue reading