Now I have the greater powers helping me over the pass.
|Day 9 ... Manang tourist
|| So I'm laying in the snug sleeping bag. The bladder is full. Problem. The sleeping bag will be much less snug if I pee in it. I sneak out, not dressed respectably, and I'm surprised how not-cold it is. Getting back in the bag is good though. I'm laying with the best view in town. I'm watching the moon descend. I'm watching as the first rays of the sun touch Gangapurna. There are spin drifts - huge clouds of snow blowing off the mountain. They are pink in these first rays of sun. Another superb day has been lit. I'm a tourist for the morning.
|| As for the tourist, he is up and ready to go ... then realizes that nobody will be letting him into any monasteries until later in the morning. I cool my heels down in the kitchen. The ex-army fellow makes a great champa porridge, but breakfast is not over yet. Manang is where the books encourage everyone to take a day to get used to the altitude. It is the last real village this side of the pass. As such, the tourist amenities are in full force. There are notices for hot showers and many bakeries.
|| Reality is different. Most of the hotels are having "broken shower days" and the only real bakery isn't in Manang, but a twenty minute walk outside. I'm off in that direction. They have the best cinnamon buns I've had in a really long time. I guess everything from the veggie burger to the yak cheese sandwich are really tasty. Handily there is a tourist attraction right across the street. The Street! How did that slip in? There is a wide trail here, and it varies from gloopy mud to hard gravel. Across the trail is a field and above the field and this village of Braka, is the Gampa. In the field a herd of yaks have been amassed. A small boy, who comes up to a yak belly, is happily throwing hard stuff at them. His grandpa walks along overseeing process. Meanwhile, a group of mountain sheep are being herded diagonally across the yaks, creating very little confusion.
|| Across the field I go, and up the steps to the Gompa I climb. Oh, and the dog is still with me. The steps are odd shaped bits of stone placed appropriately. Placed appropriately years ago. Now, rock and gravel debris has come and nullified the steps. Now it is just a slippery slope. I climb, and the gatekeeper has spied me. The old man has let us in. An old man who stares off, stares at the statues, stares at the wall, an old man who only comes to life when it is time to point out the donation box. Boxes, big metal boxes, boxes so full of notes that you need a thick stick to force in your bills.
|| I can't figure out if the monastery has residents. Things, or at least the main statue and the main room are locked. But the main room smells of incense. Bizarre. What a feeling to the place. I get a big feeling for the Tibetan spirituality. The images of Buddha are crowded with others of demons, devils, and monsters. The animist spirituality is very present. Buddha is trying to hold, trying to weight in on the balance.
|| The Gompa is 500 years old. The place has a great feel because things are human, my sort of human, they aren't perfect. The posts may have big cracks. The joinery work is not perfect. The wooden carvings are folksy ... you can see the marks of the chisels. The main room is a riot of images and colours. Pillars are covered with hangings which seem to be hundreds of ridiculous ties sown together. There are photos of Lamas, including the Dalai one. There are these hangings with the intricate painting ... older, faded, and gorgeous. The walls are painted in places. The demon who is central in the wheel of life paintings is everywhere. Statues of him lean out at doorways. He hovers above a giant seated Buddha. Then there are all the statues. Hundreds of statues of Buddha, and other serene seated people. These statues vary in size, ranged on many levels of shelves and often several Buddhas deep on the shelf. The place is quiet and eery. It feels as if a whole troupe of monks, a whole troupe who are casting and carving statues all the time, the whole troupe have just left. But the "just" was a hundred years ago. The buildings are very alive with spirits.
|| Returning, past the bakery, on the path to Manang, a few people have set themselves up to sell Tibetan stuff ... bits of yak bone, rings, and other trinkets. A culture for sale, wholesale, and being gobbled up. Poor Tibet. First the Chinese gobbled em up, now consumer culture is moving in on anything left.
|| I continue the Gompa tour. I embark on a serious climb right up behind Manang ... 300m to a tiny Gompa carved out of the rock face. It is serious although I'm encumbered only with my sweater and a water bottle. The terrain is sandy, and few plants can make a go of it. If I say "walk until the tree" you'd know which tree because there is only one. So, I step my way up, and once I arrive an old woman directs me into the mountain ... to her husband. He is a monk in appearance. A holy man who took to the mountains 21 years ago. A holy man with a wife who serves the tea. We've come up for a blessing. I sit before him, he ties a red piece of material around my neck, I eat some hard red bits, and I drink some ghee, and wipe some more in my hair. Now I have the greater powers helping me over the pass. Perfect! I find I'm real happy with the Puja.
|| It is now the third clear day ... though things do change fast. High cloud has rolled in during the last couple of hours. I've, we've, all become real conscious of the weather. If I don't have good weather from now until I'm over the pass, then we have a problem. This time of year should be good but this year is different ... more wind, and snow storms when there shouldn't. It is gorgeous today. The sun makes such a difference. The doctor says the ticket is to only gain 300m per day ... such is the best progress for acclimatization. And I'm doing it just like that. Jans and Karl and I have become a little group. Those two have hired a porter and saddled him with 25 kilos. I can pick up and move around with the bag - but I'd rather not.
|| I climb up above the valley that Manang is in. The valley is wide and long. I look back at the curving shear of rock. It has been with me for four days, and might have been there before ... I came upon it through the snow. The river is a mere trickle in the expanse of gravel flood plain. I love a flood plain like that, like the Kicking Horse river at Field, British Columbia. The bit of water meanders about, but at times it'll be a serious flow. The view back down the valley is superb. There are some high clouds, but they stream by, particularly the puffy ones. White clouds passing quickly over white mountains. The valley walled by high high formidable mountains to the south. On the north side the lower hills are snow-free, but behind are higher and whiter mountains. I take a corner and now we move north. Wherever the hill has some southern exposure the path is clear of snow. Some flocks of goats are trying to scrounge together a meal on the hills that tower above me ... so many high peaks which have names only for the locals.
|| The walk to come up here took a whole hour. The next few stops are all planned out because of the altitude, and they are not big walking days. There will be considerable time hangin' out. I'm already scoping out the reading material. The place we stay, the only hostel, the only inhabited place in the village of Gunsang, is great. They have the kitchen and a few tables all in one room, and they shut the doors. They even shutter the windows. Though you can't hang out in your shorts, sitting right by the fire I do take my sweater off. The woman working the stove and various pots is so beautiful. Her and her brother seem to be the operation. They spend a couple of hours churning food out for the trekkers, then the two porters eat some dahl baht. I never see the host couple eat at all.
|| One fellow and his porter come in. The fellow, an Aussie, looks read bad. He stumbles and can't get oriented. They were within a couple of hours of the pass when they had to turn around. Epic day. He says the groups start up at 3am. Well, in a day or two I'll know.
Day 10 ... 9k from Manang at 3606m to Yak Kharka at 4150m
| March 17th, St. Patrick's Day and somewhere around here there is an Irishman. But Karl is a late riser, so I don't see much of him. Today the clouds consolidated with sorta flurries all day. It never gets very serious but steadily the snow falls. Here it is warm enough that it has not accumulated, yet higher the snow will be amounting to a few inches. I can't and shouldn't give it too much thought. The weather is, and there is nothing I can do about it. But ... I want to be conscious of not getting snowed in up here. If it becomes serious I'll have to beat a retreat for Manang. So close, yet the pass could easily remain unattainable.
|| Today I walk along, often watching the ground as the footing on the packed snow is precarious. The clouds change the whole place. It isn't as awesome. More of a manageable space. There are low peaks within 1000m, but no monsters. I can never see more than a half day's walk away. A safer sort of mountains.
|| I pass through Yak Kharka, Yak pastures, and sure enough there are a few yaks around. I find myself staring at a yak ... well, I do find myself staring at them and they are watching me just as intently. It is unnerving to have a yak checking you out. I'm glad I have my big stick. Big wheels of yak cheese are seen in shops and the hostel. Everyone is baking bread up here as well.
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