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'THE PILGRIM TRAIL':


A JOURNEY IN THE HIGH HIMALAYA


In this presentation we return to the Annapurna Himal of Nepal and retrace parts of the 1985 trek which features in 'The Land of the Gurkhas', but extend it by walking up the great gorge of the Kali Gandaki river to visit the ancient pilgrimage site of Muktinath. This is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Nepal, being second only in importance to the temple at Pashupatinath in Kathmandu and first appearing in written history some 2500 years ago.


We start our journey in Kathmandu, a city struggling to find its place in the present day. At times we wonder if it ever will find that place, and then we look at our resourceful and cheerful Nepali friends and know, that given a chance, they will succeed. We visit old haunts such as the Buddhist stupas at Bodhnath and Swayambhunath and wander through the streets and yards of the old town. Our pilgrimage starts at Pashupatinath, under the watchful eyes of Hindu sadhus, and then we travel west to Pokhara and the Kali Gandaki gorge where we leave our lorry and walk. This trek is a superb introduction to the foothills and people of Nepal. Our walking days are not too long and we sleep in lodges owned by the enterprising Thakali people of this region. The scenery is wonderful, with wide

vistas: in the west Dhaulagiri, at 27,000 feet the sixth highest mountain in the world, then the great massif that is the Annapurna range, and to the east Manaslu, only 15 feet lower than Dhaulagiri.


Walking through the gorge we climb steadily until, suddenly, the gorge opens into a wide flat bottomed valley. Here is no raging torrent but a river running gently in braided streams which we cross on stones or simple plank bridges. The vegetation changes, too, becoming more and more alpine, until, in the upper valley all that grows naturally are a few sparse grasses. Walking on gravel flats we reach the ancient walled town of Kagbeni where we gaze upriver to the forbidden land of Mustang. This is not the Nepal that we know, but rather a harsh, barren tableland akin to Tibet, and we know that unhappy country lies only a few short, but impossible miles to the north. Leaving the river we turn uphill to Muktinath. As we climb the broad, dusty trail we may see sadhus, scantily clad despite lingering snows, their eyes shining with the prospects of reaching the summit of their pilgrimage. These last few days of walking are days of wonder for all who trek here with eyes to see the riches of this remote world. We look beyond the aridity, beyond the parched hills and cliffs of erosion, and glory in this still-evolving, still-growing land. As we wander we absorb its magic and mystery.