Day 5 – Annapurna Circuit – Muktinath to Ghasa

Departed Muktinath at 6am, having had a protein bar as a quick breakfast. This half of the trek was not as nice, since there is a road all the way from Muktinath back to Pokhara. The trick is to get on the trekking trails that run parallel, but are removed from the road. Many people catch a jeep out of Muktinath or bus out of Jomsom, rather than walk. It was much better to hike along the trails nearby the road because a) the trail is nicer to walk on than the course/gravelly road, b) in many cases the trail is more direct, especially for hilly sections, where the road tends to make an excessive number of switchbacks so that the grade is not too steep for vehicles, and c) On the trail you don’t have large construction vehicles or jeeps honking and trying to pass you with far too little room for comfort.

I was approaching Jomsom around 9:20am, when I saw a plane for the first time in a few days. It was a small, 21-person local plane that flies between Pokhara and Jomsom. This was the flight that the Germans would be taking out of Jomsom tomorrow. I watched as the plane flew over Jomsom, quite low (seemingly just after take-off or close to landing). The plane passed over Jomsom, heading in my direction. It then started to bank to the left, as if circling Jomsom prior to landing. It engaged the turn with a rather wide radius and, from my angle, it looked like its path would take it dangerously close to the valley’s side wall. I stopped walking to watch as the plane made this dangerous-looking maneuver. It continued its turn until maybe 160 degrees, when it abruptly crashed into the hills above Jomsom. A cloud of dust went up into the air and settled quietly. There was no fire or explosion.

I continued towards Jomsom, arriving at 9:30am. After a few wrong turns due to ambiguous signing, I made my way across the bridge to the town’s main road. As I walked, many soldiers were rushing towards the crash site. I thought it was rather silly for them to be carrying their big rifles or beating-sticks as they went towards the site of the plane crash. Someone needs to teach them about fast and light. When I got closer, I saw soldiers coming in the opposite direction to the flow of people. They were carrying the bodies of the dead victims, each body carried by 4 soldiers. There was a soldier struggling to lift each corner of what looked like a bedsheet, on which a dead body was tossed (though I didn’t actually realize these were dead until later). The bodies looked very roughly treated – sometimes with the victim’s legs hanging over the edge of the bedsheet. Other times the body was contorted so that all the limbs fit inside and nothing was overhanging. They were carried roughly, with the body drooping so that it looked like it was bumping across the ground as it was carried.

At one point, they seemed to have run out of bedsheets, so a body was carried by tying rope to each arm and leg, with each soldier holding on to each rope end. I was turned off as I saw the body’s left arm. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt and the rope was tied just above the elbow. The arm was severely cut near the joint, more than half way through, and through the bone. The arm segment with hand and forearm was dangling by only a small amount of flesh still keeping it connected to the rest of the arm. It looked like the flesh was about to tear completely and the soldiers would have to stop to retrieve the limb. The soldiers appeared not to have noticed.

I continued through Jomsom, passing through an intersection filled with people, that marked the turn off to the trail up the mountainside and towards the crash site. I passed through and finally left town by 10am.

There was a howling wind as I continued on towards Marpha (supposedly the apple capital of Nepal). I had intended to walk along the trail for this section, but somehow missed the turnoff and the bridge across the river. So I hiked along the road, which was no so enjoyable as walking along the trail. Arrived in Marpha at noon and had lunch of dal baht (300NPR) and milk tea (35NPR).

I was back on the road by 1pm and it was another 2.5 hours to Larjung. It was raining, so I hiked wearing my rain jacket. This was going to be my destination, but with 3 hours left of daylight, I realized that I might just make it to Ghasa (the map recommended 4 hours, but the map’s times were sometimes hard to achieve). It rained harder, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and these last hours towards Ghasa were difficult. I was quite worried about being left walking after dark. I didn not feel comfortable or safe with the idea of walking this in the dark.

I finally got off the road and on to the trekking trail and was pushing hard, jogging in parts. The trail wound through sheep and goat pastures with stone sidewalls to keep the animals in. At one point there were some 20 sheep standing on the trail in my way and hundreds more all around. I whistled at them to move as I hurried through. A man shouted at me in Nepali.

I continued to push, feeling the adrenaline pumping as it rained harder and as sunset grew closer (I had read in a newspaper that sunset was at 6:20pm in Kathmandu the day I arrived n Nepal). I finally arrived in Ghasa and a woman invited me into her well-discounted guest house (the second one in town, “the golden iin” – with type included). Bed was 50NPR and dal baht was 250NPR. Not 5 minutes after I stepped in, the rain started torrenting down.

Electricity went out. I had a cold shower, and dal baht was ready by 8pm. A Nepali guide and some porters invited me to share some cups of chang with them, an alcoholic beverage they compared to beer, made from millet, that was a bit sour. I wouldn’t order it myself, but the company was enjoyable. Later on an Israeli named Netta joined us and we all had chang by the emergency light. Bed late – 9pm

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