Numbing peppers, cephalapods and new friends on the Annapurna Circuit

So after coming over Thurong La Pass you come into Muktinath.  It was nice to be in the area with someone who is used to giving history and information rather than going it alone and missing out of so much culture.  The guide I met in Thorung Phedi, Ram Rai, and his son and client from Japan were new walking partners for a bit. Muktinath is a very sacred place for both the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist cultures and a great example of how two religions can share the same holy place.  Muktinath’s local name is ‘Chumig Gyatsa’ which translates to ‘hundred waters’.  The central shrine of Sri Muktinath (Muktikshetra) is considered one of the eight most sacred shrines for Hindu Vaishnavas and means ‘place of salvation’.  The outer courtyard has 108 bull faces through which ice cold ‘sacred’ water pours and devotees of the religion can at times be seen being bathed by the ice cold waters. I am saddened I didn’t get my own pictures when trekking near the temple; however it was immediately after coming off the pass and all of my batteries were dead on phone and GoPro:( Thank you to Ram who took pictures for me which I hope to get shortly!

We stayed in Muktinath that evening where a late afternoon walk  brought me to see all the local woman weaving scarves on their looms, selling the same jewelry and trinkets at each homefront table. The bright yarn is a beautiful reminder of this quiet little village that I will have forever since I had to buy one or two as a souvenir!  This region is in the lower part of the Mustang district of Nepal, which up until 1992 was restricted so needless to say the landscape and culture are quite preserved.  Mustang was formerly the Kingdom of Lo and was only recently overthrown in 2008, so it will not be long before continued culture influence from China and the outside world will show in the people and look of this region.  A trekking permit to go into Upper Mustang is $500, not a trek for this trip, but the majority of the population in the district is in the Southern half where I was lucky to explore.  Old caves can be seen dug into the sides of the sandy river banks from the first settlers of the region and remnants of old foundations are strewn about which you can see from high above the river.  

Kagbeni was the next town we walked to and it is the gateway into Upper Mustang so rich with age and history.  The old village is made up of mud houses along the banks of the Kali Ghandaki River.  We put our packs at a hotel that Ram had frequented with clients in the past and took a nice walk around Kagbeni.  We were able to enter the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery, home also to a currently operating Monastic school.  This monastery was founded and built in 1429 and the building is absolutely beautifully painted inside with large paintings of the wheel of life and old wood plank floors.  It’s 3 stories tall with a roof top looking over the village which I wasn’t able to see but standing in the monastery with my shoes off listening to the young student give history of the culture was a true treat.  I was allowed to take pictures and only wished we could have stayed to be witness to some of their daily prayer and meditation times.  A monastic boarding school was established in 2009, which provides an opportunity for the young monks to stay in their home village of Kagbeni and surrounding communities to study under a traditional Tibetan monastic discipline. Their ages ranged from 3 years up to teens and many could be seen playing in the courtyard when I was there.  They had a large wooden paddle and small rubber bouncy ball they were hitting so you could hear the laughs and shouts while looking out over the colorful buildings that made up the student housing against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.  A beautiful sight to take in!

On our way through the streets we stopped to see some drying herbs on a local’s doorstep and Ram said one was cumin and the other a Nepali numbing pepper.  He said I could try the pepper and just a little piece put my lips and mouth out of feeling almost immediately.  The dentist’s back home need this stuff!  It lasted for a good 15 minutes and it wasn’t hot or spicy at all, it seriously just numbed your mouth and lips.  We returned to our packs at the hotel to have a bit of lunch and arrange a jeep.  Before getting back I saw more adorable children, took more pictures and was approached by a nice couple traveling from France that had taken a bus to Kagbeni from Jomsom but there were no buses going back so they were looking for a way to get back.  I was able to get them onto the jeep back at the hotel that Ram came to sort out so we could all skip the windy river bed walk to Jomsom together.  Alice was the  French gals name and I’ve already come to meet her farther along in the journey in Pokhara for lunch.   She was not trekking but her boyfriend and cousin were for nearly a month while she rented a place in Pokhara to just relax by the lake.  It’s great traveling alone. when you are open to connecting and sharing with all sorts of new people in new places everyday.

After arriving in Jomsom from the 30 minute bouncy, dusty, hilarious jeep ride I decided to get a room at a different place than Ram and his client, wanting to have a bit of privacy and so we arranged to meet back up in the morning and walk to Marpha together.  Sitting having dinner at my guest house I found out that all the flights going in and out of Jomsom, in addition to all of the domestic flights in the country, were canceled for the next few days at least.  Thankfully I had planned to walk but for those needing to fly it would be yet another waiting game for the fuel to reach the airlines so flights w/in the country could resume.  Nothing is for sure and there are no schedules you can rely on in this country, ever!!  There were 3 Nepali guys at my hotel in their mid 20’s discussing their options to get back to Kathmandu.  After indicating I was trekking and had been for the last many days they wanted to look at the map with me and explore the route down.   I explained my plans weren’t for sure but that I was planning on at least walking the next day to Marpha and from there figuring out a ride or walk to Tatopani.

The plan evolved and in the morning and the  3 guys joined me and Ram with his client on our short walk to Marpha.   They didn’t have any trekking gear but at least decent footwear and it was only road walking so two of them carried a duffle bag (one on each handle) and the other a small backpack and made it work.  The walk along the river was nice  but windy and dusty.  Afteer looking down for almost an hour I finally was able to find a pretty large fossil of a cephalapod, which is what the locals are selling to tourists all over this area.  I managed to carry it a day or two before deciding it was too damn heavy and a picture would do just fine.  In Marpha we walked through town and the streets are lined with buildings painted white and history again surrounds you as you come around a corner underneath a building and look up there is a huge sculpted man with a huge penis jutting out of the rock painted red and he’s holding a sword in his hand.  I missed the female statue in the village which I only learned of after leaving the village but nonetheless I have some cultural research to add to that story – for now it’s just entertaining to say the least.   Ram and his client decided to stay overnight in Marpha but I was wanting to move on and the 3 guys we had walked with also wanted to keep going aand to possibly to see if a bus was going to Tatopani.  Ram assured me that he trusted the young men after talking to them along the walk to Marpha and so we exchanged information and he also had the guys information  in case we had any problems.  I felt safe again moving on into my journey saying goodbye to yet another great person God put in my path.  Ram told me to wait for 5 minutes while I thought he was checking on the bus or transportation options but then he came back with a gift of a white prayer scarf also called a ‘kati’  that he put around me as a blessing for safe travels as we parted ways.  I teared up as we hugged goodbye and had a picture taken and left knowing I could see him down the road someday but no matter what he was my Thurong La Pass blessing:)

The journey continues with crazy mountain bus rides, falling into a waterfall, recovering in a hot spring, completing the Annapurna Circuit, trekking to Machhapuchhre  (Fishtail Mountain) Basecamp and South Annapurna Basecamp and spending some great restful time in Pokhara.  I also plan to add photos when I have better connection so stay tuned.


Random male sculpture hidden in the maze of buildings in Kagbeni
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni
Cephalapod from the banks of the Kali Gandaki
A goodbye to another great trekking friend made!

Village of Marpha
Kagbeni to Jomsom jeep ride

3 thoughts on “Numbing peppers, cephalapods and new friends on the Annapurna Circuit

  1. I have been wanting to go to Mustang area (Muktinath, Jomsom, Kagbeni) etc for a while now. I left Nepal for higher studies when I was just 18 and since then, I just haven’t had the time and opportunity to travel to that area. Great post, and beautiful photos!
    – Pooja


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