Lost in the landscape: Goat Kharka

Posted on 26 Jun 2018

Muktinath and the Mustang Valley have been left far behind. From the time we crossed the first pass into the upper Dolpo our little band of trekkers and mules have been swallowed up by the immense landscape.

The mountains are red, yellow and black and have been folded and twisted back upon themselves, stripped bare by the altitude and weather. Each pass we cross peels back another layer of big bold peaks with puffy clouds drifting by. We’re still in the heart of the Himalaya.

We’ve joked among ourselves about how the GHT has a little of everything and this week proved that once again.

The route has taken us down river trails, through a very tight slot in a canyon wall, along exposed ridges and, of course, over high passes. There are not many travellers here as there are few people living here and villages are far in between. We only spotted a few people on foot and the occasional horseman.

Our camps have mostly been solitary but one night we shared a site with the locals hunting for the Yarsa Gumba (caterpillars), a herd of goats and a very curious group of children and adults. The weather has been great with cool, calm mornings that evolve to sunny afternoons with strong gusty winds that kick up the dust as the day goes on.

This section of the trail has been a very interesting change from what we’ve experienced so far. Definitely the environment is much different, but the cultural contrasts that blend with the landscape add to the feeling of being in a special place. The people are very friendly and curious about what we’re doing.

Trail images: Lost in time

Three boys kick a small ball in an open space tucked between the tightly built stone houses of Chharka Bhot. They don’t mind the cloud of dust as they slide full body to block the shots of their friends. It’s a late afternoon and the light reflecting off the houses, building stones and surrounding dry mountains is a warm yellow.

Sparrows have built nests between the stones of the homes and chatter as we walk by. In the distance, you can hear a herd of goats and sheep returning to their home on the grounds of an abandoned monastery across the river.

As we travel through narrow walkways of house, there are no electrical wires yet, just the occasional solar panel. The tight formation of homes gives the appearance of a fortification.

Tiers of irrigated fields just outside the main structures of town are a brilliant green in contrast to the dry surroundings. Women in dark traditional dress work the fields to keep the water flowing through the crops and keep the weeds from taking over.

It’s a scene that probably looked the same a hundred or more years ago.

Buddhism is ever present, as stupas line the main trail into the village and are silhouetted against the distant mountains. The stupas range from ancient and crumbling shrines to newly made fortresses coated with fresh paint.

On the ceiling of those you can walk through are colourful paintings of Buddhist designs. The mani walls and tablets along the river are different here. The typical slate tablets have been replaced with rounded white stones from the crystal, clear waters of the river that runs nearby. The intricate carvings remain the same and cover stones by the hundreds along the trails. These scenes look like something from a historical movie set.

However, there are signs of the modern world coming fast. On the hill among the stupas is a mobile phone tower and solar array, though I haven’t seen anyone using a phone. The school has a satellite dish. Young girls wear jeans with flowers stitched down the sides instead of the traditional dress of their mothers.

When I was taking photos one evening, a motorcycle came over the ridge along the footpath. We spoke with a man we met walking to Jomsom to guide the survey crew that will lay out the route for the new road to connect with Chharka Bhot. Across Nepal most of these changes have already come. Many of the changes are improving health and lifestyles and economics, but the traditional way of life has values that may be lost.

It’s clear though that change is here and more on the way. The real question in my mind is will enough of the next generation stay in the village to shape the blend of old and new to keep the traditions and the town alive?

Up next

There is the sense that we’re approaching another change in environment as the afternoon clouds look more serious.

As I write this, we have two more passes and then we’ll walk to Ringmo home to pine forests and the Phoksumdo lake, with another rest day to explore. We’ll also say goodbye to Tom at that point and head off for our final section of the GHT.

Thanks for joining us Tom, it was a real pleasure sharing the trail with you. It feels like we’re getting close to the end, but there is still more than a month to go so there will be several more posts to come.

Lost in the time and landscape on the GHT,
Vince, Ken, Tom, and Bikash

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