23 January 2013 Wednesday

Having a dry climate as well as being at a high altitude means that the solar radiation in Muktinath is intense. Many people use devices for heating water that are large parabolic mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on a metal platform where sits a kettle. One side of the kettle is shiny and the other side is painted black; evidently if the water is needed to be heated quickly, or to a high temperature, the black face is turned toward the dish, otherwise it is turned away.

Lal washed my clothes by hand in back on some flat stones near a spigot they keep running when other plumbing is frozen. I was so tired I let him do it.

In the afternoon we set off for the temple on the outskirts of Muktinath, where there is also a nunnery; the day before we had walked along the barbed wire fence on the perimeter. Outside of the Bob Marley we ran in to Tim, Johanne, and Eduardo. They had left High Camp at sunrise and made it to Muktinath an hour or two after us. The Korean and his ill-equipped porter, the one with the corduroy pants, had tailed them. At the pass the porter was shivering and terrified; he had never been in such cold conditions before. He lost sensation in his fingers; the three guys had been rubbing and blowing on his hands. Tim lost sensation in his feet, but fortunately they weren’t frostbitten.

The plumbing at the Bob Marley was not frozen, so they had been able to enjoy hot showers. Tim spoke of two English women who had been trapped at High Camp for two days by the snow. (When I spoke with them later in Larjung I learned that when Debbie was sick with bronchitis and asked for a fire, the Bob Marley staff refused to start one. So in spite of the lack of hot water, I would choose the Hotel Royal Mustang over the Bob Marley.)

There is a stream flowing through the grounds of the nunnery. In a temple is a rectangular hole covered by a screen, from which issues volcanic gas. Near it is a plaza surrounded on three sides by 132 fountains, each in the shape of a cow’s head with water coming put of the mouth. The water falls into a channel covered by metal grates with rubber mats so the devout won’t slip while bathing in the sacred water. Lal explained that this is the spot where Shiva, upset that he was unable to die, defecated himself in the water.

It was a use I had never heard of “defecate”. I thought Lal was mistaken and looked it up in the dictionary; it turns out that there is a sense of the word that means to purify.

On the way back to town I caught a glimpse of the two English women that Tim had spoken of; and also I thought I saw Matt’s porter, which Lal later confirmed. Matt must have rested a day at Yak Kharka, then felt better the next day.

At dinner time I joined the group around the stove but didn’t order food immediately; having taken a layover day I wasn’t very hungry. For rakshi I was ready though, and Lal got another bottle of apple brandy. Danny (the Anglicized name of the proprietor. His Nepali name begins with a D) said that the little room with the stove allowed them to survive the winter. There was some dried raw buffalo meat; to cook it a piece was put in the coals for a few minutes. I fetched some dried wasabi peas that I had been carrying since the beginning of the trek and passed them around. Danny began cutting up a pumpkin to make soup that was cooked on the stove for over an hour in a pressure cooker. Other ingredients were: wild scallion picked locally, buffalo meat, turmeric, white pepper, garlic. I never ordered dinner.

I had another glass of rakshi; Lal and the others finished the apple brandy. Lal began applying some transparent green lotion that Kathy had given him in Manang because it was frozen. On the tube it said “for pigmented spots”; one of the ingredients was aloe vera. Lal has a pigmented spot over his entire body; for the rest of the trip I teased him about it.

Danny is an Evangelical Christian; he goes to a church with a large congregation in Jomsom. He asked me many questions about Barack Obama, American politics, and the American system of government. He is not the owner of the Hotel Royal Mustang; he rents the building. In the high season it would be full, and the guides might have to camp in the back. Next year or the year after the owner will renovate the building, so he will have to move to a nearby building that has more rooms but fewer stories.