As we started to walk into this new valley, I was immediately blown away by the beautiful scenery. Pine tree covered cliffs of rock towered up into a veil of mist confirming this is indeed a secret and special place. We followed the river all the way up which made for a pleasant walk (until the seriously steep hill at the end), including a quick stop at a hot spring where a bathing Buddhist nun and her elderly mother explained the healing properties the sulphurous water is meant to have.
This air of magic and secrets continued the next day as we walked to Nar. While it was a short day in terms of time, it felt exceptionally long in regards to the terrain. The hill to Nar takes about three hours to climb. During those three hours I looked at and considered each and every ridge and corner, hoping that once I was over or around it I would catch my first glimpse of the village. I didn’t. And, there were a lot of ridges and a lot of corners. We passed a chorten and no village. We went through a large wall and gateway and still no village. When we then passed a group of the largest and most impressive chortens I have seen and still no sign of the village, I was getting desperate. It felt like I was chasing a mystical place that may decide not to appear for us. Finally, around the last corner, there it was. Stone houses and prayer flags clustered together like something from an Arabian dream. I simply stopped and out-loud exclaimed “wow”.
With five Buddhist gompas (small monastery buildings), one for each caste within the village and one for everyone, Nar also came across as a very religious place. As we explored our surroundings, taking photos with every other step, we were fortunate in our timing to witness a ceremony taking place at one of the gompas. It was day one of a five-day ceremony where every gompa is visited. Approximately twenty or so Buddhist monks of various ages and levels of seniority were inside and outside the building chanting. There were also some participating decked out in leather jackets and dreadlocks who had completed their monastic training and decided not to continue. Definitely the coolest looking ‘monks’ I have seen. We were invited into the stifling hot kitchen for salty butter tea, a staple of Tibetan cuisine which, while edible, is most certainly an acquired taste. The celebratory atmosphere continued to a side kitchen where tipsy and laughing women made and shared delicious momos. Everywhere we went people wanted to talk, inviting us in for tea and eagerly asking Tim about his 120-day trek across the Nepal Himalayas. Nar has become a real highlight of my trip to Nepal so far and it made me realise how much that relies on the interactions with the people of a place.
Phu, the other village for which the Nar-Phu region is named, was similar in style and accessibility. As we made our way there past villages with hobbit homes built into the ground, stark landscapes and a gateway like something straight out of a film set, I was often reminded of some of my favourite movies, Star Wars, and the landscapes they used. It was here that our group split again for a while. Tim and Yadab headed up up up to cross the technical 6,063m Saribung Pass, while the in-laws, our friend Cécile and I headed across my second pass, Kange La (5,320m) to get ourselves back onto the Annapurna circuit.
On the other side we just about flew up to the third and final high pass. The difference of having a larger, well-worn path to follow was incredible and we did a two to three-day trek in one day, crossing Thorang La (5,416m) early the next morning. This is also where we found all the tourists. The night before we crossed the pass was spent in the large communal space of the lodge listening to music while surrounded by many people playing guitar, board games, reading, dancing and chatting. While this was the highest of the three passes, it was one of the easier to cross as it never got too steep. I just felt like I was in slow motion the whole time breathing in the limited air. With so many people, the atmosphere at the top was one of celebration, friendship and accomplishment. No wonder so many people come back to Nepal after a first visit looking for more.
Once down from those lofty heights, we changed gears and switched to local buses and hair raising jeep rides to get to our last region, the restricted area of Upper Mustang.
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NOTE: For anyone reading who is interested in more technical climbing, or crazy big adventures. If you are curious about Saribung Pass, or any of Tim’s Great Himalaya Trail trek, you can see more and contact him through the Facebook page ‘Great Himalaya Trail 2017’.