BENI & TATOPANI
We rode into the beautiful lush green valley and took a break at “Milan Chak” a village 80 km from Pokhra and on the edge of Beni. At a road side kiosk we did a thorough check of bikes and analysed our trip forward. Beni is the starting point of the 100kms route to Muktinath, a point from where our riding conditions will change, no smooth roads, scarcity of hotels and absence of repair shops in case of breakdown. As everything was in order and good shape we started for Beni and beyond without overthinking.
After a tiny bridge things started to change, human habitation started thinning, gravels with layer of sand, dust and stretches of mud took over black tarmac roads, the tyres were skidding every now and then, my fingers were sore due to the extensive use of clutch as I was shuffling between 1st and 2nd gear only with a speed of 15-20 kms/ph. It took me a while to acclimatise those riding conditions. We rode for another two hours in those conditions before we were stopped by Nepal Police at a check post in Tatopani.
We acquired the last set of permits for Muktinath, and it was almost dark. Beni to Tatopani is only 20 km however it took two hours, to cover that distance. A different terrain, unique in its own way. It bought out those hidden riding skills out at play. So far the ride was tough, I was tired, covered with several layers of dirt and dust, but I enjoyed it. The policeman advised us for overnight at Tatopani and to enjoy the natural hot spring the place offers. It brought smiles to our face as a warm bath is what we needed and we happily obliged to his advice and went towards the hotel.
Next morning, we started early from Tatopani knowing that we have a long and hard day ahead. Muktinath is still 80kms from Tatopani and we knew that it wouldn’t be easy. The terrain challenged us with its worst in every possible way just like a video game, in every 3-5 kms the terrain was throwing a new kind of challenge and we need to cross somehow it to get into the next level.
At Ghasa check post we stopped to show our permits and we also had our breakfast at a small roadside kiosk. The awe-inspiring beauty of the natural crest and troughs, the clouds and river streams, made us numb to the bumpy ride we were experiencing and we came to halt next at Jomsom for lunch. It took us six hours to cover 55 km of distance from Tatopani while Muktinath is further 24 km from Jomsom.
Jomsom is a small town and headquarters of Mustang district of Nepal, situated at an altitude of 9000 ft. with Dhaulgiri and Annapurna mountain range on it’s either sides. It is also the starting point of the Jomsom-Muktinath trek and has an airport connecting to Pokhra. Flights only lands/departs during mornings as the probability of best weather is always higher during early hours.
MUKTINATH (The Last Stretch)
After we started from Jomsom barren landscape took over the lush green mountains. The terrain even got tougher as we were riding on pebbles. We stopped several times and waited for any passing by vehicle to clear about the challenges lies ahead. So far our journey was free from any major mishaps, we were advancing slow but steady until the moment which made the trip epic and unforgettable.
Riding on Pebbles
Santosh ji’s bike started giving trouble, it was giving up every now and then, slowing us down even more. I and Amit took the lead while Iron Man accompanied Santosh Ji behind us. It was getting dark and Muktinath was still 10kms away. Then suddenly Iron Man’s light beam disappeared from my rear view mirror, Amit was at my front and I signalled him to stop. After stopping what we saw led us to panic. We spotted them two hairpin bends down the mountain, trying to start Santoji’s bike but it would not. Darkness all around us there was no one in the vicinity from whom we can seek assistance. After waiting a while we saw one of them moving but it was hard to tell who? as we could only see a light advancing towards us. Panic and anxiety were all over Iron Man when he came over and told me to unmount my luggage and fetch Santosh Ji, leaving his bike there. It took a while to register the instruction, the task seemed herculean but one of our brother is in trouble and I must help. I unloaded my luggage and was turning my bike when a reflection of light grabbed my attention towards it. It was from Santosh Ji’s bike, it came to life and was roaring towards us.
The nightmare was over and we resumed our journey forward. Visiting Muktinath Temple was not an option at that hour, hence we decided to find an accommodation for the night and to visit the Temple in the morning. The windy and cold valley were making it hard to concentrate on the road, our fingers went numb and sore, our eyes searching for any soul for assistance, but it was not there, those last few kilometers were not ending. The thought of missing a turn did cross our mind several times. We stopped when we saw a shack, with a vehicle parked outside and thought of asking for nearby hotels but again we didn’t find any human being inside. Iron Man was freezing in the cold, his windcheater wasn’t helping much, he was shivering, altitude sickness was having it’s toll on Santosh ji and he too was breaking down. After taking a couple of turns we found a large lit up house, Iron Man rushed towards the gate and started banging desperately looking for some response. A man came out and enlightened us that we are in Muktinath and the temple is just a kilo metre ahead, but going at that hour is not recommended and advised us to check in to the Indo-Nepal guest house which he supervises.
Upon entering the guest house, we found ourselves in an unique environment, the lawn was full of ice due to sub-zero temperature, no water through taps as the reservoir too was frozen. Hot tea was served as we were settling ourselves in our rooms. Santosh ji was sick and went straight to the bed. Dinner was served roughly around 8:30 with portable hot water. Iron Man hardly had a chapati and rushed to bed, but I and Amit enjoyed the hot served dinner. We went to bed thinking what awaits us in the morning.
The morning was like the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. It brought blissful views of Nilgiri, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and several other peaks surrounding the guest house. The view made me forget all the hurdles of the trip, the horrendous experience of the night and filled my heart with joy and happiness. After all, this is why we travel, to experience the nature at its best.
Santosh ji’s bike was not starting again, so I took him as my pillion and started for the Temple. Situated at an altitude of 3,710 meters (12,172 feet) ASL the Temple welcomed us with approximately hundred steps to climb on. We bought ‘puja thali’ from a shop and took the climb, we found the temple to be closed when we climbed to the top ,but were informed that it will open soon. Behind the temple is a semi-circular wall with 108 stone faucets having a shape of the head of a bull. Water from the ice cold Kali Gandaki River flows through the mouths of these bulls. It is believed that by standing beneath those faucets one can clean his/her soul and offers pilgrimage to Lord Vishnu.
After seeking blessings from Muktinath we returned to the guest house. Iron Man tinkered with the spark plug and Santosh Ji’s bike came to life instantly. We heartfully thanked Ram (the supervisor) for his awesome service and started our journey back home with unforgettable memories and experiences.