A few years ago, we were trekking in northern Nepal, hiking toward Mhustang1 and Lo Manthang. We got to the small town of Tsarang, about 30 miles north of Jomosom. In fact, this falls into the category of best afternoon solo hikes!
After we got to this small town and had lunch, I took a very short rest in my tent and then went on an afternoon solo hike to the east. The first mile was a pleasant stroll across shallow farm fields and pastures, and then the trail came to an edge. A small stream flowed down the shallow valley and cascaded down the eroded cliffs.
The trail started down, not at a scary rate, but pretty impressively steep. I thought about it and tentatively started down, and I looked up at cliffs 100 or 200 or 400 or 800 feet above me. These were not solid stone cliffs, but eroded cliffs, nearly vertical, made of stones and dry mud—and puddingstone? Clay and embedded stones. Scary!
I was a little nervous, but I thought, “If this was all going to fall down on my head, why would it choose today to do it?” I recalled a well-researched theory that if you can find rocks perched precariously on little pedestals, earthquakes must be very rare. Also, I thought, “If there had been any earthquake in the last 99 years, this would all have collapsed many years ago, so it’s not likely to happen in the next hour.”
I looked up and down and around and kept descending. There actually was a barely perceptible trail through all the loose rocks on the canyon floor. After an hour or so, as the canyon descended and widened and narrowed, repeatedly, I came out to the mouth of the canyon.
Some New Friends
I angled over to the right, toward the great gorge of the Khali Gandaki (River). I have hiked and biked many miles along this great river—over 100 miles, over 90 hours. Even up here near its source, this river was impressive and scary. Probably a yard deep, rushing and raring, about 20 mph and 30 yards wide. Could I wade across it? Uh-uh. Even with two walking sticks, I could fall in and die.
Then I met up with three horsemen who had come down that same trail, about 3 p.m. They were headed east and ready to cross that great river. I do not speak much Nepali, and they didn’t exactly speak much English. But they were quite demonstrative. After exhausting my Nepali vocabulary, “namaste,” they did some arm-waving, and I tried to understand them.
I figured out that a fourth stray horse had followed them down the trail, and they indicated that they would like me to take it back up to the village of Tsarang (rather than have her follow them any further).2 I waved my arms and agreed. Okay! Fun challenge!! The three horsemen went across that river, I assume. (I never saw them cross. I wished I had seen how they did that.) “Ghhoraa! Jaane ukalo a Tsarang!” (“The horse is going up to the town!”)
You Can Lead A Horse Up A Hill...
I hooked the buckle of my belt around the horse’s bridle and made a big knot in the tail of my belt for me to hold on to.3 I started to encourage and lead the horse up the hill. I did this for about 200 yards, and when I got tired I stopped pulling the horse’s head, and we stopped. After all, this is up at about 11,500 feet.
And this horse, for a few seconds, would not want to move. She just stood there. She was a fine, big white horse. If I would have gotten into a contest with her, she could have whacked me badly and dragged me back down the hill. But we got along okay. Each time, after about a minute of waiting, I was rested, and I tugged and got the horse moving. After about eight efforts, I got the horse up all the steep rockiest parts, past all the dubious cliffs, and up onto the flat area.
We walked up the last mile of the flat pastures, to Tsarang, with not much struggling. When I got there, I looked up the leader of the town. In some English, I asked this very wise young man, who was a nephew of the King of Mhustang, “What do you want to do with this fine horse that these three guys ‘gave’ me, down at the river?”
He thought for a few moments, smiled, undid the belt, and turned the horse loose. He gave her a little pat, and the horse walked off, no problem. We did not exactly define the owner of the horse, but I figured out that the horse would surely find her way to her owner.
Okay, going down the hill, I had a solo hike. But coming back up the hill, I had a friend. What a fine adventure in one sunny afternoon! A learning adventure.
1The name of this kingdom is commonly spelled “Mustang,” but it is pronounced “Mhustang” so I’ll spell it that way, to help you avoid pronouncing it like the car.
2Was the horse was a “mustang” in the way we think of a wild horse in the western U.S.? No. It was a full-sized horse, and not just a Tibetan pony. It had been well trained.
3And what did I use to keep my pants from falling down? A spare cord from my knapsack
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R.A. Pease, 682 Miramar Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112-1232
BOB PEASE obtained a BSEE from MIT in 1961 and was a Staff Scientist at National Semiconductor Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.