Mustang, you hear that word, and get lost in this spiritual, ancient and surreal realm of imagination with thoughts, “I want to be there”.
I have lost count on how many itineraries I have made and how many photos have I edited in the past 7 years for Mustang in my previous job. But never been there in person.
One day I will go to Mustang, is what I would think every time my facebook flooded with my friends’ Mustang posts.
It was a good-to-go plan that my friend made, in fact, my friend’s elder sister, she so loves Mustang that she lands there at least twice a year. I told her that I would go with her and take mom and my sister too during the Dashain holidays. As we all know, it’s the only long holiday for us Nepalese beside many other one-day-holidays.
When the time came, all her subordinates backed out and it was just four of us at the time of the journey.
2018 has been my travel year, I was travelling outside valley every month, but for my poor sister it was all about proposal writing work as she had just joined new work, and for mom, she is always home arrested walking up and downstairs with her newfound hobby- gardening.
Muktinath was not on the map originally. The plan was to drive up to Marpha, the holy kingdom of famous Mustangi apples, then slowly descend from there walking 5 hours every day through many many unattended villages, Titi lake and eventually halfway through lower Mustang and drive to Pokhara through Beni. But mom had severe urge to go to Muktinath, when every one of her mates complained, “What? You are going to Mustang, and not making to Muktinath tch tch tch?” Hence, we revamped our plans and went to Muktinath ditching the prepared itinerary.
Well, secretly I wanted to see Muktinath too.
Off we drove for a good 10 hours from Pokhara to Jomsom. Dashain was late this year, last week of October and also rush hour for pilgrims. The pilgrimage route is always Kagbeni first, where one performs last rites for deceased ones then visit Muktinath to pay homage in order to wash away sin and pray that their beloveds departed souls find their way to heaven.
You see, “Mukti” means Liberation “nath” means Lord who grants the liberation.
We had forgotten our altitude sickness medicine so we waited outside a clinic at Muktinath Bazar to buy some. We wanted to be fully prepared while going into the thinner air because none of us three had been at such altitude before. ‘Never challenge Nature Mother‘.
We decided to rest all of our luggages at a restaurant where we would return for dal-bhat after our worship.
We walked to the temple instead of riding a horse, the smell of horse droppings on our nose and marks of same horse droppings on our shoes, those two was constant throughout the trek. Beside being super-religious we decided neither to wash under the sacred 108 water-hitis nor take dips into two holy ponds. Satisfied just sprinkling holy water over our heads and merrily watching other pilgrims do the holy chores.
With 2018 ending, 2019 passing by as a blink and miss and welcoming the much-commercialized slash hyped Visit Nepal 2020. I can imagine many tourist and pilgrims visiting Mustang, making photos of spectacular landscapes, taking a selfie with magnificent rock formation designs. But most importantly squeezing noses at the Muktinath temple vicinity upon seeing undergarments hanging trees of same pious pilgrims who have come to wash away their sins while committing yet another sin of throwing out their wet inners on to the trees instead of the dustbin.
I am trying to decipher the undergarments-situations here; number 1, they actually put those to dry after the bath but somehow forgot to collect them. Number 2, they thought it was yet another excuse for returning to Muktinath to wash away this sin next year?
Let me tell you a mythical story about these trees. Many many moons ago Saptarishi (Seven Saints) from India travelled here for Darshan (worship). Famished saints requested a Jhooma (Buddhist Priestess) for food. She grabbed a handful of sand from earth which turned into rice-pudding. She gave them the pudding saying they can return the leftover back to earth. Appalled Saints ate few bites each and they were full so that they followed her instruction of burying the remaining food into a pothole. That pothole existed until 15 years ago because my friend remembers pulling out white grain-like sand from the pothole and taking it with her as blessings for the grains were regarded to bring prosperity when stored in a safe.
Second tragedy after underwear hanging trees is this pothole which now is buried under the tall ugly wall that Government/caretaker decided to build around temple without taking this sacredness into consideration.
Coming back to trees with hanging under-wears, when these seven saints were leaving the temple they planted their walking sticks in the vicinity and it is believed the woods surrounding the temple actually grew out of those sticks. How amazing is that!! Now those holy trees of holy men are sadly are collecting under-garments.
My other complaint was Jhooma chatting over the phone while carelessly tossing pilgrims offerings towards God. Well maybe it’s not her fault, she is just acting like any other priests at any other temples.
Anyhoo, we then hiked rock hills on the right side of the temple, paying homage to the ever-burning lamp of Jhooma’s hermitage, a gigantic Buddha statue and equally huge but gilded Guru Rinpoche statue looking at Muktinath Bazaar before retiring for food at the restaurant we had left our bags at.