Much Adu about Apple Pie, Pilgrimage to Jomosom

Day 4: Marpha to Tukuche (2 hours)

We had been trekking pretty fast for the last three days and decided to make today a slow and relaxing day, to stop and smell the apples. We slept in and had a leisurely breakfast, that should have been classified a lunch. It also allowed us the time to get in a bit of laundry yesterday, knowing that we'd have time to let it dry. We finally headed out about noon and made our way to Tukuche over a relatively easy stretch of trail. The trail took us through a dry riverbed that we mainly shared with the numerous donkey trains. The ones heading in our direction carried empty sacks, while those on the return journey were filled to the brim, carrying goods for the many villages through the lower Mustang area.

Donkey train bringing supplies to Lower Mustang

We headed to the lodge run by a very close family of Devi's. He told me his sister was there. The family was very close to Devi and whenever he trekked through there with clients, they stayed at their lodge. A few years back, Devi stopped in Tukuche with clients during the Tihar festival held in late November on the day of Bhai Tika. On that day, sisters give tikas, a blessing of sticky paste made of rice and colored powder, to their brothers wishing for their long life, health and happiness. And brothers return the favors with gifts of clothing, sweets and fruit. Devi was far from his home and away from his three sisters. That night in the lodge, the young girl of the house, who adored Devi for he gave her brotherly attention and help whenever he stayed at their home, blessed him with a tika during the festivities. Since then, he always refers to her as his bahini, his little sister, and I believe the bond is no less weaker than blood.

Devi's 'sister' in Tukuche, she's got the cutest apple cheeks

Tukuche itself, is the younger sister of Marpha, the less showy and thus less visited kin. While many make Marpha a destination, most choose Tukuche only when their tired muscles demand it. But that would be a mistake. Tukuche has a very unusual feature that most don't bother exploring or even know about, its private temples and monestaries. The area itself used to be a thriving stop on the trading routes between India and Tibet and Buddhism was long established. The village boasted a number of bustling monestaries but a stagnating trade culminating in the invasion of Tibet, slowly drained Tukuche of its vibrance and the monk number dwindled to nothing. To save the small and intimate sanctuaries, the maintanence was taken over by local citizens who keep up the temples through donations by pilgrims and tourists alike. But time and tourists alike has forgotten them and weeds grow over the doors, gardens abut the exterior walls, and laundry hangs from the spires. Many of the smaller ones are completely encircled by homes, giving you the distinct feel of a monastic garage. Others are larger and are home to their caretakers. To visit them, find the 'owners' who will unlock the doors and either give you a tour or, and this is more likely, leave you to explore on your own. The temples are dark, dusty and in many ways, exactly as they were hundreds of years before, as if the monks closed up for the evening and just never came back. One of the most interesting  is in one home's backyard. You enter through the gate and interrupt the lady of the home who will probably be washing laundry and hanging it from the top of the temple. She may act too busy to be bothered to find the keys, but the mention of a donation may compel her to leave her laundry for a moment. Note the thick dust covering the lonely Buddha at the alter and the cobwebs strung throughout.

The other feature that Tukuche boasts is the distillery that churns out apple and apricot brandy. If you're lucky, it'll be open and you can sip samples. If not, you can try and buy their product all over town, as well as some of the best apricot jam and dried fruits.

The two mothers of the house, older mother and younger mother

I discovered the interesting arrangement of the lodge household. The father of the house had taken a second wife when the first was unable to conceive. She had a number of children, including Devi's 'sister.' A few years back he died and the wives get so well, they both stay together running the lodge. The two 'aamas' were so wonderful, we ate in the kitchen, heaping platters of dhal bhat and meat curry, and then retired to the common room to laugh and talk over Tukuche's finest, late into the evening.

Another close friend of the family was there, a Sherpa from the Solu Khumbu region who was a famous mountaineer and now retired with a lodge in Namche. He regaled us with tales of his five successful ascents of Everest as well as his work later in the Royal Nepal Army training commandos in mountain warfare in the barracks above Jomosom. It was through his time there that he became such good friends of the family. I was sad to leave. My heart as well as my bag was heavier as we walked away, the bag laden down with gifts of homemade apricot jam and dried fruits.

Day 5: Tukuche to Ghasa (6 hours)

Today was a long day, full of ups and downs and relatively difficult trail. At one point, after we had crossed a bridge, we had to hurry across the sandy lip of a large landslide that threatened to keep rolling down the mountain. But it was also the most varied terrain yet, as we descended into the lush lowlands, full of forests and rivers.

If we only take the time to look and see, there are so many fascinating things along the trail. Small details to be savored. Items that draw a fuller picture of life in Nepal.

Just outside of one village, we came across a large transformer of some sort. It was sitting peacefully amidst a herd of grazing cows. Tarps were strewn across the top in a feeble attempt to perhaps protect it. Some locals down the road gave us the scoop. So the story goes, the villagers were pressuring the district govt to bring electricity to the area. What finally arrived was the big monstrosity itself with any accompanying instructions. They kept it a long while in the village, but as they could never figure out how to get it to work, left it in the fields and stocked up on candles and kerosene.

A little later, just after crossing a large bridge, we rested on the stone chautara outside of a home. There on the stone stoop was a lovely wooden push cycle, it's wheels off-kilter, the seat a tad uncomfortable but full of endless fun. These objects of fascination were everywhere, if we just took out the time to notice them. Details that make life richer.

Full size door entrance to a walled off field of weeds

We arrived in Ghasa after a long and full day. It was almost dark, and as we rounded the corner, I saw the first lodge and it sign welcoming us to Florida. Devi told us to keep going, to the last and best lodge in town. What he failed to mention is that Ghasa is long and spread out. But we got to see the lay of the land, as we trudged through the town on our last legs.

Ghasa stretched out for over half an hour's walk. The town was made up of short squat stone buildings whitewashed and decorated with touches of maroon and rusty red paint. I think I was too tired to appreciate it all.

Courtyard stable area with rooftop access



We finally arrived at the lodge, hungry and tired. We took care of them in that order.

Donkey train making its way through the cobblestone street of Ghasa.


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