Mustang – where pilgrims meet
There are places on this planet no word can describe and no picture can capture their grandeur. To me, Mustang behind the mighty mountains of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range is such a place. The barren landscape looks like it has been painted in vast array of different shades of reds, blues, browns and greens. The structures of the hills, valleys and mountains tell the story of the continental drift that created the highest range on earth – the Himalayas.
The monsoon rains that lash each year the southern face of the mountains are blocked by the Earth’s highest peaks that rise here high above the clouds. Rainfall is rare and the green, oasis like patches are fed by glistening white glaciers and eternal snow covering the peaks above 6000 Meters.
Its a harsh world for man and beast. Before tourism provided new opportunities, the people lived a semi nomadic life by growing crops like buckwheat and potatoes along the glacial streams and by rearing Yak on high altitude meadows.
For visitors however it is an enchanting place. Stark blue skies, glistening white peaks and green patches of cultivated land greet the visitors. Colorful prayer flags on roofs, Gompas and hillocks play in the wind. The air is pristine and clear and the colors seem to be of an almost surreal intensity.
People here are gentle and seem to be devoid of stress and the constant nervous behavior we are used to from our stressed out folks back home. Life is slower and in tune with the seasons that still rule man and beast.
Visitors and trekkers come here to walk on ancient trade routes with Tibet and to see the former hidden Kingdom of Lo Manthang. Then there is the world famous route around the mighty massive of the Annapurna Himal, crossing the Thorong La at 5400 Meters.
At the foot of the pass trekkers pass trough one of the most sacred pilgrim places in the Himalayas – Muktinath. The small shrine build here long ago is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who carries the Trishul (Trident) and is worshipped as the Lord of the three worlds, also known as the past, the future and the present. The pilgrims to this place are traditionally asking for Moksha (Mukti) or the liberation of the soul from rebirths. They are asking for Yoga or the union of their soul with the divine.
Foreign travelers are likely to meet pilgrims that have been walking for month to reach the temple. Many of them have done their duties as spouses, fathers, mothers and contributors to society and their last act in life is towards their soul and liberation from rebirth.
On our journey we met three men who walked barefoot all the way from central India, unfazed by weather, sleeping outdoor and painful feet. Their eyes were serene and calm and happily they chatted and told us about their journey, not even surprised that as a foreigner I was able to converse in their language.
Since long, I am convinced that travelers choose destinations like Mustang, Muktinath, Varanasi and other places in India and Nepal trough their unconscious and the seeking of their souls. Traveling here, no matter how luxurious or adventurous we choose to do so, becomes often without our conscious knowing a pilgrimage towards our inner self.
Note: the area of Mustang has not been affected by the Earthquake in April 2015