Shyangboche to Chhusang via Rangchyung cave and Samar

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I’m cold and disorganised this morning, a rice pudding breakfast helps get me started. Incense is burning in the lobby, outside a group of men are replacing a car tyre, another man is planing a long plank of wood. We turn left outside the hotel, the path quickly drops down from the road into a steep narrowing ravine. I see a bird catch a butterfly then a hawk swoops down into a flock of small birds scurrying across the ground and takes one. The gorge joins another which we ascend until a large flat rock indicates a series of steep steps up to the prayer flagged Rangchyang cave. The cave dates from the 6th century and was used as a meditation cave by Padmasambhava, the great sage who brought Buddhism to Tibet. A monk lives here year round for four or five years with a helper who’s a deaf mute. They have friendly faces and the monks prepares tea while we look round at the small shrines and stupas, photos and a wall covered with many gilded, moulded impressions of Padmasambhava.

We leave as a tired Spanish group makes they way up, a large bearded man has stayed behing to cool his feet in the stream. We talk cameras, he too has an Olympus and asks me to take his photo. The way out of here is a long steep climb past old juniper trees, purple black grasses with white seed heads and a small fragrant bush. The river is far below. A large juniper tree stands like a sentinel at the end of the climb, we’re glad of a short rest. A strange, pale dusty path leads down past two enclosures in a grassy field with chained, barking dogs. A ruined stupa indicates a descent into the first of two short steep ravines and the first of several encounters with a cheerful, rowdy gaggle of colourfully dressed women. On the edge of Samar the villagers are gathered round a deep pit with fuses and explosives and we are told to wait. Nothing happens so we walk on up to the Samar Guest House, the Himali Hotel, a beautiful place, the best we’ve seen - it would be a delightful place to stay. We sit outside in the sun watching chickens before omelette and chips in a lovely cool back room.

Spectacular mountain views then the dramatic descent on the narrow path at the side of the steep ravine that leads back to Chele. More groups of colourful women are climbing the path, singing and dancing, each group led by a single man. We learn they’re from the remote valleys of Dolpo to the west of Mustang and are heading to a festival at Lo Montang. They’re lively and flirtacious, Graham is in his element. It’s almost dusk when we pass through Chele and descend to the bridges over the Kali Gandaki and the long tedious walk back on a coarse stone road to Chussang. The path is a causeway, between the path and the hillside is a narrow watery mud lake, the mud is so thick that a rock thrown in simply sits on the surface. We call for the tractor to carry us across the river and we’ve finally arrived, late, at Chussang. Teenage boys are playing handball near the water pump by the hotel. Ruins of the old town and monastery can be seen higher up on the hillside; it must once have been a much larger vilage. We have the rooms on the balcony we admired on our way out last week and a wonderful hot shower, but the food is terrible. Graham talks with an old guide who points out the head of the American Himalaya Foundation who’s staying here tonight.


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