Home » Annapurna Circuit: Muktinath to Kagbeni

Annapurna Circuit: Muktinath to Kagbeni

Mornings are the worst part of trekking.

This is because breakfast has to be ordered the night before. It’s very easy to be too enthusiastic when doing this. Tomorrow’s cramps and pains seem far away when you’re sitting beside a roaring fire.

“Put me down for 6 AM,” was what I’d foolishly requested. But I was in no mood the next morning when, “mister, breakfast is ready!” came bellowing through the door.

Filled with regret, I retrieved my aching legs from the sleeping bag. They felt like they’d just climbed over a mountain. To be fair, they had. I went down to the common room and ate alone, everyone else still tucked up in bed. I desperately wanted coffee, but this was firmly in the luxury column.

The advantage to this early start was that it was a gorgeous time of day when I got started down the trail. Muktinath was already buzzing, a horse trader was leading his herd through the village as I left.

Instead of walking directly to Kagbeni, I’d decided to take an alternative route through an area which had once been forbidden to foreigners. This trail started near the Gorgen Chhyoling Nunnery, then crossed a swing bridge over the Jhong Khola. The next village was adorned in brilliant striped patterns; its streets home to more goats than people.

It was a perfect winter’s day, the sky a crisp blue, the clouds a mere whisper. I felt like it hadn’t rained here in centuries, the parched land was crying out for a drop of water. It was all dust, stones and scrub.

Jhong, with its ruined fortress
Jhong, with its ruined fortress

I reached Jhong and climbed the hilltop to its 14th century fort. Today it’s barely recognisable, but it hinted at a regal past, perhaps when rain had still existed. From here I could see the twin peaks of Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri, the water imprisoned on their slopes was a mockery.

I continued on to Kagbeni, enjoying the valley’s stark beauty. There was not a tree in sight, the sky was so blue, the distant mountains so white. The hills looked like hulking mounds of rust, a striking mix of red, orange and yellow. I couldn’t believe I’d been walking through snow only a day ago.

The road from Muktinath to Kagbeni
The road from Muktinath to Kagbeni

By 10 AM a maddening wind had started gusting up the valley. It was funneled by the huge mountain ranges and quickly became a howling gale that was painful to walk in. Out of sheer frustration I picked up a rock and hurled it into the wind, as if this would make it relent. Luckily, there wasn’t a soul in sight to see this shameful display.

Despite the wind, I still felt privileged to be wandering alone under that massive sky. It was a moment to live for. Soon, the trail came to a cliff edge with some steps carved into the side. At the bottom was Kagbeni, a shockingly green oasis in this parched desert.


Verdant terraces sat incongruously on the dead hillside, flowing down to the village by the river. I entered, walking past a long mani wall, Tibetan prayers inscribed on its side. Kagbeni’s buildings were made of mud and packed tightly together, dark alleyways running inbetween.

I went for a look around after finding a place to stay. The streets resembled tunnels built as a refuge against the wind raging outside. A combination of Buddhist and animist beliefs were on display here.

A woman washing beside a chorten
A woman washing beside a chorten

Prayer wheels creaked in the wind; while spirit-traps made from buffalo skulls were mounted on the walls. I visited the Kagchode Gompa, an extraordinary ochre monastery that had been founded in 1429. Young novices were playing games outside, oblivious to the chilly conditions.

Kagchode Gompa
Kagchode Gompa

Strangest of all was the statue of the clay “Grandfather”, who was the village’s pre-Buddhism protector. His erect penis asked questions I didn’t want the answer to.

Kagbeni's clay Grandfather
The clay Grandfather

Before dinnertime I went down to the river and watched as a goat farmer drove his herd across the riverbed. His entire livelihood was framed by the dry canyons that marked the gateway to the forbidden Upper Mustang district.

I went to bed and read, using my torch as there was no electricity. Outside the prayer flags were audible, flapping and fraying in the howling wind. To a superstitious people, I understood how this sound was not just the wind but the cries of spirits, searching for help in the dark. I turned off the torch, but struggled to sleep.

After I trekking from Muktinath to Kagbeni, I trekked to Larjung, which you can read about here.

You can find more about my trek around the Annapurna Circuit at the links below:

One comment

  1. Gma says:

    So much contrast here not to mention interesting text! Beggers belief that people survive such conditions. Great photos again Dan.

    Love always


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