It was at Tsele that we left the modern world behind.
Now there was no internet, limited phone coverage and patchy electricity. After lunching in Chhusang, we followed the river again before it narrowed dramatically running through a rock tunnel, formed long ago by an enormous piece of the cliff falling against the other side. In the cliff face high above was a uniform row of caves, some of the many thousands that dot the cliffs throughout Mustang, and about which little is known.
When Michel Peissel reached this point he encountered only a simple bridge of planks of wood bolted together, impossible for his yaks to cross. There is now a steel bridge, which we walked across, but the horses had to wade across the shallow river, just as the jeeps do when the water is low enough. A road bridge is now being built and will provide vehicle access all year round.
Peissel took his yaks up the very steep and narrow gorge of the Ghyakar Khola that runs beside Tsele:
The sides of the canyon were so steep and so close together that in many parts the sunlight could not reach us, and we advanced as if in a cave, from whose bottom we could only occasionally glimpse a bit of blue sky.
He bypassed Tsele, but we took the almost vertical track beside the khola up to the village, entering via a wooden gateway, following the path as it continued up and between white-washed walls before arriving at our lodge for the night.
After tea on the terrace that looked out at the dramatic cliffs of the Kali Gandaki canyon, the table cloth nailed to the table so the fierce wind couldn’t whip it away, we explored the small village. It seemed quite deserted. One old man sat alone on a step spinning a prayer wheel and bid us a weary ‘namaste’ as we passed, women were out in the field gathering the harvest together before covering it with what looked like an old tent, and late in the afternoon a noisy game of volleyball was being played in a small courtyard below us, triumphant, joyful cries rising into the dimming light as dusk came on. Our lodge appeared to be the only one open.
Here the altitude began to bite. We were at 3070m and I had a headache and had begun to feel vaguely unwell, but after I’d eaten some dinner I felt better. I also had some difficulty with the squat toilet. It was not so much the nature of the toilet as its location. It was outside in a separate building reached through a passageway between rooms. At the end of the passageway was a door and it had to be bolted shut to stop it banging in the relentless wind. The problem was that the bolt was on the inside. Inevitably, I had to use the toilet during the night which meant I had to leave it unbolted and be quick enough to get back inside before someone got annoyed enough by the banging to get up and bolt it. I wasn’t, and when I emerged from the toilet block with only my head torch for light I found I was locked out. I thought maybe the window next to the door was our room and tapped on it, calling Neville’s name softly, but wasn’t sure enough that it was our room to persist, which was lucky because it wasn’t. There was no other option but to bang on the door until someone opened it. Eventually a rather frightened Nepalese man opened it saying:
“It was open.”
“Wasn’t it bolted?” I replied.
“I didn’t know,” he said.
The conversation made no sense, and I must have looked and sounded angrier than I was.
That night, the Nepalese were glued to the television as their government finally handed down the first constitution. They didn’t know then that it would lead to deadly clashes on the border with India and a four month long blockade creating crippling fuel shortages, bringing the country to a standstill.
I awoke to the sound of the horses’ bells as Dabendra brought them up outside our window and got them ready for the next day’s travel. We would be climbing higher to the village Ghiling.