Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kagbeni: Gateway to the Kingdom of Mustang

Kagbeni is an ancient trading city perched on a plateau overlooking the Kali Gandaki River in north central Nepal. For centuries, Kagbeni thrived in the salt trade. Caravans of human porters or goats (really) carried salt south from Tibet en route to India. On the return, the caravans brought back rice and other goods from the lowlands. The introduction of manufactured salt containing iodine largely ended the salt trade, but I am not sure of the date. However, black, rose, and white Tibetian salt are now sold in gourmet stores around the world, so some degree of the salt trade has revived (although some of this new salt trade goes through China, therefore not benefiting Kagbeni at all). In the United States, iodine was first added to salt in 1924. Iodine deficiency is a leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities, or mental retardation (from Wikipedia). Lack of iodine also caused many people to develop goiters (swelling of the thyroid gland).
The geology here is spectacular. The Kali Gandaki winds its way south across a gravel-filled valley, meandering and crossing over and over. The trail crossed some of the streams on temporary wooden bridges, and in other places follows along the shore well above the valley bed. In the second photograph, look at the talus slopes (rock debris) tumbling down the valleys and into the Kali Gandaki's flood plain. These talus slopes are an example of erosion caused by gravity flow, with possibly some assistance during the winter by water transport. This is an arid climate, but even minor rainfall may help lubricate rocks and make the slopes less stable.
Many Nepalis come to the river bed to look for ammonites, called Saligram in Nepali. They are Upper Jurassic age, about the age of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. These demonstrate that sediments in the Himalaya were once seabed and that the uplift of the Himalaya is younger than Jurassic. The uplift was caused by the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates, which is ongoing. As long as the himalaya are uplifting, there will be an almost endless supply of sediment to be carried down the rivers, and, eventually, into the Ganges. The Ganges eventually joins the Brahmaputra, which jointly form the massive Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, which protrudes into the Bay of Bengal.
We rough and tough trekkers (wimps) were tired after a day walking north along the river from the town of Jomsom. This was the Trekkers Inn near the south entrance to town. It was clean, cheerful, and comfortable.
Late afternoon, the wind blows mercilessly across the river valley, carrying clouds of sand and dust. Best to hang out in the inn and drink a tea. The walls around the older houses were a protection against the wind. The wood neatly piled along the rooftop are a traditional demonstration of wealth. In the past, the wood was vital to heating and cooking in winter. Today, many houses use kerosene stoves, so the wood is symbolic or maybe just a decoration. The air is so dry, the wood does not rot.
This little fellow welcomed travelers and was a symbol of good fortune. He apparently needs repair on a regular basis. It is a hard job being out in the weather.
Narrow alleys take you to courtyards and an occasional stupa. Again, note the wood stacked along the roof parapets.
The Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery at the edge of town is a fascinating mixture of ancient and 20th century buildings. Some of the books neatly stored in silk wrappers are hundreds of years old. A huge Tibetan Massif protects the grounds. During the day, he is pretty mellow and sleeps in the sun. But at night, he roams the grounds and eats tourists (and possibly goats and cows).
Late afternoon, the goats come marching through. Poop overload, just be sure you are not in the way. This was late October, and the goats were heading south, I presume to markets in south Nepal or India.

After a night in Kagbeni, we proceeded north into Mustang (to be continued). 

Geology note:  This is a satellite image of the Ganges-Bramaputra Delta, from the NASA Earth Observatory, Nov. 9, 2011.
NASA file

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