Waking up on Day 7 in Lo Manthang the clouds had finally finished their business and gone elsewhere. The sky was an incredibly saturated hue of blue and there was snow everywhere. It looked incredible to see snow capped peaks all around and then allow my gaze to slowly follow the snow down until I was gazing at my slippers (yes, I brought slippers – wise move). The plan for the day was completely weather dependent

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This is what business school does…

Thanks to the good weather we decided the only thing to do was visit the rather remote village/caves of Chhoser. Hari said it would take about an hour and a half each way on horseback so the plan was to be back at our guesthouse for another lunch of dal bhat.

The horses arrived and we set off. First surprise of the day was that our horses were going to be led by a man who was walking. Clearly this has the inevitable consequence of limiting our top speed to (human) walking pace. I was a bit annoyed and Emily was clearly frustrated. I can only imagine what it’s like to have a walking man dictate your pace when you’re an accomplished horse rider. Still, being on horseback meant we didn’t have to walk through 2-3ft of perfect powder and that meant dry shoes! Winner!

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Virgin Powder Pony Trekking

The horses were fairly adept at breaking new trails through the powder… until Hari’s horse tripped, throwing him off and leaving him on his back in the snow with one foot still in the stirrups. Emily was extremely quick to react and had jumped off and freed him before I’d even managed to calm my horse down.

My legs were beginning to get sore when we were all ordered to stop. The virgin powder we’d been travelling across suddenly became too deep and the path too thin. We were told we’d have to turn back, which wasn’t an option in my mind. I told Hari that if the horses wouldn’t continue then we would push on on foot. I could just about see the caves in the sitance and there was no way I was about to leave empty handed. We dismounted, instantly saturating my shoes, and then the horseman said the horses would try to continue and we would remount when possible. So now I has paid 1500 rupees for a horse which could only go walking pace, and then I had to walk through champagne powder getting wet in the process. Hardly optimal. After a couple of hundred metres we remounted and continued our slow plod though the snow.

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Now you walk!

The caves gradually grew closer and we only had to dismount once more so the horses could be forced to cross a very narrow and rickety looking bridge, the snow hiding some of the holes and missing bits of wood. My feet were saturated, I was saddle sore, a little annoyed at the slowness, but about 2.5 hours later we arrived in Chhoser.

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 One side of the village… the old caves can be seen above the houses

 

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A monastery attached to the cliffs

It was quite a sight. A village in the most remote part of Nepal, only a few hours from the Chinese border, without roads, where people were still living in caves. It’s hard to really take that in when you’re sat in a first world country but try to imagine it. The history of Chossa is fascinating. The present is also pretty amazing. Houses are built so their front facade resembles any other Tibetan or Nepali house, butt the rooms at the rear are excavated into the hillside. The people living in this village are descendants of even more committed troglodytes.

The plan was to visit Jhonga Cave, where we would actually be able to go inside some of the old caves and have a look around. We walked through the village, huge caves intermingled with houses, continuing past them and then up into another powder field. I was a bit dehydrated by this point and a litte bit eggy, so when we eventually arrived at Jhonga cave I had a small “What the f***?” moment. Before us stood a rather small cliff, interspersed across it were some very small holes. Why had we walked past all those huge cave and house structures to trek even further to this scrappy looking thing? Oh how looks can be deceiving!

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Walking up to Jhonga Cave… You can see the stairs leading to the entrance, a sign of the erosion

Ascending a stone set of stairs I was faced with a 7 rung ladder going up into the cliff. It was akin to the reverse of traditional caving. In fact, Jhonga cave was the mirror opposite of a traditional caving experience. At the top of the ladder were a series of room. They went left to right as well as deeper into the cliff. It was incredible. The small holes I’d seen on the outside were merely small windows which now fed an incredible amount of light into the numerous chambers. Clearly people were a lot shorter 2,500 years ago when this cave had started life as I had to stoop quite a lot to avoid hitting my head.

Wandering through the rooms I thought how it must have been quite a nice place to live. The floors were extremely level, the walls very vertical, it was actually more like a stone built house. Some chambers/rooms had small sections built into them, presumably for storage or cooking.

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Some relics from the past and our guide Hari

As I wandered further I saw another ladder going upwards! Woah! Going up revealed another complete level, this one providing even more rooms deep into the hillside. After a little explore I found another ladder. This cave was vast. The walls on the very outside (where the windows were) were somewhat thin, probably being less than a foot. Internal walls were thicker and the floor between levels was about 2ft thick. I presume the external walls were once much thicker as the outside of the cliff was rather chossy. It was chossy to the point where I think it would be impossible to climb. The internal rock was bullet hard, undoubtedly worn by many many generations, and then a trickle of awe struck tourists.

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The view from one of the windows looking down over the new town

In total, the cave comprised 44 rooms over 5 levels. We couldn’t research every room but we did find some narrow passages only 2ft tall that ended at a thin external wall with a small window to the outside world. Construction began approximately 2,500 years ago and people were resident of this place until only 150 years ago. The descendants of that final generation of Jhonga cave dwellers now live within 1km, just slightly down the valley, in houses which are mostly attached to the hillside. In many ways it makes a great deal of sense, and if there’s one thing these people do well is use the natural world around them. Even now, the life of the people here involves herding animals, growing wheat and vegetables, building houses, and raising children. This is living at a very apparent hand to mouth existence. It’s an incredible thing to behold.

 

 

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Good to see our entrance fee is going to a good cause

The horse trek back was similarly boring, slow, and wet. The caves were worth the powder pony trek and made the day well worth it. This region has an incredible history, it’s people are so far removed from life as we know it in the west. It’s perhaps the most untouched place I have been. Some of the nomads I met in Mongolia were perhaps more hand to mouth, but they were constantly moving, following the weather, the food, or some other sensible commodity. The residents of upper mustang endure an incredibly hard life. I know I keep saying it but there are no roads here, people carry goods on their backs. There is often no meat to eat, and people will eat rice and lentils every day. There is often no running water. There is no heating. There is very little. It’s generally epic and I’m ultra impressed by the history and the present of both the landscape and the people here.