Riding horses is a large part of not only traditional Tibetan and Nepali lifestyle but present day lifestyle as well. So when we had decided on Nepal I made it my mission to at least ride ONE of these trusty steeds.
We had been walking for just over a week by now on the Annapurna Circuit and had arrived at Manang just above 3000m elevation. This area is part of the Mustang region. The Mustang valley itself used to be part of Tibet and was also used as a popular trade route between Nepal and Tibet. The Tibetan influence here is strong and Nepalis are very proud of their Tibetan connections.
With a couple of days to acclimatize in Manang before heading for the 5416m high pass we decided to take a day for a few short climbs around the area. Helping to boost our red-cell count.
Our second climb of the day was up a cliff face on a narrow rocky path, where you could see the home of the local Llama overseeing the valley. His home clung to the rock for dear life and looked as if it was he mountain that had grown up around it. It was customary to make the climb to his home where you would share tea with him and be blessed for safe travels.
It was a daunting looking climb so we quickly grabbed the chance to ride up in true style on the back of our own horse.
The way I envisioned it was this – Suzie and I would thank the local for letting us rent his horses, while we hopped on and rode into the plains for a few warm up laps before the path. Suzie’s hair, and my beard, would blow in the wind as we galloped through the mountains. Then we would ride up to the awaiting Llama like cowboys from the old west trotting into town.
First of all, in true lost-in-translation style. Our “rental agent”, who was basically a guy who knew a guy, thought we wanted to ride to the next town over which was a somewhat flat 30 minute journey. Not up the side of a mountain!
When we finally cleared that mess by pointing upwards towards the Llamas home, their eyes widened and in broken English we understood “Ok, but our horses have never climbed that before”…Off to a good start we thought.
On top of that, we did not grab the reigns of our horse and gallop through the Himalayas. We were basically human cargo as the horse owners walked their horse (with us on their back) along the trail. Pretty much like a pony ride at a petting zoo.
And as if my ego wasn’t bruised enough. When we began to climb the steep trail my horse would grunt, grumble, sigh and even freeze, refusing to go any further.
We were obviously not friends.
When the owner finally convinced my “steed” to keep chugging along it would struggle and fart in the general direction of Suzie who was following close behind. When it stopped short, Suzie’s horse would bang into its rear causing the only horse traffic jam I’ve ever been a part of.
After about 45 minutes of grunting, farting and stand-stills between the owner and his horse we decided we could make better time on our own. The path wasn’t getting any more inviting and my trustee steed had done all but tip me over the edge to show its love for me.
We thanked our guides and dismounted. They looked worried, as if we were going to be disappointed with them! But we all had a good laugh (except for my horse) and sent them on their way with smiles on their faces and a few extra rupees in their pocket.
And as Suzie and I tackled the last bit on our own, I looked back to see my ride, trotting happily down the trail – stretching its back.