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27May2016

Taxi to Yeti-land

Around the really touristy part of the Himalayas the legend of the yeti is so interwoven with the western reports of the creature that it’s not always easy to separate the honest belief from the tourist tale. To find somewhere where the legend is still powerful and relatively unaffected by yeti-mania, you have to find old civilization…

Upper Mustang in mid-west Nepal is an ancient Tibetan kingdom. High and dry (literally) and only open to westerners for 30 years, till four years ago you could only travel up to the Tibetan border by horse. Now there’s a road. But not what you or I would call a road.  More flat-ish rock. We’d seen pictures - but that didn’t prepare us. The journey from the nearest town of Jomsom to the capital Lo Manthang (the gateway to the nomads and wise-men who claim to have seen the yeti and have specimens) was a 2 day drive. Our transport. Taxi.

At rude-o’clock in the morning the air-conditioned, super-suspended 4x4s that had transported us from Pokhara in roomy comfort only just made it through the Kali Gandaki River to the Upper Mustang Taxi rank on the eastern shore. There we squeezed our kit, our luggage and ourselves into three less deluxe 4x4 taxis that started the bone rattling journey towards the kingdom’s capital.

But you don’t make the journey in one vehicle. Here you do it like a relay. The taxi drops you off, for another to collect you for the next leg - certain vehicles permitted only in certain areas. The only difference form a relay, is that when one taxi drops you the other isn’t necessarily there to pick you up. And as we found out, while hanging out by a little shop by the river, at the bottom of the Kali Gandaki gorge [the deepest in the world] eating instant noodles – you never really know when the next taxi will arrive…

Several hours of teeth chattering later we came to relay point two. Required, not because of permissions, but because a small waterfall runs over a hairpin bend in of road. As wet and steep as it is boulder strewn. Vehicles don’t drive this 300m stretch anymore. Because over the last few years, several 4x4 have bounced off the edge tumbling into the ravine below. Good enough reason to walk. Easy really – until you factor in the 40 cases of personal and camera kit, camping gear and generators. When you’re planning a filming trip you always try to get a hotel room near the car park, or take a trolley so you can wheel the heavy gear. You don’t want to be carrying 400kgs across a waterfall/waterslide. Cue swearing, huffing, heaving. While our government escort got his laptop out and sat on a rock to start downloading his selfies. Three trips later, we’re waiting for the next taxi. Good to have a breather between the sweating and the hair-raising drive.

After an overnight in an old staging post, we made it to Lo Manthang. Where we could – with delight – sample a flat white in a local café before heading further into the wilderness to meet the herbal doctor Pemba who had a yeti bone for us, and the traditional yak herder Sonam who had some hair gathered from outside his camp. Sitting with Sonam and his family ahead of filming, my flat white was replaced by a warm, salty and oily yak butter tea. Two worlds colliding. I’ll try anything. Even if only once.


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