The Village of Apple Orchards

Introduction:

It lies in the Trans – Himalayan rain shadow zone and for most of the year is not affected by raging monsoons in the lower belt.  The village is mostly inhabited by the Mawatan Thakalis representing four distinct clans: Lalchan (Ruby), Hirachan (Diamond), Jwarchan (Jewel) and Pannachan (Emerald). Its economy is strongly dependent upon agriculture, livestock, and tourism and labour migration to foreign countries.

Access:

  • From Besisahar via Thorung La (5416 m): 10 to 14 days trek
  • From Beni or Nayapul – Birethanti: 5 to 7 days trek
  • From Jomsom: 1 and 1/2 hours walk.

Key attractions:

  • Marpha village:
    The village is characterized by the traditional flat mud roofed houses with piles of firewood neatly stacked upon it. Wooden carved windows, flagstones, and paved alleys are some of the unique features of Marpha. The small library in the village centre is worth a visit as is the horticulture farm at the southern end.
  • Tashi Lha Khang Gompa:
    This monastery belongs to Karma-Pa sect of Buddhism and is located at the centre of the village. The monastery was built more than 200 years ago. Being an offshoot of Karma-Pa Kagyut-Pa sect foundation of Samteling of Mustang, it is known as Samteling Gompa of Marpha. The monastery depicts images of Amitabha (Red Buddha), Chenresig (Avalokiteswora), Channa Dhorje (Vajrapani) and Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) along with other deities and beautiful frescoes. Visitors might encounter Dhekep, a masked dance performed by the monks in October/November.
  • Ekai Kawaguchi’s Home:
    In 1900 Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese Zen monk travelled to Tibet via Dolpo. During the time he spent three months in Marpha in the home of the headman of Marpha. He studied the sacred texts of Kangyur and Tengyur in the chapel of the house.
  • Rhingin Komba:
    Rhingin Komba is a big, triangular – shaped white stone in the north of the village, situated on a hill. “Rhingin” means “long life” and “Komba” means “holy place”. Usually, worship takes place here during a change of “Mukhiya” (village leader). The place offers an excellent view of Marpha village.
  • Bhra Gompa:
    Bhra Gompa (“Bhra” means slope) is an enigmatic monastery, the god of which is called Kompa Ngakpa. It is located behind Tashi Lha Khang. Villagers are not permitted to view the sculpture kept inside as there is a belief that they will die soon after seeing the scary image.
  • Pho Lo (Family God):
    At the north corner of the village and on the west bank of Pomberkyu Khola, lies a dead twin Juniper tree, which is worshipped as the family god of the Thakali community of Marpha. No one knows when the tree died. Surprising, the tree, believed to be a century-old, has no rotten parts. This tree is about 15 meters tall.
  • Horticulture Farm:
    It was established by the government in 1966. This farm is a pioneer in horticultural development (especially for apple farming) in Mustang. More than 45 varieties of apples collected from major apple growing countries are grown on the farm. The main activities of the centre are research, production, training and outreach programs for temperate fruit and vegetable crops. It also has a fruit-processing unit including a brandy distillery.

Other attractions:

The main attraction of Marpha is its beautiful apple orchards. Apple harvesting time is September. Three distilleries produce Marpha’s famous apple, peach and apricot brandy and German technology is used to dry apples. Visitors can take a walk through the village and fields and absorb local traditions. During festivals and social events, Thakali women are resplendent in traditional costumes like Nhakun – Cholo, and Tutum accessorized by traditional jewellery of coral, turquoise and gold.

Side Trips:

  • Jhong or Dhamang (Old Marpha):
    It takes about a 1.5-hour climb to reach Jhong or Dhamang from Marpha village. One can view Mt. Nilgiri and the Kali Gandaki river basin from here. Jhong or old Marpha settlement (3044m) was moved to its current location many years ago. A beautiful apple orchard is located here.
  • Chhairo:
    This Tibetan refugee camp/ settlement which is home to more than 200 Tibetans is about a 30-minute walk from Marpha. Chhairo Gompa or monastery which belongs to the Nyingma-Pa Kagyupa sect of Buddhism is near the camp. This monastery is considered an important monastery by Buddhists. Chhairo Gompa is said to have been founded by the Tibetan Lama Kusyo Chhiwang Thilen in the early 19th century. The monastery houses images of Shakyamuni flanked on either side by two of his disciples, Ananda and Sariputra and an idol of the founder, Kusyo Chhiwang Thilen. A huge image of Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) is housed in an adjoining room. The frescoes of Chhairo Gompa are the oldest existing works of such kind in the Thak Khola region.
  • Chimang Village:
    This picturesque village is one of the Thakali villages that make up Panch Gaun (five villages) and is about an hour’s walk from Marpha via Chhairo. Visitors can witness traditional village life, the traditional flat mud roofed houses with bundles of neatly stacked firewood, apple orchards, and farms. The earliest inhabitants of this village migrated from Thini.
  • Chhertosum (Marpha Hill):
    Situated at an altitude of 4360m, Marpha hill makes an enjoyable daylong side trip. It takes 4 to 5 hours to get there. Its main attractions are the numerous yaks grazing in beautiful high altitude pastures (called “Yak Kharka”). It is the gateway to Dhaulagiri base camp and Hidden Valley, and offers a bird’s eye view of Muktinath, and spectacular views of Mt. Nilgiri (7060 m), Tilicho Peak (7139 m), Yak Kawa (6482 m), Mesokanto La (the pass to Lake Tilicho one of the highest lakes in the world).