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Village of Ghorepani


Thursday, November 20
From Tatopani to

The next morning I awoke early, in the darkness, under the roof of the lodge. I had noticed the night before that you could see out through cracks in the roof, between the slate slabs that served as shingles. I got up and dressed. I didn't have an alarm clock with me so I asked Rob (ever organized, always prepared Rob) to wake me if I hadn't knocked on his door by 6:15. Walking down to the cottage, I passed a water faucet, one that was used by the porters to wash their clothes, etc. There was a clothesline in the yard of the cottage. But in the early morning dim, I saw to men on the stone walk there by the faucet skinning and slaughtering a goat. They looked like they were in a hurry to get it done. I knocked on Rob's door and he said good morning. He and Andy had slept well for the first time in many nights. Andy is a fidgety person by his own admission. When he is awake, he can't keep still or quiet, and when he is asleep, he snores loudly (according to Rob).

Back to my room I went to pack, a ritual that I had practiced daily. Rolling and stuffing the sleeping bag into its bag. Folding the liner. I took my bathing suit off the strange semi-blocked opening in the wall, and packed it. My towel went into the zipper compartment on the bottom of the pack. I put on my sock liners and a fresh pair of socks and folded the clothes I wasn't wearing. Cold Mountain went in. The bag of toothpaste, ointments, and bandages I hoped I wouldn't need. Once the big pack was finished, the one Lila would carry, I put my water bottle holder on my belt and put my jacket into the day pack I would carry. I grabbed my trekking poles and headed down the steep, rickety wooden stairs to the restaurant and ordered coffees for everyone. About the time Rob and Andy arrived, the coffee did also.

After porridge and coffee, I had some quality time down at the cottage with the luxurious western bathroom facilities all to myself. It was a good start to a very long day. Each day had brought its own trekking challenges, but this one would remind us of the first day. The trek was from Tatopani (1190 m) up to Ghorepani (2750 m) , from which we would climb up to Poon Hill (3193 m) before dawn the following day. It was a very steep climb, in some ways reminiscent of the first day from Jomosom (2710 m) to Muktinath (3800 m). Although this wouldn't entail the extent of altitude affects that we suffered in Muktinath, we would climb 1560 m that day, whereas on the Muktinath trek we ascended only 1090 m.

The trail was not in desolate windblown country, but instead, steep grades and stone steps through the forest and terraced farmland of green mountainsides. There were farmhouses visible far up the mountainsides. There were little wooden bridges, just a few planks over streams. A lot of water was moving around us, and there were beautiful waterfalls on the mountains opposite the trail. In some of the small villages we passed though, cherry trees were in blossom, and other flowering trees. There were water buffalo and happy lazy dogs. (In general, the dogs seemed to be healthy, happy and well cared for in Nepal.) On some of the terraces, wheat had been planted and was sprouting, the first leaves glowing green. There were birds cheerfully trilling from the trees. And everywhere white mountains rising from behind the nearer green ones.

We trekked up steps and at the top would be a grade and at the top of that a turn with more steps and it was up and up again and up some more and then up. In the shade of the trees it was cool but as the day progressed, it was t-shirt warm in the sun. It was the kind of trekking where you have to find your own sustainable pace and stay with it, and not worry about falling behind or getting ahead of the others (except when you get to a fork in the trail and don't know which way to go so you have to wait for Krishna). I used my poles again, and a very deliberate rhythm of feet and poles and breathing, step after step after step, hour upon hour. The rhythm turned into a little chant in my head: Tatopani, Ghorepani, thik cha, thik cha. (Thik cha means I am fine, or something like that.)

I started to compose a poem about the stones of Nepal.

The stones of Nepal
Silent and strong
Bend down before you
To support you and lift you up...

There are so many stones that have been laid by human hands. They always seem to be there when you need them. The streets of the villages are paved with them. When the trail gets too steep, it becomes stone steps instead of a grade. And on this day we climbed hundreds of them.

I gave Andy some decongestant gellcaps, but he was in the worst day of the cold, and it couldn't have come on a worse day of the trek. He was struggling, stopping often and losing his steam quickly after each start. He lagged farther and farther behind. I trekked with him some of the time, and as the temperature increased he sweated profusely. It was a miserable day for him.

We stopped for lunch at Chithra, a beautiful lodge run by Belgians, with spectacular views. I had a peanut butter sandwich and pan fried cornbread. While we sat in the sun drinking lemon Fanta and waiting for Andy to catch up, I took off my boots to let them and my socks dry. (Dry feet are happy feet.) A fly was circling around and landed on one of my socks. Flies are attracted to my feet, I told Rob. That's a bad sign. Usually flies are attracted either to dead things or dung. Of which did they think my feet smelled, I wondered.

When we had been in Pokhara, Rob and I had walked the back streets looking for an orphanage that he had seen on his previous visit. He was interested in opportunities to contribute to worthwhile charities in Nepal. The Belgians who ran the lodge at Chithra seemed to have a good one. They ran a school there in the remote mountains, which taught girls as well as boys (the government schools teach only boys, and only for a few grades). They also fund a traveling nurse who visits the villages, providing basic health care services. And they are developing a program to provide employment after the education of the children.

It was a very long day, but that afternoon we finally approached the first buildings of Ghorepani. Beside the trail were a couple of 20ish young Nepali men sitting on a flat rock beside the trail. One was wearing a UCLA baseball cap. They called us over, and one handed me a plastic folder that held hand lettered pages. They were the Maoists, and the pages described their cause and said that we had passed from the part of Nepal controlled by the government to the part controlled by the rebels. And accordingly we were required to make a contribution to their cause. I thought it said 1000 rupees, which is about $13. So I handed the folder to Rob and Andy and I gave the Maoists 1000 rupees. They accepted it without question and gave me a receipt (part of which I filled out, name and home country, etc.), so if ever asked by another Maoist, I would not have to pay again. Rob and Andy read more carefully and paid 2000 rupees each, but Rob insisted on lecturing them briefly on what he disagreed with in their manifesto. Freedom does not come from the barrel of a gun, he told them. I'm not sure how much they understood, but they took the money and gave receipts. The Maoists seemed like nice guys, but we knew they had friends with guns not far away.

It had been a wonderful trek that day, one I could appreciate as it happened. Moments of peace and quiet, especially when I had trekked alone, going at my own pace, picking the easiest grade, the smallest steps. There were delicious moments of head silence to just smell Nepal and feel it and hear it and see it. Nepal poured in through my senses. You feel like you have the whole world beneath you here, I remember thinking.

After 7+ hours and the encounter with the Maoists, we arrived about 2:15. The guest house in Ghorepani was unique in that it had something I had seen in none of the others: a wood heater in the common room. It was made out of a metal drum with a metal box welded on top (where pans could sit) and had a water pipe running through it. The whole thing sat on a square wooden platform covered with sheet metal and the chimney pipe ran up through the guest room above, which was coveted on cold nights. The prospect of sitting on the benches surrounding the heater that evening was delightful. We took our packs up to our rooms on the second floor. Instead of outside balconies to reach the rooms, this place had an interior hallway, and instead of a carpet down the middle of the floor, it had a thickly padded carpet, padded as if a few inches of foam rubber were under it. Strange, I thought, but Rob said it probably reduced the noise downstairs. Mine was a corner room with windows on two sides right on the main street of town. Fortunately, there were curtains. Krishna and his brothers had a room downstairs. Rob had been craving a Mars bar, and I saw that they sold them in the lobby/common room where the heater was located, so I bought him one. He savored it.

The shower was downstairs. I had had the first shower in Kalopani, so it was Rob's turn to go first, then Andy's. I waited, towel, soap and shampoo in hand, at the entrance to the hallway onto which the shower room opened, enjoying a cup of Nepali tea. I was protecting my place in line. After we arrived, two older Israeli women arrived. I talked to one of them as we waited. They had refused to give the Maoists any money. I think they were coming from the opposite direction from us so entered Ghorepani on the other side of town and had encountered different Maoists.

My shower was still plenty warm when I turned it off. But the Israeli woman said it was cold when she got in after me. Puzzling, but it made me think about the whole warm shower phenomenon. There were very few people on the trail compared to a couple of years before, but still there were far more than there would be hot showers for. Most guest houses that had warm water at all used solar systems, and in late afternoon only a few showers would be warm, there being no reheating potential. On one level, the guides and trekkers competed to be first to the destination so they could get a warm shower. As much as I appreciated one myself, it seemed absurd to hurry through the trekking part to get to the guesthouse part of the day. Of course, there was a lot more to it. But it did make me realize that we seemed to be hurrying. In fact, Krishna himself had shortened our trek by a day before we even left Pokhara.

After showers and a leisurely lunch, our towels hung on the clothes rack attached to the ceiling near the heater downstairs, we headed out for a walk. There was an inn up the hill, the front yard of which was perfectly located for a wonderful view of the mountains. I wondered why we would need to climb Poon Hill the next day. We looked out over the buildings of the town, all of which were painted blue and white. It certainly was unusual.

Below us was a school yard with a volleyball court. Some Nepali guys were down there playing and Krishna said we should join them. We went down and Krishna and Rob played for a time, but it was a strange game. They didn't play for points or serve from behind the line, and nobody rotated position. Lila joined in and was one of the best players. Andy had fun from the sidelines making fun of his dad's play.

There was a little shop downstairs on the street, under the heated room of the guest house. I bought some Hob Nobs, made in UK. I'd never had them before, and they were exorbitantly expensive. But still, I thought they would be appreciated the next morning. We planned to leave the hotel before dawn, at 5:30, to hike up to Poon Hill for the sunrise. Unless there were clouds.

It got cold very quickly once the sun disappeared behind a mountain. Back in the guest house, Rob faced the prospect of another night in a small room with Andy. Noting that the guest house had a telephone service, he called ahead to the Hotel Nirvana in Pokhara to reserve a third room for when we returned the next day. That evening we were gathered around the heater, sitting on benches, waiting for dinner. The two Maoist guys that we had met came in to make sure all the guests had receipts. We had ours. They discovered that the Israeli women had none, and a prolonged attempt to get money from them began. It seemed to get less friendly by the minute. Krishna quietly told me to tell Rob to keep quiet. The women claimed not to understand, and the Maoists asked Andy to be a translator, but he said he didn't speak French. Actually the women spoke English well and were just using their Yiddish as a ruse. But the Maoists told them not to try to go to Poon Hill the following day, and that they were not welcome there. But the women didn't pay. We lingered around the heater that night. Once in bed, I pulled the curtain back to look out on the quiet street. During the night I awoke and looked up and the stars and a planet were rising. But later, in the early morning, I couldn't see any. I wondered if this meant it was cloudy so there would be no hike up to Poon Hill.

At night the air of the village filled with smoke, mostly from cooking fires I think, like other places we had been.


The next day

this travelogue is part of the subside travelzine
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