I start my days hike by going through the backyards of a dozen locals before hitting a junction at a Tibetan Refugee camp lined with barbed wire fences. It feels like refuge is a euphemism.
I got a restful evening in the quiet town of Marpha last night. I am not sure what my days destination is when I walk out of town towards the camp. There are many stops between here and Tatopani, my destination for tomorrow. I will settle when my feet tell me it is time.
The trail turns into a forested path soon after. I enjoy the coverage and serenity of the pine trees, something only now possible because the trail has dropped a few thousand meters in elevation. I work my way up a hill, getting a great view of the river, village, and accursed road below, only to go all the way back down to the river, than up again.
For lunch I stop in Sauru. It feels like an a-typical rural Nepalese town; chickens madly dashing along the dirt road, followed by dogs, and a general malaise of calm. I have a delicious Dal Baht for lunch and meet Imbreh, who is mountain biking this part of the trail.
When I resume hiking it is on flat forested terrain, thankfully for my stuffed belly. There is an option to divert east for a side trip to Titi Tall lake. I am enticed but the London-esque weather and lack of information regarding the route lead me stay on course, reaching Kalpani.
Kalpani is a town built around the road going to Muktinath. There are busses, trucks, and trailers, constantly passing through. Many of the passengers are Hindus on their way to the enormous temple I passed on my way down from Throng La pass. I settle for the Pine Tree Lodge which looks within my budget, a.k.a run down.
Beds in the dorm only cost a dollar and I seem to be the only one present for the night. For dinner I have their special: A four course meal that starts with a dish of fried potato knishes, although I am sure there is a local word for it. After I get a savory soup with hints of cumin, thick with lentils and vegetable. For the third course, much to my delight, a plate of no ordinary Dal Baht; extra dips, garnishes, two kinds of fried vegetable and a rich potato curry. For dessert I am presented with a strange orange flavored dish with the texture of oats soaked in milk. For once I am too full to finish what’s on my plate.
I head to bed happily stuffed. An hour after attempting to go to sleep three people join me in the dorm. They have little regard for my space and proceed to watch videos out load on their phones. One even goes for a smoke, in the room. At some god awful hour they decide to go to sleep, I eagerly follow suit.
That would have been enough of a disturbance but within a few hours I wake up to a big commotion downstairs. For an hour I am kept awake by the voices and bustling of a group of people, maybe drunk, below. My new roommates wake up at 5am, turning on the light with them, pack up and leave.
Despite my best attempt to fall back asleep I stay awake in bed. At breakfast I run into Antoine again, a French hiker I last saw in Muktinath. We complain to each other about our loud night.
When we ask for the bill the waitress says she will get the manager. Five minutes later he greets us with puffy red eyes, “Hello, sorry we had such a crazy night. Just give me a few minutes okay?” we oblige, it is 8am and we are in no rush to get on trail.
10 minutes later he is still “calculating” the bill. We become a bit weary but are overall more amused than anything. How hard could it be to add up the costs from out short stay?
Another 10 minutes pass and I approach him to see if I can help remind him of our orders. We are now anxious to get outside and start hiking, the hot springs of Tatopani in our near future. He smiles abashedly and says just a few more minutes.
By the time we are ready to leave it is 8:45am. With an admixture of frustration, bemusement, and relief we leave. He calculated the bill wrong anyways.
The days hike is serene with a healthy serving of uphill. We stop for lunch at the Bemala Lodge, a precariously placed restaurant. During lunch a triumvirate of young women stop as well, one of them is feeling ill. They still plan on making it to Tatopani before nightfall.
Antoine and I are determined to get there before it starts raining. Overhead gloomy clouds shift ominously. We begin our descent at a blistering pace and in under 3 hours we stride into the township known for its geothermal activity, so much so that the name of the town literally translates to, “hot water” in the Nepali tongue.
After a quick stretch, abandoning our bags at the hotel, we make our way to the springs. There is one central concrete tub with lots of space. I have a relaxing soak before moving to an even hotter pool. I can hardly handle it for more than 5 minutes. Before moving back to the cooler pool I stand under a cold water spigot, shocking my body into total surrender. When I get back into the warm water my skin is tingling.
The jury is still out as to whether this practice is incredibly healthy, devastating to the body, or neutral. I tell myself it is the former because it make me feel so damned good.
That night I sleep well. It is one of the few nights on this trip where i did not wake up once until morning. A far cry from last nights experience.
As per the advice of a few fellow hikers I set my sights of Dan Khrake the next morning, instead of the famous Poon Hill. They are both devastatingly strenuous uphill climbs but I am assured the crowds at Poon Hill are monstrous.
Antoine decides to accompany me again as we get started on another long day. The day passes uneventfully as we work are way up 1,500 meters of elevation producing buckets of sweat. Just before walking into the lodge at Dan Kharka the drizzle turns into a downpour. I spend the night listening to thunder and playing “La President” (a hostel favorite card game) with yet another group of frenchies.
My plan the next day is to make it all the way to Gandruk, where the trek will end and I will catch a series of buses back to Kathmandu. Of course it does not turn out that simple.
At noon I arrive in Dobato for lunch. The view is entirely obscured by a blanket of fog. After my usual Dal Baht I venture into the rain and hail. Knowing the rest of the trip is downhill gives me the bravado to keep on hiking. But as I get lower the thunder gets louder. I am scared to the point of running down, thankfully my pack is small enough to grant me the agility to move fast. I arrive at Tadopani in a sheen of sweat mingled with rain, the weather only getting worse. I decide to call it quits for the day.
I spend the night a few miles from my destination and am glad. I meet some nice folks and even find a traveler who is as enthusiastic as I am about the film Into The Wild, it is a rare match up.
The next morning I amble my way to Gandruk, thinking I have more than enough time to catch all the necessary buses and be on my way.
When I arrive in Gandruk I am informed, along with two Israeli trekkers, that the buses are not running due to the immense rainfall and that we will have to walk to Nayapul or pay an absurd fee for a Jeep. With no good choices we opt to start walking. The Israelis hitch a ride and before long (mom skip this paragraph) and I find myself securely seated on the roof of a jeep, along with the Israelis and a few locals. The Jeep drives at a glacial pace but the bumps of the road make the whole affair feel like we are riding camels.
We get dropped just short of Nayapul. After lunch we try to catch a bus, but there is a caveat; due to the rainfall (again) there is a huge traffic jam in Kande, an hour away. Without another option we board the bus. For four long and painful hours we sit at Kande, moving a few feet ever half hour. It was demoralizing. By the time we get to Pokhara it is night, I decide to stay here and save the rest of the journey for tomorrow.
In the morning I find a micro bus (the local bus which is faster and cheaper than the tourist bus) and settle in for another 8 hour bus ride. Thankfully there are no horrendous traffic mishaps and I make it to Kathmandu with plenty of day light. On my list of things to do by midday tomorrow; laundry, buy egg shaker, and double check the visa requirements for the Philippines, my next destination.
See you there?,