Day 3: Pokhara – Jomsom – Kagbeni

Nits has woken up real early (the woman seems indefatigable!), taken a walk around the beautiful garden, has had her morning masala chai… and is urging me to wake up and do the same. Bloody Ms. Program Manager, keeps me focused on getting ready, walking around the garden, and getting packed before breakfast.

Today the Fishtail’s garden does have me in raptures – perhaps because I am not so bleary eyed. I take some pictures around the place. Large Angel’s Trumpets all over the place. Giant Marigolds, Dahlias, Blue bell creepers, I forget the other flowers.. perhaps documented in my photos. Phewa lake looks serene, yet beckoning (nothing serene usually beckons to me!). Dark green waters, with the sky and trees reflected in its stillness. Later at breakfast I somewhat enviously look at a lone red kayak, the man paddling smoothly and swiftly away. I promise myself that I’ll try and find a kayak and go on that lake…

The buffet breakfast is really good – white and brown toast, butter, marmalade, all kinds of croissants, danish pastries, eggs in 3 different styles, parathas with dahi and pickle, fresh fruit, cereal, muesli with milk, watermelon juice, veggie cutlets, mini aaloo bondas, sausages (no bacon or ham I think, although the carnivore among us can confirm that). We sit on the lawn outside, facing the lake. By now Shishir has also arrived, and we are all packed and set to go. Outside the lodge, a couple of vendors selling musical string instruments and dholaks, hover around us. I rashly promise to buy something on the way back.

Another taxi takes us to the airport, and with minimum fuss we are in the little puddle hopper that’s to take us to Jomsom. Oh wait, before that I must tell you about the body check in Nepali airports! They don’t believe in that wooden bar like thing we are familiar with in India – they frisk you with their bare hands, and how! They do have female security officers frisking the female passengers, but it’s creepy nonetheless. Of course this is another point on which we exchange notes and are doubled over giggling while we wait for the boarding call.

Gorkha Airlines fly us to Jomsom, through a beautifully scenic valley. I go crazy taking arial pictures, we are quite close to the ground, and even closer to the hills on the right. Akash’s obsession over the plane crash in “Tintin in Tibet” does cross my mind. We land in Jomsom, the cool mountain air gives me goose bumps. “Himalaya Mountainnnns” I say to myself, with a sing song intonation like Akash does. I am reminded of a similar flight to a similar altitude eight years ago… to Juliaca (pronounced Huliaca) in the Andes, at the start of the Machu Picchu trek.

Shishir gently leads us to his preferred hotel for “rest” and tea. At this point we discover that Nits hasn’t got any waterproofing for her sleeping bag – which is to be carried outside her rucksack. So we do a makeshift arrangement with a large Shoppers Stop bag and a sort of plastic “top cover” – it works well through the trek! Our accounts are already quite haywire. Shiva is unanimously elected as the accountant or “kanakku-pillai”, hence Kanaks – she graciously accepts both the role and the name.  Shishir organizes two Nepalis as our porters – one tall and thin and gawky with a silly grin on his face, the other shorter, slightly older, wiry, and more serious. The porters set off ahead with our stuff, leaving us to finish our chai in leisure.

I feel a wooziness in my head, and some pins and needles in my hands and feet, and attribute it to the altitude. For some reason, I feel my medical kit is incomplete without Dimox, the altitude sickness pill – so I pick up a strip at a local medical shop. The woman warns me never to take more than one a day. It’s not as if the wooziness was real bad – but I stupidly pop a Dimox right then. Checkpost. We get our trekking permits validated, and we sign in a register, and set off on the cobbled streets of Jomsom, towards our destination for the night – Kagbeni. We are told that today is a gentle day with only 300 feet ascent. Tomorrow is the big ascent – 3000 feet to Muktinath.

We clear the town and climb down into the river bed of the Kali Gandaki. Our trek proper, has started now, and since it is almost level, we have no trouble chatting – we, as in Nitya and me. By now we’ve earned the “yak yeti” titles J The other two are silent, Kanaks more so than MShah. Whenever there’s a gentle uphill, I am quite out of breath and can’t keep a conversation going, but Ms.N doesn’t have any such problem. She’s like a happy child, prattling unstoppably. My mono-syllabic replies and grunts don’t deter her in the least. She believes one must chat in order to distract oneself from the ardours of the trek – I beg to differ – I say if I had the breath to chatter I would! I carefully wait for a downhill section to air my opinions. She also claims that one must run up slopes in order to get them over with fast. She’s cute. To my credit, I don’t stop her with any “experienced hand” advice – if she’s able to run up, why not? She really is able to run up, and consistently too, confound her J I restrict myself to name calling when I’ve caught my breath enough.

On the Kali Gandaki bed where we’re walking, the terrain is pebbly – large, smooth pebbles, most of them grey with interesting patterns that the water has marked on them over the ages. The hills around are brown and grey, with minimal spots of green vegetation. As Kanaks says much later, “It’s like walking through the sets of an Indiana Jones movie”. Except the flow of the river, which was minimal, everything else is on a large scale – “badaaa” mountains, badaa valley. Tiny inconsequential people walking through this landscape and thinking they’re about to conquer whatever it is they are aiming for. Puts things in perspective.

I’ve lost sense of the date. I barely keep track of time, that too mostly in relative terms – we have been walking for one and a half hours, lunch stop is 2 hours away, we stopped for chai about an hour ago, etc. I become good at estimating the time of day, Crocodile Dundee style: squint up at the sky and say “itsh about 2:15” J I pester MShah, who’s the only one with a watch, for the time whenever I need to validate my guess or at starting points – to measure how long we’ve walked.

Lunch stop today is at Ekklebatti. I lie down on a sunny window ledge inside the restaurant, nursing my woozy head. Lunch is a simple meal: Nepali “set” which consists of daal, baath, aaloo sabji, and a wonderful raddish pickle. No dahi anywhere on the trail – we try asking for it in clever, innovative ways, but the answer is always no L Tell me, if there can be milk, why not curds? Seems to me they are just pig headed about never setting curds, the silly people. In spite of this lack in daily nutrition, we seem to have done ourselves well on the entire trek J.

The other rats label me as the stud, and refuse to let me complain about my headache or anything else. Everytime I try to complain, results in more studdness piled upon me that I give up in disgust. I must say it is a clever and effective ploy to stop me whining. We are all constantly fishing for compliments – what in a guy-girl situation could result in a full blown fight or sulk, becomes a fun squabble with lots of good natured name calling.

Off we go from Ekklebatti towards Kagbeni. Now it becomes slightly uphill, and we leave the river bed for a wide, gentle trail. Our progress is leisurely with many photo stops.

“The sun is shining oh, so hard,

The earth is hungry

Rivers parched…”

So goes a monsoon song in Karadi Rhymes. The landscape did remind me of this song.

Speaking of songs, for no particular reason, MShah and Kanaks would combust into old Hindi songs whenever they had the breath to do so. I join in lustily, whereever I know the words, with more enthusiasm than tune. Nits although trained in Hindustani Classical singing, was not able to use her voice for the first few days – I blame it on the all night chat session soon after a 36 hour flight.

Nitya has good timing with bringing out the fancy “Any Mountain” trail mix. We all pounce on it and have several fist-fulls greedily. Thus fortified, we reach Kagbeni with renewed speed. And checkin to a wonderfully cozy lodge, with attached bath. The bloody amerique is not able to make up her mind whether this is good or bad. Here she was, all set to rough it out, and we’re in a luxury setup, and what’s worse, we’re told that this is how the whole trek is going to be! But we quickly get used to the luxury and start demanding it as our birth right at all stops J

A Nepali romeo who thinks he’s Kumar Sanu wanders along the corridors of the lodge, singing some romantic songs through his nose. MShah imitates him well, and I suspect fuels his fire J. Nitya meanwhile, has been berating me for not letting her bring bathroom freshner. I give her my gingerlilly deo spray to deodorize the bathroom. She’ll never be able to smell ginger lilly without thinking of that bathroom…

We set off to see the quaint little town of Kagbeni. It may be quaint and little, but it has a Yak Donalds, internet cafes, apple pies and other Western necessities of life. All combinations of children, mules, goats, and cows pass us. There is a Buddhist Gompa which we visit. From its windows there are good views of the Nilgiri Peak. I get slightly obsessive about a line of prayer wheels. Having turned one, I feel compelled to turn all of them – there are about 136 wheels. My right arm starts to get tired, so I switch to turning them with my left. After Kagbeni, I carefully avoid this trap of the prayer wheels.

On the way back to the lodge we step into the Yak Donalds, and order apple pies and hot lemon. A cute 13 year old girl serves us (what’s her name, MShah?). She is multi tasking between an internet chat with her “friend”, and waitressing. Her younger brother is very shy and peeps out of the kitchen once in a while. MShah makes it a point to find out the names of everyone that serves us, and addresses them by name, chats them up, flirts with them, pulls their leg.

Back at the lodge, I order garlic soup, which is supposed to be good for altitude induced headaches. While we wait, the cute baby Chetin, the daughter of the lodge, comes into our lives. Nitya and I melt into puddles, gushing and cooing and behaving in a generally disgusting manner J. She is bundled up in a pink snow suit, and feels much heavier than Aditi. She has chubby, pink, wholesome Nepali looks. We find out that she’s only 7 months old. She loves the attention, seems used to it. The British group at an adjacent table are also trying to grab her for cuddles, and the baby laps it all up as her due. Chetin’s mom is happy for the free baby sitting from her guests, and gets on with her work quickly. Kumar Sanu wants his share of attention, he continues to sing at us.

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