Day 5: Muktinath – Marpha

For a change, I wake up early this morning. Having checked that Nitya is still breathing, I try to be as noiseless as possible, without too much success. It’s quite light outside. I push the curtains aside, and see the snow mountains. There’s a pale half-moon above the mountain. I realise this is the highest I’ve ever slept. I figure it must be around 5:30 am. I love this cool stillness. There are different types of stillnesses – this is not a dead stillness, it is not a restful stillness.

I go downstairs hunting for a bathroom for the advertised hot shower. I am directed to one with a gas cylinder hooked up to some heating device, which is connected to the shower. Not having 10% more intelligence than the device, I ask for help turning it on. Although the bathroom door doesn’t latch properly, I have a luxurious, unhurried, hot shower. I order lemon tea and head upstairs. With the racket I make just being in the room, Nitya wakes up – and I order tea for her as well.

Shishir brings our tea and takes orders for breakfast. I don’t really understand why he does this – we feel quite capable of going down to order breakfast. But he claims it’s for saving time, and every morning he knocks with a menu in hand. Not that much time is saved – anyway we linger over breakfast.

The snott-faced child is out again, wandering from table to table. People are giving him bits of things to eat. He’s a wily one – refuses to pose for a photo without inducement. Again supressing the urge to clean his face, I give him a chocolate cereal bar. Not quite intending to bribe him into a photo, that’s what I end up doing. I notice that Nitya steers clear of little Mr. Snott-face – there’s a limit even to her love for babies J.

The unfriendly European group is also at breakfast, and we all are ready to leave at around the same time. Suddenly we see some soldiers riffling through our rucksacks. When asked, we are told that one of the Europeans has lost his shoes, and they’ve set the police to check all the sacks… ostensibly because the porters may have stolen it and hidden in our sacks! What with hotel housekeeping, and airport security checks, by now, we’re used to strange men handling our underclothes, that’s not the point… I am frothing at the mouth and furious. But it is not clear who exactly has set the police on our bags, and so I reluctantly let it go. Nitya’s trying to calm me down, and I growl and mutter at her. I wish the man with no shoes a million blisters, may he go to hell bare footed. Idiots, leaving their shoes outside their door and then without permission checking other people’s bags. I bet it wouldn’t have been acceptable if one of us lost our shoes and set the police on their bags without talking to them first.

Shishir warns us that today is going to be a long day, although all down hill. We start the day auspiciously, buying Shaligrams for various relatives (in my case for the maids). I am a little sad to be losing all that hard-earned height so quickly.

We stop for a few more photos at the town’s entrance archway, and with one fond look back, scoot off downhill. We are mostly re-tracing our path, except for the steep hill, which we skirt around directly to Ekklebatti instead of via Kagbeni. We stop at the Blue Sheep to have lemon tea, get a little riled about being over-charged. Normally we’ve all been quite easy-going, but now we feel the need to assert ourselves with our man Shishir. We exchange greetings with my friends of yesterday at their house again. The downhill walk is very pleasant, the breeze starts out feeling good. But by the end of today we grow to hate the damn wind, it’s not a breeze, it’s a bloody gale force wind, blowing against us. The taller ones are bent up double, stooping into the wind. It’s exhilarating to walk across those suspension bridges high across the Kali Gandaki, in this wind. I always stop in the middle, right over the water, to take pictures, or simply look down into the rapids where there are. Great perspective.

Today is my blisters day. My hard hiking boots are killing me. Each of us is on a different pain trip. Even Ms. Chirpy Nitya is a bit down after her bad night. Though Kanaks doesn’t say anything there are tell-tale signs…

MShah spots a man making bows and arrows by the wayside, and pounces on him. She wants to try her hand at shooting some arrows, and this is arranged. She is pointing the damn thing menacingly around, in an effort to find a suitable target. I slink around her with a camera to get a “cool pic”.. then scoot out of range. She wants to shoot at the man’s house window, silly girl. They reach some compromise, and she shoots at a low white wall on the premises. The womenfolk of the house are grumbling and muttering and throwing ominous glances in our direction. I’m too restless to wait around till the trials are done. I walk ahead, enjoying the wild flowers and the occassional donkey browsing along the trail.

We stop at Ekklebatti and unanimously decide to go ahead. I remove my shoes and nurse my toes, and suddenly acquire an audience. Two other porters decide that my toes are worth watching. They make pleasant conversation (decent of them not to simply stare without talking to me!), but I can tell that they think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but they humor me. I wrap a couple of toes in moleskin but getting back into the shoes is no fun.

As we walk again, my feet get used to the pain, and I am able to set a decent rhythm for myself. We could really have done without the pebbles of the river bed – who ever called it “bed”? Masochistic morons. After what seems like an endless walk on this beautiful bed, we reach the town limits of Jomsom. Aaaaah, we say to ourselves. But not yet… it’s another half an hour’s plod through what I earlier called quaint cobbled streets. I guess I am thankful that the pebbles are over. We finally reach the same restaurant of our first day at Jomsom, and order lunch. We’ve taken over the whole upstairs of the restaurant, and sprawl all over the floor in various stretching poses. It must look funny from an outsider’s perspective, but even Ms. Prim and Propah doesn’t care at this point. She has great shoes that don’t cause blisters, but she’s managed to get a toe nail completely off the nail-bed and piercing into the neighbouring toe. (Sorry for the gross description, but there’s no genteel way to describe it!) We have more hysterics – by now we call it “historics”. MShah has a special capability to get blisters on her heels – monster blisters that would make Fatty, of the Five Find-Outers proud.

Onward we march towards Marpha. The good thing is it’s all downhill. The bad thing is, it’s all downhill… More tramping on river beds and pebbles, battling the vicious wind. It’s now cloudy and soon there’s a persistent drizzle. I am concerned about the BA as she doesn’t seem to have a water proof jacket, but she isn’t concerned. I insist after a while, and we deck her out in a couple of small plastic bags, just to cover her front. She is not amused by the green polka dotted plastic bag highlighting her assets. We quickly take pictures of her.

Somewhere in this section of the trek, I point to a high snow covered peak and ask Shishir which one that is. He says “No name, just a hill”… I like just a hill, it looks imposing enough to me, even without a name. We are now walking counter clockwise around the Annapurna, leaving Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri behind us. Haven’t seen Annapurna yet. By now like kids in a long car journey, we are all asking Shishir “Are we there yet?”. I must admire his patience in always smiling and answering without sarcasm: “hauph hour more”, or “one hour more” or whatever is appropriate. He never tries to make it sound less or more than it actually is. At some other point, on another day, when we pleadingly ask if there’s an easy downhill ahead, he says “li’l bit aup, li’l bit down”. We realize later this is a famous line that all guides use – it’s even on the T-Shirts you can buy.

We’ve forded the river in two or three places already. We are “just around the corner” from Marpha – just another hour to turn that corner! We cross a final wooden bridge over the river, and enter the Apple Capital of Nepal (thanks MShah!) through an arched gateway. There are prayer wheels on both sides of the entrance, but I studiously ignore them.

As we walk into town, we park ourselves outside a nice looking lodge – the Snow Goose or something like that. We take matters out of Shishir’s hands and decide to stay at the Snow Goose, as the alternate suggested does not have attached baths. He’s more than a little ruffled. MShah, in a mixture of affection and condescension, smooths things over – he doesn’t stay upset for too long. After yet another long pointless discussion about upstairs or downstairs rooms, we settle into the latter. Another long and memorable chat session with Nitya. MShah and Shiva leave us in disgust for the dining room, and I join them shortly. Ms.N appears wearing a fancy silk kurti over black track pants – and actually manages to make that combination look normal.

I drop my holier than thou attitude and order an apricot brandy, same as the other two. Mmmmmm… the warmth of the brandy, though rough, goes down well. Nits, in a surprise move, orders one too – “to check it out” – and doesn’t like it. Lendup, the young Sikkimese waiter, irritates me with his smart alec attitude, but MShah gets along with him fine.

Shishir, who doesn’t even drink, insists on chaperoning us, and never goes to bed before us. And the bloody kid is up early in the morning, knocking with a menu card. Cute in an irritating sort of way. Serves him right, all the conversations he has heard… I guess his motto is “Anything for french fries”.

Kanaks warns me, but it is too tempting to have something other than aaloo sabji for dinner. Nitya and I make the mistake of ordering Pizza and Enchilada – just because they were there on the menu. We leave them almost completely untouched. I am nice and high by this time – who needs dinner anyway.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email