Day 7: Ghasa – Tatopani

I wake up quite early and potter about. No bath today. I sit in the front lawn and watch other trekkers leave early. The Israeli chicks are nowhere in sight – must have steamed off ahead. I have some quiet time with the nastrutiums.

We decide to leave early and have breakfast enroute. We’re mostly ready by 6:30am, but ironically Shishir wakes up late today and I wag a finger at him. There’s a flaky phone at the lodge – we all do a reality check with near and dear ones back home. Home and reality seem so far away… Nitya most of all keeps feeling this sense of unreality and remarking upon it. Yes, she has come a long way from her first Rajgad trek – incidentally I too was part of that long ago trek…

Breakfast stop. Our hostess is a woman of few words. Presents us with the menu. The menu is quite a concept – it’s the same all over this trek: apart from usual food items, it has toilet paper, room tariff, and hot showers on it. There’s a whole section devoted to POTATOES – all styles of potatoes. Each time I see “Rosty” Potatoes, I feel like giggling. Simple breakfast consists of eggs (any style), toast, hash brown potatoes, butter, jam, tea/coffee. Hash brown potatoes are nothing but fat rounds of potatoes, fried like a dry aaloo sabji, in some Nepali masala – sometimes with tomatoes and onions, sometimes just by themselves. The “style” in “Eggs any style” is open to the cook’s interpretation – so even if you ask for masala omelette, don’t be surprised if you get runny half fried eggs. We suspect that some of the order gets lost in the translation from us to Shishir to the cook. Back to our current breakfast situation: Out hostess tells us triumphantly that there’s no toast. We tentatively look around at another “restautant” nearby, but even more triumphantly, she says that’s hers too, and there’s no toast there as well. Bread is not in our destiny. After trying to deny us eggs also, she reluctantly admits that there are four eggs. We dramatically throw the menu away, and place a haphazard order.

While we wait for breakfast, we giggle over something all of us have noticed, and unfortunately Shishir has too. He’s stuck because he can’t acknowledge or giggle. This is even more funny and we go into “hystorics”. We sober up alright once the oily fried eggs and deep fried Tibetan bread arrives. Breakfast over, we are setting out from here, when Rolly comes along. Hearty good mornings exchanged all around. The others are still pottering about, I leave ahead with Rolly. I find a good wavelength with him, and we fall into step chatting like old friends.  Nitya soon passes us, and through the morning, she keeps just ahead of us, tuning in and out of our conversation, enjoying the chatter but happy to have no pressure to contribute.

I guess Rolly’s age to be mid-60’s although he might be slightly younger. With my curiosity and his openness, we are a good combination, and I get to know quite a bit about him, his German roots, occupation choices, his very Catholic upbringing, love for outdoors, his paralytic stroke right after a skiing holiday, pain killers, medical marijuana (he points out with child-like glee the marijuana plants all over the hillside that we are walking on), existence or not of God, the young women he’s trekked with, his five years of being suicidal after the stroke, his ex-wife… He had a stroke some 10 years ago, that paralyzed his right side. Can you imagine that after such a condition, he has actually trekked up to the Everest Base Camp – twice!! Hats off to such courage and determination. He must’ve been quite something in his youth. Rolly of the wild unkempt hair and broad face and wide grin…

Rolly in another lifetime, used to be a desktop printing assistant. He decided a desk job was not his style, and retrained to be a builder. I tell him about stereo-typical builders in India – how they’re a complete different species, and you’d hardly find any up the Rongbuk glacier! He says such species in Canada would be called “Developer”, not builder. Now, “Developer” in India commonly refers to “Software Developer”, which is a completely different animal J.

His right leg is beginning to give up, and he is truly happy to have me to walk with – for the “refreshing company” as he puts it, and to take his mind off his leg. He walks with two trekking poles and though I notice his right foot has to be dragged a bit, he has amazing confidence of footing. I guess one gets used to one’s body and falls into a rhythm. He keeps good pace, I love talking with him, the trail is all downhill today, we’re in a lovely green foresty part, the sun’s playing hide and seek with clouds. I couldn’t ask for more. Rolly’s friend Gearhart overtakes us and keeps pace with Nitya for a bit. He’s a happy guy with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes. I like him.

We reach a waterfall, and a Waterfall View restaurant, which seems to be a good lunch stop for many trekkers. It is scenic in a story book sort of way. Nitya is totally stunned by the scenery and is delighted. I feel the same way too. I think this was the most idyllic day of the entire trek for us. It is drizzling off and on. We choose a table under a large lawn umbrella. Nitya has a Fanta. Gearhart and Rolly and I and order Everest beer. Dunno why, but it feels so right to be sitting there drinking beer with a couple of old Germans, looking at the water fall on one side, and the stunning valley view on the other side. One of those moments of perfect happiness, better than a perfect date (or is “perfect date” an oxymoron?) J.

Nitya and I decide that chairs are not the thing – so we sprawl on the grass. We spot MShah, Shiva, and Shishir come down the trail. A happy reunion occurs. MShah claims that she was worried about us “disappearing” – she is quite mistrustful of Rolly and Gearhart (to me seemingly without reason). I find this ridiculous and am faintly irritated. But we all share beers and banter and the irritation subsides. Gh and Rolly along with their guide choose to have lunch here. Shishir has bigger and better lunch stops planned for us. We move on, I promise to meet up with Rolly again.

We walk in the drizzle, now back to the usual configuration of Nitya and me chatting. It’s warm and muggy in my rain jacket. At our lunch stop, we sit under a cozy bower of pink bougainvilla. Lunch is the usual roti sabji for everyone else, and roti jam for me. MShah and Shiva set up a good groaning and moaning orchestra due to their blisters and muscle aches. Pig-headedly they refuse to try my solution of walking in sandals. As usual its time for swearing at each other in three different languages, crude jokes, and sublime old hindi songs.

The Canadian oldies catch up with us as we’re about to finish lunch, and again I set off with Rolly. By now he was really slowing down and couldn’t really distract himself for very long from his right leg. Nitya loses her hat (!) while crossing one of the famous long suspension bridges. MShah insists that we cannot leave that cowboy hat behind, and launches a successful retrieve operation.

There’s yet another bridge incident that forges the bond of the cow sisters. Nitya has crossed over a bridge, and is standing hesitantly by the trail – a brown cow and three mules are in her vicinity. She’s getting increasingly agitated, but do I notice? I’m busy chatting with Rolly, and we brush past the animals, Nitya gratefully following us. Meanwhile MShah is midway on the bridge, and there’s a lot of wild gesturing between her and Nitya – apparently the brown cow decided to go back on the bridge! MShah rushes back along the bridge, and just manages to reach the other end to let the cow pass. I traverse a narrow, loose-mud path along the middle of the slope, chatting all the while. Rolly is behind me, and Nitya behind him. Slowly it registers on my brain that she’s yelping and shouting for me. Apparently there’s a cow close at her back. How many cows are on this slope anyway? I think I’ve seen only one, but I’ll take her word for it. What are friends for if not for holding hands in narrow paths and saving each other from cows?! Nitya is eternally grateful for this J but she’ll have her laugh when the butterflies attack me (tomorrow). The BA is quite shaken by what has become “the cow and mules incident”. She’s quite serious when she tells me, “These wild animals must not be let loose on these trails”. I hoot with laughter and explain to her slowly and carefully, that cows and mules cannot be classified as wild animals – not even in America! She’s a sport – she sheepishly joins in my mirth.

We walk through a few settlements where there are dramatic “crown of thorns” planted all along the compound walls. Bright green leaves and pinkish red flowers, set in thorns that mean business. Rolly tells me this is called crown of thorns in his part of the world, in an allusion to Christ’s crown of thorns. Further, he says he has this plant in a pot in his living room, but it doesn’t thrive as well as in Nepal. Presumably a plant that knows what’s good for it – the great outdoors.

It’s still drizzling constantly. Rolly still thinks it is not worth pulling out his rain coat. He looks wilder and more dishevelled in the light rain. I notice his shaggy stubble. His smile is a bit strained – I think he’s in pain, but he keeps valiantly going on. Amazing man. He tells me now he can’t keep pace, and drops behind. I walk ahead with Nitya.

We stop at a village for chai after a bit. There’s a pretty brood of chicks under their mom’s wing – I get a decent close-up picture of them. Rolly and Gh also happen along and we all have masala chai, sitting in an open shack, with the trail on one side, and the misty valley on the other. I promise to meet up with Rolly for a drink at Tatopani, and we set off. There’s trail work going on in some places and the trail goes li’l bit aup and li’l bit down, so we are constantly flirting with the river bed. This is the only tricky part of the trail for sandals – sharp loose rocks and rubble to step over. Nitya is amused by my asking everyone that we come across, how much more to Tatopani. As a variation, I ask one guy “Is it one hour away?” in Hindi. He seems shocked by the duration, shakes his head vigorously, and says “45 minits”. We giggle to ourselves and carry on plodding.

The minute we step into Tatopani, we spot a T-Shirt and trinkets shop. It is cool and dark inside the shop. A pleasant young woman and her father run the place. We do some leisurely T-Shirt purchases. By the time we’re done, the others arrive and we saunter to our lodge Dhaulagiri. This lodge has rooms is the most wonderful setting, ranking second after the Fishtail Lodge in Pokhara. We have rooms facing a pretty garden. There’s a couple with a 15 month old, trekking the circuit, staying here. I get all nostalgic for the time I carried Akash on a 5 day trek in the Himachal Himalayas, when he was exactly 15 months old… The baby is almost exactly at the same level of motor development as Akash was at 15 months. He’s toddling about cutely, has curly brown hair, and a charming manner. I croon at the baby and use the excuse to chat with the baby’s handsome dad.

I have just learnt that there are hot springs at Tatopani (which in Nepali means hot water). The BA reading up guide books in advance has its advantages J. We have private access to the hot springs from our lodge, only catch is, it is via some 25 really steep steps. Nitya and I have gone down ahead, MShah follows making gruesome faces as her muscles protest. Shiva’s expression as she comes through the garden doorway to the top of the steps, is priceless. It must not be funny for her, but she makes it down to the water. We have to pay a nominal amount for the upkeep of the springs. There are several seedy men hanging about as caretakers and  suggest that they can provide other services as well. We sink into the wonderful hot water, and get engrossed in our own brand of hysterics. Some of this is aimed at MShah, she knows why J.

There’s a couple sitting across from us, the man Canadian and the woman Swiss – Peter and Sandra. We start a conversation with them and have a lot of notes to exchange. The hot springs are by the bank of the Kali Gandaki. Everyone has this formula of alternately taking a dip in the hot water, then in the cold river. Peter and Sandra sort of challenge and encourage us to do the same. Nitya and I go with them to a safe part of the fast flowing river, and it’s truly awesome to take that cold dip. I take several dips, and finally when we’re headed back, MShah comes along with her camera and makes us go back in the water to pose. Some of our mad hysterics rubs off on Sandra also, and the three of us hold hands and take a dip at the count of three. By the time we get back to the hot springs, there are three hulks in the water, two of them smoking beedis stylishly, and the third just lying on his back on the edge of the water. We covertly ogle them and discuss which one has the best body.

We reluctantly get out of the water and head back to our room. There’s no power tonight also. I haven’t charged my digital camera in three days, but I don’t mind. It’s pouring now and I hate to step into my wet sandals to go to the restaurant for dinner. MShah is already at a table with a drink in hand. The three of us join her. I stop to say hello to Rolly and Gearhart, who are also having dinner here. I am dehydrated with sitting in the hot water, and decline a drink. Nitya disappears for a while to connect with her family over phone. After a while, Rolly comes over and joins us at our table. MShah’s dislike for Rolly surfaces again, it is clear she doesn’t want Rolly at our table. Nitya is trying her brand of damage control, by talking to Rolly about bicycling through France, and several other disconnected subjects. This results in some giggling, which I find extremely embarassing and hope Rolly is unaware of what’s happening. Finally the last drink is done and I am relieved to leave the table. With a big bear hug, and a promise to keep in touch, Rolly says bye to me. He kisses Shiva’s hand in an old-fashioned gesture which I suspect is not quite welcome.

We head back to our adjacent rooms, the yak yeti thankful that the stone walls are sound proof here :-).

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