Day 9: Ghorepani – Thikedhunga

I have a so-so night and wake up early. Get out of bed trying not to disturb N. Wrapped in some warmies and armed with my little notebook, I go out to the dining area in the hope of writing in my journal. Through the trip I never get beyond writing about day 5 or so. I sit by a window and look out. Lovely snow mountains that appear to be quite close by. I can’t sit still and write about some far away Muktinath and dry brown hills while this waiteth outside! I head out with my camera, the door of the lodge creaking as I open and close it behind me. In one direction there’s Dhaulagiri in all its glory, with wisps of pink cloud floating about it. In another direction, what I learn later are the mountains of the Baraha Shikhar group, and to their right, Annapurna South. It’s still and silent in the morning. No one else is about. I have the whole of Ghorepani and the mountains to myself. I walk to a point from which there’s a clear view of Dhaulagiri without electric poles in the way. There’s a bench on which I park for a while. I’m enjoying the idea of not knowing the time – but feel that real nirvana would be if I weren’t conscious of the fact at all. If I could live in a setting where time really did not matter, and I could unlearn the concept of noticing time… and not even be aware that I don’t know the time.

Although reluctant to leave my view point (both literal and figurative), I walk back to the lodge. Back to my window seat, to gaze at the play of light on the closer snow mountains. One of the lodge boys comes in with a cheery good morning. He tells me the names of the mountains. I send him off with a hot chocolate request. Shishir comes in and sits by the window, and tells me the names of the mountains again. We just sit in silence admiring the view for a bit. I never do get around to the journal writing. By now more people are awake, and there’s more activity in the dining area, but my precious cows (sorry MShah for the borrowed expression!) are not yet up.

Eventually we are all up and packed and ready to leave. Can’t remember what we ate at breakfast. Our destination today is Thikedhunga. Talking about the villages we will pass through, Shishir explains the name “Deurali” quite graphically and (by now) predictably it gives us an excuse for more hysterics. Nitya is feeling terrible that the trek is almost at an end, but I haven’t started feeling that way yet. She’s even regretting cutting the trek short by a day, but for some reason I feel quite contented (which is a very very unusual feeling for me). As we take our final photos and wrap up, another guide gets talking to us and I happily flirt with him. He says his name is Jeevan. Someone starts mournfully, “Mera Jeevan kora kaagaj…” and we all giggle as usual. Jeevan is slightly bemused but a good sport. We bid goodbye to him and the lodge boys, and set off through the town.

Back on a downhill trip, all steps, steps and more steep steps. I walk by myself for the initial part of the morning. There’s a river flowing through the valley below – Shishir tells me its name, but I promptly forget. It is not the Kali Gandaki. I find it annoying that even though it is downhill, I still have to constantly focus on my next step. If I do this fast, I don’t get to admire the views along the way. If I slow down for the views then I lose my rhythm and have to focus harder. Choices, choices, life is tough. Without explicitly making a decision, I ignore the views and keep going fast, enjoying my new found sure-footedness. By mid morning I’m back to walking with Nitya. MShah is also close enough, and she too participates in the conversation on and off. We pass several mules and cows, and other people climbing to Ghorepani from Ulleri. The mules and cows are a source of bonding for MShah and Nits who have become known as the cow-sisters – for some reason MShah shares Nits’ opinion that the poor animals are wild and ready to attack. I try telling them that it’s all in their mind, but they get a glazed look in their eyes, set their ears back, and refuse to listen to me. “Mulish?”, you might ask. At one point while stepping aside for a mule train, I trip on a step and almost fall headlong. But do I get any sympathy? No, Nitya berates me for being a clumsy fool and setting the mules upon us. I wish more mules upon her and MShah and carry on while they’re all celebrating the animals. As I go down I am thinking these steps are bigger and this route is definitely steeper than the way we came upto Ghorepani. I make a mental note that when I do the full Annapurna circuit (some day), I will go counter-clockwise and not the steeper way. I hate steps that are half my height J.

After a few of hours of climbing down, we spot the towns of Ulleri and Thikedhunga still far below. Jeevan passes us jauntily with a cheery “hello! we meet again!”. Most of the morning walk is along a forested path. We meet an American guy from San Francisco, walking towards Ghorepani. We stop to chat and find out that he’s been travelling around the sub-continent, on a Royal Enfield (What other bike is there?) – all the way from Sri Lanka, through India, now in Nepal. I think he reminds me of someone I know, just can’t quite place whom. I fleetingly envy his lifestyle, just like the Antarctic couple we met at Jharkot.  In the later part of the trail, we walk past large terraced fields – wheat, mustard, paddy, corn, sugarcane. It’s a sunny day, full of drowsy contentment for me.

My contentment is from having “seen” the “real” Nepal on this entire trek. We notice that in most villages, only the women and children are home. All the men are either trek guides, gone to the plains to make a living, or are in the army. The infants and toddlers all learn to walk literally on the hills. We see several instances where the children are left to toddle or crawl about on the trails, steps and other such “dangerous” places. I wonder if truly nothing happens to them, or any fatalities are also considered “part of life”. It is too tedious to ask Shishir this – it would involve too much explanation and I am not sure he’ll get my question, so I don’t ask.

Today’s lunch stop has vanished from my mind, thanks Kanaks for the details, which have jogged my memory. The porters have pre-selected our lunch spot, a shack named “Premkumari’s Reshtaurant”. We rib them about falling for the name. The woman running the show has three children – Nitya wonders, biologically speaking, how two of the siblings can be so close in age without actually being twins J. The youngest one gets a whack from its mom and sets up a loud outraged wailing. I hold it in my arms and sit on the entrance step, rocking it and trying to say soothing things to it in Tamil. It never lets up, finally a kind neighbour girl takes the brat out of my hands. I come back to the table looking well pleased with myself, although I didn’t do anything to quieten the baby.

While lunch is being made, Nits and I bask in the sun on a low wall outside the shack. Also basking on the wall are some wilted greens – probably to be put in the aaloo sabji of the next bunch of jokers who will stop here for lunch. It seems to take much longer than usual. Shishir as usual is in the kitchen, helping with the rotis and I’m sure chatting up the cook. MShah rags Nits and me. I (Kanaks says) enjoyed the tone and content of her ragging. Okay maybe I did. Finally lunch is done and we drag ourselves back on the trail.

Children here seem to walk long distances to school. We meet a bunch of them on yet another steel bridge, all giggling among themselves, probably finding us amusing. I wonder what the locals  must really think of all the trekkers tramping through their villages. They are friendly for the most part, without being servile. They are neither aggressive nor reserved. They seem open and able to relate on an equal footing with outsiders – I guess over a couple of generations, they must be used to trekkers. These are gross generalizations, so they must apply to atleast some people in Nepal J.

We wind down the hill and across a bridge, then there’s an unexpected climb. After hours of downhill, I find that I actually enjoy the uphill. The path is a mixture of regular trail and stone steps. We abruptly come upon our sacks placed strategically on the trail, and learn from the porters that this is our destination for tonight. It has been a comparatively short day, we’ve reached Thikedhunga by 4 pm or so. Some negotiations about which lodge, the usual haggling for attached bath. This time Shishir wins: apparently there’s no lodge with attached baths in this entire village. We don’t feel upto the challenge of trying to ask around, so we settle for the selected lodge. It has a nice colorful courtyard with rooms on three sides, on the ground floor and first floor. The lodge owners send a guest who has obviously just stepped out of the shower, to tell us in English, that the common bathroom has a hot shower J. Our rooms are in the first floor, thankfully some distance apart. This is again a plywood and cellotape sort of arrangement. In our room, we have a curtainless window facing a hill slope, but we’re willing to rough it out J.

Have I mentioned that Nitya loves to potter about in the room? Well she does. It sometimes calms me down and gives me a domestic feeling, and sometimes makes me restless. I leave her to potter, and go down to join the other two in the dining room. They are settled with their chai and MShah is on the verge of finishing her book. I stretch comfortably across two chairs and dig into some pakodas. This probably has something to do with the fact that I actually gained weight on this trek! What beats me is how the other three (claim to have) lost over 5 pounds each after the trek… seems like some partiality going on here.

Finally Nitya also arrives in the dining room and we have more pakodas. I have a couple of royal stags with lemon tea over the evening. Shishir has left us alone for once. MShah finishes her book and Nitya takes it and the cozy corner seat and curls up. MShah and Kanaks mention a carrom board in the premises. Although I am terrible at carrom I ask for the board, to generally goof around and have fun. One of the porters or locals, unsolicited, insists on teaching me the rules of carrom and how to play. The game deteriorates quickly into a free for all cheating game. The other girls get impatient with the idiot man whom I seem to have attracted (quite unintentionally I must say). A local girl who’s serving at the lodge watches the game in child-like glee. Much as we hate to spoil her fun, we wrap up the game and get back to our foursome. Dinner comes and goes. We sit around relaxing and singing more old hindi songs, until we have to be shooed out of the dining room. The young girl who was watching our carrom game is sent to switch off the lights – a not so subtle sign for us to go to our rooms. We complain about how these small towns all close down so early… and resolve to find a lively disco in Pokhara.

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