|Very seldom do you wake up at the first rays of the sun to the thunder of a waterfall and today was one such day. As I strolled out of the room at 5:30 am, the overnight rain had died down, and the waterfall was in full flow. The pure Himalayan air early in the morning brought a sense of peace and well-being. After having some chapatti, omelet, and tea we tied our shoe laces, put on our backpacks, and walked off into the mountains.
Today’s scenery was very different from that of yesterday. There were no paddy or corn fields. We walked in a canyon for most of the day - somewhere halfway between the mountain top and the valley bed. Below us, the Marsyangdi rumbled, creating countless rapids. We walked past many waterfalls and it seemed as if the current waterfall was always taller than the previous one. The run off from the rain, the waterfalls, and the streams joined the river. The sun light reflected off the rock faces of the mountain causing them to shine. It was nature, in its pristine form.
There were steep drop-offs along the trails, and you can find yourself down in the valley after a few wayward steps. We encountered several rock falls along the way. This coupled with the heavy rain last night was not the best case scenario. There was a lingering feeling of a potential landslide or a falling rock hitting us. But nothing happened except for muddy stretches where mules sprayed slush on us.
A few shady looking Nepali guys asked for money. We had no clue what it was all about, but we parted with 100 rupees. Diligently they also asked us to sign a register. Record keeping? Yeah right.
Gradually we gained altitude in the narrow canyon with echoes of waterfalls crashing into the Marsyangdi. It is a great feeling, the feeling of being insignificant and this is exactly what I felt walking through the canyon. In fact, I almost feel relieved as if a large burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I have felt this before too, when thinking about the vast expanse of space I realize that I’m merely a tiny inconsequential speck in this universe, This was a similar uplifting feeling.
We’ve stopped for lunch at Chyamche and I’m penning these sentences sitting by the trail, waiting for food. Our dal bhat at Tibet Lhasa hotel has arrived. Got to eat now .. carb loading .. yay ! We had a few laughs at the old man with the pot belly who trekked shirtless. Bikash nicknamed him Budhau and that is how we referred to him for the rest of the trek. We asked Bikash to donate some of his shirts to Budhau so that he could lighten his backpack. Later on the trek, Budhau would provide us with ample amusement, but earn our respect in many ways.
We descended from Chyamche, crossed the river, and then continued to walk along it. There was a slight drizzle in the air for some time now and it was raining now. We pushed on in the rain and ascended steadily through the canyon along the side of the mountain, walking past several waterfalls. Mules kept passing us at regular intervals and everytime we’d press ourselves against the mountain side of the trail. On once such occasion, a running mule hit me on the side and I banged against the rock wall, however, I escaped unscathed.
The rain got progressively heavier and it got cold. Trekking in the rain was exciting. Heavy winds and rain lashed our faces. We were hoping that would not be any hail, unlike yesterday. Again, there was the fear of landslides and rock falls. A small rock, the size of a pebble, falling from the top of the mountain, can make a hole in our head. Bikash had a narrow brush with such a rock. Had it hit him, we’re not sure what his state would have been, and that potential danger was playing on our minds.
For a brief respite from the rain, we stopped at a lone tea stall perched upon a hill. As I rubbed my hands for warmth, I noticed an old man with a wrinked face, a face that seemed weathered by life. He was squatted underneath a thatched roof, by the door, enjoying a smoke as the rain poured hard. The simple pleasures of life. This was one of the most endearing images of the trip. We climbed further and came across a beautiful waterfall. We turned left and suddenly appeared some snowcapped peaks. It was a total wow moment. Later that evening, when we mentioned this to a Nepali guide, he laughed at our remark and dismissed them as just hills. Just Hills? Seriously?
The final stretch of today’s trek was quite steep – a mix of stone steps and rocky terrain. As we neared Tal, we passed a police barrack. As we gained some height, suddenly the village of Tal appeared, nestled in the mountains, in the valley, by the blue river, round pebbles everywhere. We stayed at the Father & Son lodge - the path leading to the building entrance was lined with glass bottles. All of us washed clothes today, optimistically hoping for them to dry in this cold wet weather.
The weather was perfect for a hot cup of tea. Speaking to a guide revealed that the police checks are to prevent certain people into Manang, at least that was what I gathered. Apparently, some guys had killed a lodge owner in Thorung Pedi and fled with 5 lakhs. No shortage of such things anywhere. We continued to gossip, sipping tea.
As the sun set, it got cold. Putting on socks definitely helps in these situations. I realized that bringing along a sleeping bag was definitely a good idea. I began to worry about the cold at higher altitudes and if I have enough insulation. Suddenly Bikash’s packing extra clothing seems to make sense.
We had egg + veg fried rice and momos for dinner, and topped it with some apple pie. I had hated apple pie in the US, but surprisingly (or not) it was quite good in the mountains. We had a good conversation with an Aussie trekker, Renata. Apparently she was an umpire at the Australian Open, and had traveled significantly. We talked about travel, and she told us how she makes time for all the travel. I smiled, the benefits of living in the first world.