11/17/09: Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Day 14: Kalopani to Ghara (8.25 hours)
There have been two times on this hike where I’ve felt like crying (but didn’t, obviously, because I’m too manly for that). One was minutes before we reached the Thorong La Pass – that was out of happiness that we were about to accomplish something that we’ll probably never come close to doing again in our lives. The other happened today while we were hiking in the pitch black Nepali night.
After not getting as far as we wanted yesterday, we decided to push ourselves today to make up for lost time. The problem with pushing ourselves though is that at some point hiking gets tiring. This occurred in the middle of our 500 meter climb to end the day, and it prompted Zhou to proclaim that we were staying at the next lodge we saw. Soon thereafter, off in the distance was the Santosh Top Hill Lodge, sitting invitingly on the edge of a cliff with gorgeous scenery all around. It was the place for us.
To spare you the boring details, after a horrible meal that was over one hour late and several creepy glares and awkward questions later (some about drugs), I decided that we could no longer stay there. I’m sure it would have been safe in our cramped, hard, dark little room, but something inside me said get out. So we paid for dinner and left.
This is where I should mention that by this point, it was 6:30pm and pitch black outside. Fortunately, while being questioned by the drug addict cousin of the Santosh owner, I had smartly discovered that the main town of Ghara was only 15 minutes away (we could even see the lights). With our trusty headlamps, the walk would be no problem.
20 minutes later, not only were we not there, but all the town lights had disappeared and we were tripping over jagged rocks in our path. At one point, a flashlight was turned on in the distance, and a voice behind it shouted at us, “where are you going?!” It was only then that we figured out Ghara was the opposite direction of where we were heading.
Another 20 minutes passed, and there was still no sign of a city. If I were by myself or with some large person taking care of me (think John Coffey in the Green Mile), it is here that I might have been in tears. By this point my mind had already raced through every possible scenario of what would happen to us, including:
- Walking through to sunrise only to find out we stumbled into a military zone in the middle of nowhere.
- Sleeping on the hillside and getting eaten by vicious snow leopards.
- Getting attacked by man-eating spiders kind of like the ones we saw in Tal last week.
- Falling off the cliff (then being eaten by spiders and/or snow leopards).
Not one scenario ended in a happily ever after. Oh, how I should never doubt Nepal. Just as I was finished profusely apologizing to Zhou for the tenth time for making the mistake of leaving the dodgy lodgy (a rhyme our new-found British friends might appreciate), we came upon a sign… Ghara! A headlamp flashed in our direction, and the young man it belonged to walked us to his guest house. He said there was a room available, and we waited outside as he and his family prepared it.
Five minutes later, we were welcomed in. At this point it was clear that this was not the type of lodge we were used to staying at. This family had prepared one of their own rooms for us, so obviously it was going to be expensive.
“How much for tonight?”
“Oh, no charge.”
We had shown up in the dark, clearly willing to pay whatever needed to be paid for a place to sleep. We had no leverage – we couldn’t see if there were any other lodges nearby and we needed to stay somewhere. Yet this family of seven had prepared one of their own rooms for us and didn’t want any money. To top it all off, the father repeatedly made sure we had our own sleeping bags before sheepishly asking if he could use his own blanket to keep him warm.
There was a fire burning in the next room, and we were invited to join the family while they talked and ate. We accepted, and then found out that another American couple (yes, you read that right – there are more Americans out here!) was being treated the same way. They had shown up as night was falling, and the family had offered them one of their own rooms to stay for the night. They had ordered Dal Bhat off the restaurant menu, and when we met them they were being offered more of it than they could possibly eat.
The four of us from thousands of miles away for one night felt like we were at home. We ordered some popcorn, then the nine of us in the room at the time shared it while doing our best FDR – chatting by the fire. We didn’t fully understand each other, but it didn’t matter. At one point, two of the kids brought out their homework assignments for Zhou and me to look at. One was learning English prepositions while the other was working on trigonometry. Yes, high in the mountains of Nepal, they teach trigonometry at school to those who wish to learn it (it is an optional class). 99% of the population might never even travel as far as Kathmandu in their lifetime – they’ll most likely become farmers or yak drivers or restaurant chefs in the town they grew up in – yet they have the opportunity to learn trigonometry. It boggles my mind.
Anyway, eventually it was well past our bedtime so we said goodnight. A rock-hard mattress with bugs crawling around it never felt so comfortable.
Picture of the Day: My softer, gentler side took this picture.