Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

March 24-5

March 25th, 2016

March 24-5

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Winding down my time in Nepal, visiting old haunts: Sam’s bar, Himalayan Java, New Orleans Cafe and just a lot of wandering. Had dinner with Brian Suskiewicz and some people working on programs associated with Coaches Across Continents–insightful conversation. Needed to refresh my gear–replace my worn-out trekking pants, new gloves and warm hat for Kilimanjaro. Will need a strict inventory to get my pack back down to proper trekking weight. Just a time of odds and ends. No walking/no thinking.

March 22

March 25th, 2016

March 22

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Happy Holi! A festival where everyone ends up covered in bright colored paint/powder, in part to assure good weather as I understand it. It’s equinox so it must be a fertility ritual of sorts (actually there is a whole complicated story about Hindu gods). Had to buy a cheap t-shirt just in case I got dusted. Without doubt, the most heavily covered revelers seem to be young children and tourists. They set up a stage outside my hotel in Pokhara and the band played covers– everything from Daft Punk to Rage Against the Machine. Of course all my hiking buddies showed up in their technicolor selves. A day full of smiles–a characteristic of the Nepalis.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 21

March 22nd, 2016

March 21

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Reading Emerson in Pokhara–a challenge. First there is the voice, an insistently American presence in a place where no one hears a Yankee accent, a southern drawl, or even the flatness of the Midwest. Here unamerican is not a question of patriotism, it is simply a state of being, a place where american is a state of surprise. Not to say the city is parochial, rather the voices and accents proliferate, drowning a reedy thin American English in a flood of sounds heretofore unimagined. Here fish tail sounds like crystal, Atlanta is terra incognito, and stores that specialize in particular items are called “points,” as in Sandwich Point or, (as I saw today) Sausage Point–an image I cannot erase. Just past the Sausage Point was the Social Meat Shop which today featured ostrich. Not sure how I am supposed to like that on Social Meatia (sorry, couldn’t resist). Tomorrow is the Holi festival, then back to Kathmandu. Pokhara is a special place, though maybe not Mr. Emerson’s neighborhood.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 20

March 20th, 2016

March 20

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Lazy days in Pokhara, a town that begs for aimless wandering (the kind I do best). Being an American with a grey beard seems to bring recognition. The people who first tried to sell me things now just smile and wave as if we are all old friends, and the faces up and down the streets are increasingly familiar (including the obligatory crazy ranting character and the guy who seems to always be groping himself). Yesterday on a walk up along the northern edges of the lake, I encountered westerners who were not, or were no longer, tourists. There seems a fairly large expat population, generally distinguishable by dreadlocks and hemp clothes. It is easy to see the attraction Pokhara brings–low cost of living for people with some outside income, access to teachings from the wisdom traditions, nearby spectacular scenery, and cheap momos. And everyone seems to remember you.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 19

March 20th, 2016

March 19  Pokhara again

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Pokhara is hot– I mean temperature. After weeks of hiking at high altitudes waiting for the guest house proprietor to start the dung fire in the small wood stove in the center of the common room, I find myself in a place where shorts and t-shirts are all that’s required. Having trouble with that adjustment. I read the menu at breakfast and discovered that in addition to eggs and hash browns, I could also order “creeps” — banana, honey, lots of other options. Then spent more time handling practical stuff with impractical web pages. Handle is not the right term. Attempted unsuccessfully is closer. Oh to be where success is measured by meters of elevation gained or KM walked than a silly check mark from a ridiculous web site. I had lunch near the north curve of lake near the paragliders touchdown point at the “Taal rest-o-bar.” Paragons of honesty they handed me a menu, then an addendum saying that today they had no gas to cook with, so they could prepare the following items over a wood fire. I was refreshed by the simplicity and they grilled up some amazing chicken wings. It’s really cool to see how everyone works within often unanticipated constraints here. Can imagine the melt-down a Buckhead clientele would have given the obstacles that occur here on a regular basis. Spent a good bit of the day working on an essay, the rest wandering. My favorite discovery goes back to yesterday when I saw two men finishing out some dense wood boards (looked like mahogany). Today, I passed them as they were framing out the boat they were building (in the style of the many dory-skiffs that populate the waterside). Clearly skilled builders, they had it all laid out including the oakum-like cording at strategic watertight points. Dusk fell over another hazy day, and I indulged myself with a Duvel before dinner and a fairly early night in– trying for the most boring person alive here I guess.

March 18

March 19th, 2016

March 18  Pokhara

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Pokhara is the Queenstown (New Zealand) of Nepal. Of course there are differences– the air is much more polluted here, but people also do other things besides cater to tourists. The city opens out onto a lake and offers lots of high adventure tours, coffee shops, and bars. This morning over breakfast I watched dozens of paragliders taking off from the mountain above, slowly circling to the lake, which was soon covered with kayakers and people paddling around on the Nepali version of party barges. The skies were also populated by ravens which seem to run off most other birds. Large purple-black heads and black beaks, confident and mouthy. From the rooftop restaurant of my hotel, I could look down on the strange configuration of the lakefront itself. There must be some odd property laws as there is a band of undeveloped land between the main road and the water itself. Within that band are tumble-down houses, small gardens, and even some cattle grazing. Then right at the water’s edge are ramshackle bars and restaurants that seem more or less temporary. It makes for a good vibe as the waterfront seems to belong to everyone instead of being dominated by real estate developers–a good town. Still, after finishing a trek, getting clean, and joining the rest of the people, it is hard to recapture the total body hum that is walking in the wild. There is an insouciance that comes from the privilege accorded a “paying customer” which is something never felt by the long-distance hiker–an undeserved privilege. I wish I could say I spent the day thinking and writing, but much of my time was dealing with recalcitrant and poorly designed web pages for annual reports and training back at Georgia Tech. Whoever made up the web content must have thought everyone had the bandwidth of a firehose, were not in a place where the electricity is off more than it is on, and where the routers work at dialup speeds. Such is the technological chauvinism of the west.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 17

March 18th, 2016

March 17  last day of Annapurna Circuit

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Finishing the Annapurna Circuit left me a little sad. On walking out onto the Simon Guest House deck that morning I knew that it was the last time I would be looking out on the massif I’ve been circling for almost three weeks. The peaks remain infinitely interesting as the changing light creates shadows revealing intricate formations that disappear as the sun moves on. Also there is no clear endpoint like Bluff or Kirk Yetholm, which is as it should be — a circuit has no end. Still, I found myself hiking down from Ghandruk to Kimche only to discover a long, dusty road down to the main highway to Pokhara. Not a way to spend the morning so I caught a wild ride bus from there– much more stimulating than dodging trucks and scooters in the dust and the diesel on the road down. On the walk to Kimche, the trail was completely flagged with stones and uneven steps, and I passed many people bringing up materials to Ghandruk and beyond. No porters carrying refrigerators on their backs, but plenty of people carrying bags of rice or sugar, lots of plastic drainpipe, and a pack train of eight mules carrying up sacks of something. At an early stop on the bus, a strikingly beautiful woman in traditional dress got on along with three huge bags of dried corn–easily 100 lbs. each. She and the bus helpers (conductors?), maneuvered them through the door and stacked them in the aisle, on the way to a market point about five km down the road. She seemed so slight but, like so many people living in a place where almost everything is carried by hand, she was strong and capable. Initially the road (not an accurate term) wound back and forth down narrow switchbacks with scarcely inches between the wheels and the edge which dropped off precipitously. It was like an amusement park ride, except here there are no regular inspections of the vehicle or the road. In this upper area tending to the flatland, there is an older architecture that is different from what I have been seeing. There are stone farmhouses, broad across the face with two stories. On either end are single-story rooms with sloping shed roofs, but the main house includes a bank of second-story windows with intricately carved casements and screens. The eaves have wooden brackets where they often hang ears of corn or basket materials to dry. Across the long face is a wide flat terrace where the farm produce is processed. After a long and winding ride down, the bus got to the highway at Naya Pol; then the driver opened it up, passing every vehicle he came near, blasting his horn, slamming his brakes, and swerving on and off the narrow middle band of pavement that made up the highway (the rest was gravel, potholes, and general rocky obstacles). This went on for quite some time until we arrived at the Pokhara bus stop, still quite a distance from the lake area where I had booked a hotel along with the rest of the tourists. Rather than a taxi, I opted to walk (guess I felt the need to make up for my short trek this morning) and spent an hour crossing the city past motorcycle repair shops, tailors, and open sewer/waterways. The Adam Hotel (booked via the web for good rate) is at the heart of the lakeside district near coffee shops, trekking stores, bars, and momo (dumpling) shops. A good place to unwind and organize the next adventure.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 16

March 18th, 2016

March 16 day 16 Ghorapani to Ghandruk

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I grew up in the rural mountains of Virginia in a house full of books, some good, some mediocre. I recall collections of the classics in similar bindings along with a lot of 1950s and 60s bestsellers. I read them all– the good and the bad. When I was around 10, I vaguely remember reading Maurice Herzog’s account of the 1950 French expedition to climb Annapurna, then the highest mountain ever climbed (or at least confirmed climbed). I remember well how the two successful ascenders lost fingers and toes to frostbite, as well as the long descent to proper health care. Clearly even though Nepal was, to a boy in the Shenandoah Valley, a place beyond reach or comprehension, the book stuck with me, unacknowledged and barely remembered. Today I hiked out of Ghorapani to the top of Poon Hill in the morning (not the sunrise with the glut of tourists who flooded the town today) and there, after all this circumambulation I got my first view of Annapurna I, the 10th highest mountain in the world, and the mountain that has somehow preoccupied me for 40 years. The lesson? Reading does matter, even unremembered, it forms memories, attitudes and aspirations. Something drew me to that mountain, and today I felt deeply that attraction. After coming down from Poon Hill and settling my bill at the Daulighiri Hotel, I sat a bit watching the sun move across the mountain faces — Daulighiri, South Annapurna, Nigili– drinking an extra cup of coffee comped by the hotel owner, a wonderfully kind man. Then I found myself hiking out in a tourist bubble. There must be a lot of short treks people can take from Pokhara, because suddenly you can’t even stop on the trail to take a piss without some trekker coming up the trail behind you. The first part of the day was a lot of altitude gain (the last I’ll need to do on the trek), so I hiked hard and fast to break out of the group, only stopping briefly in Deurali to get juice, which was an orange drink in a can with “orange sacs” included. Pretty tasty actually. It is evident this section is more on the tourist circuit where the walkers have porters, as each town lays out table after table of souvenirs which are always accompanied by burning incense, a smell I never much liked in the US but is completely appropriate here. Late in the afternoon I heard a noise up in the trees and saw briefly a couple of monkeys– black faces with light fuzzy fur around and long curling tails. Only saw those few, none later. Got to Tadopani and thought to stay, but pushed on which put me in a better position to get to Pokhara tomorrow night. The trail down was really good, and saw a number of sawyers cutting and moving hand hewn and pit-sawed boards for some large construction project. Transportation here is fascinating. The workers hauled boards up steep hills above the sawpit, then each carried a pile over to the huge woodpile they were assembling. On the way down from Tadopani, I met a man struggling up the steep steps with a refrigerator on his back– amazing. Found a nice new hotel– the Simon House– which filled up with people I had met on the trail, and there I had the first hot shower in a long time, looking forward to the flat lands tomorrow.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 15

March 15th, 2016

March 15 day 15 Tatopani to Ghorapani

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I’ve never seen rhododendron trees– ones with trunks over a foot in diameter, but they appeared today on the hillsides along with huge clusters of bamboo, willows, and banana trees (some with big green clusters of fruit). The walk out of Tatopani was first down a dusty road, then across two swinging bridges– the second was wood and very shaky– and then a whole lot of climbing. I passed two TIMs stations. You have to stop at them and present your credentials, primarily so they can track trekkers who may become lost on the trails. The offices (actually steel sheds) usually have a computer, but because the electricity is rarely on, they enter the information in big red ledgers. They will let you look to see if anyone you know has passed in the last few days, but I wonder what becomes of those books. I guess they end up on a shelf, like the manuscripts in the Gompas waiting to be read by some researcher checking the nationality of the trekking tourists. About an hour in, I reached a crest and there opened a hillside valley completely terraced and largely populated. Lots of green which turned out to be wheat or barley, alternating with potatoes. I stopped at a small inn for coffee at mid-morning. The outdoor seating was beneath a huge blooming bougainvillea. The proprietor was pregnant and also had a very young child, but she smiled, laughed, and made me feel at home. It was actually a pretty rigorous morning, though I got to Ghorapani by 1:00. A lot of climbing including all those uneven stairs they have built into the mountainsides. Stairs always wear me out, so I was gassed by the time I arrived. There was a winding road, but I saw no vehicles though I did see plenty of pack horses hauling bags of sand for concrete projects, and many people carrying 50 lb. sacks of sugar, flour, or rice using shoulder straps and a forehead band. They really cannot look from side to side and can only mumble a greeting, given how heavy their loads are. The foliage and architecture was different today as well. Initially lower altitudes brought bamboo and banana trees, but later in the day large rhododendron trees. At Chiffre, the middle of the village was crowded with pollarded willows which had just burst into leaf. The sun made yellow halos through the leaves, resembling something from Dr. Seuss. In many places across the trail today there were strings of withered, dried carnations (looking like the strings I saw in Kathmandu). I guess they were part of a celebration some time ago, but now they have a forlorn look, like the faded buttoniers on a rented tux from last year’s prom. While I was in Tatopani, the electricity was only on about two hours, and rumor has it that Ghorapani hasn’t had any for three days, so I might have to skip tonight’s reading to conserve power. Ghorapani is a mountain town, so I chose a hotel with a big wood stove in the middle of the common room and have toasted my feet there ever since. I did duck out for momos (Nepali dumplings) which they serve with ketchup (something I can’t quite stomach). This is the last bit of altitude unless I decide to go to Annapurna base camp (not leaning in that direction). For now, just resting some sore muscles after a very long trek uphill, hoping for clear skies tomorrow morning so I can climb Poon Hill to see Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna Range.

T. Hugh Crawford

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