March 25th, 2016
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 25th, 2016
A seven hour bus ride back to Kathmandu (the puppy slept the whole way).
March 25th, 2016
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 22nd, 2016
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 20th, 2016
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 20th, 2016
March 19 Pokhara again
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 19th, 2016
March 18 Pokhara
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 18th, 2016
March 16 day 16 Ghorapani to Ghandruk
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 15th, 2016
March 15 day 15 Tatopani to Ghorapani
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
March 14th, 2016
March 14 day 14 Kalopani to Tatopani
In the middle of the night, I was quietly awakened by cowbells, some cattle grazing next to the hotel. I’m getting used to those bells. You hear them in the strangest places– way out in the woods, or in a steep area where you expect nothing to be around, you suddenly hear the tinkle of a cowbell and there, in the most unlikely place, some cattle are grazing on what they can find. It is between seasons here just now– the stored hay is almost exhausted but the new grass has not quite come out, so all the animals are loose and foraging where they can. It is a stark contrast to the feed-lots in the USA, and so much more sensible. It was still raining this morning a little bit, but the temperatures were not bad and the water kept down the dust, so a long day walking on the road was not as bad as it could have been. On passing a guest house, I saw two brooms on a table, wet and shining in the rain. Brooms here are bundles of straw with very short handles. An extremely dusty place, people are constantly fighting it with these short brooms that can only be used by hunching over, close to the dust, and sweeping away. They often sprinkle the space in front of their house or business with water to hold down the dust they have just swept away. Not far from the brooms, I saw a man stripping bamboo. Now I’m down low enough for bamboo to flourish so, instead of willow wands from pollarded trees, they can strip, peel and flatten bamboo to make a lot of material including very large basket-woven sheets that make roofs for animal pens and sheds. As I got further down the valley the foliage changed so now there are orange and banana trees. The buildings shifted a bit as well, with some having flatter, slate roofs with interestingly articulated eaves all about. Will watch over the next days to see if that is a one-off aberration or part of a different style. Just below was Ghasa, a town with another military site like Jomson and a lot of buses parked ready for the trip up or down-river. On the way out, I passed a cluster of buildings where a large group of men were congregated in a courtyard with solemn faces. Near them a number of women were crowded in a small building moaning and crying. I don’t know funeral procedures here, but I felt as if I had intruded into the middle of a wake and made haste to move on. Moving down to the flatlands puts me further from the Buddhist world of the high Himalayas and into the Hindu section. I had another attempted conversation with a barefoot Hindu priest who was walking in the direction I had just passed. Once again I felt the difficulties of communication acutely as he wanted to say something I could not understand. Another signal that I was getting closer to a more settled area was a waterfall near Rupse Chahara. I could see the high falls at some distance as I walked, but on arriving I found a tour bus and several Land Rovers which had disgorged a host of tourists– Nepali and perhaps some from India–all dresses in bright clothes, laughing and waving at the sweaty American hiking through their photoshoot. I made it to Tatopani just after lunch, saw Kyle who was getting a shirt repaired at the local tailor, and went straight to the hot springs. After a cold Gorkha beer, I first washed in the area where the hot springs flowed through high pipes, then eased myself into the pool and soaked while the sky’s clouded and the rain began to fall. No matter, the water was nearly scalding, and I have never felt cleaner. A trip back up the hill to the Himalayan Inn for a room and a quiet late afternoon relaxing in what is now clearly a warmer climate. Tired but clean and happy.
T. Hugh Crawford