March 13 day 13 Jomson to Kalopani
The western half of the trek commenced today. Started with a heavy breakfast including what the Xanadu Hotel calls hash browns. Instead of some processed potato product, they were big chunks cooked in chile oil and lots of garlic– carried me through a long day’s hike. Early on the weather cooperated though I was still in high winds with dust that made me stop and turn to avoid the sting. Walked through Marpha, a village of orchards, primarily apple and cherry. I stopped at a house with a sign indicating they sold juice, but on walking in, I felt I was in someone’s dining room. A very nice older man sold me a bottle of world famous natural Marpha apple juice– fully organic, no added anything, and repackaged in an old Tuborg beer bottle. We spoke a bit–as best we could– and he gave me one of his apples, small and tart. As I drank the juice I remembered growing up in apple country, spending my days running around the orchards that surrounded my house, and going to Beecher Bowers’s roadside stand. On route 11 just north of Woodstock VA, it was an open shed with gallon bottles of cider and all sorts of in-season produce. I remember getting our Halloween pumpkins there, and how he had huge glass containers of bubble gum, penny a piece. One interesting architectural feature all over Nepal but pronounced here are the boxes of rocks they put up on the corrugated roofs to hold them down in the wind. The people who live in houses with flat roofs stack firewood high around the edges. I’m not sure if that also holds down the roof, or if it is just convenient to keep it there. All along the paths there are piles of carefully split and stacked wood, always ready to hand for the kitchen. Part of the walk was through a pine forest where they were hauling out many more of those hand-hewn beams. Some I saw measured 16×16 and were hewn with a broad axe from full trees. On crossing the river to the eastern side, I came upon a Tibetan gompa being restored through some international agencies. A man emerged from small concrete building on the edge of the site, a Tibetan monk who had fled his country when it was occupied. We attempted to talk a bit, but ended up with a few place names and a mutual admiration for the gompa. The architecture in this area is slightly different, with the houses a little lower, flat roofs, and built with smaller, flatter stones. They often put a band of herringbone patterned thin stones across the face of the building, then paint the whole side white (usually just the side facing the street. There were also some smaller structures that had been sided with peeled, flattened bark in the manner common in the mountains of North Carolina. The path ran along the river’s edge– it really is a gravel braided river just like the New Zealand South Island– and often went up steep hills to avoid slips and rockslides. As the day progressed, the weather really deteriorated and I got my first rainy day trekking in Nepal–more often it was hail. Had to get out the foul weather gear, the thunder rolled in but, given the high mountains it was difficult to tell how close the lightening strikes were. I was hesitant to cross the steel swinging bridges that span the river at strategic points, but finally had to cross, getting to Kalopani, a town with large, comfortable but cold hotels. Decided to call it a day on arrival which was a good move as the rain intensified. Still cannot understand why, in such a cold climate, everyone leaves the door open when they enter a room. I hate to be the cranky old man, but damn, it’s cold enough without making it worse. I guess I showed my concern because Ram, the man running the hotel, went across the street and came back with a large pan of coals which he put in a metal container under the table in the dining room. It had a heavy rug over it, so when I sat, it draped over my knees, keeping the heat in, it was an amazing gesture which I completely appreciated. Then he sprinkled incense over the coals so all smelled so good. It was brilliant. Had a great, heavy dinner and will recommence the trek south toward Pokhara tomorrow.
T. Hugh Crawford