March 1 first day of Annapurna Circuit
First days of a trek are always filled with possibility but also hesitation. I left well fortified as my pancake breakfast was mountainous, as was the rest of the day’s hike. It was curious to see many small sheds in the village which had fires inside but no chimney. They tilt up an edge of the steel roof, and the smoke escapes that way. Would not want to spend too much time in one of those. After warm goodbyes I left the village-near-the-bridge and headed up river. For the next few days, the path will follow a tumultuous river, crossing regularly on pendulous and not always trust-inspiring swinging bridges. Most on this part are steel and feel more secure than those on Helambu, but they are very long and high. When crossing one I noticed animal dung on the treadway, wondering how anyone could convince an animal to cross such a machine. Moments later, a man leading a string of pack burros walked by, answering my question. In the morning, when I was still in the lower part of the river valley, I walked through fields and villages. Even though the terraces are narrow, up here they use teams of cattle (not quite oxen) in yokes to pull simple wooden plows. I sat and watched as two teams broke a narrow field. Later, as I was walking up a narrow path through a small cluster of buildings (not quite a village) I passed a man cutting a mortise in the top of an oddly shaped timber. I assumed it was for a rafter tie as the angle was sharp. Later I met another man doing similar work and realized he was fashioning a plow. They chisel a groove in the blade section to affix a thin strip of steel which serves and the plow edge. They pick the material to make the plows from stumps. I saw a pile next to a shed that were possible candidates for plowdom, the rest were firewood. Trees here are the usual lower altitude mix, though there are many tall spindly ones looking very much like our tulip poplars, though they are covered with bright red tulip-like blossoms. As I recall, our tulip poplars are not real poplars but instead a species of magnolia. I’d guess these red tulip trees are close relatives. As the day wore on, the river valley narrowed and the path got steep. Passing through one village on a narrow part of the path I saw two women working with large flat baskets and a heavy brass mortar and pestle. They were grinding and drying turmeric root. The baskets had the most beautiful yellow power. At a rest stop I met trekkers from Finland, South Africa, and Oregon. I guess we will cross paths in the days to come– nice folks– though I have much more time to make the circuit and will probably take it (you can live well on 15$ per day while trekking here) and I really have so much to learn from this, definitely not in a hurry. Near the end of the day, coming up over a rise in the late afternoon, I could see a wide bend of the river making a broad sand beach, and just up river, brightly colored, was Tal, the day’s end point. Walking down Main Street I was surprised at how many hotels there were which claimed lots of amenities, including hot showers and wifi. This is definitely not like the Helambu. I checked into the Mona Lisa hotel, cleaned up and had the signature Tal dish which is a potato, bean, pumpkin, corn bread curry. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Great first day, though I am sore!