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