March 5 Day 5 Ngawal to Manang
A restless night– the evening had been cold so I had hot tea for dinner with my Yak Dal Bhat, the caffeine kept me up much later than usual. Still I was up and ready to get going early. Went to the dining area which was bitter cold, but Kamal (Ville and Kristen’s guide who has been very kind to me) invited me to the kitchen where the man and woman who own the Hotel Peaceful were busy preparing breakfast over a large woodstove fire. Just outside the door, holding steaming cups of tea, were their two sons. One was meticulously honing an axe. I sat and listened to the rhythmic sound, thinking back on an old teaching project at Georgia Tech where we built a full sized frame of Thoreau’s house using only the tools he could have used–axes, broad axes, chisels, hand saws. I used to sit on the wall for hours sharping the broad axes to a shaving edge with a round two-sided stone. You can hear the edge getting sharper by the changing tones of the stone. I heard those sounds today. The kitchen was like many others I’ve seen in Nepal, though they had their wood stove up on a table, so they could work standing up. The woman did most of the cooking, smashing garlic in a large wooden mortar and pestle to mix into an omelette for Kyle, one of the other trekkers. I had oatmeal with local apples which were compact and tangy. The cook said they were organic, so they did not have chemicals from India or China. I set off for an easy day’s walk down a dusty road that soon descended to the river’s edge with Annapurna III showing its many sides as I passed slowly. Bhraga, a village only a couple of kilometer’s from Manang is home to a number of hotels and a large (but empty) monastery. This was the first I had seen that was set up on a cliff in a way that echoed Lhasa on a smaller scale. I sat in the sun with tea on the rooftop of one hotel and looked across at the monastery while talking to the owner who explained that the monks were no longer there and a woman in the village had the only key to the gompa. Across from the restaurant was the Ice Lake Hotel which was advertising “Fooding and Lodging,” a construction that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. My friend Jack, who is from Taiwan and was raised Buddhist, helped find the key-bearer, and we climbed up the cliff to visit a 900 year old gompa. The old woman with the key sat on the steps collecting a small donation, 100 NPR. I had a bill that had been in my pocket for a week, old tattered and torn. When I handed it to her, she turned it over, laughed and held up to her face saying that my money had more wrinkles than she did. She then invited us into an atrium with two huge old prayer wheels. There we shed our shoes, and groped through the dark into the main room. On two sides were shelves two feet deep going floor to ceiling displaying golden statues of seated Buddhas, all of different aspect. The columns were painted many colors and draped with bright colored cloths. In the middle were other Buddha statues surrounded by icons, burning candles and photographs of recent lamas. Apart from the sheer age and sacred air of the space, what I found most overwhelming were the racks of books or manuscripts. They too went up to the ceiling so the place was a veritable library of congress. In each slot was a long rectangular package wrapped carefully in different cloths. I have no idea what they were written on or their age, but it was clearly a room full of wisdom. Earlier in the day I had passed through Mungii, a tiny village with a field of yaks in the center. On arriving at Manang, I rather guiltily ate a yak burger. Not so much a burger as bits of yak meat in breading, but still pretty tasty. Once again, in the interest of acclimatization I hiked a short day, checking into a nice hotel, the Tilicho, and getting the first shower for some time. Felt good to be clean and to put on clean clothes. Spent the afternoon in a sunny glassed in dining area with about a dozen Israeli trekkers. Kristen and Ville showed up and we went to the Manang cinema–quite the treat. Don’t imagine any theater you’ve ever seen. Instead a large room down under an old building with a whiteboard on one end, an LCD projector an a lot of DVDs. They only show a movie if there are four people in the audience so we paid for an extra person and were served hot tea and popcorn while watching Into Thin Air, a singularly bad climbing disaster movie which served to chill us all. Walking back to the hotel, the unusually wide main street had streetlights (sort of) and a man rode by on a jingling pony. Not your typical movie night.
T. Hugh Crawford