Dharapani to Chame; Trek day three; Looking for hay in a needle-stack

Yesterday’s burst of energy didn’t exactly vanish, but I had definitely used a lot of it up. It had rained all night so both Sheryl and I were achy and stiff. Setting out from Dharapani in the morning, I thought it was a lot colder than it really was and had to stop twenty minutes down the trail and strip off my tights and thermal sweater while Sheryl kept a lookout for easily shocked Nepalis.

Sheryl’s pack is beginning to disintegrate. This isn’t a big surprise to either of us. She’s not carrying her big pack with her on the trek, having bought a smaller one in Kathmandu. The prices there encourage this sort of thing. The one I’d found for her had been sitting outside a shop, its yellow fabric literally black with diesel exhaust (just like our lungs). She bargained the shop down to Rs800 with a buy-back of 30%. Assuming they’ll take it back, that means she’ll have paid Rs560 (about CAD$8). Of course, at that price it’s a knockoff, just like every other piece of merchandise in Kathmandu, but we’d gambled on it lasting just long enough. I had my doubts, but even I expected it to last more than three days. This morning the buckle on the hip belt exploded, and she had to spend the next three days with the belt knotted around her.

We made plodding progress in the morning to Danagyu (you’re welcome), 300m higher than Dharapani and 4km on, passing some good high waterfalls all along the rocky gorge walls. The weather wasn’t great. We were walking through clouds, more or less. It never rained, but it was damp and chilly and we didn’t see the sun once all day. In Danagyu we found Ben and Christian playing with a little girl outside her family’s guesthouse. She was maybe a year old. She loved Christian and wasn’t sure about the rest of us at all. Sheryl, especially, got the evil eye. I thought that was pretty funny because it’s usually me that kids don’t like.

After Danagyu there was a big, unpleasant climb up to the village of Timang. It was a long, grinding, windy haul up a steep dirt track. The trail was ridiculously steep and we had to walk on our toes, calves cramping, to get up it. Eventually I decided to try walking flat-footed and taking shuffling steps, which worked much better than it sounds. We met Ben halfway up as the surrounding landscape turned to temperate rainforest, taking photos of some orchids he said were rare (I don’t know from orchids, but he’s studied them and should know). He’d given up on trying to keep up with Christian and stayed with us for the rest of the day. The rainforest made the climb worthwhile. It was beautiful, wet and dripping with moss and ferns, with little flowers everywhere, and the ground was soft and springy underfoot. I love old forests. It didn’t last long - it was just an odd little microclimate in a band halfway up the gorge - but we all took our time walking through it.

After the forest there was more ugly climbing to the village of Timang, a windswept, flea-bitten place that was less a village than a few buildings huddled together for warmth. For the last little bit we kept leap-frogging a man carrying the biggest, heaviest pack I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t really a pack, but a big wire box. It came from below his knees to above his head, was as wide as his shoulders and easily half a meter deep. It was strapped to his shoulders and waist and supported with a strap around his forehead. If I had to guess I’d say it weighed fifty kilograms - and he’d just carried it up the same steep trail we’d taken. He looked dead on his feet. As we passed, I couldn’t help but notice that his calves were bigger around than most men’s thighs.

We stopped for lunch in Thanchowk, having come 10km and up 670m. The last bit of the trail was an insult - we had to descend fifty meters to a bridge across a gorge and then climb right back up to the village. The only thing that kept us going was the thought of tea at the top and that it was all downhill after Thanchowk to the end of the day. We stopped in a hideously-decorated teahouse (a poster of a bride riding a yak with her new husband in a polyester leisure suit?) for the biggest thermos of tea ever. The British were there too, but Christian had already gone on. My entertainment for lunch was an adorable little girl who was in love with the camera. She was sneaky too - she went to rummage through an open pack from some other group. Their guide pretended to be a monster and stomped after her waving hiking poles. She thought he was serious and was terrified and crying. He obviously felt bad but she wasn’t going near him after that, so it was up to me to console her. No way was I going to wipe that filthy little face, though.

The next few kilometres to Koto were all beautiful downhill slopes. Lovely cliffs reared up on either side of the river, and crazily-shaped terraces of corn marched down. The trees all changed to conifers at once and the smell was wonderful. I’d hadn’t realized I’d missed that smell. We passed a few tiny villages where they were collecting the pine needles into giant piles - either for fuel or compost, I’m not sure. This struck me as deliriously funny because we’d have to go looking for hay in a needle-stack. Nobody else thought it was funny, though. It’s okay, I’m used to that.

The rain started as we reached the district capital of Chame around 3:30. Bright lights, big city! Well, a few more stone buildings, anyway, and a couple of bars. We entered the town just as a big donkey caravan was leaving. The lead donkeys were all decorated with head-plumes like Las Vegas showgirls, were covered with bells, and seemed quite pleased with themselves. Each donkey behind them had progressively fewer and smaller bells until the last, who had none at all. Maybe he was being punished for something? We saw a lot of donkeys in pastures by the trail, and realized the ugly truth that underneath the pack saddles are often huge weeping sores and raw patches where the skin has been scraped off. They eventually scar over and the hair grows in white, but until then it must be so painful. No wonder they always look so unhappy on the trail. It takes away a lot of the charm of the donkey trains, for me.

As we came into town, one of the first things we saw was Christian’s distinctive red thermal sweater hanging from a line at a guesthouse, which made the decision easy for which place to stop at. Unfortunately the owner wasn’t around and we had to wait half an hour for someone to show up and give us a room. I was getting pretty chilled and damp by that time. It was nice to have a warm shower, but the walk outside from the shower to our room nearly froze me. The temperature is dropping pretty quickly as we gain altitude, and we’re wearing most of our clothes already.

The others went out to shoot pool at one of the bars, and Sheryl went out to look around the town and take pictures. I stayed in to try and fix her disintegrating pack (a lost cause). I’m really uninspired to take any photos, so far on the trek. The light has been so bad - grey and ugly. And I have to keep my big, heavy camera in my pack, which makes it very hard to get to. Sheryl, with her small camera around her neck, and Ben with his in his front pack, are much quicker on the draw than I am and have already shot anything interesting before I can get my camera out. I’ve tried to keep the camera around my neck, but it’s awkward and heavy, and swings around all over the place alternately choking me and smashing into my groin. I’ll have to give this some thought.

16km today and a net gain of 810m altitude in six and a half hours of walking. Our bodies are getting a bit tougher and don’t notice the punishment as much, now.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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