Chame to Upper Pisang; Trek day four

Day four of the trek started miserable and rainy. Everyone was in a terrible mood and in no hurry to get out onto the trail. Breakfast was a very slow affair. When the time came to check out we got another lesson in why it’s important to check the addition on the bill at these places - everyone’s total was wrong. Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence, though - our total was too low. Despite what several ex-girlfriends might have to say on the subject, however, I am not a complete bastard, and we left enough to cover the real total.

We waited for the rain to stop, and straggled out after 9. We wasted ten or fifteen minutes waiting for Ben to haggle for rain-pants. We eventually got bored and left them, figuring they’d catch up almost immediately anyway.

The seven kilometres from Chame to Bhratang was two hours of very mixed terrain - lots of gradual slopes on rock roads and trails through dripping wet coniferous forest. As we walked we kept seeing the same two Nepali guys carrying gigantic steel girders on their backs. The girders were far longer than the men were tall, and looked incredibly heavy. They couldn’t go more than a hundred meters without stopping for a rest, which they did by simply leaning backward and letting the load rest on the ground. Christian told us later that he’d talked to them a bit, and they told him that their loads were 50 and 90kg and were bound for the airstrip at Humde, twenty kilometres away. I had to shake my head. I’ve mentioned before that Nepalis prefer to do things in the hardest way possible, and this was a perfect example. I mean, they’re going to an airstrip. Instead of spending all this energy walking four lousy girders up eighty kilometres high into the mountains, can’t some sort of bulk airlift be arranged once? In the end, as always in Nepal, it comes down to the fact that there’s a lot more cheap manpower than there is machinery.

It was a fairly boring walk to Bhratang, livened only by the presence of the occasional runaway cow and by a party of Nepal police in their slate-blue camouflage with a couple of porters carrying big packs. I suggested that the porters were actually prisoners on punishment detail and we should get them to carry our packs too.

Despite the rain, the pine forest was beautiful and covered in fungus. Sheryl noticed a bright orange jelly hanging in clusters from live tree branches - very neat. I had decent energy today, though not much for the uphills. Sheryl’s hip was bothering her. Not much of a surprise - it was raining. So we took it slowly. Today is a short walking day, only 15km and a gain of 600m. It should take 5 or 6 hours by the book, so there’s plenty of time and no need to rush. There were amazing gorge views on this section, down sheer cliffs to the rushing water and sculpted rocks. One had a rippled brown and tan face like topaz.

Ben and Christian never did catch up with us on the trail, which made Sheryl worry constantly that we were on the wrong path, until we reached the village. They caught up with us there, just as I was taking pictures of a blue-painted monkey skull stuck on the wall of a building. Bhratang was miserable, monkey skulls aside, and we decided not to stop for tea. There were 5 or 6 other trekkers there as well. When the trail turned immediately after the village to grinding steep loose rock uphills, Sheryl told the Frenchmen to go ahead of us and we’d meet them at the next place. We let the other group pass as well - I hate having people breathing down my neck on the trail.

The sweaty uphill was worth it for the views. The weather started to clear and we were greeted with our first sight of snow, in big patches across on the other side of the gorge, seemingly right at our altitude. I haven’t seen snow or felt winter cold for almost a year and a half and the memory has faded, so I found the snow exciting and picturesque. The best view, though, was across the gorge, the magnificent, gigantic sloping Paungda Danda rock face in huge diagonal slabs coming down on a bulging slope. The rock was beautifully textured and its top was lost in the cloud, the whole lit by an amazing yellow-grey light. The weathering of the slope was obvious and as we walked we heard the grinding, cracking roar of a landslide. It went on for minutes. It could have been kilometres away, the way sound echoes in these valleys, but I found myself hoping that it didn’t mean anything bad for us.

We finally came out of the top of the climb into a nice, old, soft forest. The orange fungus was present here too, and we saw our first silver birch trees. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them. A rock road led downhill from there to the village of Dukhur Pokhari where we found Ben and Christian waiting for us. We stuck with them for the rest of the day, which was only about an hour and a half. This section was the best part of the trek so far, for me. Beautiful alpine meadows and moraines, lots of shaggy goats and little swampy lakes. This is the landscape I’ve been waiting for - I finally feel like I’m in the mountains. Even the sun came out to play. We began to dry out and there was good light for photos at last.

Sheryl and I were very happy, because between Bhratang and Dukhur Pokhari, we broke our altitude record. Previously we’d only been as high as 2,864m (at the summit of Mt. Triglav in Slovenia (though that was a brutal climb - see the dispatches for September 12th of last year for details). If nothing else, breaking our record meant that we could finally justify eating some of the Victory Chocolate that we’d hauled all the way up the trail.

Pisang was much bigger than I expected. The village is split into two, aptly named Lower Pisang and Upper Pisang. We passed through Lower Pisang at first, which looked like a normal enough Tibetan-influenced Nepali village. Crossing the river, we hauled ourselves up many, many stairs to Upper Pisang, which perched high above Lower Pisang. Straggling down the hill in many levels and covered in prayer-flags, with its buildings all stepped and with mud walls, Upper Pisang looked like nothing so much as a gigantic wasp-nest.

The British had reached here first and found a guesthouse. They’d arranged that the rooms would be free for all of us as long as we ate there, which was a good score. Unfortunately the one they’d chosen had no electricity or hot water, so we’ll stay stinky for tonight. Upper Pisang is freezing and windswept and we were shivering inside our sleeping bags despite wearing all our clothes. We’re only at 3300m now, which makes me a little concerned about how cold it’s going to be at the top of the trek a couple of thousand meters higher.

Oh, and we finally saw our first yak. Sheryl and I have been desperate to see yaks, reckoning that we weren’t really trekking in the Himalayas until we were in yak country. The British were scornful of this ambition, saying that yaks were just hairy cows, but I really wanted to see them just to know what they were like (and in fact, later on Bryn and Fiona were forced to admit that yaks were much better than just hairy cows). Sadly, our first yak didn’t count, because it was stuffed and standing in the courtyard of a lodge. We’d have to wait three more days until Yak Kharka to see real, live yaks.

Flourish

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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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