Larjung to Tatopani; Trek day fifteen; A very long day; Orchids and pot forests and organic pumpkin soup

From Larjung to Tatopani on the map was one long, long downhill grade. Sheryl wasn’t feeling very well, but I thought she’d be able to manage it. I thought it would be best if we could reach the town of Tatopani by nightfall, a distance of 26km - by far the longest day of the trek to date. There were good, solid reasons for that - if we were able to make Tatopani in one day and Ghorepani by the end of the next day then we’d be in a position to climb up Poon Hill to see the sun rise, and we’d be able to leave our packs at Ghorepani. If we weren’t able to time it right, we’d have to haul them up to the top of the hill and back down. Sheryl was far from convinced by this logic, but I reckoned she’d speak up if she couldn’t handle it, and she never did.

Twenty-six kilometres was a lot, though, I’ll admit that - even if it was nearly all downhill. It made for a long day. We tried to start early from Larjung, but breakfast took an hour and a half to come. We were very annoyed because we’d actually decided to make an early start for once, and were all packed and ready to go. We really should have put our order in the night before, but the family that ran the guesthouse went to bed at eight o’clock without us noticing it. We realized there was going to be a problem when we saw the cook head out the kitchen door to the garden. We joked that she was going to collect the eggs, but when she came back we saw that she’d gone out to dig the potatoes. We sat there dying of hunger while the she made our food one dish at a time on the kitchen’s single pan.

The trail was flat for the first five kilometres, then changed to steep downhill switchbacks. We crossed the bridge over the gorge to Kokethanti to get away from the dusty road and back onto an actual trail. The drawback of this approach became clear when the trail started going up instead of down. It was a nice change for he first five minutes and then it got old again - especially because every uphill step meant another downhill step before the day was done.

We came into the village of Ghasa around noon. We wanted to stop for lunch there, but the place was a ghost town. A couple of kids and a bunch of chickens were hanging around, and that was it. Sheryl was in bad shape by this point, but there was nowhere to stop for food. We finally found a place a couple of kilometres on at the outskirts of the village. It was the only place open and the only restaurant in Nepal I’d ever seen advertising organic food. Most of the food in Nepal is so organic that it barely stays put on your plate, so I was a bit puzzled at the need to specifically advertise it. The theme of Slow Food continued over lunch, which took two hours to prepare. I blame Sheryl’s pumpkin soup, because my omelette probably didn’t need so long. Delicious food, though, and Sheryl was happy at the enforced rest because she got to lie down for awhile.

The few kilometres after Ghasa were all steep, rocky uphill and downhill trails. We’d descended far enough that the air was getting thick and steamy again, and we were dripping sweat. The plant life was all temperate rainforest, with orchids growing on the tree trunks and vast forests of marijuana plants stinking up the place. No wonder the hippies that flocked here in the 60s thought this place was Shangri-La.

At some point we discovered that Sheryl had left her water bottle at the restaurant - I think this is bottle number 3 for the trip and it’s going to be expensive to replace. We were too far to go back for it, though. We were too far ahead to go back for her Ugly Hat when that got left behind, too - not a good day for her all around.

My knees were aching from all the steep downhill stone stairs, and I was very happy to leave the rocky trail behind and cross the bridge back to the road on the west side of the river at Rupsechhahara. We reached Dana at 1400m altitude around 4:45 and had to decided whether to stop or go on to Tatopani. We decided to go on, since our map said it was only about an hour and a half and 4km to go, with a loss of 200m height. I should have remembered how bad our maps were - it was more like six or seven kilometres of dusty road walking. I’d fallen in a stream at the beginning of the day and soaked one foot, and the walking had given me a huge blister. Sheryl’s feet weren’t any better, and so the extra distance to Tatopani was a bit of a trial. Night was coming on as we walked, but at least we didn’t have to worry about getting lost - Tatopani would be impossible to miss.

The views were beautiful, though. We kept looking backward to see the snow-capped mountains and the encroaching frame of green hills. Waterfalls coursed down the sides of the gorge, and layers of green terraced fields laced the slopes ahead. I felt again the Tolkienesque emotions I’d experienced when descending Thorung-La Pass. The strangest sight, though, was when we passed a spot where the river split around a tall, narrow island. When the separate streams rejoined a few hundred meters later, one of them was chocolate-brown and the other was a bright chemical sky-blue. The two colours swirled and eddied as they mixed on the far side. To my disappointment, the muddy brown swallowed the bright blue with hardly any effect.

We finally arrived in Tatopani at dusk, just past six, weary and footsore and with a police escort - four cops in Nepali blue camouflage walking ahead of us on the trail (that was a new experience for me. I’ve had police escorts out of town, but never on the way in). Tatopani, unfortunately for our feet, is on top of a low plateau. We’d somehow ended up on the wrong road and were at the bottom. We found a steep stone staircase to take us up, and that was just the last straw. It was only fifteen or twenty meters high, but it felt like hundreds.

We hadn’t expected a hot shower, after dark on a cloudy day as it was (most lodge showers are solar) but we got one anyway, and it was something close to a religious experience for me. After a 26-kilometre day and a loss on paper of 1360m of altitude (not counting all the extra ups and downs) we were both wiped out, and I don’t think either of us lasted more than fifteen minutes after dinner before we were asleep.

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.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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