The India and Nepal Diaries Part 4
Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
Typically, we got up late and after packing, settling the bill and going to find a café for breakfast it was already heading on 9am. I had a massive bowl of banana porridge, Leon had toast, we discussed where we were in Pokhara and more importantly which direction it actually was that we needed to go (our map only showed half of Pokhara). Then we went and bought a farewell cake and set off. For the next 7 days we were going to be trekkers.
The sun was beating down, we had no idea how big Pokhara was or indeed quite where we were going and after 10 minutes of walking a taxi pulled up. The driver convinced us that we were a long way away from where the trek started and from where we wanted to be, in the city outskirt region of Bagar. We got in. It was lucky as well because, though we didn’t know it at the time, Pokhara is the biggest city in Nepal in terms of land coverage and we were miles away.
The Taxi driver chatted all the way, but repeatedly said as we drove, “No guide? Just you two? Ok I take you Bagar, but after that I have no idea. No idea. But I point you Bagar”.
The start of the trek was fantastic. We instantly took several wrong turns and had to ask a load of people to help us get back on the right track. However, once we were on it we were having a whale of a time. We crossed a phenomenal wire bridge spanning a gorge with an incredible white water glacial river at the bottom.
When we had initially researched the trip, it had been our understanding that during the summer months (the monsoon season) Nepal tended to be warm but very cloudy, wet and generally just pretty damp. Indeed, BBC weather showed perpetual thunderstorm icons over the whole of Nepal for the entirety of the three months of summer, but the bad weather we expected just didn’t seem to exist. We walked and walked with the sun remaining incredibly hot in the sky and realised we should probably have brought a hat and sunglasses instead of water proofs and a bottle of sun cream which just didn’t quite seem to cut it.
After walking most of the afternoon, getting lost, getting re-directed and getting hot and sweaty climbing what must have been greater than 40-degree slopes, we met a young man running. He stopped for a conversation and proceeded to show us the way to the next village. A process that included wading through shallow fords, climbing up banks and balancing along the terraced levees of rice paddies. It was very good fun but we were knackered. Our friend had to return home for work, leaving us for the last bit and with no reason to keep our energy up we slowed down to a crawl, having to drag our feet every meter.
Upon arrival into the first settlement in hours we met a man who we had previously seen on a motor bike and got invited to come and stay at his guest house in the next village. Now sunburnt, grimy and covered in a film of sun cream and salt crystals that had crystallised out of our sweat, we trudged on towards the town of Mohoriya.
The final stretch of the way two young boys popped up, studied our maps with us and babbled to us in broken but understandable English. They invited us to come and stay with them as well. Many children seem to speak better English than their parents and, as we discovered, were always smiley and seemed to give pretty good directions. A game developed where we each had to produce a new entertaining sound and everyone else would try and imitate it.
We arrived in Mohoriya, met the family and brother of the man who ran the guest house and were then shown up to the showering spot. A pipe came out of the bank and from its end, blissfully cool spring water poured. We washed in the evening twilight.
As we dried ourselves the brother came down to invited us up to his house where he had two cups of lemon grass tea waiting for us. I can safely say I have never had a cup of tea nicer. It was herbaly, hot and sweet, almost too sweet, but so good after a long days walking. After sitting and talking for a long time we returned to the guest house where they had made the most amazing meal of rice, stew, poppadoms and chicken. We ate and watched as the darkening night was pierced by hundreds of pinprick white lights made by LED’s in the houses around the valley. The whole scene was somewhere between a black canvas studded with stars and some fairy village from a Disney fantasy movie.
Our room was an attic over a small barn. It was filled with a naked lightbulb, a single socket and two rock solid beds, but it was glorious. We slept well and after rising experimented with the house hold squat loo. This was our first experience, having been in hostels and hotels with western loos up till this point. (On the whole squat loos were pretty much everywhere and were now the only thing available). It was genuinely not a bad experience and it even had a hose to wash one’s arse with if there was no toilet roll available.
We went to say good bye to the family and give them some money for accommodation only to find a breakfast of pancakes and tea ready for us. The pancakes were sweet, thick and doughy, but with a crispy fried top and bottom. It didn’t appear to be the norm to eat them with anything.
We had been told that the trek to our next destination of Sikles would probably take us two days, but we were hopeful that we could do better and so, with an excess of energy and excitement, we walked hard and fast out of the village, down into the valley and back up the other side. Yet again, the day was sunny and hot and we soon started perspiring, but this was the last of our worries for down in the valley it was humid and our main concern was leaches. They were everywhere, of all sizes, creeping up our boots and trousers. Worst of all, when you attempted to flick them off they became little gelatinous balls of snot, sticking to your fingers and trying to latch onto your skin.
Finally out of the valley we found that where we had to walk and what our map showed did not match up. We asked some women the directions and they pointed up the hill. The map showed us going along contour lines, or in other words, flat.
At some point, Leon turned to me and said “Happy Birthday”. I’d forgotten. Today, of all days was my 19th Birthday. “Shit” I replied, “how’d that happen”. We decided to buy a couple of beers later and a cake (if we could find one) to celebrate. We carried on.
As we walked we saw many people working, making fences, maintaining the track or roads after washouts and looking after their animals (cows, water buffalo and oxen mainly). Above all we saw people working in rice paddies, planting and picking, or occasionally in a crop of maiz. Having so many people around was perfect for us who, unguided, needed all the help we could get.
The sun beat down. We had been hand washing all our clothes and so I stuck a pair of wet pants onto the back of my rucksack to dry and my damp facecloth on my head to keep me cool. It helped but I’m sure I looked crazy.
At about 11 we came across a man walking the same direction as us carrying a branch. As we walked we chatted about the beauty of the land and which country Leon and I were from, and then he turned to me and said “in this country there is communism, how do we solve this problem?” Slightly taken aback I asked him what he meant. Apparently, they had recently had an election and the communist party had gained 75%… though 75% of what I could not work out. He asked me again how we should solve this problem. I wasn’t totally sure how qualified I was to answer this so I gave a rather long and meandering explanation, most of which he probably didn’t totally get, but it went along the lines of: talk to people, have a free press, make sure people and the state are honest and most of all get as many people out to vote as possible, because in doing so that was democracy in action. Not communism. I even managed to chuck in a couple of references and comparisons to Brexit and the current changes in the British political system mainly because I could talk about them with some actual knowledge.
He listened intently and we chatted further having a really interesting conversation, then he went to a side, weaved his branch into a fence he was creating and turned back. We thanked each other and I rushed off to catch up with Leon who had outpaced me while distracted by the conflab.
At the bottom of a slope we found a waterfall just bellow the next village we were aiming for. Hot and sweaty, but making good time we went for a dip. The water was blissfully cold and the falling water from the rocks above was the perfect massage for aching shoulders.
10 minutes later we were walking up the hill into the next village. This was the place we had originally been told we should stop for the night, but it had only just gone 12 o’clock so lunch and then carrying on seemed a better idea. Interestingly the village centre consisted of a guest house, a shop and a small café. That was pretty much it.
We sat in the café playing Russian Whist while waiting for our food. As far as we could understand there was only one option on the menu; instant noodles cooked with an egg. When it arrived though, it was a superb meal with the noodles in a sort of stew like liquid. Probably a pretty perfect meal for travellers – carbs and protein.
For a while we played cards, letting our food settle and relaxing. Then we were off again.
As it turns out walking higher into the Himalayas consists of a lot of uphill walking, and indeed, for the rest of the day, we pretty much climbed our way up tracks, steps, and more tracks and steps. However far we went, our destination never appeared to get closer according to the locals, and there were always more steps.
In the mid-late afternoon, it became cloudy and started to rain, which was a relief for our sun heated bodies. Somehow we were feeling pretty good, though now worrying about how long this last section of our journey was taking and the lateness of the hour. For some reason everyone had disappeared as well. As we progressively got more tired and the sun got lower we started singing songs. Anything in a decent 4/4 to keep our pace and spirits up. The track sank and then rose. It was almost dark. We kept going, stopping every now and then to catch our breath. Finally, we came across a house. I ran up to the door, peered inside.” How far to Sikles” I asked. 12 fingers were shown to me by the woman inside. 10 followed by 2. I hoped to god she meant minutes.
With new energy we marched on finally making it to a village which we quickly realised was ‘Parche’, the village before Sikles. In exhaustion we sat on the steps of some official looking building, then went in to ask how far Sikles was. Half an hour was our answer. They offered us accommodation should we need it. We went outside feeling down trodden to work out what to do now.
Leon turned to me and said “Silas, we can’t walk all this way and not make it to Sikles”. I looked at him, then laughed, “well we had better rock onwards then”. We got up and walked back into the darkness. Down the road we went, then off across a bridge. No signposts of course – we had had the continuous problems throughout the day with tracks splitting and us not having a clue which one to take. Our map showed none of them. On the other side we found some more bloody steps. I got my head torch out and slowly we worked our way up.
Perfectly placed within view of the top step was a bar, a small low-slung building with wooden benches and tables inside. We practically ran over, “Namaste, is this Sikles?”. There were three people in the bar. “ Namaste! Yes, yes this is Sikles, come in, sit down. What’s your country? Where have you come from? May I welcome you to Sikles, we are very proud of Sikles”. We enquired about hostels, hotels, guest houses, what ever there was and the third and most chatty man smiled and goes “Yes, yes, my very own brother owns the Annapurna guest house, come with me.” Exhausted and achy we followed him two minutes down a track to a heavenly place with toilets and showers signposted outside.
We step in, drop our bags and collapse in a chair. I am so exhausted that the moment I sit my adrenaline drops and every part of my body goes numb like I’ve got pins and needles. I start feeling faint. Our new friend sits with us, talking constantly telling us about the place and everything going on. Somehow my Birthday gets mentioned and a Tuborg beer is bought. I so desperately need something in my system that I start gulping it down the moment it arrives. To our joyous surprise the owners of the establishment bring out food: rice, bean stew and fried chip like potatoes (salty), it tastes so good. We thank them repeatedly. It’s late!
Having had very little to eat all day, the beer was making me feel very light headed. Good nights were exchanged. We had showers, went to our rooms, feet landing heavily and clumsily on the stairs and discovered proper beds with duvets.
I slept like a log.
As the bird flies we think we travelled about 15 – 20 km this day. That might not sound like much but it really is. We rose about 800 meters and were doing regular drops and elevations each of about 200 meters.
Having done such a mammoth hike the day before we decided to have a rest day, before starting the main section of our trek; going up and over the mountain.
We rose late and went down stairs to another breakfast of the same doughy pancakes with the addition of some more salty fried potato chips. I can safely say that oil and salt has never tasted so nice nor somehow felt so good for you.
Our morning was incredibly slow and relaxed and mainly consisted of washing clothes and writing. After this we were taken by the guy from the hostel, his brother who had brought us to the hostel and a random other, slightly hung over looking man, down to the local culture and conservation museum.
This other man’s relationship to us was not clear at all. We had no idea why he was there, though we did initially mistake him for the smiling brother who had befriended us the night before. It’s interesting to note that though people’s facial shapes are incredibly different, across cultures it is sometimes very difficult to tell people apart or recognise those who you have already met. This man’s whole demeanour and style was totally different to the man we thought he was. And yet this slightly hung over, post rough night looking bloke was who was here and so we assumed he was our smiling friend. We even chatted to him as though we had already met, before realising, when our friend did finally arrive, that we had not.
This inability to distinguish facial shape differences had been repeated in revers as well. By this time Leon and I had been mistaken for brothers about three times (a trend that would continue regularly though out the rest of our trip) – something that had never happened at home.
The Museum was amazing, with lots of local traditional items on display including cloth, work tools, musical instruments, cooking implements and a selection of pickled wild-life. The 5 of us were the only people in there and we ambled about with the three tour guides giving us a running commentary on everything.
On the first floor of the building there was an elevated papier-mâché model and map of the local mountains and trails. We realised immediately that the route we intended to take, going up towards the Lamjung Himal mountain region and past the glacial Dudh Pokhari Lake, was going to be one hell of an undertaking that would probably take us 4 days at least and there were no villages up there.
We returned back to our guest house to eat and discus what to do next. Looking at the map we realised there was really only three directions we could go: along our intended trek into the mountains, or to turn right and go along smaller paths which didn’t go so high and on which there were still very few settlements, or to go back towards Pokhara and try another route. Turning back seemed a disappointing concept. We knew that there were trekkers’ huts along the mountain trail and we wanted to see the view so we resolved to give it a shot.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sighting out our path for the next day, planning and being convinced by our Nepalese friends that we should take a guide. They even went so far as to get a local guide down to talk to us. However, because our trip was not a circular one it did not really work for him. Indeed for us it wouldn’t be great either as we just did not have the money. In the end we decided to go at it without a guide, but we spent a long time talking and researching our track with him instead. Then, much later than intended, we headed for bed.
While considering our options, we had walked past some water powered grain mills, which were really interesting. Each one had a flutter wheel attached directly to the top stone of a single set of mill stones and a person sat inside feeding in grain into the top of them.
Sikles has two shops and lots of free roaming water buffalo. Earlier in the day we had made a food list to last us both for the next 4 days. This consisted of 6 packets of instant noodles (to eat dry), 4 packets of biscuits, 4 packets dried fruit and nut, half a packet of Bombay mix we already had, 6 mini snickers and a bottle of coke. We were quite limited as there was very little else available in the local shop huts.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 5