April 20: Woke up feeling much better and got on the road by 8. A little outside Dharapani we met American Ian (just finished medical school, slight with dark hair and mobile features), Slovenian Robert (a bald giant chef who has just moved to Australia), and their Nepali guide Indra; we walked with them on and off throughout the day.
For the first time we caught sight of really tall mountains, snow glinting in the sun. Apart from one tough hour, the trail was flatter and easier than it had been the prior two days, for which I was thankful. No more puking – now I just needed to bring my lungs and legs up to speed.
We spent the night in the regional capital, Chame, a charming grey stone town nestled between peaks. By capital I mean that it had a hospital and a few shops as well as guesthouses strung along the path. The guesthouses are all fairly similar, but some have more amenities than others. If you’re with a guide he will take you to the guesthouse of his choice, which at first gave me flashbacks to our cunning driver in India, but things don’t seem to be so dramatic here: the guides receive free bed and board at any guesthouse, and I think they tend to choose the ones where they like the food the best or where they have a cousin working.
It was in Chame that I surrendered to being taken care of by Indra — Ian and Robert’s guide — who eventually became my own. Once I let him tell us what guesthouse to stay in it was all over; it was Indra’s doing that Roberto and I and French-Canadian Hugo (who we had also met along that trail that day) were gathered into the fold.
April 21: The trail continued to get easier today, becoming a two-track jaunt through pine forests, though with one hair-raising portion cut away into the rock far above the river. The trick in these cases is to make sure you get through the scary part before a troupe of donkeys comes along and either mushes you into the rock face or pushes you off the cliff. Luckily you can hear their bells for a quarter of a mile.
We made Lower Pisang by three o’clock, so had a lot of time to sit around before our normal eight o’clock bedtime. There was a singalong organized by Indra and one of his friends; Nepali guides sing pretty much all the time, on the trail or otherwise.
April 22: Hard decision to make this morning: take the easier low road or the much more arduous and longer high path that was advertised to have incredible views? By this time Italian Roberto and I were having some serious differences and I wanted to get away from him; I was also feeling chicken about the climb. But Ian made enough fun of me that I agreed to take the higher path with them. And it was worth it: after two hours slowly trudging up hot stone switchbacks we were rewarded with the sight of Annapurna II looming over the valley, soon joined by III and IV and Gangapurna to the North.
We had a bit of a setback at the top when Ian, taking a photograph of himself jumping in the air, landed badly on his knee. He thought for most of the day that he had torn his ACL, and the next five hours of the hike to Manang were not only long but fraught with misery for him, thinking his trek was over. Luckily there is a medical outpost in Manang, and the doctor assured him he had only sprained his knee. Normally one stays an extra day in Manang to acclimatize for the altitude; we determined we would stay two days to allow Ian’s knee a chance to heal.
April 23 &24: Rest days in Manang. When one calls a town in the middle of nowhere Nepal a regional capital, it doesn’t exactly mean much. There’s more there than in the tiny villages, but there still aren’t any vehicles on the streets (thank goodness) or any goods that haven’t been brought in by porter or donkey. There are, however, a number of small movie theaters in Manang, prompted by the fact that large numbers of trekkers stay there multiple days to rest up before the pass. Our first night we saw Seven Years in Tibet, a perennial favorite of the circuit crowd. On the second night we went for Himalayan Caravan, a docu-drama about a yak-herding tribe in the Dolpa region of Nepal. Robert had seen it before and recommended it, but he went to sleep as soon as it started, leaving Ian and me to recoil in horror from the main character, an elderly tribal leader whose stage direction had clearly been to yell in the direction of the camera at all times. For the duration of the trip Shouty Grandpa was invoked every five minutes.
[ I had hoped to finish writing about the circuit and get to where I am today, in Ladakh, but the electricity situation here seems to be just as dicey as in Nepal, so it may be a while before I finish.]