Vacation Annapurna, part 2

Pokhara to Ghorapani, days 4–5

I was in debt and getting the hell out of Pokhara. Every day we had been in Pokhara, we had done little else (especially myself) than run errands and prepare for our trip around the Annapurna circle.

Once again, Andrew out did me as the lightest packer. All he brought was a child’s backpack that he’d bought in Birtamod the night before he left. The backpack broke the morning we left Narayanghat as we were coming down the stairs at Shana’s place. It just fell of his back. So Andrew bought a backpack, and I bought a Nikon N60. I had photos to take.

A goat and I share the roof of a bus on our way from Pokhara to near Beni for our trek..

A goat and I share the roof of a bus on our way from Pokhara to near Beni for our trek..

On Wednesday morning, October 9 (day 4), we met for breakfast at place called the Lemon Tree. It had the standard Lakeside menu of expensive quasi-Western fare. We’d meet and get on a bus headed for Nayalpul, where we’d get off and begin our trek.

All of this happens just as we’d planned except for the meeting part. Suddenly, folks couldn’t remember if we said we would meet to take a bus to Baglum, on the way to Nayapul, or if we would meet at the Baglum bus park in Pokhara. We just left wondering if we’d see André and Naomi again.

The ride Nayalpul was spectacular. The bus was stuffed full of people, and some folks got to sit on top of the bus. (Peace Corps can terminate, i.e., fire, a PCV for riding on top of a bus.) There was a goat up there to keep people entertained.

We had vacation for the next two weeks for Dashain, the festival’s climax being the sacrificing of goats. As the bus lurched into the hills, we were passed by herds of goats slathered in colorful paints to mark ownership. Like goats to the slaughter.

Here, I consider the slaughter to come once these goats reach Pokhara for Dashain sacrifice.

Here, I consider the slaughter to come once these goats reach Pokhara for Dashain sacrifice.

After an incredible bus ride, we arrived in Nayalpul ready to hit the trail. We bought some boiled eggs and descended into the city to cross the bridge to the ACAP office, where we could enter the conservation area.

As we walked single file through the muddy streets of Nayalpul, I saw a Tibetan woman wind up for a big spit, and before I could do anything, her spit splattered on my left thigh.

Naramroo, Didi! I said in a shocked and confused voice, the caboose in our train.

Then just five feet away, I came upon Moser, who had paused along the road. I too paused to stare at an incredible sight. A man, doubled over and nearly crouching, mumbling loudly in the street, was vigorously flogging, with a four-foot switch made of reed, a duck. We were speechless.

As the man was beating one duck, a second duck was fleeing in the other direction. Why in the world was a man beating a duck? A duck? For the remainder of the vacation, during dinner we would discuss discuss possible motives for beating a duck.

Die you duck! You’re so damn cute and quacky! Die!

We could never figure out why. There’s no explaining it.

The hike that day was straight up. That section of the trail is known as the 3,000 Stairs. Supposedly, we climbed 3,000 stairs and 3,000 feet (1000 m-ish).

Day one of the trekking begins, with each of us shaven and rosy cheeked.

Day one of the trekking begins, with each of us shaven and rosy cheeked.

We had left Pokhara, 884 m, began walking in Nayalpul, 1000 m, and arrived in Ulleri at 1960 m. Granted, the bus had done a lot of work for us, but my legs felt like they’d taken 3,000 steps.

The view from Ulleri is incredible. Our hotel sat on a ridge and faced some of the lesser peaks of the Annapurnas. I’d never seen mountains that big so close before. I can’t describe the view.

After we had our hot showers, thanks to solar power, we sat and drank chiye and prepared for our evening meal. I was ready for some dhal bhaat and perhaps even some maasu.

When we talked to Didi, she told us that the only maasu available was goat and that we’d have to pay for the whole goat, since we were the only folks there interested in Nepali food. It was a bit expensive, so we passed. Another day, we said.

The next day, Thursday (day 5), we embarked on another uphill battle towards Ghorapani. I would call the hike quaint and pleasant and not difficult at all. The path has been set with slate rocks and is really just short of being paved.

There’s a small village every 20 minutes or so offering patios with comfy chairs and pastries from some mystery German bakery or some such nonsense. It’s easy to take your time on the trail.

From Ulleri, the scenery became denser with greenery cut by frequent waterfalls and small brooks. On several occasions we took breaks alongside streams so clear you’d think the water was safe.

As we made our way into the outskirts of Ghorapani Kara, I saw a porter carrying a basketful of chickens. We thought quick and bought a couple to take to our lodge just up the hill, in case they didn’t have any maasu available.

Which they didn’t. In fact, you’d think that the folks at this lodge had never seen a train of ten trekkers arrive with a pair of chickens before by the way they reacted to us. Still, we settled in a scoped out a basketball course of a nearby school.

The views from Ghorapani (2750 m) were even more spectacular that I could imagine. Our lodge sat on the top of the ridge and faced Tukuche Peak (6920 m), Dhampus Peak (6012 m), and Dhaulagiri (8167 m), the seventh tallest mountain in the world.

In the middle of enjoying the beautiful scenery, the Dai came to me and said, You’re going to have to kill the chickens. I’m a Buddhist. The cook’s a Buddhist. And there’s no one else around to do it. We’ll clean them and cook them, but you’re going to kill them.

With khukuri in hand, I prepare to chop the head off a chicken that would be dinner.

With khukuri in hand, I prepare to chop the head off a chicken that would be dinner.

It wasn’t bad or good news, just not the sort of thing you expect while your gazing at world’s most beautiful mountains, You’re going to have to kill your dinner. Enjoy the views.

I stepped up to the plate and Kara said she’d kill one, too. The Dai was shocked and disgusted, You are girl—you can’t kill chicken, he said, barely ruffling Kara’s feathers but instead lessened the likelihood of the chicken’s survival.

The time finally came and we were called to the back of the lodge, to where the chickens are kept and killed. I was handed a khukuri, the banana-shaped knife and an icon of Nepal, and I realized that I was going to chop-off a chicken’s head.

First, Kara would hold a chicken and I’d kill it and then we’d switch. As Kara held the chicken’s legs and wings I took the chicken’s head in my left hand.

Just do it quickly, sobbed the vegetarian, Laurel. Please don’t make it suffer, Scott. The pressure was on. Laurel had just explained to me that she was a vegetarian because she herself couldn’t kill her food, ergo she had no place eating meat. Moser stood fast with my camera, ready to capture this moment in my life, for better or worse.

In my first swipe I killed the chicken, almost taking its head completely off with a single blow; however, the head dangled on. Laurel screamed and I saw red. According to those present, I went into a rage, wildly hacking at the neck in an maddened attempt to completely severe the head, but never managing to get the head completely off.

Finally, the Dai came to me and I gathered myself, noting that I’d splattered some blood on my pants. He bled the chicken while I stood open-mouthed with a soiled khukuri in my hand.

The khukuri, the pool of blood, and the leftover chicken head remained.

The khukuri, the pool of blood, and the leftover chicken head remained.

Kara was white and in no shape to participate in the bloody death of another creature. Colin took the reigns and I held up my end of the previous deal and held the wings and legs for Colin.

Colin took the knife and readied himself nonchalantly. With brutal apathy, Colin took a first swipe at the chicken’s neck with about as much force as if he had just let the knife fall.

The chicken let out and awful squawk! and struggled in my hands. Colin quickly realized that he had to get down to business and broke into a frenzy trying to kill the chicken.

Alas, the chicken’s neck kept finding its way into the narrow part of the oddly shaped khukuri. Moser and the Dai counted a total of nineteen blows before the chicken was forcibly shuffled off this mortal coil.

Colin crouched and had his photo taken with chicken’s head in one hand and the khukuri in the other. Then he took a nap.

I went back inside the lodge and watched Moser and Liz play basketball with some of the hotel folks. I didn’t see it happen, but it wasn’t long before Moser was helping a maimed Liz into the lodge.

She had fallen on her ankle and badly sprained it. In a matter of half an hour the ankle was so swollen I couldn’t put both hands around it. The ankle became an ominous black and red color, as if it were an impending storm to rain on our parade.

Ironically, Liz was the resident nurse on our trek. She made an awful patient. We made plans of who would stay behind with Liz if she couldn’t come along and whether it would be easier to go on to Jomsom or hike down to Nayalpul and catch a bus back to Pokhara.

Liz wouldn’t hear of it. She kept it on ice and elevated and even said she thought she’d be able come along on the morning hike to the dubiously named Poon Hill (3210 m), an hour hike from Ghorapani and the place for incredible views of the sunrise and the Annapurnas.

That night, we ate chicken.