Vacation Annapurna, part 3

Ghorapani to Tukuche, days 6–8

Friday morning, October 11 (day 6), came early at 4:40 a.m. We’d have to be on top of Poon Hill (3210 m) by 6:00 a.m. to see the sunrise so we tried to gather ourselves in a civilized manner. Kara was on wake-up duty and after she roused us we all sleepily wandered into Liz’s dark room wondering if we’d find a frozen corpse.

Instead, Liz had wrapped her ankle and was tying her shoes for the morning hike as we looked on in groggy-eyed disbelief. Surely, this was ominous: hiker with hurt ankle and a week more of hiking ahead of her pushes herself on a unassuming, scenic hike only for something awful to happen.

Andrew doesn't trek, be blazes a path.

Andrew doesn't trek, be blazes a path.

Instead, we shrugged our shoulders and made our way topside. The hike was uneventful, mostly because at 5:00 a.m. the hike was in the dark. The first thing we saw at the top of the hill was an observation tower, and then a teahouse.

As we waited for the sun to give us some light, we drank hot chocolate and Nescafé. It wasn’t long before the hill became crowded with other trekkers. As the Sun started to warm us on the hill, the clouds covering the Himalayas cleared out.

The morning light began hitting the Annapurnas, which was a beautiful sight. Annapurna I (8091 m) was recognizably taller than the other mountains in the region. We didn’t have much time before the clouds came to cover the mountains.

We had a sense that we had come to a show where the curtain had been raised and then dropped. The show was over. We had some breakfast at the lodge and then began our hike to Tatopani. It was easy days hike mostly downward that Andrew, Kara, and I did with much leisure.

As we came into the village of Sikha, an adolescent kid came up to us asking, Do you want to buy a hat? The kid had no hats. Andrew about that. You can give me the money, and I will bring you a hat.

Our idea of satire. We met this kid along the way, bought some oranges from him, and made him pose.

Our idea of satire. We met this kid along the way, bought some oranges from him, and made him pose.

For some reason this kid really annoyed Andrew, who began telling him what an awful business the kid had. As the conversation went on we came into Sikha proper and found a kid selling oranges.

See, this kid has a good business. He is selling oranges, and he has them, but the lesson was lost on the kid. We bought a few oranges and began talking with the younger kid. He was a spritey kid with a ragged baseball cap.

He offered to be our porter and carry our bags for us to Tatopani. The kid was about eight or nine. In the end, we liked the kid’s personality enough to hire him on as our guide to Tatopani, an hour away on a straight path.

The kid had a great vibe to him, sort of street smarts for the Himals. But he was our guide. We asked him questions:

Us: If you are going to be a guide, shouldn’t you carry a khukuri?

Kid: No. If I carry a khukuri, people will think I am a Maoist.

Us: Do all Maoists carry a khukuri?

Kid: Yes. If they are carrying a knife, they are a Maoists. Or a farmer.

We lost a lot of time being goofy with this kid. We would send him ahead to talk to other groups of tourists or other Nepalis to make sure there was no danger. The kid liked our games and pandered to our childishness.

Finally we came to the bridge that would take us to Tatopani and we had to say goodbye to our guide, but not before we took a picture of him carrying all of our bags.

When we got into Tatopani we found Liz waiting for us. She’d raced ahead thinking that she was behind us on the trail. She hadn’t died, but beat us all to Tatopani by a solid hour or so. We ditched our bags and made our way to the town’s namesake, the tato pani.

The city is next to a hot springs and has a couple of pools full of naturally hot water. Tatopani (1190 m) is located in the middle of a valley and so the scenery wasn’t as spectacular as it’d been the past couple of days, but the springs sure were nice.

From Kalopani, the Annapurna range was right above us it seemed.

From Kalopani, the Annapurna range was right above us it seemed.

Saturday (day 7) was going to be the toughest day yet. The hike to Kalopani was straight up all day long. We’d ascend roughly 1,340 m before reaching Kalopani. It was a long, unpleasant day filled with stunning scenery. At one point we could see landslides washing away the side of an opposing mountain.

It took several seconds for the sounds of crashing rocks to get to our ears. We went slowly for various reasons. Most of us were getting sore, and Colin was feeling ill and lagging behind. When we finally made our way up to the continuous villages of Lete and Kalopani, we were at 2530 m and ready to stop.

It was at this point that I realized that my passport had parted ways from my person. We had to cross a police checkpoint where our ACAP permits would be stamped. At first I realized that just my ACAP permit was gone, but as the gears chugged along, I visualized my Peace Corps passport being in that wallet, a missing wallet.

Fortunately, I kept some money, my credit card, and a photocopy of my passport in a different location. The police let me through without much hassle, but after a long day of walking and feeling my legs singeing with pain with each step, the prospect of whiling away more time in a police office upon returning to Pokhara was no appealing. I put it out of my mind.

Our hotel in Kalopani was the nicest we’d come upon so far. We were back in the neighborhood of the Himals again and it was cold at night. The dai put some hot coals under a large table in the dinning room that heated our legs under the table.

We drank hot chocolate and watched the sunset. But we were sad, because Colin was sick an unable to keep up with our pace. That night he stayed in Ghasa, perhaps two or three hours behind Kalopani. It seemed a possibility that he had AMS).

We decided that the next morning we would send Team Jhapa down to Ghasa to check on Colin.

The village of Choyyo near Titi Lake is a small place cradled right in the Annapurnas.

The village of Choyyo near Titi Lake is a small place cradled right in the Annapurnas.

Liz and Andrew left early on Sunday morning (day 8). The rest of us would wait at the hotel until Team Jhappa returned. Kara and I decided to take a day hike to Titi Lake, an hour walk upwards from Kalopani. After breakfast, Kara and I started walking through a dense forest.

It was cool and crisp in the shade of Dhaulagiri. As we walked through the village of Titi we realized how rarely people venture off the trail. In any of the other villages on the main trail, kids would run out of their houses with their hands extended demanding, Sweet?! Sweet!?

But just an hour off the trail, the folks of Titi hadn’t a clue what to do with us. Our two-minute walk through down was treated with wonderment. We got some directions to the lake and headed up a small pass towards a clearing of the trees. When we came to the crest we saw something: a pond.

Titi Lake wasn’t much bigger than a Terai rain puddle. At first, we couldn’t believe it and walked on, and on, and on, for another hour until we realized the unthinkable: Titi Lake sucked.

We walked into a small village on the side of Niligiri, huge mountain that separated us from Jomsom. The village comprised of a tap, several fields of grain, and two of three continuous homes. They were staring.

Chiye painchha? Kara yelled to a man staring from his roof, asking if tea was available. Chiye painchha? he asked back, confused.

The man, not quite sure if he was hearing what he was hearing, asked us again: Chiye painchha? Painchha. He motioned for us to come up.

What people use for ladders/steps in Nepal is interesting: half of a tree trunk has steps carved into it and then is fastened to the roof. I find it quite brilliant and always feel adventurous climbing one.

We were led into a sparse living room. I thought of my host family and how cheery they always were with me. So were these folks. They gave us apples and fed us black tea with sugar. We talked to the family and played with the kids a bit.

The wild flowers were calling out to Andrew and Kara, who frolicked about.

The wild flowers were calling out to Andrew and Kara, who frolicked about.

If Colin hadn’t been sick then Kara and I would be in single-file, continuing our death march to Jomsom. Instead, we were just hanging out with some local yokels. The time came and we had to be off, but we took some photos and promised to send them to the family, which we will.

Alas, I have the photos and Kara has the address. It’ll work out.

When we got back to the hotel we found only Moser and Laurel. Team Jhapa had returned with Colin, the Phoenix rising, and everyone else had left for Tukuche an hour and half earlier. I packed my bags and quickly ate some sukuti.

We all knew that the hard hikes were over. Tukuche was only a few hours away and mostly level. As Moser and I began our walk, we noticed that the trail followed a dry riverbed as far as the eye could see.

Stay on the trail and arrive on time or take a shortcut and perhaps get lost and lose some time? Moser asked.

Take the shortcut, I said.

Not long after starting our trek, the group poses for my camera.

Not long after starting our trek, the group poses for my camera.

Though the riverbed was faster and eliminated all the ups and downs of the adjacent trail, my ankle suffered the uneven surface of riverbed stones, but it was scenic. The farther north we came the more arid the scenery was becoming.

The green mountains were getting browner and rockier. We arrived in Tukuche (2590 m) at a place owned by a Dutchman that Alisa at Hotel Nirvana in Pokhara suggested to us.

He likes Clint Eastwood, she said, handing us a business card with simulated burnt edges and the name branded into the card with an iron: the High Plains Hotel.

So on a windy, dusty Sunday afternoon in October, a kid from Amarillo walked into the High Plains Hotel in Tukuche, just 42 miles from Tibet. Johnny Cash was playing on the radio. The place was done up like some saloon from Arizona circa 1850.

Tukuche was almost famous for its distillery where brandy is made from apples and apricots. We relaxed that night, playing cards, drinking brandy, and listening to Hank Williams