20-26 September, days 20-26
After the welcome we had received in Saldang we were reluctant to leave. After a hearty breakfast of champa and Tibetan tea, and carrying some Tibetan bread that had been gifted to us, we soon begun to wind through the hills again. This section continued through the restricted and highly isolated region of Dolpo before passing into Mustang and the municipality of Annapurna. We were in for a few surprises of all sorts on this section, particularly of a culinary and digestive nature.
This section featured many more high passes and isolated camps. On the 20th we crossed the Shimen La (4260m), on the 23rd we crossed the Mola La (5030m), on the 25th we crossed the Niwa La (5120m) and the Jungben La (5550m) and on the 26th we crossed the Bhima Lojun La (4460m).
We had to cross numerous rivers over these days which made for some entertaining scenes. Most Nepalese cannot swim and have a certain well placed distrust of fast flowing water. This was certainly the case for our team in the freezing knee deep water. Thankfully, across half a dozen crossings, no one was swept away.
This section was as physically challenging as the last, with many days of 2000 vertical metres of gain and sometimes the same of descent. We had three days in a row of 20+ km which is quite something when walked in the hilliest country in the world!
We had several inadvertent culinary adventures this week which unfortunately may have contributed to a rather disastrous bout of gastro that struck twice in three days and is still continuing for Patrick, who is now on medication for giardia. We begun by trying our luck with a roadside Dahl Bhat which turned out to have had surprise pieces of goat offal within. That night we stayed at at tented teahouse in the ruined settlement of Chorten Margo. We slept inside the permanent tent and spoiled ourselves with fresh milk tea and curd. This was our first dairy in weeks and in hindsight may have been an error. Let’s just say there were many moments of urgency the next day.
Alas, after a few days of camping and a return to normal digestive movements for two thirds of the group, our troubles returned in spectacular fashion following a homestay in the town of Charka Bot. Options are divided as to whether the fault lay with another suspect Dahl Bhat, or overly copious servings of champa. Either way, it took us far longer to make it to our campsite at 5000m the next day than it should have. Thanks must go to Nic for sitting alone outside the tent in negative temperatures that night to cook dinner, and for his success in consuming almost three entire serves singlehandedly. It has been said that Nic’s quest not to lose weight is the real struggle of this trip.
In Saldang we had stocked up on a few food supplies for camping. However there is only so much that can be purchased in a subsistence based farming village with no road access. One of our purchases were several packets of what we thought were noodles (all the writing was Chinese). However they turned out to have the consistency of chewy, doughy dumpling wrappers. Needless to say this resulted in numerous underwhelming meals and did not help Patrick’s stomach. By this point, Patrick was surviving on Chinese army biscuits.
Our last culinary adventure in this section occurred in our homestay in Santa village when the boys took a little too much interest in our Nepalese companions’ hot beverages. Immediately similar beverages were produced. It turned out to be chang, a common alcoholic beverage produced from barley and tasting like rather nice beer. However this chang had a twist. First it was heated, then an egg was cracked into it and stirred. You can imagine the texture. I found this amusing as we have spent weeks trying and failing to source eggs as chickens cannot live at altitude. However this was not how we anticipated final consuming eggs . Our host roared with laughter as the boys struggled to swallow the warm, dubiously textured drink.
Towards the end of this section we bumped into another trekking group, only the second in three weeks. We made the rather startling discovery that we are literally travelling double the speed of average. This trekking group was walking half our speed but with 15 mules for their food and tents.
This section allowed us to reflect deeply on the changing physical face of Nepal as we had several days of walking on brand new roads. The roads were deserted except for occasional mule trains and in Australia would classify as little more than extremely rough fire trails. However on our descent to Charka Bot we literally reached the end of the road as we caught up to the digger carving its way through the hills.
On the 26th of September we reached Kagbeni, our first major town in three weeks. We were looking forward to a well earned rest day but it seemed the universe had other plans! The town was completely booked out for a major festival meaning we could only get 1 night of accommodation. We had no choice but to walk our next short day during rest day. Luckily we arrived early enough to buy mass snickers and mars bars, and get a sleep in, late breakfast and lunch before going on our way. The positive side of this is that it means we are back on schedule, the negative is that we will only have had 2 full rest days in 35 days!
Now we are in the Annapurna region and expecting a serious contrast to the isolation of recent weeks. We are looking forward to some time in lodges as a break from camping and maybe even spoiling ourselves with extra biscuits.