Day 4 (Thursday) : Ghandruk to Landruk
Yesterday’s mammoth trek has taken its toll: my knee joints are welded in an unyielding position and my calf muscles are all a-jitter. And this is even before beginning today’s walk. ‘Today is an easy walk,’ my guide assures me. ‘First two hours downhill and then an hour uphill, and the last stretch is on the Nepalese Flat.’ The Nepalese Flat? Better not to ask and wait for the surprises at the end… ‘We are heading for Landruk, just across the valley,’ he further explains and points to a distant village on the opposite side. And as no one has yet built a bridge across, the only way to reach it is by descending to the bottom of the valley, crossing a raging river which fills the air with thunderous noise, and then start uphill again to reach Landruk, at just about the same level as Gandruk, but on the other flank of the valley. A bit like yesterday then, just not so many hours. My knees start protesting and my calf muscles freeze up at the mere thought.
The walk turns out very leisurely actually; there is no rush to reach our destination and we have all day. As long as we get there before the afternoon downpours, there is no hurry. So we don’t. We slowly make our way to the bottom of the valley; I use my walking stick to avoid slipping disasters whilst the guide bounces down nimble as a goat carrying his belongings and most of mine. Although there is no sign of any sun peeking through the clouds, I soon hot up and feel rivulets of sweat running down my forehead and pearls of perspiration dripping of the end of my nose. The back of my t-shirt, smothered under the weight of my backpack, clings damply to my body… And I have mirages of clean clothes, freshly laundered and cool, waiting for me at the other end… If only, it will probably have to wait until I get back to Pokhara.On the way down we bump into children on their way to school, carrying their heavy backpacks, and cheerfully greeting me with their tourist English, hoping for some rewards: ‘Namaste! Chocolate? Photo? Sweets? Rupees?’ At the school gate, one of the older girls ventures further, ‘What is your name?’ I oblige, and their chants of ‘Have a nice day, Leefa!’ follow us down the path. And a little while later, a two year old is quickly mastering the essential language for grabbing attention from tourists. She carefully puts her hands together making the traditional greeting sign and shouts to me: ‘Namastechocolate!’
Today we are traversing leech country, so are constantly vigilant to spot uninvited guests who may have taken a ride on our boots and are hoping to feed on our blood. But this time it is a real leech country as yesterday’s rain has left rocks dewy and greenery buoyant and we have to cross many small streams and leafy places where leeches like to live. Sometimes the water cascades down our rocky path making our descend more treacherous and as well as looking out for leeches, I try to find the least slippery way down. But here and there the mossy stones are deceptively slick and only my stick keeps me from tumbling over.
We reach …. and stop for a ginger tea and a spot of lunch. I suddenly become aware of a strange pinching feeling inside my left boot. Maybe I brushed too close to a prickly bush and caught a thorn? Whilst untying my boot, I notice the blood soaked stain on my sock; it is a lot of blood… A big thorn, I wonder. I carefully peel back my sock and scream in horror at the sight of two fat bloodthirsty leeches having the feast of their life… One, already fully gorged and probably drunk and delirious having tasted my blood, falls off of its own accord; the other has no intention of letting go. I, for one, have no idea how to tackle this, so whilst the owner of the tea house rushes to get out the salt, I grab my camera… Priorities, priorities… With the creatures removed, I try to stem the flow of blood and cannot find a tissue; the owner provides stacks of napkins to mop up the blood and puts the bin right next to me… Eventually I grab my first-aid kit and cover the bloody mess with a huge plaster, cover it with a sock and hope for the best.
After lunch we continue the walk and I soon discover the meaning of Nepalese Flat, which clearly is not in the least bit flat but rather less steep than the rest of Nepal… But it makes a nice change from the steps and boulders on the way up and down the Mountains and hills lying in the Annapurna Conservation area.
Just after two, well before the afternoon rains have started, we get to the tea house. I am desperate for a hot shower to wash away today’s grime and blood and feel fresh again. ‘Hot or cold?’ I ask the guide, when he points to a ramshackle little building housing the toilet (Western, hooray!) and the one and only shower. The guide seems convinced that hot water will be available as he has noticed the solar panels. I head to my room and take off my boots and hazard a glimpse at my left foot. The plaster has become detached and I notice another, tiny leech…. ‘Where is the salt?’ I run downstairs to find my guide; I cannot possibly touch this ghastly, slimy creature so he does the honours for me… Another leech bites the dust.
And the shower? Just perfect once I had waited half an hour for the hot water to finally flow… But today, there was no rush, so it was all fine!