Day 5 (Friday) – Leeches continued (Landruk to Dhampus)
I wake up early, far too early, it is only quarter to six. But nature calls and I untangle myself from the comfort of my sleeping bag to make my way to the ‘toilet and shower’ block. This is rather a grand label for what is essentially one toilet and one shower! Not a problem for me as I am the only guest of the establishment, but I hate to think what happens when there is a full house. Queues for the shower AND the toilet?
As I glimpse in the direction of the hills, I am rewarded with another mesmerising sunrise over Annapurna South, the mountain which was hidden behind yesterday’s afternoon cloud deck. Most mornings the sky is clear until the sun starts warming the morning dew and wispy clouds ride across the glittering mountains. And as the day passes, rising moisture darkens the sky until it can no longer hold onto the water and the afternoon showers begin.
We continue our walk along the Nepalese Flat,gently meandering through woodland areas and always watchful for leeches. Often the path turns treacherous where yesterday’s heavy rain has made the algae covered rocks very slippery and havens for bloodthirsty leeches. So we catch a few on our boots and even in our boots where the tell-tale bloody patches on my socks give away their presence. I am still not keen on picking them off by hand, but can remove them with a stone or a leaf but am freaked out when at our morning tea stop, the tea house owner spots one on my neck and swiftly takes it off. I need strong tea after that, ginger tea with two teaspoons of sugar!
For my final tea house stay I am spoiled by having a room with TWO double beds and my OWN bathroom with working, hot shower! Plus a socket in the room so I can charge my iPad whilst I am reading or writing and I do not have to sit idle in the dining rooms where usually they provide the one and only charging point for guests. The small luxuries in life that we take for granted in the West!
So I make use of my bathroom and have a brainwave. I wash my walking trousers, which I have been wearing for the last five days. They are no longer fresh… I hang them on the washing line outside my room, and then the real Monsoon arrives. It rains bucket loads, I can no longer see the hills and feel my trousers getting damper by the minute. Maybe washing them was not such a good idea after all as they will probably not be dry by tomorrow. It looks like I will be walking the British Flag! At least it will be easier to spot the leeches on my bare legs than on my trousers.
Day 6 (Saturday): The Last Leg (Dhampus to Pedhi to Pokhara)
Once more I get up early, at the crack of dawn… To me 5.45 am is the crack of dawn; to my guide this would probably be more like midday. When he is not busy taking tourists into the mountains, Namal lives a homely, Nepali life, which means getting up at 4.00am to get food for the cattle, milk the cows, look after the chickens, collect firewood to heat the home and provide fuel for cooking and help his wife with preparing breakfast and getting the children ready for school… But I get up early with the promise of a spectacular panoramic view over the Annapurna range. Only this time the heavy rains from yesterday and during the night have not done their usual trick and the sky has remained misty, wrapping the mountains in a dense blanket of cloud. A little later, they lift here and there to reveal a glimpse of what lies beyond and I grab my camera to quickly snap shimmers of The Fish Tail and Annapurna South.
Today we finish the last leg of our trek and it is downhill all the way. We have the luxury of Nepalese Flat first (a gentle downward slope), but soon are back on the steps of rocks and boulders which are extremely treacherous after the rains. So no time to worry about leeches! But on sound advice from the internet I have sprayed my socks with Jungle Strength Mosquito spray which is supposed to keep the leeches at bay and maybe they are right as I don’t spot any unwelcome guests today. We follow small streams bordering green paddy fields and feeding the thirsty rice plants: nature’s irrigation system works perfectly well and the fields are a-swimming. It only takes us an hour to get to our destination, much sooner than the two hours predicted in my itinerary and we wait for our ride to town.
Whilst sipping my usual ginger tea, a local guide decides to strike up a conversation, but being somewhere in his mid thirties and clearly the worse for wear, it does not take long for the chat to head into familiar territory. After the obligatory questions about name and country, things veer into the unwanted direction, and ‘No,’ I tell him, ‘I do not feel the feel of love for him…’ He seems unperturbed as once a year he has this woman or girl who comes to see him, for you know what. ‘Marriage?’ he carries on. ‘There is a wife, but well, that’s just the wife… And divorce will cost me money. So things are better this way. No harm done…’ Life in the mountains certainly appears very simplistic indeed, but I wonder about his bravery once the alcohol has worn off… It is a relief when our taxi appears and I can escape.
After a refreshing shower at the hotel and clean clothes, I head into town and eat the most delicious Dal Bhat (Nepali rice and additions meal) and cannot resist a relaxing massage afterwards. Maybe not the most relaxing experience after all as the masseuse seems to give the most intensely painful muscles of my legs a good workout.. but I am sure it can’t do any harm…
But no matter how much my muscles ache, I will be back. One day, one day soon, I will aim for Base Camp and who knows, maybe I will aim for Everest Base Camp… Anyone can do it, so they all say. Now that is a challenge….