Trekking near Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, Nepal, Part 3
Day 7 – Swanta (2400m) to Kindu (2350m) back to Swanta (2400m)
We started our morning by saying goodbye to Tato and Ursus. They both had to leave early to catch flights in Kathmandu. Tato was unhappy about the way the travel agency handled the shortening of his trip, saying they misrepresented the logistics in a conscious effort to cheat him. I told Tato it seemed far more likely that the problems were caused by the kind of simple mix-ups we’d been running into almost every day, but he insisted that the agency lied to his face.
Ursus had a different issue. He’d enjoyed the trek so much that he wanted everyone in our group to tip Bharat and the other guys three times the recommended amount. The rest of us thought that was going a little overboard, so Ursus said he planned to make up the difference himself. And this was on top of his generosity the night before, when he bought almost 20 beers for the porters.
Purna, one of the porters, led Tato and Ursus back towards Nayapul. Then the remaining four of us set out on what Bharat called our “culture trek” – the idea was to hike leisurely to a nearby village that hardly ever sees tourists, meet some of the locals, have lunch, and hike back.
We reached the village of Kindu in the late morning and almost immediately met an older man wearing a blue military jacket. He didn’t seem quite right in the head. Every now and then he began marching, saluting, and handling an invisible rifle. We didn’t know if he was drunk, permanently rattled, or both. Bharat told us he was a retired member of the British Gurkhas, a special branch of the British military that recruits Nepalese soldiers. The Gurkhas are famous for using their distinctively curved kukri knives to decapitate their enemies.
A little later we bought Pepsis from the local store (no Coke, Pepsi), and I shared mine with the Gurkha. In a surprising and endearing gesture, the Gurkha then went to the store himself and returned with four Pepsis, placing one in front of me, Elie, Shawn and Penny. Before the Gurkha sat down again he circled his chair twice while he checked underneath for land mines (at least that’s what Bharat said he was doing).
We drank our Pepsis in the yard of a community center as locals began gathering for a meeting. Once a month, apparently, they meet to contribute to a community fund. Every family donates some money, and the fund can be tapped by anyone who demonstrates sufficient need. I stalked the outskirts of the meeting and took photos.
Before lunch Shawn decided to commandeer my camera and hone his photography skills. He fired off a bunch of shots and asked me to keep the best one, which I will now present.
After lunch I walked around Kindu in search of a few more portraits.
Back in Swanta we discovered that several of our porters (who basically had the day off) had been drinking since 6:30am. Sagar’s eyes were bloodshot and he couldn’t put a sentence together. Jimi was coherent enough to start a game of volleyball with Shawn and some of the other guys, but he didn’t last long. Sagar and Saruj Rai invited me into the kitchen to share a bottle before dinner, and the rum-and-hot-water drink turned out to be better than I expected. Jimi joined us in the kitchen, and we found out that he’d spent three years working at American military camps in Iraq.
Bharat mentioned that one of his best friends is well-known in Nepal. Bharat’s hometown in the Everest region is surrounded by a variety of different ethnic and religious groups, including Sherpas, and one of Bharat’s closest friends while growing up was (and continues to be) Nima Gombu Sherpa, a mountain guide who has summited Everest 17 times and is featured on the label of Nepal’s most popular beer. Nima Gombu Sherpa is only 27 years old, so it’s not a stretch to think he may at some point break the record for the most Everest summits, which, according to Bharat, currently stands at 20.
“Did you ever think about becoming a mountain guide instead of a trekking guide?” I asked Bharat.
“No,” he replied without hesitation. “Every year on Everest people die. Very dangerous. When my friend go to climb, he always have to say goodbye to his family.”
Our tea house offered to heat up a bucket of water so that any of us who wanted to could take a hot shower. I was tempted, but Shawn informed me that he, Penny and Elie would veto any attempt to clean up. “One of us can’t smell better than the rest,” he explained.
Day 8 – Swanta (2400m) to Ghorepani (2750m)
Before leaving Swanta I made sure to get photos of Milan and Swatee, two women who worked at the tea house, as well as Laxmi, the daughter of a traveling saleswoman who stopped at the tea house the night before and slept in the kitchen. Our cook Prem (who also answered to the name “Dr. Love”) seemed to have a tough time saying goodbye to Milan.
As we hiked, Bharat told us that there’d almost been a brawl the night before. Some of the local men heard that Jimi had made an offensive comment to one of the women working in the kitchen (Bharat thought the comment was something along the lines of, “How about a naked dance?”), and a group gathered at the kitchen around 10pm to teach Jimi a lesson. But Bharat and some others were able to smooth things over and avoid a rumble.
With the exception of a lone American we met on Khopra Ridge, we’d gone almost five days without seeing other tourists. So Ghorepani was a little bit of a shock. The town was choked with guest houses and swarming with tourists. Poon Hill, just above Ghorepani, is popular for its sunrise views of the mountains, and tourists looking for a relatively short trek often just hike to Ghorepani and back. I appreciated being able to charge my iPhone battery and buy a Coke, but the crowds made me very thankful we’d spent most of our time in less popular places.
Day 9 – Ghorepani (2750m) to Poon Hill (3210m) back to Ghorepani (2750m) to Hile (1600m)
We woke up well before dawn, along with most of the other tourists in Ghorepani, and hiked up to Poon Hill for sunrise. The weather teased us. At first it looked clear. Then clouds moved in, thick enough that many tourists decided to give up and return to Ghorepani before sunrise. But the clouds occasionally parted and we ended up with some really nice views.
After sunrise we hiked back down to Ghorepani, ate breakfast, packed up, and had an easy hike to Hile. Next to our campsite two locals were using wooden sticks to beat millet into powder, and Shawn suggested that we go ask them if we could take a turn. I’m not sure we ended up helping much, but we at least provided them with some entertainment.
Locals Pounding Millet in Hile (Video)
That night, the last of our trek, Prem cooked us a celebratory chocolate cake. We raised our beers in toasts and distributed well-earned tips to Bharat, Shasu, Prem, and the porters.
Day 10 – Hile (1600m) to Nayapul (1100m)
From Hile a short downhill hike brought us back to Nayapul. Dirty, tired and happy, we packed into a minivan and winded our way back to Pokhara. Our 10-day adventure was over. I knew it would take me a long time to digest and appreciate such a great experience. The scenery was amazing, Bharat and all the guys did an excellent job, and I really enjoyed getting to know Elie, Penny, Shawn, Tato and Ursus. Thank you all! I couldn’t have asked for a better trek.