In the end, we trekked for ten continuous days. We had planned to trek for 14 days if weather had permitted, but on Day Ten it became clear – from weather reports and from reports of returned trekkers and guides – that weather won’t clear up in the following five days so we started our descend as fast as he could and further cut short our trekking by one and a half days by hiring a jeep at an exit point for Pokhara, arriving our hotel – Temple Tree – in heavy rain.
Day One began with breakfast at Yak and Yeti at 6:30am. Su had instructed me not to take the salad, however inviting it appeared. We took boiled eggs, coffee and some hot food; and after leaving behind an overnight bag with some clean clothes and a pair of running shoes, departed in an arranged car at 7:15am for the airport to catch a flight to Pokhara. The journey took about ten minutes on bumpy roads in parts, with smoke, smog or fog all the way. Apparently, they have an international and domestic section at the airport, and they religiously required all luggage and carry backs to be screened and tagged; and they separated men and women for checking. We were put on Flight YT671 which departed at 8am. It was a twin propeller Jetstream 41 with 30 seats. The flight was only 25 minutes and we flew at around 11,000 feet.
Mohan and Sudip presently arrived. We all got into a car which took us to Nayapul (1,070m) and then Birethani (1,025m) where we began walking leisurely for just under an hour before we stopped for our first lunch at Hotel Waterfall. Mohan explained the protocol: from then on and at the mountains, we would be provided at every meal with one food item and one drink on the standard menu, but we are free to order whatever the lodges can provide at our expenses. We continued our walk after lunch and it began to rain intermittently. It was then we began to experience the vagaries of trekking: trekkers are ever at the mercy of Nature and weather changes. Taking off or putting on layers takes time and effort and can often be tiresome. Maybe it was Day One and Mohan decided not to tire us out too soon, we did only about 5km by the time we checked in. I hurriedly took a hot shower and rinsed my T-shirt before weather changed badly and suddenly. Wind and rain was pouring in from all directions gathering dust and grit which covered my just washed clothes. We had dinner at 6pm after which we ordered breakfast for the following day; and we went to bed at 7:30pm.
It did not take us long to resign to the fact that our choices of food were rather limited. To start with, the menus of all lodges are similar if not identical; and they are approved by an official committee. Our staples are hot soup, tomato or potato; fried eggs; boiled mixed vegetables; fried rice sometimes with chicken meat; and fried noodles. We had tried noodle soups, only to find out that they were instant noodles and were not that well prepared. We normally ordered hot water (1.5 litres) to fill up our large thermos and we could consume more than three litres of water a day between us. On cold evenings, Su ordered more hot water to fill her bed warmer.
Now, bathing, hot showers, bathrooms and toilets are all taken for granted in our daily city lives; not in the mountains though. Here, bathrooms are almost always outdoor. We had once an attached bathroom which was the rare exception. At lower altitudes, below 2,500m, the lodges used gas so that one could enjoy a hot shower before it got dark, which is why it is important to time each day’s walk to end not later than 4pm. Toilets are normally smelly and without toilet papers and take forever to get to particularly on cold nights, which means every night. We sometimes made use of the cleaner toilets in restaurants where we had lunch. Weather at lunch had been often good and sunny; and we had occasions eating on wide and open grass cover fields under perfect blue sky, drinking expensive local beers.
On bad and cold nights and on days we checked in late, 6pm or even later, it was not practical to have a shower. These lodges may rely on solar power and on rainy days, they simply won’t have the power for that. Other lodges rely on hydro power, while some would make a fire and boil water for trekkers to have improvised hot showers. I burnt bits of the sleeves of my down jacket while waving it towards the fire. The landlady sewed it up for me afterwards. On one or two nights, we simply skipped the showers and I could smell myself on the mountains the next day.
Thus we trekked and tortured ourselves each day, waking up normally by 5:30am, had breakfast at 7am before which we would have packed our sleeping bags and my down jacket. We would start trekking from 8 or 8:30am till noon or around depending on the location of the lodges and villages, We would stop for an hour or an hour and a half, again, depending on the situation, and continue trekking till 4pm or later, depending on the day’s itinerary. On an average day therefore, we would trek for 6 to 7 hours covering about 15 km. Once we touched base in a hotel, I would take a shower, change to my carefully saved clean clothes and got into the sleeping bag; as would Su, often with her bed warmer. Dinner is normally at 6pm or 6:30pm the latest; and we would always retire by 7:30pm or earlier, waking up in the middle of the night to visit the toilet reluctantly.
I would talk about the people we met in the mountains and other matters in the next issue.