No Money, No Petro, No Phone – No Problem when you have Nepali family with hearts as big the mountains that surround you!


I arrived in Tatopani with my injuries from the waterfall plunge as a great reason to spend a day recovering. The 3 guys I had traveled with from Kathmandu got up and after buying me breakfast to say goodbye they headed towards Pokhara via bus.  I happily found some comfort in the room for awhile, writing, napping and thinking about my next plan before venturing out to soak in a hot springs. They were beautiful for the body, extremely hot, but the setting wasn’t nearly as scenic as a second place I came to find on my Annapurna Basecamp route in Jhinu Danda.

I was eating my dinner looking out on the road and I saw Anja hiking up, the smiling German gal I ran into briefly the day before while walking. We chatted and had a laugh about how she had watched me ‘disappear’ onto that fateful bus when I decided to jump on with my Nepali friends. Her French friend arrived behind her and they went to find some cheaper options to stay but I knew we would cross paths if I decided to head towards Annapurna Basecamp in the morning as that was her plan.

I left Tatopani the following morning feeling a bit irresponsible and anxious after having come face to face with nearly running out of money. After paying the hotel I was down to less than 800 rupees ($8) because I hadn’t planned on trekking over the pass and continuing my journey so my only real option at getting cash would be to get on a bus to Beni in the opposite direction as ABC and Ghorepani. It’s funny I left the hotel without making a decision on what I was doing and started to walk. Within a 1/2 kilometer I came to the important junction of a footbridge leading East into the valley toward Ghorepani or the road leading South to Beni. I sat down on a rock and called Shree, unsure of anyone else that could truly aide me in my financial dilemma in the middle of the Annapurna Region. He immediately answered, a good sign to start, and continued to respond to my emotional indecisiveness by saying, “keep going Ang Dolma Sherpa (my nickname from our Everest Region Trek), you’re there now and makes no sense to not see ABC”. He said you have to make it to Ghorepani that night and seek out Sunny Guesthouse, there you can speak with the woman who runs the hotel and call him and he would get the money in my hands. My problem was resolved and I instantly had the freedom once again to continue on in the direction I most wanted to go, Annapurna Basecamp.

That day was one of the most relaxing and beautiful of the trek so far. The landscape was terraced hillsides and the daily life of the Nepalese people was ever-present during harvest season. It was constant activity in all of the bustling villages far removed from from tourism in nearly every sense. The men could be seen and heard up on the terraced mountainsides, pushing, pulling, prodding, shouting, grunting and whistling at their bulls churning up the earth with their handmade plows.

Woman could be seen in nearly every home outside on the stone patios beating huge piles of grain with long sticks of bamboo all in unison. They were all talking loudly, laughing and rarely noticed a passing white face walking along and stopping to snap a picture. Some woman use these big hand woven sifting trays, standing to sift like basically tossing something in a fry pan. A more modern approach was a boy using a rudimentary foot-pedaled machine to power a belt that would rotate large beat up metal blades of a fan. His mother stood in front and tossed the grains from the woven tray while the dusty light outer shells blew off and heavier desirable grains fell to the ground in little heaps at her feet.

Little ones were getting bathed outside their with big basins of soapy water where clothes were also being laundered and laid out to dry all across the stone walls and grassy hills. The woman bath outside as well with sarongs around them pouring cold water over there upside down heads of hair and attempting to scrub up awckwardly underneath the sarong. At first it all seems like such a pain but you come to realize after days and weeks of seeing it all over and over that they aren’t looking for better, faster, easier ways to do things all the time. They have a routine in their chores and activities and the time they need to do these things remains the same. Food is on the table, rest is found at night and joy is seen in the everyday activity. There is not this pressure to do something faster or better when what you get from your current pace is all that you need. It’s definitely a healthy thing to witness coming from the culture of bigger, better, faster, more product, less time, quantity, quantity and more quantity.

A man was sitting cross- legged on the ground using an old hand-crank sewing machine, stitching up clothes in the sun while his older daughter chitter-chattered away at him.

sewing

It was really the first time I can say I didn’t see any needs or reliance on the tourism to keep the villagers busy in their daily lives. I stopped at one point to take the huge cephalopod fossil out of my pack and leave it behind on a rock wall. There was a little girl and boy on the wall standing over me saying, “sweets”, “picture”, “chocolate” and I smiled and said no sweets but I have this present for you…..and pulled the huge fossil from the bottom of my pack. I don’t think they were very enthused about my gift and it will likely stay there for years without any notice that it’s a fossil from the riverbank 50 kilometers away and hundreds of meters below us!!

Further along in my walk I stopped to have some soup for lunch and looked down to see this message on my phone that said ‘Locked SIM’. I asked a local Nepali guide at the teahouse if I could use his phone to contact Shree once again for help!  I needed to see if there was anyway he could find out my PUK number required to unlock the SIM.  All I could think was thankfully this happened after I was able to contact him about money earlier in the day or I may have been ‘bussing’ to Beni after all.  I was shit out of luck unless Shree managed to find the code or get me a new SIM card.  I had reached a point in my journey where I had no money or cell phone service. If it weren’t for my Nepali brothers back in Bhaktapur I would have had to scrap the trip much sooner. He didn’t have the PUK number I later found out and my old number was history but he said he may be able to get me a SIM card in the middle of the ABC trek when I crossed paths with one of the iTrek Nepal guides coming back with a client so we left it at that and I remained without a cell phone in hopes of wi-fi to keep in touch as needed. I’ve been off the radar for longer periods of time that’s for sure.

I continued along toward Ghorepani. I was walking along and starting to climb some more ‘lovely’ steps when a little girl and her dog came running down one of the hills next to the trail and she quietly just looked at me and began walking along beside me.  I pointed ahead and said “Ghorepani”, she said “yes” and I attempted to ask her what village she was from but regardless of how simple I tried to speak she just looked at me and nodded smiling.  Cute as a button, she carried her little purse with a long strap on her head like all the porters carry their loads and baskets around the villages.  She proceeded to run up the endless rock steps stopping and looking and waiting for me just like she was out for a walk herself and enjoyed the company.  Her dog went in front of us just a few meters at all times.  She couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6.  It’s amazing the freedom all these little ones seem to run about with, on some very steep and dangerous cliffs and ridges. It was like her home was in the middle of the wilderness where we were walking and it brings a whole new perspective to what their ‘neighborhoods’ and ‘boundaries’ are when it comes to playing in the woods and walking with strangers to and from nearby villages.  I thought I was wild and free as a child but seeing her just run up and down the mountain trails with her dog really brought a smile to my heart.  A little girl and her dog playing in the wilderness, I could relate to that from my own childhood.

 

After coming up to the next village the little girl did stop trailing along and I came upon a guest house up in the woods and saw a familiar face, it was Anja. We were only a few hours from Ghorepani and she was hiking with a different French guy, Flo, whom she also ran into earlier in her hike when he was with his girlfriend.  He was going to head up to ABC as well so that night we all ended up in Ghorepani, he happened to still get be with his guide and they were also staying at the Sunny Guesthouse which is where we all landed.  I managed to do just what Shree had instructed and the woman from the hotel got on the phone with Shree and 1/2 hour later I had money in hand and he was transferring funds to her bank account. I was a happy trekker among new friends and ready to finish my journey up to Annapurna Basecamp thanks to the beautiful people of this beautiful country.

ghorepani

 

 

Numbing peppers, cephalapods and new friends on the Annapurna Circuit

So after coming over Thurong La Pass you come into Muktinath.  It was nice to be in the area with someone who is used to giving history and information rather than going it alone and missing out of so much culture.  The guide I met in Thorung Phedi, Ram Rai, and his son and client from Japan were new walking partners for a bit. Muktinath is a very sacred place for both the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist cultures and a great example of how two religions can share the same holy place.  Muktinath’s local name is ‘Chumig Gyatsa’ which translates to ‘hundred waters’.  The central shrine of Sri Muktinath (Muktikshetra) is considered one of the eight most sacred shrines for Hindu Vaishnavas and means ‘place of salvation’.  The outer courtyard has 108 bull faces through which ice cold ‘sacred’ water pours and devotees of the religion can at times be seen being bathed by the ice cold waters. I am saddened I didn’t get my own pictures when trekking near the temple; however it was immediately after coming off the pass and all of my batteries were dead on phone and GoPro:( Thank you to Ram who took pictures for me which I hope to get shortly!

We stayed in Muktinath that evening where a late afternoon walk  brought me to see all the local woman weaving scarves on their looms, selling the same jewelry and trinkets at each homefront table. The bright yarn is a beautiful reminder of this quiet little village that I will have forever since I had to buy one or two as a souvenir!  This region is in the lower part of the Mustang district of Nepal, which up until 1992 was restricted so needless to say the landscape and culture are quite preserved.  Mustang was formerly the Kingdom of Lo and was only recently overthrown in 2008, so it will not be long before continued culture influence from China and the outside world will show in the people and look of this region.  A trekking permit to go into Upper Mustang is $500, not a trek for this trip, but the majority of the population in the district is in the Southern half where I was lucky to explore.  Old caves can be seen dug into the sides of the sandy river banks from the first settlers of the region and remnants of old foundations are strewn about which you can see from high above the river.  

Kagbeni was the next town we walked to and it is the gateway into Upper Mustang so rich with age and history.  The old village is made up of mud houses along the banks of the Kali Ghandaki River.  We put our packs at a hotel that Ram had frequented with clients in the past and took a nice walk around Kagbeni.  We were able to enter the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery, home also to a currently operating Monastic school.  This monastery was founded and built in 1429 and the building is absolutely beautifully painted inside with large paintings of the wheel of life and old wood plank floors.  It’s 3 stories tall with a roof top looking over the village which I wasn’t able to see but standing in the monastery with my shoes off listening to the young student give history of the culture was a true treat.  I was allowed to take pictures and only wished we could have stayed to be witness to some of their daily prayer and meditation times.  A monastic boarding school was established in 2009, which provides an opportunity for the young monks to stay in their home village of Kagbeni and surrounding communities to study under a traditional Tibetan monastic discipline. Their ages ranged from 3 years up to teens and many could be seen playing in the courtyard when I was there.  They had a large wooden paddle and small rubber bouncy ball they were hitting so you could hear the laughs and shouts while looking out over the colorful buildings that made up the student housing against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.  A beautiful sight to take in!

On our way through the streets we stopped to see some drying herbs on a local’s doorstep and Ram said one was cumin and the other a Nepali numbing pepper.  He said I could try the pepper and just a little piece put my lips and mouth out of feeling almost immediately.  The dentist’s back home need this stuff!  It lasted for a good 15 minutes and it wasn’t hot or spicy at all, it seriously just numbed your mouth and lips.  We returned to our packs at the hotel to have a bit of lunch and arrange a jeep.  Before getting back I saw more adorable children, took more pictures and was approached by a nice couple traveling from France that had taken a bus to Kagbeni from Jomsom but there were no buses going back so they were looking for a way to get back.  I was able to get them onto the jeep back at the hotel that Ram came to sort out so we could all skip the windy river bed walk to Jomsom together.  Alice was the  French gals name and I’ve already come to meet her farther along in the journey in Pokhara for lunch.   She was not trekking but her boyfriend and cousin were for nearly a month while she rented a place in Pokhara to just relax by the lake.  It’s great traveling alone. when you are open to connecting and sharing with all sorts of new people in new places everyday.

After arriving in Jomsom from the 30 minute bouncy, dusty, hilarious jeep ride I decided to get a room at a different place than Ram and his client, wanting to have a bit of privacy and so we arranged to meet back up in the morning and walk to Marpha together.  Sitting having dinner at my guest house I found out that all the flights going in and out of Jomsom, in addition to all of the domestic flights in the country, were canceled for the next few days at least.  Thankfully I had planned to walk but for those needing to fly it would be yet another waiting game for the fuel to reach the airlines so flights w/in the country could resume.  Nothing is for sure and there are no schedules you can rely on in this country, ever!!  There were 3 Nepali guys at my hotel in their mid 20’s discussing their options to get back to Kathmandu.  After indicating I was trekking and had been for the last many days they wanted to look at the map with me and explore the route down.   I explained my plans weren’t for sure but that I was planning on at least walking the next day to Marpha and from there figuring out a ride or walk to Tatopani.

The plan evolved and in the morning and the  3 guys joined me and Ram with his client on our short walk to Marpha.   They didn’t have any trekking gear but at least decent footwear and it was only road walking so two of them carried a duffle bag (one on each handle) and the other a small backpack and made it work.  The walk along the river was nice  but windy and dusty.  Afteer looking down for almost an hour I finally was able to find a pretty large fossil of a cephalapod, which is what the locals are selling to tourists all over this area.  I managed to carry it a day or two before deciding it was too damn heavy and a picture would do just fine.  In Marpha we walked through town and the streets are lined with buildings painted white and history again surrounds you as you come around a corner underneath a building and look up there is a huge sculpted man with a huge penis jutting out of the rock painted red and he’s holding a sword in his hand.  I missed the female statue in the village which I only learned of after leaving the village but nonetheless I have some cultural research to add to that story – for now it’s just entertaining to say the least.   Ram and his client decided to stay overnight in Marpha but I was wanting to move on and the 3 guys we had walked with also wanted to keep going aand to possibly to see if a bus was going to Tatopani.  Ram assured me that he trusted the young men after talking to them along the walk to Marpha and so we exchanged information and he also had the guys information  in case we had any problems.  I felt safe again moving on into my journey saying goodbye to yet another great person God put in my path.  Ram told me to wait for 5 minutes while I thought he was checking on the bus or transportation options but then he came back with a gift of a white prayer scarf also called a ‘kati’  that he put around me as a blessing for safe travels as we parted ways.  I teared up as we hugged goodbye and had a picture taken and left knowing I could see him down the road someday but no matter what he was my Thurong La Pass blessing:)

The journey continues with crazy mountain bus rides, falling into a waterfall, recovering in a hot spring, completing the Annapurna Circuit, trekking to Machhapuchhre  (Fishtail Mountain) Basecamp and South Annapurna Basecamp and spending some great restful time in Pokhara.  I also plan to add photos when I have better connection so stay tuned.

 

Random male sculpture hidden in the maze of buildings in Kagbeni
  
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery in Kagbeni
   
Cephalapod from the banks of the Kali Gandaki
  
A goodbye to another great trekking friend made!
   

Village of Marpha
Kagbeni to Jomsom jeep ride