We follow the river out of Chame, starting at a respectable hour though not at the start time the guide urges on us. Some of the team would struggle with a regimental sergeant major cracking the whip with the clock. I remind some of them that we need to respect the guide’s daily timetable but it does not always sink in. Still, we are not in any particular rush so we hasten folk along as politely as decently possible each morning and Lila, in that Nepalese way, will never chide anyone face to face. So we do a courtly dance around our daily launch instead and everyone keeps a good humour about it. The track switched to and fro across the river a number of times and despite my best intentions to keep track of them, well, I don’t. We step under massive rock escarpments which prompt the little niggle of worry about falling rock even though so far we have not seen any. Just the distant sound of booming avalanches to remind us that things fall off very high places around here.
For a long period of our morning amble (loosely used) we paralleled a road cutting exercise on the other bank. The engineering is impressive, whichever way it is carried out. From hammer and chisel to jackhammer and a few improvised implements in between. On our own side we have sections of roads being repaired as well, mostly those sections that have been lost to slips.
By now we are stepping through cedar, deodar and fir forests. The sun is hot and bakes the canopy of the forest. I am surprised at the fragrances and scents, many of which I have never smelled before. Oddly it is not a nasal experience though, but rather an oral one. As I walk along, mouth open and hauling air I taste these conifer scents rather than smell them. They are subtle and lovely but I quickly learn I can’t turn around and catch them again, but have to hope for a repeat. Fortunately they come often, albeit randomly. Underfoot there are wild strawberry plants throwing their first runners, fresh blackberry shoots and yellow and white daisies. Every now and then a wild rose splashes its red or pink face in the green and has released it petals over the track, as if in royal welcome. We are privileged.
After two hours of sun and pine we stop for lemon tea with lots of sugar spooned in on the track at a rather run down tea house – good for the late or desperate trekker. But it’s located in a gorgeous little valley which is mainly given to pine but also to small patches of potato and beans. Bees hum to a crescendo out the back and I suspect there is a hive in the stone wall somewhere. I am extra careful around a few dozen of them which want to congregate around the outhouse. I discover here that my right shoulder is more bruised and flayed than I realised (T-shirt got stuck to it) so will need to sort something when I get to the end of the day.
Revived, though I could easily nap off in this sun and warmth and under the heady scents of the place, we push on to our lunch stop which is another two hours away. But lunch is hard fought and hard won for it lies at the toughest grade we have ascended yet. Graham and I figure we are sixty degrees at various points which makes for a hard stepping and high stepping ascent. Everywhere there are the looming mountains that stand their slab sides up around us to heights we can barely comprehend. PG notes that the scale hardly makes any sense. I have to agree. . But as we move up this section of the track the cover vanishes and, though still in pine forests, the track is open. We start to burn, so by the time we arrive at our lunch stop we are having to address some patches of burns and also some dehydration. At about 10,000 feet now, UV is a major issue compared to that experienced at sea level. I remind everyone to be thinking of this.
I jot these notes in a ghost town of a place where we stop for lunch. A goat hide is still soft in the noonday sun. Was probably jumping around here wrapped around its carcass not less than an hour ago. I look up and see the carcass hanging above the front door – they were not expecting guests I laugh to myself. Indeed they were not and they hastily scramble to fulfil our lunch order as we retreat out of the sun. I have a wander around and check out the establishment, discovering that the fresh goat internals have just been washed and are now being turned into sausages. The young lad at work with the minced up goat offal clearly does not want to be disturbed so I leave him and wander out over the timber decking and sit down. By now my lunch routine is very simple – I get those boots off and sweat soaked soaks aired as quickly as possible. The socks dry in minutes in this heat and so too my T-shirt and shorts as I lie on the deck.
Lunch was taking a while so I wandered off while some of my team were sleeping. Other whiled away their time with cards. I drifted up a street of houses and lodges locked for the season. No one is about and river is long way off, its roar muted by the heat and the trees and rock. I find myself fin a grove of what looks like Douglas firs and juniper, yellow daisies afoot and fresh grass pulling up through the pine needles. It’s well off the track and I stop there for a while before circling around the whole village and climbing high above it. The voices of the porters drift up to me and the occasional laugh from the trekkers. I sense lunch is nearly ready so finish taking pictures of the wild flowers and start back in, just in time for a bowl of tomato soup is served . It’s very good.
The good news about the lunch stop is that we are now on a ‘Nepalese flat’ run to the end of the day stop which is Pisang. We are all hot and tired and looking forward to arriving. But having arrive we have to accept it is not over yet. We drop bags and turn around with day packs and climb to Upper Pisang. It’s part of our ‘climb high sleep low’ routine. It’s great to be managing a day pack of two kilos instead of the 20 or so I usually have on. We horse around with the marijuana we find along the track (though a local signs it messes with your head by tapping his). We climb to a monastry where the worship has just started for the afternoon by the monks so we file in and sit on cushions inside and watch and listen. Its quite calming (until the brass instruments start up). As we leave we are greeted by one of the women residents (these monks are not celibate) with cups of coffee. We enjoy their hospitality and then descend to showers and a rest. We walk down through apricot trees, women gathering around the communal water point to do laundry and to chat, past fields of white and purple flowering potato plants and the first budding shoots of buck wheat coming through stony ground.
The evening light drops away and clouds coil up above us, the sun creaming the top most layers of cloud. We are hoping we will be above the cloud tomorrow, and perhaps even that the day will start clear so we can see Pisang and Annapurna 2, Pisang right under our noses and Annapurna behind us. It’s been a solid days work but tomorrow we need to get to Manang with no altitude issues. But we are five days walking on. We have now walked 75 km of solid walking and everyone is in good humour and spirits. Not a grumble from anyone.