Tamang Heritage Trail.
Grapes…green and purple. Apples. Bananas. Pomegranates. Strange – it’s a bit late for pomegranates I would have thought. All loaded onto bicycles and being sold on every corner. It’s a cool morning with a stiff breeze, and overcast. We leave Sacred Valley Home at 0810 in a Nissan Patrol driven by Rajan, who is proudly wearing his Man City jacket. Through Golkar. The road (F21 route) is clear now as we move through the fringes of the city, winding past marble resellers, plumbing suppliers, any number of food outlets, stone masons, timber yards and hardware stores and out into the fields. Kids in smart school uniforms flock to school. Terraced farming. Mustard in yellow flower. First blossoms hinting at pear and apple and plum. Broadbeans. Barley. Peas in flower. Potatoes sprouting through their mounds. Pink plum blossom. Lots of it.
Besides Kavitha and myself, there is Rajan our driver and Nabin our Scared Valley Home host. They sit up front and are clearly well acquainted. It’s so quiet at the hotel with the emerging virus problem that Nabin has decided to take the day with us out to Syrabrubesi. And we are travelling with Umesh, our guide. Nabin has strongly recommended him and we later discover he a relative – of course he is. Umesh has shown me his guide credentials so we are relaxed on that score. He presents as a brooding sort of chap. Only time will tell if he is an excellent guide or not. My measure of excellence is the right balance between letting us walk our own walk, and steering us appropriately. It’s a delicate balance.
All is well until we hit a slippery patch. It rained last night and we stack up behind a long line of traffic. We are on a steep concrete section of road so are unsure what the hold up is. Nabin and I go for a walk up the hill to see what is going on. It’s soon clear we are not going to get past the bogged buses and trucks. Sections of this steep and winding road are concrete and more is being put down. But immediately off the first gap in the concrete is a steep section of slippery mud. We watch the entertainment for a little while then realise the attempts to get past this stretch were only making the road worse. Much to the consternation of a wedding party. Their despair was palpable and we felt sorry for what appeared to be the groom. Wedding days are set by astrologers and the day and time are considered auspicious. Nabin confirmed the men were worried about missing the set time of the wedding. Some hitched a ride on a truck that managed to climb up and past the morass but the rest were stuck in the line with us.
We manourvre out of line and are back in Kathmandu by 1030. Nabin departs, since his day has been compromised by the shortcut proving to be a very long cut. Rajan cuts across town on the road west to Pokhara. At 1150 we pass through Maghadherbesi and at 1210 we turn right on to the F69, a gravel road. It takes us north through Kohutar. Gravel eventually turns to bitumen and is generously wide with no traffic. The downside to the improved road is that our cautious Rajan turns into Stirling Moss and hammers his way towards Tibet, the Tsuli River on our left. Stirling Moss is transformed back into Rajan when roadworks point us down into the river bed and we bounce along a raised mound of gravel past the new road they are cutting higher on the hill.
We rejoin the F21 at 1300 and shortly afterwards rumble though Battar, a busy metropolis stretching alongside a now dusty highway. Prior to this a police checkpoint, Rajan disappearing for a while to negotiate a regional permit. He returns with a pink chit and we are allowed to move on. I wonder why the conversation was had out of our sight. We stop for a welcome break at 1330 for lunch at Trisuli Bazaar, climbing the hill to a restaurant where we take Nepalese Thali in a garden of Bougainvillea over looking the river and with a backdrop of misty mountains. The ambience is completely undone by the fact that it is collocated with a masonry mill, and a blade cutting blocks of stone a few metres away for the duration of our meal made the visit memorable for all the wrong reasons. But the meal was splendid, served up in minutes, downed in a similar timeframe and washed down with hot, sweet milk tea. We are in Nepal. Off the grid. Feasting local with the locals. So on balance there is more up than down. But in this case even the down is not really a negative – it’s the sound of someone’s livelihood and perhaps even prosperity and who am I to grumble at that? Lunch costs us NRP400 each. About $5.40. Jumbu Café.
At 1410 we are at Betravati where the TIMS is checked and the police are advised of our entry into the parks.
We shift off the main road, something we only realised as we got up the track a little. The traffic vanished but the road is a glorified goat track and, as we plugged, slipped, whined and churned our way along a ledge above the Trisuli River it soon became apparent this is an engineer’s connection between hydro projects. We laugh later that the first shortcut proved entertaining but abortive while the second shortcut terrified us. That the driver stopped at every other person and checked the viability of the route didn’t entirely fill us with confidence. Nor did the fact that the road on which we travelled does not exist on our map. We stop every now and then for a ‘short stop’. I ask for one after 4pm and while Umesh our guide and I take the break Rajan explains we are only an hour from Syrabrubesi. I don’t believe him but given the map does not show the road it’s hard to be completely sure where we are. It turns out he not far off the mark and we land at 1650 in front of a string of tea houses/hotels. Umesh hops out and speaks to a couple of people in the street then vanishes, reappearing a couple of minutes later and directing us to the “Hotel Country Villa”. It is a very new place and crewed by four or five young women and a toddler. A couple of them have excellent English and we are quickly ensconced in a very clean and comfortable room with a very presentable ensuite/shower albeit slightly cramped.
We take a walk in the evening light up the main street. Arguably there are multiple streets and lanes but Syrabrubesi sits in the bottom of a gorge. There really is only one street. We have been fuelled up by hot sweet tea which has revived us and which helped put the anxiety of the road trip behind us. A wedding is underway on the river flat below us. It’s clearly been an auspicious day for weddings – we have passed a dozen or so today. We wonder how the men are faring whom we met at the muddy section of road this morning. That now seems an age away. It’s gloaming and cool so we drift back past tiny huts with single lamps backlighting all sorts of enterprises. Butchers. Sweet sellers. Hairdressers. Travel agents. There are more than enough hotels up and down this stretch and we could have taken our pick of any of them. As we wander we bump into a French chap who asks if we can recommend a decent place to stay. He looks and sounds worn out. We tell him we can recommend one and walk him back to the Hotel Country Villa where he is given a room – he haggles down 1000 a night to 500. Turns out he was on one of those buses caught on the slippery section of road we turned away from. He has been on the road for nearly 12 hours. He has his eyes on the Lantang Valley. Speaking of which various guide books refer to the Lantang as well as the Lamtang. Syrabrubesi also sports multiple spellings up and down the main street.
I can’t finish my log for the day without referencing the mountains. For all the anxiety felt as we tracked our way above the river the eye couldn’t but be caught by the majesty of the hills. They get more and more impressive the further we push into the valley. Waterfalls drop out of the sky and even smash onto the road forcing careful negotiation. The day was overcast and the cloud ripping of ridges and peaks is atmospheric. It rained for an hour from 1430 causing the driver some worry but as it cleared we were presented with the effect of cotton being pulled off the peaks. Magic.
So, in the Hotel Country Villa for a very reasonable rate. Plus food. The dining area is exceptionally clean but its unheated so I’m repairing to bed to read. Its only 1930 and I know I will be asleep in short order, even though I’ve done nothing physical beyond holding my breath. Maybe all the shaking and bouncing has burned fuel. I’ll just put the fatigue down to nervous energy.