I am sitting down by the river – our Gandaki dragon friend which is is not as violent as we saw it yesterday but it still snorts and roars and I stay clear of its bank. Everyone else is still in bed. The valley is dark and cool but the sun is dipping the tips of the peaks in light – though that just seems to accentuate the dimness and cool air down here. Steam rises off the hot springs in a serene drift, a complete contrast to the insane, boiling, continuously drumming river next to it. In the background a sever peak covered in snow points into the clouds providing a dramatic backdrop. Its Nilgiri South. Her pristine beauty contrasts with the rubbish dump that is this river bank. Trekkers are rightly urged to protect this environment but the Nepalese are the best example of rubbish bandits I have ever seen. Above the sound of the rushing water I hear the drone of aircraft – it’s another clear morning and the Pokhara-Jomson shuttle will be busy before the monsoon closes it down later in the day. Even as I watch, cloud swiftly shifts across Nilgiri. It moves in so very quickly. But it means the sun plays up and down the gullies creating ethereal, smokey effects.
After breakfast Lila negotiated his very best to get us a ride down the track to a point where we could catch a bus to Beni. The plan is to catch a bus from there to Pokhara. The track is closed at many points due to landslides or slips and he is worried about our planned route being blocked. I am less concerned as we have a couple of days up our sleeve and if we have to walk out we can. But he is keen to see us comfortably home and I am happy to defer to his judgement.
Despite his best efforts and haggling the deal falls through but we are only reduced to an hour of walking to the next point in the track where we might find a vehicle – the site of which is dictated by a blockage of the road. So we change gears and start walking. It’s remarkably hot. And humid and very quickly we are bathed in sweat. Twenty minutes down the track and a small stall holder can hardly believe her luck as we buy fruit juices and tins of drink. But the clear day meant a glance over my shoulder reveals Nilgiri stripped again of cloud and holding its razor edges up over us. We get past the road washout, with a team of people working to repair it, and eventually stop among a strong of buses under a forbidding overhang. After yesterday’s incident with Peter’s rock I am very nervous about such geology. After a lot of haggling we finally get a bus – I agree to pay a full payload of twenty passengers even though there are only seventeen of us. At 500 rupees (say $6.50) a piece I was not really all that interested in haggling and told Lila I would pay the three person difference. So off we go.
It is a hair raising trip along a muddy track hanging over that boiling Gandaki. Every lurch seems to tip us towards the roiling foam below my window. As we lift over a small landslide I feel the back end slide towards the river even as the driver guns us towards the cutting. After a while, and despite the lurching carriage and heart stopping moments I drop into a doze, waking only when I am flung forward in my seat for whatever emergency the driver deems fit. I am reasonably relaxed about him – it was obvious from the outset he was not going to be a cowboy. I figure this ride is an act of faith and now I am on the bus there is no point in panicking. So I catch some sleep instead. It’s a rule long and well learned – in tough environments grab whatever sleep, food and water you can when you can.
We arrive in Beni after three hours and take lunch. Dahl baht of course. This is a dusty and unattractive town, though clearly an important crossroads and full of grinding vehicles and surly people. There is none of the warmth here which we have encountered up on the Circuit. In three hours we have transitioned from wilderness to cowboy town, albeit frontier and the change is a slap in the face. I take a walk up the main street while the others finish lunch and find the regional hospital which seems to be the centre of all sorts of activity and business. Stall holders selling trinkets look hopeful as I appear. Sorry guys, its a few months until November and the hordes of tourists. You will have to wait until then.
The buses are swapped and we are now in something far more comfortable, with seating designed for people taller than the average Nepalese. But I have napped on the previous leg and this time around I am paying attention to to the country we are travelling through. We travel along the Gandaki still but the wide banks have settled it down and it seems less angry. Rice terraces reappear, buffalo teams plough and dense vegetable plots cover any free, flat ground. It rains for the first hour but the people we pass don’t seem to notice. We appreciate the high climb as we come into Pokhara – the bus has delivered us from this. But the real issue is safety – walking along this road would be a real problem with all these heavy trucks and buses belting along. Lila was worried about landslides – and well he might. But I can see a walk along these roads (had we elected to have come via Beni and not Ghoropani) would be outrageously dangerous.
As we come into Pokhara we hit a classic, if toned down Asian city peak hour. Everyone toots and gently pushes but it is worse than it looks at first glances and we slowly slide through and arrive lakeside at our guesthouse at 4.15 in the afternoon. We are pleased to be here on this hot and humid day. We farewell our porters, a faithful crew and drop them a tip from the whole team which in their scale of funding is quite generous. They are troopers and we are very glad to reward them in this small way. We were hoping they might linger with us for a final meal but they not unreasonably want to get home. Some live in the area, others need to travel.
We wandered around town sightseeing. The place is a book trap – there are numerous volumes here on climbing and I resist buying a carton load though I am tempted to stock the library and DHL a heap back home. Instead I limit myself to a couple of small volumes. After a few laps of town, showers by some and short naps by others we take dinner at Moondance. As we dine on steak and Himalayan Trout (sounds obscene but at these low prices why eat a burger?) and as we do so we also review our equipment while the trek is still fresh in our minds, and check off what we need to fix or do differently next time. Many have carted kit around which they have not used – a reasonable clue that some gear can be left behind next time. I am hoping that for these folk there will be a next time and the way they throw themselves into this exercise suggests the last two weeks or more have not deterred them.
Our digs are luxurious by local standards and as I settle down for the evening I wonder that we could travel so far in one day – not in kilometre terms but in terms of our minds. From bowing at the feet of snow dipped Nilgiri, to walking past night clubs inviting us to revel, from remote villages to a bustling medium sized metropolis, from bullocks in the streets, to well, ha, bullocks in the streets. Some things are intrinsically Nepalese and whether in Thorung Phedi or in Pokhara they remain the same. Thank goodness for that. I am not ready to be severed from this place just yet.
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