We wake to sunlight streaming in, and Marpa gains a more positive hue, the sun also helped in part by our beaming host who startles me with her excellent English and an expression of appreciation for our staying in her tea house.
‘If you trekkers did not come to my town I would be very poor.’
‘But the trekkers change your community and you have very little privacy.’
‘Ah, that’s true. But I would rather have foreigners in my garden than be poor. And nearly all trekkers are polite and kind. All your group are very kind.’
I am pleased to hear it. But it’s a town I’m glad to put behind me nonetheless.
We follow the Kali Gandaki (what a great name) down-stream. It has spread itself over even wider shingle beds, if that is possible, and takes its course very casually. So much so I can barely hear it, the water a soft shush in the background. We are now back below the tree line and we start our walk entering a grove of pine and cypress. A clear stream burbles through it and our footfall is dampened by needles. The track takes us out through orchards (we help ourselves to apricots and plums that hang over the track). It’s too early for apples but the trees are heavy with early fruit. We stop and I explain what the orchardist is trying to do by pruning his trees into goblet shapes. Every day is a learning day. We pass through quaint villages, pass under walnut trees, past numerous vegetable plots and pairs of cattle ploughing. Old men flick seed across the fertile, freshly turned ground.
As we leave Marpa , and perhaps for the first thirty minutes of walking I am distracted by two aircraft (A Dornier and a Dash) doing a frantic shuffle up and down the valley, heading in and out of Jomson. One flies up the valley while the other flies down it, the pair often passing each other in close proximity. The high winds we experienced yesterday have kept the airport closed. A Pole and a Canadian have been holed up in Jomson for a week waiting for a flight (we ask the obvious – ‘why not walk out?’). I guess there are quite a few backlogged passengers and goods that need sorting. But the valley is narrow, at least in aerospace terms and I am amazed to watch each aircraft sidestep the other – one inbound, one launching – at the mouth of the valley.
We stop at Larjung for hot tea. The strategy today is to walk until we reach Kalopani, with no lunch break – tea breaks only. We are trying to avoid those winds that rip up this valley from about noon onwards. The strategy pays off and we even manage to avoid a heavy storm which has left the tea house in Larjung with its rafters dripping water, and the floor soaked. The flat roof on most of these buildings are capped with 30cm or so of river silt which packs down tight. I guess it is mostly waterproof and a good insulator, but it’s not what I would be using to cap my house. Slate looks like a far better option. I have time to wander through Larjung while the team finish their break. It has an English country village feel once you are away from the main street. The paths wind through walnut groves, vegetable patches, and small corn fields, all enclosed by stone walls. Buildings like old English barns stand among the trees and chickens scatter under my feet. Villagers in these back lanes are very welcoming and open. I like this place.
We leave Larjung and wind our way along the base of the mountain, following the river bank. We cross any number of suspension bridges and find ourselves walking through what many in the group describe as the most picturesque part of the trip so far. We are right on the river line walking a verdant path that throws up rustic homes every now and then, numerous gardens, tall firs, grazing pigs (a little disconcerting), plenty of marijuana, scrambling chickens, wandering cattle and the occasional child who pipes up with a ‘namaste’. The path is paved for the most parts with large slabs of stone. All around us, if we bother to cast our eyes up, are the towering mountains of fantasy novels and movies. It’s the tumbling waterfalls cascading from the Rivendell heavens and the same shifting mists and clouds that pull up the spurs and ridges and skip across the fractured valleys.
The group is in great shape today – yesterday was bit of a battle. The dynamics are interesting to watch as the day settles into a rhythm and different folk shake down with those who amble at the same pace. I’m delighted to see a cluster develop up the back around a foot blister inhibited walker. They are keeping themselves entertained by posing and solving riddles. I leave them alone and drift into the middle of the pack, now strung out along the track, and settle into my own pace, and own reverie.
We land in Kaliopani – a modern looking place. Corrugated iron and vehicles are all out of place given the world we have just walked through. Regrettably the cloud has not lifted and even though we only catch a light shower, nothing by way of mountain views is revealed.
A group of Belgians walked past us today, heading in the opposite direction. They tell us they are going through to Jomson and then to Muktinath. Really?! That’s quite a hike. They are all fresh faced, look office soft and none are carrying packs. I uncharitably think ‘no wonder you messed up your Congo’. But I take the chance to compare our group of hardened veterans with these Euro day trippers, for that is indeed what they looked like. I am less than impressed with their plan to fly out from Jomson. I know how pleased I am with my group and their conviction ‘there is nothing I cannot do’ the instilling of which was one of my objectives when I first started all this madness a few years ago. Funny how I wrap up each day reflecting on the group and how they have performed. It’s more than just the responsibility of being the leader and checklisting a range of things, from health to equipment. I do that too. It’s just being plain impressed with the way they have forged into such a formidable group. They are all sitting around reading and playing cards. In fact I am being encouraged to put my pen down and to get into a game – of Snap I believe. I do believe I will.
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