Thorung La

Goats and Glory: Annapurna Day 13

COOLPIX S2800336“I’m going to Disneyland!”.
What North American athletes say in the moments after they’ve won their sports’ coveted trophy, was my first waking thought this morning.
Our Circuit was over in my mind. We’d achieved what we were here for: walked to the highest altitude we’d likely ever reach in our lifetime. From here on out, the rest kind of seemed anticlimactic.

Of course we were nowhere near done. We had another seven days. While we might not experience the same altitude again, to paraphrase Yoda: ahead much hardship we would see.

But that can wait. For now, we kicked off our first post-Thorung La day with an easy, four hour stroll into the Mustang district of Nepal that followed a flat road, safe enough for any car to pass. Thankfully we didn’t see any, or much of anything else.

Only after we reached the town of Jharkot did we spot a Gompa on top of a hill as well as these mud buildings:

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Back on the trail, the barrenness bothered Rose who found the flat moonscape a bit dull and, with Thakur, cranked her steps double time to pass through as quickly as possible, eventually disappearing beyond hills and turns ahead of us in the horizon.

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I didn’t mind the flatness as much, not least of which was for the rest it gave my legs. Coming off the previous day of repeated impact, again and again on each knee, walking on straight even ground was a treat. The other aspect that kept me focused was the possibility of seeing fossilized molluscs.

We’d seen examples at vendors’ tables on the way in: impressions of prehistoric animals in varying chunks of rock. We searched, and even threw a few rocks to break them open, hoping to reveal a prize inside, but sadly didn’t spot anything as extraordinary as what the vendors had.

Probably not all that surprising, considering they could comb the area whenever they wanted, ensuring anything interesting was scooped and slapped with a price. After about an hour of panning for prehistory, we caught up with Rose thanks to a river of these guys:

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We hung around and watched a couple of shepherds steer what looked like hundreds of goats across a lone patch of grass. While the sight itself was surreal – hundreds of goats in the middle of a dustbowl – the sound was even more odd. In the valley, there’s really no sound at all, except the occasional gust of wind. From this quiet, still atmosphere erupted: BLEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHH!
Hundreds of goats bleating: all together, off key at their own speed, sorting out whatever was on their minds, which I think could be any or all of the following:
“Don’t get any ideas. That’s our grass up ahead! The Smiths’ family. We won it fair and square back at the pen”
“Have you seen Marion anyone? She was here a second ago. MARION!”. 

“This guy with the stick is hitting a little too hard. Hey, someone back me up on this!”
“Really? Grass again?”
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After staring at the herd for longer than Thakur could tolerate: “Goats. Okay we go now?”, we kept walking, passing once again back into the repetitive landscape:
COOLPIX S2800355Eventually it was broken up by a descent, farther down into the valley where, as if transported by crane, sat Kagbeni: a square patch of mud houses on top of ripe green grass, and rice fields. We wandered into town:
COOLPIX S2800367 copyand after dropping our stuff at one of the few guesthouses, went exploring and were promptly met by a man pointing the way:
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It wasn’t to a sex shop: we learned similar upright sculptures are found in other Buddhist cultures in the area, particularly in Bhutan where they don’t even feel the need to include a man with a member and often have disembodied penis’ graffitied all over houses and shops.

It would be a just world if the Bhutanese had a football team named the “Flying Cocks”. Google tells me otherwise unfortunately, so you’ll just have to create the logo for it in your mind.

The short of it is (okay. really, anything I say from here will sound tongue in cheek) the symbol of the penis in certain Buddhist spots is meant to symbolize virility and good luck, as far as I can tell from what I’ve read. Considering that, if Bhutan ever opens up to more Western trade, I won’t be surprised if Viagra is one of the first companies there.

So we passed Le cock, and sauntered into a Buddhist monastery where young monks were just starting up a game of soccer, which we joined in for a while

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before heading around back to see this massive structure which included a ton of prayer wheels:
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Stretching out a bit farther we walked to the end of the lookout, stared on to the river: the Kali Gandaki, which we’d follow the next day – and packed it in for the night.
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All told it was an easy restart to the Circuit. Next stop Jomson then one of the tastiest burritos I’ve ever had anywhere, care of Marpha, followed by goodbye to our two Australian cohorts: Shari and Michaela who were hitching a bus ride to catch up with their Mum in Kathmandu, leaving us a trio on our way further down the mountain.
Talk soon

20 days trekking in Nepal; 2 days of infamy in Canada

image “WE SURVIVED!”, Rose says, sitting next to me in a taxi. We’ve finished our 20-day trek around the Annapurna circuit and are on our way farther South to the laid-back, quiet town of Pokhara. Our plan is to stay there for two or three days holding an open audition to find the richest, fattiest foods we can gorge on, and sadists moonlighting as masseuses who have the skill to push their iron fingertips deep enough into our muscles to convince them, once and for all, there’s nothing more to worry about.

I look at Rose, and it still hasn’t sunk in. “20 days of 5-8 hour walks, cold sleeps, an altitude headache from reaching 17,500 feet, potatoes – potatoes -potatoes, a bloody toenail, a fiery hand from stinging nettle, foot blisters, balancing over crouch toilets on sore legs, watching rain fall for 27 hours straight huddled around a fire, lentils – lentils – lentils, gasping for breath at night because the air’s so thin, two knees absorbing seven hours of straight downhill, daily identity crises: “WTF am I doing here?, body stink – stink – stink, stepping in goat – yak – buffalo – cow – dog and sheep shit, showering from a bucket, and producing methane levels in sleeping bags that I’m sure could harm small animals.

I turn to her in disbelief: “Yeah, we survived.”. However, at that moment outside of our taxi, little did we know people weren’t quite so sure: image Our guide told us that same morning there was an avalanche at Thorong La pass – the highest spot on the Annapurna circuit at 17,500 feet. It was a gravel trail when we’d passed it five days earlier.

With electricity out, we spoke to everyone we could to find out anything we could – “20 dead and 150 missing?” “How many did you hear – 15 dead, 200 missing?”. Details were sketchy, but the significance was clear – there was a major tragedy, and even though Rose and I had emailed family back home after we’d safely passed the highest altitude, we both thought we had to reassure everyone, just in case they were worried.

And, as it turned out, they REALLY were:   image

Finally, after getting into Pokhara, finding a Wifi connection that wasn’t on an electrical fault line, we proved we were alive to family and seeing our faces across Canadian news sites thought also to pass it along to them:

image Reading about my possible death is as close as I’ve ever come to having an out of body experience. Rose and I have both talked back and forth about it, and the best I can explain it is that reading about us being lost was going from feeling sad that someone you cared about was lost then to panic that it couldn’t possibly be true, then followed by disbelief that “what if it was true?”, only to crash the whole party with logic after realizing I’m the story, and alive to read it.

Very strange. En tout cas, we are alive and well – and only hope Nepal’s trekking industry can continue to say the same. Right now from news reports there’s calls to tighten restrictions, get early weather warnings, and install other safeguards to help prevent what happened. I hope they do, because the truth is, while the trek was difficult in parts (i.e. let’s walk uphill for 4hrs straight!), there’s other sections where you can literally turn around and see this: image So, in the next few posts, I’ll get into our trek (once I’ve figured out how to get photos off a separate camera) including how the hell we even took part. Talk soon