A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Monday, November 9, 2009

Up, up, and up 3421 stone stairs

We were to pack and meet Krishna at 7am to leave but Ron’s casio calculator watch alarm was muffled in his sleeping bag as we soundly snored away. We rushed through packing and breakfast and set off on a famously exhausting stretch of stairs between Tirkhedunga and Ulleri. These are no ordinary stairs, mind you, they are 12” inches high, cut roughly from stone, and someone counted 3421 of them between the two towns, though I think there were many more than that. Several times I counted out a hundred, and it seemed to go on and on and on. My strategy was to go slowly, at a pace I could maintain the whole way. I fell into a meditative rhythm - right foot, left pole, breath in. Left foot, right pole, breath out. The peak of Annapurna South inspiring me forward. It was an unrelenting ascent, and towards the end, I joked that I should just crawl the rest of the way...

When we reached and passed the town of Ulleri, I left some beads in offering on a tree, to mark the accomplishment of the summit. What I thought was supposed to be the hardest day of the trek. In hindsight, this was laughably naïve. The day wasn’t even over. And the uphill for the day was far from over. We stopped for a rest break and I snapped some photos of porters with extraordinarily heavy loads that can reach in excess of 100lbs. This when I can hardly haul my own body over the same mountain. One asked for half my granola bar, how could I say no? The hardy peoples of the region have a tough life living up in the hills. From early ages, girls and boys have to do there part to carry firewood, fodder, and supplies from the cities. The preferred method is in a doko, or hand-woven wicker basket worn on their back with the weight bearing off straps around their forehead.

We continued up through Banthanti amidst forests and waterfalls, and then stopped for lunch in Nayathanti at the Hungry Eye restaurant. It was only an hour further on to our teahouse, but I longed to stop for the day.

As we neared Ghorepani, several groups of trekkers started to clump together on the single trail. I really hate hiking in long lines so we started what I can only call Trail Games. Where you strategically stop for an extra rest or push on even when you need water so you can pass a group.

You also mentally size up the other trekkers. When the young and frenetic pass you by, that’s ok. But when grandpa with a bad heart and a limp threatens to overtake you, you must go all out to maintain your frontal position, whatever the cost just because you should be able to go faster. Some don’t follow any rules of trail etiquette. My least favorite was the group that would make a big production of passing you, and then take a long rest so you pass them. Then they start on the trail again and pass you once more. This can go on for hours.

When Ghorepani came in to view, everyone broke out into a foot race. This was a race for survival, a race to get the best room at the best teahouse. We stopped at the very first one in sight, the See You Lodge, unaware there were better places with better views further up in the main section of town. But, this was one of three of the teahouses we stayed in the entire trip that had an attached private bath. We payed top dollar for the luxury at 300 NRS ($4) and it was worth it, despite its crumminess, as we didn’t have to venture out in the dark and cold to pee. The shower head sprayed right on to the floor (and by proximity, the toilet) which meant the floor was perennially wet. This isn't anything new, we have been dealing with this design feature for about 6 months now. Fortunately, we brought slip-on rubber sandals, that we could wear in the shower and later around the teahouse with our Southface socks.
We collapsed in our little tin can room and napped after the nearly 6 hour hike. Waking to eat a giant fried chicken leg with watery mashed potatoes. And then enjoying a Snickers by the warmth of the fire. There is something deeply satisfying about eating a candy bar and feeling zero guilt. Every chocolatey bite, a well deserved reward. Guys can’t understand this. Ron would eat two a day if it fit in the budget and Krishna’s backpack.

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