How about an update on my seventeen-day trekking adventure in fast-forward journal mode? Let’s go!
Day 1 (September 26): Kathmandu (elevation 1400 meters) to Arughat (elevation 600 meters). Ten hours by bus, pointy seats, enough said.
Day 2 (September 27): Arughat to Lapu Besi (884m). Approximately four hours walking.
Jesus Travels (our bus, so named for the words painted on its front) takes us from Arughat to Arkhet Bazaar, the starting point of our trek.
I am content. Sore knee, smushed toe, sore thumb, but wholly content. Rivers and jagged green valleys—my element. No thoughts today. First night of camping, last real shower of the excursion.
Day 3 (September 28): Lapu Besi to Korlabesi (970m). Three and a half hours, Sherpa flat.
A waterfall (bpap chu, Tib.) around every corner. Trail is ‘Sherpa flat,’ meaning little net gain in elevation, but almost constant up and down. Lungi time (bathing wrapped in cotton fabric to preserve modesty) at the river.
Day 4 (September 29): Korlabesi to Jagat (1340m). About five and a half hours.
Sitting on the ‘front porch’ of my tent, looking out at the sparsely green cliffs that drop into the icy Buddhi Gandaki river below, the taste of Hannah’s sawdust-flavored oat squares in my mouth, I am taking a break from thinking beyond “how beautiful.” My thoughts today? “When’s dinner?” Should I put on sunblock? Nah.” “Chill out and enjoy the breaks, Toby; they’re good for you.” It’s good to be moving, waking up to these mountains (and a donkey outside my tent); it is enough for the moment.
Day 5 (September 30): Jagat to Lokpa (2040m). About six hours.
Walking donkey pace the last two hours—getting stuck behind our donkey train an unfortunate development in the day. We find out that stealthy leeches abound at this campsite, but I manage to escape leech-free.
Day 6 (October 1): Lokpa to Chumling (2363m). About three hours, all uphill.
Happy October. Woke up to rain throughout the night; all gear soaking wet. Happy October—orange leaves on the ground today! The most awkward bucket bath of my life, trying to rinse my hair under the waist-high spigot. One mitten down, one to go.
Day 7 (October 2): Chumling to Chhekam (3010m). About three hours, very steep uphill.
It’s cold here! Trying to finish crocheting mitten number two before my fingers fall off. The winter hat and down jacket have made it out of my backpack. Landscape shifted to pine forests today. Rock cairns emerging from the mist along the trail. Real cowbell music, accompanied by the very talkative wearers. A horse and rider trot smartly across an iron suspension bridge: hello, Tsum.
Day 8 (October 3): Chhekam to Ngakhu (~3100m). Less than an hour.
The present has become very much a mystery, as well as a gift. Popo-lak(grandfather, Tib. The lak, pronounced ‘la,’ is honorific) Dawa Doje and Amma-lak (mother, Tib. Used indiscriminately to address village women) Pasang Dolma wander in and out of the kitchen while Traci and I wonder what exactly to do in our new homestay.
Day 8-11 (October 3-6): Homestay at Ngakhu.Grain threshing, snot-nosed children spinning, bag carrying and other fun and games (and work) at the field behind our house. The women here are beautiful and ageless; twenty or fifty, they look older than their years and do the same back-breaking work together. A day long trail ride through the surrounding area in the most uncomfortable saddle I have ever experienced. Still, I can’t think of a better way to see Tsum than cantering along a narrow alley between stone walls, slouched back slightly the way they ride here. Pancakes for breakfast: inji (foreigner) food, I suspect. The rhythmic clicking of amma-lak’sloom fills the sun-lightened air for a few minutes one morning. Strips of blue green turquoise, red pink burgundy, thread onto the empty page and the music fills with pattern. Little brother Samden sings Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to baby shimi (cat, Tib.): the silliest thing ever. Pasang Dolma drags a bull three times her size by his nose ring. She ties the legs of the female tso(yak-cow hybrids) together and the lilt of her humming draws milk into the wood pail between her knees. Her head scarf tied neatly, mountains framing the picture—no photos of this moment; memories will last longer. A sick and sleepless night slows me down, and I spend some time recuperating from a sinus infection/cold.
Day 11 (October 6): Move to campsite at Lar (3245m). Colder and windier.
Day 12 (October 7): Camping in Lar.
Hot sun, cold wind, wide expanse of bleached, smooth stones hiding trickling tributaries to the icy blue river beyond.
Day 13 (October 8): Lar to Chumling. A few hours downhill.
Hannah and I do a bit of stretching on the second story of the building by our campsite. Apparently the most interesting to happen to our riveted audience in weeks.
Day 14 (October 9): Chumling to Jagat. About ten hours, including a long lunch break.
5:00 am wake-up. 3:45, really, thanks to the porters’ usual habit of regular pot banging as they make breakfast. Snickers bar turned white and crumbly from two weeks of rough travel. Still tasty. I have had more candy bars in the last month than in my entire life prior.
Day 15 (October 10): Jagat to Kani Besi (~720m) Ten hours, lunch break included.
Many more trekkers heading up as we hike out. Glad to miss the crowds.
Day 16 (October 11): Kani Besi to Arughat. Many hours.
Happy birthday to me! Hot walk in the sun and a long wait for trusty Jesus Travels to deliver us from Arkhet Bazaar. A rum and coke to celebrate twenty-one years of life, a lovely birthday cake, and a night sleeping under the stars make up for it.
Day 17 (October 12): Arughat to Kathmandu. Ten-ish hours.
Wake-up at some horrible pre-five o’clock hour. Much more comfortable bus. Cappuccino and a slice of chocolate musse cake at Flavors Cafe to celebrate my return to Bodha.
Lest you think classes were absent from this trip, most mornings featured Tibetan language class, and many afternoons we heard lectures from our traveling entourage of teachers and scholars. Unfortunately, these happenings failed to make the final cut for this post.
*Tsum is the name of the valley where we trekked. Sum means three in Tibetan. Chik, Nyi, Sum translates as One, Two, Three!