Chapter 2 - Where are you from?
I have slept a not insignificant, though still quite minimal, number of nights in the mountains, either in a tent, cabin, refuge or hotel, and always, regardless of how restless the sleep had been, provided morning brought with it signs of good weather, have I woken up refreshed, clear-minded and eager to step outside and breath in the pine-scented air. Waking up in Dharapani was no different, and rising from bed after a night of unexpectedly tranquil sleep, I nearly dashed outside to take a look at our surroundings in daylight (I'd reached a compromise with Adriana to keep the curtains closed, as she allegedly couldn't sleep once sunlight hit her face). What I saw when I did get out did not disappoint - a small village, with people going about their morning business, surrounded by forested mountains (deciduous, rather than coniferous trees, and I know that at that altitude they're just hills for the locals, but my perception of them was still filtered through Romanian height standards, and by them I was approaching the highest a mountain could go!), river flowing loudly in the nearby valley. What impressed me the most was seeing these huge, imposing stone peaks rising around, reaching perhaps 3000 meters and managing to appear daunting all the while staying in the shadow of giants, with frost-covered behemoths nearly thrice their height mere dozens of kilometers away, still obscured from our view, though not for long.
Breakfast was quickly out of the way, and after Dawa's (as the pattern would soon become obvious) obligatory 30 minute wait for us to finish getting ready, we were on our way, following the winding road towards Chame. Our initial worries concerning the undesirable effects the somewhat recently built road and, more importantly, its traffic might have on us (worries built upon the words of the Internet) were gradually dismissed as the hours and kilometers passed and scarcely a jeep went by us. Furthermore, trails avoiding the round have been blazed for a good portion of the circuit in what is called the NATT (Natural Annapurna Trekking Trails), of which I'll write about in more detail in a later post. Suffice it to say, we were undisturbed in our walk across the road (at this point I should specify that "road" perhaps is a bit too generous a term - it's more of a dirt track), free to cast our eyes over the towering rocky crests around us, with the occasional snow-capped peaks in the distance, to which the sky and forests contributed chromatically to make a highly energetic and motivational combination of green, brown, blue and white (excessively poetic an interpretation as that may be). The electric posts' contribution was less artistic.
|From my understanding, structures somewhat akin to tombstones, or at any rate somehow involved in the death ritual. Haven't uncovered more yet.|
On our way up we passed through several settlements of various size and isolation, in some of which small children greeted us with large, enthusiastic, round faces; we traded candy, balloons and pencils for smiles and moved on, having got the better end of the deal.
|The girl on the right gave a memorably serious expression that I would soon find wasn't an isolated case.|
Eventually the trail split from the road, so we followed it, going up a sufficiently demandingly steep climb so as to reach the lunch break spot nearly drenched in sweat.
|Prayer wheels, a common sight whenever entering or leaving villages.|
On that note, I must commend (without turning this into advertisement!) my newly bought Osprey Atmos 50 litre rucksack, whose presumptuously named "anti-gravity" or such suspension system made its contact with my back minimal, ensuring adequate air flow, implicitly less heat and less sweat, evidently so compared to my companions.
|Infrastructure is impressive, considering the altitude.|
|A mare nurturing her foal, perhaps a few days old.|
|These children do not fuck around, but I promise, they do smile!|
|Many waterfalls dotted the cliffs around us.|
The lunch break was an interesting tradition we would more or less repeat for the next 18 days, though like in many other things in life, the first one was most memorable. We got there under a clear blue sky, quickly washed, placed our orders (oh, I hadn't mentioned, we always ate lunch - and all other meals - in teahouses) and proceeded to flaccidly lie down under the sun's warm rays and wait for our food to be ready. In the meantime, another group of trekkers stopped by and we had the first of what would be many conversations with complete strangers. This particular group consisted of Stuart, an Englishman who'd moved to Thailand, a Russian couple from the Ural Mountains region who disproved my assumptions on stereotypical Russian resistance to cold, and a Japanese-American guy from Seattle who pretty much sprinted ahead of the rest of the group.
|Himalayan vulture (or griffon, as it's also called!). First (and so far from perfect) shot, better ones upcoming.|
I'm only mentioning these seemingly minor details (though, to be fair, if you've read up to this point you probably have a high enough tolerance to minor details being shoved in your face so as to not really need any justification for them) because one of the great things I got out of the whole trip, independent of the sights and culture and whatnot, is what a great variety there is in the tourists traveling there and how there's a sort of instant feeling of camaraderie between all of us that comes by default, merely because we presumably all share the same love for travel and for nature.
Also during the lunch break we saw, from an admittedly long distance, a funeral procession, which involved, to our limited understanding, walking around the village, gathering all the people out of their houses, all the while chanting and drumming.
|The funeral procession at full length|
|And a close-up of the drummers.|
By the time we'd finished eating (as well as the mandatory, short, post-meal siesta), the clear blue sky had become quite covered in clouds.
|Terrace farming, a brilliant way of using space efficiently.|
As we continued going up, passing and getting passed by the group we'd recently befriended as either of us made stops for photos and such, the sky grew progressively darker, and eventually, a light drizzle started and followed us the rest of the way to Chame, which at that point thankfully wasn't long.
Chame (elevation 2650 m) is the headquarters of the Manang district and, enticing as it may have been to keep exploring the village after we dropped our stuff in the teahouse, because of the suboptimal weather (which did clear out a bit more towards the evening) and fatigue built up in one day of.. walking, we spent the late afternoon and evening inside the stove-heated dining room. All was not lost however, after the rain was over (well, the first rain) we got some great views of Manaslu in the distance and Annapurna II towering right behind us.
|Manaslu,far in the distance, the first peak over 8000 m we got the chance to see, from our teahouse in Chame.|
Eager to sample the local culture as extensively as possible, we jumped at the opportunity to try a glass of chhaang, a local rice-based beer-like beverage, as well as the next couple of glasses.
|The teahouse, like most along the way, had a cosy interior, with dining rooms heated by metal stoves like the one whose exhaust pipe is visible here.|
Dinner out of the way and properly relaxed after the journey, we all slept soundly and woke up the next day refreshed and ready to continue on to our next destination, Upper Pisang.