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We gathered at the bridge, feeling trapped by our current circumstances. While the structure itself was connected to both sides of the ravine, the right side was severely compromised. The pillar that was supposed to be supporting the wire had crumbled, and left the right side of the bridge to hang limply. The other side seemed to be in workable shape, but still didn’t inspire much confidence. If we did try to cross it, we would have to hug the left wire, and hope that we wouldn’t slip or wander too far the other direction. Losing our balance would mean a tumble over the broken side of the bridge and into the raging rapids below. This was an exercise hard enough to manage in normal conditions, let alone on a swinging bridge that was slick with rain water.
We looked at Lokendra, and he shrugged. “There’s no other choice.”
As we thought, we would have to cross this swinging death trap. Lokendra dove in first, with the rest of us left to attempt this feat in a singular fashion. We were amazed as Lokendra scrambled across the bridge without hesitation, in a quick, fluid motion. Then, our team leader went next, and I decided to go right after him.
Trying my hardest not to slip, I stepped gingerly across the unstable structure. The water was a frothy white below me, the wind strained to push me over the edge, and the added weight from my backpack left me questioning my ability to balance properly. After what felt like an eternity, my feet landed back on solid ground, and I looked back at one of the most dangerous things I’d attempted in my life.
It took a few minutes before my heart rate went back to normal.
I watched in anticipation as the rest of my group began their journey as well. Some walked as though they were fawns, with fresh and wobbly legs, and others looked a little more solid despite the swaying bridge beneath them. We all released the buildup of anxiety once we were safely across, and our relief made us willing to pause for a celebratory snack break.
However, Lokendra walked around, a look of concern growing deeper on his face.
The path split here, one trail going left and the other going right. Lokendra told us to wait for him as he went down the left path, but I decided to follow since I had finished eating. The mist was turning into larger rain drops, so I pulled my jacket up around me, silently following him deeper into the woods.
A structure came into view. It was nothing more than a few logs supporting a makeshift roof, but the stone structure underneath it caught my attention. Whitish powder made copious piles on the ground around it.
“Cremation,” Lokendra spoke, having caught my lingering gaze.
My lips pursed in realization. This place seemed pretty far removed for a crematorium, but I supposed it was intentional to keep the thought of death as isolated as possible.
Quickly moving beyond this point, Lokendra and I came to the bank of the river we just crossed. The trail seemed to end here, taken over by massive boulders lining the edge of the water. Completely impassable, any way you looked at it.
I looked at Lokendra as doubt began to form in my mind. He did know where he was going, right? These boulders had been here for awhile, and the trail clearly never extended beyond this point.
Without a word, Lokendra turned around and headed back the way we had come until we joined our group members again. They looked at me with questioning eyes, and I explained to them what happened. As the rain continued to fall and fatigue set in, the general morale of the team continued to drop. Hungry, tired, wet, and cold… After Lokendra’s brief exploration of the trail on our right, we were now apparently lost as well.
To forge our own way, or to go back across the dangerous swinging bridge. That was our question to wrestle with in that moment, and there didn’t seem to be any good answer.
Without a doubt, we could backtrack until we made it to the road, which would guide us to our destination. However, going all the way back just to catch the road (which was a longer route in the first place) would mean we wouldn’t arrive at Chame until very late at night, if not early in the morning. An option that none of us really wanted to consider.
So we pushed forward down the path that Lokendra had recently come back from. At this point, we didn’t have any other options, and this trail would take us in the right direction at the very least.
One of my companions abruptly stopped in front of me, and I watched his hand motion to the side. “Is this a trail here?”
We all got closer, scarcely able to believe it. He was right – there was a barely noticeable rabbit trail that Lokendra had missed a few minutes ago. The branching path quickly brought us back up to the main road that we had originally deviated from, issuing a flood of relief. We had been incredibly close to the main road the whole time, and none of us realized it.
Having saved a questionable amount of time by taking the shortcut, Lokendra suggested we take the road the rest of the way into the village. There were no objections to this thought.
The rest of the hike went by without incident, and eventually the rain let up enough where we didn’t need our jackets anymore. I was once again struck by the natural beauty of this place. Each hour we walked, it seemed there was just another stunning vista or open plain that looked completely untouched by man. Despite the ache in my shoulders and feet, a smile lit up my face until the sun went down.
I lost track of how many hours we walked. Every time we passed by a tiny village, Lokendra would look at us to say Chame was the next town we would enter. He was probably just trying to boost our spirits for the final push. In reality, we passed through 5 more villages before we saw the outskirts of our destination.
It was completely dark by the time we entered town. Overall, it was much larger than any of the other hamlets we had passed up to this point. I didn’t know how far we had to walk until we reached our camp for the night, but given the size of the place, it looked like it could be another half an hour.
The streets weren’t terribly busy, but it still felt good to be back in civilization again. Dogs ran around snarling at each other, fast streaks barely visible in the darkness. A few scattered residents were walking around, or carrying large baskets, while some were holding live chickens. Dinner, no doubt.
We continued on like this for a few more minutes, before a larger structure appeared on our left. It was a two story building with a front porch that looked more like a courtyard. It wasn’t a hotel, but Lokendra explained to us that he knew the owners. This would be our accommodation for the night.
I dragged myself inside, barely squeezing out the energy to greet the owners. The door connected to a short hallway. There, various sizes of flip flops were stored, and this opened up to a large living space. On the right side of the hall there was another door that led to a smaller room.
We took our hiking boots off and placed them next to the sandals before entering the larger living area. The floor seemed to be concrete with a thin layer of padding on the top, while the walls were rectangular stones assembled piece by piece. A couple of bare bulbs illuminated the space, revealing a small kitchen station against one wall. It wasn’t much, but it was shelter.
I set my pack down and sat next to it, which I knew was a mistake right away. Because as soon as my back hit the wall, my eyes closed, and I instantly fell asleep. A few minutes later, I woke up just long enough to unroll my sleeping bag and slip inside before I again entered dreamland.