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Trekking: Day 2
The next morning, I almost forgot about my misery from the night before. Opening up my tent door, I was greeted by the sight of Pisang Peak, a massive mountain a few miles away. The air was chilly, but as the sun came over the peaks of the mountains, it started to get noticeably warmer.
With a hot cup of tea and a small breakfast in my stomach, I felt mostly revived after the previous day. The stunning vista was something that I could never get used to, and that alone seemed to give me an extra spring in my step.
We spent a little time exploring Ghyaru, but there wasn’t very much to see, and we didn’t have much time to spare either. Before long, we packed up again and were back on the trail.
A Dangerous Airport
Up to this point, we had mostly followed the river from town to town, but this time we deviated a little bit. Instead of leaving Ghyaru the way that we had come up, our posse took a different path that went higher up the mountain. It was only for a mile or so, but the altitude was hitting me hard, making me wonder if this day would be as much of a nightmare as the previous night. However, once we got to the high point of the trail, the views were more amazing than any that we had encountered so far. The mountains were shining in the sunlight, while the raging river looked small in the valley below. For the first time, I felt like I could grasp a little bit of the enormity of this place. The effect was powerful enough to root me to the ground, my senses barely able to comprehend the majesty before me. It was absolutely beautiful.
Once everyone got their fill of photos, we started the easiest leg of our journey. Mostly flat – if not angled downward a little – the trail was a welcome reprieve after the last 2 days of hiking. To the right, a massive wall of stone shot up into the sky. To the left, there was a sharp drop down into the valley, where a small airstrip could be seen below. This was the town of Humde, which housed one of the few airports that could be found this deep in the mountains. Air travel was dangerous in this area because of how close the mountains were, and the unpredictable gusts of wind that could throw a plane in a bad direction. As such, I never saw one flying in the area.
My New Mother
The next town we would come across was Ngawal, and it would mark the highest elevation we would experience on the trip: 15,000 feet. Without a doubt, this was my favorite town so far, as it held a certain life to it that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. Workers were building a structure on one end of the town, restaurants were bustling with locals and other trekkers, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Kumal and I walked around talking with folks, and eventually we settled down on a yak pelt with an elderly woman and her friend. We chatted for awhile, and she told me more about herself and her family, as I shared about mine. This village had been her home her entire life, while her son moved to America as soon as he was able. There is no way to aptly describe the depth of my conversation with this woman, only that this encounter reached down into my very soul. The people here were indescribable, and relationships of every kind held a depth different to what I was used to in the U.S. By the end of our conversation, she smiled and patted me on the shoulder, saying I was now her son too, and that I should come and visit again. I smiled and said that I would.
Once again, our time in this town was short, since we still had a long way to go before we reached our campsite for the night. Amidst the others, Kumal and I said goodbye to our new friends, and we left the village to begin the first downhill stretch since our group started hiking.
Learning the Language
Aside from the usual scenery of the mountains all around us, there wasn’t anything special about the landscape. In fact, it was actually quite barren. To pass the time, I asked Kumal if he could teach me a little of the local language, which he was more than happy to do. Eventually, my dad’s translator joined in on the fun of watching me butcher phrases like “Nice to meet you” and “See you again soon.” Before long, 2 others had come over as well, and it turned into one of the most lighthearted moments on the trip.
Dust from the road left a cloud in the air for the remainder of our hike. I pulled my balaclava over my mouth and nose, but could still feel some of the particles slipping through. Breathing became more difficult, but it was still manageable.
This continued for a few hours as we passed through some small hamlets. The town of Braga appeared on the horizon, and I asked Lokendra if that was the place we would set up camp for the night. He shook his head, and said it was the next town: Manang.
A Difficult Night
Originally, a school just between Braga and Manang was supposed to let us use their walled-in courtyard to make camp. However, when we got there, the gate was locked and there was no one else around. We had no choice but to continue walking for a few minutes before we came to a stretch of flat ground next to the river. The outskirts of Manang could be seen close by.
The sun was setting, and the wind was picking up stronger than it ever had, bringing with it a sudden chill. We pitched our tents and hunkered down for the night, where we had a visitor with us – a black dog settled down right outside my shelter.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. I woke up on multiple occasions, as it became more and more difficult to breathe. It felt like all of the dust I had inhaled from the day decided to clog up my lungs, and no matter how much I coughed, nothing seemed to help. Of course, this wasn’t a pleasant thought, considering the nearest medical facility was several days away. In the end, I had no choice but to fall back asleep and hope for a better morning.
Trekking: Day 3
I felt worse in the morning. In fact, I couldn’t remember a time on this trip when I felt more miserable. No, that’s not true…nothing would compare to the late night climb up to Ghyaru. That was yet another moment when I was sure I was on death’s door, but came to appreciate the resilience of the human body.
Tea was served again, as was a light breakfast. I couldn’t stomach much of it due to the nausea I was feeling, but it tasted good all the same. Today was when we would turn back the way we had come, but instead of retracing our steps, we would cross the river and visit a few towns that we had only seen from afar. Humde would be our first stop.
After turning around at Manang, we had to walk back on the same path we came in on, but it was only for a short amount of time. A bridge that was surrounded by construction machinery came into sight, and offered an easy way across.
The Tibetan Refugee
It wasn’t long before we came upon the border of the small airport town. There wasn’t much to see, so we moved through quickly, briefly engaging a few people in conversation. Kumal and I sat on a stone retaining wall at the outskirts of town while waiting for everyone else to finish what they were doing.
While we sat there, an elderly man silently approached and took a seat on the other side of me. I struck up a conversation and learned that he was originally from Tibet, and had crossed over the border without a passport to escape from the Chinese. A refugee in every sense of the word, he had no family or friends, and stuck to wandering the mountain villages.
He was a kind man, and I enjoyed chatting with him. He patted my hand before standing to go back into town, and I looked after him, wishing there was more time to hear his story. Unfortunately, daylight was limited. It was time to move on.
A Familiar View
Humde eventually drifted off into the distance behind us, and we were once again on our way through the dense forest. As the miles passed by, I could see the mountain leading up to Ghyaru on the other side of the river. Mixed emotions filled me, as I remembered how difficult it was to get up there not so long ago. In the daylight, it didn’t look quite as bad as it did the other night, but I knew I would feel differently if I actually had to climb it again.
The next several miles passed like this. Recognizable landmarks came and went, since we were traveling in a loop. Perhaps it was the sense of familiarity, but this section of our trek felt more peaceful, like I was visiting an old friend or returning home after a long time away.
This was especially the case when Pisang came into view.
The city on a hill, Upper Pisang, was clearly visible and brought with it a sense of nostalgia. However, we wouldn’t be passing through it this time around. Instead, the outskirts of its counterpart, Lower Pisang, quickly came upon us. A few young boys were laboring on a construction project when we arrived, and Kumal led me over to speak with them for a little bit.
The youngest was 14, and the oldest was in his early 20s. Most of them had left their homes in eastern Nepal in order to work on this bridge in Lower Pisang to make money. They were dirty and tired, but had bright smiles as they asked me questions about what America was like. One boy named Bisal was especially curious and had the most questions for me, before asking if we could take a picture together. Of course, I said yes.
I think about those boys often, and miss them dearly. It was only for the span of 30 minutes that we talked, but we established such a deep connection that I now think of them like brothers. If possible, I would like to see them again someday, though I know it would be almost impossible to track them down.
We were forced to move on. The sun was setting, and we were still a handful of miles from our campground for the night. In fact, we were going to set up camp at the location that we were supposed to on our first night, if we hadn’t been a day late.
The Final Campsite
So we moved as quickly as we could, now familiar with the mountain landscape and trails, especially in low light. It was a dramatic difference from our first day of trekking, but now I felt completely at home in this wilderness. Because of our aptitude, we were able to keep up with Lokendra better than expected, and managed to make it to the campsite before the sun completely set.
Once again, the wind was picking up as night fell, so we pitched our tents as quickly as we could. The shape of a mountain that resembled Half Dome in Yosemite National Park loomed over us, hiding us in its shadow. It was a strangely comforting feeling.
It didn’t take us long to make camp, and soon the smell of dinner was wafting through the air. Up to this point, we weren’t able to make a campfire for a number of reasons. Our elevation didn’t allow for many trees to grow, so there wasn’t much wood to spare for fuel, and the locations of our camp hadn’t been conducive for fire.
But tonight was different.
Lokendra and a few of our other translators went to a nearby wooden fence and started ripping planks off of it. With a little bit of tinder and a match, a roaring blaze was soon going a safe distance from our tents. It was an incredible luxury that did more than just warm the body – it lifted the spirit as well.
Those of us that brought portable stools pulled them out, while the rest found a good size rock to sit on. We made a circle around the fire, and for a moment, it felt like we were in someone’s backyard having a bonfire. All of the fatigue from the day seemed to melt away, leaving nothing but peace and contentment. It was truly the most relaxing period of time on this entire trip.
But eventually the flames were reduced to embers, and it was time to sleep. The next day, we would return to Chame.