We woke up to a beautiful morning in Ulleri. The hamlet was neatly arranged on either side of the main stairway. There were several other lodges and many seemed to host guests for long durations.
On the previous trek in Sikkim, our friend Ratul was notorious for taking forever to pack his belongings and get ready each morning. After all, he was ‘over prepared,’ if there is such a term. His equipment featured a bear whistle and even a flare gun. Given the proximity with China, a flare gun fired in distress might have invited the ire of the People’s Liberation Army. However, this time round, it seemed as though he’d ‘turned over a new leaf’. He was ready ahead of everyone.
The breakfast served was a rich one. Deep fried ‘Gurung bread’ with fried eggs was to become the trek staple. The bread is the equivalent of a deep fried bhatura; only this one was thicker. But we were going to burn all these calories away and so even the heavy ones like me dug in without any guilt.
Onward to Ghorepani
Breakfast was followed by a few group photos and then with a steady gait, we began the walk towards Ghorepani. It was mostly again just stairs that went up the hill and each time a slight descent came upon us, I was quite elated. For the most part though, we were gaining altitude. Also, these lower regions of the trek were fairly well inhabited. The walking time from Ulleri to Ghorepani wasn’t much and so we made it in time for a late lunch.
However, along the way, Katwal met a person who claimed to have rhododendron derived honey. Now this particular variety is not the ‘innocent’ kind that is considered a super food – rich in nutrients and anti-ageing properties. Rhododendron honey supposedly results in hallucinogenic effects once consumed. And the seller advised extreme caution when ingesting the substance. Well, Katwal was sold and he shelled out a small fortune for what should otherwise have cost no more than a few hundred rupees if it was ordinary honey. Some INR1500 later, Katwal shared that we were in for a treat that evening. Later in Ghorepani, the twelve of us sat around in a circle, with the bottle and a small teaspoon.
Keeping the prescribed dosage in mind, most of us tasted maybe a half teaspoon each. We waited with bated breath to see if the effects were beginning to set in. Then we reckoned we should perhaps increase the dosage and on the second attempt, we tried a little more. Once again, we waited to see if anything close to hallucinating was beginning to show. But alas, nothing happened. Not even an inkling of anything that was removed from feeling normal. It was then we realised that we’d fallen victim to a wily salesman who’d sold us ordinary honey. But in all fairness, his act was commendable. The term ‘snake oil salesman’ perhaps alludes to such crafty souls.
One common theme that also caught my attention along the way was the frequency of the term ‘macchapucchre’ or fish tail. One of the peaks was named Macchapucchre since it resembled the tail of a fish. Its namesake was found dime a dozen. In fact, in Ghorepani, we were staying at a place called the Fish Tail Lodge.
Dinner was a tasty meal comprising chicken curry, rice and vegetables. Most planned on an early night since there was a sunrise walk to undertake in the wee hours. There was a sunrise view point some distance away called Poon Hill.
I, for one, decided to skip the early morning walk. I thought I would catch up on a little extra sleep. Later, I would find out to my dismay that it was indeed a beautiful sight that I missed out on.
From Ghorepani to Tadapani
Following breakfast on day six, we set out for Tadapani. This stretch was through rhodendron thickets and every so often, a little hamlet would come into view. These usually would have a few lodges, eateries and a couple of stores. We stopped for tea at one of these places and later in the day for lunch. Several among us also sampled some delicious gundruk for the first time. This is a Nepalese culinary delight prepared using a fermented leafy vegetable.
As we walked along, there came into view a little stream dotted with cairns. It made for a most unusual sight – one that was uniquely beautiful. I only found out later that placing cairns was a vintage method used to mark trails. It let travelers know they were on the right path.
We made it into Tadapani in good time and it was a most quaint lodge that we checked into. The temperature was dipping and the rooms were well equipped with thick quilts. Aside from all the useless banter we were all party to, the one highlight was one friend’s level of preparation. Chat had even carried along a hair dryer for the trek. After he’d showered, the ensuing steps that followed made me wonder if he was gearing up for a party in ‘downtown’ Tadapani. The only fly in the ointment was there was no such glitzy place befitting of a gentleman turned out in his finest.
We spent the evening taking a brief stroll along the village, purchasing a few knick-knacks from vendors selling handicrafts and trinkets. Later that evening, we learnt that the thousands of stairs we’d climbed this far were only the appetiser. The best was yet to come in the form of stairs that first descended into Chomrong and then ascended towards Sinuwa. But these were minor hindrances on the horizon because we then indulged in pizza and French fries. Nepal really is well equipped even in their remote locales and how they are able to serve up such fare, in the back of beyond, is noteworthy.
Personally, I was at my stoic best by this time. It really did not matter whether there were a few hundred or several thousand stairs on the cards. I had conditioned my mind in a Sisyphus kind of way, while throwing in some inspiration from R.L Stevenson. I was just going to do it (as if I was condemned to do so like Sisyphus was). Besides, I would do it all while enjoying the journey (as Stevenson had suggested).
This is the second part in a four-part series. The first part can be read here.