16.10.2013 - 17.10.2013 14 °C
So, as I've described, trekking even in October in Nepal can be wet. Waking up in Tal was an unpleasant experience as almost everything we'd hung round the kitchen fire was still wet, and additionally smoky. The only reason not everything I owned was wet was because of a premonition I had whilst packing for my 'round the world' adventure that led me to include a bin bag. I put everything in the bin bag and then into my rucksack - so my rucksack was sodden and heavy, but everything else I wasn't wearing stayed dry. I also now appreciate some advice given to me by a friend: if you're trekking, take extra hiking socks. I have only three pairs worn in rotation, and they stink because they're cheap. Also, buy a decent raincoat. Mine failed on the first day of torrential rain! And just a note on temperature here - from about 2000m the nights started getting chilly. Whilst Rich is fine without thermals, I enjoy mine as a nice, dry warmish layer I can put on at the end of a hard day of walking. Some trekkers were bright enough to bring extra shoes - even just flip-flops - so that they could escape the hiking boots for a while. Mine are luckily very comfortable; I never got a single blister.
After all that rain, we woke up to find none and the odd patch of blue peeping through a sheet of cloud. The waterfall we'd walked through was no more. On the way out of Tal it seemed my camera was broken, and I had a little tantrum until Rich pointed out that it was just on the screen. As we navigated the stone pathway (to the river that had defeated us before) I apologised. I lean on other people too much. I know what reserves we have, not what I have. You imagine yourself travelling, and the image is one of aloneness - but could I have come to Nepal on my own? Would it have been safe? I think so now but I had no idea before. Nepalis seem a friendly, peaceful lot. They cry out cheerful "namastes" to all and sundry, and I've never felt a twinge of distrust - distrust that I know I will feel in India. The higher you get in the mountains the more Tibetan and Buddhist everyone gets: the poorer but also the more benign. Going to Europe alone - now I could've done that because I know enough about what Europe is like. I could not have made the leap to Nepal, but now I'm here I know it would've been fine. In the meantime I must find other techniques to grow.
The sun did emerge that day; peaks sidled into view, razor-edged and beautiful in the play between light and shadow. The cliff-hugging path we took passed over several waterfalls. Nearly losing my balance over one I grabbed a pink cord with a bead attached from a crag at the next as a souvenir.
We stopped early at Danakyu, where trekkers of multiple nationalities - French, German, Japanese, Austrian and even Israeli - congregated in a dining room to chat and toast wet socks and steaming jackets over a heater.
We met Jordan, an English guy teaching all over the world with a girlfriend called 'I' and a sister called 'You', whose approach sounded dizzyingly flexible - sometimes he felt the need to change jobs, change cities, change countries, so he did. The Israelis had done military service whilst I'd been studying books. We also met Mikhail and Sebastian, two Germans. I spent a lot of the walk the next day talking with the latter - about not knowing what to do in life, about not wanting to turn into one of those people whose lives are sofas and houses and money, about trying to rise above that.
Until now, this is how I have lived: as if life is a sea voyage, and one must stock up as many provisions as possible, in the best and most popular vessel, to sail a route clearly known and well-mapped, and without risk. We already know the end of the journey. I don't know if I can ever be 'the real me' as Sebastian put it, and whether that real me does want to write or do something else. The 'real me' is a fog of more confident people's decisions. 'Namaste' means 'I salute the god in you', and it feels right to me, according with a belief that is religious at times but is also more general: we all have the fiery vision of who we are and should always be, and yet we conspire with society to douse it, to throw a veil over it, a shroud over the fire.
From Danakyu the ascent was tough, up steep stone stairs, then up a sheer hill cut with tree roots and slippery with mud. Afterwards we passed through Temang, a village otherworldly in its remoteness, made up of brightly coloured houses on mud streets with postcard mountain vistas behind, a human nest in the treetops of the world. The slopes rise from there to ridiculous heights before descending gently to the picturesque town of Chame at 2600m, which straddles a river and has a white Buddhist temple at its top. We ate the best dal bhat so far at the same table as the Germans, and there was much talk about German food (and many fantasies about sausages in the midst of our vegetarian fare. Eating meat in the mountains is not only difficult after a certain point as it becomes less and less available, but it's also inadvisable).
Outside the rain is with us again. I worry about the pass to come in later days (the heady Thorung La, at 5600m, where the lack of both pressure and oxygen promises to make even breathing difficult). I'm not sure why this challenge is suddenly here, for me - perhaps 'the real me' would be proud of it even if I did not choose it. The 'real me' could do it. For plain old me it is a little scary.