Wake up at around 10,000 feet and begin a steep climb. I don’t understand. We’re not at the top of this trail? Turns out that we climb an adjacent “hill” that is about even with Poon Hill. This is the highest altitude that we shall trek for the next few days. Two tourist airplanes fly past at eye level, and we wave, just above clouds.
So many ups and downs. Descending on slippery rocks in mild rain can be more painful to the knees than climbing.
Once we enter the forest, though, a different world of giant Rhododendron trees greets us with snarly trunks. It must be spectacular to see them in full bloom during the month of March.
Rains pours on us and it feels wonderful. Rain also awakens the leeches. Those little blood suckers start out small, and then crawl up your shoe in search of a vein. We pull them from our legs quite easily.
They will get you, eventually. Unlike a vampire, they drink themselves full of blood, quadruple in size, and then die. Oops, some of them sneak into our boots.
During lunch, where rice and spaghetti dominate many menus, Kumar tells us that most marriages in Nepal are arranged. He met his wife three days before the wedding…the Hindu way. Tek, the porter, is in a “love marriage,” a less common alternative. Both men share a common dream, for one of their children to obtain a United States visa. There are not enough jobs in Nepal.
“If you kill a man in Nepal, they send you to jail for 20 years, Kumar says. “If you kill a cow, even in a car accident, they send you to jail for 20 years also.”
After the fantastic forest hike, we arrive at our destination, the “Lonely Planet Lodge.” Take off those hiking boots and pull the leeches from your veins. All part of the game…not a health risk, just a little freaky. Locals believe that leeches drink only bad blood, which makes any animal healthier.
At this lodge, we meet a guy from Ireland who teaches weight-lifting in a remote school in India. Imagine that. His travel partner, a woman from the UK, will finish her degree with an internship in equestrian studies in Kentucky. After lots of beers with our new friends, we wake to incredible, though fleeting, mountain views.
Day four kicks our ass. Surely the most strenuous, or maybe we are just getting tired…slipping and low-stepping for several hours down a steep descent, only to climb the same terrain on a straight-up ascent around rice paddies and streams. There can be no toxins left in us, due to the constant leaking of sweat. After five hours, we eat, you guessed it…fried rice and mixed spaghetti.
We ascend yet again, up an environmentally exposed rocky trail. Another sodden sweat, this time with lunch in my throat. The magical views of valleys, and glimpses of ice-covered mountains relieve us of all pain, inspiring our spirit. At the top of most hills, Tek sings the trekking song. We don’t know the words to it, but sing along and end it with a throaty yell and renewed energy.
A family in the mountains wants to take photos with us. We show them the photos, and they laugh…and then they want a dollar. This is a first for us as there is minimal begging in Nepal. Folks are genuinely friendly and do not appear to want anything more than a smile and a “Namaste.”
After nine hours of trekking, we land at the Paradise Hotel. It has an attached bathroom. We are the only guests. Kumar called ahead, knowing our habits now as friends. He tells the proprietor to fill the fridge with six cold beers! We party with Kumar and Tek under shelter from the monsoon rain, and enjoy our bond of friendship. Tomorrow’s hike will only be two hours.
Cloudy skies block mountain views this morning. We enjoy the comfort of a car, riding back to the luxury of Hotel Peace Plaza, in Pokhara. What a privilege to experience a piece of the Himalayan Mountains, and the people of Nepal.
Thank you Abundant Universe! Namaste. Ron Mitchell