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Annapurna Circuit - DAY 2

The first word that was spoken in our cabin-like room this morning was: “Is something burning?” One of our team mates has asthma and it was the first thing she noticed when she woke up. The smoke and the effect it had on her was a recurring theme, especially as we climbed higher and the climate became colder. i couldn’t smell anything, however, and it should have warned me about my own state of health.

Off to the shower, where a monstrous, humongous, ferocious, bloodthirsty, gargantuan, hideous, grotesque, fiendish, vile eight-legged beast was waiting for this poor, unsuspecting hiker to enter the ambush it had viciously laid for her. It loomed upside-down from its corner perch, seemingly ready to strike, its protracted limbs winded tightly for the impending assault. It had of course not shown itself to anyone else, and when That-Man was later dispatched to ascertain the level of its pure, unadulterated malevolence, he didn’t notice it at once, and – to my utter astonishment - it didn’t seem quite that large, life-threatening or deliberately menacing as i'd described it. The way he saw it, the poor little creature was traumatised beyond repair by some behemoth barging into its safe space and shattering the tranquility of the morning with some unearthly utterings about a hideous tormentor. The “poor little cutie pie” was still curled up in a crevice, hiding until the shadow of death would pass and leave it in peace. It was clear to see who was wrapped around whose little finger. Hmmph!

The result of all this was my first wet wipe “shower” for the trip. There would be many a shower as we headed up the mountain and this one was easily discarded as opposed to sharing it with such a duplicitous character.

We set off a little later than we’d aimed, but with high hopes of reaching Dharapani early. Just before you leave Chamje, a sign directs you to a footpath that leads through lush green forests, and very soon we crossed the first of what we expected to be many suspension bridges. Everyone had their photo-producing equipment out. Mobile phones and GoPro’s were used to take pictures, selfies and videos galore. It seemed overkill to whip out the big DSLR (not mentioning the fact that suspension bridges – while excellent photo subjects and spectacular vantage points over meandering streams and cascading rapids IN THEORY – are not my idea of fun, especially since that incident two years ago when i had to share another suspension bridge over an abyss with a motorcycle bent on testing my appetite for adrenaline.) Everyone was happily snapping away while i was focusing on crossing the bridge, singing hymns for courage and walking resolutely towards the end of this particular challenge to my already frayed nerves (as per the description of Bigfoot in the shower.) Fortunately, my appetite for savouring the spectacular natural display while suspended in mid-air got the better of me and i stopped for a few seconds to take a rushed, generous gulp of our surroundings before turning my feet towards the far side of the bridge again. Sometimes your fears are not as big as your desire to experience life, and that’s the only reason i was on this journey in the first place. The will to see and hear and smell and feel what’s going on in this extraordinary part of the world told me that my anti-adventurous self could accomplish this, and i hoped with all my heart that it was true.

Our first goal was Tal, a village 5km from Chamje, where we stopped for lunch. But before we reached Tal, we took a short tea break at the foot of a steep climb. By now the realisation that our backpacks were heavier than we’d ever imagined were setting in, and with it the acceptance of the inevitable fact that we were stuck with it for 10 days. After a short rest we left Nilgiri Hotel and Restaurant and braved the little ascent, at the end of which an information board told us that we’d be hiking around 3 hours from Tal to Dharapani that afternoon. Soon we reached the famous “Welcome to Manang” gate, after which a few steps downhill brought us to the road alongside the banks of the Marsyangdi Nadi river. A short walk from here lay Tal. If i hadn’t suspected that the water would be freezing, and if i wasn’t as weary, and if the prospect of taking off the backpack only to have to lift it up again – if it wasn’t for all of these if’s – then i'd enthusiastically throw myself into the milky water of the river and lie on my back like a starfish and drift downstream for a while. But these if’s directed my footsteps toward the place Ekraj had selected for our lunch stop in Tal: Peaceland Guest House.

Tal seems to us to be the Lauterbrunnen of Manang district. It doesn’t matter which way your lens is directed, you’re likely to snap a picture of a waterfall cascading from the top of the cliffs to the valley floor right behind the bright little hamlet, which houses two rows of neat and colourfully painted teahouses along the main street. It might be the neatest town we came across on our journey, and is on our list for a stopover if we’re ever able to return to this neck o’ the woods.

That-Man-Who-Told-Me-The-Backpack-Would-Be-Heavier-Than-i'd-Prepared-For plopped his backpack down with the rest of us and offered me a seat in the shade next to him. i was attempting to attach the newly-bought filter to my camera (with some kind of medical tape that lady M had offered as part of her strategy to lessen the weight of her backpack – a whole 3.53 grams worth of weight). Our team mates explored the surroundings and even found the energy to climb one whole flight of stairs (You heard me right: ONE! WHOLE! FLIGHT! OF! STAIRS!) to have their picture taken from the roof of the neighbouring building.

The marigolds in the garden in hues of both tangerine and deep maroon was a brilliant display of more of these blooms than i'd ever seen together. Maybe they’ll make their way into a flowerbed in Keukenhof someday, which is the best way i know to describe the abundance and splendour of these decidedly ordinary flowers. Have you ever smelled a marigold? They don’t really smell like flowers, do they? But they do smell fresh and wholesome and kind of like bottled rays of sunshine. It’s right up there with sweetpeas and freesias as one of my favourite flower aromas.

After a hearty and leisurely lunch, we set off again on a trail that snaked next to the river for a while, before crossing a suspension bridge to the vehicle road, all the while steadily climbing. Our team mates had stayed behind just outside Tal, where they ventured into the icy river and had some fun. One of them picked up some rocks for her dad, a retired geologist, and when she sent him pictures of these, he replied with a detailed description of how they were formed and some interesting history of the mountains we were exploring. Soon they joined us again; not a difficult feat if you consider the lightning speed at which i had been plodding forward. The suspension bridge crossing was prolonged by the same enthusiastic documentation as this morning’s crossing, and then we were on the vehicle track towards Dharapani. “Onward and upward” is an accurate way of describing the track here. Although we were still surrounded by lush green vegetation, the occasional waterfall and the constant presence of a rushing river below, it seemed as if the dusty road would not end. We were beginning to sound like the are-we-there-yet-crowd. After each bend in the road, Ekraj told us, “Dharapani is just around the next corner.” Maybe something was lost in translation, but MANY corners later we stumbled into the small enclave of Dharapani around 16:00 that afternoon.

Our home for the night was Tibet Lhasa Guest House & Restaurant. The triple room was on the ground floor, which meant that the ladies didn’t have to climb the stairs often. We settled in and while some extraordinarily strong team members had a chat in the square, i fished out my sleeping bag and took the opportunity of getting to know my bunk a little better. Before the sun set, That-Man insisted on disturbing my attempt at an early hibernation, but by the time dinner arrived, i was so glad for what seemed to be his heartless cruelty at the time. After a long day, our bodies were craving food and we obliged willingly.

With stiff legs, sore feet and an ankle that couldn’t decide whether it needed to be bandaged or not, we went to sleep. The beautiful thing about strenuous exercise is that sleep comes easily and it’s sweeter and deeper than ever.

Day 2 Planned: Dharapani to Chame

Day 2 in Reality: Chamje to Dharapani

Day 2 Distance: 11km

Day 2 Time Walking: 9 hours (including lunch) (Chamje to Tal – 3 hours; Tal to Dharapani – 4 hours)

Day 2 Altitude Gain: 515m

Days Behind: 1

Day 1 Budget pp: $25

Day 1 Cost pp:$18

Cumulative Savings pp: $17

Lessons for next trip:

Definitely spend a night in Tal.

Other articles in this series include:

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