Hille to Ghorapani

This is as strenuous as it’s going to get. An ascent of 1390 metres in one day and all of it on a stone staircase of more than 3300 steps.

But watching the early morning mist trail off on the rice terraces it doesn’t seem such a daunting prospect for some reason.

There’s something about that mist. The way it whirls and swirls through the mountains, clinging to it and moving slowly and silently.

Time stands still for an instant as I watch it slither down and everything feels so ageless. As if time is irrelevant. This place will always look like this. That mist will always bend and wind its way through these hills, the soil will always encourage a hue of green that is deeper, greener somehow, than any other.

I watch it all, then feel someone’s gaze upon me.

Laxman. He’s watching me stare, sees me immobile and slightly dazed, in my trance. He doesn’t know that I always get like this when confronted with nature, when confronted with something that city life denies you.

“Tired, huh?”

It takes a second or two to compute his statement.

“Yeah. Tired.”

We set out and my thoughts are green. That’s all I can say. That’s the only word I have to describe it.

Green.

Some peaceful, primeval, hippy part of me. Some deep, nostalgic, cliched part of me sees only green, thinks only green, is at peace.

One foot in front of the other is all that matters. Upwards, upwards. Onwards, onwards. Just walk. Just climb.

3300 steps and all of them green.

And then, in this stupor I spot a goat. Not just one in fact, but a whole herd of them, standing in front of me, gaping and trying to figure out if I am friend or foe. If I plan to move out of the way or not.

Goats. I’d forgotten about the goats.

You see Dessain is approaching. Dessain is a major Hindu festival which requires the sacrifice of a goat. And the goats need to somehow find their way down from their mountain sanctuary, where they have spent around seven blissful years, and down to the cities and towns, where they will meet their ceremonial end.

And they’re on their way down now to meet their doom. Just as we are on our way up, to meet ….

… well, anyway, there they are in front of me, the first of many, many herds we will meet that day as we make slow and arduous progress up towards Ghorapani. Which is a blessing, in a way. Because with every herd we encounter, we need to stop and simply let them pass. And that means we get to rest.

At some point we hit Ulleri – around halfway – and decide this is the place to stop for lunch.

Ulleri. It sounds like some banshee wail. Some guttural war cry. Ullerreeeeeeeee!

Days later, in Ghasa, we’ll meet a girl named Ulleri. Her parents travelled in these parts in the 1970s and, remembering the name of that town, at some point I suppose decided that this would be the name of their first daughter.

Hmmmm.

Still, it is a nice place.

During lunch we are joined by the most exquisitely beautiful cat I think I have ever seen. It’s markings both tiger stripes and leopard spots. Its eyes as green and glinting. Amazing. It scurries about at our feet seeking scraps from the table, but remains resolutely unaffectionate. A real cat in other words.

Over lunch, the rain sets in. A cold, damp all encompassing drizzle that I should be able to tolerate given that it resembles the fine misty rain we have here (on a seemingly constant basis) in Holland. But there are some facts of life that are simply irrefutable, and the fact that walking in a cold misty rain, most times and most places, basically sucks.

Okay, so I should be more resolute. I should look around me and realise that, although it is wet and cold, I am nevertheless walking in Nepali rain, Himalayan rain, exotic rain. I am in one of the most astounding places on earth.

But I cannot see it.

All I can see is cloud. Every step I take is treacherous, as the rain turns the stone slabs into gleaming, slippery slabs of danger.

So for a while I walk, face down, just concentrating on the ground beneath my feet, occasionally looking up to allow the goats, the never ending caravan of goats, to pass.

But at some point the rain eases, my confidence returns, my realisation that I can walk this fast, can apply this much pressure without slipping, so I look up.

And it as though we have been transported back to some Jurassic era. Mossy trees, ferns, damp, watery greenery is all around us. A primordial smell fills the air.

We’re in a rainforest. High up in the Himalayas and we’re in a rainforest!
From lush farmland to this in just a half day’s walk. This country is astounding. Truly astounding.

And then, so unexpectedly we round a bend and a town appears before us.
Lower Ghorapani already! We’re there. Cold and damp but there.

As we pull in to town I look up at the clouds and hope they won’t stay long. The plan tomorrow is to get up at dawn and climb Poon Hill to get a great view of the Annapurna range. But if it stays like this then we won’t see a thing.

While I’m thinking this I realise we have stopped outside a large guesthouse and assume that Laxman, who seems to be engaged in some animated conversation with two locals, is negotiating some decent room rate for us.

The we are called together to meet the locals, two young smiling boys in knitted woollen hats.

These are the infamous Maoist guerrillas.

They have come to claim their “fee” – a fifteen dollar toll that they levy on passing tourists, which helps fund their revolution.

I’d heard a lot about these brigands before I came. How they stop you on the trail and demand money, but who kindly give you a receipt upon payment, so that, should you encounter their comrades later in the hills, you can produce your proof of payment to the cause and proceed along your merry way.

We paid and took our receipts. A flimsy piece of paper adorned with familiar faces that I haven’t encountered in years. Marx. Trotsky. Lenin. Stalin. Mao. Dead heroes of a long discredited philosophy, still holding out at the top of the earth.

I read my receipt:

Unite the oppressed classes and people of the world! Long live Marxism – Leninism -Maoism and Prachandapath!

“Tourist Fee Receipt. For the protection of language, culture, art of Magarat autonomous region, for the development of tourist areas and to keep them clean and beautiful and finally to bring about the complete change by completing the Nepalese Revolution, your help will be important. We welcome you and our heartfelt thanks for your help.”

So, welcome to the people’s republic of Ghorapani!

Now, who’s for apple pie…..?

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