On the way to Ghorapani we made an ascent of 1360 m from Hille. Today, to get to Tatopani and the hot spring baths we have to go down. 1750m down to be precise and most of it on limestone slabs that are so wet and slippery from rain and goat manure, that we may as well be skating on ice.
Still, fortified by a hot breakfast and the amazing view from Poon Hill, the thought of a knee crunching descent doesn’t seem so bad and, at the end of it, there’s the promise of those hot springs, so off we go.
To be honest, the early rise and the impressions that are already filling my brain mean that I am a little unobservant as we start the walk.
Down we go, through magnolia forest and rhododendrons, past fields of millet and marijuana, through little villages with colourful guesthouses and tempting garden terraces.
Down, down, down the staircase goes, like some Alice in Wonderland burrow.
Sleepiness is strange sometimes. It’s not that there’s a dreamlike quality to the walk today. More that my brain has decided to turn down the volume, to set the receptors to low. Clearly I have received too much information already today, and my brain has hit impression overload and refuses to take anymore in until the last batch has been absorbed.
So I walk, the weight of the rucksack, the sound of my steps, the main focus of my attention. Then I realise I am alone. Tania and Laxman are up ahead, the rest of the group are behind and, coming towards me up the path, is the most bent and brown and crooked old woman I have ever seen.
Her eyes are hidden in a crease of wrinkles and she appears to wear a permanent squint, as if she is staring into a glare of light.
She hobbles up supported by her stick, so slowly, I have to stop and watch because I am scared she may fall, or snap in two, she seems so frail.
Old age in such a place must be a desperate thing.
In a country that averages US$2 a day, an old woman must be living as close to the edge of oblivion as it is possible to do without actually dying.
As she reaches me, she stops to talk, her mouth an empty gape of missing teeth, her eyes invisible in the crease of skin. I cannot understand her, of course, and she knows this. Words are meaningless. Only an outstretched had means anything.
But I have been told of the poverty here. Told that I need to tough it out and learn to ignore it. Begging is no solution to the problem. And this is true in the long term, but is a fact that will not serve this old woman well today, or tomorrow. In her old age, in her decrepitude, she has no choice. Itâ€™s this or ….. or what, I wonder ……
So I hand her a note and walk on, trying not to acknowledge her gratitude. Because what have I done after all? Given her a few rupees to last her a week or two perhaps. A few pounds from my pocket that, to me, mean very little, but to her may mean a lot. I will jet back on an aeroplane to my comfortable life in two weeks time. Sheâ€™ll remain on this hillside in the winter.
The thought of her fills my head through the descent so that I see very little. I remember goats. I recall the mules crossing the suspension bridge, their feathered plumes reminding me of a circus act – their heavy loads in fact worthy indeed of a circus act.
And then, suddenly I am down, falling towards Dave, who turns to see me fall, but can do nothing.
On the wet slabs we survey the damage. A gash in my left leg and a torn trouser leg.
I just bought those trousers in Pokhara, the shop owner shortening them to fit my leg on the spot, and within 5 minutes, to be sure of the sale.
Iâ€™d gotten attached to them with their tacky Nepal flag on the sides, that brandished me as a tourist with little style or grace but an eye for the naff.
We are a mere 10 minutes from Tatopani and those longed for hot springs, but now my open wound means I will be unable to dip into those replenishing waters and relax.
The expletives that fill my head when I realise this are unprintable but Iâ€™m sure you can use your imagination.
As I sit on the slabs contemplating all of this, an old woman is examining my wrists to check they aren’t broken and Lucy, Tania and Jeanna have kicked into action and are applying disinfectant and bandages. I just sit there and marvel at all the useful activity. If it were the other way round I’d be standing there looking at the wound and wondering what to do. But the gals are all action! Yey!
So it is that I hobble around Tatopani looking for a new pair of trousers, while my amigos wallow in the hot waters of the spring and return warm and glowing and refreshed an hour or so later to stare in shock at the vile stripy pants I have managed to acquire while they were otherwise engaged.
“They’re even worse that the other ones!” wails Laxman without actually saying it when he sees them, managing instead to say a polite
“Oh, they’re nice …”
“Yeah” I reply, “I know” 🙂