I must say that the Trekkers Lodge guesthouse in Tatopani really was beautiful. Set in a small tropical garden, with a path that leads down to the hot springs and the river, the setting is very tranquil and luxurious.
Tatopani is quite a lively little village and has plenty of stores selling all kinds of tourist wares (including stripy trousers!) but in the gardens of the lodge, a tranquillity reigns that is quite something.
They have a great little restaurant/bar and after a days trekking it really is bliss to sit under a scented tree and drink a cold beer.
The rooms themselves are rather plush, with their bare stone walls and wooden beamed ceilings. They also have private bathrooms with all the hot running water you could desire – all in all then, a great little place to stay, and certainly one of the more luxurious places on the trail.
As I snuggled down in my bed that night I listed to the rain thunder down relentlessly on the tin roof, beating a rather ominous rhythm. If it continued like this then we were going to be in for another cold, wet tramp the next day.
And sure enough, come the next morning, the sky was heavy and grey, the clouds plump and oppressive.
Laxman scoured the local shops to get pack covers for our rucksacks, something we had all rather optimistically forgotten to pack. So, note to self, always, always take your pack cover. Rain is an inevitability no matter how much you want to pretend it won’t come down.
So it is we set out, our blue plastic rain sheets rustling and crackling and flapping around us.
This is a stage of the trip I have been looking forward to, as it takes us through the Kali Gandaki valley and through the world’s deepest gorge (2200m) and into the province of Mustang.
Mustang. It seems so fantastical, so intriguing. This secret part of the globe that few tourists are granted access to. The hidden kingdom of Upper Mustang. And we are walking towards it.
Before we get there though there’s a few more days walking to get through. And for the next few stages we will be joined by hordes of pilgrims who have joined the trail in Tatopani. They are making a pilgrimage to the temple in Muktinath to celebrate the festival of Dessain.
It’s a colourful sight to behold actually. The women are attired much the same as they would be, if they were in town. Lipstick, gold jewellery and bright saris abound. Many carry simple holdalls. Trainers and sandals are the preferred footwear.
I feel decidedly over prepared with my Gortex rain jacket, platypus water container, sturdy hiking boots, and other high-tech trekking paraphernalia. I look like I’m kitted out for a major expedition. They look like they’re off for a gentle stroll in the park.
I console myself by thinking back to all the times that my boots have saved me from injury as I tripped, stumbled or stubbed my toe. No, sandals are not for me …
Which is perhaps just as well. As the gravel path wends its way along a cliff-side trail, through tunnels carved into the rock, I am glad of my boots.
This stretch of the trail is also a high traffic area for mule trains and we all develop a Pavolvian response when we hear the distinctive tinkling of their bells – move to the inside of the path and wait as they pass.
On the descent to Dana a long agile procession meets us and we all marvel at the agility of these amazing and sturdy little beasts. They trot so gracefully down the narrow, hazardous path, despite the weight (and unwieldy dimensions) of the crates strapped to their backs. Most carry fruit from the orchards destined for the markets. Either that or beer, it seems, for the thirsty tourists.
They are truly wonderful. But they are not to be messed with. Don’t even think of trying to walk on as they pass you. Doing so will simply result in getting bumped and bashed and bruised by the boxes they carry. They make no allowances for your space on the path, and if you find yourself on the outer edge as they pass you could be in serious trouble. One bump and you’d be off the edge.
So it is that the day is spent stepping aside to allow them to pass. Which isn’t so bad really. Because any danger they pose is far outweighed by the simple fact that, with their feathered plumes, and nimble feet, they are a beautiful sight to behold.
Eventually we arrive at Rupse Chhahara, out stop for lunch. And Laxman has a surprise for us
Rupse Chhahara means “beautiful waterfall” and as we settle down in the garden of the guesthouse for lunch we gaze down the deep lush gorge and over at the waterfall itself.
I could have sat there for years I reckon, just gazing out at that scene. There was something so serene about it all. the kind of scenery that brings with it an immediate stillness and sense of peace. The only sounds as we sit there are comfortable sighs, the tinkling of the ever present mule trains and the gentle sploosh of the waterfall.
It leaves me in a trance of contentment. So much so that I walk the remaining stretch to Ghasa with an almost beatific smile on my face and this despite the rain.
The path winds its way up to Ghasa through solid rock, the gorge falling away steeply to our left. It feels as though we are cocooned within the rock itself as we walk on.
The rain though is beginning to seep into our bones and the chill is setting in.
At the army checkpost we have to wait in line while our documents are checked and the necessary entries in the registers are made, and standing there in the cold I suddenly realise that I am chattering, that my skin resembles a chicken.
The fact that the armed guards carry some serious looking machine guns also does nothing to ease me. If you’re not used to seeing guns, then it never feels comfortable to be confronted with them.
It’s funny though. The guards themselves are so young and so friendly that their guns seem incongruous. I can’t actually imagine them firing them. I look at the gun, imagine the violence and horror such a thing is capable of unleashing, then look at their faces, smiling and relaxed and the two things simply don’t match.
And the guards themselves seem more interested in hearing where we are all from, where we are headed, where we’ve been and what we think of Nepal, than they are in actually guarding the entrance to the town. All in all, it seems rather strange.
I think back to the calm waterfall as I stare at the gun. Can this be the same day, I wonder.
Past the checkpost and we are greeted at last by a sign that says we have entered Ghasa. At last!
All any of us want now is a hot shower, some dry clothes and a decent meal. In a few minutes we’ll be there.
However, Ghasa turns out to be a very long town. There’s Lower Ghasa, Middle Ghasa and Upper Ghasa. Twenty minutes after entering the town, we’re still walking. Every guesthouse we pass seems so tantalising. So warm and snug and comfortable.
We resort to that childish questions
“Are we there yet?”
“Is this our guesthouse”
“Almost” and “No” seem to be the constant reply.
And then at last the National Guest House comes into view advertising it’s solar powered hot showers and extensive menu and Laxman informs us we’ve arrived.
Cold and damp and exhausted the relief at having arrived is written on all our faces, and the prospect of basic creature comforts has cheered us up no end.