October 15 Fly to Kathmandu
It's a 5:45 am wake up call as the Resort's naturalist is determined to "have some activities" for us before we leave. The monsoon has passed and I don't yet know of the tragedy that played out higher up on the Annapurna Circuit as blizzards and avalanches took at least two dozen lives with hundreds of trekkers yet to be located and accounted for. With the patchy internet and lack of other communication, it will be days before people's safety can be confirmed. It's a tragedy on an international scale. At the resort, we head down to the river which is swollen from the rains and somewhat intimidating, especially considering the well-used shallow wooden boats we board. But the boatmen are skilled and we peel out into the strong current and are whisked downstream for a short while. We then walk back birdwatching along a sandy track following large fresh rhino tracks. Then it's off to the airport where we wait an extra two hours for the 25 minute flight to Kathmandu (but far better than a six hour car ride!). I take lunch again at the Rosemary Kitchen for another dijon mayonnaise chicken. Then before I've barely digested, it's out for dinner to the Rum Doodle with Wongchu, Chhongnuri and Chhoti . The Rum Doodle is a post trekking/climbing ritual and, according to tradition, I hang an autographed cardboard foot from its ceiling instructing Terry to fill the other side when he completes his trek in the spring. Much of our talk is on the unfolding crisis on the Annapurna circuit and previous tragedies in the Himalaya. It's a sobering discussion. We also talk about my last three days in Kathmandu. It's an easy decision to opt for a short trek instead, especially if the days are easy with good views. It will be just me and Chhongnuri.
October 16 Trek 14 km to Chisapani (2165 meters)
As the warden declared in Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is failure to communicate"; in this case my definition about a short, easy trek, given the 1000 meter tall staircase that greeted me as we stepped out of the car in Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. I quickly became acquainted with the clever oxymoron "Nepali Flats", which refers to the steep sections of the trail that join really steep sections ("first steep, then some flats, then steep"). Sometimes it's better not to ask. After 5 hours, I'm parked in our tea house dining hall in the town of Chisapani, which itself is parked inside a large, cold cloud. But it's a fresh, clean cloud and that makes all the difference. I have cold dal bhat served that I just can't face and buy two Snickers bars instead. Three volunteers ask me to join them and we talk about their challenging/rewarding experiences in the education and health systems of Kathmandu.
October 17 Trek 20 km to Nagarkot (1932 meters)
Last blog entry today! We got up before 6:00 am to watch the sunrise from the hotel roof on the ranges to the north. Aside from Manaslu I can also see another 8000 meter peak, Shishapangma, along with the Latang, Ganesh and Dorie Lapke Himal. Spectacular. But by the time we finish breakfast, we're once again engulfed in cloud. It's a jungle trek so not much to see but lots to hear. We finally start descending out of the clouds around noon into the emerald green terraced hillsides. We press on through a grotty little town in search of lunch but end up hiking almost all the way to Nagarkot. There's a nasty little climb to our hotel and, when we flop onto the restaurant chairs, Chhongnuri and I concur it's been our most challenging of our fourteen days of trekking. I'm worn out and ready for home. The hotel is perched high on a hill that will give us a spectacular sunrise view again. Then it will be a taxi back to Kathmandu, goodbyes to the team at Peak Promotion and off to the airport for my overnight flight to Hong Kong. I'll be repacking all the stuff that was carted about that proved unnecessary. I never did use my hiking boots (a pair of high heels would have been more worthwhile for better balance in the latrines!). Ditto for the heavy socks, down coat, goretex pants, solar charger, etc., etc. But then again I thankfully dodged the blizzard on Thorung pass. There but for the grace of God. So sad about that tragedy but very happy to know our friend's son is safe. Namaste!