Day 3: Lete to Kagbeni
What a view to start the day – Nilgiri
Blue skies as we wake up signal the start of a great day. I throw a few bits of clothing and my boots outside to see what the sun can do for them. It's still nippy. My socks are just about dry after wearing them almost all night in bed, not something I’d suggest in general.
We order Indian breakfasts of paratha with egg curry. This combined with the eggy salad I had the night before makes me someone to stay upwind of for the rest of the day, a shame as for most of it we have the wind behind us. Sorry Suresh!
We trek out and turn to the East as we follow the now gentle valley of the Kali Gandaki river. The trail stays fairly low, and at times when the river is low one can cut across the stony river bed.
We follow the road, avoiding a shortcut which involves wading through knee-deep water - all the messing about taking boots on and off would kill the time saving anyway.
The “main” route
The area is well-populated, with the occasional hamlet even away from the towns and villages.
Drying beans and chillis
Carrying on through Kobang (2580m),
we see caves up in the cliffs that people live in even today.
Limited accommodation here
I decide that my wet socks with wet boots are giving me blisters, so take 'em off and switch to my Croc flip flop things, complete with Turtle Croc Giblet (for this is the term) as bought for me by Pippi. Much better, and soon my feet are dry and not rubbing. May be too late though, I can feel something painful under my toes.
Aside from all the rain, this is actually a great time to be trekking, as just at the end of the monsoon everything is so green and fertile, so wild flowers line the trail. The apple trees that we start now to encounter are laden with fruit.
Apples, out of reach
Suddenly a plane drones overhead! Hurrah!
The first for five days, but it's about 11am now, very late. Turns out the weather has been fine for flights today, but the plane they would use was grounded in Kathmandu. Disaster! Generally they only have flights in the morning because strong winds pick up around lunchtime.
Stripping the hills of wood causes many of the landslide problems:
As one passes prayer wheels, one pulls on the levers at the base to spin the wheel, thereby “reading” the Tibetan prayer inscribed around the wheel:
Next town up is Tukuche (2580m), apple country
where the distillery Suresh takes me to is closed.
We consider breaking in with the home-made ladder
We content ourselves by stealing some tasty apples from a tree which is out of reach for most Nepalis, but not me :) Given that one of their products is 'Carrot Brandy', this may have been no bad thing. I pick up some stamps at the post office.
The buildings here are quite beautiful – Tukuche was once an important Thakali trading town.
As with other towns there are chorten at either end. One has to pass them clockwise.
On the way out of town, I spot a Dutch bakery advertising cappuccinos.
We stop and order some, plus a slice of apple crumble, which is actually more like apple cake. Very tasty.
Unfortunately Suresh yells shalom at a couple of Israelis passing. They decide to stop here too, then slowly a whole group of them turns up and crowds us out, talking loudly as they do. I still maintain that the only good one I've ever met was Joel in South America.
One of the better places to go
Outside of the town, there is an interesting ropeway with basket – I assume there is a village at the top and they use this to lift goods up and down.
Ski lift perhaps
The last of the trees
The child could hardly stand under the weight
Onwards to Marpha (2680m), which as we're pushed for time we skip through on the road.
The road through town
It's beautiful even from here, with a large gompa, Tashi Lhakhang, and the house where Japanese explorer Ekai Kawaguchi stayed in 1899.
Wood stacked on roofs
For when you can’t see the real mountains
At the far end of town there is some interesting equipment for drying fruit (presumably apples primarily here), taking advantage of the wind and sun in the valley:
Space-aged hair drier
We pass Tibetan chorten and prayer wheels.
It’s strange that the river is so dark, so unlike most mountain streams and glacial run-off. I think it gets the colour from the dusty part of Mustang valley we are reaching.
Don’t fall in without access to a washing machine
Looks further than the map implies
We manage to hitch a lift on the way to Jomsom in a jeep, saving us an hour that we desperately need if we're to get to Kagbeni by sunset.
Hold on tight
I tell Suresh that this ride must remain secret, no one must find out that we did the trek by jeep, especially Jina!
Running into Jomsom
Jomsom (2760m) is the administrative HQ of the area, with large army base, plenty of lodges and shops, and the airport that we hope to fly out from in three days. Just seeing the runway is a revelation - it's a short narrow strip of tarmac positioned in a relatively straight bit of deep valley. No wonder they're paranoid about weather conditions for flying here.
The view of Nilgiri from Jomsom high street
We pop into the Sita Air office to confirm our flight. A very attractive girl behind the desk expresses surprise - 'oh, there's a flight on the 3rd, is there, they never tell us until a day before'. Great. They write our details on a form and tell us to pop back the day before. We actually have a relatively good chance of flying as Raju at Pokhara Palace Hotel has wrangled us on to a charter flight, i.e. someone has booked the whole plane, presumably for a group, and has some seats free. Otherwise the planes are all booked up.
We carry on, and should be okay for getting to Kagbeni by sunset, it's supposed to be 2hrs, though given our track record it won't be done in much less!
Change of scenery
At this point the valley becomes much drier, and I'm strongly reminded of Aconcagua, with a wide flat stony valley floor, and steep rock hills lining the way, ridges occasionally cutting in.
Looking back towards Jomsom
Not a shrub in sight
We have a choice of taking a path high above the river, or walking down on the flat. I explain to Suresh that this is not a choice.
We’re heading up there tomorrow
Power following the road
Rounding a final ridge, the wind really picks up, pushing us up to the top and giving us a great view over Ekli Bhatti (alone house) and Kagbeni as the sun goes down. Looking back we have the impressive face of Nilgiri, almost cloud free.
Suresh hasn't had a dal bhat all day, and being Nepali you can see he's about to stop working, so we stop for tea and some veg and tuna momos, fried of course, with some delicious homemade spicy chutney.
A group of Russians rabbit on next to us as we leave for the final 30 minutes into Kagbeni (2840m).
As we arrive, so do a large group of middle-aged (scary aside: am I middle aged?!) German women, occupying a whole jeep. We met them previously at Dana. One asked us if we'd come by jeep? Mostly no. But it’s really far, did you walk really fast? No. So you had 10 hour days? Err, yes.
We stay at the refurbished Shangri-La, run by a local family whose children seem to have visited quite a few countries, Japan, US etc.
Looking back down the valley
We have a small clean room, and I go for a shower. Stepping on to the bathroom floor is akin to plunging ones feet on to a glacier. How do they get tiles this cold without refrigeration? The shower is rather dismal, I suspect someone else is using hot water at the same time as the flow is very variable. It's still great to wash, although, as Suresh points out, we have had lots of rain showers recently. Not sure that one cuts it with the ladies, Suresh!
Downstairs we sit near the Chinese lanterns enjoying our hard-earned Everest beer and order some food - I go for the recommended Mustang mushroom soup with Kagbeni bread, though when I see the size of it (some Chinese girls had ordered it before us) I tack on a salad to the order.
It's quite late by the time we retire, but tomorrow's an easy day, apart from the 1,000m climb. All in a day's work.
Up in the room I use my penknife to burst my blister. Looks small but surprising amount of fluid. Yum!