Annapurna Circuit Day 18: Tatopani to Ghorepani
Day 18 April 9, 2018: Tatopani (1200m) to Ghorepani (2874m), distance: 10 miles, duration: 9h 30m, elevation gain: 1674m, ascended: 5767 feet, descended: 704 feet, food: $36.00, lodging: $4.00 at Poon Hill Guest House, total distance to date: 143.5 miles
Only in the Himalayas is it possible to hike continuously for 10 hours covering 10 miles and never reach "the top". Up. Up. Up. OMG Up. Continuous Up.
On the road out of Tatopani this morning, we struck up a conversation with a Nepalese woman and her son. They said they knew a shortcut to the trail and insisted we follow them. Their shortcut led through a swift-moving river, past a family of monkeys, and straight up terraced mountain fields of cabbage, peas, and wild marijuana. Panting and sweating from exertion, I was unsure we had made a good choice following two strangers on an unmarked trail in a remote area of Nepal.
About a mile up, we reached their home - a simple structure perched on the side of the mountain, overlooking the valley and surrounding hills. We sat on the floor of the open living area to catch our breath while the mother made some tea. We chatted with her 13-year old son Parvi (who spoke English well) and 8-year old daughter Parvina. They showed us around their farm, pointing out carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbages, and apple and banana trees. Parvina was especially excited to show us their cow, hens, eggs, and a new honeybee hive their mother had made. As we looked across the lush jungle valley and commented on the beauty of their homestead, Parvi nodded and said with a genuine, innocent smile "It's perfect. We have everything we need, right here." His mother looked at us with less enthusiasm, handed us a cup of sweet tea, and sighed "Maybe beautiful. But we are poor. No money."
As we sipped the tea, I thought for the thousandth time how privileged I was to say in complete naiveté "money doesn't matter". Of course it matters. It matters a lot to a rural farmer and his wife trying to feed, clothe, and educate two bright, precocious children. (Weeks later, I watched a Human Rights Watch video about child brides in Nepal. When a family is too poor to make ends meet, daughters as young as 12 years old may be pulled out of school and forced to marry. 37% of girls in Nepal marry before the age of 18 and 10% before the age of 15. I think often about little Parvina and hope that is never her fate.)
We said our goodbye's and handed Parvin's mother a few hundred rupees for the tea, which she accepted. Parvin then led us up a few more terraces to the NATT trail directly above their village. The trail led, of course, UP.
We had lunch at a rooftop restaurant in Shikha. There was a volleyball tournament happening down the hill and the entire village was at the event, spectating and cheering. A loudspeaker boomed the referee calls and score across the valley. We had thought about staying the night in Shikha because we were tired and still had a long way UP to Ghorepani. The innkeeper warned us that we would not get any sleep because there would be a huge party lasting until the wee hours of the morning after the tournament. She encouraged us to keep going.
Thirty minutes after leaving town, we were caught in a drenching downpour. Just for kicks, try running uphill in the mud sometime with all your belongings in a 20 pound backpack, wearing gear that you discover in the moment is not really waterproof after all. It's mood-transformative. We scurried into the first teahouse we came upon and discovered we had re-grouped with friends we had met the night before in Tatopani. Frowns turned to smiles. We gathered around a table and drank hot tea while the rain turned to hail, thunder rumbled and lightening flashed. Good times!
Ninety minutes later, we were on our way once again - UP - in a drizzle. There are thousands of stone stairs between Tatopani and Ghorepani. Our calves were burning and we were spent by the time we finally arrived at the village gate. Passing through the cheerful entrance, we continued to climb more steps - probably another hundred - before finally reaching the town at the TOP. *ouch*