Staying put in Jumla for two days was much needed. We were utterly destroyed when we hobbled in there, the beds brought some comfort on our sore bodies. The only thing really missing was heating: the dining room became nice and warm when the stove was lit, but the bedrooms remained cold. Power was down for most of our stay, this is a common issue in rural Nepal during winter. There was hot water, though: the shower heads didn’t work but the showers had taps too, so we could squat down and enjoy the heat running over us.
The owner of the hotel, Norbu Lama, had his birthday while we were there. He invited us to join for the celebration. It was really nice: they had a bunch of friends over, there was lots of food and drink. One of his granddaughters had her birthday too: they were seated together at a table of honour, and people loaded them with prayer scarfs. We tasted some local alcohol made of barley. In the morning, people came back for a really nice breakfast.
We counted 12 days of walking to Simikot. There was a storm brewing the in the far west: lots of snow was predicted around Hilsa and Simikot on the 23rd and 24th of January. That at once settled the question of where we would cross the finish line: the high pass just before Hilsa would close. In any case we doubted that anyone would still be there: it’s a high and isolated place, so the people probably left to spend the worst of winter at lower altitudes. We just hoped the storm wouldn’t close the way to Simikot. Only 12 days, and we’d done it.
We all got sick in Jumla: PJ first, I followed the night before we left, and Marylene in the morning. It was the worst diarrhoea I’ve suffered in Nepal. After an hour of walking, Marylene and I were both in the bushes. Yet we wanted to go: we were perfectly timed now to sit out the storm in a hotel in Gamgadhi, rather than in our tent. Fortunately, we got to buy toilet paper from the hotel. I have never carried so much toilet paper around, but better safe than sorry.
Luckily, the way was easy. Many trails run from Jumla towards Rara Lake, we chose the most straightforward one. We reached what we thought would be our destination for the day at 1 PM already. Then we were told that there was no guesthouse there, so we had to continue up the mountain. We passed a couple of camping spots but no water, so all we could do was to continue up and up and up. The short day we’d planned turned into a long one: 1200m up and 20km in distance. It hurt: I had a lot of cramps, and the hipbelt pushing into my belly didn’t exactly help, either. But we made it to the pass, and there we found a little guesthouse where we could sleep sheltered from the wind with dal bhat for dinner.
We’re all starting to reach the conclusion that going back to Europe will be a shock. A few days ago, while we were filtering water from one of the thousands of black hoses running down the mountainsides to bring water to the villages, Marylene mentioned how great it will be just open the tap again and fill our glass. For a second there, my head really spun around in wonder. A tap. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them: taps out of which flows drinkable water, just like that.
When you’ve been out here for so long it becomes hard to imagine all the comforts awaiting at home: a fridge full of food, hot water just like that, showers, a washing machine, heated rooms. Even trains, or busses without people hanging on the outside of them. Flush toilets. Microwaves, electric cooking plates. We have so much to be grateful for in the west, we lead such comfortable lives with so much luxury around us. If only more people would realise that, and complain less.
When I get home, I’ll probably be found next to the radiator for a week, getting up from time to time to stare into the fridge in wonder. Maybe on a confused day I’ll be out in the garden with my filter, looking for the hose.
That food contained things we all lacked: protein, for one. There was fresh chicken, and though I normally don’t eat meat I accepted this time. It was such a relief for the body, while the rice settled our stomachs. The next day went much better. People have slow mornings here in rural Nepal, so our starting time is getting later as we sit by the fire and wait for a cup of tea. They don’t really have breakfast that early either, so we usually walk for a few hours before we stop somewhere. Around 11.00, a lady popped her head out of her kitchen and asked:” Khanaa?” We never say no to food anymore, we’ve been so hungry that the gnawing feeling almost borders hunger. After a great potato curry with flat bread, the remainder of the day passed easy.
We stayed at another great teahouse that evening, run by a family living in the lower stories. A young girl fixed everything for us: she prepared our room and cooked us dinner. We later found out that she was only 11. I was a spoiled little brat at that age, while this girl takes care of her younger siblings and cooks dinner for her family every single night. She looked much older than her age, we estimated her to be 14-15. Marylene gave her a gift in the morning: a little bracelet she’d bought in Dhorpatan. The girl was moved by that.
On evenings like those, sitting by the fire exchanging a few words of English and Nepali with our hosts I want it to never end. But then the morning comes, and all courage leaves me as I strap my pack on and tie my shoes while wishing it was all over: the cold, the hunger, the exhaustion. We all miss home, we miss the familiar faces of our family and our friends. No one thought it would come that far, to a countdown to the end. Yet here we are.
We crossed the one to final pass the following morning, after having our passports checked twice in the course of 3 hours. They wrote our details in a book that probably no one ever reads, didn’t ask all too many questions, and we were free to move on. From the pass we could see into the wild mountains of Dolpo once more. A long descent brought us back to a gravel road and the village of Pina, where we did not find lunch. It’s hard to know when we’ll come across our next proper meal, and this time we were out of luck.
All day long, people told us there would be a hotel in Jhyari. The people in that town told us too, pointing us here and there until we were out of the village. The children there were begging rudely and persistently. A couple had been shouting ‘fuck you’ from a hill, a couple of others threw some rocks, some were trying to send us in the wrong direction. All in all everyone was shouting at us, and soon we’d all had it. We found a quiet place to camp – or so we thought – until at dusk a bunch of kids showed up and started throwing dirt at our tents. Luckily they left quickly and did not return. Eagerly we turned our backs on Jhyari and its people the next morning, remembering the 98% of Nepali people we’d met who were entirely fantastic.
It was hard actually to find Rara lake in the maze of trails on the hillside. After a while we decided to go cross country and cut straight up until we hit Rara Lake Road. From there it was easy enough, and that was good: Marylene broke down that morning, but revived once we got sight of the lake. It was a really nice place, and oh so quiet. Thanks to our unexpected continuation yesterday it was a short distance and we were already by the lake at 09.00.
We took a long break on one side of the lake before continuing to Rara village. We found a really nice teahouse there, it could truly compete with those on the big tourist circuits. After lunch we spent the afternoon relaxing by the lakeshore. It was surprisingly warm to be mid-winter at 3000m. The snow still hadn’t come, though that would change in a few days. Marylene wanted to rent a boat and paddle on the lake, but foreigners are not allowed to do that (which seemed rather absurd after we witnessed the military struggle across). There was a huge plume of smoke from some wildfire in the distance. It was a great afternoon. We forgot our sorrows for a while.
I slept like a baby, and for once we got breakfast before going. The way to Gamgadhi was short and leisurely. The prediction for the storm had improved: it had gone down in strength by now, to just a rainy night and a rainy morning. We decided to stay a day anyhow, just to sit out the worst and give ourselves some rest so we could gather up our courage for the final seven days. I can’t believe we made it this far.
“These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is in the lowlands
And always will be”
Total ascent: 58340m
Total descent: 56140m
Total distance: 1153km