November 20, 2010
We woke up to another clear, blue sky. We left our curtains open all through the day and night; when you wake up with the sun, there’s no need to block out its light. When I opened my eyes, I could see the glacier in its still ice tumbles, catching and tossing rays.
We packed up, and by 7, we were in the kitchen. Our lovely guest house keeper was cooking again, letting his wife sleep. We ate pancakes and enjoyed the warmth coming from the fire. It’s getting colder, and even our house keeper rubbed his arms brusquely, to ward off the chill.
Before we left, the wife woke up, and once we’d paid, we took turns bowing with our hands pressed together in thanks and Namaste. They went outside to wave us off.
Covering the same trail we took to get here, we made our way down to Langtang and the small trickle of villages that descend from there. The trail seemed sleepier and so did the villages. Few people passed us, and judging from the smoking chimneys, most people were still inside, sitting by the fire.
Ever so gradually, the sun warmed our shoulders enough for us to take off our jackets. Going downhill, we used less energy, and after three hours of hiking, I was surprised to find that we had gone so far. At checkpoints along the way, the soldiers seemed surprised that we had come all the way from Kyanjin Gompa. There were hardly any names in the ledger.
It felt like we had all of Langtang valley to ourselves, and as we walked through fallen leaves and crossed more streams, we felt lucky. Not only are we in a beautiful place uncrowded by tourists, but for the first time, we also have a pretty good idea about our plans for the future. We have plans, and we’re excited about them, and that’s exactly what we wanted from this trip: a beautiful place to walk and talk and think. We wanted to make plans, and we wanted to be excited about them.
I’m going to get a Masters in Social Work. I’m not sure exactly where and when quite yet, but I’ve decided that I’d like to go back to school, and for a while, the jobs I have been most interested in where all in the field of Social Work. Before I start the degree, I’m going to find a job for 40 hours a week. Joshua will go to peace officer training, and I will keep writing. I hope that if I have a job that doesn’t suck up all my emotional energies, I will have plenty of time and motivation to write, and Joshua has promised to hold me to it.
While being a Social Worker or a Police Officer might not be our dream jobs, our dream jobs don’t have paychecks we can count on. We’re still going to do those things: we’ll farm and I’ll write, and we’ll even try to make money at it. But for now, we’re pursuing the next best thing. Jobs that we’ll enjoy and a paycheck on the other end. In exchange, we get a farm and a family and the chance to pay off our debts.
We spent most of our time today just thinking our own thoughts. I’m already planning a schedule where I work, exercise, and write. I’m already carving out space and time. I’m also thinking about going back to school, and I’m excited about it. I’m thinking about all the different places I could work with a degree in Social Work – a hospital, a school, government, therapy… I think I could be interested in any of them.
Joshua’s thinking about baking bread, making cheese, investigating crimes, and shooting ducks (I’m serious; his words, not mine). They’re all good things, and with the sun shining down on the path and the leaves crunching under our feet, we are really, really happy.
For lunch, we stopped at a lodge in Goda Tabela. We ordered the usual – veg chowmein with fried potatoes – and played cards. Our cook’s little boy toddled about in the yard, pulling a cheese-grater behind him with a shoelace. Every once in a while, he’d stop and look at us and shout something in Nepali, then he’d go inside and shout at his mother. It seemed like he was running the place.
After lunch, we walked the last couple of hours to Upper Rimche. We saw a few more trekkers, but even the Lama Hotel – one of the biggest collection of lodges on the Langtang trail – seemed empty. To our left, the river rushed over boulders the size of cars, and even though we admired the view on our way up, we’re still admiring it on the way down.
In Rimche, the Hotel Ganesh was buzzing. Oddly enough, here were all the trekkers that we hadn’t seen all day. We debated for a bit, wondering if we should go back or forward, but ultimately, we decided to stay. There are six other couples here, but none of them are traveling in groups, and hardly any of them speak the same language. We’re just hoping no one snores.
For a while, we sat outside, reading. Hotel Ganesh is on top of a ridge, and it catches a lot of late-afternoon sunlight. I finished The Hobbit in that sort of glow you get when the sun is just setting. Despite myself, I grew to rather like Mr. Baggins by the end, and I closed the pages satisfied.
When the sun went down, we all gathered into the lodge for Dal Bhaat near the fire. It’s warm in here, and Joshua’s reading while I’m writing. See? I’m already carving out the time 🙂
After we eat the Dal Bhaat, we sit and chat with a guy from Germany and another from Holland. Both are in the midst of long trips, and the guy from Holland tells us a little bit about his months in Northern India. Apparently, he’s also done the bus ride from Leh to Manali, but instead of reaching Manali, the bus stopped at the parachute cafe in the middle, and he was stuck there for 6 days. The passes were too snowy, so rather than heading to Manali, they just carted him back to Leh. He made his way south via Kashmir. He was very laid back about it all, and he tells us that he’ll spend days at a time in one place, just wandering around and reading. After hiking Annapurna Base Camp, he stayed for two weeks in Pokhara, just reading, sleeping, and eating. When he went to go pay the bill, they told him he had been there for 9 days, and he was floored. ‘I thought it had been 4!’ he said, laughing.
As Joshua and I headed off to bed, we both agreed that we could never spend 9 days doing nothing, but that we liked the sound of someone who could and not realize it, just the same. Before we fell asleep, Joshua asked, amazed, ‘how did he travel in Northern India and Nepal for almost a year and still retain that pudge?!’
November 19, 2010
Joshua was still grumbling in irritation when the alarm went off. Last night, the Germans had stayed up until late, singing, stomping, clapping, and shouting. Their renditions of Old Country Road and Whatcha Gonna Do With a Drunken Sailor were surprisingly sonorous, but Joshua was unimpressed. Especially when they devolved into humming at the same pitch until everyone’s ears rang and then broke it with loud guffaws and shouts. I believe Joshua’s exact words were, ‘Fuck all the Germans.’
Anyway, we were awake, the sun was shining, and it was time for some retribution. Joshua clomped his boots through the halls and heedlessly (or heedfully?) ran into doors and slammed them. My ear plugs had carried the brunt of the noise, so I went about packing our day bag and going down to breakfast a bit more quietly.
In the kitchen, our pancakes were already steaming on our plates. In a plastic bag, our guest house keeper had wrapped Tibetan bread and boiled eggs with a little satchet of salt. We were ready to go, and the Nepali guides for the Germans came in, telling us that we had chosen a great day to hike Tsergo Ri – the skies are exceptionally clear, and there’s little wind.
We headed out. Following the same path we had taken to Langshisha Kharka, we crossed the river, carefully avoiding ice-slick stepping stones and glacial melt. On the other side, we followed the trail up.
And up and up and up. 1300 meters up, to be exact.
It took us three and a half hours to reach the summit of Tsergo Ri, and during that time, the trail only went up. At first, we were walking behind a group of three hikers. Behind us, two couples were within eyesight. We’d climb and stop, climb and stop, catch up and then split up again.
I could pretend to be humble, but here’s the thing: we dominated Tsergo Ri. Now, you could tell me that this isn’t a competition, and in the end, you’re probably right, but you’d also have to admit that leaving a dozen hardened trekkers in the dust feels pretty damn good. And it does.
An hour an a half from the top, our fellow trekkers began to huff and puff and take longer, more frequent water breaks. We kept plodding along, and within the half hour, we were so far away from the other trekkers, they looked just like little spots of blue and red on the mountain. Victory was made all the sweeter because they were French. And you know how we feel about the French.
After the first two enormous ridges, we came to a field of boulders that we had to pick across. On the other side, the trail pitched up over slippy dirt. The trail devolved into a series of cairns to mark the way, and at the top of one scramble, we met a slope of scree. The wind picked up, and a centimeter of snow dusted everything. One set of footprints led the way.
Thirty minutes from the top, I grew very worried about making our way down. The stones were slick with snow and ice, and the going was very steep. I could see the prayer flags at the top, but I made Joshua stop. We debated whether or not we should continue, but finally, the allure of the top drew us on. Far below, the trekkers we had passed long ago were still resting. We decided to show them how it’s done 🙂
100 meters from the top, the scree turned into an easy, dirt trail. No one was there. Hundreds of prayer flags flapped madly in the wind, and for 360 degrees, mountain peaks rose up to the sky. It was unspeakably beautiful.
On our way down, a woman asked us if the climb was worth it. We nodded emphatically, and then I told her that it was better than Annapurna Sanctuary and Thorung La. It may have even been better than our side trek to Ice Lake. Once she had passed, I almost felt badly for setting her expectations so high. I don’t know if it’s better for everyone, but it was for us.
In a way, Tsergo Ri feels like a defining moment in our travels. Like Annapurna, it was an amphitheater of mountains, but it was wider and we could see for further. The sky was clear, and the prayer flags were particularly beautiful. Up on this peak, all alone, there was no question that this was the best. Behind a couple of boulders, we huddled out of the wind and ate our packed lunch. From our perch, we could see the mountains of Tibet and Langtang. Above us, the sky was impossibly blue. It was perfect.
Forty five minutes later, once we had finished taking photos and eating, other trekkers began to arrive. They seemed just as speechless and we felt, and we quietly nodded and smiled as we headed back down the trail.
Luckily, the trail wasn’t quite as treacherous as we had dreaded. Keeping low to the ground and using my hands, I was able to keep from slipping on the scree. At the bottom, still more trekkers were worried about the way down, and we reassured them that it was worth it, and it wasn’t so bad.
It took a little over two hours to make our way back down. During that time, the clouds started to slowly creep in, and the tops of the mountains were covered. We had arrived at just the right time.
Back at the lodge, I took a shower. It takes a good deal of bravery to get naked and stand under water when it’s this cold outside, and I hadn’t braved it for five days. Thankfully, the solar water heater had done its job, and the water that came out of the spout was steaming hot. I stood under it, dreading having to turn it off.
In our room, I let my hair dry in the sun while we read. Joshua went to go get some tea and came back with a thermos and two rolls of coconut cookies. We nibbled and drank and read until dinner.
Downstairs, the fire was going. The French couple with whom we had ridden to Syraphru Besi had coincidently selected the same lodge, and they were sitting near the fire, reading.
When our Dal Bhaat came, we gobbled it down and then began playing cards. Intrigued, the French couple came over and asked if we would teach them our game. We agreed, and together, we played an open hand. Afterwards, we asked them about their travels.
Cecelia and Victor left France 16 months ago. Arriving in South America, they toured Peru, Bolivia, and Chile for four months and then hopped a plane to San Francisco. There, they rented a car for a couple of months and explored the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Moab, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, and Vancouver Island, camping the whole time. From Seattle, they flew to New Zealand where they spent a couple months trekking. Next, they went to Australia and then Bali, Lombok, and Malaysia. For a change of pace, they flew to Madagascar and then on to a small, French volcanic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Back in France, they visited family for a couple of weeks, and then it was on to Moscow, where they caught the Trans-Siberian Railway to China. From China, they visited Mongolia, and then they arrived here, in Nepal. They go home just before Christmas.
I asked Cecelia what they plan to do once they get home. ‘Celebrate Christmas,’ she said, smiling and purposely evading my real question. I laughed. What will be doing next? I asked. ‘Celebrate the New Year,’ she said.
Before they left on their travels, they were both engineers living in the south of France near the Alps. Within 15 minutes, they could be in the mountains, and it was less than a three hour train ride to Paris, where they grew up. When they go back, they’re not sure where they’ll end up.
They’ve avoided planning so far.
It was nice chatting with the two of them (even though they were French 🙂 ), and we talked until a little after 8. After a long day of trekking and early morning, we were exhausted, so we wished each other well and went off to bed.