The grass out front of our Chuile barn dropped off to reveal an expanse of mountain land, so come sunrise, we were up and out. Wrapped in blankets at the edge of the grass, eyes still partly squint from the sandman’s visit, watching for the golden glow of the sun. It was magical. As the sun rose it began to warm our skin and its light danced over the horizon like a delicate blanket of silk.
Satisfied with the scene, we snuck back in to bed for a few more z’s before the day’s trek. The destination, Chomrong – a village spelt differently, much like every other place, on every map. The walk, as every one before, was beautiful. Wide rivers crashed and flowed beneath long, metal bridges creating smooth rock faces below us. The forest thickened in dark evergreen and giant fuzzy caterpillars swept across the ground like lone fluffy tails.
We walked across bridges made from logs that looked as if they would give way at any moment and eventually came across a small home, just as the rain came. At first glance it was nothing more than a shack, nestled at the side of the trail. Chickens roamed outside, as did a cow or two. We took shelter from the rain, Yoni and I, under the awning to the front, where pots and pans hung cluttered on the wall of the narrow corridor.
There was an elderly man sat out on the step, watching the rain. His small face was decorated with the deep lines of his life, and he didn’t speak a word of English. Except, “chicken!” he shouted, pointing at our feathered friends. “Chicken! Haha! Chicken!” His charade of pointing and shouting in Nepali and English went on for some time, and his almost hysterical laughter had us in stitches. Didi – the name given in respect to any woman older than yourself – offered us food and sweetly spiced chai. Within 10 minutes she’d rustled up a plate of vegetable fried rice at just over £1 between us, and Yoni and I snuggled hunched up under the awning. It was some of the best rice we’d eaten, a common thing in Nepal, the worse off the place looks, chances are, the better the food.
After a little while, a group of three Americans that we’d met before walked past, soggy from the rain and covered head to toe in bright coloured rain macs. One of the girls commented that we looked really romantic, huddled together hand in hand in shelter. We did, and I guess it was.
We stayed there for a while until the rain eased, in a calm silence other than occasional small talk with Didi. We met up with our group in Chomrong about a half hour walk from our rest point – SO. MANY. STEPS. Why so many?! Always steps. Thankfully, this time, they were downward steps, but we knew we’d have to go up them in a few days time.
Collectively, we decided to get to the bottom of the small town before calling in for the night. On the route down, we encountered many a trekker warning us that the next town along, at least 40 minutes away, was full. No guesthouses had space, which made our decision to stay in Chomrong all the wiser. The light was fading fast, so the next place we came across, we went in. “You have room? For 5 please?” An elder Nepali man made his way over to us, grinning that wonderful smile reserved for those over 60. He did have room, a room, but we soon figured that this was not a guesthouse, but his home.
That’s the wonderful thing about Nepal, every person, every child, is ready and willing to give their heart to you in an instant. A close friend of mine, talking about our trip to Malawi once said, “they have nothing, but they will give you half of what they have”, and I feel the same is true for the Nepalese. He showed us to the room, to the far left of a long, narrow bungalow. Inside the door lay three or four beds – I struggle to remember now – filling up the majority of the space. The floor was bare wooden boards, and the walls were old and unpainted, but it felt homely and safe. Above us housed a mezzanine level of more wooden boards. It looked creepy in its dim light, and made home for plenty of web living creatures and storage. We left it alone.
At the far end of the room, Dai (the name given to an older man) had cloves of garlic drying on a large, woven tray. At least the mossies will leave us be. The air was calm and we were the only guests. Sensing our fatigue, Dai gestured that dinner will be prepared, dal bhat of course, and that he would return when it was ready. When he did return, shuffling slightly on his aged legs, he guided us to his kitchen. His wife was sat on a small stool around the ancient fire stove. She was a much bigger lady than he was a man, and he joked with us about the direness of her cooking skills. She laughed and rolled her eyes, lighting up her round face, waving him away in a dismissive yet tender manner. Her plump frame bouncing at the shoulders. He laughed that wonderful laugh, and we all joined. They had laid out space for us around a mat in the centre of the room, and we all sat, crossed legged with him and her as Didi served one of the most delicious dal bhats we’d ever eaten. Terrible cook, yeah right. I love that about that dish. The premise is the same: one mountain of white rice, one small bowl of lentil dhal or dal, one helping of vegetable curry, a spoon of achar – a vegetable pickle, normally pretty spicy – and a popadom. But yet, everywhere you eat, it’s different. The curry could be potato and cauliflower, or carrot and potato, or green beans. The achar could be really spicy and full of lime, or could be sautéed spinach or mustard greens. The dhal could be just lentil, or could have beans or chickpeas. The options are endless, and the consistent result is a warming, hearty and nutrient dense plate of deliciousness.
Full and content, we went to bed, and that’s when things took a turn for me. My Poon Hill leg ache had escalated into full on, jaw clenching calf pain. Every move I took in my sleep woke me with sharp, stabbing pains in my legs. I couldn’t bare to touch them. Just as the sun made its first glance over the horizon, I too, woke up once more.
I took myself and a few tears out to the stone porch that ran the length of the building. The morning air was cold and misty on my face, but I couldn’t lie down any more, I needed to try and stretch the pain if I were to continue to walk three or four hours more that day.
I lit a cigarette and stared out in to the distance, feeling a little sorry for myself and hoping the pain would subside. I don’t want to be the failure, if they can do it, I can. I won’t fail, the pain will go. Yoni appeared at the door, and came out to smoke with me, noticing my teared face but sitting in comforting silence with me, as if reading my mind. It calmed me, and I began to gain that inner confidence again that I knew I needed to get through the day. It will pass. And it did.
As everyone started to stir, we got ourselves ready for the day. I turned my pain into the day’s joke and we said goodbye to our gracious hosts.
Through a check point, we walked all the way to Himalaya, through Sinuwa, Bamboo and Dobhan. The pain eased, and I learned that that was the last of it for the rest of the trek. I was over the worst and ready for the next adventure.