Day 17 - Kalopani - Tatopani
We wake up at the foot of a beautifully clear Dalaugiri, thankfully we remain unmolested by the cabbage zombies that Susan had feared. I exit the room and walk the short distance along the balcony to the shared sink to clean my teeth. And there in the reflection behind me are the Annapurnas. So vast and distant. My first pang of sorrow that the trek is nearing the end and that these incredible peaks are now literally and metaphorically behind me.
Today we rejoin the dusty scar on the landscape that is the road. We descend through scattered villages, past thundering streams that meet the Kali Gandaki below, through pine forests. As we go down the temperature noticeably goes up. Lowering ourselves into humidity in the process. It’s the first time I’ve worn just a t’shirt in weeks and I’m aware I have adopted a ‘lived in’ smell. Delicious. The villages about us also change, becoming seemingly more affluent as we descend - I’m assuming due to increased agriculture and proximity to larger towns, although Pokhara is still a few days away by jeep.
The Kali Gandaki thunders below us, literally thunders. It has turned from the previous day’s large streams of snow melt into a heaving mass of muddy white water, crashing down the valley. I wonder just how it would be in the monsoon season in just a couple of months. How the locals live. Understanding just how precarious the hillsides are and how the road, and villages, can just slip and disappear.
The Kali Gandaki is, apparently, the deepest gorge in the world. We stop for lunch in a newly opened shack-on-shack offering noodles, coca-cola and a viewing platform for said ‘deepest gorge in the world’. I’m not exactly sure where this is being measured from? If, indeed, they are measuring from the summit of Annapurna, then may be, but below us, just 12 metres below us, is the river. I feel a bit guilty at being less than impressed by this but it amuses me endlessly. Just as much as the donation box hanging outside the toilets (also hanging over the Kali Gandaki). Donations differ between a short poo or long poo. Whether this measurement is by time or physical length is an arguable point.
The afternoon brings more road, more rocks, more dust. Limping into the outskirts of Tatopani we are met by a long, and not very happy looking, traffic jam of vehicles packed with families. They seem to have been here for quite some time. Hours possibly. The reason soon becomes clear as we watch two men, unroped, chiselling out the hillside by hand, about 10 metres up the rock face, to make a rockfall safe for the road users below. I am both super impressed and also quick on my feet to pass. I don’t want a rock anywhere near my head again thanks.
Dilli, having dashed ahead wearing a panic-striken face after our lunchtime mention of maybe having a room tonight with access to a shower and hot water has actually pulled a blinder. Our teahouse is an actual hotel, our room sunny, with its own working shower and even a TV (not that it works but who needs TV, right?). We are to stay here for two nights, giving us a rest day to enjoy Tatopani’s hot springs - ‘tato’ meaning hot and ‘pani’ meaning water (yeah I remember some Nepali!). Jubilant and clean we enjoy an evening of beer and board games, giving the lads the evening and tomorrow off, which means we can have a lay in too. We like this place. Our blisters like this place.
Day 18 - Tatopani rest day
Our blisters do not like this place.
After enjoying sleeping until a luxurious 9am, I breakfast on crunchy peanut butter on toast in the morning sunshine. Even fruit juice and coffee are on offer. A vegan latte at that. Hipster-driven economy is far reaching obviously. The day has started restfully and well.
Tatopani is famed for its natural hot springs, the thought of which has literally helped Susan put one aching foot in front of the other for weeks now. But there is nothing to make you feel more like a pathetic westerner than to limp our flip flop clad feet down through town and washing lines filled with drying yak meat to the springs, pay our 150 rupees each and wriggle into swimwear beneath a towel so as not to show any flesh and upset anyone. Nepal is a very traditional country afterall.
Far from me to criticise, but these ‘naturally formed’ springs are surprisingly square, surprisingly cast from concrete, and surprisingly heated by the copper piping that trails round the sides of the pools. As someone who is totally grossed out by public swimming pools’ foot baths, I am equally put off by these steaming pools and simply stand on the step. TATO-****ING-PANI! These steaming pools have been heated to a blistering 40-something degrees, presumably to kill off anything other than humans that could survive in it. Our poor blistered feet scream in burning pain. Tom, having bravely submersed himself, emerges as a two legged lobster. We at least provide some entertainment to our audience. Susan is less than impressed. We sit poolside, staring at the murky cauldron disappointed but feeling slightly embarrassed by our western privileged assumptions. This was never going to be Champney’s afterall.
We spend the rest of the day dodging thunderstorms, playing board games and pondering our 10 hour walk tomorrow, wondering whether the 10 hours is a true estimate or Dilli’s wishful thinking. Tonight is Nepali New Year’s Eve. I have never been awake around 5am on New Years Day at home. I’m a world away.