Annapurna Foothills, Nepal 2012
The Pokhara hotel has a pool and Iain was looking forward to jumping in and relaxing. Hamish just wanted his iPad charged after three days without electricity. Then Krishna let slip that Pokhara is a centre for paragliding and I had my afternoon planned. Why float when you can fly. Surprisingly, Hamish piped up that he wanted to join me and the two of us made the jeep ride up the mountain with our pilots Ajay and Olivier. (take note Matt Amend there were porters to carry the packs and only a short path to the launch site :-). Ajay and I launched first and found a great thermal to take us up so we could look down on everyone else. We then had a nice long glide along the ridge and over the lake before some small acrobatics as we came down. Hamish meanwhile enjoyed some lower air but got Olivier to spend half the flight doing acrobatics. The kid landed in a flurry of 360 degree turns and the biggest grin on his face I've ever seen. He was vibrating with excitement and freedom and joy. I think he may be hooked.
We have excused ourselves from the Ghurka museum in favour of some shopping and book reading. Iain has been looking forward to haggling in the bazaars here as he didn't understand how it worked in Egypt. He's even been practicing various strategies. In every town we come to hekeeps trying to figure out where the bazaar is. We have finally worked out that they don't have them here in the same way we were thinking about. The shops, even in Pokhara and Kathmandu tend to be shop fronts in the front of someone's house. So while there are lots of shops here in Pokhara, including some tempting North Face jackets and lovely pashmina, there isn't the sort of bazaar with its different districts he had been looking for. Expectations reset he went shop to shop looking for a small trinket to take home. At last he found a carved box in the shape of a turtle which goes nicely with his collection. The asking price was 1500 rupees and he offered 1000. Offer accepted he came away with his prize, even happier it came in a cloth draw string bag so he got two things for his cut down offer. And a real sense of accomplishment. Now if we can just find him those big snow covered mountains he came to see!
I spent my birthday sitting in a leaky tent on top of a mountain in a lightning storm playing bridge. And enjoying it. Life is weird. I confess to being disappointed when Krishna said they were going to shorten the trek a bit and do part of it on paved roads to make it easier for the boys. Four hours short hike didn't sound like it was going to give any of us that taste of trekking experience we were hoping for. But I am really glad I didn't push for a change. Peter and I have done too little hill walking since moving to the very flat coast and the boys haven't done any. Add to that the heat and it made for an admirable climb. Neither boy complained and Peter was stoic as ever. Very impressive.
We had some great views of Annapurna 2 on the climb up before it was obscured by cloud in the afternoon. Another tick on Iain's list of why he came. Both boys were very quiet and clearly uncomfortable when we started the trek. Having shortened it and decided to go backward from the normal route meant we were starting in a small village down an unpacked road. Neither will confess whether they were looking at their shoes and being completely uncommunicative because they were uncomfortable being stared at as a novelty or whether it was confronting a way of life so completely different to their own and clearly so much poorer. I've never seen them that way before. It may have been finally realising that when we say they are lucky we don't just mean in their school and travel but in their daily lives. It doesn't mean anything until you see it.
We had some great conversation with Krishna at lunch about how the lives of the rural farmers may look hard to us but they are unrushed lives and little stress. Things get done when they get done and as they need to be done. He was also telling us how critical tourism is to the economy and the people because there are no other jobs or industries. He works five months a year as a guide and the rest helps his parents in their farm. He is lucky his parents, who cannot read or write, signing their names with a thumb print, were able to pay aside enough money for him to go to school and learn English. He has been very good encouraging the children we meet in the village to practice their English with Iain and Hamish, having my boys ask names and ages of everyone they meet. He also made sure to introduce all of the porters and cooks by name to us so we can thank them. Like him, they are able to work during the short tourist season before they go back to their homes. All of this certainly reinforces our desire to support Room to Read. We love the idea of Zak the Yak delivering books to kids in the Himalayas. If you want to read more about how they are bringing books to schools in Nepal and elsewhere in the world, we've set-up a fund-raising page.
Dinner brought three fabulous surprises. Krisna bought me a nice bottle of red wine as a birthday gift. He, Peter, and I had a lovely toast and enjoyed it very much. The second treat was a tray of perfect popcorn from corn grown in the field they had earlier used as a football pitch. After a wonderful supper of spicy soup, mono, and spicy noodles, they surprised me with birthday cake and chocolate sauce. This will definitely be one of the birthdays I remember :-) Amazing views of the Annapurna Range this morning. Beautiful as the sun hit each peak in turn.
Day 8 and a four hour hike were the limits of the boys ability not to complain. Hamish didn't think we were taking a fun vertical route down and Iain found the whole thing exhausting. Finally had to mute them both. Krishna tells us Nepali flat is "a little up, a little down". Sounds like life. Enjoyed the walk through more small villages, especially seeing the woman grinding millet on the floor by pumping a board against the millet on the floor. I always think of grinding grains by hand or withlarge mills. Hamish perked up once Krishna showed him how to find some small yellow berries that we're like a sour version of black berries. He raced ahead to make sure he had the first go at every bush. We ended at Begnas Lake, clearly a local spot for a day out, picnic and paddling a boat.
Like a scene in a bad movie, The Hotel Barahi appears to have given away our room. Sitting in the lobby with two shattered children, I am wondering if this trip isn't too ambitious for all of us. How will we survive another ten days when everyone is already nearing the end of their tether. Poor Iain has given the food a good try but just doesn't like it. Or doesn't like it every meal would be more accurate. He appears to now be on a hunger strike.