1.13.2017

Lost in Nepal 4: Sunrise in Poon Hill and the long way to Tadapani

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Sun rise in Poon Hill - Pic by my friend Lalit Khalig
See also Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

It proved to be a real challenge and for me an off day
Early starts - 5 am - don't suit low pressure and anemia, especially when I have to skip breakfast. It was supposed to be very cold, so we put on our warmest clothes, got out in the dark - barely scratched by our headlaps - and started climbing on the steep stairs leading to the Poon Hill view point. 
I was feeling weak and flushed, I had to stop and to take off some stuff, so I lost my group and since then it was a solo climb in the dark the forest I could just imagine because I couln't see anything but my feet and the next step. 
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Ghorepani
No panic. It was still early when I arrived to the bare top of the hill (3210 m), where a little crowd of trekkers were standing and freezing waiting for the sun to finally rise to reveal the elusive shape of Daulagiri, Annapurna and Machapuchare. 
A panoramic tower had been built to allow a better view and I joined my group up there. I wasn't sure I like it. It was very touristic really as we were surrounded by people taking selfies by their phones or shooting random by their cameras. And it was too cold, very windy. 
"Here I am, here I stay" I thought inserting the battery in my camera with my frozen fingers. I had charged it during the dinner but now it was completely off. WTF! I had forgotten to keep it warm in the sleeping bag and that was the consequence. Lesson learnt. It didn't happen again.
Image may contain: tree, outdoor and natureIn a way, it was a relief. There has been a periodo in my life when I stopped taking pictures at all. Let's live the moment, let's sink in it, let's feel your feeling with no other purpose. The darkness was losing its hardness, there was a softer note in the ski, still nocturnal but dreaming the day. Toward the valley a sligh, almost invisible line of light was defining the slopes of the mountains. It was growing, getting warmer, from reddish to gold passing through all the nuances of pink. The sun. 
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Satra (on the left)
"How many sun rise I have seen..." This one wasn't the most beautiful or the most amazing. In a different place maybe, away from this circus... Daulagiri silky glares. White waving snow in the wind atop the Annapurna. The elegant fish tail of Machapuchare. "Oh! to be up there! waiting for the sun to warm a small tent... Sure you should feel it when the first rays reach it..."
The descent to Ghorepani was weird because the path looked completely new in the daylight. We had breakfast and prepared our bags for the porters. Then we started again, again uphill. Again I wasn't feeling at my best, but I kept going. We reached a pass at about 3.800 m of altitude, then we descended into a gorge and crossed a stream. That means we had to climb again to gain the elevation we had lost. More stairs, and very steep. 
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Tadapani
I was on my limit, so I adopted my method to stop thinking and to concentrate: I focused on my breathing and on the no stop repetition of the Koran surat I use in my salt. It works like a mantra, and it works well. Slowly but steadily I made it to Tadapani. 
That was a hard day but it allowed me to improve my selfconfidence. Also I had the opportunity to spend a little time with our porters. A trekking organisation begins with a tourist office manager, he appoints a guide and the guide hires the porters, usually among his own people. Nepal indead is inhabited by several ethnic groups that in their area represent the majority of the population, so it isn't correct to talk about a prevalent Nepali group and some minorities.  
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Sunset on fish tail from Tadapani
According to Wikipedia "Nepal is multicultural and multiethnic country because it became a country by occupying several small kingdoms such as Mustang, Videha (Mithila), Madhesh, and Limbuwan in the 18th century. The oldest settlements in Mithila and Tharuhat are Maithil. Northern Nepal is historically inhabited by Kirants Mongoloid, Rai and Limbu people. The mountainous region is sparsely populated above 3,000 m (9,800 ft), but in central and western Nepal ethnic Sherpa and Lamapeople inhabit even higher semi-arid valleys north of the Himalaya. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5 percent of the nation's population. The Nepali are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, aboriginal Tharus of Tharuhat."
Our guide Ram Bir is a Rai, as well as all our porters. They come from the Solo Khumbu valley and some of them had never been in the Annapurna area before. We tent to see them as a group but the most of them didn't know each other and was working together for the first time. Some of them were very young, about 16 yo, the oldest, my dearest Satra, was 55. Consider that in Nepal the average life expectancy is 66 years... 
Image may contain: sky, mountain, outdoor and naturePorters get a temprary contract including an assurance but they have no retirement benefits. Their salary is very low, even compared to the low cost of the life in Nepal. Tip is an important part of it and it's normally admistered by the guide who equaly share the money among all the porters. According with the law and with the porters' organisation advice trekking porters can't carry more than 15 kg. But there are no roads on these mountains, all have to be carried on shoulders, so people working to supply lodges and guesthouses or just bringing their own stuff from a lower village to home... well... they can carry way more than 15 kg.
Image may contain: sky, twilight, mountain, ocean, nature and outdoorOur porters were extremely kind but never servile. The social distance between the rich European tourists and the modest Nepali workers was evident though. Some of them could speak English, others just knew few words. Our team daily split so Ram Bir used to stay in front, leaving one or two porters in each group. When I was at the back, I often had Satra with me, carrying a too big bag. He used to never pass me, and when I stopped he stopped too. On the way to Tadapani I had to take more than one break, to rest and to drink. I ate some energy bars and offerend it to Satra, who refused at first but finally accepted with a large gap-thooted smile. How many food have we shared since then? Chocolate, amands, more bars... We couldn't have a conversation but countless are the gesture of kindness I got by him, quiet and respectful. 
Whenever we stopped to eat or to drink a tea, Satra's duty was to collect the empty cups and plates. He was extremely diligent at it. An ungarded half empty cup was definitely at risk. Some days later we found out that Satra could sing, especially after a few glasses of 'vitamin' - hot water and alcohol. 
He looked like an old man, but he had got a child soul: cheerful, good-hearted and a little naive.
Todepani probably is the village I loved more. Small, basic, with a wonderful view. There was a good heater in the dinning room where we waited a little longer before we went to sleep. It was cosy, and the distace between trekkers and porters looked shorter, as we were all warming our hands at the same fire.

...............MORE TO COME............

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