Sitting here, writing, sheltering from the wind blasted rain, listening to the consequential rockfall crackling into the Kali Gandaki River in Kagbeni (2800m). Since coming down from Thorong La, we’ve descended another 1000m and taken several rest days. 24 days on the Circuit had left us a little battered and requiring some staying in one place and sleeping in (till 7am) chill. Usually I find it hard to rest, but not this time! I think I’ve needed some time to emotionally process the past week, and leave Tilicho Lake and Thorong La behind. I’ve needed to adjust to my new normal- no longer needing to be (as) afraid and vigilant.
Descending from Muktinath to Kagbeni was a really beautiful walk. The muscles in our legs, so used to going up, had to adjust to walking down. I kept stopping and turning round to appreciate the amazing views behind us, panoramic vistas of Thorong La mountain. It was amazing to imagine we had been up there, on the unwelcoming white mountain tops, the day before! We passed through some incredible villages along the way, and I really started to relax. So nice to walk without fear or altitude!
Eventually after a long, hot, dusty five hour walk down, we sighted Kagbeni and Tiri, two beautiful green villages nestled in the desert foothills of the Mustang region. The scenery was a sharp contrast to the rest of the circuit we had seen so far. Little apple orchards decorated with pink spring blossoms, green rice paddy fields irrigated by the river, beautiful green plants.
Nothing comes easy in the Himalayas though, and we quickly learned what made life difficult here. A huge wind blasted down the valley every day, building from 10am into a veritable storm by the afternoon, clouds of dust and pebbles swirling and pelting jeeps and trekkers, visible on the road from our hotel window. The howling wind raging noisily, and with marked punctuality, became our companion for the next few days.
The joys of losing altitude
When we were steadily climbing up and up, we noticed the effects of altitude on our bodies. According to our fitbits, albeit they aren’t the most accurate of devices, our resting heart rates rose from about 52-54 to 57-60. Also, we slept poorly! The low point being Thorong High Camp with 2 hours.
Now we are descended back below 3000, we are seeing this effect in reverse. Our rest my heart rates are now 52/53 and we are sleeping amazing! Our guide book said that on the way down “you sleep like a baby”… and I concur! Last night My Fitbit informs me I slept for 10 hours. I get into bed, and woke up 12 hours later having slept most of it. This is a miracle for me! It’s the most sleep I’ve ever had!
The Reluctant Tourist town
We decided, despite the wind, to rest in the beautiful Kagbeni for a few days. There was a half day walk to a local town (Tiri) we really wanted to do, and then a hard 8 hour walk along the “high road” to Jomsom. However, our legs needs to be rested for this! Also, there were two days of bad weather forecast. So, we resolved to spend four nights in Kagbeni, reading, eating, resting, sleeping and avoiding the wind. It felt like a real “holiday” for a change!
In this time we stayed in two hotels, visited two shops and one cafe… and found that they all had something in common. It was always a little difficult to get served! Unlike other places in Nepal, where people sit outside their establishments and invite you in, friendly and helpful, owners and service staff were difficult to locate. Furthermore, Liam and I both agreed that once they had been located, it felt like by asking for something, you had offended them!
The first hotel we stayed in, it took a while to find anyone after we walked in, and then they seemed genuinely put out that we asked to stay there. After showing us the room, and us hungrily waiting in the dining room, we had to again go and locate someone to ask for some food. The woman we found seemed annoyed that we wanted food. We asked for the WiFi password and she said “not now”. Baffled, Liam and I wondered if maybe they didn’t want us there. This feeling was compounded by us asking someone if we could get our laundry done, and them saying it was very expensive and we should save our money. Of course, if we were “lazy”, they would do it for us. Not wanting to seem lazy, or put them out, we resolved not to do our laundry there!
Liam and I moved hotels the next day (because they were full that night) and found that this attitude of hosts was everywhere. We entered a shop and were made to feel like we had interrupted something important by the shopkeeper, when all we actually wanted to do, was buy some of the goods they sold in their open business! Again, in a cafe, the proprietor seemed dismayed when we wanted some of the baked goods she was advertising.
The hotel we’ve stayed in for three days is no better, though we have become numb to it now. When we asked if they could do our laundry (a service they advertise) they said “no, busy”. Every time we want to order some food from the menu, we feel like we are intruding on a special family time. We take it in turns to go and locate someone in the maze of rooms and corridors, often leaving it till we are quite hungry, the motivating factor required to face the social anxiety of asking someone for food who clearly doesn’t want to provide.
As Liam pointed out, all signs point towards them wanting to sell food. They opened a restaurant, printed menus, have a kitchen, talk about lunch. However, you still feel like you are asking something unreasonable by ordering an omelette.
We’ve discussed it a lot and can’t work it out- maybe none of the people in Kagbeni wanted to open teahouses or tourist serving businesses but realised it was the best way to a quick buck. A lot of the teahouses are run by family units, and family life goes on, so you really are interrupting family life by asking for lunch. We’ll never know. Despite the feeling of being unwanted charitable cases rather than paying guests in a hotel, we’ve managed to relax. Despite our social anxiety, we’ve managed to not starve and develop thick skins. But, we will both be glad to move on and interested to see if the lack of hospitality continues!
Tomorrow we move on to Jomsom!