Sitting now in the Dhaulagiri View Lodge atop Dhampus ridge, with Machapuchare and Annapurna South starting to glow in the half moon light, I feel a sense of privilege and gratitude to have made it here. I didn’t want to trek with hoards of Chinese crowding guest houses and good memories, so opted for this compromise…reached after two hours uphill on the old trekking trail. Now, people start where the road meets the ridgeline, and head directly for Annapurna base camp, stopping not here but at Gandrung village with its more than 35 lodgings. Some anthropologist should study the impact tourism has had on that and other villages on the main trekking routes. Or maybe I don’t want to know.
The day started with decisive action: moving out of Lakestar hotel because I was sick of the internet problem, sick of the barking dogs, and because I associated my fine room ( with the mountain view) with being sick therein. I reconnoitered a couple nearby hotels the previous afternoon, and returned to nearby Dandelion after negotiating a good deal. $30 per night w/ breakfast, same as Lakestar, but much nicer rooms and easy internet access. That’s where Max and I will have our base.
So I spent 45 min. after breakfast at the next door Seraphim Hotel, using their network and filling in reservation forms for Istanbul hotel. Then emailed Max final instructions for his trip to Kathmandu on the 12th, and said to call the hotel…which he did just as I was leaving. So nice to hear his voice even if he was fairly clueless about what he actually needed to do on the front end of his trip to KTM. I covered the basics so now it’s up to him.
By 10:30, I had deposited my wheelie bag at Dandelion, picked up a sandwich, and got a wad of cash from Siddhartha Bank’s ATM. My taxi driver, Hari, was waiting and ready so we wove our way through a busy Sunday morning in Pokhara, the areas away from Lakeside (en route to Phedi town and the trailhead) a long succession of little stores facing torn up streets, curbs, and the ubiquitous beige clay. Depressing and ugh.
It was with relief we exited the city and made our way through a river plain that I must have walked beside or above all those years ago when I started my trek. Damned if I remember much of that first day except a steady uphill slog along stone steps and trails. More likely is that I went up the hill to Sarankot and from there walked the ridge. The trail today was like that, starting at the edge of the river plain and where steep hills had been eroded back. 30 min. later I had just come to the top of the ridge and was surprised to see a SUV sitting beside a large hotel, with a sign saying, “If you are tired, we will take you to Dhampus.”
But from that point, the road did its thing while the old trail took me through fields, along stone walls, through farmhouse walkways, and generally charmed. At a rest stop tea and guest house, the proprietor wanted to chat and so told me about a Californian guy who stayed with him 15 days in November. “When he arrived, he had a piece of hashish like this (indicating a golf-ball shape) but when he left, there was just a bit. That’s what he did all day!” When I asked about a place to stay in Dhampus, he recommended the “Nice View Guest House,” located beside a sacred pond and little temple.
About 45 min. later, I was walking past various lodges and guest houses, some with stellar views, recalling that the fellow met earlier said Nice View was quiet and outside the main village. So I pressed on, rounding a hillside where a group of men were building additional classrooms for a local school. Nice View soon appeared, and I duly checked out and then fled from its barred windows facing the mountains. Next door, the Dhaulagiri View Lodge hugged the hillside, offering great views through windows positioned just so as to frame the mountains.
Clean rooms, hot water, clean bedding, all for an astonishing $5 a night, breakfast extra.
Now really, $5 for a decent room with an amazing view of classic Himalayan peaks? If this were a European setting, the price would be at least $100 and probably much more. But the economy in Nepal is so disparate in how cities and countrysides establish scales of value, there is little gained by imagining how it could be different. During high season for trekking, the cost of this hotel doubles…to $10 a night! A Nepali trekking guide told me that it’s the same everywhere, and that we are benefitting from low-season. His two Swiss clients flew in from KTM this morning, got a taxi from the airport that took them directly to the trailhead, then walked that uphill grade till reaching here.
They were still sleeping when I finished a short nap and headed out at 3:30. Once on the ridge above the hotel, I could see both Himalayas and Pokhara beside Lake Fewa. Most impressive and even daunting for all the work required to make and maintain them, hundreds of terraces resembled winding steps heading up the mountains. Each one created little fields for barley, wheat, millet, and other grains (maybe even rice). I will return in the morning light for photos of the general area before clouds obscure the mountains in the afternoon. Played my flute in a spot out of the wind and practiced several challenging parts of “Yesterday” and “Shenandoah.”
Had a wonderful dinner of pumpkin soup and macaroni with veggies sprinkled with cheese…perfect for a red wine. I opted for the traditional hot lemon-honey-ginger and played it safe. 8:55 p.m. and time for bed. This is the countryside, and so locals will be up at dawn.