You will probably only see one or two leeches.
– Mr. Prim, lecturer on hiking Annapurna
BESANTA LODGE, DHAMPUS, 5000ft, 6 Oct: Thunder is rumbling and rolling among the peaks of the Annapurnas and I can hear the steady rain outside my window. This is good for the clearing of clouds and views of the Annapurna Range in the morning; bad for hiking because of the mud and the moisture-loving leeches.
Awoke in Pokhara to a beautiful sunrise and fair views of the snow-capped peaks of Annapurna. After breakfast, we drove a short distance to the beginning of our trek. Along the way we stopped as Niraz explained two funerals that were taking place along the river below.
Reaching the trail head, we gear up, our porters shoulder their loads, and we start off amid pleasant weather, mild temperatures but high humidity. It is a mixture of hundreds of steps and rocky road. And always up. The steps, at times, look endless as our guide and porters scoot up the trail with their loads while I trod along determined to make the grade. Water is critical and we are to drink, drink, drink. It is necessary as I sweat, sweat, sweat. No need to worry about toilet facilities as the water goes in and sweat takes it out. Occasional rests help but they are few and far between. The steps are uneven and pose the biggest challenge, demanding attention and a high reserve of energy as I climb up the mountain. But the views of the valley and terraced hillsides are spectacular.
We stop at a health and birthing center, a simple place meeting the needs of the community. Many homes and farms are along the trail, as are stupas and Hindu temples. We stop to talk with friendly children and families. I am amazed at the women walking barefoot on a trail I can hardly manage booted. We meet a 92-year old man who was a former Gurkha soldier in WW2 and fought the Japanese in Malaysia.
We also finally meet the infamous leeches. They are much smaller than I thought, very agile and fast. Yam, my guardian angel porter, helps me up and down steps, carries extra water, rushes to kill the leeches, refills my water and pust my bottle in my backpack. All while carrying a 50 pound load on his back. The porters are amazing.
Salt kills the leeches. one of the most important things to bring to Nepal and had I known I would have packed a box of Morton’s. Leeches stand up on one end and look for a victim. There are hundreds of them spy-hopping on the path and encouraging me to keep moving. Our porters spot them on our shoes and sprinkle salt on them. We are using a lot of salt.
By lunch we arrived at the old village of Dhampus. Our lodge for the night is lovely and commands great views of the Annapurna Range to the north. Unfortunately, a heavy layer of clouds shield all but the nearby foothills. We had lunch on the lawn then a short rest. In the afternoon we took a two-hour walk through the village and hillsides, visited a cemetery/cremation mound and farms and learned about the life of hill people. Lodges abound to accommodate trekkers, most giving the name ‘resort’ and ’boutique’ hotel a whole new meaning.
After changing from my sweat-drenched clothing, taking a well-earned shower, and sitting on my little terrace, we gathered in the common room for happy hour. Now that is the best! In honor of the ‘Gin and Tonic Trail’ I had one around the wonderful fireplace while learning about our host and the interesting Gurkha and Nepalese artifacts on the walls. Tonight we were taught to eat our dal Nepalese style, with our fingers. The owner, a former Gurkha soldier, joined us after dinner and told stories about his joining and serving with the Gurkhas. He proudly showed us the picture and plaque received from General Sir David Richards representing Queen Elizabeth.
The service is superb. We have four waiters and a cook who serve the eight of us. They serve a tea time, coffee on the lawn in the morning, and are constantly at our side wishing to serve. All this for a wage of $35 a month – though the Maoist did get them a concession of a 10% service tax to supplement their income. They all sleep upstairs in a loft area and go home when they can. Our porters take care of every other request. We all feel like royalty.
The electricity has maintained throughout the night thanks to a generator (much better than Kathmandu where I was left in the elevator for a few moments), while the rain is heavy outside. This could mean fantastic views of the mountains at daybreak. Perhaps Buddha will shine on us tomorrow.