Nangpa La Day 1 - Bhamti Bhandar to Goyam


Here’s to the first day of walking; to proper Nepali walking. 23 kilometers in seven hours of moving, over an eleven hour day. In and of itself, that’s reasonable; what changes the calculus is the 1865 meters of climbing – about a thousand feet over a mile, up.

The morning starts calm; I’m up before a languid dawn. I splash some cold water on my face and step out at seven, after a good breakfast. The trail winds along a dirt road for a few miles, leading upriver to Kinja: a cheery village of blue and white, of flagstones and sparking streams, huddled at the base of an innocuous, nameless climb. It’s marvelous – the dominant question coming up is “Why the hell would anybody do anything else on vacation?”

Of course, this is Nepal. The nameless climb is hell – a full vertical mile. Bhamti Bhandar itself is at 1800 meters or so; the extra mile puts it well over the 3000 meter mark, and into the zone where the acclimatization schedule is no longer a numerical abstraction, but becomes something to take seriously.

The trail is not a trail, it’s an endless set of stairs leading up. The steps are seemingly hewn from granite by schizoid giants – each a different size, making a smooth rhythm impossible, and each way too big. The bag – all 30 kilograms – becomes a boat anchor. Each step means leg-pressing two-hundred-odd pounds, one-legged, while balancing on a dusty, slick rock. Little do I know, it’ll be good practice for later.

This goes on for an hour; I break for lunch at Seti, at 2540 meters. The food is rich and warm: daal bhaat is a plate of rice and curried vegetables, with a lentil-laden soup. It’s damn near the perfect thing to fuel with, amidst the hills and haze with another half-mile of altitude to gain today.

I’m chasing dusk uphill for the rest of the day. The trail narrows, and overhanging branches envelop the path. I’m in a tunnel; with no time to see the past and no future ahead of me, my world collapses down to the next step, and whatever I choose to make of it. My thoughts start wandering; all that you can’t leave behind begins to boil up, and boil away.

At 3100 meters, at dusk, my fantasy of staying at the Lamjura La meets reality. I stay at Goyam, 400 meters down and a few hours short.

I meet some nice Californians, picking their way up to Everest Base Camp with more time than money. We hit it off; the two girls met on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a lesbian trail fling turned into three years (and counting) of affection and trust. I swallow my apprehension about the next few weeks and put on a brave face. They teach me to swallow tsampa: roast barley flour cut with tea, and the best breakfast fuel in the world. Kaka-ji smiles down at us; cup after cup of his tea flows freely, as the embers die out in the dusk.

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