Hell or no hell yesterday, today is a new day. I wake up before dawn. At 6:30, as the sun’s beams begin to pour over the peaks to the east, I’m on the trail, uphill, past the Taksindu La.
Two hours in, at eight in the morning, three young guys come flying the other way, leaping from rock to rock on the trail. Each carries an open “Nepal Ice” – a piss-flavored Nepalese lager – in each hand, and a massive smile. “You are a strong man!” they yell out, laying eyes on the pack.
“Nope, scooter – you are.” I can’t handle two pints before breakfast.
The pass at Taksindu is a sunny plaza; an arch and prayer wheel guards the trail and exit. Portentously, it’s a teeming paddock of horses when I come to it. Robin Boustead, creater of the Himalayan Map House mapset, has sagely noted the descent from Taksindu to the Dudh Khola is “slippery,” while presciently omitting why. That’s because it’s knee-deep horse shit for three hours.
The caravans come in force, mostly empty and mostly uphill; sharp hooves tenderize the sandy soil. The animals stop and piss and eat and shake and jostle and crap and whinny and roar and bite and surge, and do this all – day in and day out – on the same sliver of sod wrapping up a Himalayan hill. Were I to choose gear for this sector from scratch, the design thought would be to proof it against poo; my boots are covered to the ankle, and flecks of brown collect on my pants and bag.
The descent takes its toll. By noon, the sun, the shit, and the last few days have caught up to me: I’ve sprouted welts on my hips, my feet are chewed up by ever-wet boots, the pack comes off every 40 minutes, and I’m not thinking happy thoughts. It’s time for lunch, and lunch happens at the bottom, near Dudh Khola.
As I wait for the restorative effects of the daal bhaat, high clouds blank out the sun and dribble fat raindrops. There’s no sign of this abating; between the rain on my glasses and the blood on my socks, I decide to stay at Kharikhola, and to stop before the sun goes down for a change.
In the midafternoon, a guide, his client and I huddle with our packs under an awning. The fat raindrops fall from above while we talk about moving from Ohio to Canada. The rain slows after half an hour; we have a window to run for town.
The guide groans as he lifts my pack. “You are a porter, not a tourist.” I smile and scurry under the harness for the last time today; the three of us pick our way through the puddles up the last hill.
Dinner and a bed are at the “Tashi Delek Cottages” in Kharikhola. I warm my feet by the fire as clouds roll by the valley below. Fun! comes on the radio; there’s two kids dancing in the room, not knowing or hearing or caring about the lyrics. After dark, I read Nabokov’s “Pnin” by candlelight in the dining room made all the more cavernous by the fog boiling outside. For a half a heartbeat, between pages, I’m lonely.
The day leaves me 18.7 kilometers closer; done in six and a half hours of walking and a leisurely four hours off. I descend 1647 meters, and climb 924 – this time, the strain comes from the climb down after the pass.