April 28th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
The knife sharpener

We made a much later start today, hibernating in our cosy sleeping- bags until about 7.30.  There had been some thought of climbing Poon Hill, a viewpoint 800 ft or so above Goropani, but we lacked the will to propel us, + in any case (tho’ it’s no justification for our own laziness) when we did emerge, we saw that the hills around us were heavily hemmed in.  Others had already gone up – I hope for their sakes the view was worthy of the effort.  For it seems to me that, with the exception of the real biggies, the “because it was there” peaks, the main point of climbing is for the view you get from the top.  But then I’m no climber, + there are plenty who will doubtless tell me different.  In fact, for someone who isn’t really a devotee of the outdoor life at all, I seem to have been doing an awful lot of it recently.  So it goes.

Breakfast done, + a loose arrangement having been made to meet Phil again back in Kathmandu (he is off to Annapurna Base Camp, so branches off from our trail today) we set off, with the prospect of an easy downhill day.  We certainly didn’t start off too well however, when 10 mins beyond the village, we took the wrong path.  Luckily we realised fairly quickly, so didn’t have to backtrack too far, but it was a depressing augur.  At the bottom of the first steep descent, we came to the village of Chitre.  There, spotting a man sharpening a tool – a sort of small axe used for shaping wood – I asked him if he would sharpen our knife too, offering one rupee as a fee.  I quickly had to clear up a misunderstanding, when it became apparent he thought I was selling him the knife for a rupee.  The only reason he didn’t snap it up on the spot was that he clearly couldn’t believe his luck… or the folly of the foreigner, who had no idea of the value of money.  When I made the position clear, however, he only did the most cursory of jobs, probably depressed at the swift reversal of fortune.

Just beyond the village, we had another encounter with a local, equally distressing, this time for us. An old man overtook us on the trail, “Namaste”d us enthusiastically, + asked us where we were going, told us how long it would take to get there, then thrust a handful of orange berries at me.  Naively, I accepted them as a simple gift – Val was wiser, but the damage had been done.  He now demanded money in the most aggressive of manners, pointing at the berries in my hand.  I had already eaten some, out of politeness, as it had seemed to me, so I could hardly deny complicity.  And perhaps out of weakness, I searched thro’ my pockets for a rupee coin.  I didn’t have one, as luck would have it, so Val fished out her money belt, + began looking thro’ the notes in it.  This proved an even bigger mistake, for at the sight of what, to him, must have appeared a huge amount of money, he became positively frenzied.  Val tried to pull out a one rupee note, + 2 came out of the pile together, at which he could barely contain himself from snatching at them both.  So when we had finally composed ourselves + offered him just the one, he refused indignantly.  “Two rupees, two rupees!” as though we were in the wrong.  It was only when we started to walk off that he consented to take just the one note, + then scurried away, happy enough.  As I said, a distressing incident, the only consolation being that the berries were, indeed, delicious.  We haven’t found the attitude of the people here to be as wonderfully hospitable as was reputed.  Children especially thrust small flowers at one, or bunches of leaves, in the expectation of monetary return.  Or more often, they simply ask for sweets, chocolate, pens, or money.  The traditional Nepali greeting of “Namaste”, meaning something like “I salute the God within you” or somesuch, but used as hello or goodbye, is in common usage.  But if one didn’t know better, one might afford it a secondary definition, as “a cry issued by children preparatory to asking for something.”  According to the guide-books, begging is discouraged by the adults, but we’ve seen no sign of it, + the example given by many of the adults is equally bad: porters cadging cigarettes, one old man yesterday who plastered our foreheads with a sticky caste-mark, then demanded payment for the service.  Having said that, one is equally likely to meet a cheerful smiling face, + a bellowed “Namaste!”, no strings attached.

Further along the route, a happier encounter.  We met a girl, resting on a rock, her porter waiting patiently beside her.  “Hello again,” she called, + we had the sinking feeling one usually experiences, being recognised, not recognising.  Luckily, her memory too was not at first specific, but she was soon able to pin us down.  “Christmas, Yogyakarta!”  Which, of course, was where it must have been.  By chance, we happened to have with us a photo taken of the Christmas Eve party in Superman’s, + showed it to her.  And remarkably, she was in it!  Only a back view, true enough, but a remarkable coincidence for all that.  The particular copy we had was earmarked for Superman himself, as soon as we could find a carrier, but we took her address, + promised to send her a copy a soon as we got home.

We had been expecting to be in Tatopani by about now – it was, after all, expected to be an easy day – so we could hardly believe it when a traveller passing the other way told us we had another 3 hrs to go!  Even allowing for a slow uphill pace on his part, + a measure of “cruel to be kind” philosophy, it seemed way too much.  But as it turned out, he wasn’t all that far wrong, + when we finally staggered into the village, + collapsed into the first available tea-shop, we were fucked, well + truly, far worse than yesterday, which had been (+ was supposed to be) a toughie.  We were soon imprisoned in our tea-shop by a fierce rain shower – tho’ I suppose I should be grateful we weren’t still out on the trail – + it wasn’t the nicest of places.  We wanted to push on the lodges at the end, reputedly better.  More, we wanted to experience Tatopani’s no 1 attraction, the main reason we had ventured this far up the track: the hot springs.  But it was an hour or more before we could move on.  In the meantime, the Danes arrived – as we had thought, they stayed last night in the village below Goropani – + as soon as the rain stopped, we walked together to the other end of the village, checking in at the same place – a wise choice, as it turned out.


We then hurried down to the springs, before it should grow too cold.  I had a temper tantrum on the way when it seemed as tho’ we had lost the way – the weariness + frustrations of the day had finally gotten to me – but once immersed in the hot water I felt much better.  The spring wasn’t wonderful – the water had lots of black dirt floating in it – bit it was hot, + that was all we required.  And the evening was quite splendid.  Our restaurant served excellent food – Val ha a superb Mexican dish, while I was given the choice of mashed potato, either with garlic, onion _ nutmeg, or just with milk + butter!  We also had the company of 2 women – a Canadian, a Portugese – who were interesting + funny.  Like us, the Canadian girl raved about Naryans cinnamon roll + apple strudel, as well as the Lunch Box’s apple crumble + custard.  Nice to know others share the same passions.  Going to bed was a nightmare in the pitch black – we really should have asked for a candle.  Val went flying headfirst over a high step on the upstairs landing.  I merely stubbed my toe viciously against the bed.

More experience of the trail, and especially some distressing financial negotiations, but once again we seem to be coping comfortably enough with the rigours

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