Day 10: Ranipauwa - Kagbeni
Total distance: 207.27km
Total Ascent: 10437m
Total Descent: 8498m
I woke to a Winter Wonderland. Yesterday the town (and entire valley) was grey-brown and dusty. Now it was covered in a thick carpet of white, a stark contrast to scenes from the previous day. I couldn't believe so much snow could build up in one night. Out the window I could see dozens of people on the tops of their houses, shoveling the snow off the roofs. Inside the water had frozen in the pipes - so much for having a sink.
I ate breakfast then ventured outside, planning on taking a short walk to a neighbouring village, Jharkot. What should have been an easy 20 minute walk took about twice that. Much of the snow wasn't the soft, walkable variety, it was the icy, slippery variety. I could hear the surface crack as I walked over it. My feet didn't stay dry this time. I lasted about two minutes before sliding back to the hotel to grab my hiking poles, knowing I would definitely fall over without them.
Jharkot was a great little town, with laneways leading off in all directions. Along one side of town were views across the valley and up to the pass I had come down from yesterday. I was awestruck to see the entire area was bright white. That easy hike down from Thorung La on gravel paths? Now entirely covered in thick snow, with not a stone to be seen. The dry, Middle Eastern appearance of the valley? Now it was the North Pole. It was like I had been transported to a completely different place. Looking up at the pass I was relieved I didn't have to attempt the descent through all that snow. On the other hand the skies were clear all morning - the outlook from the top would have been spectacular today.
I returned to my hotel, picked up my pack and headed off to the small villages I could see across the valley. There were also covered in snow, making the trip long and slow. The main town was Jhong, the former capital of the area with a ruined fort on a hill. The white views up to Thorung La and back to the villages I had just come from were just as spectacular as from Jharkot. It was a lot less touristy in this area, which was nice for a change.
The walk today wasn't particularly long or strenuous, but it seemed to take forever due to the icy conditions. Along the way trees and buildings would dump a load of snow without warning; once it went straight down my back. By mid-morning the snow on the roads had turned into a slushy mud, which turned out to be no easier to walk on than the ice. Every step needed to be well thought out. I slipped dozens of times, but thanks to my trusty poles I managed to stay on my feet.
As the day wore on the snow started to melt, giving way to patches of colour and definition in the landscape. The more I descended the drier the paths became, and eventually I was walking on mostly dry dirt roads. I noticed how much easier it was to breathe, not struggling up each tiny incline like I had the previous few days. In every direction I looked there were incredible views of snow-capped mountains, the scenery returning to the Himalayas I recognised.
Just before I made it to Kagbeni the famed valley winds began to pick up, making the end of the hike just as difficult as the start, but for different reasons. Dust would fly up in fierce gusts, and I had to hold my hat to stop it from blowing away. The clouds also obscured my views, which ended up changing my plans for that day. I had hoped to climb up to a viewpoint an hour north of Kagbeni, but with gale force winds and not much to see, I gave up on that idea.
Kagbeni was another labyrinthine town, but much larger than most I had visited. Narrow lanes with high stone walls, tunnels disappearing under buildings and popping out nowhere near where you thought you'd be, cows and horses blocking the path - it was a very cool place.
I checked into a random hotel I passed, and learned that the valley still had no electricity. There was solar hot water though, I was told, so I was free to have a shower. I think they need to redefine their definition of 'hot'. It definitely wasn't hot, or even warm, but might have reached one level above cold. It was also barely a shower, more like a tap positioned up high. It had been six days since my last shower, and I felt a strong need to remove the thick layer of dust that covered me. I took a deep breath and stepped in, quickly washing my hair and jumping out in record time. I was now set for another six days.
I happily discovered that this particular hotel had Western toilets! Not since Kathmandu had I had the privilege of sitting down to pee. About an hour after checking in I was moved to a different room to accommodate a large group, and my new room had an attached private bathroom. If I was ever going to receive a free upgrade, the hotel with the Western toilet would be my first choice.
The only downside to the hotel was a large group of Nepali pilgrims that checked in later in the afternoon. There were about 30 of them in total and they took over the hotel. From then on there was not a moment's peace or even space to move. I had to squeeze myself on the end of a table to eat my dinner, next to a couple of girls who were fascinated by me. I was fascinated watching the Nepalis eat. No need for cutlery - rice, soup and veg were all mixed around on their plate with one hand into a clump that could then be shoveled into their mouths. It was done at such a fast pace I don't know how they didn't choke on the food. Somehow the noise level didn't decrease at all during this time. It was a long, noisy night.