Day 12: Tukuche - Kalopani
Side Trip: Rinpoche Cave
Total distance: 262.76km
Total Ascent: 12151m
Total Descent: 10477m
I broke from my traditional porridge breakfast and ordered homemade, country-style, thick cut toast with peanut butter. It was awesome. If only all lodges made their own bread and offered peanut butter.
It was a relatively late start trekking for me this morning: 8am. I didn't have a big day planned so I thought I'd take it easy. It started with an uninspiring one hour walk to Larjung, a nice-looking town full of white stone buildings with blue corrugated iron roofs. If they were going for that Santorini look, they didn't quite pull it off.
I read that there were caves around Larjung, and a lovely woman at a lodge helped point me in the right direction. She also allowed me to stash my backpack at her hotel while I took on this adventure. Her advice was basically keep going up.
If only it was that easy. I'm really over getting lost. I found the right path out of town, passed through a small village and continued uphill. Then the path split in two. Do you think I chose the right one? Of course not. I wasn't alone though - a European man five minutes ahead of me also made the wrong decision, and we got stuck at the same point. The path led us to a narrow section between a waterfall and a cliff, then disappeared. I could see the correct route well below us, and knew we had to walk back the way we came to reach it. The other man stayed to see if he could find a way around.
After wasting half an hour I located the right path and headed down then up to the cave. The views on the way were good but not great, mainly due to the lousy weather. The entrance to the cave was decorated with what seemed like thousands of prayer flags, indicating I had reached somewhere important. There was a sign asking me to change my shoes into the sandals provided, which ended up being a wise decision. The next part was walking along the path underneath a small section of waterfall (I'm back in waterfall territory - I saw at least six today). The icy water sprayed my clothes and drenched my feet, which needed a clean anyway. On the other side was a tiny temple with not much inside, plus steps up to the cave. I climbed up to find an empty room, roughly the size of a lounge room but about half the height. There were no amazing rock formations, no lights, nothing. I searched around the area to see if I was missing something, but I couldn't find anything else. I didn't understand how this was a tourist attraction. Unless you had an obsession with prayer flags or wanted to get up close and personal with a waterfall, I wouldn't recommend this side trip.
In the meantime the European man had followed the correct trail up to the cave, quickly looked around and left before me. I passed him on the way down, having a cup of tea from his thermos. Five seconds later I saw a bull lying across the trail. I let the bull know I was coming and tried to give him a wide berth, but apparently it wasn't wide enough. When I was within a couple of metres he suddenly stood up, looked at me and lowered his head. I immediately backtracked up to the European, not knowing what to do if he started to charge. The man said it was fine, keep going. I said I was happy to let the bull calm down first then try again. The man then got up and walked up to the bull, clapping his hands and trying to shoo him away. The bull kept his head low and scraped his front foot a couple of times. I started looking for escape routes. The man wasn't fazed - he continued advancing towards the bull and a few moments later the bull trundled off down the mountain, away from the path. I can't believe how lucky I was that I passed that man at exactly the time I needed him.
Continuing my decent, I happened to look down at my top. Wearing bright red probably wasn't the brightest idea in a country full of bulls. Not long later I came across three more bulls straddling the path. I stopped before they saw me, grabbed my rain jacket, a nice, safe navy blue colour, out of my bag and put it on. The bulls didn't give me a second glance.
I returned to Larjung without any further incidents, ordered my lunch with the nice woman who minded my bag, then set off down the road. The plan was to stay in Kokhethanti, about an hour away, as it was close to a day trip I wanted to undertake tomorrow. I arrived in Kokhethanti to find a ghost town. There were maybe a dozen buildings on each side of the dirt track, but most were either crumbling down, boarded up or vandalized. It appeared there was only one guesthouse open, and I was their only guest. As I sat in my room, with no one to talk to, no Wi-fi and nothing to do, I felt more and more uncomfortable. It didn't take me long to make the decision to walk on to the next town, Kalopani, only 45 minutes down the road. I knew it would add more time to my trip tomorrow, but at that point I didn't care. I mumbled an apology to the manager as I bolted out of the guesthouse and out of town. On the way I passed three people I knew from my travels around Annapurna, all staying in Kalopani too. I knew I had made the right decision.
Kalopani was one of the more upmarket towns I had passed through. There were lodges that almost looked decent, charging twice as much as most places on the circuit. I found one of the cheaper ones but it was still the most I have paid so far (a whopping US$3). The money was justified though - I'm pretty sure they actually changed the bedding between guests and possibly even washed it regularly. Every room even came with a private bathroom with a Western toilet - luxury. I spent the afternoon sitting on the rooftop balcony (it was almost warm enough to sit outside), staring at the gigantic snowy peaks all around me as they disappeared and reappeared between the clouds. I can't get enough of these mountains.