I’m washing my face in icy water and Min calls to me, ‘Didi (sister)! Come here!” I quickly dry my face and run up the hill. “There? See?” The rain from last night has washed away all of the clouds. There, in the distance, in Monasolu, snow capped. I gasp at its beauty.
We begin our walk. I see a watch peddler on the side of the path. I remind Min I need a watch; mine has stopped. He picks out a fancy schmancy gold plated one. I shake my head, explaining I want the cheapest one, nothing fancy. He thinks I should have a fancy one. “You need a waterproof one.” I start to protest and then stare at him in amazement. He’s taken the watch and submerged it in his water bottle. “I want to make sure it’s waterproof,” he offers. I don’t even know where to start. If he ruins the watch, do I have to buy it? If he doesn’t ruin it, do I have to buy it? I don’t want that watch. I tell him I only need the watch at night time, that I won’t wear it during the day. He puts the submerged watch back on display. He chooses a black plastic digital watch. I nod. He bargains. After several rounds of what sound like insults, he whispers to me, “140 rupees.” $2.10. I thank him for getting a good price and hand him the money. He hands it to the peddler, who blesses it before putting it in his wallet. 7:5 am and we’re on our way.
We round the corner and I see the greenest lake I’ve ever seen. I wonder if is is green from algae growth, but, no, it is pure Himalayan snow water, the color of jade. We sit to rest, each eating an apple. The apples aren’t sweet, but are crispy and slightly tart. The three of us sit in silences, staring at the many shades of green surrounding us: the lake, the trees, the grass, the mountainside, feeling the combination of the warm sun and the cool breezes brush against us.
We rest again, this time at the base of the steep switchback that will lead us to Gwaru at the top of the mountain. Not many people take this route because of the steep climb. I had been told the views were insanely beautiful, so I convinced Min and Durga to continue on past Pisang, the normal stopping point for trekkers. They were reluctant. We sit on a stone wall next to a row of prayer wheels. Min produces a bag of peanuts, which we crack and eat in silence3, enjoying the view of the mountains in front of us with a river snaking around and through them. After some time Min looks at me. “Chom?” he asks. Ready. “Chom chom,” I answer. Let’s go. With that we begin the ascent.
I go very slowly. Step. Step. Step. Step. The village we are trying to get to has long disappeared from sight. All that is in front of us is a dirt path, steeply winding up the mountain.
We come to a resting point, a couple of large rocks on the side of the path suitable for sitting upon. We rest, staring out towards the mountains shrouded in clouds. Suddenly, light shines and the clouds drift away, revealing Annapurna IV in all her majesty. The snow capped peaks appear to pierce the heavens. I sit in awe, knowing I’ve made the right choice to embark on the harder route.
Step. Step. Step. Step. We’ve been ascending for almost an hour and a half, virtually straight uphill. As we round the corner we see a sign on the tree. “Gwaru. You are here.” The sign also listed the names and locations of the three guest houses located in Gwaru. I am ecstatic. We’ve made it!
Except we haven’t. The switchbacks continue for another 30 minutes and it begins to drizzle. Then rain. I am angry at the sign. How can it say “you are here” when you obviously are not?
We arrive, finally, to the town of Gwaru, a collection of three guest houses and a few other stone buildings. All buildings are made of the same beige stone – the village blends into the mountain. It’s raining now, hared. Walking through the gate of the village, I’m walking back into the medieval ages. The stone buildings are so close together they form a maze throughout the village, a fortress on the hill. We duck into the first guest house – Yak Run Hotel. The sign boasts of hot showers and a fireplace. I get excited.
After sharing a cup of herbal tea with Min, I go to take a shower. I carry my soap and towel and change of clothes into the concrete block. I get undressed and turn on the tap that is eye level, dubious that the water will be hot and amused at the liberty with which the word “shower” was used on the sign. I turn the faucet. Nothing happens. I turn it more. Still nothing. I try the other way. Nothing. I stand there, shivering, wondering what to do next. I wrap my sarong around me and throw a thermal top on. I walk out, past the bedrooms, through the dining room, and outside, around the house and to the kitchen. “Excuse me? Namaste?” I call out. A couple of old women’s heads pop out. “I can’t get the water to work in the shower.” With that, nothing is said, but one runs past me, through the house, and returns moments later with a large tin bucket. She fills it with water then motions for me to follow her. We go back through the dining room, past the bedrooms and into the concrete block. She sets the bucket down and says, “Shower.” I nod and simply laugh.
There are three other trekkers in the village tonight, and we are all staying at the Yak Ru Hotel. They are from the Czech Republic, a father and his daughter and her boyfriend. The daughter and boyfriend leave to brave the bucket shower. The father and I sit at opposite tables in the dining room. In stilted English, he begins a conversation. He is from Prague, his is on vacation with his daughter, but he is sad because he thinks this will be their last vacation together. She now has a friend, a special friend. Many years ago, they took a vacation to the US together and toured national parks. He was very happy then. He knew they had many more vacations together. He had a son also, but he died several years ago because he was ill. I’m feeling this is a very heavy conversation – both because of the topics and because of the long pauses in between each utterance as he searches for the English word. He stands up, I think to leave, but says, “May I introduce myself?” Without waiting for an answer he says, “I am George.” “George?”” I am surprised. That doesn’t seem like a Czech name. “Really Juri, but that is hard to pronounce. So I say George.” I tell him I am Lori. He extends his hand to shake, when I extend mine, he takes it and kisses it lightly. “A pleasure to meet you,” he says. I am charmed.
I am wearing two sets of thermals, a fleece, a cashmere scarf, a hat, and wool socks, curled up in my sub-zero sleeping bag. I am freezing. I am so cold it hurts. How am I going to fall asleep? The fireplace, as the hot shower, is a myth.