Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Way Back Down

Despite Oli's subtle hints that he might like to continue to Muktinath in the morning, I could not face getting back on the bike so soon. My hand was swollen and sore from clinging on to the Enfield for dear life, and my backside was still decidedly tender. Oli graciously accepted that Muktinath was not on the cards, and we decided instead to go for a walk around the local area.

The scenery around Jomsom really is some of the most incredible we have ever seen. Harsh, dry and windy, this is a brilliantly wild part of the world. The weather as we stepped out of our hotel was fresh, but felt relatively warm after a night spent huddling under blankets with no heating. The morning sun bathed everything in a bright and clean light, setting the landscape off beautifully.

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I would love to blame the high altitude, but Oli and I are slightly unfit due to long days on the bike. It was not a long walk, but we still stopped for frequent rests as the path climbed up steep slopes. Happily, the fabulous views in every direction allowed us to excuse these breaks as photo stops. Hey, we weren't tired, we were just admiring the view!

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As we crested the top of the hill, the wind we had been unwittingly sheltered from, hit us with full force. It was bitter and cold, but as it whistled around us it added to the overall atmosphere. The views over the other side of the hill were even more beautiful than before, and we were enthralled. We layered up with all the warm clothes we had carried, and stood on the ridge taking it all in. We spotted a monastery further along, and walked slowly along to it. It was an incredibly evocative and peaceful setting, and we quietly stood and enjoyed the moment.

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Although our walk had barely counted as exertion, we walked for a short while in the opposite direction, finding a pretty spot in the sun that was sheltered from the wind. The autumn colours were amazing, greens and oranges set off by the vibrantly blue sky. We scoffed down the mars bar I had made us carry from Pokhara in case we got lost in the mountains (totally not needed at this point, but it was awesome). Oli had already munched his the night before as a second dessert... the cold weather here seems to have made his appetite go even crazier than usual. Luckily I am a kindly  and generous wife, so shared my chocolate with him with minimal complaints.

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After walking on a little further, we decided that was quite enough for a rest day, and started heading back to the hotel. The wind was picking up more and more, cold and harsh. Apparently this is always the case in the afternoons, with the mornings generally being more calm. For this reason, the flights to the tiny airport are restricted to the mornings only. When we felt how strong the winds could be, this entirely made sense.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we were delighted to discover that the wi-fi was now working. We sat down and heavily abused it whilst enjoying potato pakoda (Nepalese version of a pakora) and endless cups of tea. The cafe area of the hotel has amazing views of the Nilgiri mountain, and we were happy to admire it in lazy warmth and comfort. Looking outside to the street below, we decided to abandon any designs to go for another stroll in the afternoon. We do not have proper winter coats, and even the locals were wrapped up as if for an arctic expedition. This was definitely an occasion where we were happy to be wusses.

We spent the rest of the evening working our way through another brilliant dinner. I may have become slightly obsessed with the pakodas, and made us indulge in another serving. This definitely reminded us of my sister Georgina's potato obsession, and we thought this was definitely something she would have appreciated! After all, this is the woman who once (in all seriousness) talked of wanting to do a cool-bag assisted day trip to Calais to stock up, as apparently the French have an amazing variety of frozen potato goods. Hope you achieve your dream one day Georgie!

We woke up the next morning slightly dreading the journey to come. The hardest part about going up was knowing that we would have to come back the same way,  and had meant we needed determination to push on. Now it was time to get back on it, and rather than being blissfully ignorant of what was ahead, we knew exactly what to expect. We filled up on a big breakfast, which was definitely required. Oli has become obsessed with the Tibetan bread that the guest house served, the making of which has become another item on the growing list of projects for when we eventually “settle”.

Fresh from our rest day, the first few kilometres of the journey went incredibly quickly. We had initially planned a potential stop at the random Dutch Bakery a few villages away. We had stopped there on the way up, and Oli was delighted to find that they made amazing coffee, served by an actual Dutchman; Nepal does indeed seem to be the sort of place people fall in love with, and kind of just end up there. However, we arrived in the village much faster than expected, so decided to push on instead. The road remained rough but manageable for a good distance. The scenery was still epic, and we were most definitely in awe of it.

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We reached the dreaded point where the road conditions declined from awful to utterly dire. Anything that might have once constituted as an actual road has long since been washed or blown away, leaving jagged rocks and large boulders in its place. I never thought I would miss gravel roads, but compared to this they may as well be pristine highways. We snapped a few photos to try and capture  how difficult it was. These by no means show the worst parts (the last thing you feel like doing whilst struggling over these is getting the camera out and faffing about), but they do give a good idea of what we were up against. We progressed a lot more quickly with experience and gravity on our side, and made it to the end of the bad section with only one minor tumble, which we considered an achievement. A lot of parts were not possible two up, and feeling like I had proved myself enough on the ascent, I did a lot of walking. I reckon there could be a market for this. Mototrekking?

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We arrived into Tatopani in the early afternoon. Whilst we still had a good few hours of daylight left, we would not have been able to make it back to Pokhara before dark, so found a guest house and dumped our stuff before heading out for a walk. The room was most unmistakably a dump, but who's complaining when it only costs £2? The place was utterly redeemed by the pretty gardens, filled with colourful flowers, and the fact that it had a safe and covered place to park the bike. Before setting out on our wander, Oli had a go at fixing the bent exhaust on the bike first by kicking it, and then forcing it. Although he is actually a pretty decent mechanic, it seems brute force and ignorance are the way to deal with some issues.

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The village of Tatopani is famous for its hot springs, but when we had passed these on the bike they did not look too appealing. Instead, we walked through the pretty village, admiring the Diwali decorations from the day before. The buildings here are charming, rustic and colourful. Slightly less pretty and charming however, we did notice in one place that somebody was happily drying out raw meat alongside their washing. Oli has pretty much been vegetarian in India and Nepal, so felt pretty vindicated in his choice upon seeing this.

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Our walk took us along the road to the Myagdi river. We climbed down the banks and sat on the rocks. The force of the water was fascinatingly powerful, and we could have watched it rushing through its rocky course for hours. We have had a lot of moments in India and Nepal where we have been truly enthralled by what we have seen. It's hard to use this phrase without thinking of this guy [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU ], but it really has made us appreciate the 'awesome power of nature.'

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After walking aimlessly for a while, Oli declared he was tired and hungry, so we headed back to our guest house. We enjoyed an obscenely large meal, and were good and satisfied. We retired back to our palace of a room and Oli crashed out embarrassingly early. I went over to wake him up, and somehow also fell asleep for a good hour. Our body clocks seem to have become a little confused in the mountains, but we admitted defeat and accepted the early night.

Although we had done the worst of it yesterday, today's ride was still fairly brutal for the first twenty kilometres. However, it was far easier to get through it knowing that we had some sweet, sweet asphalt to look forward to. After a few days of rough roads, even intermittent and potholed tarmac felt like a luxury.

We are now back safely in Pokhara. The bike (Silver Jim) has been dropped off at his home, and we enjoyed a couple of celebratory beers at the Bullet Base Camp bar. We still can't quite believe we made it through those roads on an Enfield without breaking anything either on the bike or ourselves. We will now spend a few more days chilling out in Pokhara, enjoying the food and the scenery. Life is pretty easy here, and we really can understand how people end up staying longer than intended!

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