Monday, 15 March 2010

Day 1 continued: Besi Shahar to Bhulbhule

Anthony is British, ex-navy and in his forties (we think!). He takes me up on my invite and joins us for tea and some quick respite after two long bus rides. Our timing is perfect. Just as we sit down, the first fat drops of a thunderstorm begin to fall. The sky grows dark, and the rain is soon pouring in steady streams as thunder rattles above us and flashes of lightening mark their way through the skies. It’s an undeniably bad start to our two-week trek!

Our luck only changes when we find out that Anthony has done the Annapurna Circuit before and is a veritable encyclopaedia on all things trekking. We sit sharing tips and life histories over cups of tea, waiting for the end of the storm. Finally, the rain begins to subside, and leaving Nicky to look after the bags, Anthony and I head to the ACAP checkpoint where we have to show our trekking permits and register.

Toying between catching the bus to Bhulbhule or walking, we head to the bus station to enquire about the price. The Russians’ guide is there and quotes us an extortionate price for the 6km journey. We soon realize that the reason the Russian’s are paying so much is because their guide is pocketing a nice little wad of commission each time. Anthony attempts to explain what’s happening to them but they respond to his English with blank looks. The four Russians are destined to be ripped off the entire way round the circuit.

We decide to walk having had enough of bus rides and dodgy bus antics. Whilst this first 6km is on the road with buses and bikes passing us, it isn’t altogether unpleasant. Along the way Anthony shows us how to collect suitable drinking water from streams and keeps us entertained with stories from his navy years, whilst Nicky and I get used to walking with 35litre backpacks and sticks.

After an hour or so we come across a small village replete with small children asking for pens and sweets. Nicky’s can of orange juice is visible and causes havoc as they point and ask for it. She attempts to distract them by taking photos of them and sharing them with little success. The sun is beginning to set but through the thinning rain clouds a stunning glacier-laden mountain emerges, tinged with pink. We find a small tea house with views overlooking the mountain and there we stop for another cup of tea.

As the sun drops behind the mountains it soon becomes dark and we find ourselves donning head torches for the last leg of the walk. We pass through the first town of Khundi and then it’s all-too-suddenly time to face my fear of suspension bridges. The only saving grace is darkness, but the metallic monstrosity still looms there in the blackness, the thundering sound of the glacial river below all too audible.

I make it quite clear that if I’m going to make it across, I have to do it alone: no shaking, jumping or people overtaking. Nicky kindly stands back to let me go ahead and, with brut determination, a fixed stare and a knotted stomach I make it across trying desperately to ignore The Fear which I can feel rising as the bridge sways beneath my feet.

At the other side my legs are jelly and my hands take on an alcoholic’s tremble but the relief of having made it over without making an idiot of myself is palpable. Only 35 more to go!

That evening I tuck into my first dal bhat (a dish of dal, curry, rice and papad) and celebrate my bridge crossing with a plate of momos (bite-sized balls of veg encased in thin dough made from flour and water and steamed).

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