Thursday 8 March 2007
At Kanti Path bus stand the hawker tries hard to sell me things I've already bought from someone else. He drops his price for a Snickers bar to 80 Nepalese rupees.
“You have 100?” he asks. “I give you change.”
Of course, he doesn't have 20 rupees.
“Okay,” I say, “I give you back the Snickers and you give me back my 100 rupees.”
Immediately, he discovers a 20 rupee note folded and slipped in among the larger denominations.
“Oh, look! I find 20.”
“I think you are a lucky man to live in New Zealand,” she says.
Perhaps memory is an act of recreation—re-creation. If something, someone, some event, has been forgotten by everyone and everything, can it be said it still exists? The thought strikes me as strongly resembling Berkeley's philosophy, which says nothing exists unless perceived; perhaps also, because we seldom if ever know what we're about to remember, it might be one interpretation of the Russian saying, “The past is unpredictable.”
At Tolka the day darkens; clouds turn from white to grey to the colour of portent. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Finally the first drops arrive, heavy and deliberate, and everything scurries for cover—the fowls, the women clutching laundry, the trekkers. Now the rain's steady on the iron roof and for the first time in ages I'm cold. Well, I was, and my fingers are still numb as I write, but I'm warming up now the fire's going in the dining hall. We walked for roughly five and a half to six hours, stopping some time between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. The shower was just warm enough to splash over important areas, and I relaxed afterwards with a cup of milky tea. Soon after, the rain arrived.
“Sapporo,” he says.
I remember Ino's Place and those few days in Sapporo; the time at Abashiri; the evening at Sawa after which I'd walked back to my hotel utterly unable to think of anything that could have added to the joy I felt, everything perfect, even the enormous distance between me and my friends and family in Aotearoa something to be relished because it conferred the delight of expectation, of eventual reunion. Now, here, high in the Himalaya, this Japanese man from Sapporo with his marvellous sense of humour and almost no English links me to those places where I might never return but hope I will. He looks as if he could be a son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and his journal's a work of art—a beautifully hand-drawn map of the Sanctuary Trail, in several colours, the lettering clear and exact. We talk, stumbling over our lack of shared language, communicating mostly by intonation and place names and laughter. Later in the evening, after the rain had arrived and the deep cold had enveloped everything but the room where we gathered around the stove, he nods off to sleep in a chair, his feet propped on the lukewarm fireplace. But someone stokes it. I smell burning rubber and we wake him—he checks the soles of his shoes and yelps when he touches the hot spot. Then he laughs with us.
Breakfast comprises excellent porridge with milk, Tibetan bread with honey, a cup of tea, and marvellous views of the Annapurna massif and Hiunchuli. Clear sky, clouds moving fast over the summits. We leave at 8 o'clock. The walking begins easily, mostly a gentle downhill which eventually takes us to the river, a river strongly reminiscent of New Zealand—in fact, the whole environment resembles parts of New Zealand except in three respects: the vegetation, which here is more sparse and lacks the southern beech I'd associate with this kind of landscape; the terraced hillsides; and, of course, the settlements. In New Zealand, no one lives in this kind of country; while many of us feel at home there high on huge mountainsides, in wild country far from roads, no one makes of those places a permanent home; no one is born there, no one grows up, lives, and raises a family there, and one dies there as a visitor, not as a resident.
Two things surprise me about this region—the number of people who look more Indian than Nepali, and the apparent dominance of Hinduism over Buddhism. Other than the faded, fluttering prayer flags, I've seen no obvious signs of Buddhist influence. The British women at the guesthouse in Chomrong had also noticed it, and the thin young British man points out how different this is from the Everest Base Camp trek, where stupas and Buddhist monasteries abound. The women are from Bristol; the young man has, or is doing, a degree in marine biology and flies remote-controlled sailplanes for fun. Buzzards often check out his planes, he says, and sometimes crows attack them.
Lightning—a flash of brilliance through closed eyes in the middle of the night; seconds later the huge roar of thunder reverberating from immense mountainsides. It continues for much of the night, and once I hear rain on the roof. When I step outside in the morning I see snow falling—big, wet, heavy flakes—and a layer a couple of inches thick over everything. Annapurna Base Camp is out of the question, and, like all the other trekkers, we decide to head back down the valley.
“Avalanche,” he says, nodding in the direction of the downhill trail.
I follow him and stand with several other guides, trying to locate the sound. Finally the guide who'd alerted us points at the nearby mountainside and I see a river of snow pouring steadily over a bluff and down towards the trail—the trail we'll have to cross on our way down. Still, I think, I'd rather it avalanched now than while we were crossing.
... to be continued...
1. Chook at Tolka.
2. Boats at Phewa Tal (lake), Pokhara.
3. Kamal, my guide/porter (seated), and one of the other guides at Tolka.
4. Rain arriving; Tolka.
5. The toilet block at the Himalaya.
6. Kamal, the Korean woman with a wicked sense of humour, and another guide lark about in the snow just before we headed back down the valley.
7. Morning at the Himalaya Hotel.
8. The way into the Annapurna Sanctuary. Not a safe route in this kind of weather.