Camping in a steep-sided valley alongside a tributary of the river Kalashandaki, underneath a precarious rope bridge with loose metal struts dangling dangerously above tents. We thought we had seen the full variety of Nepalese hill village life – a sick young man being carried in a wickerwork chair, mothers with babies tied to their backs with colourful shawls. From the hill opposite, a train of heavily laden mules, zigzagging down an impossible looking path and across the rope bridge. Two women realised their cow would refuse the bridge and shoed it through our closely packed campsite, in and out of our tents and finally across the river. On Day 1 we got the lowdown on cultural clothing conventions in the hot thermal baths in Tatopani. One pool, with half for men in short underwear (though one of our group’s Speedo trunks caused sharp intakes of breath and tutting), and the other half for women in shorts and bras. If you are young and attractive, you pin a sort of teatowel in front of your breasts. We later enjoyed white-water swimming, fully clothed, in the river underneath the rickety rope bridge.
Bladder competition – we are measuring input and output for the medical experiments, causing much merriment. George was so fascinated by the mule trains that he almost fell off a cliff not watching where he was going. We passed the porters in a hill village, obviously enjoying a good lunch, and we also stopped for more than two hours, assuming we must be fairly near our final destination. We took a small steep path downhill, which seemed endless. Heavy rain started and the light started to fail. We were puzzled as the Sherpa led us well below the altitude where we were expecting to camp. Eventually we arrived at an isolated shack with a wooden table and bench outside, covered by a leaky tarpaulin. We sat as darkness fell, and the bewilderment turned to alarm at the thought of having to pick our way up or down the steep hillside. After half an hour, we saw our cook emerge from a nearby field – it transpired that we were actually at our campsite already, but that only half the tents had arrived, and none of our sleeping bags or other belongings. We ended up sheltering in a one-room Nepalese peasants house, where the cook served us a slap-up meal while two tiny children slept on the bed beside us. It seems the porters were celebrating the Nepalese festival of Dashain a little too enthusiastically and had to be escorted with their heavy loads down the hill in the dark by very cross Sherpas. The final porter arrived with our belongings at 11pm, by which time we were fairly fed up. None the less, and despite an infestation of leeches, the whole occasion was an important group bonding exercise, and we were up at 5.45am next day, determined to make an early start.
Most scenic campsite so far, with another river bathing opportunity, but this time so rapid flowing and cold that only George was brave enough to go in. Today we have joined group 3 ; much time spent in exchanging stories.