Sunday January 13th, 2019.
Amazingly this is Day 18. Coming down is all part of the experience, and allows a retrospective contemplation, but while most trekkers stop at Lukla, and then take a plane ride back to Kathmandu, with more time on our hands we have elected to walk out to Salleri, the way we had come in. Today is quite a long day and we only reach a village beyond Phakding, and close to Lukla, by dusk.
Somehow Madhu has found a homestay, rather than a trekking lodge, so it is very pleasant to stay in an actual house, which has a great deal of good quality wood on the first floor as partitioning walls, and the base of the house is in handsome stone blocks. However, this is a rebuilt house, as the area was affected by the recent earthquake.
While we wait with anticipation for the evening Dhal Bhat, I notice that in addition to a gas ring in the kitchen, there is a wood burning stove-cooker, but that the lady of the house is operating it with the door open, feeding logs into the glowing interior. I comment that it would use less wood and probably be hotter if they just closed the door, but there is attachment to old ways, maybe she feels she has more control over how fast the wood will burn by delaying the push of the log in further. Well, I have said my piece; whether it changes anything, as often, I won’t be here to see.
Monday 14th January, 2019: Lukla to Bupsa
Certainly, if you don’t fly out from Lukla, there is no alternative but to keep walking! And today we are reminded that the way in was very much up and down, and the reason for this is that the north-south watercourse of the Dudh Khosi is intersected at right angles by many deep valleys whose east-west tributaries flush down from the heights and cut deeply into the landscape, making the trail an equal challenge of ascent and descent in either direction. But now, at the end of the trek, anticipation of some rest is in conflict with the continuing effort, and familiarity certainly does not breed acceptance!
Many mule trains meet us. They are bred in India, and the going price is $1300. A hard life, being a mule. One section of the trail is very slippy with mud and droppings. A slip here and you could go over, so mules must be given right of way. They may be unassertive, but they are heavily loaded, and take the route their feet dictate, so could swing against you in unexpected ways.
We spend a very long time waiting for lunch, during which the lady of the lodge upbraids her teenage son, presumably for being idle and spiritless both at home and at school. On the trail a mother asks if her daughter can walk with us, as even in this region an unaccompanied female might run a risk of assault apparently, though at the top of the pass before Bupsa, on familiar territory, she sprints off energetically on her own. The light fades and then we approach Bupsa in the dark, and I can’t help complaining a bit to Madhu, pointlessly, which he gracefully ignores, and when we reach the same lodge we stayed at on the way up, there is no one else there, so they have not put on the heating. Cold, so quick to the sleeping bag.
Tuesday 15th January, 2019 Bupsa to Nunthala
Madhu has had a shower this morning, whether hot or cold I don’t know, as today is a festival day when the people eat yams producing heat in the body, as well as taking this ritual purification by water. But at least it feels warmer now in the sun at this lower altitude.
Another very long day, and the trail is in shocking condition in places, clearly the result of the incessant mule trains on the go. The carefully constructed stone steps have broken up, and there are huge sections of dust and decay. And a new road is being bulldozed down near the bottom of the valley, and the idea is to take this to Sirte, below Lukla. It seems that the one urgent undeniable request of all the isolated hill communities is that they should have a road, so that these roads criss cross the ridges of Nepal, and are clearly visible from the skies, lacerating the green spaces. But in this case, it might have some logic due also to the very heavy expedition traffic, but heaven forbid that any road should go on further from Lukla.
The lodge in Nunthala is again unheated, and we are the only visitors. However, I’ve decided that this is the end of the trail, and that we can get a jeep to Salleri, avoiding a tough climb up. However, there is no booking system, so we have to wait until tomorrow to see how this will work out.
The next day there is a long and uncertain wait in the morning but finally a jeep will be going. I speak with other trekkers who have also decided that this is the end. The road is packed earth in mostly good condition. Once over the top of the hill, the landscape again looks familiar. This is now day 21, so we have done almost three weeks on the trek. Once in Phaplo, near Salleri, Madhu directs us to a small lodge on the main street whose owner he knows, and we are soon enjoying hot samosa and noodle soup.
Winter: inwardness, preparation, recuperation. Looking back at a mountain kingdom, a fastness, with that blur of mysterious precipitation, be it snow, hail or rain. Winter: a very good time for a trek in the Solukhumbu.