With the previous night's restless sleep fresh in both memory and stamina, I opted, for the last night in Braka, to put another layer of clothes on and sleep under the blankets; a more restful slumber I could not have asked for and I woke up full of energy, which was quite fortuitous, considering we had to once again pick up our backpacks after nearly two days of trekking without them.
The Annapurna Circuit, though fairly straightforward, does offer quite a few side treks (such as the ones we'd just taken) or alternate paths, like taking the high road through Ngawal, rather than the main road between Pisang and Manang. One such alternative was the detour we were just about to embark on - instead of going through Manang and then, at the crossroads, continue to the right directly towards Thorong La, we would turn left for a two-day trip to Tilicho Lake, one of the highest lakes in the world and reputedly the highest of its size, an exciting prospect which prompted us to leave Braka with renewed eagerness.
|Some 30 minutes away from Braka, the welcoming entrance to Manang|
One of the things that have impressed me greatly about Nepal, as I'm sure it's impressed anybody who's been there, is the people's sheer endurance when it comes to carrying stuff. From the hired porters, who lugged upwards of 15 kilos (if I had to guess, I'd have eyeballed most of the ones I saw at around 25 kg) worth of baggage along the tourists, climbing the same slopes, oftentimes wearing simple sports shoes, to the road workers breaking and carrying building material (or more to the point, rocks). As Manang was a flourishing village in what I imagined was rapid expansion (or at least that's what Nicu's comparison to what it looked like 2 years prior led me to believe), it obviously required a lot of building material, so, as we entered, we passed several people busily gathering, breaking and carrying rocks onto the plateau where the village expanded.
|Rock haulers. One looked about 13 years old, the other 73. Notice the footwear.|
Likewise, because Manang is a bit of an end of the road when it comes to mechanised transportation (well, it does continue for a bit more, but not much), we went by a good number of porters carrying supplies to the villages higher up the valley, with improvised packs hanging heavily on their backs and forehead (they use an interesting method whereby, instead of the hip strap we're used to on our backpacks, they use a strap that anchors the weight to their forehead and walk slightly bent forward; while I've not tried carrying anything like that and I don't doubt its effectiveness, seeing how some of them briskly walked right past us, I do imagine it puts a mercilessly high strain on the spine, especially the cervical segment). The enormous loads these people stoically carried put to shame any whining and muttering we might have done concerning our own backpacks' weights, though, in all arrogant honesty, I did feel a certain degree of pride when we managed to go past groups of light-packed tourists accompanied by porters hauling their heavy stuff. Most of that pride naturally evaporated upon noticing said tourists were largely elderly, but I'd rather not dwell on details.
|They do not make it look easy.|
The path from Manang to Khangsar (which was our lunch-break village, at 3756 m altitude) went up along the Marshyangdi river, crossing it a couple of times on those long, narrow, stable but nevertheless intimidatingly long and high steel bridges, leaving behind us the spectacular views of the Annapurna III and IV that we'd got used to the last days, with exciting promises of seeing Tilicho and Nilgiri soon.
|A look back down the Marshyagdi river|
While looking for a place to eat in Khangsar I came across a poster advertising a bike rental service, saying something to the effect of "the hard part is now behind you, but the journey's not over, why not rent a bike to enjoy pedaling all the way to Besishahar?" and I remember thinking "yeah, that's right, you've done the hard part, you've climbed all this way, you've gone up to Milarepa and Ice Lake, you the man, how difficult can Thorong La prove to be?". Clairvoyance is a skill I was never quite able to fully master.
|Blue sheep were starting to become a de rigueur sighting|
|Grazing horses, on the other hand, I didn't see quite as often|
|It seems to be good form to keep up with at least one close-up of a clound-engulfed icy peak per post|
|Field work near the entrance to Khangsar|
|A passageway inside Khangsar painted with Buddhist scenes. A bit scary, some of them.|
|A fine sentiment. Could work a bit on spelling.|
The weather predictably worsened after lunch, and we continued the rest of the path to Shree Kharka (a small establishment with no more than a few buildings, specifically intended as teahouses on the way to Tilicho; I would estimate its altitude around 4000 m, though I'm not certain) under a drizzle which eventually turned into snow. The climb was quite steep and made none the easier by the slippery mud, but the distance wasn't too long. A monastery preceded Shree Kharka, and the rain stopped just as we were coming into sight of it; clouds of mist were rising and partially covering it, creating a powerful, mystical image, but unfortunately I'd stashed my camera away during the snowfall and hadn't access to it.
The accommodations proved to be unexpectedly good, considering their remoteness; we spent most of the afternoon and evening inside the bright dining room, with a great view behind us; it was quite a bit more crowded than the places we'd stayed before, which made for a babelian scene with people from Germany, Canada, the Ukraine, Romania, Israel and Nepal sitting around the warm stove, speaking 5 different languages in an overly friendly and diverse atmosphere.
|Left to right, Israeli, Canadian, German (checking time, how stereotypical), Nepali, Ukranian.Stove getting the deservedly central position.|
I managed to take a few more shots as the sun was setting (the weather having improved significantly) before going to bed (once again, warmly clothed and under the blankets, because screw the sleeping bag; Adriana, who had no problem sleeping in hers, donated her extra blanket to me, so once I again I slept quite comfortably). The next day had an early start, as the portion between Shree Kharka and Tilicho Base Camp is ideally crossed as close to sunrise as possible to minimise the risk of landslides. Time to add a bit more excitement to the adventure!
|The monastery we'd passed on the way up and the whole river valley behind us|
|Mist rising from the river valley, sun setting behind the mountains.|
|This is becoming something of a repetition, but seeing as how it's in different phases and all, I still think it's worth adding them!|