Road Work Ahead

December 28, 2009 10 Comments »

Nepalese children

Tiger Balm Tales Vol. 6

Day 2 & 3 Bahundanda to Dharapani

What is it about growing older that changes us?  Not only do our feet get bigger, but we tend to also develop more irrational fears.  I’ve been aware of it for some time now; my growing fear of heights.   As each year goes by I turn into Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo…I freeze, the world seems to spin around me, and I have to talk myself through the irrational panic.  Why on earth did I think that going on a hiking trip in the Himalayas would be a good idea?

After hiking a day to get to the trail, we were now hiking on the main Annapurna trail.  This tourist route had little villages peppered along the trail giving you an endless supply of drinks, fruit, food, people-watching, and lodging.  However, the downside to hiking the trail was that it was like a super highway for tourists.  On day 1 we were surrounded by locals, and from here on out we would be surrounded by tourists.  We chose to hike the trail at the best time of the year; the weather was perfect – no more monsoon, and not freezing cold yet.  Of course, this was why everyone else also decided to come and hike the trail; Oct/Nov was high season.

Annapurna circuit landscape
The hills are alive…

As we took off and crested the hill from Bahundanda we dipped down into a stunning green valley of rice terraces.  The green grass met the blue skies; the landscape seemed to explode. It didn’t take long for groups of people and porters to start passing us.  It was as if they were flashing their bright lights behind us kindly requesting us slow pokes to move over so they could pass.  Instead of lights, they had walking polls – klink, klink, KLINK on the rocks as they came up behind us.  As groups of people briskly walked by us I wondered…why?  Why are they in such a hurry?  We are in this beautiful scenery nestled among the Himalayas, and we traveled presumably long distances to get here, but I seldom saw many of these people look up from the trail.  They just kept maintaining their pace, not noticing the environment around them.  All so they could get to the next village and wait?  Granted, maybe I’m a bit too slow, and I take too many pictures, but I prescribe to slow travel I guess; I want to soak it all in.

Bamboo bridge
A temporary fix

Every time we seemed to gain some elevation on the trail, we promptly turned around and lost it.  Up and down, Up-Up and down, Up-Up-Up and down.   We also ran into some trail issues – namely rock slides.  The rock slides would force us to use alternate routes, often sending us way up a steep mountainside with loose rock or down to a bridge to cross over the river.

One of the bridges looked as if it were made of toothpicks and was put up a few hours before we arrived there.  I watched others cross over the low bridge slowly; it looked easy enough.  I waited my turn and gingerly took steps onto the bamboo poles which creaked and flexed with each step.  All I could hear was the water rushing below me as I tried to balance on the 3 bamboo poles; rejoicing silently when I stepped on solid ground again.

If it wasn’t rock slides slowing us up, it was road construction.  Yes, they are sadly building a road on the Annapurna Circuit – a topic I will later discuss in detail.  When I first read about the road being built, I was quite concerned about what it would do to the trail.  However, once I got there and saw it in person, I realized that the road would progress slower than the US Universal Health Care legislation.  You may wonder how they build a road in a 3rd world country, high up in the mountains through solid rock on a cliff face.  Wonder no more:

5 men, a sledgehammer, and a shovel….yup…that won’t be finished in my lifetime.

For now, the road construction led to some entertaining photography and videos, but it also led to obstacles that sent my adrenaline through the roof.  I stopped to get footage of this slow, laborious road project as my father and Bishnu went on ahead.  They had long since grown tired of waiting for me and my camera.  I got the footage, joked with the locals, and left with a smile; but when I rounded the corner the smile quickly disappeared and I was suddenly aware of my heart pounding in my chest.

The blasting for the birth of the road left rock slides and a narrow little loose dirt trail that danced along the edge of the cliff face. I don’t mind climbing, I don’t mind descending, I don’t mind carrying heavy packs.  But I hate narrow trails near ledges that will send you plummeting to your death.  This new trail was about 3 feet wide, yet it looked like 1 foot in my terrified mind.  As I took a few steps, I felt as if I were hanging off the side of a mountain.  I slowed down and took each step as if it were my first…and sorta my last.

My brain raced with thoughts of everything that could go wrong.  For a moment I think I forgot how to walk.  I tried to tune out the sound of the rushing river 700 feet below me.  I was acutely aware of the big pack on my back and how it could throw off my center of balance and leave me nowhere to step to recover.  Time slowed down and I slowly took each step concentrating so hard I began to talk to myself.

With each year I add to my life this stupid fear of heights seems to get worse and worse.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that as we get older, our appendages keep growing while the rest of us shrink – in my head, I have clown-size feet now!  Clown-size feet don’t fit on narrow trails!

I was thrilled to catch up with my Dad and Bishnu a while later as we entered the village of Dharapani.  I just wanted to make sure they had safely made it through that section of the trail.  Needless to say, I think the only thing that would’ve made that narrow trail worse would’ve been to watch my father go on it; then I really would have been a basket case!

View all the photos from Day 2 and 3 of Hiking – or click on an image to see more detail:

Want to start at the beginning of the Tiger Balm Tales?

Vol. 1 – The Begining of a Nepal Trekking Plan
Vol. 2 – Preparing the Parents
Vol. 3 – Annapurna Itinerary
Vol. 4 – Travel Back in Time
Vol. 5 – Breathe Through Your Mouth

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