The anxiety accumulated in the Last day from the Annapurnas Circuit, the late hour at which we went to bed and the comfort of the feather sleeping bags for negative 20º combined in a soporific effect.
They prolonged our sleep more than we counted. We woke up curious about what the weather had in store for us.
We collected the curtains and opened the half-painted wooden windows. A radiant sun invades our rooms. It exposes, more naked than we had ever been able to admire, the spartan charm of the Himalayan Hotel.
We leave the room facing the panoramic view from the balcony above the entrance courtyard. The day before had left unwell, cloudy, windy, threatening rain or snow.
The snow fell during the night, although only at the heights. Onward and upward, perched on worldly slopes, loomed the summit of the Lamjung Kailas Himal, a younger brother of the Annapurnas, even though it soars to an imposing 6.983 meters.
The night snow had renewed its whiteness. It made the Lamjung Himal shine against the blue sky like a call we could no longer resist.
At this late hour, platoons of enthusiastic backpackers followed one another down the street. Eager to join his pilgrimage, we packed our backpacks in a hurry and went down to the dining room.
The night before, we had ordered porridge and ginger teas with honey and lemon. Two or three minutes after we sat down, we were already devouring them.
The Sunshine Morning of Chame
We settle the score. We set out to explore Chame better under the radiant glow of the morning. Two women on the edge of the cobblestone that ran through the village split wood at an impressive pace.
A grandmother and her grandchildren were warming themselves at the base of the stairs, under the porch of the home, between two huge piles of sticks piled up with serious geometrical rigor.
Deprived of cheap electricity and fuel or technology, the Nepalese in those highlands just by our standards lacked everything to keep the ovens and stoves lit during the frigid nights. That need was felt in the growing nakedness of the surrounding slopes, once much more stocked with pine and other trees.
Below, a stream turned a large Tibetan prayer wheel. It preceded several others placed on either side of a central wall, manual rather than water-based, which the passing believers and many of the backpackers rotated in the vein of centrifugal and silent prayer.
Along the alley, the wooden houses were repeated, most of them converted into inns that the newly arrived outsiders disputed. Not everything in Chame was spirituality and sustenance.
The Complex Nomenclature of Nepalese Political Parties
In the vicinity of the descent that led to the entrance portico of the village, one of the facades was distinguished from the others. It identified the headquarters of the CPN-UML Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist-Leninist, one of the main Nepalese communist parties, until its merger last May 17th with the CPN (Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist Center) which resulted in the NCP (Nepal Communist Party).
Aflame with communism, the intricate political landscape of the nation and the village reminded us of the famous Monty Python scene of “Bryan's Life” in which various political fronts – Judeans People Front, People's Front of Judea, Judean People's Front and the like got mixed up and confused its members in the dispute for power rivaling that of the Roman settlers.
As we were to understand them, Nepali parties were supposed to be incompatible with the Buddhism that was creeping in everywhere. Such coexistence intrigued us.
We were not worried about what would happen in other areas of the Nepal – for example, in areas around Mount Everest – where Maoist forces remain active and steal donations from outsiders entering their domain.
There, through Chame and the rest of the Annapurna Circuit, the natives venerated itinerant foreigners as the legal, guaranteed and easy source of income they represented.
They made us contribute when they paid for the most expensive meals in the country, yet they were fair and accessible in the eyes of almost all guests, given the remote location of the villages.
We reach the Chame portico and turn around. We return to Himalayan Hotel. We said goodbye to the boys who were tidying the newly vacated rooms.
The Walk Towards Pisang
We put the backpacks on our backs, we felt their excessive weight like walking Atlases surrendered to the penalty imposed by the fascination of the mountain range. With our shoulders and back already sensitized to the punishment, we set off at last to Annapurnas upwards.
At that time, the muddy up-and-down of the street following the Himalayan embraced Chame's most distinctive ways of life. All her little stores were open. They imposed on passers-by a panoply of goods Made in China e Made in Nepal, or vegetables, meats and other produce from the garden and the countryside provided by the surroundings.
The owners of jeeps and motorbikes awaited the last passengers and freight of the day, attentive to the physical conditions of the travelers who, like us, spent late and bad hours.
We enjoy the commercial hustle without stopping. A few hundred meters up, we passed over Marsyangdi over an iron suspension bridge filled with colorful Buddhist banners that fluttered in the wind.
Among its last houses at the foot of the rocky slope on the other side of the river, and zigzag chickens, the village's last alley leads to the stupa that blessed the northern entrance and exit of the village. When we cross it, Call to stay behind once and for all.
Delivered to a Majestic Alpine Visual Setting
We continued along the left bank of the Marsyangdi, at times shallow and low elevation, at times steep and overlooking the bed full of rapids.
With no settlements to dot it, the scenery became one hundred percent alpine, filled with firs, beeches and pines perched on the slopes of the valley that the river deepened.
Two hours later, we enter Bhratang, an agricultural hamlet occupied by a large apple orchard, its warehouse and a recent, modern inn, which lacked the Nepalese soul of so many others and, perhaps because of that, was on the fly.
Other hikers regained their energy in the garden courtyard. Like some of them, we bought a sack of wrinkled apples, leftovers from the overdue harvest season. Like them, we gnaw two or three, replenish ourselves with water and stretch our muscles still wondering about the unexpected massacre. After which we return to the path.
The next stretch proved to be long and much more strenuous. It goes up above Marsyangdi along a trail that the Nepalese conquered to the almost vertical cliff using dynamite and a lot of pickaxe.
He crosses the Marsyangdi again on two neighboring bridges, one suspended and narrow, the other heavier, in campaign style.
We continue at the base of the Swargadwari Danda Mountain (4800m), a huge surreal rounded wall, with its upper half covered in snow, on the broad rocky foothills.
We overcame the first climbs worthy of the name, even so, without comparison with others that we would win.
Dhukurpokhari and the Unexpected Dilemma: Lower or Upper Banana?
Two hours and several photographic stops later, a meander following a vast wild pine forest reveals Dhukurpokhari, the place where we had planned to stop for another rest and lunch.
Coming out of an arboreal and shady nowhere, we saw a street filled with elaborate modular buildings with stairs leading to terraces protected by fences, all embellished with listed paintings, as if some carpentry competition were taking place there.
As soon as they see us approaching, several Nepalese owner-businesswomen stand at the entrance to their inns. “Set up, rest.
Our food is really good” the first tries to stop our march. "We have apple pie and yak cheese!" adds to announce the availability of two of the most reputable snacks on the Annapurna Circuit.
In a normal situation, it would be normal for us not to install ourselves in the first establishment, without first taking a look at the following ones. Two factors determined this to happen: we were on our toes.
And there we met Fevzi and Josua, the Turkish-German duo with whom we had shared the jeep between Syange and Chame. We greet each other satisfied by the surprise.
A Providential Rest
They invite us to the table. Even though we barely knew each other, we “lunched” chapatis and tea, in great fun, with the additional company of Sara Perez and Edoardo Berto, a Spanish-Italic couple who are friends of Fevzi.
The four had already decided to spend the night there and, only the next day to go to Pisang.
On our side, the initial plan was to sleep in Pisang. During lunch, Josua and Fevzi inform us that Pisang was divided into two areas – a “Lower” and a “Upper".
“Everyone tells us that the Upper is more difficult but that it has fabulous views.” they bail us out. "We're in no hurry, we'll go there early tomorrow."
The term “Upper” did not go well with the excessive weight that photographic equipment and other items forced us to carry. It starts by leaving us standing behind. But it was time to vaccinate ourselves for the much more demanding slopes that the route would bring us.
Why not conquer the unexpected Upper Banana?
We finish the repast. We talked another half hour.
Soon, we left the backpackers to their tasks at the end of the hike and gave them a head start.
Five minutes of descent beyond Dhukurpokhari, two golden signs at the entrance to a wide valley signaled the opposite directions of the different Pisangs.
Upper Banana. The Right Decision.
Contrary to what we feared, the trail on the right proves to be mild. It slowly climbs halfway up the valley and unveils Lower Pisang in its entrails, on both sides of the Marsyangdi that continued to escort us.
Upper Banana soon, extended up the slope, well above the sister.
From the base of the village we come across its inns but, once we had chosen Upper Banana by sight, we give ourselves to a last effort.
We share one of the narrow trails in the village with yaks and shaggy dogs.
We take a look at the guesthouses installed on top of it that seem to offer the best panoramas: the “New Tibet", The "Teluche" to "Annapurna" to "Mount Kailash".
Each with its balcony or terrace above the stone houses.
It was nearly five in the afternoon. The sky was even more closed and stormy than it had already been outside Dhukurpokhari. Even if we were the only guests there, we decided on the “Mount Kailash".
Mila, the manager, lights the salamander in the dining room and calls a family member to help us with dinner. At that time, there was no electricity and, of course, the Wifi, which, for a change, the establishment promoted at the entrance.
We had dinner in conversation with the host. When he is away, we fall asleep on the benches around the stove.
An hour later, we crawl into the frigid room, huddle in our sleeping bags, and sleep as much as we can. Upper Banana it would not take long to compensate us for having preferred it.
More information about trekking in Nepal on the website of Nepal Tourism Board