The bath: this transcendental and almost warlike theme of the Annapurna Circuit.
The Nepalese hosts intrigue the backpackers' urge to bathe. We are exasperated by the successive demands for hot water: at the end of each day. Right after awakening.
Most of the natives grew up taking a bath every fortnight. The older ones do it, with luck, from month to month. It escapes his reason why guests crave fluid showers with warm water. And yet, when asked whether their hotels guarantee hot baths, whether it's true or not, they promise us.
So we had decided to settle at Ngawal Mountain Home, at the entrance to the village instead of in the center. An hour after check-in, we were in bed. Covered by polar sleeping bags and all the blankets the room offered, trying to recover from unexpected hypothermia.
“The Germans took it just now. Looks like it was good!" so encouraged us the Nepalese service at the inn. We got into the shower, we thought it was safe. After three minutes, still soapy, we felt the water go from warm to icy.
We are forced to continue the bath at a cruel 0º (or close) and get even colder on the way back to the bedroom.
When we re-enter, we are shivering like green sticks. Only after half an hour of recovering in bed do we regain normal movement control. Still in time for dinner.
Spoiled from the ascent prior to panoramic heights of Ghyaru, we slept early. We woke up later than we wanted on a radiant Monday. We left in the direction of the stone and adobe houses that we could see in the distance. Right in the middle of the housing stronghold, we find one of the various stupas in the village.
At its base, a stairway wound up the slope, as far as the eye can see, decorated with a multicolored colony of Buddhist prayer flags that fluttered in the wind.
There was also a sign with three notices in English of “notice” and double the exclamation points alerted to the entry of the Nar-Phoo trekk, a derivation of the Annapurna circuit that ascended to the 5300 meters altitude of the Kang-La Gorge.
We stayed by the staircase. A little after halfway through, we abandoned it for the steep slope where we zigzagged with extra care to avoid rolling down there.
Even before we reach an observation point that seems ideal to us, we release a large stone as rounded as it is unstable.
The pebble gains momentum. It rolls towards the nearest houses and the road on which we had entered the village and where we could see some shapes circling.
For a moment, we have faith that it would stop at the end. Gravity accelerates him so that we imagine him entering a house and ourselves fleeing a raging Nepalese mob.
Luckily, the rock ends up crashing between the monastery and another stupa. No damage.
Relief makes us enjoy the scenery below and onwards with heightened pleasure.
Back to Ngawal Foothills
Ngawal extends in a flat but elevated area of the valley, overlooking the bed of the Marsyangdi River and the runway of the local aerodrome that nestles at the foot of the Annapurnas range, there, already on Annapurna III Mountain, with Gangapurna suggesting itself to West.
As we saw it from that vantage point, it was formed by a core of smooth clay and straw roofs, each with its own Buddhist standard fluttering in the wind.
We return to the steps and go down to the still semi-sunny alleys of the village.
As we had done in the villages back, there we admire the sluggish daily life of the few inhabitants and the architectural details of the homes and religious buildings: the colored windows with cut-out frames, the porches and verandas that open to the pure atmosphere of the Himalayas and guarantee the residents an always useful supremacy over the adjacent streets.
We approached the biggest hotel in Ngawal, standing out in the center. Two Nepalese ladies on the alert for the arrival of tourists insist on foisting on us the breakfast we had already eaten.
We continued walking for another half hour until we decided to retrieve the large backpacks from Ngawal Mountain Home and proceed to the village that we had planned for the new end of the day.
Ngawal, on the way to Braga.
As soon as we passed the property gate, we bumped into Fevsi. We had left it to the German Josh and the Italian-Spanish couple Edu and Sara in ghyaru.
This morning Josh had retreated in search of the allow of the circuit that he had forgotten in Chame. Edu and Sara had already passed on. Fevsi, walked alone in his wake. We greet you pleased to have company.
As we walk, we catch up on the news and entertain ourselves with successive themes, from those related to the circuit to the life of Fevsi in his Turkish land on the verge of Georgia and even his incursions into Batumi and other coasts of the Black Sea and the former Soviet republic.
The three of us descended from the middle ridge where Ngawal sprawled to the Marsyangdi Gorge below. We walk along the alpine extension of the valley, with the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna mountain range tearing through the bluish firmament. Unlike what happened in others, this stretch remains busy.
We come across a group of women who bring their children from school. Soon, also with two or three motorcyclists aimed at lower lands.
Two hours later, we skirted the rayed bottom of a slope that almost closed off the valley.
The other side reveals a new village and a string of small local restaurants where, despite the proximity of the final destination, we choose to have lunch.
Munchi's Deserved Rest
It feels good to put down our lead-heavy backpacks. Almost as good as the chatter and sea buckthorn berry juices we sip on the tiny terrace while we wait for snacks.
We feel refreshed. Even so, not as animated as the group of natives living in the interior who, in the company of the owners, alternate between chattering and unbridled laughter.
Small platoons of walkers, mostly Germans, Israelis, headed to Manang, pass us and the golden statue of Buddha that blesses the village.
Aware that there was little to do with our destiny, we let the late repast of soups, yak stew and Tibetan bread drag along. Until the sun falls behind the mountains and the warmth that caressed our cheeks gives way to the frigid breeze that normally announces the night.
We pay for lunch. We put the backpacks on our backs. We resumed the meandering of the long Manang Sadak road that continued to emulate that of Marsyangdi. After a few hundred meters, we came across a profusion of roadside signs that indicated the Ice Lake and a certain Milarepa Cave.
At that time, we were not aware of this, but both arduous hikes, crucial for the acclimatization that the conquest of the Thorong-La Pass, made at an altitude of 5.416 meters, required us to prove.
the ultimate effort
We left these plaques behind and found an ancient stupa draped in prayer flags. In the next meander, we came across four or five black yaks on their way from who knows where.
By that time, the group of women we met in Munchi's restaurant had almost caught up with us. When they realize the photographic interest we had in the animals, they block their march until we get closer. Even if the profit had been little because the animals immediately disbanded, we thank them for their effort and kindness.
Fevsi continued on his walk. We shortened the space that separated us from him in the company of the women, who spoke some English and were still in the same good mood in which we had seen them for the first time.
The ladies say goodbye and resume a fast pace that our backpacks would never give us. In the meantime, we caught up with Fevsi who had instead slowed down.
We join him on a new meander. We went around it, curious once more. Until we glimpsed a red-and-white Buddhist monastery nestled in the middle of a hillside end crowned by sharp cliffs.
It could only be Braga. Or Braka, as she was also known.
We descend from the slope that closed off the natural amphitheater in which the village was sheltered to the sloping and semi-soaked meadow in between.
The pasture that there was much more lush than in most of the Nepal, served as bed and food for a few lazy yaks.
But not only. Flocks of wild ducks and other birds wallowed and searched the muddy grass for food. From time to time, a new flock landed that reinforced the contingent of roasted visitors.
We were still arriving but Braga was already conquering us. We returned to Manang Sadak from which we got lost. We noticed that almost all the hotels in the village were lined up on the side of the road.
This new scale of the Annapurna Circuit could even be quite different from Ngawal. The pressing theme at the time of choosing the stay, that, was the night before and the usual: the bath.
The New Yak Hotel – the first we found in Braga – promised gas-bottle heated showers. It was also served from a bakery full of apple pie and other mouth-watering pastries.
The prices of accommodation and food differed little from the usual, so we agreed at a glance to settle there. In good time. Cylinder gas baths were rare along the circuit. We were only offered hotels that, like the New Yak, had achieved online fame and, as such, were kept full.
Even without the thermal drama of the end of the day in Ngawal, the inaugural shower disappoints us again. Unlike Braga of Nepal, which would no longer fail to delight us.