Day 5: Khibang to Tatopani: 6 hours, 850m elevation loss
What should have been a 2.5 hour downhill stroll turned in to a 4 hour ordeal down terraced fields, sandy roads, across landslides, over the ridge of a mountain, and down, down, down switchbacked stone steps on a tiny ridge, culminating in two long suspension bridges over a roaring river and a 20 minute walk up a dusty dirt road, dodging jeeps and buses as we went — all in the blazing hot sun.
I thought I would be completely freaked out by the suspension bridges. They were high, long, a bit bouncy, and always high above some angry looking river. In reality they were sturdy and the high sides felt safe. There was one, however, whose bottom was made of wood with gaps wide enough to see yourself plunging to your death right through it. I didn’t like that one very much! But the others were fine.
Austin had gotten used to regular rest breaks when we made the climb up to Ghorepani, and expected we would stop as frequently on the way down. We managed to stretch what should have been five hours of trekking into 11 hot hours over two days down difficult, broken, rocky, rutted trails.
We met plenty of people making the trek up to Ghorepani, and I pitied them for the arduous climb they had ahead of them – every single one of them had miserable faces, and I couln’t blame them. I thought the stone steps we took up through Ulleri to Ghorepani were brutal, but this broken, uneven, unrelenting uphill path would have been miserable.
It was, however, not lost on us that we were climbing ourselves down into a hole that we were going to have to climb back up out of. We were going down to a river from high up in the mountains, and the only way out was back up. But that was something we’d have to worry about on another day.
Tatopani is a decent sized village (in that it has shops in addition to the lodges, and buses pass through here. It’s near the valley floor, and one of the few villages that existed for more than the trekking trade. It sits on a ledge above the rocky river below. It’s in a bit of a bowl with high, steep green mountain cliffs surrounding it on three sides, and a pristine view of Dhaulagiri right at the end of the valley. It’s famous for its natural hot springs, and is a popular stop with trekkers.
When we finally got into town, I went looking for accommodation while Mark and Austin took a breather at a little cafe that advertised food, but looked at me like I was asking to be escorted to Mars when I asked for, and then mimed “food, menu, eat” — I got nothing. So they settled for a Fanta and a bag of chips while I went searching.
There were a few lodges to choose from, and after being shown a $25 USD room at one lodge, I found a nicer room in a nicer lodge with a nicer garden for $3, which was more in line with the going rate for lodges along the trek. Our little stone cabin was at the far edge of the lush gardens. Right in front of our door grew spinach, peppers, oranges, radishes, lemon trees, squash and hibiscus, and I’m sure a few other things I don’t recognise.
Throughout the trek, I had noticed that the rocks forming the path and the steps shone with an iridescent sheen. They were coloured green, blue, purple, gold and silver, and they sparkled in every stream we passed. They broke up into thin sheets like mica, but not all were the inky black colour you’d associate with it. Toward the bottom of today’s trek, the sand turned into a shimmery silver, and all around the rocks were what I believe to be actual mica. They had been ground into a fine dust which made a silvery clay in the wetter areas, and covered us in sparkles.
Austin tumbled face first into the deep dust on a downhill stretch of road, and came up covered in silver. It was hard not to laugh, but he was such an unhappy boy. Needless to say, once we crossed two long (very long) suspension bridges high above the rocky roaring river below, followed by a long walk down a dusty road, we relished in the cold showers once we landed in Tatopani. Cold showers have never felt so very wonderful/
Day 6: Chilling in Tatopani
After five straight days of trekking, we took a rest day in Tatopani. Our hotel gardens kept pulling us back in every time we tried venturing out somewhere in the small town, but to be honest, once you ran the gauntlet of little shops aimed at trekkers and various lodges, you had seen it all.
The hot springs below were excellent – boiling hot where the pool filled from the source, and perfectly warm farther away, which they meticulously scrubbed down by hand every other day. We managed a hot shower there, and I even hand washed a tub of clothes – a personal first, which I found strangely satisfying.
I also mistook one of the power lines draped across the garden in our lodge for a washing line, and managed to pull it out of the tree when I hung out our clothes. Oops, no big deal, right? Yes, big deal. I had pulled the “very secure” held together with black tape, electrical wires apart with our wet underpants. It meant our half of the lodge didn’t have electricity until someone was called in to fix it later that night. The power goes out in Nepal so frequently though, that I don’t think anyone really noticed.
The town of Tatopani itself isn’t much to look at, but it does have character in the row of little shops and hotels along a single stone walkway above the river. The low elevation means it’s warm and the fruit and vegetables are fresh from the ground and plentiful. We were there in the middle of the Diwali festival, so we were treated to traditional dancing in the streets, mandalas in the streets and doorways made with brightly coloured sand, and so many marigolds they could have their own float in the Rose Bowl parade.
We took some excellent naps in Tatopani but after a day and a half of resting our weary muscles, it was time to move on. We tallied up our extensive bill ($100USD over two and a half days – our biggest so far), and headed out and up — and up.