- 1 - Besisahar to Khudi: Most People Walk Further to Work
- 2 - Who Says Trekking in Nepal Has to Involve Lots of Walking?
- 3 - Conquering the Annapurna Circuit’s First Hill
- 4 - Trek to Jagat and a Rant Against Guides on the Annapurna Circuit
- 5 - Jagat to Tal: Our First Real Day of Trekking
- 6 - Tal to Chame: Falling into a Trekking Routine
- 7 - Chame to Pisang: Just Takin’ the Goat for a Walk
- 8 - A Well-Deserved Day Off in Upper Pisang
- 9 - Pisang to Ngawal: A Hard Climb to Beautiful Views
- 10 - Drinking Yak Sewage in Ngawal
- 11 - Arriving In Manang…Two Weeks Later Than Most
- 12 - Trekking On Our Day Off From Trekking in Manang
- 13 - Annoying Trekker Abuses Friendly Guesthouse Owner
A majestic yak with fuzzy red earrings greeted us at the entrance to Ngawal. We had seen a few yaks already, but from this point on they were everywhere—their meat even started popping up on guesthouse menus. We were mostly happy about this. Yak meat is delicious and the living animals make great photography subjects. They are little more than exotic looking cows and like their more boring cousins, they don’t move much and happily stand still and pose for the camera. On the other hand, they are not potty trained and tend to contaminate any water below their grazing territory.
We saw a large variety of yaks in all shapes, colors and sizes over the next few days of trekking, but none made the same impression as this guardian at the gates to Ngawal. Its fur was shinier, cleaner and more luxurious than the rest. It was also the only one that bothered to make itself pretty for us tourists, with those gorgeous red earrings.
Shortly after snapping that photo, we came to the first guesthouse. We were still a few hundred meters outside of town and while we generally heeded the standard advice to not stop at the first guesthouse you see, we ignored it this time. Being outside the town meant unobstructed views of the valley below and the Annapurna mountain range on the other side.
We made the right decision and not just because of the amazing views. The family that ran this particular guesthouse turned out to be incredibly friendly and we were the only guests. That was good for us, but we felt bad for them. Unnecessarily, it turned out. They told us that few trekkers spend the night in Ngawal, but most use it as a lunch stop, so they get a lot of daytime business. They just don’t get many overnight guests. That explained the huge dining room, larger than all the guest rooms combined. We did see a few other trekkers spend the night, but they all stayed at one of the guesthouses in the actual town.
After getting our rooms, we decided to head into town ourselves to see if we missed out by choosing the first guesthouse and also to get some water. The first was easily accomplished. None of the places in town had the same views as ours. The second was much more difficult. We passed a water station on the way to town where a few children were doing laundry, but the water was coming from pipes directly below a field where yaks grazed. I prefer a water source that wasn’t so obviously pouring out yak sewage.
We figured we would be able to find one in town, but all the water we saw was soapy. Apparently, the whole town did their laundry in the late afternoons, contaminating the water supply. The soapy chemicals that poured out of every pipe were clearly unfit for drinking. No amount of purifying tablets or solutions could change that. Our only option was to hike to the highest water source in town and get above all the laundry women.
The walk through town was pleasant. It turned out to be the nicest town we stayed in on this side of the pass. Brick buildings crowded the gravel paths and stone waterways carried (soapy) water throughout the town. At several points, multiple paths converged into larger squares built around ancient trees.
A large monastery stood at the top of Ngawal and behind it a steep hill rose up with a stupa on the peak, overlooking it all. We briefly considered hiking up, but it was starting to get dark and we’d done more than enough climbing that day, so we quickly abandoned the idea.
In the end, we never found a great water source, but we did manage to find one that was above all the laundry women. It was still below some of the yaks, but at least it seemed free of chemicals. The purification tablets would take care of everything else. I just had to keep from thinking too much about what the yaks may have done to my water. I didn’t get sick, so I suppose it was fine.
By the time we found my water, it was starting to get dark. We headed back to our guesthouse and had dinner in the large dining room. After eating, we played cards for a while and quickly realized the main problem with our guesthouse’s more scenic location. All the places in town were surrounded by other buildings that both shared heat and offered protection from the elements. Ours was isolated and out in the open, completely exposed to the wind and the cold. In short: it was freezing. Needless to say, we went to bed as early as possible. We did not sleep well.
Throughout the night, we learned one of the major side effects of spending the day and night at 3700 meters above sea level: frequent urination. This is part of the body’s acclimatization to the lower oxygen levels and helps maintain the acid/base balance, but we did not learn that until we attended a presentation the next day.
For now, we just noticed that we were drinking significantly more water and that we had to leave the warm comfort of our sleeping bags for the deep-freezer-like outhouse every hour or two. On top of that, the low oxygen levels also have an effect on the sleep center of the brain, meaning you awaken more often during the night, apart from the times you have to run to a freezing bathroom. You also sleep much lighter and for a shorter period of time overall.
I got up early the next morning to photograph the sunrise. Getting up wasn’t difficult, since I was on my way to the bathroom anyway. It was cloudy and I didn’t get any great photos, but I enjoyed trying, in large part because it gave me a reason to use my tripod. That thing is heavy and I had been lugging it around on my back for the past two weeks without using it once. I did not want to feel like I had been carrying that weight for nothing. That said, I carried the damn thing for nothing. I didn’t get any memorable shots that morning and only used my tripod one other time. That time came a few hours later, when we stopped to take some group photos. Those turned out well, but I could have just as easily set my camera on a rock or stump.
Taking photos also allowed me to put off taking a shower. With no running water, let alone hot water, you can imagine why I might not be excited about the prospect. I suppose I could have just skipped the shower like pretty much everyone else, but showering helps wake me up. The owner of our guesthouse did offer to heat up some water for me, but he would have charged me quite a bit for that and rightfully so.
Heating water uses a lot of energy in general and much more so at high altitude. In this area, the only source of energy is fire and the only fuel is wood. As a result, the forests that used to cover valley have largely disappeared and I did not want to contribute to the problem more than I already was by eating warm meals. So I took my bucket of ice water (there were actually small pieces of ice still floating inside) and had a quick shower. A very quick shower. And it definitely woke me up.
Series continued in part 10: Arriving In Manang…Two Weeks Later Than Most