Much Adu about Apple Pie, Pilgrimage to Jomosom

Day 6: Ghasa to Tatopani (5 hours)

We left Ghasa early in the day and headed for Tatopani. I can't really recollect the trek or the trail that day because, I think, the events of lunch and the evening, overshadowed everything. What I do remember is this. As we were walking, we kept passing and falling behind the same group of Nepali porters. There were five of them and each one was carrying three full-size enormous backpacks and separate sleeping bags. They had positioned two bags side by side and a third one across the top and lashed the entire bundle together with the three sleeping bags. The was then positioned on their back using a dhoko, the nepali style strap that circles their forehead around back and under the bundle of bags. They were wearing simple clothes, and flip flops. I just felt sick and angry watching them straining under the weight of their burden. As we kept passing back and forth, we soon struck up a conversation. I asked how much each bundle weighed and they said it was around 70kg (154 lbs) total. The five of them were portering for trekking group of fifteen people. As we walked and talked, I could tell from his silence and the grimace on his face, that one of them had a terrible headache. 

Soon after we reached the village where we would have lunch. Devi hurried us on through the village to the last lodge in the town because he said the food was better there. Our new friends continued through the town with us and when we came to our destination, they were careful to sit discretely outside on a chautara across from the lodge. We pulled into the lodge and grabbed a seat inside near the window that looked out on the courtyard where more trekkers were sprawled, relaxed and taking lunch. It was there that I noticed the large group seated at one long table in the courtyard. They were loud and boisterous, talking energetically and drinking even more. I could see the remnants of their lunch on the table, but most conspicously was the array of soft drink bottles across the entire length of the table. There must have been two bottles for each person, if not more. Without meaning to, I became angry at the sight. This must be the group that our friends were portering for. I went inside to the kitchen and asked them for a large pitcher of lemonade and five glasses and brought the whole thing over to the guys outside on a tray. To be sure, I asked if the group inside was indeed their clients and they confirmed it. Then, the guy with the headache asked me for some medicine for his head. I went back inside past the group who took no notice when their porters showed up. I grabbed the bottle of aspirin in my bag and on my way back outside, as I passed by their table, I couldn't help myself, I made an off-hand comment to the effect of something like 'you could at least show a little concern for your porters, one of them is sick.' As I passed out of the courtyard, I was conspicuously aware of fifteen heads now turned towards me, fifteen pair of eyes staring at the back of my head. 

I went back to our table and as I waited for the food to come, one of the group, I suppose he thought himself their delegate, came over to the open window, leaned in by my table and said 'What exactly did you mean by that comment' in a not so pleasant voice. ' I replied back 'Look, they are carrying too much weight, isn't it obvious?' 'That's their job, it's what we paying them to do.' he retorted. 'Show a little compassion, for the price of all the cokes you drank at lunch today, you could have hired three more porters and spread it out a bit more.' Growing more angry, he said 'They're fine, who the hell are you to say that they're not.' By this point, I had gotten the gist of everything I wanted to know about his type and it made me so angry. 'They are people, not donkeys. You know they do it because they are desperately poor, but how can think they are fine with carrying that weight.' At this point, our drinks came and I turned away before I said too much, or perhaps because I did, but it didn't feel like enough. They come to Nepal to see the mountains and completely miss the beauty of the Nepalese people. He stomped back to the table, which had been hanging on every word of our conversation. I sipped my lemonade quietly while listening to the cacophony of indignation wafting across the courtyard. Bits and pieces I caught from all the pissed off voices. 'Who does she think she is?' 'Is she Nepali?' 'It's their job to carry bags, and we're paying them good money' 'I haven't heard any complaining from them' and so on.

Ken and Lisa agreed with me a hundred percent and couldn't believe how horrid they were. A guide at another table mistakenly told me they were Aussie and that he had run into them a couple of times on the trail around the Thorung La pass. They were doing the entire circuit, he said, and the porters were wearing the same clothing the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach and lost my appetite. Devi and I decided to cancel our food and run ahead to Tatopani to secure lodging for the night. It was a crowded trail and Tatopani was a favorite destination for everyone.  We quickly walked the the remaining trail in under an hour, which was a very quick pace and pulled into Tatopani. We secured rooms in Devi's preferred place, a nice lodge run by a Nepali and his French wife. It's known for its delicious food and a better than average German bakery. It's right across from the brand new hotel in Tatopani, a large modern, but sterile place.

Once the rest of our group arrived and settled in, we put on our suits and headed down to the hot springs down on the banks of the Kali Gandaki. My new found 'friends' had amassed in one of the two pools, and I noticed that everyone else was in the other one. Continuing their loud and obnoxious chattering, they kept calling for more beers. We rinsed under a pipe running from the springs and then climbed into the other pool, ignoring them. At least they quieted a bit when they recognized me. Oh, but the hot springs,  Aaaahh. It was so nice and hot. The water had that distinct smell, that you were sitting in a huge bottle of mineral water, which of course you were. I started talking with an interesting American guy, older with two kids. Turns out, he's married to a Nepali women and has lived in Nepal for twenty years. He just likes to take his kids trekking to see the countryside, but they had a nice home in Kathmandu and his two kids went to the American school there. It was so interesting to hear them switch back and forth from Nepali to English with their cousin from their mother's side who was with them. Then we ran into the Aussie family that we met before. They were just absolute darlings and I loved them all. They had the three cutest girls, ranging in age from 8-14. We rested in the pool together and then finally called it quits when it seemed like we were hard-boiled. And also, our friends correctly our misunderstanding. They confirmed that the large group was indeed not Aussie, but actually British.

That night, we joined Ken and Lisa for a big dinner together and we all splurged on fancy Western dishes that our lodge was known for. Pizza, lasagna, chicken tacos etc. It was all good, and Prakash declared his favorite food to be Mexican. We polished it off with lemon merengue pie, which was pretty much the real thing. We sat in the courtyard afterwards, chatting, satisfied and  pleasantly full. Soon, from across the way, loud drinking songs could be heard. Prakash and Deepak perked up. They whispered among themselves and then, slapping each other on the back, got up and said they wanted to go see what was going on and ran across the way. We listened as the songs got louder and progressively more inappropriate and offensive. Then, it stopped abruptly. It was replaced by yelling, then some commotion, and finally what could only be called an all-out-brawl. I was desperately curious and wanted to see what was going on, even from the safety of our courtyard, but Devi cautioned me not to. He said maybe the sight of me wasn't the best idea if they were causing problems over there. I could see the worry in his face because the boys hadn't come back yet. Finally, it seemed to simmer down and Prakash and Deepak came back. They were both flushed and sweaty, but whereas Prakash was animated and full of adrenaline, Deepak was silent, his face full of a simmering rage. I have never seen him like that before.

From what I have since pieced together from different people, here's what happened. The same large group was staying at the lodge and during dinner, began drinking excessively, pounding beers, and finally singing at the top of their lungs. Meanwhile, it became harder and harder for everyone else in the dining room to ignore them, to hold their own conversations, to eat in peace. Our Aussie friends were there trying to have dinner as well as the octagenarian from earlier in the trip at another table. He started complaining aloud and finally asked them to keep it down a bit. Some derogatory comment I guess was their reply. Then the father of the Aussie family stepped in and diplomatically asked them if they might not be more respective of the others in the room trying to have dinner. They replied 'Shut the fuck up and take you fat, cow of a wife outta here.' Well, none of them took to well to that, and the two oldest daughters each grabbed a bottle from the table, and brandished it, yelling, 'don't you dare talk about our mother that way.' The father, trying to rescue the situation, stepped in between and got a fist in the face for it, and he's a pretty big guy and I'm guessing he gave as good as he got. But he was only one, and there were a lot of them. Some of the girls in their group tried to calm the guys down, but to no avail. But a number of Nepalis stepped in to help, including Deepak and Prakash who ran in and tried to grab the British guys who were hitting the father. Bottles were broken, tables and chairs overturned, the whole works, until finally, with enough Nepalis holding them all back, they gave up and settled down. Our friends meanwhile, grabbed their stuff and came over to our lodge to finish dinner as did a number of other people, judging by the way they all came in at once. And in a while, we heard their singin again.

Day 7: Soak in the Hot Springs, Tatopani

We spent the day in Tatopani, to relax, to do some laundry and to soak. That large group packed up early the next day, I was told, as did our Aussie friends, but at decidedly different times. The rest of our stay in Tatopani proved uneventful save for the happy occasion of pork in the kitchen for all the Nepalis. I joined them for dhal bhat and we sat around on the floor in the kitchen, away from the rest of the dining area and savored the delicious, slightly sweet but spicy pork curry. And then spent the rest of the evening chatting with Ken and Lisa and some other trekkers.

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