Hot tea before sunrise at Poon Hill.
(2,860m -> 3,193m -> 1,190m) Well people. Another day. Another dawn. But what a dawn! This is The Dawn to do when on the Annapurna Circuit. The brief ascent of Poon Hill from the town of Ghorepani. And, as you'd expect this one's an eeeearly start. 5.15am to be precise. Ya don't wanna miss it. Fortunately although like a right plum I left my torch in the previous town, again I'm invited to join Begonia and her guide Karma so nestled between them as we start our morning clamber I'm just about able to place mt feet in the right place by the light of Karma's torch ahead of me and Begonia's headlamp behind.
Couple at dawn.
There is also, way up above, the beautiful light of the stars. As previously mentioned I had seriously never seen
the stars as they should be seen, undimmed by human light pollution before coming to Nepal. As I step out into the cold pre-dawn air outside the Dhaulagiri Lodge to await my companions I glance up and immediately, that very second, witness not one, not two but three
shooting stars criss-cross each other! I swear to God that's like more shooting stars in one glance than I reckon I've clocked in total the entire rest of my life beneath their gaze! Did I make a wish? Well, that's my secret of course ;)
The walk to the 3,193 metre summit of Poon Hill is not long (30-45 mins depending on fitness and star-gazing stops) but a little tricky in the darkness.
The dawn watchers increase in number as the horizon brightens.
You also ascend 350 metres pretty rapidly but not so much that it winds ya. Karma, Begonia and I are ahead of the crowd at this time but it is cute to notice the tiny prcession of torchlight spots visible both ahead, and down below behind us. Bobbing and weaving their way in a curious disembodied manner up the hillside like oversize fireflies. At the summit some entrepreneurial locals, well aware of Poon Hill as the ultimate tourist-magnet in the area have a hot tea stall already in action. Much needed toasty refreshment for cold hands.
As Nature's clock ticks by and dawn slowly approaches, the torchlight procession continues and a sizeable crowd begins to gather at the hilltop. Even though heading into December this is no longer high, high trekking season, Ghorepani is a big town (relative to its mountain location) with a lot of guest houses (25 at least) and just about everyone staying there over night will descend (well, ascend technically :) on Poon Hill to watch the sun come up.
Stevie and the dawn Dhaulagiri range.
This is easily the most people I see in one place many, many times over in my two weeks trekking.
Despite view-wrecking mists and cloud we've heard of in the last couple of days we are lucky today and the cloud level is hanging some many hundreds of metres below the famed panorama of the Dhaulagiri & Annapurna mountain ranges visible from here. Instead of obscuring the view, for me today, the clouds really offset the scene beautifully. They form a majestical cottonwool carpet beneath the scene and capture and reflect the colours of the sun as dawn progresses in a wonderful manner. Curious shades of mauve and tangerine faintly colour the hazier bands of mist in the air to the west adding an aura of mystery; of theatrical anticipation to the skies.
Whilst it continues to get busier and busier up here, it's not oppressively crowded and there's a kind of communal warmth of spirit to be gained from the international dawn-commaradery of it all.
We all remain up there sometime snapping away and just standing, fists tucked firmly in pockets (when not taking photos!). Taking it all in. Waiting for the suns rays to finally break the mountain top lines and warm our ruddy faces. Already people have been beginning to trickle back down the hill though. Their stomachs growling. Food wins out over Nature it seems sometimes :) Stevie's happy as larry. Standing around grinning. Taking group photos of other people with their cameras. I notice wherever I go that I seem to have aquired the invisible badge that reads 'Yes, I am trustworthy and will not run off with your camera.
' Often the individuals in question approach me saying "Hey here's a Brit, here's someone we can trust!". No, there are not many students of history on The Roads it seems ;D
I head back down the hill eventually, unaccompanied. Begonia is utterly infatuated with mountains and remains hypnotised up there longer than most whilst Karma patiently waits. In fact that's the last I end up seeing of 'em 'cos one hour later after I've downed a decent breakfast at the lodge, packed and hit the road again they still haven't reappeared.
Today is a good long walk to the village-town of Tatopani. It's downhill pretty much aaaall the way for between 6 to 7 hours.
Begonia and her guide Karma : "Look that there, that's a mountain tha' is!"
Not a great one for those with shonky knees. Whilst after a while this becomes quite hard going and is murder for the crucient ligaments "I DON'T CARE!",
alright! I'm all done with uphill... like forever! Even the mildest inclines on todays walk bring back nightmare muscle memories of the purgatorial ascent to Chhomrong
two days ago, and start to put my spirits out.
It's beautiful weather again. From the very first small hamlet I stroll though from Ghorepani I am once more joined on my adventures by another large black dog. "Oh man!". What is this!? I had a shower in Ghorepani and everything! And yep, he follows me all the way to Tatopani.
All 6 hours of the trek!
The sun bursts over us at Poon Hill.
But actually though this chap has a different air about him. Far less threatening. A benign and amiable vibe surrounds him as he pads along ahead of me. Maybe there's the difference. Rather than stalking me over my shoulder and in my shadows all day he actually accompanies me. Runs ahead of me. Even sometimes seems to be advising me when there's a fork in the pathway. To begin with I just call him Lassie rather predictably but he's soon and forever dubbed 'Mudbutt' 'cos of the small daub of caked-dirt on his behind that allows me to distinguish him from the other dogs on the trail.
Downhill, downhill. Further and further down rocky juttings of semi-steps and little scree slides.
Tendons and ankles and occasinally knees twinging and whinging often now. My right calf muscle so hot and tensed it feels like it's reaching critical mass. Slow down Steve. Side step for a while. Find other angles to use. Other muscle groups to abuse. Bright sunshine all the way. Descending into the valley and much more temperate climes. The floral life of Nepal is much more evidently in bloom here. Butterflies flutter constantly across the field of vision. The orange trees are back and in season. Small boys canter along beside you selling them for 5 Ruppee each or whatever price you're mean enough to barter for. They're delicious
! I buy some off a smiling middle-aged lady, drenched from tinkering with a new home-made irrigation device.
Little Karma takes a break.
She persists smilingly until I relent. A barefoot, rock-hopping old nepali lady, bent near double with a wicker porters basket strapped around her head containing nothing more than a collection of plastic bags and some empty plastic Coke bottles also pesters 20NPR outta me. In the meantime my new trek guide Mudbutt continues to lead the way. Does he have a home? A fixed base? Does he actually know where he is? Where he's going to? I guess he's as comfortable here as anywhere else in the Annapurna region. The Littlest Nepalese Hobo.
Eeeeven more downhill. I feel like this is becoming Journey to the Centre of the Earth or something. Where's professor Liedenbrock when ya need him? A trickle of water to show me the right way down maybe? No dinos I hope! Only Mudbutt.
A few more stone stairways and some rickety, disconcertingly rusty canyon bridges later and finally I'm in Tatopani. Time to check into another Dhaulagiri Lodge, dump my stuff and head on down to the towns renowned Hot Springs. Let it be noted that my faithful four-legged friend Mudbutt also checks in for the night.
Located down a steep stone stairway near the river concourse are Tatopani's famed hot springs. These are naturally occuring hot water rivulets coming out of the rock bed which (before hading down to the river) are collected in two man made bathing pools for the use of locals and pleasure of trekking passers by. I've been counting on these babies since day two of my trek knowing that my legs and muscles would be way gone by now and in need of some heat therapy.
The observation tower at Poon Hill.
It's the perfect way to end such a musculatorily challenging day of trekking. The water is so hot, and the heady steam rising from the collected waters almost make me pass out on occasions. Make sure you have hydration with ya people! Whilst there is a little bar-hut here by the pools (and a massage hut) I've left m'money back at the hotel room. You'll note from this blog that sady there are no photos of Tatopani. I think mostly I was just so in need of relaxing that even the will to press 'click' left me. But also in truth whilst everyone has quite overly-romantic ideas of the Hot Springs and bathing in beautiful rocky natural pools of deliciously reinvigorating waters, to look at they are really nothing at all. Whilst the water is naturally occurring the pools themselves are just two so-so sized concrete basins that the water collects in.
MUDBUTT!!! :D My faithful travel companion for a day or two.
Perfect relaxtion though "Niiiiiice!"
The food at the Dhaulagiri Lodge is also great and after days of Dal Bhat and restraint I've decided to go all out and treat myself to good food and living for the 48 hours I intend to spend here recouperating. Too starved of literature also I decide to bust the budget to part exchange Kurt Vonnegut for Dostoesvky's 'The Brothers Karamazov'
. At 1,000 pages+ this one should keep me going for a while!