Having reached 3500 meters, we paused in our ascent to acclimatize to altitude. We’d gotten used to the feel of the mountain air, but not to the feeling of fatigue accompanying every exertion. Who knew walking up the stairs could be so hard?
In the morning we had the Small World encounter for the day; our friend Steve, a unicyclist we’d ridden with in Nova Scotia, was in town with his family. He had no idea we were coming through. Now, Steve has traveled extensively in Nepal and did a unicycle tour to Everest Base Camp to raise money for a Nepali NGO some years back, so the encounter is not quite as random as it might seem. Still, it was fun to make that connection.
Today’s activities were largely unstructured, but there were a couple of options for hikes, and a group of the stronger riders got together to do the bigger hike, up to the Praban Gompa. Four of us brought unicycles. My knee was still complaining, but I rationalized that it would be easier to ride down than hike down.
The views got progressively better as we went up the steep trail. Everyone did fine but it was an effort to carry on a conversation; you’d get out of breath quickly. Photography provided a great excuse to catch your breath.
We reached our destination, which is at 3900 meters, the highest I’d ever been. The monastery (gompa) is set into the hillside, and the process of ducking through the small door, climbing the old stone stairs, and removing our shoes before entering the monk’s chamber heightened the feeling of the moment. We each individually knelt before the monk and presented our offerings as he blessed us. Afterwards a number of us set prayer flags as eagles soared overhead. It was a truly spiritual experience.
Riding down was really fun, but with my knee still acting up and no leg armor, I took it easy and skipped most of the hard bits. After arriving back in town Chris and I decided to spend some time connecting with the locals. I had brought balloons, a scissors and a funnel, which combined with rice can make colorful balls for the children. We rode to the main chorten in town, gathering a crowd as usual. After laying out our supplies and starting the process, a huge crowd of children came by, pushing and grabbing to get at the balloons. We gave out individual balloons, but the ball-making was the really interesting part. After seeing a few made (fill an uninflated balloon with rice, cut off the end, and cut off the end of two more balloons to wrap around the first one), a couple of the local kids took over the process, making balls and handing them out to their friends, and keeping track of who had already gotten one (which there’s no way we could have done). It was totally chaotic and a great way to connect with the locals. I hope the kids who learned how to make them can keep that knowledge going; all the materials are available locally.
After that experience we went back to clean up (we had a lot of contact with dirty hands), and hung around the tea house playing cards and chatting. (Also having a great apple pie!)
At one point we got some beautiful filtered light on the mountains, which necessitated a photography session up on the hotel’s nicely situated deck.
Dinner tonight was not included in our tour, but it is customary at the tea houses to eat dinner where you are sleeping, so we had another group dinner before turning in early.
We got the permits to cross the pass, so we’re heading on unless weather stymies us. Tomorrow would start with 400 meters of steep climb, and finish with a bunch of Nepali flat. By the end we’ll be at 4000 meters. I’m feeling a bit nervous about my own body and about the group (several people are struggling already); I’m hoping everything goes well.
[flickr_tags tags=”unipal, day4″ tags_mode=”all”]