Silence. Always silence, with no towns or cars, any small noise would be dampened by the blanket snow covering. The days were getting colder, although the sun mostly shone, but the air was thinner and the mix of decreasing oxygen and the cold made the going hard. Only the exertion of walking for hours on snow kept my body warm, so I just kept moving, stopping only to absorb the absolute beauty of the world around me and snap a photo or two along the way.
Families, laden with their possessions would pass occasionally, heading down the valley as if fleeing some impending disaster. The men carrying huge packs far greater than their own body weight, one even with a grandmother riding atop like a child in a papoose. The Nepalese have a strength that defies understanding, and at times the packs piled high above their heads seemed to carry the full contents of their homes. Some days though, I would see no-one at all.
The villages along the valley were always spaced adequately for there to be somewhere to stop. A day’s hike always planned between the start point, lunch and the hope of somewhere to stay that evening. Meals consisted largely of vegetables and Dal, Dal Baht as it is known locally. These meals provided warmth and the much needed energy to take you onward for the next few hours, but little taste. When you are cold and tired though, they taste as good as any meal you will eat, and I guess, without sounding too dramatic, they keep you alive.
Eventually I came to Manali, the nearest thing to a town along the whole trail. Here there were a handful of locals, and when I checked into the guesthouse I found other travelers, stranded by the weather, waiting for a chance to move on up to the pass, and this is where I met Boz. We instantly struck up a friendship, both being a little mad and having a shared love of smoking pot. We made plans to head up the trail together and for both of us it was a relief to have some company as things would be getting much harder from this point.
I had been walking for a week or so now, covering quite a distance through the valleys, and had also ascended 2000 meters since leaving Pokora. I would have to stay a whole day in Manali to acclimatise my body to the air before moving on. The human body takes time to get used to such large changes in atmospheric pressure but an enforced rest was surely needed. Finally with some new company, a whole day, and a source of chocolate and pot among other things, I was able to really take in the beauty of my surroundings whilst enjoying some modest creature comforts.
Manali has an airport, hence why it is an important point on the trail, but this is nothing more than a bumpy field really, and at this time of year it was just another expanse of snow reaching out across the valley. Snow is the great leveler; it covers everything with its crisp white duvet, rounding off the sharp edges of the world and replacing chaos with harmony. It brings a serene calmness to the world with its simplicity. At the same time a playground is created, where if you can withstand the cold, an endless supply of fun can be found regardless of your age. It is the ticket to unanswered mischievousness, and allows you to get in touch with the child inside. And this is what we did for a day, just have fun.
It’s not all fun though. Have you ever tried to have a bucket bath at sub minus 40 degree temperatures. You get the guys to heat you up a bucket of water which is fine, but you have to move so quick, the wind blowing in through the feeble tin walls of the wash shed, before you are halfway done the water is cold already and it takes a special type of person to rinse down afterwards. But hey, you know your alive!
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