Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brilliant Night at the Top of the World

I had wrapped my forehead in a red bandanna to keep the sun from searing my scalp on our climb. Heat and exertion caused me to peel down to an undershirt, but soon as the sun fell below the mountain peak, a distinct chill settled into the valley. I quickly pulled my long sleeved shirt on again.

The last slow steps of our journey were made at twilight. We came to a little plateau with a small cluster of homes at its edges. Stumbling up out of a rocky field, I noted that there was no railing for the steps up to our guest house. It would have been ridiculous for a hand rail to exist at the end of such a long precarious hike, but still, I wanted it to be there.

The guest house was sparsely decorated and it looked very clean. It reminded me of hostels I have visited in the Swiss Alps. There was some concern when we were back in Kathmandu that we should have our own bedding because there might be lice and bed bugs. When I saw the place, I had no such concerns. We dropped our sleeping bags and clothes on the wooden beds, which were covered with a thin cotton filled mattress and a comforter. Then we returned to the dinning room where we spread ourselves out comfortably on the long benches. It was dark and quiet outside. Aside from the six of us, there were no other guests.

TN and JR ordered dinner for us. Butter cookies and barley wine came out immediately, followed by steamy fried puffy pink shrimp crisps! This is something like a shrimp potato chip. At the top of the world, a thousand miles from the ocean, in a place where every consumable had to be carried miles up on someone's back, I was greatly impressed by the home made shrimp crisps. After snacks, we had another excellent meal of dal bhat, which kept coming until we were stuffed.

It was an incredible high, literally and figuratively, as we were at 2,400 meters or 7,874 feet. TN admitted he wasn't sure that I would make it, but I did and I was feeling triumphant. The altitude made me feel a little light headed and, except for the ankles and knees, my body felt fantastic.

TN and JR had been telling us as we climbed the mountain that the hot springs were medicinal. 'People came from all over Nepal to be cured of many ailments, including arthritis and all manner of skin diseases,' they said. JR told me that his wife, who had stomach problems, made a pilgrimage to the hot springs once a year. She felt much better for about 8 months, and then she would start to plan another trip. Any arthritic person who was able to make the climb to the hot springs would certainly think themselves cured simply by virtue of their arrival, I thought. As for Tania and myself, the idea of jumping into a public bath with skin diseased people, possibly lepers, wasn't all that appealing, but we decided to see what the situation was before we got too worried about it.

After coming all that way, I was eager to see the hot springs, even in the dark. To my surprise everyone else was willing to wait until morning. Tania was so tired that she decided to go to bed even though it was only 8 pm or so. JR, TN, Belief and Atit accompanied me over to the baths.

The night sky took my breath away. It was a moonless night, filled with billions of dazzling stars. Even in the southwestern US, I have never seen so many stars so clearly. The last time that I saw stars that clearly was when I crossed the Tibetan Plateau. Though it was dark, there was enough starlight that we could see where we were going. JR offered his arm so that I wouldn't trip on the stones and in a couple of minutes we arrived at three stone baths with stone spigots in the traditional shape of an open crocodile's mouth. Far above us was where the natural hot springs originated. By the time the water traveled down the pipes to the spigots it was steamy but comfortable enough to stand under for a short period of time.

Similar Crocodile Water Spigots
No longer concerned that skin diseased people might have just recently vacated the bath, I decided that I wanted to soak my ankles and knees in the hope that my legs would be able to carry me down the mountain the following day. I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pant legs and climbed the icy cold steps to the bath. No one would climb in with me at first, but then Atit decided to wade a little as well. The water was a muddy yellow color. I could not see through it. My feet stepped carefully on the smooth stones while I held on to the wall. All was quiet except for the sound of water spilling into the bath. The brilliant stars reflected in the steaming water. I could have stayed for hours! Alas, I decided that I could not to make everyone stand out in the cold waiting for me. So, after ten minutes, I climbed out, dried my feet on my shirt and put my shoes back on. When I got back to our room, Tania was already breathing deeply. The boys said they would knock on our door at 4 am so that we could really take a bath.


  1. Yay! Another installment. I can so see these posts in a book.

  2. Yes, this really should be a book.
    Love your new photo.
    I have just finished reading a really excellent book."Crossing the Mandelbaum Gate" by Kai Bird
    He now lives in Kathmandu

  3. The words 'bath' and '4am' wouldn't normally be paired in my vocabulary book! How brave you are! :)

  4. My husband is an amateur astonomer. I just read him the part in your post that tells about the amazing starlight and he was jealous!! Another fascinating insight into life in Nepal. Great jewellery too.

  5. I'm so glad you are taking time to share the big adventure. The photo of the mountains is AWESOME in the most sincere use of the word.

    I remember seeing the sky on a moonless night on the edge of Crater Lake in Washington. The altitude there would be about 7,000 ft. It was breathtaking!

    I think I would have gone with you to soak my feet in the bath. Something about hot mineral water is soothing to the body. I'm also glad you made it all the way back to Ohio.

  6. I think the image is majestic of the mountains and can understand the biting cold and heat as well -(reminisent of Mauna Kea here). I really like the capture of the vines with shadows over the spigots..though of course your journey is the most amazing! What a meal (lol0 It actually sounds fun and tasty. I've never had barley wine (least that I know of)? I'd most likey feel dizzy but would like to chance a dip on a moonless night like that in the nice mineral water!! Your post is terrific!

  7. Simply incredible. the climb, your arrival, the photos, i've just now gone back and started at the beginning and read it through again. You are so lucky and right, it is a priveledge. And i love that you said there is no competition, you made it and with no injury which seems most important anyway. And look how your smiling. Fantastic Jennifer.

  8. Elizabeth, I will look for the book but I have 4 books that I have been picking through for months.

    Jinksy, you must come back and see what happened at 4 am.

    An astronomer marries a 'Star!' Fancy that.

    Leenie, you and me and some of that barley wine, we would have been swimming laps.

    It's wonderful to know that you are all enjoying this. I would rather just take you with me, but if I can't do that I'll offer what I have.

  9. What an adventure. Love that you talk about nothing hurting except feet and ankles! Did you take the full plunge, after all? Did it help your feet and ankles?

  10. It was very helpful, but you will have to wait until the following post to find out what happened next. Some really wonderful photos are coming tomorrow.