Given the murky weather of the last few days it was well worth the predawn 300 metre climb up to Poon Hill above Ghorepani. By the time we got to the top we could see the whole Annapurna range, Dhaulagiri to the west and Manaslu to the east. Immediately in front of us and dominating the skyline was Annapurna South and to its right, perhaps the most famous mountain in the whole range, the never to be climbed Machhapuchre or Fishtail. I've been to Poon Hill before but, after walking the Circuit, it was much better the second time. Took the only group photo of the trip at the top, not included is Paul who after yesterday's exertions decided to stay at the tea house.
Back for breakfast than down the hill along a knee crunching and incredibly busy descent to Birethanti. The first third was lovely with the sun streaming through the gaps in a canopy created by a flowering rhododendron forest. At the end of this stretch we get close to a river with a series of impressive waterfalls.
|Through the rhododendrons|
The steps as well as endless are also treacherous. There is a lot of marble around and thousands of feet and hooves have polished the surface until it's slippery smooth, must be awful in the wet.
Crossing the river at the bottom the path at last starts to level out and we stop for lunch at Sudame. Chris and Phil wander in continuing the non stop chatter they have sustained nearly all the way from Ghorepani, as far as they were concerned it was a stroll in the park!
The rest of the walk is easier, and with most of the trekkers going up in the morning less crowded. Still everyone in the group seems really keen to finish the walk, and with Helen and Tanya pushing Nima at the front we arrive at Birethanti before 4.
The porters and guides are getting the bus from Pokara to Kathmandu tomorrow so tonight is the end of trek party. The party involves everyone sharing a meal, the porters and guides get their tips and dancing follows. Nepalese men love to sing and dance and do it very well, western men look large and clumsy in comparison.
Organising the tips can be a painful process but this is a very good group and it all went well.
Having porters carry your stuff is pretty weird. It looks particularly awful when you get a one or two person party. Then it's the trekker(s), one guide and the porter with a seemingly huge load. The porter looks like a beast of burden.
It's difficult not to feel guilty about a porter carrying your bag. Without them however very few westerners would be able to make the trip. Given the range of temperature you have to take a lot of stuff and at altitude carrying it, for most of us, would be impossible. People are "beasts of burden" in this country (just as they are or were in all other countries) and carrying stuff in mountains is part of life here.
It's still difficult however not to feel guilty about a porter carrying your bag.
Actually on a tea house trip you don't see much of the porters. They grab two kit bags in the morning, total weight somewhere between twenty and thirty kilos, rope them up, kick them to make sure there are no lumps and then they are off. All the weight is carried via a padded rope around their forehead with the bag then leaning into their backs. This technique is even used when they are carrying a client's sophisticated western style ruck sack although the sack would almost invariably be too big for them to carry it on their hips.
They then fly along the paths. As soon as you see a porter you shout a warning to let them pass. Unless its really steep they will always be going faster than you. Jangbu calculates distance in terms of two walking speeds, Nepali and Western, one is twice as fast as the other.
On a camping trip you get to know the porters better. They stop for meals with you in the middle of the day, pitch the tents for you and generally the group, with porters, kitchen porters and cook is more integrated.
I'm sure this isn't it's purpose but the end of trip party is a great antidote for porter guilt syndrome. It can be hard work because of the language barrier but you very much get to meet them as people. In particular you get to discover that they like what they do, they have fun, that some are progressing up the chain for example, training to be cooks, and best of all seem pleased that you're in Nepal and, despite your guilt, don't resent you at all.