I got up before dawn at 4:00 and the smell of incense from the day before still hung at the corner of our room like the rest of the previous day’s clothes. I’d been lugging a tripod in my pack, and decided to put it to some use.

It was cold enough to not want to get out of bed, and I almost didn’t. I folded the thick blanket away and stepped out of my sleeping bag. My bare feet on the cement floor was cold enough to give me the impression of being in a walk-in freezer. I put on 2 more layers from top to bottom and left the room with my gear.

The skies were a little cloudy but mostly clear to the East, while the towering cliff to the North stretched along both sides. The moon was half full and perched to the South of where I was. My hands felt the coldest; I wore thin gloves that did little to keep the warmth in — my thicker gloves would have made it impossible to operate the camera or much less even attach it to the tripod. I rubbed my hands together and hugged myself as I waited for each 30 second shot to finish, all the while breathing out ephemerally white plumes of hot air that vanished as quickly as it came.

After a few test shots from the empty stone walkway, wooden bridge and riverbed, the grayish clouds crept up and covered the entire sky in seconds. And just as I was getting warmed up! But, I gladly crawled back into bed and fed on more sleep.

After a quick breakfast of eggs, bread and tea, we set off for Ghandruk — what was to be our last stop before heading back to Pokhara. The landscape changed dramatically over the course of the day: tiny rivers and sparse forests turned to steep cliff-side paths and thick forests. Hail the size of pellets came falling down midway, so we walked on a clean blanket of ice for a few hours as we continued to descend.

My hiking companion and I talked about a multitude of things — but we embraced the silence when it came. It came in various forms: the trickle and splash a river sang as it flowed against boulders and rounded pebbles and rushed down a cascade; the rustle of dead leaves, mulching the soil beneath a neighboring tree; the sight of a hawk, circling high with the morning drafts; the soprano creak of an old wooden bridge beneath us; the crunch of the fallen ice beneath our boots; the fairy-tale scenery of the rhododendron forest, carpeted with bright red flowers on a clean white canvas of snow; the distant tinkle of a bell — whence it came, we couldn’t tell.

We spoke of Religion and Spirituality, passions, sex, love, ego, death, inspirations, learnings, family and friends, pain, perception and more. But all with a positivity and gratitude the ancient Stoics would have approved. Mostly, we were curious of one another’s viewpoint and ideas. Coming from opposite sides of the world, you would think we’d be so different, but we weren’t.

We arrived at Ghandruk after 7 hours of hiking as the mid-afternoon sun finished drying out my socks from the day before. I hung them to the outside of my bag; I got the idea from a passing trekker doing just that. The town was the biggest one we had seen so far. It was split up into several sections, with probably more than 50 hotels and guesthouses. After 30 minutes of wandering around the streets, continuing downwards, we found a good place and settled in.

The view from Ghandruk was spectacular: to the south, where we would go the next day, there were 2 mountains generously split by a wide and deep valley. Both sides, at a similar altitude with Ghandruk, held many small towns, farms, terraces with a clear dirt pathway that continued on for miles.

The woman who owned and ran the guesthouse we were in let us watch and help her make some of our own dinner. It was my first time seeing how they made Momos up-close, from scratch. She had a beautiful 5 year old daughter who was very camera-shy. She and her younger friend were braiding each other’s hair so I asked them to do mine — and they did, giggling the whole time.

With our dinner of Momos and Dal Bhat, I had a serving of Tongba — a fermented millet drink, steeped in hot water. The sweet and slightly sour drink left me light-headed and weightless. And so I floated on to bed.

(Photos to follow)

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