The Homecoming has happened. I’m returned to the Folly after my Nepalese ticket of leave and I’m overjoyed to be home. The dream happened, I walked a long way in places it seems unlikely I’ll ever go back to and I pondered the shape of the world in that way over yonder place. It was fun, it was hard, it was thrilling and it was thunderously repetitive. Plod, plod, plod. All of these were gifts and each day I concentrated very hard on the acknowledgement of my blessings, and accepting each day as a wrapped present completely unexpected and unknown. This approach never let me down.
Kathmandu may be an interesting city though I saw no mountains and no hills nor the sky or the sun while in Kathmandu despite it being a valley. It was a dull grey above, and stayed that way whenever I was there. Thamel, the tourist district, was one of those performances of indigeneity/autochthony like Balinese puppets or Masai jumping or whirling dervishes, you knew it was a simulacrum, a covering for how people actually live and work and make choices but it was their chosen covering, and I sensed it was their protection too. So I never punctured it in Kathmandu or made any attempt to do so.
I turned away from lots of the performances: sadhus with pumpkins tied to their dicks, the rickshaw drivers, the girls girls girls touts, and so on. But I gave ground to the choices made exclude the goras from the real life of Kathmandu. There were good things: Indian television has a lot of cricket on when there was electricity, there were lots of little bakeries selling little cakes, and millions of dogs and ravens, and the best bunch of second hand bookstores I’ve come across. But mainly it was a performance, a screen behind which real life may have been occurring. It was rather like the doctor examining his wife through a holey sheet in Midnight’s Children.
The walking was awesome, I found myself breathless with more than altitude. I wouldn’t put two big walks back to back again; I would limit myself to two to three weeks simply because energy levels really start to fall and fall fast in the cold. I lost two days through the cold snap which apparently had old people freezing to death in Uttar Pradesh but I was pretty relieved to call it quits. By Kyangjin Gompa I was thinking every stair was the start of the stairs of Cirith Ungol and my legs were (to put it modestly) fading fast. So when it was suggested that a safety margin regarding the wind and cold was necessary I went with it and felt that what I’d done was enough. Besides I was hungry and, frankly, still am.
The walking day was generally 5-6 hours and that was enough, three before food and three afterward. After six hours the level of concentration drops off rapidly and the risk of screwing the pooch increases in line with the drop in thinking about where you are what you are doing. This made a considerable amount of difference at altitude and even more if the day had been spent going uphill. Most of the time we seemed to be going uphill and it was hard yards sometimes, my fitness and endurance were adequate but only just I was surprised to find, though I lost about 8kgs over the time and am feeling very strong now back at sea level. The before and after pictures don’t look too different, at least not to me.
Annapurna was the big show and I could have happily come home after that, and was quite keen to do so but having gone all that way… At any rate it was a lot of walking and I feel pretty chuffed I didn’t fuck it up or get AMS or lose my passport or run out of cash halfway or any of that shit. I walked it, and kept going and was hardcore entranced for most of the time. The mountains, the mountains: I was like a little kid overwhelmed by their bigness, their white peak-ness and their capacity to eat the sky, it was a romance that didn’t extinguish itself at any point of the journey. Even the shittiness of altitude couldn’t beat down the volume of my heartsong when they emerged from behind the trees, or the clouds or from wherever they’d been hiding. The rivers too were completely compelling, such noise, such power and speed. I could see why Himalayan rivers are the big time for white water guys, they moved rocks the size of buses.
The countryside I found completely agreeable except for it being so fucking cold. I never knew such cold. I shivered a lot, sometimes even when eating or walking. But the tea houses and the lodges were pretty fun and I saw a lot more of people living while on the trail: kitchens and hearths and sinks and TV rooms and kids and grumpy facebooking teenagers. I liked that very much. But after a few dozen kitchens, a handful of toddlers with runny noses, and watching a vast cohort of facebooking Nepalese teens I began to long for my own. Right now I’m stoked to be back in my own iteration of domesticity.