From a nights sleep spent on a pillow of desperate disappointment the sun rises to a day of reclaimed optimism. We’re not really spiritual people but the idealism of Annapurna has reached near sacred status to us, our first day of seeing a desecration of this place was a sharp slap in the face we weren’t ready to accept. With a nights sleep to cast aside four years of idolisation the rubbish bin of expectation is full to over flowing as this day starts anew. There is a repetition in simple life, we farewell our host and tread our first footfalls on a day of walking into whatever we happen to come to just as yesterday and likely tomorrow. In some ways it feels like a first day, once again we feel like we’re getting close enough to Annapurna to sate the years of wanting and still it stays so cruelly just out of reach.
This bloody road. Unwilling to allow us a gentle emotional escape from the development we share the road with trucks, tractors, bikes and jeeps, acceptance of the road will be our only saviour, ignorance of it just will not do. The road persists unrelenting but the marks of the old walking track are still to be seen, in short time we come to steep climbing steps off the road overgrown with weeds, a past glory just barely hanging on to validity. The road is far easier and faster but each footfall upon it feels conflicted, speed or a wild experience is the internal debate we churn over. The internal dialogue lasts only as long as it takes to look back from ten or so steps that deserve more feet to realise we didn’t have a debate at all. Sticking to the road means ignoring the big cross on our path but it was never an option, directions can be damned.
Less than a minute is all it takes to vindicate our decision, the road and power lines are out of sight as we plunge into a dense jungle path that weaves to the contours of the mountain, no blasting required for this track. The open space is no more, we step over small waterfalls and brush through encroaching jungle to a view of the opposite side of the gorge, steep rock cliffs and waterfalls tower above us all around while humanity now seems so distant. We know this is a little detour and we’ll be back on the road again soon but that can wait, we wander through a town of about four dwellings that isn’t on the map. In this most violently steep place people carve out a niche any way they can, this is a discovery we dared not dream of finding. Faded paint on flaking timber and stone walls with age is measured in generations rather than years closes in on a main street of rough laid stone. A quick chat with an old lady gives us a glance with the most traditional and remote life we’ve seen, the road so close seems so far away.
We do eventually make it back to the road; where Toyota’s dominate the rest of the world it seems that Mahindra is the truck of choice here, sure enough another Mahindra rattles past with about seven people crammed into five seats. In no time we take another blessed detour to break off the road, the major works have given way at least for the moment so getting off the road is recapturing some small sparks of what we came to see. Huge mountains reach above us in dramatic fashion to shower down powerful waterfalls at every turn over craggy rock peaks too steep to seem real. While the rock faces we look at are dramatic the raging waterfalls pounding over the top hint only to a grander world beyond, and unbelievably above, that water is melting from somewhere.
On the road again, we’re slowly releasing our hatred of this road even though appreciating the easier walking still seems quite a way off. It is on the road though that we see a working gang producing aggregate for, we assume, the road; possibly a little local income is one positive spin off for this scar we can’t yet find any love for. When I think of producing aggregate I don’t however think of boys, young teenagers, sitting with a hammer and smacking rocks till they split into small enough chunks to go on a pile. Heap upon heap of aggregate stones line the road in what must have taken months to produce, an hours work for one machine played out in a manner that defies the industry downstream. Namaste goes the local greeting as one boy launches back a ‘cheers’ much to the hilarity of the crew. It’s hard, oppressive work but a mirth and good humour abounds, a positive mindset in a scene of harsh child labour where we see no reason for joy.
Four hours of hiking brings us to a kani at the crest of a small rise and beyond an open flat pan that holds the town of Tal. A kani is essentially a buddhist archway with three shrines at the top to cleanse the spirits of those that walk through. Through the kani, spirits cleansed, the river opens up to a flat pan straddled by the town of Tal, quaintness set amongst severity that is starting to become the theme here. Through the town of people politely asking us to stop we eventually settle in a small family home of gaudy bright colours that are the fashion for any Nepali with the means to make it so. Soup and momo’s go down a treat but in no time we must move on, a nearly perfectly vertical wall has laid ahead of us for some time now, a precipice abutting the river that exemplifies the drama and severity of this place. we can’t take our eyes off it.
Like it was all planned this way the immense cliff we have been looking at for hours lays across the river from our guesthouse in Dharapani. The milky churn of snowmelt water roars a continuous hum before a rock wall that seems to have no top, a fully arched back and craned neck is required to see the end of rock and the start of sky. In 24 hours we’ve wiped clean the desperate sadness of yesterday and we’re starting afresh. Thick clouds hide what the waterfalls hint must be there and on this new start it feels like we’re edging forward playing a childlike game of hide-and-seek. The blasphemy of development seems to be lessening as we come closer and closer to finding our so far hidden idol; Annapurna, come out come out wherever you are.