Picnic Trekking - continued...
We woke up to the most beautiful day - bright blue skies, sunshine and warmth. Well actually, the first thing that happened was our guide sticking a cup of tea for each of us through the flap of the tent. Talk about service! We ate a large breakfast which was very nice, but unfortunately included some canned porridge which had probably gone off. Mike decided he didn't like the taste pretty fast, so then I ate his with the consequences that you can probably figure out. Luckily, neither of us got sick until that night and then it was a straightforward food rejection type of thing that was over very quickly. True, it spoiled dinner, but with these guys feeding us about three times the amount of food that we're used to, it may be just as well.
After breakfast, we started walking. We were going up to the top of the mountain with our guide and then back down, while our porters went around and met us in time for the next meal. Soon after we set out we saw the first monkey of our trip. I was glad that the first one was a wild one. We were walking through quite thick woods and we had both heard about how at certain seasons these woods are full of leeches that just drop out of the trees and land on you. Mike seemed strangely curious to meet one of these creatures and kept asking the guide lots of questions about them. After an hour or so of hiking, we reached a small plateau at the top of the mountain and found, in succession, a small stupa, a helicopter landing pad and a very neat military building. One of the military guys came and chatted to our guide and looked at our papers and, like his building, he was spruced up as though he was going to a wedding.
From out plateau we had the best view imaginable of the Himalayas, and we felt really lucky, since it is not often possible to get a good view. In fact, we know from our own experience of living in mountains that the best conditions are to be found on a fine day following a day of rain or snow, so we very lucky to get just that. I suppose people's reaction to seeing the Himalayas depends on what they are used to. We live in the French Alps so in a way, it was similar to the view we see every day, but blown up about 5 times. That just made it more impressive. We spent a while naming the different mountains, though we could not see Everest as it was too far away. As we walked down to join our porters we were in view of the mountains most of the time. At one point, we saw a very early rhododendron.
In the late afternoon we walked down towards a village on a wide plateau. We were still at a very high altitude and on the edge of the nature reservation. From the village the ground fell away steeply and every single inch of it was terraced. Up here, they only get one crop a year and at this time the terraces were bare earth. I guess they need to supplement their income if they can because every single house in the village seems to claim to be a lodge and the top terraces are converted into campsites. We took one of the campsites, and while our porters were setting up we walked through the village with the guide to a hillock on the other side. The houses in the village seem to be made mainly of wood or metal. Some of the wooden ones are constructed quite similarly to American houses but many of the smaller ones are essentially three walls and a roof. The whole of the fourth wall is a door which can be completely opened or completely shut. Sometimes they are in two horizontal panels, so you can just take the top off. These houses have no windows, but this is just about the only concession to insulation, so I am not sure how people keep warm here.
As we sat on the other side of the village we were looking across towards another hillock where prayer flags were fluttering around a group of tall stone stupas surrounded by a wall. Our guide said this was the village cemetery. It was very beautiful, but unfortunately we have no pictures of it. We were too busy chatting with our guide about Nepalese life. He said he had been married twice, the first was an arranged marriage when he was very young. We asked him what that was like, and he said that for the first few days his wife had been too shy to talk to him and hid under her veil when he said hello to her, but after it was fine. Anyway they had a couple of kids, but she died, so then he chose a new wife himself. Their courtship went pretty much like it would in the west, but the interesting point is that she is of a different caste from him and this apparently caused some friction with his family. In our whole time in India and Nepal we did not meet a single person who approved of the caste system but they are all very much aware that its there, illegal or not. Another interesting thing about our guide's family is that his children are sponsored by an English woman, who he calls their adopted grandmother, and so they get to go to the 'English School', which is what a lot of the Indians and Nepalese consider the top. I think the 'grandmother' is quite present as she has been to see them a few times. We all know about sponsoring children's education in developing countries, but this is the first time we met anyone on the other side of the arrangement.
I had not been back in my tent for very long before I knew that I was going to be sick so I really tuned out for the rest of the evening and unfortunately missed dinner. To add to my misery, it was extremely cold and exposed on our terrace and even after Mike came to bed I was still freezing. Eventually in a sleepy blur I noticed that my feet had become warm, but I didn't realise until the morning that this was because one of the local dogs was lying against them.