Tuesday 16 December 2014

Days 183-184: Dolpo days 14-15 - Tracking Babu Hari through the Land of Lost Shoes

The ever-photogenic yak caravan
Dilli the cook walked back up the valley to pay the kitchen boy's alcohol debts (later to be deducted from his pay) and bring him down to Dho Tarap.  Our party was complete again.

We continued down the valley, narrowing to a deep cleft, for one day, then a second.  The occasional Tibetan camp punctuated the gorge, always littered with rubbish (let's say there were five items of garbage per square foot).  Plastics have arrived; waste disposal has not.  But still, why leave litter strewn everywhere instead of confining it to a chosen spot?  The most commonly discarded items were shoes: an orange sandal with a lime green strap, a blue plimsol, a red trainer with white ribs, a white one with blue ribs, a blue one with white ribs.  Spin the roulette wheel and see which lost shoe next appears.  The only feature they all shared was their unsuitability for the Upper and Lower Dolpo circuit; they simply were not rugged enough.  (If only we could have found a discarded hiking boot!)

Each shoe was solitary, never accompanied by its pair, and all had their laces removed.  In one place, I counted eight shoes, in various states of disrepair, in a few yards.  But this was not a distinctive feature of the gorge alone; it featured all around the circuit.  We were truly in a land of lost shoes.

And if you run out of yaks...
As we continued down the gorge, an ever-less probable path clung to its sides, sometimes boring through the rock, sometimes shored up by supporting blocks, sometimes weaving through vegetation or gushing in landslips into the river below.  Where rock fall wiped it out completely, a choice of two paths presented itself; the old and the new one.  At each junction, we examined the ground until we spotted Babu Hari's dotty shoe prints, to check which way we should go, then followed in his footsteps.  Whatever my expectations of Dolpo, I had not anticipated tracking the chef's assistant.

As dusk fell on the long descent, we had to decide between a high path to a village on the hillside or a low path to the river.  Which had our crew taken?  All bar one of the sherpas had gone ahead to choose the campsite, the kitchen crew had out-paced us, and even Babu Hari's footprints, at last, let us down.  Then we saw a flash of torchlight and Nigel climbed out of a thickly-vegetated slope to show us the way to camp.  As we approached, other members of the crew popped out of the undergrowth like a bunch of good elves.  "It was a long day," came Uttam's voice first, then 'double trouble' (the donkey drivers) emerged, gesturing in the direction they wanted us to take.  By the time we reached camp we were almost laughing at the pantomime.  But the weather did not share our feelings.  For the first time since we left Phoksundo Lake, it started to rain.

The Tarap Chu gorge at this point was still dry and arid
The view from the top of a bend
1000m further down and we saw the tantalising prospect of lush vegetation

Even Dolpo is not free of the road-building craze sweeping Nepal.
Cut into the side of the hill is the beginnings of a road up the Tarap Chu gorge
from Kanigaon. Heaven knows how it will get much further though!

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