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Table of Contents "On the road to Kabul and other short stories of treks"

Steep stone path and an "In memorial"

(Daulaghiri trek, day 5, 24 October, 2002. Bhogara to Doban).

Valley towards Dhaulagiri with the steep stone path in the narrow gorge in the far distance.

When we leave in the morning we can see the trail go down to the river. In the far distance it zigzags up a steep hill and seems to cross a deep gorge [1]. We cannot see the continuation but the map indicates a "steep stone path".

On top of the cliff everybody stops. There is a light grey granite tombstone with two German names, male and female. Our Sherpa guides tell us that they fell in the river further up, the tombstone indicates 19-10-1999. This is the first time I see such a monument in Nepal. I feel uneasy and I forget to take a picture but I saw Reinhard taking one. Instead I keep an eye on the people all standing around on the 2 m wide ledge with a vertical drop of some 300 m. Not a spot for persons with fear of heights. Why did they fall in the river? Rainy weather does make a path slippery. Were they tied to a rope, the woman with fear of heights? Was the path very tricky in places?

 

View down from the ledge with the "In Memorial"

Two local Nepalese children are watching us while they stand with their back on the edge of the ledge, ignoring the height. They are around 8 and 12 years old or even younger and were walking along with us this morning. They probably had school in the lower villages and now are going back to their parents. They youngest one stares at me and I want to tell him to move away from the ledge but he is so at ease that I just look at him. He keeps on looking around with curious eyes, at the deep gorge and at us tourists, but is silent. Eight years old, very independent and absolutely safe at this treacherous trail, try this with our children.

After 10 minutes everybody carries on, the two children go first, they are on their own. We do not realize what is about to come. They seem to know. I follow slowly, my legs still trembling, following Meinhard, and avoiding to go first.

Within minutes the path skirts along a near vertical rock cliff and we see several bee hives with buzzing bees some 20 m higher. A few ropes are hanging below the bee hives and are used by the local to climb up for collecting honey, an extremely dangerous job to reach the precious honey. Again I do not take pictures but want to carry on. Wild bees are not friendly, they will sting you right away when felt threatened as I found out near Bhandar on the classic Everest trek trail from Jirri to Lukla in 1997. The same happened to me in Canada, near Lake Huron, deep in the forests. A sting hurts badly, more than of an European domestic bee and the Canadian wild bee sting even gave me a fever.

The path now changes to a 45 degrees steep stair case of rock slabs cut along the rock face with a 300-400 m drop on the right side with no protection. Tricky, also because it is still wet. Despite the, for Nepalese, comfortable wide trail of 0.5 to 1 m, we all feel uneasy. One slip is a sure death, just like the moss covered staircase trail two years ago in Rolwaling but this was only a short distance.

In my mind I make a comparison with narrow two lane roads where deadly head collisions are common, often with fatal results. A colleague of mine in Ottawa abused it to hit a garbage truck when he was depressed because his eight-year period of getting his Ph.D. expired. All his colleagues had Ph.D.ís and his career would be affected. He was originally from Northern Ontario and this area is known for depressed persons caused by the long winter, it seems. He left a wife and two children and his suicide case was covered up so that the insurance would pay out.

The trail looks very well maintained and in some parts the rock face and staircase slabs are very fresh. These must have been tricky passages and the path must have been fixed 1 or 2 years ago, probably with donations of the relatives of the two German names on the tombstone.

The trail remains a mix of stairs made f rock slabs and a clay path, with no protection on the right steep side for at least an hour. It seems to take forever but I do not recall how long it really took. Following Meinhard helps, we sometimes talk to encourage each other. He also feels uneasy. We finally go down some 400 meters, again the clay path is steep, wet and slippery, occasionally with some bamboo on the right side as protection and taking away the view of the deep gorge.

Down in the valley we stop for lunch and feel relieved. It takes me a while to realize that I can take a cool bath in the river, a nice spot with big boulders and fast running very cold water. I use a face cloth to avoid getting a cold from bathing in the cold water but most group members take a full bath in pools. The water is very refreshing. The children are gone, probably somewhere in front of us.

After lunch I meet the children again in the jungle. They walk more slowly now. In a cow pasture surrounded by high trees they play with a swing [1], built for the October festival. There are four of them now and they seem to know each other. They try to make the swing go as high as possible.

They must have quickly passed the treacherous spot of the steep stone path that morning and have used the path before. In the late afternoon I pass them as they walk more slowly, the youngest kid is crying. He is tired and the older one encourages him to carry on. It was a long day.