Chris and I decided to make this the final day of the Annapurna Circuit. The elevation from Kalopani to Tatopani goes down over 4000 feet, and one would have to hike up 6500 feet in a day to continue to the next logical city past Tatopani. In addition we were very short on money with no ATMs anywhere close, so knowing that Tatopani has a daily bus to Pokhara helped us make the decision to end there. It also didn’t hurt that we would be ending our trek in a beautiful little village with hot springs. 140 miles, 20 days, and only a couple encounters with hot water later, not much would feel better on our tired eyes and aching muscles than hot springs. We packed up our room in Kalopani and ate breakfast before saying our farewells to the lovely staff at See You Lodge and beginning our hike to Tatopani.
We hiked past the same fields of green and alpine forest as the first thirty minutes of our hike to Titi Tal the day before. Afterwords we crossed a suspension bridge to the opposite side of the Kali Gandhi river. The road switchbacked down the deep valley without any linear movement, so we tried to find side trails downwards as much as we could. At one point, to get down to a suspension bridge after missing its trail, we followed a rockslide area down a forty five degree decline. The scree had no hold, essentially putting us in semi-controlled slides down over a hundred feet. Trying not to bust an arm or ankle, we used our trek poles as an anchor to hold stable ground and avoid falling. After some minor slips we finally reached the bridge where we laid down and looked beneath the suspension bridge to the rapids of the Kali Gandaki.
Onwards we walked along the bottom of the deepest valley in the world. Low tropical forest on steep hills took over until we couldn’t see the giant Himalayas beyond them, besides Nilgiri behind us to the north. We became hungry a couple hours past noon when we noticed once again that, being on or past the tail end of tourist season, nearly every restaurant not located in a main trekker village was closed. If that held up we would be going without lunch a third day in a row, a brutal prospect given the thousands of calories that one burns trekking each day. We crossed hundreds of men working on a Nepali road and assumed a restaurant must be close to all the workers, but sure enough every restaurant in the following town was barred up and padlocked. We finally found a little store where we bought some chips, but they turned out to be incredibly stale. Thankfully a couple minutes later we stumbled across the first and last restaurant for hours where we each ordered a massive plate of fried rice.
A jeep filled with foreign tourists pulled up to the restaurant when Chris and I realized that these twenty days hiking had been the longest segment of our lives without us operating or sitting in a motorized vehicle of any kind. We were proud of our feat but in a way it seemed like we were just finding out something that everybody in these mountain villages already knew. We learned that you will see far more hiking than driving or biking. Going two miles per hour you notice the intricacies of each village, the ridgelines and cliff faces of each mountain, even the unevenness of the road below. You notice each cow, chicken, yak, buffalo, goat, and dog that you pass. The smiles and greetings of the Nepali children, even twenty days on, never gets old. Nor does seeing the more ordinary parts of rural Nepali life – women doing laundry in the town sink, milking their cows and naks, or sowing their fields. Getting to a place quicker absolutely does not mean seeing more, for every meager detail you pass going fifty miles an hour is worth a whole lot more if you are on foot.
We paid our bill at the restaurant and headed off for the final two hour hike of the Annapurna Circuit. We opted for the alternative trail that avoids the road, but almost immediately we were in a traffic jam of sorts with hundreds of goats and sheep going the same way as us. The shepherds were slowly walking in the back and throwing gravel at the goats that sought to get away to the forest. We followed partially amused and less so annoyed, but definitely ready to be able to call the trek finished. After about fifteen minutes still behind the herd despite our efforts to get beyond them, we crossed a suspension bridge to the main road. Again almost immediately we were held up, this time by a bulldozer wreaking havoc on the roadside slope to extract rock for the new road being built. We waited a few minutes for the bulldozer to stop, but it kept swinging back and forth further than the width of the road. Finally we decided to play human frogger of sorts – we’d just have to run past the bulldozer while its blade was on the opposite side of the road. Chris ran ahead first missing the blade by no more than a second. Its driver, noticing us for the first time, shook his head in disapproval and let me go while the dozer was idle. We just wanted to get to Tatopani.
The road fell deeper and deeper into the Kali Gandaki valley until eighty percent of the space above us were steep hills instead of the sky. We imagined there wasn’t too much visible sun here besides a few hours of the day. Tall mountains dipped out of view as well, but the tropical hillside, waterfalls, and Kali Gandaki river were gorgeous in their own tamer way. Eventually we rounded a corner where we could see several guesthouses and knew that this must be Tatopani, the end of the trek. We sighed and looked ahead with shit eating grins as if we had just found a stockpile of gold. It wasn’t that we wanted to leave the area or even that we necessarily wanted to stop walking, but that we had achieved the goal we set for ourselves over twenty days before and that felt fantastic. I already began missing the villages of the trek, but the feeling of desolation in Tiri and the views from Thorang La are things I will always carry with me. It was as we entered Tatopani that larger scale achievement became another feeling I could carry along in my intangible pocket of travel tokens.
We found a hotel near the hot springs and then walked down the road to eat a quick meal of fried yak momos and sukuti, a delicious dish of fried dried buffalo with onions, tomatoes, and curry oil. Afterwards we went to the hot springs by the river and sat in its perfect waters for a couple hours. Finally after expending energy in nature for three weeks we were able to relax in the same setting. Our muscles and blisters would finally be able to recover without being trampled on the following day. As the sky grew dark and the nearly full moon came out, we sipped on local Raksi and conversed with a group of locals biking through the region. They told us of a hill town called Bandipur and made us promise that we would try to check it out. Feeling parched, we left not long after back to our hotel where we ate ravenously and fell asleep before eight in the evening, tired from our final walk and the relaxing springs.