Before we set off for our first full day of walking on this trek we learnt one of the most basic facts about the Annapurna circuit - the high peaks are often only visible in the early morning. As the day progresses the clouds move in and by 11 or 12 there is often little to see. So it was that we discovered before breakfast that we had a big peak behind our hotel! Part of the Himal Chuli.
The route for this day abandoned the main Annapurna track. Our schedule had us heading for the village of Siurung which sits high above the river valley that the main route follows. The detour is well worth it as the views from the higher vantage point have to be better than those from the valley floor. The only difficulty for those attempting this without a guide would be to follow the correct path. Although the turnoff in Khudi is signposted, things become less clear further on. That said, the path ascends the valley in the same direction as the main route below it. As the valley curves round so some more peaks come into view.
It was relatively hard work, not because the path is very difficult, but it was a steady climb for much of the day and it was hot. The landscape compensated for the effort, we looked down on the river and the terraces of rice fields that spread over the hillsides.
Being off the principal route, the only people we saw were locals from the mostly tiny settlements that you find up here. We tested our command of the language by greeting everyone with "namaste", it's not much but it gets a friendly response. In the end I was more than happy to see the sun finally covered by the clouds that had been gathering throughout the morning, but just a few minutes later this developed into a violent, although relatively short, Himalayan thunderstorm above our heads. We got completely soaked in the space of a couple of minutes, but there was nothing we could do about it and we just kept moving towards our objective. Fortunately the rain stopped for the last steep climb up to Siurung, an ascent made much easier by the lowering of the temperature.
Siarung is a pretty village built onto the hillside, and populated by the Gurung ethnic group. We were supposed to stay in the one and only guesthouse the village possesses, but then we found out that the rain had leaked into much of this building. It seems that the solution to such problems is to temporarily evict some locals from their house, a tiny one-roomed construction which seemed quite full with the two of us and our rucksacks inside. The boots stayed on the roof to dry a bit following the drenching we had got in the storm.
To dry ourselves we took a tour of our new surroundings. The locals seemed friendly enough, even though they were armed.
It's time for a short digression, if you're about to eat you may not want to read this. At one of our breaks on the path up to Siurung our guide remarked that he had been bitten by a couple of leeches. Both of us had managed to avoid this, but I did see one of the ugly bichos approaching me amazingly fast when we stopped for a drink of water. Later on, in Siurung, I noticed they had got me too. Some people seem to notice when they attach themselves to your leg, I didn't feel a thing but when I discovered a sticky blob of blood just above my ankle I realised they had got me too. Leeches, apart from being strangely agile when it comes to attaching themselves to passing walkers, are also notably messy eaters. The anti-clotting substance they inject into the bite means that even after they have had their fill and dropped off, the bite continues to bleed. I was to get more bites. Later on in Siurung I watched a chicken pecking at a leech and almost gave it a round of applause as encouragement. I suppose the leech is a chickens equivalent of morcilla, a nice bit of blood sausage as a supplement to the diet.
In the evening, after dinner, the only foreign guests in the village were offered a show of local dancing. I was a little bit reluctant to do this as I suspected that it might not be that gripping a spectacle - but I was overuled. To be fair, there's not a lot to do after dark in a small Nepali hill village. Just at the point when it seemed like nothing was going to happen anyway, a group of the older women in the village turned up with a single small drum. When the show started we were presented with garlands of flowers and sat back to watch the spectacle. It seemed to both of us that the music didn't change that much, nor for that matter was there much variation in the dance, even when some of the younger members of the group got going. Our guide assured us this was not the case.
What inspired true fear was the bottle of local wine that was produced for us to try, we were given cups filled to the brim with it and I started to think what was going to happen to our fairly tight trekking schedule if I spent the next day lying on my back mumbling "I don't feeeel very weeell!" I've had experience of Asian "wines" before and some of them should definitely not be approached with a naked flame, this one turned out to be not so dangerous but I still only drank what I thought would be enough not to seem rude. The sky was clearing as we made our way to bed, and the silhouette of the mountains around us was just visible.
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