Today's walk starts with ease, as for two hours we follow the 4WD road. The road ends abruptly at a river crossing that does not have a bridge suitable for vehicles. Another hour or so walking through beautiful forests, is also relatively easy underfoot. Eventually the track turns to trail with steep stepped climbs, bedded down by hooves of the thousands of donkeys and human feet that have travelled this route over past centuries. There are a number of sharp climbs and descents, on steep rocky trails that are cut into the cliff in a haphazard fashion, clinging to the cliff on our left, and dropping unprotected to the river below.
The lunch stop of an hour at Labubesi is longer than we expected to rest. We are still feeling fresh and usually would just snatch an easy snack if hiking on our own, but as this is breakfast time for the porters we have no choice but to wait for a group that has come down from Tsum Valley to be fed first. Our lunch of Potato Rosti topped with melted cheese, and a plate of vegetable Momos is well worth the wait.
The afternoon walk continues to be challenging as we negotiate the round stones of the riverbed before climbing and hugging the cliff face again.
Today we have combined one and a half days of the recommended distance. Arriving at 3 p.m. in Machha Khola, at the Tsum Valley Lodge and Restaurant, we are 15 minutes short of the seven hours we expected to walk today. We are taken to the 3rd floor of the well-presented tea house, of solid structure, where an open space is furnished with an outdoor table and chairs. In one corner is a room housing a clean squat toilet and beside it, a separate shower room. Even though only cold water, the shower is refreshing and an opportunity to wash clothes. We have few changes so need to keep on top of the washing. There is a tourist menu but we all choose to eat Dahl Bhat, the national dish eaten by locals twice daily at around 11 a.m. and again early evening. We've eaten Dahl Bhat many times since arriving in Nepal, every serving is different, depending on the variety of spices, vegetables and pickles used. A second serve is always offered so it is also great value. Tonight's version is the usual nourishing rice, side dish of lentil broth, yet the very tasty vegetable curry, as well as a mixture of cabbage, carrot and pickles is the best yet. The dessert of Apple Pie and Custard was chosen as it had been a favourite of Nev's on the trek we did on Annapurna Circuit 2 years ago. Tonight's version lives up to his memory of the treat; thickly filled with apple & cinnamon, coated with silky custard.
KK explains that he and the porters will not eat until we have finished and left the table. We indicate that we would be happy for them to share our table and meal time, but there is clearly a hierarchy here that will not be changed, just because we prefer to be inclusive. We would like to relax and chat but now feel under pressure to depart to our rooms. The porters have worked harder than us and we don't want to delay their meal.