The initial plan was for separate days: Jagat to Philim (1700m) 3 hours, then Philim to Deng (2095m) 5 hours, however we have decided to double them. Ahead of us we have possibly 8 hours of trekking, (fortunately only gaining 550 metres), as we combine the recommended distance for 2 days. With the likelihood that we will receive afternoon rain it is better to leave earlier, so today signals the first of ongoing 7:30 a.m. departures.
Crossing by a rickety wooden bridge, then leads us along the sandy riverbed beside the Bhalu Khola. Later we are climbing the ups and downs of the cliff face. Groups of locals have been walking towards us as they head south to work in fields, or on new houses being built in the area. I am reminded how fortunate we are to be walking here for sheer pleasure, rather than because our livelihood depends on being fit and strong.
The morning becomes a blur of a constantly changing trail, that includes lots of punchy climbs up, and short sharp downs, that are often rock hopping; although these are interspersed with some neatly stepped sections. There are long, steel swing bridges, and a couple of shorter wooden ones. Walking becomes easy as the trail travels through a broad valley where crops of millet and corn are stretching in the spring warmth. We expected the morning to take 4-5 hours so are delighted to arrive for lunch at Ekle Bhatti (another check-point) after 3.5 hours.
We had all looked enviously at Greg's Vegetable Curry meal last night, so to speed up our lunch break we all ordered Vegetable Curry, only to be served a disappointing meal of rice and soupy mustard greens. The porters were tucking into their usual Dahl Baht breakfast, and in comparison to our lunch, it looked delicious. We laugh at our bad luck, as it's been typical that someone has ordered, a never before tried selection, from the menu at the evening meal that looks delicious, so we follow it up at lunch (another time, another village) and the lunch time version has always been inferior!
The local inhabitants are Gurung people, an ethnic group that migrated from Tibet in the 6th century. Many locals come toward us carrying cane baskets of fire wood, split the best size to be ready for burning, most likely to fuel the kitchen stove. The loads look heavy and I'm surprised to see how young some of the children are, with full baskets. We are carrying a pathetically light load in comparison, and wear strong boots to protect our feet on the rough track. Most of these people wear the light plastic sandals, that fit with a plastic strap across the top of the foot, but provide no support; we would consider 'beach worthy'. Some people are barefoot!
The afternoon trek takes us through forests of bamboo and pine, with the occasional red rhododendrons adding splashes of colour. We pass the trail to the Tsum Valley that goes off to the right. As almost everyone hikes the Manaslu Circuit in the same direction as us; anti-clockwise (otherwise the approach to Larkya La is too steep and there is nowhere to acclimatise), from now on we shouldn't have trekkers coming towards us.
Light drizzle began at 1:30 but it didn't stay for long. We are still following the local people carrying the plastic chairs, wooden boards and corrugated iron.
It's quite cool by the time we reach Deng. Our daily ritual, on arriving at our accommodation is to freshen up. This afternoon I decide not to brave a cold shower. Thank goodness for 'wet-wipes'! We then meet KK in the dining room at 5 p.m. to study the menu, order the evening meal, establish a time for dinner, (every night this is "as soon as it is ready") followed by ordering breakfast and agreeing on the next morning's breakfast and departure times. Then we read the trekking notes for tomorrow, and chat until dinner is served. As soon as our meal is finished, we take ourselves off for an early night.
As there is no ceiling, our room tonight, has a view from the bed, of the underside of the corrugated iron roof. Paper thin wood-panel walls, only extend to the height of a ceiling; had there been one. We have adequate privacy without sound-proofing, as we are almost deafened by the rain that was pelting down at the time of our arrival; and continues. Later we’re exposed to our neighbour's unhealthy-sounding fits of coughing and throat clearing. The only toilet is downstairs. Reaching the toilet involves being exposed to the rain while descending the stairs, and then ducking under the verandah. It's not a clean 'out-house' and I vow I will 'hold-on' until morning.
KK tells us that as it is raining heavily tonight, there will be no rain tomorrow. If KK's forecast is accurate, that is good immediate news, however it will unfortunately mean that the rain we are receiving will be manifesting as snow up on the pass!