Day 7: Manang
Day 8:  Manang to Yak Kharka – 4 hrs approx. – 3540m to 4050m

Manang is where I got my rest day.  We had planned on a side hike to an ice lake, but with Caro’s foot and my utter exhaustion we ruled it out and decided to have a day off.  I was starting to feel a little ill, the beginning of what would become a chest infection.  Manang was a good place to hang out too.  We bumped into loads of people we knew including Helene and Steve who had left us on Day 3 and were already on their second night in Manang.  

Manang was lovely, set on dusty altiplano, with views of Annapurnas II, III and IV.  The Annapurnas are graded by height so I is the tallest, but its peak remained hidden for much of the trek.  The town is laid out linearly, sandwiched between the Himalayas on one side and hills on the other, a series of sturdy wooden guest houses and one-storey restaurants and shops.  

There was even a little cinema, with wooden benches, yak pelts and cushions, a woodfire stove, DVD player, projector and sheets for a screen.  At 5pm we’d go in and wait for the movie to start, and they would light the stove and give us cups of sweet-smelling tea in tin mugs and packets of popcorn all for about AUD$3!  My inner film buff was in absolute heaven!  By the time we emerged in the early evening it was freezing cold and we’d head off to one of the restaurants for soup and to warm up.  It was also time to do laundry – my trousers practically stood upright when I took them off and night and I’m surprised they hadn’t already walked to the laundry and demanded to be washed!  I’d literally packed day hiking clothes and then thermals for the evening and to sleep in, and there wasn’t much else.  Showers had become a thing of the past and wetwipes were really coming into their own.  Dressing had to be a quick affair, done in stages so only one part of my body was freezing at any given time.  My skin was so dry that slathering it with moisturizer was a necessity – an act performed with chattering teeth and finalized by diving into my warm sleeping bag.

Day 8 dawned clear and we all had one thing on our minds:  The Thorong La pass.  By now altitude was starting to affect our breathing, lungs gasping as we wound steadily up, and ascents that would have been a doddle 2 days earlier were a chore.  We shortened our walking to no more than 4 hours a day, and my pack, which was probably lighter than when I started as I was now wearing more clothes due to the cold and had used half my toiletries, felt like it contained bricks.  It cut across my shoulderblades and burned into my hips.  What had been a pleasant bear-hug on the early days of the trek now felt like a death-grip, like I was caught in a vice.  There was no point in taking it off during rest breaks, hefting it back on again was worse.  I was taking plenty of flu and cold tablets and added ibruprofen to the mix.  

Blisters were strapped and ignored.  Like most of the trekkers on the route my nose and throat were a continual stream of mucus, and until the cold and flu tablets kicked in – normally about an hour into the morning’s hike – I kept a massive bit of tissue handy so I could blow my nose and at least breathe.  I avoided the Nepalese custom of hawking and spitting, however walking through the multitude of mucus on the trail from lots of sickly people didn’t help keep the germs at bay.

On day 8 we only had 500m to climb – the recommended height to avoid altitude sickness.  Some people continued onto Let Dar, which was an hour further on from Yak Kharka – our stop for the night.  Yak Kharka was a tiny little place, about 3 guest houses, but with the most spectacular view from our window of one of the Annapurnas.  I stupidly decided to have a bucket shower, taking my steaming bucket into the dusty shower room.  For one thing the stone floor was freezing cold, but my hair was so feral I wanted to wash it.  I had enough water, but afterwards I was so cold I had to go and sit in the sun, in all my clothes, under a thick blanket.  The weather was actually quite sunny but people kept piling coats on me as I couldn’t warm up.  It took about half an hour for the chill to seep away, and then the wind came up so we moved inside.  Very quickly the weather took hold, a storm coming in from the East, obscuring the mountains, making us huddle around the wood fire stoves inside.
I woke in the middle of the night to the call of nature, and looked out of our window.  To my amazement, the storm had cleared and the sky was a mass of stars, the Milky Way a beautiful spray of glittering white, illuminating the snow-capped peaks so that they were visible even in the pitch-black night.  I would have loved to have gone outside and stood under that starry dome, with no-one else around, in that remote part of the world, and basked in my insignificance in the universe.  But frankly I was already bloody freezing and squatting with my bum hanging over the hole in the floor that passed for a toilet was bad enough.  Getting hypothermia just to have a spiritual moment isn’t really my bag, baby.  I sprinted back into the warmth of my sleeping bag, but I did gaze out of the window one last time before my eyelids fluttered shut, wondering if I would ever see anything quite so beautiful again.