After a brief stop at MBC to gather our gear, we start retracing our steps down the trail. It’s amazing–and a bit depressing–to realize that after it took us five days to achieve our main destination, it would take less than three to reach Phedi, where we would leave the trail and return to Pokhara.
That’s not to say that the descent is easy–it’s just quicker than the climb. The avalanche morraine that we’d crossed the previous day has warmed up in the blazing sun, creating unstable mush and icy patches. At one point I conquer a section of trail as you would a sledding hill. After Dan stops me from my unchecked slide, I tell myself that the splotches of mud made me look “hard core” and that the sun would dry out my seat quickly. I have to admit, though–I feel a certain smugness and satisfaction as I pass hikers moving up the trail. “It’s not far to MBC,” I say encouragingly. “The views are worth it!” I had heard these same platitudes the previous day and had a tight smile for the well-wishers. Today I am that well-wisher. I resolve to shut my mouth.
We stop for lunch in Deurali, where we spent the night before last. We press on. Back through the rhododendron forests, across streams, past Hinku Cave…we descend about 5000 ft from Annapurna Base Camp to Dobhan, where we’re spending the night (and where we stayed two nights ago). It’s comforting to return to our pleasant hosts; perhaps most comforting is a hot shower and dal bhat for dinner. I’m surprised at how much better I’m feeling at the lower altitude and sleep comes quickly.
Through the lush forests, bamboo stands and canyons, we hike. I power up stairs that I was so happy to have descended a few days ago and cross the Chhomrong Khola, looking longingly at the suspension bridge above (it was closed today). As I climb up the stone stairs to Chhomrong, I remember how I dreaded returning to them when we climbed down a few days ago. Contrary to my prior imaginings, I don’t collapse and die. I even manage a smile when we stop for lunch.
At Chhomrong we cut away from our original path and take a steep descent. Our destination is Jhinudanda (Jhinu), a location dangled as a carrot before me since the beginning of the trip for its natural hot springs. I’m imagining something between Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, CO (one of my favorite places) and a hippy dip. At this point, it could be a barrel with a hose flowing into it–as long as it’s hot, I’ll be happy.
I should know that I can’t anticipate anything in Nepal.
The hot springs are a 15-20 minutes walk from the tea house, but my enthusiasm seems to make the walk interminable. I can hear the river in the distance, I pass damp visitors heading uphill (oh yes, it’s a downhill walk TO the hot springs), but it seems no closer…and then we’re there. It’s not as sculpted as Strawberry Park, but it’s not a hippy dip, either. With two pools, natural showers and a location directly adjacent to the Modi Khola, these hot springs are perfect. We settle down in the first pool along with several locals and I submerge up to my eyeballs. Don’t worry about me…I might be here a while.