DAY TWO: Kharikhola to Chheplung; 28km (so 62 or so in the last two days). Day beginning with a solid three hour uphill, gaining 1000m in altitude from the get-go. Bodies knackered but minds still resilient, so soldiered on through multiple downpours, intense gradients up and mass declines down. And all powered by the majestic properties of masala chai.

We awoke at 4.49am, did some stretching and repacks, drunk tea and yarned. We set off about half seven, legs stiff and cranky. And it was about 200m until we hit the solid uphill.

With no guide nor having covered the route before, all we have to go off is our map which labels altitude here and there. So it’s all a surprise; is it to be a hill? A down? Praise be – a moment of flat? And asking around doesn’t always aid; in the space of 40 minutes yesterday, our asking how far to a point received a plethora of answers – “Two hour”, “Six hour”, “30 min” (that was my fav – it was wrong though). You sort of have to take them all, consult the map, make an estimate and run with it.

Craig conquered the first two hours in his jandals. When we set off and we were putting on our (not just damp but water-logged) boots, he expressed his wish to do some of the trek in his flip flops. “Ynot?” I responded. (This mantra shall be elaborated on later on). Ynot indeed? So he did.

It was only when one fully broke out of its toe hold that his Terrex were laced on.

It was traversing cliff sides (afraid of heights? You would’ve hated this). Communal wees in somewhat sheltered places. Witnessing a 56kg lad carrying a 130kg block of wood on his back. An hour stop, first at Apple Pie lodge (with the equivalent of a Nepalese nan) for lemon tea (me) and coffee (Craig), before continuing 25m on for cuplings of masala chai. Watching a woman rock her little one in a porter basket, strap across her forehead as the baby bounced about her back. Viewing a bit of a Bollywood film, the song and dance entrancing Craig. Ups and downs (in climbs I’m talking, not mood – spirits are still high).

And of course, the adopting of a dog.

I’m not entirely sure when Phaplu (us christened) joined to make it a trio. She was just suddenly there (a crouch to check confirmed she was a she), trotting alongside. We proffered her some almonds which she graciously accepted (before launching on and eating some dog shit – we did almost disown her, but figured the canine who dispersed the load must’ve eaten some yummy-smelling stuff). And she remained with us for the following full on four hours.

It’s often the case a dog will follow you for a wee while, but always turn back to wherever home is. But we think Phaplu perhaps didn’t have a home – she stuck with us, not retreating back at all. And she even started responding to her name; when we called, she came.

We had a moment we thought it was goodbye. Coming up to a big swing bridge looped over a cascading waterfall, Phaplu was not keen to cross. Craig tried to coax her with almonds, attempted to pick her up to carry her across, but it was a no-go; we both went back over to say farewell, heavy hearted to leave behind our little pet. And then we both went back over the bridge, not wanting to turn our head back.

But me being me, turn my head back I did. And good gracious! There was Phaplu, pawing her way tentatively across the grates. She took it slow and steady, cautious completely, and when she got to us on the other side it was with extreme elation I welcomed her with open arms.

My left calf had been giving me grief since the early a.m, and it was about this time it decided to sing out in stabs and sears. Although I tried to mask it a bit, Craig knows me very well by now; he kept making sure to stop and stretch, and at one point he made me hand over my backpack to keep less weight on my leg. The final forty minutes were pretty excruciating, but our tired trio pushed on and descended (well, ascended – it was a final uphill for the day) on our destination.

And realised we were at the exact spot where our track met up with the one we took last year from Lukla.

About ten minutes previous, a little old man engaged us in chat and asked where we were from. When I said New Zealand, he replied, “Ah! Sir Edmund Hillary stayed at my house for three years! And Peter – his son – broke his leg!” I wasn’t sure what to make of this – he must’ve have been a little lad when (or if?) this took place. He then proceeded to ask us to stay the night at his house; I think if whisky fumes hadn’t been emitting from his mouth and an aroma of alcohol hadn’t engulfed us entirely, we may have said yes. But we thanked him, told him we didn’t want to put him out, and continued a further ten on.

We are currently espoused in a beautiful wooden teahouse. Craig’s dal bhat just got delivered and my hash brown potato just got handed to me. Phaplu is outside chomping on some coconut biscuits, and all is well in our Nepalese world.

(Craig loves dal bhat).

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