We retraced our route down the Annapurna Valley without much incident. We stopped at Chhommrong for lunch, where I bartered with a Tibetan woman for some souvenirs. She sold me two yak-bone bracelets. One, containing the “om-mani-padme-hum” mantra, I would give to Holly, the last time I would ever see her. The other, depicting the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, I would wear on my wrist every day for nine months, a reminder to live an ethical life, before losing it while on a 24-hour, blacked out bender in Las Vegas.
But I didn’t know that, then.
Leaving the Tibetan woman (and quite a lot of my rupees) behind, we trekked up some of the hellish stairs leading out of Chhommrong. Luckily, we didn’t have to go back up all the stairs — we forked left quickly, and resumed going downwards.
“Almost to Jihnudanda,” Young Ankit said, looking down the steep switchbacks.
Since he had confessed to me that this was his first trek, I knew he didn’t know what he was saying. I double-checked with Anker, who more or less agreed. “Soon,” our laconic guide said.
They were correct, and soon we were arriving at the blue-roofed village of Jihnudanda.
The lodges at Jihnu were the same as the lodges anywhere else on the trek. The food was the same, the beds were the same… but the atmosphere was different. This was the end.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the lodge, before heading down more stairs to the natural hot springs. After days and days of talking about the hot springs, I couldn’t wait to soak my ravaged legs. Ten days of nonstop hiking had toned them out, but they were sore nonetheless. And trekking lodges weren’t exactly luxurious places to sleep, either. My whole body was tied in knots.
The path from Jihnu wandered down, down, down from the village perched on the hill. We must have descended 600 or a thousand feet, or so it felt like. But it all made sense when we finally reached the hot springs: they were literally right next to the river. We had descended down to the very bottom of the valley.
All of our friends were there ahead of us: Young Ankit, the diplomat, her daughter, and a Brazilian couple who had joined us for the last few days. “Dan!” Linjon exclaimed. “I have a gift for you, my friend!”
He pulled out two tall cans of beer, which he handed to me.
“For the whisky at ABC,” he said. A very German sentiment — making sure everything was square.
I smiled and accepted the gift. What beats beers in a hot tub?
Only beers in a natural hot springs next to the rushing glacier melt from one of the world’s highest peaks. In Nepal. With your newfound friends from around the world. That beats beers in a hot tub, I guess.
We passed a few hours in the hot springs, drinking, relaxing, and talking. Every now and then, when one of us got too hot, we’d get out of the small hot springs pool and go dunk ourselves in the glacial river a few feet away. The water was ice-cold, and it provided a refreshing shock to the system. No one stayed in the river too long, but everyone came back with a big smile on their face.
It was already feeling like a nice cap to the trip when a thunder storm rolled in on us.
Lightning illuminated the walls of the gorge around us, while huge raindrops pelted from the sky. The storm wasn’t so severe we had to seek shelter, so we just waited it out in the hot springs. Thunder rattled the trees. Everyone was sunk up to their necks in the warm water, protecting against the sudden chill in the air.
Our camaraderie firmly shared by this point, we didn’t even have to say anything. We soaked in silence, drinking in the special moment.
When the storm passed, we got out of the hot springs, and hiked back up the hill to our dinners, and our final night together.
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