The western side of the Circuit is a completely different experience to the east. The track leading down from the pass, the Jomsom Trek, has high quality hotels, comparatively incredible food, a warm climate and fairly easy downhill walking. It feels a bit like arriving in paradise; I'd trekked the eastern path and I'd struggled over the pass, and when I hit the other side I reverted to character. I didn't so much walk the Jomson Trek as travel it.
From the pilgrim town of Muktinath (where we spent two days), through Kagbeni (one day), Marpha (two days), Kalopani (one day) and Tatopani (two days), we loafed around, ate too much, drank the pleasantly priced beer and totally failed to take the walk seriously, considering the length of the challenge. My writer's block, which had set in along with the AMS in Manang, completely failed to lift and I spent hours sitting around reading, relaxing and thinking. It was a holiday. It was luxurious. It was fattening. But it was ultimately relatively boring, and I found myself, not for the first time, wishing I was in India, back where the madness is mundane, the insanity inbred and the lunacy legendary. How strange to be surrounded by such spectacular scenery while wishing for something else.
For Nepal's landscapes are astonishing, there's no doubt about it. From the dizzy heights of the pass to the sheer valleys of the east side, the mountains never ceased to amaze me, with their wispy cloud vents, snow-blue peaks and sharp contrasts with the sky. But statistics, of which there are millions in Nepal, can be misleading in making the mountains sound out of this world. For example, I read the following in my guidebook as we walked through the Kali Gandaki Gorge: 'It's at around this point, the bend in the river between Kalopani and Larjung, that you're at the bottom of the world's deepest valley. The two highest peaks in the area, Dhaulagiri (8167m/26794 ft) and Annapurna I (8091m/26545 ft) are 35km (22 miles) apart on either side of the valley. You're standing at an altitude of about 2540m/8333 ft, which is 5.5km or 3.5 miles below the summit of Dhaulagiri.' This sounds much more interesting than it really is; the reality is that the world's deepest gorge is a very wide valley with a couple of distant peaks on each side. Deep doesn't mean steep, I suppose.
And then there is the help offered by the various hotels around, which is often expressed in a poetry that takes English as a second language and turns it into an art form all of its own. Take this quotation from the Kalopani Guest House Menu:
FROM GUEST HOUSE DAIRY
Kalopani is a beautiful place to be spent for short trek. This place is popularly known for spectacular Sunset view over Mt. Annapurna I & Nilgiri. You can enjoy with the changing colour of the Himalay's. From here you can make 2.5 hours. Titi lake for splendid view of Mt. Dhaulagiri. For the peasant lovers you can visit the Dhungang Area. Kalopani Jungle has lost of wild life. For resting a day, you can visit the Bhudurtsho lake wich can cost 5 hours. From here you can organize Dhaulagiri Ice fall trek as well Dhaulagiri & Annapurna Base Camp. For more detail please contact the management.
I've left the grammar and spelling alone, as one should when transcribing such eloquent literature.
At least the hotels on the western side have good standards of food, which more than makes up for the less inspiring scenery. For example, in Tal on the eastern side, we discovered bugs in the tomato ketchup bottle; when we complained to the lady owner, she examined the bugs and said, 'It's OK, these clean bugs from ceiling, not dirty bugs from floor.'
On the western side, our food arrived on sizzling platters, with not a bug to be seen. This mirrored the east-west divide rather well, I thought, as I trundled on to the end of the track in Beni before boarding the bus to Pokhara.