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Slow Trek: The Old Generation

"Namaste", I smiled, as I handed over my Annapurna Conservation Area Permit at the Chame checkpoint. I had been trekking for a little more than half an hour since my late, relaxed breakfast.

The officer who took my permit slowly copied the salient details into his logbook.

"Where from today?" he asked without raising his head.

"Koto Qupar."

"And where going?" he continued.

"Chame," I replied.

Now he did look up. Glancing at his puzzled colleagues, he informed me "is possible to reach Pisang today."

I shook my head. "Pisang takes me two more days after Chame."

Confused looks, and then one of the soldiers asked. "How many days from Besi?"

(Besi, or Besisahar, is the starting point for the Annapurna Circuit. Most trekkers get from Besi to Chame by day three.)

"Nine days."

They were surprised, but now they understood. They smiled. I retrieved my permit, said thank you, and departed.

I ambled along the single rutted street past the dilapidated wooden lodges looking like cheap sets from a B cowboy movie. Crossing the Marsyandi river I found a lodge with a particularly good view of Lamjung Himal and poked my head into the kitchen. The owner, a robust woman with a baby strapped to her back, was cooking rice and lentils for the ubiquitous dahl bat. She looked up curiously, not expecting visitors so early in the day.

"Can I have small pot milk tea, please ... and you have room?"

She looked at her watch with some concern. "You want room? Now?"

I nodded. She shrugged her shoulders. Since any other trekkers wouldn't be stopping for at least four hours, I looked at several rooms, picked the one with the best sunrise view, then we returned to the kitchen for my tea and a chat. I learned that since moving from farming to lodge-keeping, Kanti and her husband could now afford to send their two other children to a school in Pokhara. Kanti had been there once, but found it too busy. Two days later, I arrived in Pisang, to stay in the lodge run by her sister, and bringing news of the family. Not surprisingly, my welcome there was particularly warm...

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