ONE STEP BEYOND

Pain, drained, numb, dry, arid, desperate, living at the edge, barren, wasted, mind games, thoughts of the past and future, devils on the shoulder, monkey mind, plodding, plodding, muscles tight, the beaten down, hopeless, hungry, despair.

Ankle deep in human faeces we load the last jeep in Beni hoping to get out of town before night fall. We flop into the back seat, wet and emotionally crippled – how had it come to this. We could feel our internal organs eating way. We hadn’t urinated for over 12 hours and even then it was only a trickle of thick treacle. Our bodies were in shock and we had caused this, all for the taste of adventure.
Days before a beaten up only Toyota had taken us up a dusty trail to the hot springs at Tatopani high on the banks of the Kali Gandaki river. On our right the inky black water of the Kali raged down to Beni as the ancient corolla skidded around the dusty bends narrowly missing the trekkers and porters. At this junction the Kali was black, the rocks were the same colour as the water. Waves, holes, pour-overs all looked the same. Reading the river was not text book. We had no choice but to kayak by feel, Braille to react to the cause. The only colour on the river was our kayaks as the gorge wall closed in.

Dirty land slide scars littered the walls high above. Below in the torrent of the dark water sharp rocks formed lacerating siphons at every turn. Giant chock stones balance waiting to tumble on the scene. Where the goddess Kali herself was the maker of the destruction. Huge landslides blocked the river in places and portages became the only way to navigate the maze of water, earth and rubble . Clear waters of the Rauhghat Khola attempted to dilute the Kali as the rapids eased but the darkness enveloped the purity as we paddled on towards Beni, towards a sleep, towards the embrace of the Myagdi Khola.

The small rusty bus bumped and rattled its way up towards Darbang on the old Dhaulagiri trading route. Squashed and sweaty arm pit to arm pit with the brood of locals and crying children. The journey was less than ideal. The Trading post of Darbag, the hosting township of the best Chowmein, but the lack of porters saw us working our way up towards Kumla with kayaks and gear with a total weight of over 30kg each. Our walk was set to take 2 days of mountain traverses, steep gullies and loose scree. Once through Darbang we were sure that we would find porters or mules to assist us with our journey.

Each step was a walk closer to the river but also a step closers to finding assistance. As tick followed the tock of the clock and the dust burned our throats, as we looked around for help through the blistering heat. Ever onwards we walked with a hope in our hearts that we would find porters on our trek.


At each horizon the chances of finding porters got slimmer and slimmer as we became accustomed to the weight of the kayaks and gear. The pain of the cockpit rim was soon forgotten when toes were stubbed on the loose rocks. Sweat rolled into our eyes as we realised that both food and water would be a rarity on this river. At each crest in the landscape we soon realised that villages were becoming thinner and more spaced. Food, dhal bhat-the life blood of Nepal, a staple was not available.

Buckling our legs forged forwards on the dirty trail high on the gorge wall. We were far from the river and far from home. So deep in the gorge drinking water was as rare as a lotto win. Our bodies cried out for hydration which came only too late as we crossed a bridge and rounded the bend to see a clear stream crash down the hill side. Pint after pint we drank but it never touched the sides. Before the droplets of water filled our stomachs it had already been spent, soaked into our dehydrated bodies.
Strapping the boats to our backs we set off again into the unknown. We had walked for the best part of 8 hours with the vision of pushing forever onward to the river. The sun, the beacon of promise was sadly sliding her smiley face down behind the ridge. The day was at an end. Genuine hospitality came in the guise of the Thapa family living close to the trial welcomed us in with open arms. To hot Chai and the biggest portion of rice and egg. Dazed we ate like kings as the children played in the sand and we spoke the future of Nepal.
Sleep came quickly as we were ushered into the family bedroom. Squashed into the tiny beds where insects also made time to snooze. Dreams were wild that night as images danced through the stages of REM. As dawn broke and with our bellies offered a full of rice we set off again tied to the kayaks and were forced into the switch backs and heat of the day.
The dust from the trail cut deep into our lungs, our feet scuffed and sore. It is a mind game, setting into the rhythm of the land. Walking towards a destination that we do not know of. The mind is a resilient beast, flickers between past memories and future games without pause.

Memories kept us going. To live in the moment would have cause a panic. Here we were deep in the Himalaya with no food, little water walking towards a river we know nothing about. This is enough to break the spirit, if you let it. We fought he demons at every turn. The hideous faces jumping from the bleeding rocks. With clubs and batons they set about murdering our souls. Standing firm the human spirit is stronger than the figments and with each buckling step we crushed our enemies.
As the trail played out the nightmare of switch backs over the next crest we looked in amazement. The trail pushed higher again. We had no reserves left. Just sitting took all we had to keep our eyes open. The will to succeed was driving us deeper into isolation. Not the simple isolation between man and man but the isolation between man and has conscious. As the heat beat down on us we found shade under the bushes near the trail and flopped into slumber.

Quickly before the sand man became too obvious we awoke. Sleep could not win, we must cover the ground and crest the ridge to Kumla, to the river. The effort was too much, we had gone as far as we could. We are high on a canyon wall, no place to go but up and over the ridge. A mind of despair and confusion works the cogs of reason if it has any self esteem left. Solution comes to those with pride.

Leaving the kayaks and Dennis in the dirt I set off towards Kumla. I knew we couldn’t be far and hoped to collect some porters in Kumla and walk them back with me to the boats. With a quart of water and without the load of plastic on my back I felt in good spirit ready to take on the world. The trek cut deep and steep onto the ridge wall, a cutting slope of punishment. Gasping for air at the top I looked down, no village could be seen, just a row of further switch backs and ridges climbs. Turning on my heal I retraced my steps back where Dennis was. Solution-solutions-solutions. Dennis then back tracked on the trail until he found a homestead , a few farm boys who could carry the boats to Kumla and help us finish this day.
Trampled earth by the bridge became our sanctuary . Kumla the site of scattered houses with little food to eat let alone share. Humour and an honesty kept the people of Kumla alive, dancing and happy with the way their life was treating them. As we felt ready to sleep the village approach and walked us to the solitary house on tyeh opposite side of the river. All drinking and dancing. A party in our honour. Too tired to accept the special measures but too in awe to leave. We ate noodles and rice, drank gallons of river water and felt honoured by the family. Beds were made and children told to sleep in the yard. For our sanity, for the comfort of our sleeping bags, we retired to our pound of dirt sleeping next to the kayaks.

As the young sun burnt through the blackness of the night like a father over taken by his off spring. We greeted this dawn shaking the dirt from our faces and stretching in the thin morning light. We made our way to the edge of the river and the start of our two day descent.
Still hungry and thirsty we braced ourselves in our kayaks snapped on our spray skirts and launch into the slit grey flow. One paddle stoke followed the previous one as we turned upstream and made a lazy ferry glide across the flow as the river arched left. Cutting a path as the gorge walls gained reach for the heavens above. A quick glance into the gaping mouth of the gorge and our choice was made. We scouted, a choice of reason in an unreasonable situation. We had gained a hold on reality we were making planes that effected our passage. Circumstance was no longer our master. At first sight the passage through the mouth of the canyon looked probable. As we scanned and sought the line this single rapid uncovered its true face littered with undercut rocks and siphon encased tombs. The line was fine and with the correct safety cover a real possibly. Alas the main route pushed into a sump and the line then became walled in. To run the rapid would require accurate paddle placing and speed to jump the final walled in whole. In our fragile position this was not our strongest gambit. Through the undergrowth the cliff wall offered a vantage point to view the lower part of the rapid but it also gave an escape route. Within minutes we were hauling our asses through dead leaves and sharp rocks. Lower limbs blisters and torn from the walk became mangled in vines and poison ivy. Straddling a rotten tree a quick use of knots, a forte of Dens not mine, we quickly abseiled back towards the river, 30ft of unsecured descent where biting spiders and ants feasted on our toes and ankles. Exhausted we were all but dangling above the death ally of natures fatal flume theme park
Fatigued, at the perimeter where reason sits in shackles, we pushed back into our kayaks and launched into the river that had already taken so much and pushed us harder then we though possible. Still recovering from the days of carrying the kayaks made for hard work as the rock slaloms gave way to steep channels blocking the way. We danced with this flow thankful to the Himalaya as the smooth rocks were rounded by the hydrolic power. Scouting became a luxury that cannot afforded as the banks encased the gargoyels at the church of our dreams. Energy levels constantly sat past reserve but we had no choice with the rendezvous of this passage. Boofing the drops and ledges became the only way to play the game. The time comes when the moves are not made, where the nose of the kayaks dive deep into the hidden depths under water where siphons lay in wait and entrapment without rescue is a real danger.
Head down and paddling we made good time, eating our last remaining cereal bar, the only meal of the day, around lunch time just as the gorge eased. With no cause to make us stop and take note we carried on. Reactions were slow and fragile in the heat of action. We were punch drunk by all that had become our way of life. The mind flickering, the candle in the breeze that escaped under the door. to process our whipped and pillaged bodies into action. Without any food camping seem a pointless pursuit. So we headed with the flow. Cutting through the farm land and children playing. On the left the road became visible again but we carried on.

Through the retina of isolation we could spy the bridge at Beni. Drifting now the Goliath task was behind us, besides all the odds we had made the descent in one long day. Swollen our legs were prized out of the kayaks after we hug and pass the moment lost in though and recollection of the task. Just around the corner a more pleasant course journey can be had as the two rivers join in a playground for raft trips and kayakers from around the world. But now we are ankle deep in faeces dragging our kayaks to the bus park to find quick transport away to pain killers, food and vitamins.

Daz paddled with Den and they only have these miss adventures when not running high quality trips and courses for kayakers around the globe.
Daz runs high quality adventure holidays at Pure Land Expeditions (www.purelandexpeditions.com)

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