I looked down at the map spread out in front of me and followed the line that indicated the route we were to take the following day. Two locations were circled with my name written above it in red ink. These villages were where I was to switch groups in order to be able to photograph every member of the expedition. I nodded along as my manager informed me of the plan, but there was a knot in my stomach. This was Nepal, nothing went to plan.
And so it was that on day nine of a 19-day trek, I found myself nearly alone in the village of Hindung, known for being one of the last stops before the Ganesh Himal Base Camp, only reachable by three days of hard walking. My only company was a sympathetic older guide who couldn't speak a word of English. A day early due to a change of plan (shocker), I had been reassured by the Nepali guides that the next group was arriving later that day. A poor satellite phone connection meant that field base didn't get the message that I was staying put, but it was the plan all along, so I didn't press the matter.
However, Group One didn't show. I tried not to let that concern me. They may have taken a shortcut to make up for the time they had lost, at least Group Three were to arrive tomorrow. I spent a lot of that day trying to extrapolate from my guide what was happening, but it was nothing short of infuriating. Even with a pen and paper, trying to draw the arms of a clock to translate time, he would just nod to everything even if it was a contradiction to what he had nodded at before. I soon gave up and used the rest of the daylight hours to wash my hair in a stream and practise yoga, pushing away at the questions that were threatening to make this situation a panicked one. What if no one was coming? What if no one had informed field base that I was here?
What if no one was coming? What if no one informed had field base that I was here?
I ate with the host family in their traditional kitchen. We all sat on the floor, me between my guide and the grandfather, whose English was slightly better than his son's. They taught me the Nepali words for the food I was eating (sheemi – bean, aloo - potato) and tried to serve me third helpings of daal bhat. Sisters, aunts, cousins, grandparents all eating and cuddled up together; it made me think of how different we view family in the West and for the first time during my travels I felt homesick.
Being a woman on my own, I was invited to stay in the home of the family who owned the old house and so I slept in their front room, which was also their shop, while the whole family slept in the room behind. It was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life.
The Ruby Valley Trek is rural and doesn't see many trekkers. Recently a man from Taiwan was discovered after being lost for 47 days; his girlfriend had perished a few days before rescue. Hindung, however, has a phone line, which is why it was chosen as a changeover. Except, it didn't have one anymore, something I learnt the next day when I asked to contact field base, and so we had to do a four-hour hike to get reception. When I got through to field base, I felt a huge relief that made me realize how much worry I had about the situation. It transpired that no, they hadn't been informed I was still there, but don't worry, Group Three will arrive today.
But they didn't and that was when I really started to worry. The time spent leading up to 3 p.m., their estimated time of arrival, was nail biting. I kept indoors mostly, not enjoying being a spectacle for every villager who walked past. My hosts got on with their daily chores of shelling sweetcorn, packing potatoes in hay and grinding millet. Three came and went, and I decided on a plan of action. "Tomorrow morning myself and the guide will set out for the next village," I thought.
I felt empowered with my decision and it kept the anxiety at bay. That night, it rained heavily and the thunder was the loudest I'd ever heard. A bolt of lightning must have hit the building we were eating dinner in, because with alarm the whole family pointed at the mud wall behind me that had a large fresh crack in it. Around midnight, while I tried to sleep through the cold, someone placed a heavy blanket over me and I slept well 'til dawn.
The next morning I packed my backpack and brought it out of the house, indicating that I wanted to move on. I was met by shaking heads from both the guide and my hosts. They took my belongings back inside and reassured me “today they come.” I must have looked miserable because the grandfather told me "no stress," a sentiment he had been repeating since my arrival. Or my abandonment, as my melodramatic self was mentally referring to it as.
At 2 p.m. I decided to go on a walk further down the mountain and watched the area that I was told people would arrive from. At 3 p.m. I walked back up, dejected and in mild disbelief that I would have to spend another night in someone's shop front. I was sitting at the outdoor table across from my guide when three people came round the corner from the building in front of me. A guide and two of my colleagues. I don't think there will be many times in my life when I'll cry from relief. After hugs, payment to the host family, explanations and a lot of ranting from my part, we set off and I successfully joined Group Three.
I look back at that situation and wish I'd taken the time to enjoy it more. I could have documented the life of this incredibly rural village, but instead I felt too concerned flashing an expensive camera about. I could have learnt how to cook Nepali food or learn more of the language, but instead I fretted in a dark building, trying to detach myself from my current predicament.
But I know I couldn't have done things differently with the mindset that I had. Although the situation was an uncomfortable one, it was the thoughts in my head that made it a panicky one. I've also learnt another important lesson; don't rely on others to look after you. I came without a phone, a phrasebook or money, all things I didn't think I needed because I was being looked after, but things go wrong. Don't let panicked thoughts control you and look after yourself.Add this article to your reading list