I’ve often found that the surest way to overcome a minor ailment is to make a doctor’s appointment. I’m not claiming that miraculous cures result from the ambiance of medical waiting rooms – but rather that my tolerance for being ill usually falls just a little short of the time needed for my immune system to kick in. It would follow then that after several days of feeling quite miserable on the trail, the very morning I was about to visit an actual clinic I would awake feeling considerably better.
Sunshine was streaming through my window, warming the floor and giving a spicy wood-scent to the white-washed room. Drawing aside the curtains, I was treated to the glorious view of snow-crested Gangapurna filling my window. Just around the corner from my door, the courtyard opened into a sizeable garden and rows of frost dusted cabbages. I hung my laundry on the rail fence to dry in the sun and headed off for a hearty breakfast. My sense of taste – and my appetite – were returning!
Despite my nascent recovery, Neil convinced me to go along to the clinic. My cough persisted and by this point others in our party were also showing symptoms; it might prove valuable to us all if I sought out medical advice. So, after breakfast he accompanied me down the street to the international travel clinic run by the Himalayan Rescue Association.
The HRA operates in three popular trekking areas of Nepal. Along with educating visitors about Acute Mountain Sickness, they also run a medical clinic in trekking season. Trekkers are charged a fee for consultation, funding the staff to provide free health care to local Nepalis. The doctors work on a strictly volunteer basis. In Manang at the time of our visit there were three doctors on staff: two from Britain, one from Nepal and a Nepali assistant.
Dr. Emma Forsyth greeted us barefoot. She was engaging and casual and generous with her time. Like most patients arriving from Kathmandu, I had a virus, likely exacerbated by the dry, cold air. She affirmed that I also likely had the beginnings of a respiratory infection, but the amoxicillin I was taking would target that effectively. Mostly, she reinforced the common sense advice that Khim and Bhagawati had been offering: hot, soothing drinks of mint, lemon and ginger; staying well hydrated and ‘cough sweets’ to soothe the throat. To that regimen she added twice daily ‘steam baths’ with Tiger Balm (I am a total convert now!) and regular doses of both ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Chances are the virus would play out in a couple of weeks (!) Meanwhile my lungs were clear, my oxygen saturation was normal and there was no reason not to continue over the pass.
Reassured (except for that bit about the virus lasting two weeks or more!) Neil and I rejoined the others at the hotel. I grabbed my day pack and we headed out for a short morning hike. Manang was larger than any of the communities we’d been in so far and had a frontier sort of ambiance, sitting high on a plateau. We hiked down through the gated and across the valley. The terrain was dry and eroded, reminiscent of the badlands of Alberta, re-inforcing the ‘wild-west’ feeling of the town. Our path followed a narrow crest overlooking a small lake and then continued up the side of the mountain. Somewhere above us was the glacier-fed Lake Gangapurna and we were on our way to have a closer look. Unfortunately, in my haste to join the group I had come out wearing my casual, indoor shoes: sturdy enough for walking, but as we reached a height where there was snow on the trail I didn’t have enough traction to continue. Khim supported me, slipping and laughing, back to the dry trail and I headed back alone along the smaller lake to await the others.
The path back was the narrowest I’d followed up until then – a thin, flattened track along a crest of loose scree. It wasn’t far, but I took it cautiously. I’d only just reached a problematic section when Ria and one of the porters, Subash, caught up with me. We parked ourselves at the lip overlooking the lake; I was regretting that I’d relinquished my pack earlier when I started slipping. Here I was with ample opportunity to draw and no sketchbook! Instead, I soaked up the sun and the scenery and it wasn’t too long before the rest of the party re-appeared on the slope above us and we headed back to town.
Lunch, more laundry and later in the afternoon we attended the lecture at the Himalayan Rescue Association on Acute Mountain Sickness. Less than 1 in 1000 trekkers experience serious consequences from this, but that is due to being prepared and being able to recognize symptoms. It can be fatal and the HRA evacuates several serious cases each season. We’re warned to control our ascent, taking time to acclimatize to the altitude and to pay attention to symptoms that don’t resolve. We were heartened to learn that we had one thing that made AMS less likely to affect us – we’re all over 50! Who knew that age would actually be an advantage? At the conclusion of the lecture, our oxygen saturation was checked; we were all at healthy levels. Onward and upward!
The broad main street seemed quite busy as we headed back, people lining the road. I browsed a few of the shops and bought a string of prayer flags for the Throrong La pass, then opted to join some of the others at the bakery for a cappucccino and chocolate brioche. We came out onto the street just as a rush of brightly decked ponies went barreling by, bells jangling. There were horse races in progress! I may have gone without my sketchbook earlier, but my camera was ready this time! Wild west indeed!
Evening found me in the warmth of the dining hall, head under a towel, inhaling steam and Tiger Balm. Into this enforced meditative state seeped the voices of my companions: Patrick at a nearby table deciphering a Nepali folk song with some of the porters, Kathleen describing a meaningful purchase she’d made, Neil discussing a visit to the monastery at Braga. We share another meal of international cuisine and our Nepali companions once again round out the evening with music. Basking in the warmth, I realize I’ve felt like myself today, as though all this really is possible… even if the virus does hold on for two more weeks.