The thing about Nepal, though – it's absolutely teeming with kids. Most of them seem to be under 10 and they're so numerous, I wonder if the government had some kind of ill-conceived breeding programme at the turn of the millennium. They're unbelievably cute, though – and friendly too. Not to mention good for pictures.
We've been walking up a gentle incline for an hour, sweating lightly in the afternoon sun, when we reach the start of The Stairs. Initially, the craggy slate steps don't seem to stretch too far, and while we both quickly feel our quads burning, it's nothing out of the ordinary.
He's been doing this for 20 years and has met people from all over the world. He has two children back in Kathmandu and can't honestly say he enjoys living in the polluted city. But that's where Dolpa Treks is based and so must he be. His wife runs a little shop to support the family while he guides trekkers around his country. This is important, as when he's not working, he doesn't get a wage.
“When is your next group arriving?” I ask.
“Not for about two months.” He replies with a half-smile.
We head off again. Short, affable and utterly unstoppable, Dawa walks ahead with feet slightly splayed, happy to answer questions (“Do you think we could be suffering from altitude sickness?” “No.”) as we continue on our slog. One thing about Dawa, he never lies. Never exaggerates for our benefit; the distance we have to go is never shortened to con us into thinking we are closer than we actually are. For example: having been told we're half an hour from our next stop, we make a vessel-rupturing effort until we grind to our next standstill.
“How far now?” I pant, tongue lolling slightly.
“About 25 minutes,” replies Dawa.
Minbhadur, meanwhile, remains permanently illusive. Every time we reach some new horizon, there he is sitting on a wall, our bags at his feet, a crooked smile on his face. I'm not sure if the Nepalese do smug, but this feels like the tortoise and the hare, where the hare is the unrelenting victor.
On and on the stairs climb, past a sign that reads there are 12,000 steps between our starting point and Ghandruk, our destination (we have 4,252 to go). Occasionally the path flattens for a few hundred magnificent metres and once in a while, we even make small descents which by this stage feel completely alien. Then the light fails and just when it seems that all hope is lost, it starts to rain. Wee Mo is on the brink of tears. I think I am too. We've made it to the edge of Ghandruk, but our lodgings are conveniently at the village's highest peak.
We're tired and wet when we check into Gurung Cottage, but more than anything we're grateful. After a quick, quiet dinner, we're in our room. The hot water is on the blink and it's so cold we can see our breath in the air. Still, after putting on layers of dry clothes, we fall asleep within seconds.