NEPAL: TREK IN THE ANNAPURNA HIMALAYAN RANGE, Part 1 of 2
We walk among the free roaming chickens and water buffalo, where our trek begins in the village of Nayapul.
Kumar, our guide, explains how we will walk for four hours, have lunch, and then climb straight up about 3600 steps. No problem. We are hiking in the Himalayas, Baby!
The trail twists down into the forest and across numerous monsoon gushing rivers. Truly, trekking in Nepal can be described as perfect. Guesthouses built from local stone pop up in the many villages along every trail. You need neither to cook, nor pitch a tent, and hot showers are available every night to boot!
Weed grows wild in the Himalayas…too bad it will not be ready until “high” season in October.
Most locals fold their hands in prayer position, and greet us with “Namaste.” Hey, we need all the prayers we can get.
Only a few hours in, Mare and I are sodden with sweat in this hot, very humid climate. The sun beats down on us and we are tanked…out of shape, from traveling for four months without seeing the inside of a gym.
“October and November are the best months for blue skies” says Kumar. Yes, we are here during the rainy season, when tourists avoid the heat, monsoons, low clouds and leeches…on the bright side, we avoid tourists, as we only see two or three other trekkers on the trail each day.
Finally, we reach a lunch spot. Queasy and exhausted, we wonder if we’ll make it, even this first day. Already, Mare has foot cramps from dehydration, and we pour salt onto our lunch of Momo, (chicken dumplings), rice, and a bottle of Coke, for any help we may get. We even munch a tube of Pringles for the salt. (Not sure if there are potatoes in Pringles)
Tek, our porter, carries the backpack. “No, please, don’t feel bad. I love this. I only get this job four months a year. Thank you, please, thank you!” He has not an ounce of fat on him and calves that look like thighs. Probably the most fit fifty-year-old I have ever met.
We feel guilty no longer…puffing up 3600 irregular stone steps, sucking in wet air, and neither one of us can remember sweating so much for so very long. Stop, rest, and marvel at the humongous jungle-covered mountains often draped with rice paddies. Nepali’s call them hills, using the term “mountain” only when they reach about 15,000 feet.
Finally, we reach the night’s destination in the town of Ulleri, at the Hilltop Hotel. Dodge the corn cobs and garlic drying in the hallway, take a shower in the dark, and lay on a bed that feels like a cloud. We are the only guests tonight. Both of us are too tanked to drink a beer… can you imagine that? We dine on popcorn-on-the-cob, mixed spaghetti, and watch a rainbow glow outside of our window. Carb up, baby, for tomorrow’s trek.
A mountain, Annapurna South, peaks out of the clouds and inspires us from our window view. Tibetan bread (fry bread) and eggs fuel us in the morning. Slip into wet, smelly clothes, and hit the trail…feeling good and surprisingly not too sore. High stepping boulders, and more steps, for about an hour, and then into the forest full of cool air and shade. We do not notice the 9,000 feet altitude.
Long ago, people used this trail to walk to Tibet for salt. In 1953 the Nepali’s widened it, and opened the adventure trekking industry. (Except during the ten year civil war which just ended five years ago…Government vs. Maoists)
“How many kilometers have we gone,” Mare asks.
“We measure in time, not distance,” Kumar replies. “We went about seven hours today. You guys are doing better than I expected.” We wonder if that is a compliment or not…
Climb into the town of Ghorepani, tonight’s destination and lodging with a private bathroom. Gaze at amazing mountain and valley views, and the beer is pouring quite naturally! Okay, the beer is warm, but we are happy simply to have an appetite for once.
Three young women, two from Chile and one from Argentina, tell us of their travels, primarily in Southeast Asia. When we tell them about Iceland, Russia and Mongolia, one of them says disdainfully, “Oh, Europe.” I smile, watching Mare’s facial expression, and am proud of her for ignoring the remark.
“Ronald! Ronald!” I hear Kumar shout from outside my door at four o’clock in the morning.
“Answer the door, Mare, I’m naked.”
She opens. “Let’s hike to top of Poon Hill for a sunrise mountain view,” Kumar says.
“But it’s cloudy and raining.”
“It’s only a light rain.”
We decline, as do all other six or so guests in the hotel. Turns out, that we would not have seen anything because of being in a cloud. However, we get lucky, and the clouds open up in front of us during breakfast. Then, it is back on the trail. Namaste. Ron Mitchell