By: Anika Buchan
If you’ve traveling through Nepal on a bus, that alone is an adventure, but for myself and my two friends it was just the beginning of our week long adventure into the Annapurna region.
We left early from our homestay in Kathmandu in order to reach Pokhara, the gateway to the mountains, later the same afternoon, but like we would later learn during our trekk, the trip was “bistari, bistari” slowly, slowly winding through the mountainous switchback roads and the 6 hours quickly turned into 8.
Our arrival to the tourist bus stop in Pokhara was the beginning of the adventures, taxi drivers and potential guides vying for our attention. There are taxi drivers and guides eager to take advantage of a group of disoriented travelers, but in an organized trip from Himalayan Circuit, you are free from such hassles.
Pokhara is a peaceful and welcome respite from the sometimes overwhelming hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Phewa lake is the heart of the city, small restaurants and picnic areas trail alongside the shore. At night, after the heat of the day and afternoon storm has passed, Lakeside Road lights up and random Bob Marley songs can be heard as you walk through the streets.
Our first night we met with our guide, Sanu. Quite, calm, he was beyond patient as we asked him the questions I’m sure he has answered one million times in his extensive time as a guide for the Annapurna region, bring one set of clothes for trekking, one set of clothes for sleeping, yes it might be pretty cold (it was only the beginning of April), and tomorrow morning at 8:00 am we will start out for Nayapool by Jeep.
We packed and repacked, debating the weight and benefits of each item. Toilet paper, granola bars, extra socks. Little did we know that the majority of the weight would be carried by a very small, happy go lucky man named Krishna. We had just arrived in Nayapool, and exited the Jeep when 2 men started emptying the jeep of our gear. Before we even knew what was happening, Krishna had strapped our 2 large packs back to back and slung them over his back placing a small harness on his forehead in the traditional porter way and set off up the dusty road, our group and Sanu trailing behind.
The start of the trek to Tikedhunga was easy, until it wasn’t. Small steep rock steps started to appear sporadically through the ever climbing pathway, and in the back of our minds we each thought, there’s no way it keeps going up. But it did, and just as we started to question the life choices we made that brought us to that exact moment, we would stop for a cup of black tea, lunch, an afternoon snack. Our first day, only 4 hours of trekking, ended by crossing our first suspension bridge over a waterfall to the teahouse where we would spend the night.
Each teahouse is run by a family, a small lodge with a central dining area where all the trekkers, guides and porters gather for the night. After arriving and a quick baby wipe shower and change into our nightclothes, we all went for dinner. We were told to sit, relax. The guides however, ran around finding their trekkers, ordering their food and very quickly bringing out tray after tray of deliciously hot dal bhat. We had barely begun eating, when we were prompted, more rice? More dal? More veg? Our guides refusing to eat until we had had our full. And with happy bellies and tired legs we went to bed, we were to be up early to start the trek to Ghorepani, Sanu said. Tomorrow, we were promised, would be the hardest of our time on the trail.
Something happens when you trek, your body quickly adjusts to the minor discomforts, it finds it’s way up the inclines, it pulls you up the sometimes slippery steps, places one foot in front of the other. It was then, we saw the truly impressive power of our porters. Our own Mr. Krishna had forgotten his phone about 2 hours back at the first teahouse we had stopped at and while we continued on for four hours, and lamented about poor Krishna’s dilemma, we arrived to our teahouse in Ghorepani. After only about 10 minutes, Mr. Krishna appeared. Steam billowing off of his smiley face. As we stood awestruck at his speed while carrying 15 kilos, he simply dropped our bags in our rooms and laughed at our gaping stares.
Ghorepani boasts some amazing views and the village itself is quite the sight. Long lines of mules, traditionally decorated with bells around their necks or carrying large baskets filled with necessities, wander through the perfectly aligned stone pathways. Old, traditional homes dot the hillsides with small stupas and monasteries sprinkled throughout. Poonhill sits at the top of Ghorepani, about 3200 km above sea level and offers the clearest view of Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Machhapuchhre. The plan was to reach it’s peak before the sun rose and be able to catch the amazing light breaking over the summits, which meant a 4am wake up call and a 1 mile walk up to the 3200 km viewpoint.
It was black when we left the teahouse, but the path was easy to locate in our sleepy state, illuminated by Sanu’s headlamp. The trail was crowded with other trekkers and guides all jockeying for position u the steep stairs and narrow pathways until we broke through the Rhododendron forest and out popped a field, a tower and even a small cafe serving coffee and tea.
As crowded as it was, there was plenty of room to move around and get a moment of quiet as the sun began to illuminate first just the summit tips and gradually the range. It’s a humbling, awe inspiring sight as one peak appears after another, a seemingly endless stretch of ragged snow capped mountains. And then just like that the sun was up and we started our descent, back to Ghorepani for breakfast, back to pack our bags and begin our trek back.
From Ghorepani we continued on that same day to Tadapani, weaving down the steep inclines. We laughed and joked on our way back, still elated from our recent accomplishment and bonded together because of it, a camaraderie not otherwise found. We talked about the time Sanu spent as guide, where his family was from. We paused to eat golden raspberries we found along the trail, the scenery changing from rocky rhododendron forests back to fields, light green from the baby rice plants that were being readied for the coming rainy season.
Our arrival back to Ghandruk, was unfortunately fast. We all wished to stay longer, continue living simply as trekking demands, “hindnuhos, khanuhos, sutnus” walk, eat, sleep, but after lunch and a ride back to Pokhara our adventure was over and we were returned safely to our resort and hot showers and soft beds. We had a flight booked for the next day to take us back to Kathmandu, and as the plane took off we watched the mountains and lakes disappear from view but in Nepal it’s never goodbye only “pheri bhetaula” we’ll see you again.
View from Sarangkot