My stay away from home all these years, I have always taken pride to boast about being a Nepali and how close I am to the mountains. For a foreigner whose ideas of Everest and other mountains is based upon images and documentaries that they see in the social media and/or reading about the “Sherpa” in books and magazines, it’s normal to think that a Nepali is raised up playing in the mountains. The truth however is that while I was in Nepal I was so damn busy that I too kept staring at the pictures of the mountains and hoped that someday I would make it there. And so it went on: the mountains kept calling me and I couldn’t help but stay away.
Annapurna Base Camp: A call from the mountains
But this year it was decided: me and my wife together, we were going to Annapurna Base Camp. The route we both consented is inaccessible to vehicles and passes through waving prayer-flags scattered settlements dispersed around the verdant valley of the swift-flowing Modi Khola, which is overlooked by the acme peaks of Annapurna (8091m) and Machhapuchchhre (6993m). The paths heave almost evenly via huge, endless steps carved into the earth. Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”
and so was our case, for it was a leap of faith that ignoring all the advices on altitude sickness and turning deaf ears to elaborate talks on how difficult it might be for someone naïve like us (who had never feetbeen through such trekking experience) that I and my wife decided to follow our heart and undergo the trek. I had also met many people along the way who accused me of being crazy for attempting to trek the route without guidance from anyone who has done it before (or is at least familiar with the area). When I come to think about it, I become more and more certain of the fact that we had underestimated the difficulty of trekking the route.
The trail was like a roller coaster: you go up and you go down, and descending is no less tiring than ascending. The experience however has its own ecstasy, the memory of which will ever fill your chest with pride and give you something to brag about even after you have grown old. The day was the 29th of February and the entire planning was done in less than an hour. At midday, I and my wife rode a motorbike to a nearby shopping mall in order to buy the necessary clothing, some weather sealed trousers and two pair of trekking shoes; that was it, we were set.
We boarded a local shuttle from Kathmandu at around 15:00 hrs and made it to Pokhara. This journey had taken us around 6 hours; we choose to stay at a local hotel in Lakeside. The obvious urge was to hang around the lakeside for a while, but our head was occupied and sleep was necessary since we had to begin the trek early tomorrow. After a quick meal, we walked around for a while enjoying live music that were being played at the restaurants. We stopped at a bookstore to buy a map of ABC that it might guide us in our journey.
Once it was morning, we started on our way. Since we did not know much about Pokhara we took the hotel jeep to Hari Chowk and from there we took another 4 wheel drive to Siwai. The initial plan was to go to Ghandruk but we had met a friend at Hari chowk who was quite familiar with the area and as per his suggestion we decided to take an alternative route that should cut our trek by a minimum of 2 days. It appeared like a great idea.
At about 11:00 am we reached Siwai; the actual trekking journey was to start from here. We walked for almost one and a half hour straight and made it to Kyume. At Kyume we had a very sumptuous lunch, but since we had made up our minds to walk as much as possible we headed uphill immediately. With verdant stepped-farm hillsides, mossy jungle and misty autumnal woodland, the surrounding looked beautiful. As the altitude further increased we were able to view the rocky creeks peppered with waterfalls and then finally the immensity of the snow-speckled arid expanses.
On our way, we met a local woman from Chomrong and knowing that we were external trekkers she recommended us a hotel in Chhomrong. At about 4:00 pm we reached Jhinu. As we weren’t that tired and still wanted to walk, after having a large cup of coffee we headed on forward. The way from Jhinu to Chhomrong was straight up and although we were perspiring we seemed to be enjoying this once in a life-time experience.
Though the very first day, we walked until 7:00 pm and stopped by the hotel the woman on the way had suggested. We were following the map we had brought along with us and at the same time asking people we came across how long we should walk and where to rest. After we had our dinner both of us fell asleep. On the morning of the second day, we woke up to a serene view of the Himalayas. I took some pictures of Annapurana and Machhapuchrey; they appeared so near that I felt we could almost reach the base camp in a couple of hours and so after breakfast we started our trek again.
We descended the stone stairs in Chomrong which appeared like they were never going to end. And after having finally done with the stairs we were happy to start our ascent. This was a big one and it took us 1.5 hours to reach the next town of Sinuwa (2340m) which worked as a good pit stop. Further climb and descent brought us to Bamboo (2335m). Most people opt to stay in Doban (2505m), a further 40 minutes on the way up. But no, we were Nepalese and these easy stops were not for us, we had to push ourselves. So passing through Doban and Himalaya (2920m) we pushed up and up to Deurali.
The landscape hereafter was something entirely different, other worldly; with the constant sound of Modi bashing the rocks in our right and high cliffs to our left; it certainly felt like some wilderness movie. The fog was slowly closing in through the peaks of those cliffs and we found ourselves clutched by a strange rush to reach Deurali as soon as possible. In winter each family at Deurali takes turns to stay and keep one tea house open. It was already late February and the season had already started resulting in a bustling evening which offered us a nice place to chill out. At this point it’s important to consider altitude sickness and not sleep too high too quickly.
The night was not so easy for us. We could not sleep for a long time after we went to bed. It probably was a psychological effect and nothing more; perhaps we were well aware that we had ascended too much height on the same day. We didn’t know when we dozed off though. The next morning we woke up and make up our minds to reach the base camp on this very day. And so cladding ourselves with proper clothes, jackets and gloves, we set off early in the morning. The chilling cold breeze brought in a sense of excitement and we wanted to know what lay ahead of us. But just 15 minutes into the trek we came across avalanche warning sign. Well ! here comes the real adventure.
As the heat of the sun rose, we striped down to a single layer of clothing and walked alongside the Modi khola river on a narrow path. Despite the month being February, there was surprising no trace of snow on the trails. Even the surrounding mountains had minimal snowfall; this was highly unusual. We walked towards the startlingly deep-blue skies while watching the golden sunlight majestically spread over the distant peaks before it hit us and warmed our freezing bones while we could see clouds slowly rolling in.
In nearly about 2 hours, we reached Machhapuchrey Base Camp (3700 m). We stayed there for another hour having breakfast and taking pictures. Soon we had to make our way towards our final destination: the base camp at Annapurna. From here on, we had to walk on some fresh snow. The slog towards the base camp continued and the path was only wide enough for one person (with deep snow on either side). Motivated by the sight of the base camp that appeared just a few paces away we continue to slush towards it.
A few moments later, a frenzy of snow whips up around us and we see a helicopter trying to land only a few meters away. We run away from the head-chopping blades and move on. And after another hour of walking we reach the Annapurna Base Camp. Overcome by a feeling of triumph, we marvel at the mountains that surround us. And suddenly the view doesn’t feel real; I mean it was perfect, unblemished; as if photoshopped, a glossy photo hanging on your wall. Our mind seemed unable to comprehend where we were and what we were seeing; it was grand.
We were frolic in the snow at the base camp. After having taken obligatory photos at the sign saying ‘welcome to base camp’, the clouds rolled in and this time it covered all the mountains. Before it was hard to see we found ourselves hurrying to the tea house at the base camp. We spend the whole day at the base camp lodge. I suffered from mild headache and like I was told it was more psychological than the actual altitude effect. At nightfall, I had to take a painkiller to put myself to sleep.
The next morning before sunrise, all the guests came out into the open. While all people choose to photograph from a small rock aside hotel we choose to stay in an open space. The view of the first rays of sunlight on the Himalayas looked heavenly; we were in a basin surrounded by a ring of glorious peaks. With a 360-degree-view of some of the highest summits in the worl d, it’s hard not to feel humbled at the sight. What else could I do, I surrendered my ‘being’ in front of the grandannapuranaeur and came in terms with my smallness. And as much as we wanted to stay there all day, that wasn’t an option. After a quick breakfast it was time already to begin the descent.