Himalayas by horseback, definitely a once in a life time experience! Because I'll never, ever do it again. Don't get me wrong, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, there isn't a superlative that could describe it appropriately, but it broke me. And I thought I was generally a tough cookie! The horses were fairly well groomed and seemed to be well looked after, so at first, I thought or rather hoped that maybe this time the guides of a rural village would be kind to their animals. I was being naive of course and the horses were whipped and shouted at from the get go. I've ridden horses for many years and so of course understand that a little strike on the flank for encouragement is sometimes necessary, but the consistency and force of those together with the strikes across the Achilles caused an outburst from me that quickly put and end to all beatings and a lot of apologies from the guides. All good and well for my trip but I'm fairly certain it just continued as soon as I went on my way.
My pity for the horses soon turned into immense gratitude however as we ascended higher and higher up the mountain. There is no way in hell I would have been able to do this trek on foot as I had first suggested. The pathways got steadily narrower and ever more slippery and together with the decreasing temperature and thinning air, I could feel myself begin to lose it. My feet had been numb for the last hour already, but now my whole body was shaking and I was getting tingling sensations in my arms and face, so when someone in front joyously announced they could see a hut in front and we had finally reached our destination, I could feel the tears begin to well up. I slid down from my horse and landed on what felt like a bed of needles as the pain in my frozen feet soared through my legs. Thank god for Dans' warm embrace at this moment or I would have sobbed like a baby. As we sat around the wood fire stove in the hut, drinking coffee and then spiced saffron tea, all pain was forgotten (well nearly) as we made friends with other tourists all warming themselves before the upcoming descent. It was at this point that I realised we must be the only Caucasian tourists there as our new friends asked us to pose in a non stop 10 minute paparazzi style photo shoot complete with 'stylish glasses' lent to me from a man who was apparently of royal Mughal descent, but who, bless him looked more like a teletubby with his balaclava style head gear and earmuffs.
All warmed up and plastic bags wrapped around my socks to try and prevent my feet from freezing in my wet shoes again, Dan persuaded me to venture outside and see the view. And what an almighty view it was! The clouds had broken enough for us to see the snow capped peaks basking in the sunlight and the pine forest below was twinkling like a thousand fairy lights. This moment was what it was all about and we stood and hugged and marvelled at what was before us.
And then the cold came creeping back! We descended quite quickly and I was grateful for the guide leading my horse down the treacherous pathways. I didn't have the strength or enough feeling in my fingers to lead my trusty stead myself. Despite an extra hoodie from Dan and my plastic wrapped feet, I was bitterly cold again. Even the beautiful surroundings of the forest at dusk and the twinkling lights of the village down below, wasn't enough to prevent the tears this time and once we had dismounted from the horses, said our goodbyes and were in the relative warmth of the jeep, the flood gates opened and I sobbed like a heartbroken teenage girl. As mentioned before, I like to think of myself as a tough cookie, but together with the extremes in temperature, the high altitude and all the days emotions sweeping across me all at once, I just couldn't hold them in any longer. Back at the boathouse I was nauseous, weak and with the room spinning slightly, unable to hold any food down and I was sick, a lot! Broken!
Don't worry mom and dad, a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast the next day and I was right as rain! Next time we'll definitely come more prepared! Waterproof shoes and a bottle of rum, Himalayas here we come!