NAMASTE From Nepal's Himalayas!
"First we go Up, Up, Up - slowly, slowly for 2 hours. Then Down. Then cross the river on the suspension bridge, then more Up, Up, Up- then some zig zag, then more Up and Down, Up and Down" says Jivan, the Nepalese Guide we've hired for our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek.
"OMG!!" think Yak (Tom) and Nak (Linda) to themselves.
We're a few days into our 10 day hike and every morning our briefing sounds something like this. We wanted to go for a walk in the mountains - and that's what we're doing. Tom's done amazingly well with his sprained ankle - but it's our knees that are beginning to feel it after Day 6! Oh to be 25 again like the Billy Goat Kids (as I call them, enviously), tearing up the trails, scrambling over rocks, bouncing down the zillions of rock steps that we negotiate significantly more carefully.
We're having a PEAK experience!! The ABC hike is called The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, the Teahouses Trail or even the Apple Pie Circuit - and yes - there are many variations of apple type desserts on the Guesthouse menus - but Yak and I both agree that the hike is no cakewalk! Our daily hikes are usually 5-8 hours long - sometimes shorter like the memorable day we hiked only 1 hour down to Jinnu soaked for 2 blissful hours in the riverside hot springs and then rested for the remainder of the day!
We're completely awed by it all. There have been breathtaking views (literally) of the peaks in the Annapurna Range - and the highly varied terrain- bamboo forests, jungly sections (saw a monkey and faded vultures!!), steep hillsides with terraced fields, water buffalo, goats, cows and chickens everywhere - has been wondrous. Farms clinging to the mountainside grow cabbage, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, mustard, millet and wheat on steep terraces, and later in the season there will be potatoes and corn.
The mountain villages amaze me. Life looks hard, but the tourism machine is so well developed we are very comfortable in teahouses and guesthouses along the way. There's intermittent power everywhere in Nepal, but hot, usually solar heated showers when the sun shines are a bonus!
It's Spring - so we've experienced rain, mud, hail and snow, with extreme temps hot to cold (-15C!!) depending on the time of day and the altitude. Flowers are beginning to bloom - perky little purple flowers (asters?) we call "valiants" blooming along the mossy hillsides - surviving the hail and snowstorms just crack me up. Apparently, there are 88 varieties of rhododendron in the world, but in Nepal they grow on big trees - not bushes - and their gorgeous red and pink blossoms are just beginning to make an appearance. It must be unbelievably beautiful when the mountainsides are covered in them. Ferns, vines, succulents, waterfalls and rivers - it's a riot of green and blue. I sing happy songs during my hikes as I plant my poles and focus on my next step.
We also hired a porter, Bhoj, to carry our 20 kg backpack for us. We admit it - we're not in the best shape for this trek, and although we've now found our hiking rhythm, the thought of carrying my own pack just seemed daunting. And besides, I'm on holiday.....Bhoj is a small guy but stronger than anyone we know, faster too. It's humbling to see him and all the porters in action. Daily necessities (and luxuries like Pringles chips) if not grown on the mountainsides are carried up to higher elevations - fuel in propane bottles, fruit and veggies, lumber, cement, sand - you name it - people, donkeys or ponies are hauling it up. It's a constant stream of hikers, porters and guides with many "Namaste's " throughout the day.
As it turns out, we weren't able to reach our goal of Annapurna Base Camp. We were weathered out. We made it to a place called Himalaya - arriving in a snowstorm. It snowed all nite and since we were going into 2 avalanche zones further up at Deurali and Machhapuchhre Base Camp with thigh deep snow reported - all 3 groups of trekkers at Himalaya camp decided to head back down. It's common for this to happen in Spring, so we decided not to be disappointed, to enjoy the extra couple of days the schedule change offered, and take our time on the descent back to Pokhara.
"See that building way over there on the next mountain? That's where we're going. It looks Near, but it's FAR" says Jivan, our Himalaya Guide.