While Kathmandu is a sensory overload, the trek up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) couldn’t be more different. The first step, though, is to get out of Kathmandu. It’s easily done by one of the local airlines (Yeti, Buddha, etc) that take the 25 minute flight daily. We flew Yeti and, even with a slight delay, we arrived in Pokhara in good time.
The launching point for most treks in the Annapurna area, Pokhara reminded me a lot of Queenstown in New Zealand: big lake, plenty of bars and restaurants and lots of folks who were either embarking on a mission or returning from one. We had lunch at Freedom Cafe, a great spot with little bungalows and tiki huts near the water; para-gliders provided plenty of entertainment while we waited for our lunch. Lunch was at the far side of the lake, so I took a leisurely stroll back towards Mum’s Garden Resort (which I highly recommend, lovely people and a fantastic space), where we stayed for the evening. Of course, I took the scenic way back (i.e., I turned too early and ended up wandering the back neighborhoods of Pokhara for a while), which allowed me to see more of the local folks. I’m not sure that they see many white folks like me wandering around up there.
We had dinner at Moondance, which had a great view for people watching, and learned to play dun bohl*, a Nepali card game that would soon become our favorite past-time on the trail. It’s not difficult, but it’s addictive, depending largely on the cards dealt and how many folks are playing. We turned in early, though, as we had a 4:30 a.m. meeting time. Due to some political issues in Kathmandu, we’d heard that transportation would be difficult with many roads shut down. No worries–we would just get to our departure point before anyone else was up.
With our essentials packed and a bag left at Mum’s Garden, we piled into the van and met Rupesh and Santosh, our two porters who would accompany out trek. With strains of “Om Mani Padme” in the background, a daily mantra/song that started off the day, we bumped and bounced over dirt roads until we reached Nayapul (new bridge): a series of lean-tos that gave us coffee and tea and sent us on our way.
The start of our morning was surreal and almost magical; the sun crept up until we were rewarded with a clear view of Machhapuchhre, or Fishtail, Peak. Our second to last destination before heading down again, Machhapuchhre Base Camp was a far goal, one that I hadn’t really contemplated. My immediate concentration was on the trail ahead, to Ghandruk. We had a quick breakfast in Birethanti, then another tea in Syauli Bajar. Tea quickly became a welcome stop and my Nepali started with the order: kalo chia (black tea); adua chia (ginger tea). Then the real trek began.
Here is my suggested training regimen for Nepal: find the tallest building in your town. Climb up the stairs. Walk down the stairs. Repeat in increasing increments. If possible, do this in Colorado or another high altitude climate.
We made it to Gandruk, though, and were rewarded with amazing views and momos (steamed dumplings) for lunch. We spent the night in Gandruk, playing more dun bohl and getting to know one another. Vic and Karen own an olive oil company in Asheville, NC called Olive and Kickin‘ (greatest name ever) and are possibly the coolest ladies I’ve met. They’ve figured out how to travel and live life as they’d like, not losing themselves in corporate America. When I grow up, I want to be just like them. Dan has been guiding for the past seven or eight years and he, too, seems to have figured out how he wants to live. Gokul is my age and has four kids–he left his village for Kathmandu and has worked his way from camp cook and porter to guide. He has the best smile and the worst poker face.
We trek up and down: up stairs and pathways frequented by donkey trains and water buffalo, down more stairs and trails to cross a rickety crossing or newer suspension bridge only to climb up the other side. In Chhomrong, I try to take time to appreciate the views before collapsing on my bed after veg egg noodle soup. This is the hardest thing I’ve done, but I can feel my legs growing accustomed to the schedule. The early nights, early mornings give a person a time to think and reflect–after all, stairs and elevation gains are just putting one foot after the other.
In the evenings, before dhal bhat (a staple on the trail and the fuel that keeps everyone moving) and tea, I try to learn some Nepali. My series of sneezes teaches me the numbers through six–I learn through 10 just to be even. I learn the word for “slow” (pistori) and “I’m full” (mulai pukio) and “that was tasty” (mi torcha), for even though it’s always tasty, I can never finish a meal.
We head down yet again, crossing the river and heading up to Sinuawa for tea, Bamboo for lunch and catch a quick glimpse of Langur monkeys in the forests of bamboo before climbing into a mossy green forest full of rhododendrons, the national flower of Nepal. Red, pink, fuschia: the mountain hillsides erupt in patches of bright colors amidst the green, just waiting to be noticed. The orchids are starting to bloom and every turn reveals a new peak, a new vista, a new reason to keep trekking. We stop in Dobhan for the evening.
*Any Nepali written here is strictly phonetic and not necessarily how it’s spelled. All mistakes are mine.