“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a super-abundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.” Leo Tolstoy
“Not once you cross the ocean and cut yourself loose, looking for something more beautiful, something more exciting and yes I admit, something more dangerous.” The Beach (2000)
The tourists that Nepal attracts are those alike. Mountaineers, avid hikers, backpackers, outdoor enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies, hippies and other such nomadic yet equally stereotypical individuals that fall under similar categories.
And who can blame us for flocking to such a land. A land that caters to your cultural desires, your taste platter of the great unknown, and ones greater pull to explore nature, Nepal really does have it all.
What draws us here is the chance to dwindle our worries away whilst hiking deep into the Himalayas by ourselves but never alone. A type of meditation, some may call it. A way to test your limits whilst perhaps trying to quiet your mind.
And whilst walking into the wilderness with nothing but the pack on your back and maybe a couple of other travelers sounds romantic, nostalgic and down right awesome, we forget about the danger we can put ourselves in, about the hard ship that we force our bodies of all types through.
Amongst others, I was drawn to walking 120 plus kilometres straight up, to the highest pass in the world, despite my lack of trekking experience or mountain awareness. And like others, upon walking this path I found that around 5 days in the romantic walk in the woods can turn into a questionable hike.
“Why am I doing this? What am I trying to prove hiking to the top of the Himalayas?”
These are some of the questions I asked myself when the shortness of breath started to kick in at around 2500m a.s.l. These questions of course, are forgotten by the end of the day when your wrapped up by a fire in your tea house, thinking to yourself “that wasn’t so bad, I got this!”.
By the end of each day, you’re a super hero. You give yourself a pat on the back and wait for the inevitable questioning that’s sure to drown your thoughts if only for a few minutes the next day when your walking up in a more extravagant terrain.
But we continue to push ourselves, in hopes perhaps of a clearer view, a clearer understanding and a clearer mind.
That is all I can say for my trek through the Annapurna circuit. At the end of each day I wrote a few words of what had happened, how I felt. Below is a recount.
The Annapurna circuit May 2016…
Day 1– A 6 hour drive from Pokhara to Besi Sahar. Bumpy.
We hear of fellow foreigners who plan to get a jeep from the start of our hike to the first town instead of walking, cheaters.
Arrived an eat some fruit for lunch before walking to the next town which is only 3 kms away…
9kms later we arrive in the town. Damn map. 3kms my ass. Beautiful surroundings.
Day 2-Bhulbhule to Jagat. Wake up fresh. Eat porridge, another meal to prolong my bowels from turning.
As we start to hike I feel as if I am a fairy fluttering around in my fairy kingdom of lush greenery and heightened mountains.
2 hours in, ok this is fine it’s just the beginning… I still feel like a fairy.
We don’t stop for lunch, it starts to rain, we only have 3km of the 16 to go, we keep going even though we pass a quaint village that we could stop and enjoy the rain on the iron roof whilst eating Dahl baht. But we keep going… Ii not feel like a fairy anymore, I feel like a drowned rat.
Last 1 and a half hours of the 16km walk, I question why anyone would want to do this. I’m turning into my super over dramatic self. A trait that comes out at the most illicit times. After all this is only the start, I try to remind myself that millions of people do this every year, people of all shapes and sizes, fit and flustered. And I am a normal healthy fit women.
We make it to jagat. All I want is a hot shower, I am promised one by our lovely Nepalese host. Her promise was blind, and not kept. But she makes up for it with her kindness and delicious soup.
I feel like a fairy again, as I fall asleep to the raindrops that fall against my window pane.
Day 3 – Jagat to Dharapani. We start our day with delicious porridge, again. It’s bright and early, not a cloud in the sky. Our trail leads us off the road and onto a beautiful path along the mountain floor. As we ascend higher, the steep ground beneath us altering our legs to recognising new muscles, I look around and see a butterfly, or is it a pixie? We are by all means, in the realm of magical creatures up here and my mind wanders as I sing Nahkos “budding trees” in my head and catch flittering butterflies with my eyes, imagining each of them as fairies. Their wings guiding them towards us to show us the magic that is this place.
We keep walking and soon we come across a pristine lagoon.
A waterfall from way up high enters it liquid into its depths and then creates another waterfall a few meters on. I’m half naked in minutes and I get in. It’s cold, very cold. So cold my legs go numb within 15 seconds, regardless of the Suns heat up above. We move on, though that was my favourite part of the day.
We come to a picturesque town called Tal, our sign that tells us we have hiked 9 km, 6 to go. We stop and eat lunch, take our time, talk to other hikers who have stopped at their leisure.
We realise this is a way better way to hike. Pushing ourselves is already inevitable. Stopping for lunch is a must that we won’t make the mistake of missing again, like we did the day before when I was questioning my existence on earth.
We continue to walk the 6km, we smile at our surroundings as it truly is unlike anything we have ever seen. We are happy in these moments.
We get to the next town, our home for the night. I buy a jar of peanut butter and a couple of Mars bars. No shame or guilt eating them, even after 3 spoonfuls of peanut butter, because well, we just hiked 16 km up into the Himalayas, we are now at the altitude of 1900… Try and tell me I don’t deserve these spoonfuls, I dare you. If you do, I challenge you to hike the mountains I hiked today and see what you want to eat by the end of the day… I fear all my morals regarding sugar and health have already flown out the window for time being.
Day 4 – Dharapani to Chame. We start our walk and cross a bridge to a much greener side. Once we get there we undertake a strenuous long walk, up and down the trail. Crossing small wooden bridges with small rivers flowing under them.
The terrain has changed from magical fairy land to magical pixie land.
How do you determine the difference?
A magical pixie land is much more picturesque, think Canada’s “rocky mountains”, the smell of pines cone trees fill your nostrils, that mixed in with rich, dense earth… Ah the best smell. You walk through the forest, the trees so tall you could only get to the top with wings, ergo, why pixies live in pine tree forests, they get the best view from the top.
Pretty easy day, though when you walk up even a slight incline you forget that it’s a pretty easy day and start questioning who created these trails, wouldn’t it make more sense if they just zig zagged straight across instead of the harsh ups and downs that is physically and mentally demanding. Ah well, I can’t wait for lunch, after lunch I can’t wait for dinner. Food glorious food, it’s what gets me through these days, to the next town.
The promise of a warming soup and fresh bread.
We make it to Chame, we sit around the fire place at night with another Australian. The Nepalese that run the tea house we stay in are drunk, more vocal and social. We go to bed by 8 30.
Day 5 – Chame to lower Pisang. Another walk in the pine forest. Easy until it wasn’t. We climb up a steep incline, the soles of my feet slip through my boots, only a 30 minute ascend but a tough one at that.
We stop for snickers and cookies. I have never eaten so many cookies and chocolate bars in my life.
If you know me personally you know that, whilst I adore chocolate, I think the sugary brands that have evolved a already sugar treat into an extreme sugary treat are in fact the devil. Ingesting it’s society with heart burn, diabetes and cancer.
However whilst hiking up the Himalayas, my morals go out the window and each day when I stop for a snack, I inhale my chocolate bar quickly and wash it down with some more sugar; cookies.
My boyfriend black mails me, telling me he’ll tell the world of my sugar addiction and contradicting statements when we get back to the real world. I suppose he can’t now as I’ve just told you here.
Get to lower Pisang, beautiful cosy guesthouse. We decide to go for a short walk before dinner to another part of town, I get head butted by a cow. I start to cry. Exhaustion has the better of me and it’s time to throw a child’s tantrum. That’s when Zac knows to put me to bed.
Day 6 – lower Pisang to Manang. Wake up with a smile on my face. We pack our bags and start the not so long walk to Manang.
A small female dog starts walking with us towards Humde, 4km from where we were.
She follows us, protects us if you will. Our little guide dog. I decide we will take her traveling with us and then back to Australia. We get to Humde, stop for a snack break.
Half an hour later we put our back packs back on and I call for Salem but she’s gone. I move on quickly…
We stop a town away from manang, we can see the towns gleaming promise from where we eat lunch.
When we get to manang we found our guest house and spend the afternoon trying to stay warm. I have a tantrum because it’s cold. My toes and fingers quivering for a warm embrace.
We rest, read, eat, sleep. Tomorrow we won’t be waking up to an alarm. Tomorrow is our rest day.
Day 7-Manang. I wake up at 5am, damn body clock.
I’ve had a shit sleep anyway, my lungs beg the air for a little more. The air is getting thinner.
I wake up through out the night gasping, with the hopes that waking up will allow more air flow. Though it’s just slower and you have to strain to gain your regular breath back before lying back down and falling into a blissful sleep… Until the next point when you wake up gasping for more air.
We get up and walk to the next town which is only 20 minutes away for tea and pastries. It’s a clear day. For the first time we see a the surrounding snow capped mountains glistening in the sun. We feel a sensation of warmth.
I wonder how far it is that we humans can push our bodies. We possess the ability to doubt our other abilities and in doing so I have convinced myself twice a day that I cannot get to the top. That my body merely isn’t meant for winter weather, for an altitude higher than 1500 m above sea level.
But here we are, almost at the top. I am to believe that though walking to the top of Thorung La will be hard, but the longest days are over. We now push our bodies in strength and stamina, as we have for the past days, but this time, just with thinner air.
Day 8-Manang to Yak Kharka. Build it up build it up build it higher, build it up up up into the sky KABOOM!
As we ascend from Manang a mere 11 kms that we thought were only 4, this nursery rhyme that I used to play with the baby boy I nannied for in the States goes through my head… Repeatedly… For whole said 11kms. I used to sit with the 8 month old with building blocks and together we would build rainbow skyscrapers, only to have them torn down seconds after building them, by his tiny little hands. I imagine this is how God feels. When he feels like tearing down the sky scraper that is earth, he simple flicks his hand over his building blocks and we all come tumbling down.
We start the day on a slight incline from Manang. My chest, not fully use to the acclimatisation starts to struggle and I last only 25 minutes before I call out for my boyfriend who is only a few steps ahead of me. He turns around, he hears strain and exhaustion in my voice. I sit flatly on a rock, my breath taking over my body. The tears that fall from my eyes have been held back since we starting hiking 25 minutes prior. They flow though I try with all my might to defer them from falling to the ground. I don’t succeed.
My heart is beating out my chest in a rather peculiar pattern that causes me further stress… Are these the first signs of AMS (acute mountain sickness)?
We have stopped near a stone house, locals walk in and out and see the tears, the exhaustion, they are immune to it.
From the inside of their shack Justin Bieber starts to play, I hear the Nepali men start to sing along and I can’t help but to laugh. Even above the clouds, one is accustomed to the western worlds biggest downfall, the hottest 100.
We continue up. After approximately 5 kms I stop and say “surely we’ve walked more than 4 kms”… Not much else to do but keep walking.
I can almost hear you all saying, “11Kms? Nat, that’s nothing, easy done!”.
And to all of you I say, hiking up 11 km 4000 above sea level, is NOT the same as hiking 11kms at sea level.
Finally in the distance we see the town were we will be stopping.
Upon arrival, we choose the first tea house we see to stay in. We drop our bags and order Dal Bhat. It’s only 11 30AM. We have made good time.
The afternoon is spent in a bundle of blankets trying to keep warm.
At dinner time we walk into the lounge room to see a group of people we had met in India. We sit and eat stupid amounts of food before heading towards a deep slumber.
Day 9-Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi (base camp).
What a splendid morning. We wake up sizzling in our cacoon of blankets and body warmth.
Of course once we tear of the blankets the cold demands to be felt.
Breakfast is cooked by our two Nepali women hosts. We order the ‘Gangapurna special soup’ for breakfast. A delicious broth mixed with vegetables, fried egg, noodles and dried chilli. It is definitely the best dish I have eaten since being in Nepal.
We slurp it all up then get ready to depart… When I hear a noise. A noise so familiar for a moment I forget where I am.
I look at Zac a little dumb founded and he looks at me equally confused.
“Their listening to Triple J!” I say.
I am certain I can hear one of the radio presenters coming from the open kitchen where the women cook.
I walk into the kitchen and they look at me as if I need something.
I see an iPad were the sound is coming from, though I can’t see what is on the screen.
“It’s Masterchef Australia.” One of the Nepalese woman says. “Are you Australian?!”
Yes! We say, and we all start to laugh.
She explains to us she loves Masterchef Australia, and any other cooking shows, she watched each episode from each season on her iPad.
Up, almost in the sky, where, the only way to shower is by heating some water on the stove, pouring it into a bucket, and scooping a smaller bucket to pour the water over your body, two Nepalese women take pleasure in another western commodity. Their love of cooking leads them to master chef Australia.
That’s pretty damn great.
So after watching 5 minutes of the episode where the Dalai Lama is the star guest for MasterChef Aus, we stride up the mountain to our last stop before reaching Thorang La, or the pass. Where we can then finally start to descend, as we will have reached the top at 5500 m.
The walk starts out cheery and fine.
Steep and heavy but slow and steady.
Build it up, build it up, build it higher…. Build it UP UP UP into the sky.
These lyrics buzz inside my ears again.
All of a sudden I am taken out of my day dreams. I look up, an extension bridge is ahead. Though we have crossed many extension bridges on the trek, this bridge was different. (Before I go on I must warn you all, the only thing I am truly afraid of it heights.)
This bridge is double the length of any of the other bridges. Down below the river gushes and in the wind the bridge looks some what… Faulty.
When we get to it I take a deep breath, and look straight. I walk, but as I walk I see that looking straight is actually not the best place to look, as the dip of the long bridge turns your eyes to terror. I look down… big mistake.
Below me the metal frames have become loose, in fact, several of the huge screws that holds each plank together have come undone.
I hear Zac behind me, telling me to just look straight, don’t stop walking. But I feel my knees buckle and I grab onto the railing.
Behind me, Zacs voice brings me back and I walk… Or somewhat sprint to the other side.
We take a breather and Zac admits that, that was in fact, a bit terrifying.
But we believe the worst is done, although the worst is yet to come, and we continue up the trail.
Not 10 minutes later we come to a sign that reads, “Land slide area, step gently”.
Step gently? How in the world, in these circumstances can you “step gently”?
We look up from the sign and see a thin path, against the steep hill. The path is made up of tiny rocks, below us we can see were land slides have slid, unexpectedly, unknowingly.
Above us we can see huge boulders… Boulders that if, God forbid a land slide was to… Well slide, would crush us in a millisecond.
I ask out loud how this is even legal, how us as foreigners would put our lives so blatantly at risk. But we didn’t come this far for nothing. So Zac goes first and I follow behind, trying to “step gently”.
We walk for 15 minutes in this “land slide area” and by the time the path turns back into rubble and dirt we can see the next village that will house us for the night.
Thank god. The worst is done, or maybe still yet to come? As we munch on baked goods fresh out of the oven from our tea house we pray for clear skies and an easy track to tackle for the morning.
Only time will tell.
News update from thorung phedi: walk into the canteen for dinner, sit down with the back packers we know. See two we don’t know, a Chilean couple. The girl looks at me and asks where I’m from.
“Australia.” I say
“You’re not from… Margaret river are you?”
Hey! I’ve been living there for the past year! I say.
“Yes! I knew it!” She says.
Turns out me and my boyfriend use to serve these guys there coffee in the cafe we worked at in Margs. They lived there the same amount of time as I did! The worlds only getting smaller..
I’m alive! What a day.
Though I am glad I made it over the pass I have to question how so many average westerners do this trek. I am a healthy 23 year old and I have never struggled so much.
The altitude got the better of me a mere 4000 feet and hiking up to 5500, in the freezing cold, whilst stepping upon slippery paths was not my idea of fun.
I cried not even half way through, my body begging me to stop, my mind over powering my body telling me I HAD to keep going.
My fear of heights, I thought, would be eluded upon this trek. However as I literally crawled up a certain part of the trail that was only a foot wide, and cut straight down at least, 100m if not more to sharp jagged rocks, vertigo kicked in and I lost all sight of overcoming my fears.
In that moment I came to realise how vast and extreme our earth is and how man continuously tries to play with fire, reaching heights were they feel on top of the world, only to fall down to their deaths.
What was I doing up on this mountain? What was I trying to prove? I knew I didn’t like heights or the extreme cold. I didn’t have the desire to get to the top of a damn mountain just to say I’ve been there, done it. I had nothing to prove to myself nor anyone else.
Still I kept climbing.
It was beautiful I must say.
The silence became me. The beauty and vastness compels one to see how little we humans are in comparison to the earth.
I have not much else to say about this day, besides that I ate a killer fried rice that was more like risotto and my thighs felt severely bruised though just worn.
Day 11 – Mooktinath to Jomson. Near death experience. Tried to walk the 18km from Mooktinath to Jomson. Thought it would be easy as its all down hill from here.
Got caught in a sand storm 8ks in, saw a truck driving past. Asked for a lift. Jumped in the back.
When in an under-developed country like Nepal, high up in the Himalayas where roads are only as much as dirt paths flowing around a mountains edge, don’t hitch a ride in a work truck. Especially a work truck that is transporting 15+ gas bottles from one town to the next.
I will not say anymore on this because I know my mother is reading it and if I was to explain the severity of it she will probably have me shipped back to Australia so as to make sure I stop putting myself in stupid situations.
I’ll leave it at, both me and my boyfriend were saying our prayers, and I was picking the last moment to tell him that I loved him.
Made it to Jomson in a daze, got off the truck shaking.
Scrubbed my body in the shower as I was completely filthy from getting in the back of a Nepalese truck…
Day 12 – Jomson. Rest day. Booked a bus from Jomson to Pokhara, reluctantly after that truck trip. But we are assured these drivers are good drivers, that they do this trip down the mountain 10 times a day.
Ah well, if it’s our time to go it’s our time to go… But I would prefer not to die.
Day 13 – Jomson to Pokhara.
I WILL NEVER GET ON A NEPALESE BUS FOR AS LONG AS I LIVE.
Don’t do it, take the extra 4 days and walk down the mountain.
Woah, never have I ever been so anxious and on edge for such extended hours (10 to be exact).
The bus was full, fuller than full.
I would look around and see Nepalese men and women sleeping… SLEEPING!
I was trying to stay calm and collected so as not to attract any negative energy towards myself or the bus.
Made it back to pokhara in one piece.
Ran off the bus and kissed the ground.
Noticed all the cars and motorbikes zooming past… Back in civilisation. Maybe the mountains aren’t so dangerous… Civilastion seems more extreme after a walk in the woods. More extravagant, greedy and overwhelming… Should we do it all again?
In conclusion; hiking through the Himalayas struck a cord. You feel the fear of man, and the strength of nature. You find bliss yet you succumb to your own existence.
A beautiful trek, an undeniable challenge. What wonder Nepal holds in its mountains. But don’t be fooled, it’s hard work…
“Everything has changed suddenly-the tone, the moral climate; you didn’t know what to think whom to listen to. As if all your life you had been led by the hand like a small child and suddenly you were on your own, you had to learn to walk by yourself. There was no one around, neither family nor people whose judgement you respecred. At such a time you felt the need of committing yourself to something absolute-life or truth or beauty-of being ruled by it in place of the man-made rules that had been discarded. You needed to surrender to some such ultimate purpose more fully, more unreservedly than you had ever done in the old familiar, peaceful days, in the old life that was abolished now and gone for good.” Boris Pasternak