Why hike, why not just take the cable car? Sure we got blisters and burnt noses, got grumpy when we didn’t eat. Risked the rain, mudslides and getting lost. So why do I hike? It’s an experience to reminisce and an adventure to cherish. You feel a whole range of emotions as you recall, you talk, you laugh, you cry and ponder. A certain mountain somewhere has always served the purpose of catering pleasant memories for many people around the world. These memories are not a haze but a highlight that will sparkle throughout your life, Thank you Himalayas.
4 Australians and 4 South Africans ditched the idea of the usual 5 star hotels in Paris and Italy and headed to the Annapurna region in the Himalayas, where we stayed in a tiny room with nothing but two hard beds and if we were lucky we had flushing toilets and hot showers. For many of them this was a very foreign experience but for me it was a hiking luxury. I’m used to sleeping on the ground with puffs of grass and rocks sticking in my side while I sleep and digging a hole to have an uhuh, number 2 (with a view).
Day one of our hike was upon us as I was woken up by a very excited Jason calling from our hotel balcony in Pokhara “Diane, wake up! Look at this mountain outside!” It was quite overcast the day we arrived that we didn’t even know there was a massive mountain surrounding the town. I walked outside with my eyes still trying to open, but they quickly went from slits in my face to popping out cartoon eyes. That was when my excitement hit and it started to get real.
We took the bus from Pokhara to Nayapul and were dropped off on the side of the road where we were to start our journey. Shailesh, our guide, said it was a short flat 2 hour hike to our guest house in Tikhedhunga. Our group all exploding with excitement started trotting along at a fast pace down the path and over a bridge covered in colourful prayer flags waving in the wind. We whisked through villages, hopped over rivers and climbed gradually up the gentle slopes (oh no wait, that was our porters). We on the other hand were huffing and puffing with sweat dripping off our faces, pushing our burning legs up this long hill, shouting to Shailesh, “Flat? What Flat?” Apparently our flat is different to Nepali plat (flat). After about 2 hours hiking and a long lunch break we arrived at Tikhedhunga and the first thing we did was order a cold Everest beer. We had dinner with our new group of friends and swapped stories, laughed and joked like we had known each other for years.
Day 2 we really got a feel for the mountain and the way of life of the villagers. We hiked from village to village up about 33 000 stairs, these stairs were made up of flat rocks stacked together to form a stairway to heaven. The Annapurna region is all about the scenic beauty, the panoramic views, the little villages on the hills and the hard working villagers ploughing fields on the steep slopes, harvesting produce and raising animals. As my feet tramped the stony trails and my lungs gasped for air, I took it all in. Villagers turned to us with a smile as they said Namaste, kids overtaking us as they ran to school, old men carrying over flowing baskets full of daily supplies from village to village. The mealies drying on corrugated roof tops, a woman grinding rice to flour by hand and a couple sifting and shaking large mats to separate husk from grain. The mules transporting gas cylinders and bags on their back fascinated us, as we had to run off the path to get out of their way, we didn’t realizes that we would pass many more as the days went by. After 11km of hiking we reached Gohrepani at a cold 2874m.
The next morning before the sun had a chance to turn the mountains gold, we climbed out of our warm beds, put on our jackets and headlamps and headed up Poon hill to 3210m. There were 100’s of tourists walking up the single track path all trying to get up before the sun, I’m not accustomed to rush hour traffic in the mountain but we all had something to share as we stood in astonishment as the snow capped peaks (Annapurna II, Annapurna III and Annapurna IV, Annapurna South, Himchuli and Macchapuchre aka. Fishtail) slowly appeared under the golden sunrise. We sipped hot chocolate and took in the refreshing morning mountain air as we watched the sun rise over the glorious mountains; it’s a sight that never tires. It’s not everyday that I get to see such impressive landscapes from a vantage point like that.
Our hike from Gohrepani to Tadapani was something from an enchanted fairytale as we walked through the beautiful jungle. From trees covered in moss woven together almost touching the clouds above our heads, to fallen leaves under our feet. The roots of the trees formed intertwined trails that lead us through the jungle. At every opening in the trees we saw the snow peaked mountains reminding us that we were in the Himalayas. Tied to tree branches was a web of colourful but faded frayed prayer flags amongst the green, yellow and orange leaves.
So far hiking the Annapurna circuit has offered more variety than any other hike I have done. Taking us through virtually every type of scenery, Snow capped peaks above us, jungle around us and rivers below us. We also got to spend time in the villages inhabited by the Nepali people, both Hindu and Buddhist. It has been an absolute amazing experience getting a feel for the mountain communities and being surrounded by the world’s biggest mountains.