“Going trekking, sir?”, “What trek do you want to do today?”, “Come to me for best price for trekking!”
Walking down many streets in Nepal these questions get thrown to a foreigner almost every step.
There is a reason though, for much of Nepal is taken up by the immense Himalaya mountain range; home to nine of the ten highest peaks on earth.
Just to see one of the majestic peaks with my own eyes would fulfil a lifelong ambition, so with that I took up a short four day trek in the Annapurna Himalaya region from Pokhara this week.
I was told to take my thermals, rent a large fleece-lined gortex coat and wear warm clothing. So off I set along with my guide, Dhan, dressed in my newly acquired trekking garb ready for the harsh mountain climate.
After 10 minutes of climbing, I was stripping off clothes from my sweat drenched body. It wasn’t just the midday Nepali sun, but the sheer steepness of the rocky steps climbing their way into the sky en route to our first stop in Ghandruk.
What I had not taken into account was just how exhausting the climb would be, and therefore heat producing.
Up and up we climbed. Every time you thought you had completed a significant chunk of stairs, there would be a whole new set waiting just a few paces away.
Fortunately, my preference for including leg workouts in my gym routine meant I was faring better than my guide who admitted usually he was the fast one.
It was no less gruelling though. It reminded me of a childhood adventure book I had where you could choose the destiny of an Arthurian knight by making certain decisions. One of the punishments for the wrong decision was the knight was doomed to climb an everlasting staircase, growing older and older but never reaching the top.
Fortunately, here there was an end to the climb. But only briefly. On the second day, our route started to be scattered with patches of snow. Soon ice appeared, and then all of a sudden we were in a winter wonderland. One wrong step though and it would have been a wonderland of pain. The drop off the cliff edges looked bottomless as the mist clung to the rocks, outstaying its welcome from the morning all day.
We were making good time however. Dhan informed me that every village we came through, they said to him “are you guys running?! Why are you here so early?”
That was a comfort going to bed in the guest house at night that was as basic as you would imagine. That’s not a complaint, though. I would spend my evenings not reading emails or Facebook, but reading my battered copy of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ while sitting around a log fire. There were no other sounds to be heard but the distant bells of the mountain goats or mules.
The highlight of the trip was the early rise on the third morning. At 6am, we left our guest house in frozen Ghorepani to begin our ascent to Poonhill, a spectacular viewpoint I had been told to watch the sunrise. The climb took half an hour, but with no breakfast it felt a lot longer. My momentum kept my legs swinging upward, even though by this stage they had begun to make physical complaints.
Upon reaching the top, 3210m above sea level (more than a third of Everest, just saying), it was indeed a breathtaking sight even before the sun had made its appearance.
The peaks of the Annapurna mountains pierced the sky in front of us, while it was such a clear day that distant Himalayas could be seen – rising up from the ground like the spine of a stegosaurus.
Once the sun broke through though and cast the first light on Annapurna south, the sky was turned a beautiful shade of orange tinged with purple.
It’s odd why sunrise should evoke such powerful emotions in us. I suppose maybe it’s because it’s in our nature to appreciate it. It is the end of darkness, a light shining bright on all the shadows in the world, bringing a new beginning.
I stood in awe as the sun set the tips of the mountains alight. It reminded me of that wonderful scene in Lord of the Rings where the beacons are lit, one by one.
Not forgetting my roots, I opted to have a picture taken against one of the stunning backdrops with my Tottenham Hotspur scarf aloft and the team’s shirt proudly upon my chest. You can take the boy out of north London…
The way back down was no easier than going up. In a way it was harder, my calves straining with the steep steps leading down the hills to our starting point in Nayapul.
Despite that, I would go straight back and do it all again. It was such a wonderful experience I can only think of six words that best sum it up: You must see it for yourself.