Saturday, 29 November 2014

Breaching the Unknown - Part 2

          Day 4 – Stiff, muscles tightened, I awoke with the pain of an intense workout at the gym. This was a natural gym at its best. My body took a thrashing after yesterdays forced hike trying to get ahead of schedule. Sore and aching, I stretched it out as best I could with my very brief knowledge of yoga, but the show must go on. I loaded up on breakfast, muesli and boiled eggs. Nothing but protein and carbs, hoping to keep me going for the day.

As I packed my things, it began to drizzle but I didn’t want to set out any later. I had a goal I wanted to meet for the day, staying ahead of schedule. Instead of breaking into a heavy downpour, luckily it only left the ground damp and ceased after a half an hour. With or without the rain I was soaked through due to the steep ascents. Always trying to keep my eyes out for wild berries, anything recognizable so I can inquire in the next town about them, I found some wild strawberries alongside the trail. The one benefit I think to hire a guide opposed to taking it on yourself for me would be learning more about foraging for edibles in the Himalayas.

With my body still adjusting to the intense physical demands of trekking the mountains, I felt there was times I lost touch with what I was even doing. Almost falling forward to force the next foot in front of the other, feeling each step in the soles of my feet. I clambered into Dhukur Pokhari with the thought of continuing on, but for once my better judgement beat my stubbornness. I needed a break and didn’t want to chance travelling in the dark, not to mention my pace had dramatically slowed since the last village. Other than my feet my body couldn’t fully feel the pain it was in until I took my pack off and tried to rest. My left shoulder had the worst of it, my back was sore and my legs felt like jelly trying to walk up stairs. I felt slightly nauseas from the combination of hunger, dehydration, physical exhaustion and thousand or so meter rise in altitude. Almost a full day ahead of the recommended checkpoint, I collapsed happily into bed.

Sea buckthorn
Day 5 – It was a beautiful morning, no trace of rain. The clouds almost non-existent for the first time letting the sun break on through warming the bones and drying the clothes I had hanging off my pack like a clothes line. Miraculously my shoulder almost forgot the pain it was in, leaving only my feet to remind me of the torture I’d put them through. The aroma of pine and spruce permeated the air as the climate changed as I rose in elevation. From subtropical slowly transforming into an alpine region with a large farming presence with fields of buckwheat, millet and beans. As I worked my way towards Manang I noticed juniper bushes in abundance. Unfortunately most were unripe but managed to find a handful to chew on. Stopping for tea in a small village I was introduced to sea buckthorn juice made from a berry that grows wild in the region, which had a flavour similar to carrot and orange together.

 I reached my goal by three o’clock sunburnt and ready to call it an early day. I checked into the Tilicho Hotel and met the first trekkers I had seen in three days. I didn’t really know if I would run into many others and as nice as it was to trek peacefully at my own pace, it was a breath of fresh air to meet some new people. One more dal baht (I lived off this) with a dal made from buckwheat opposed to lentils and a sunset over the mountains, it was time to crash. An early morning would come quick.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Breaching The Unknown - Part 1

Day 1 – 6:30 am. Packing only the essentials, a couple outfits to hike in, one to hang around in at the days finish, gore-tex gear, basic toiletries, a couple books, a little food (muesli for the mornings, granola bars and trail mix as snacks on the move), and of course my juggling balls I picked up in India. It was on to a tightly packed local bus, bags strapped to the top heading towards the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit, Besi Sahar. A two to three week trek into the Himalayas through multiple climates, over the Thorong-La Pass and back around the Annapurna mountain range, some of the tallest mountains in the world.
50 shades of green
              Hitting the path, or at this point dirt road from the far end of town, the anticipation was boiling in me. I almost started running to get as far into the mountains as I could. I didn’t want to kill my legs right off the get go with an extra twenty pounds on my back, give or take, and I wanted to appreciate every ounce of my time here. I’m surprised I didn’t walk off into the river not paying any attention to the road ahead. My eyes stuck off into the distance watching the speed of the river or into the lush carpet of trees, corn, rice and banana trees covering the foothills. Fifty shades of green.
Peeling vegetables for dal baht
              As I continued further down the road that over recent years has been slowly creeping its way around the circuit, the new age clashed with the old. Dams were being built for hydro-electric plants, construction prominent which was taking away from the peaceful serenity one expected from the ‘isolated’ Himalayas. Raped of its virginity by the modern era. As I asked around, some were happy with the change, providing better electricity, easier transportation of goods, to hospitals and relatives in neighboring villages and of course a demand for work. On the other side of things, many were content and would prefer life the way it was before. The noise pollution tremendous, the scenery compromised and it takes away from the trekking which many villages rely on. Many people these days wonder if it’s worth trekking anymore. In my opinion, it acts like a festering wound on a perfect body.
Small village
              Making my way towards Ngadi, my first stop for the night, I was intercepted by a local heading in the same direction. Inviting me to his little guesthouse, I graciously accepted. In the off season, generally rooms are free since business is low, as long as you eat both dinner and breakfast there. No problem, no motivation to go elsewhere after a day’s hike. The couple so accommodating, going out of their way to get me some local rice wine for dinner and allowed me to help prep for our dal baht dinner ( a traditional Nepalese meal, similar to the Indian thali) by cleaning the vegetables. The best one I had in Nepal. They are all same, same but different.             
Fresh garlic drying
             Day 2: Off the road and onto a trail leading through subtropical forests. Its then that I truly realized I was really trekking into the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. Taken aback by everything, the sounds of the river and wildlife, the smells of damp earth and vegetation. Even though it was physically exhausting, it was mentally relaxing, meditative. As I entered small villages, what seem unchanged for centuries, a new set of smells filled my nostrils. A smell of my childhood as I roamed our country property. The scent of surrounding fields, livestock being housed and the fresh garden. The occasional waft of fresh garlic.
              The humidity hung thick in the air, and the dark clouds of the ever threatening monsoon rains loomed over head as I entered Ghermu. It was time to settle in for the night. With no one else in town, I had free pick of all beds in town. It was a tough day ascending close to five hundred meters, but good preparation for the days ahead. I stuffed my face with another dal baht and lied down to rest my feet.
              Day 3: Today I was heading out alone. One of the two I began with fell ill through the night and was staying put for the day. It was nice to have company, but hitting the road into the unknown by myself was another thrill in itself. A place where solo trekkers have gone missing in the past.
              I entered a quaint village named Syange and thought to stop for a morning cup of ginger tea. The man at the teashop sold more than tea, tempting me with some of the famous Nepalese charas I’ve heard so much about. Coming straight from the mountains, how could I resist. Another one of his interesting wares was an expensive form of Chinese medicine that he would forage for in his spare time. Yarchagumba, a ghost moth larvae mummified by a parasitic fungus. Used for many ailments and as always an aphrodisiac.  The bright yellow one the most prized followed by the more common red-orange.
              Since Syange the scenery had been getting even more spectacular. Walking past stunning waterfalls surging from the mountain walls plunging hundreds of meters to the Marshyangdi River below. A couple hours before Tal, the recommended checkpoint for the night, the rains caught me for the first time. Only a light rain almost waiting for me to get into town before it unleashed its true fury (not that it would have mattered since I was soaked through with sweat). Within five minutes of sitting down to another cup of tea the clouds let loose.

Himalayan blueberry
              I thought I was stuck for the night, but so badly wanted to get ahead of schedule. After an hour of waiting, the rain reduced to a slight drizzle, I took it as my opening. I didn’t realize it was to be an uphill battle on a slick path sometimes less than a meter wide with a direct drop into the rapids that would wash you away in seconds. I reached Dharapani, my personal goal for the day sitting at two thousand meters, when only three days ago I was at eight hundred. When I arrived I was offered some Himalayan blueberries that the kids were snacking on. A little more bitter than what I’m used to but a great way to cap off a long and strenuous day. Nine hours trekking the mountains is similar to a sixteen hour day in a busy kitchen. You don’t realize what your body went through until it’s done.

To Be Continued…