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…