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- Western Nepal (long read) 1.12.2006 update

Bimal Gurung

It had been a year since I was working on a plan for a trek around the Annapurna Region in Western Nepal. It was the month of October and our biggest festival "Dusain" was near approaching. And, I had not yet made up my mind about when and what to do next. It had been 3 years I was away from home then. And the thoughts of being home with my families and friends were incessant in my mind. I decided I would give up my job and book the next flight to Katmandu because there was no chance I’d get a month long vacation from my job.

Six days after i quit my job, I was on Royal Nepal airline’s flight 405, having a can of Carlsberg. I was without a job but a whole month of freedom ahead of me. I knew that my lifelong yearning to elude myself in that nature’s most beautiful retreat was coming true. And, the joy of being back home again is always there. I had no qualms about my decision, but what worried me was the mass of flab I was gaining at my buttocks because my job entailed neither such intelligence nor any diligence. It was a sinecure.

It took our national carrier RA405, four hours to a safe landing on Tribhuwan International airport. The weather outside was cool to the perspiring humidity of Hong Kong. And, the infrastructure between the two international airports was incomparable. Chep La Kok airport has all the state-of-the-art infrastructure and technology whereas our international airport was an embarrassing sight. Our airport had nothing but a few kilometers long runway and a small passengers’ hall to boast its international recognition.
I spent the first week just eating and enjoying the festive mood. It was only after the end of a week long festival I worked on my itinerary.

My cousin and I hit the road on 19th October 2002. The first day was an 8-hour drive on a coach from Kathmandu to Pokhara. When we reached Pokhara; it was already 4 pm in the afternoon. We decided that we’d spend the night there in a Guest House and start our trek the next morning. We booked a room in a hotel, showered, and went out for a stroll. The ambience around lakeside in Pokhara was getting livelier with the mellowness of the starry night. An alfresco type sitting area of a restaurant provided us a superb view of Fewa Lake glistening with the vibrant lightning of numerous bars and clubs in the area. We had dumplings with beer. Since we had to hike a long day uphill to Ghandruk from Nayapul the day after tomorrow, we went to bed early.

We left the guest house at 6 am the next morning and hired a cab. The cab drive led us to a winding road north up to the valley of Pokhara and up a steep hill that followed a twisting descent. We got our first view of Mt. Fishtail when the sun hit its rays straight at its tip. It revealed the gleaming front wall of the imposing peak in her purest form. It was an unforgettable sight way beyond the charisma of digital image. The view obstructed in the lush alpine forest, our drive led. We reached Nayapul at 9 am - the starting point.
We started our trip after we drank a cup of tea by the roadside kiosk at Nayapul. It followed a dirty trail by the banks of Modi River. We challenged our way forward on human excreta, animal dung and through peasants heading out to fields. We met a number of trekkers returning from a trek on the way. They looked exhausted but in high spirits, in their arduous endeavours. We walked steadily for an hour until we reached a suspension bridge over the Modi River. The other side of the bridge was an Annapurna conservation area project (ACAP) office, from where our trail followed an ascent. We took a rest overlooking the river for a while and started our climb uphill. After few steps up the trail, I felt a terrible rage. I realized that trekking is not as easy as it seemed in travelogues and websites. My heartbeat grew faster and breathing louder as we climbed up. I was breathing the shush-shush of an asthma patient. However, I moved on with my cousin’s you-can-do-it kind of back up from time to time.

As we climbed up, the gushing sound of the river grew fainter and the river was nowhere to be seen below the chasm. At 2 pm, we stopped for lunch at a small village. By then, we had already covered half of our trip for the day. The other half of our ascent followed rice terraces fields, thatched cottages, rocky trails, and closer view of Mount Annapurna and Machapuchre. We gained an excellent momentum of speed and determination as we neared closer to our destination. The chirping of the birds and insects grew clearer and louder after the sun set down in the horizon and the dusk crept in. A distant plip plop of dim lightning from the village lured us on and on and we dragged and crawled ourselves over a paved pathway before the gateway into the village, that was stone carved with "Welcome to Ghandruk". We had finally arrived at our destination after an eight hour-long ascent and we were as solid as stone with exhaustion.

We sneaked into a lodge of whose name we did not bother to read. We got ourselves a double bed room for the night at Rs250. During dinnertime, we met a German group who were just back from their successful trek up to the Annapurna base camp. We had a brief chitchat but it seemed too out of track due to the differing state of mind we were in. After dinner, we bade everyone in the hall goodnight and went to bed.
A soft knock on the door woke us up the next morning. We shuffled upstairs at the topmost floor of the Guesthouse with our sleeping rags wrapped. Ghandruk looked much more populated and clustered with stone-slab houses than what I had expected. At an altitude of 1,950 metres above sea level, Ghandruk boasted the finest of lodges and hotels in the region. It perched right at the flank of the hill with a towering Himalayan mountain range on the other side. A little while later the sun rose up slowly casting its prismatic rays on the gigantic Mount Annapurna and Fishtail. The view looked celestial and hypnotic. The massive barren rock veiled in glittered flakes of snow silhouetted, that’d leave any onlooker mystified. And, the serenity of the instant with the freezing breeze added much tension to its mystic view. It was a moment later when the crimson red sun changed its colour into a yellowish yolk of an egg that sparked daylight and brought me back to consciousness. I was completely lost and mesmerized by the spectacle.

We set out for our second day’s trip after tea. I didn’t feel any pain nor was I having any difficulty breathing. The air was fresh and the walk pleasant. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the hilltop. Mt Annapurna and Machapuchre loomed over on the other side of the gorge. We ate our staple diet. Rice and curry. The owner of the restaurant, a healthily built lady, cheered us both when she told us that we were only an hour away from our destination. For a change, we chatted away an hour with a Belgian girl who was doing the same trip the other way around. We asked her few questions about the places we’d be at and answered hers where she’d be at on her way down.

We continued our ascent at snail’s pace and even managed to spare ourselves the whole evening at Tadapani. It was 2,500 metres above sea level. The place was a cluster of thatched and stone-slab houses that encircled a big patio-like courtyard in the middle. There were Tibetans selling Tibetan antiques, turquoises, and handloom shawls. A group of young girls greeted us cheerfully and we waved them back with equal delight. Since we had a whole evening, we took time to bargain a double bedroom in a guesthouse at a good price and a hot shower for Rs100 each. We went out for a stroll after the shower. A sharp giggle caught our attention from an inside of the inn. We went inside it to find ourselves in the middle of drunken men and cheerful looking girls, busy serving them. We shared a table with a Chinese guy and his guide, and ordered a bottle of locally brewed wine. When I finished my third glass of wine, all I saw was haze. I saw people shaking up and down and sideways with convulsions of unstoppable laughter and joy. I laughed my heart out too. The last words I could make out were a stammer from my cousin.

I woke up late the next morning with a woozy hangover. But it felt better after a hot lemon tea we drank by the veranda with the view of Mount Annapurna soaring right above us. After tea, we continued our journey with a steep descent into the alpine woods. Our next destination, Deurali, comprised of only three guesthouses nestled in the woods. Given that we were only few hours away from our next destination, we decided to continue moving ahead after lunch. But as I ate my first spoonful of rice and curry, I felt my stomach roar. I realized I had diarrhoea. I had a bar of snicker instead. Our walk then followed a trail above the hill with coniferous trees. Between the trees emerged a stretch of Himalayan range that seemed infinite. Had it not been for the diarrhoea I was suffering from and my frequent stopover into the bushes, it’d have been the most pleasant walk of my life. However, I would still recommend this trail to be one of the best in the region, to anyone. It was simply breathtaking.

A two hour-long walk led us at the edge of the hill from where a cluster of blue coloured rooftops was visible in the twilight. The other edge at the hill offered a view of chain of hills on the horizon. After a few minutes’ rest on the top of hill, we started downhill. We reached Ghorepani in an hour that lay at the foot of Poon hill. We wasted no time to find a guesthouse at a reasonable price. A guesthouse owner got his son to fetch me a diarrhoea pill from the only pharmacy just nearby. Thanks a bundle to that snotty little young boy, I was back to normal in an hour before dinnertime. A fireplace blazed in the middle of the dining hall and all the guests were busy eating and chatting about their trips. We sat next to a Japanese trio of two old men and a young girl. We exchanged our formal Namaste and Hi hello, and in no time found out that, the young girl was a student majoring in Nepali at Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu. She was accompanying the two old men as an interpreter who knew no single Nepalese words or English, with a guide and a porter on their trek to Ghandruk. After dinner, we left the hall.

We woke up very late the next morning, for we were too tired. We took a stroll around the village that had a number of antique shops, cafes, restaurants, and bookstores. Some young men said us that there’s a pool hall and a discotheque as well in the vicinity. That didn’t appeal me a bit; instead I bought a second hand copy of Heinrich Harrer’s "Seven years in Tibet" for Rs300 which occupied me in the most of my day, while my cousin spent his entire afternoon playing pools. In the evening, we sat by the fireplace and drank locally brewed wine. A moment later, a Japanese trio we met last night joined us. The young Japanese girl said that they’d continue their journey the next day to Deurali. We asked them about geisha and samurai and explained them about khukuri and dhaka-topi in return. The Japanese girl was so fluent and immaculate in her Nepali; we had the advantage of wooing her with lewd Nepalese dialect from time to time during the conversation. She replied us back with equal glee that added much excitement in the pursuit of courtship. The two old men would just sit and smile in wry apprehension.

It was still dark outside when we woke up the next dawn.We shivered our way up to Poon hill with a group. An hour later; we reached the top of the hill. Breathing seemed suffocated and the freezing breeze was piercingly harsh into the ears in that altitude. I felt nauseous with every breath. I hold on and stood trembling. A little while later, the sun rose up in its full reddish-glow. Its rays struck on the vast range of mountains that gave us a magnificent view. The view stretched so long that it’d take one to turn around to see it’s both ends.

Half an hour later, we were back in the guesthouse. We paid our bills, thanked the owner for his hospitality and bade him goodbye. We continued our downhill slowly. Our descent followed one of the most tedious trails in the whole region from Ulleri. It was 3,000 flights of steps. By 5 pm, we were in Nayapul haggling with a cab driver for a ride back to Pokhara. The last night, we had a blast in a lakeside bar at Pokhara. We toasted to the memories we had had on the trip and drank till we puked. The next day, I was back home with sciatica, a bacterial infection at my nasal orifice and a withered skin that changed my look so horrible that people mistook my face for an orangutan’s, for few days.

© Bimal Gurung. Dec 2006 updated

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