A little short of blood, but smiling all the same!
Trip Start Apr 17, 2007
23Trip End Sep 17, 2007
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First trek complete.
Snow-covered mountain peaks glimpsed through cloud, and colonies of grateful leeches fed.
As a 'marker-in-the-sand' trek, I think my friendly experts advised me well. The first day involved a long bus ride and only a couple of hours walking, but continuous heavy rain, an unrelenting uphill gradient, and the first appearance of our blood-sucking friends, were enough to convince the three other people sharing the first day route to turn for home the following day. As sole surviving amateur at the end of the first day I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
On the second day the weather improved, and clear views of some nice high snowy mountain-tops from the lodge in the evening, not to mention some excellent company from comrades-in-trek staying at the same place, made it all seem worthwhile. But there was a niggle at the back of my mind. I hadn't been expecting quite the relentless succession of gradients with which I'd been faced, and my legs were being to feel it.
Days three and four were probably the toughest trekking-wise, and a complete absence of other trekkers staying in the same places as us gave me plenty of time to ponder on whether or not I'd bitten off more than I could chew, and what the consequences of that might be. My legs were now getting seriously cross with me, and were showing it by locking themselves solid whenever I stopped moving them for more than a few minutes. Still, the girls from the village in which one of the over-night stops was located did lay on some highly entertaining traditional local dancing - audience participation mandatory - giving me an alternative source of potential embarrassment to worry about.
Days five and six are when it all started falling into place. My legs were finally starting to realise that there wasn't any point in complaining and were accepting that they just had to knuckle down to it, and I was starting to think that I might get through the trek without any of the knee problems that I used to get when making sudden unreasonable demands of them. I was even starting to think that I should be doing a more demanding trek...
And by day seven it was all over.
On reflection, it was the right trek to do. I'm certainly very keen to do more (and more demanding) treks in the area, but at a more conventional time of year when the sky will be clearer, the rain will be less, the leeches will be fewer, and the sun when shining won't be as hot. But I now know what to expect from a Himalayan trek, and I think I like it...
Perhaps it's just me, but when embarking on something like this for the first time, there's sometimes a faint notion in the back of one's mind that one might be about to discover the one thing that one's really good at - that a significant natural talent might be on the verge of being unearthed. There's nothing more effective at sending such ridiculous notions sailing into the long grass, than watching the locals, or the people who do this sort of thing professionally - guides and porters - in action. My guide, Tyson, had been recommended to me by Choemen, and is clearly very good at his job. With experience in a number of trekking roles with one of the biggest trekking firms in the region, he clearly knows what he's doing. He knows the routes, he knows a lot about the region and the mountains, he has a wealth of solid trekking-related advice, and he has very good personal skills enabling him to get on well with both locals and even the most difficult of trekkers (such as myself). Add to that a physical presence which leaves you in no doubt that should it be required he could carry you half way around the circuit at a speed similar to that one attains when being self-propelled, and you start thinking that this is about as safe as knocking around in the world's highest mountain range can possibly get. When I come back to do another trek (hopefully in the company of some of you reading this), Tyson will be the first choice guide. And if anyone reading this is looking for a Nepali trek guide, get in touch and I'll gladly (and with clear conscience) forward his details.
(As an aside, during the pre-trek briefing Tyson asked me how much chocolate I could eat. I had to stifle a chuckle whilst thinking that if he wanted a really impressive answer, he was actually asking the wrong person!)
I spent a couple of days at the end of the trek in the delightful lake-side town of Pokhara, near to the start and end points of most of the treks in the Annapurna area. The snowy peaks of the Annapurna range which loom over the town being totally obscured by cloud at this time of year, takes away much of the appeal of the town, but there's still a fair amount remaining with the picturesque lake nestling amongst the foothills. A vast selection of restaurants serve high quality international cuisine to hungry returning trekkers, and in an Italian place (Cafe Concerto) my palate encountered the highlight of its trip so far - a cocktail made from gin and Italian lemon ice-cream! The first one was better than the second (of course), but they'll both live long in the memory! And a Saturday morning stroll up to a large hill-side stupa, the 'World Peace Pagoda', gave fine views of the lake and the town, and was the perfect opportunity to acquire a few final leech-bites before the bus-ride home the following day.
I'm sure as the bus was pulling away from Pokhara I could hear a faint yet distinct cry of, "Come back - I'll bite your legs off!", but surely it must just have been a fellow passenger with a personal DVD player and a fondness for Python films...
So now I'm back in Kathmandu, and the roller-coaster continues. Choemen's younger brother, Chungda, has invited me to spend a week at the family home in a small village near to Ilam (of tea fame) in the East of the country. It's actually not far from Darjeeling, but the Indians have currently sealed the border which runs between the two because of concerns about refugees from Bhutan crossing. We're due to travel tomorrow, but for added excitement there's currently a curfew in force at the nearest large town through which we need to pass, prompted by demonstrations over a rigged lottery getting out of hand. Now this really is living on the edge...