Reliable internet is not what Nepal is known for. Nor should it be. But let that be my excuse for trying to jam an entire month’s worth of exploring into one simple blog.
Each step is slightly harder than the last. The darkness doesn’t help, but your eyes have adjusted to walking by moonlight and it is really quite spectacular. You legs continue to move, slowly, one foot settling down slightly in front of the other for forward progress. If only the sun would rise, perhaps those fingers clenched in two pairs of gloves would warm up. The fact that forty extra pounds of weight are strapped to your back is constantly reminding you of itself by digging into your already sore shoulders. Short, shallow breaths. It’s the only way, as you near your goal of 17,769 feet above sea level. That last, rock hard and un-chewable Snickers…isn’t helping at all.
It’s not all grim and gore though as the Thorong La Pass comes with in reach. You can’t see it but you know it’s getting closer. It has to be getting closer! Finally, and surprisingly, you can see the waiving of prayer flags just on the horizon of the pass. That’s the finish line. You whip out your camera (which turns on painfully slowly, it too dislikes this cold) and you film the last few steps as you obtain glory in the mountains. It’s a celebration, a crowd of people wander around, catching their breath, hugging, high-fiving, fist-pumping with excitement. Some had to be carried by horse, some without loads due to the hiring of porters, some in just ridiculously good shape with no problems at all. Together though, you’ve all accomplished a fairly respectable feat. You’ve essentially beaten the Annapurna Circuit!
Maybe that’s just how I felt about it all. Honestly, it was one of the most physically trying things I’ve ever done, the last climb to ascend into the pass. Sure the next mile of downhill on slippery gravel was tough (I only slipped/fell twice), but we’d been hiking for days and gaining elevation the whole way. That’s probably what I say ever time I do something strenuous; I prefer to forget the pain of the event and delay the opportunity for it to strike again. Perhaps after some time has gone by I’ll try a full on mountain next. Then it can be my new hardest-thing-ever.
That was one of the most defining moments of the last month for me, but much else has been experienced. Nepal has managed to show us a great many things in our time here, and I feel some of them should be mentioned as well. I’ll give them to you in a relatively chronological order.
Kathmandu. Is crazy. But I’ve heard India is worse. Let me explain. Upon landing it was already after 10pm so we didn’t see much coming into town. The streets were empty as we wound our way to the hotel. I wondered silently to myself, “Where are the roads?” We were traversing the city through what seemed like a maze of back alleys and shady streets that were so narrow we certainly didn’t belong there in a vehicle. Turns out that’s just the way it is. Power lines criss-cross each other and converge on rebar-enforced cement poles. When you see the pictures you’ll understand my concern…a rat’s nest doesn’t have as many separate pieces. The traffic is impossible to explain. I’m glad to say we were only in one car accident, a rear-ending of a motorcycle. No damage, no exchange of information, no problems. Just a quick back up of traffic, accented by an explosion of car/motorcycle/bike horns just in case we didn’t realize we had stopped in the middle of the street.
Of course there was the trek. We started by leaving our unnecessary gear in Pokhara, and proceeding to the trail head in Besisahar. It wasn’t long and we were engaged with our environment. We walked alongside the Marysgandi River to start, finding strange squirming bugs and walking sticks in the road. The spiders scared the men in our troupe, but Kim just laughed at us. We jumped right into rustic living that first night by sleeping in a “hotel” that was more of a barn. With beds in it.
The trek would take Kim and I twenty days to complete. We had many adventures and hiked many miles. To date I have not compiled the total numbers in kilometers or miles…but it is extremely safe to say we walked over one hundred miles on the circuit. In an attempt to skip some walking we took a mountain bus, only to find ourselves on two wheels tipping towards the Kali Gandaki River below us. Hundreds of feet, below us. We walk whenever we can now. It may have been our original plan to also complete the Annapurna Base Camp hike, but sickness and a desire to leave the mountains behind left Eric hiking alone. Kim and I returned to Pokhara.
Here we again split, Kim would stay in town and I would head out on a pilgrimage to Bardia National Park and Bhojpur. My quest brought me into the jungle of the Terai, the flat part of Nepal that was home to it’s most desirable wildlife. I sought the Royal Bengal tiger here, following prints from the night before. We walked through tall grass that also hid rhino’s, stalking over rocks and through water. None were sighted, but the thought of catching up to one on foot in the jungle or grass was enough to make the trip worth the fourteen hour bus ride. Here I would also learn of Lonely Planet’s map labeling mistake…that this town of Bhojpur (where I would find the most authentic of the legendary Khukari knives) was actually on the eastern side of the country. There was no way I was going that far for a souvenir, so I returned to Pokhara.
Sadly, this is a completely abridged version lacking a majority of the detail and story that really describes the last month. Feel free to take the account of my travel partner Kim as well, her blog includes more photos. This can be found at www.curiouskim.blogspot.com
Until next time, stay classy. World.