Learning the ‘ABC’ of the Himalayas

Posted by on Dec 9, 2019 in Travel Tales | 16 comments

Learning the ‘ABC’ of the Himalayas

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)- the very foothills of the world’s tenth deadliest mountain. Honestly, the one year in between committing for this and actually setting foot into the flight that’ll take me to Kathmandu, I’ve had ample chills- even emotional chills- by just thinking of this Himalayan eight-thousander. But that afternoon of 13 Nov, there I was- standing right before it. The small base camp, with a small canteen and a few rooms to lodge trekkers is located in the middle of an amphitheater of high peaks. I overheard one of the trekkers ( from another group) say this jokingly describing our location: “Right now, we are in the middle of a big donut.” Even though comically worded, it was true.
In that moment of pure awe, it was easy to forget all the challenges that we went through during our trekking. Like every good trekking trip, it was full of challenges- for me more emotionally overwhelming, than being physically challenging. Trekking is always full of surprises, ranging from moody weather to the people you meet. Every day was a new one, and I simply wouldn’t justify my urge to express mixing all that I went through in a generic post.

Hence, this post is journal style- because I felt that’s what’ll bring my experience most to life. The entries in this journal, chronologically , are written from the tea-houses in which we stayed overnight. Starting with Bangalore (which isn’t a tea house yet!), follow me in this trail now, will you?

Bangalore, 6 Nov: It’s NOW OR NEVER- something I got inked on me long time back- seems to make sense all the more now.
T-1 day to go for the much awaited journey to Nepal, to get going on the Annapurna Basecamp trek.
We’ve nick-named the 12 of us the “dirty dozen” – because that’s what best describes the mad-cappers from WGSHA 10th course who’ll hike their way upto the 4130 meters.
What began as a thought exactly one year ago at our reunion in Manipal, is now for REAL! We’ve stuck together, powered each other through, hit lows and highs .. but without my dear friend Sahil and his unending passion and patience this wouldn’t have seen the light of day. It’s a first for me, and for many of us embarking on this high altitude multi day trek. Talking of firsts, check out First Light Adventure, the boutique trekking experience company Sahil runs. If reading just this much has made your adrenalin glands swell even a centimetre, and this is something you want to do sometime soon, get in touch with him. You’ll love how he’ll take personal care to make sure you’re prepped for this.

Packing done. An early morning start tomorrow, stopping at Delhi- meeting two more of the dirty dozen clan, and heading to Kathmandu.

Stuff that’ll be inside my back-pack

Thamel, 7 Nov: For long a sleepy rural enclave, Thamel is today the beating commercial and cultural heart of Kathmandu—a dizzying square kilometre of hotels, bars, cafés, bookshops and temples to which visitors and residents gravitate, drawn to its dazzle and its possibilities.
And yes, our tribe is almost in… 17 hours to T-0! P

Thamel, 8 Nov: Some local Nepali Newari thali, a briefing session for our trek that kicks off tomorrow , followed by the cutest pre-birthday cheese cake cutting ceremony for me!
Kaushik even wore a heart-printed poncho to entertain me😆
Thanks to our good friend KT, all of us now have this wonderful souvenir too.
Can’t wait for tomorrow to begin!

Gandruk, 9 Nov (my birthday): Pokhara was a small stop, but a quaint town that leaves you wanting to explore more.
We’re now in Gandruk, at what will be considered one of the most “luxurious” tea houses of our trek- what with free wifi, charging points and hot showers !
Earlier that morning, the rickety Buddha Air flight showed us a preview of the stunning Annapurna ranges. A bumpy drive from the Pokhara would take us to Kimche, from where we were to start our trail. But due to a land mower removing debris of a landslide, the bus wasn’t mobile anymore! This resulted in an extra hour of unaccounted trekking prior to what has been planned.
So from that point onwards we trekked half an hour to Kliu instead and stopped at a ‘Didi’s restaurant’ that served us some serious soul food of daal-rice, mustard greens, spicy potatoes and chicken curry. All this accentuated with a sizzling and crackling home made buffalo ghee. We’ll eventually find out that this was the secret diet and ‘magic sauce’ of the porters- the real heroes of our trek. Carrying around 20 kilograms on their backs, an incessant smile and unprecedented speeds at times, they truly prove Nepalis thrive on ‘daal bhaat power, 24 hour

From Kliu we climbed upto Kimche kicking off the real ABC trail. Crossing some beautiful Himalayan vistas and uphill terrain, when we reached Gandruk, we had gained an elevation of 1990 meters.
But the best about this day, was saved for the last for me.
Completely taking me in for a surprise was a birthday cake brought up undamaged all the way from Pokhara by the amazing porters and guides. There was no better way to ring in my birthday. Of course I missed my twin cuddles and family love from back home. Who else but the dirty-dozen can make sure that there was a ‘make-up’ plan for this. Much love came for them !🤗

Chhomrong, Nov 10: We are at Chhomrong now … a little village with delightful panoramas all around. Today’s trek was one tough nut to crack.

Arriving in Chhomrong was a real treat, though. Chhomrong remains one of my favorite villages of the trail. The view of the charming stone houses dotting the endless paddy fields was truly idyllic. The tea house was a house made of stones and wood, with a colonial charm to it. Potted flowering plants trailed their way through every balcony railing. The room I was staying in had a sort of a private terrace attached to it. When I stepped out the next morning I was in a glorious daze. And you’ll believe what I’m saying when you watch this spectacular sunrise that I witnessed.

Dovan, Nov 11: From Chhomrong, the trail led us down to a suspension bridge and then up again to Sinuwa. The steep trail ended in Sinuwa and although the gradual trail passed through some enchanting bamboo and rhododendron forests, you could make out you’re gaining altitude.
Equivalent to 160 floors with high rocks that like to call themselves stairs, the downhill climb and then the uphill climb around three cascades of lower Himalayas got us till Sinuwa.
For lunch, we stopped at a village with the most predictable name- a hamlet called Bamboo in the middle of a bamboo forest! Here in the mountain area as you go up the price of food, electricity and wifi maintain the ascent too. Water and mobile batteries recharged, we got back on the trail.

I have very fond memories of the 2 hour trek from Bamboo to Dovan.
I know many in my gang will find this strange, but this was the most relaxed trail in my trek. Maybe the beautiful trail through the woods distracted me from the extreme rush of overwhelm I faced in Sinuwa. The lush, verdant green everywhere and absolute silence was a balm I think. The sun was diving slowly yet steadily behind the mountains and the light was fading fast. It had been a while since we heard anything other the rustle of the dried leaves under our trekking shoes, or the sound of the mountain air.
7 hours of this since Chhomrong. By then, we had climbed down 200 mts and gained a few hundreds more to be at 2600 meters in yet another quaint Himalayan village called Dovan.

Tomorrow is another day, and even though I’m immensely fatigued right now, it’s amazing how I’m looking forward to what we have in store tomorrow.
Sticking with friends you’ve known for 22 years maybe the reason ❤️

Deurali, Nov 12:  If yesterday was beautiful and fulfilling – today was tantalising, rugged, wild yet breathtaking.
We are at 3200 metres in the tiny Himalayan hamlet of Deurali. The moss green of the mountains on our way from Dovan have gradually turned to brown and ochre telling us that we will soon be above the tree line.
Our trail today had some gorgeous sceneries to soak in. Forest trails, mountain streams, majestic waterfalls, steep boulders to scale, loose gravel to balance on and precarious rocks to step on. But yet it filled my heart.
Bright shining sunlight flirted ferociously when we reached Deurali. But clouds had other notorious intentions and very soon we were caught literally in it.
The mountains are indeed unpredictable. Just when you thought that the clouds have basically done a curtain call for the day, suddenly there was a show of brilliant sunset colours on these silver rugged surfaces. And then, back to the same haze. “Manmarziyaan koi inse seekhe!” ( Learn from these mountains how to play with whims!)

Deurali, meaning pass in Nepali, is a very common name to hear when you are in the mountains of Nepal. Just like every other Deuralis and pass, this one stands on the top of hill connecting one side of the valley to another. However, this Deurali not only joins two valleys but two faiths too, for it is here that Buddhism welcomes you with its Mani walls and prayer flags. Standing at Deurali, you can also see the route in front of you as far away as Kinja.
Tomorrow we reach MachuPuchare base camp at 3700 meters. And like we know .. “Great things are done when men( and women) and mountains meet.’
Till then…

MachuPuchare Base Camp, Nov 13: A twisty one lakh twenty one thousand steps from Pokhara, today is when we reached the 4130 metres at the Annapurna Base Camp…flying our WGSHA banner bright and proud!

WE DID IT!

Rewind back to that morning- a glorious sunrise that would confuse one with a water colour canvas woke us up at 3700 feet at Deurali.
Soon we were in our last but the longest trail of the trek. This time the terrain was beyond anything I have ever imagined or even fantasised about.
Summer jackfruit coloured Himalayan meadows with wild mountain flowers and dandelions lay like a carpet along either sides of the trail we were following. Like the topping of an apple crumble tart, were frozen mountain streams criss-crossing our paths. Pops of snow casually sat on boulders and gravel. Little white flowers shook out their dusts of snow if you touched them. Grass as tall as ones in the savannah swayed to a strong alpine breeze…and commanding this panorama like a mighty citadel, was the Annapurna Sanctuary in its full glory. Everwhere the eyes could see there were snow caps.. the Annapurna One, Two and Three, the Annapurna South, the Gangapurna and the MachuPuchare/ Fishtail glaring down at us.
It is unimaginable. The stupendous size, and enormity of the Himalayas shook me up like nothing ever had. Just how inconspicuous and irrelevant I was in the whole scheme of things.
One year back I couldn’t think of this coming true. But it did. And I would have done this with no other group than this one- that pulled each other along every minute. Massively grateful to Sahil and his super brilliant Nepali crew at First Light Adventure for taking care of each one of us.

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped into the base camp, nor the unstoppable tears that followed.
End of the day- it is mind over matter.

I could have stopped writing my journal right here. But it’s important for me to say what happened the day after.

Pokhara, 14 Nov: This is when we start the descent. And descend we did. Just that I (along with two more of us) took a chopper to return back to Pokhara. Why? I asked myself the same question and found that there is another question waiting to be asked. “Why was I doing this trek?” Although the answer wasn’t very simple, every layer of the answer resounded inside me. Of course, there was the power of the physical limit I was pushing me. There was a mental willingness and the hormones of “I can” that was powering me. Last but not the least were my friends of 22 years who dropped all odds and evens from their daily lives to do this together. Given all this, why was I choosing not to trek down with them and complete the trail the traditional way? Because, today that collective power seemed a bit weak.

Because I wanted my emotional overwhelmed state to not fight it out with my powered up self. It would have been a battle my emotions would be defeated in. And, guess what- I wanted my emotions to win. I wanted to experience and live this state as much as the exhilaration of the achievement of climbing the 4130 metres.

So, I fretted not. I had done what I never dreamt I could. And as far as the climb down, that my legs and heart couldn’t stand up for, I realise that sometimes it’s sensible to give up rather than pursue. I may have pushed myself to carry on with a pain-killer or even self will- but imagine if my overwhelming emotions made the group slower on the trail down? Or worse if there was a emotional or physical situation mid trail that needs more severe interventions?
It was tough not to be judgemental about my own self, but then this choice made more sense than my self doubt.
Pushing beyond boundaries and imaginary finishing lines is fine. But I realised it takes the wiser stance to not let that make you unfit to push further boundaries in the future.
The chopper takes 10 minutes for what will take 2.5 days for the rest of the dirty-dozen to cover. So, just like that, a chopper ride just got added to my “first-time” list. Besides, the pilot was a very beautiful looking man:-)

A glorious sunrise bid me adieu in the middle of the Annapurna Sanctuary that morning, before I boarded the chopper. It was a fitting goodbye- one that made me feel that I’m adding a new layer of skin, and leaving behind an element that I’ll miss. I felt I was carrying back with me a more robust flesh; a strength in me that would make me more patient and trusting. A core that will help me endure adversities better. And, inside me a heart that’s fitter and more forgiving.

Stories and ‘strategies’ that got created in this trip are possible only with friends that are so sticky. The experience, space and memories created as a result of this trek will make each of us stronger, more resilient and attentive. Trips like this are indeed a lifetime experience.
This was honestly never a part of my bucket-list. But when we spoke about it last year, it had intrigued me. Perhaps the imaginary visuals and Himalayan portraits and landscapes I had woven in my head acted as the largest magnetic pull. My hands were itching to capture them through my lenses, and write the story that I will want to.
Could also be that my trust in my own will power needed to see the light of day- or the ‘First Light‘ shall we say?

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16 Comments

  1. A fantastic writeup. Could well be a chapter in a future travelogue ! Looking forward to more !!

  2. Thanks a lot for your kind words and the motivation 🙂
    There’ll be more soon !

  3. A very pictureque and emotive depiction of your experiences.Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  4. This is world class writing that exceptionally brings to life an inspiring experience.

  5. Thanks Rupa. The emotions really took centre stage for me- can’t deny that !

  6. That’s right, Sahil. Inspirational is the right word here. Thanks for the true leadership and camaraderie. Wouldn’t have been possible without that!

  7. Wonderful writing with so many illustrations.Will be very helpful to those who wish to do the same trekking !

  8. Your blog is like an artist’s sketch book. Cherisher all along. Felt I was also travelling with naughty dirty dozen. Cheers from Mamai.

  9. I hope this does, Ma!

  10. Mamai! This is very flattering … thanks for your kind words.

  11. Wonderful travelogue coupled with lovely pictures helped me to visualize the trek, sitting at the cozy corner of the drawing room at Golpark. Plz. Keep it up.

  12. That’s it !
    That’s the purpose of this blog post. Thanks for the lovely words, Goutam uncle!

  13. The description is as crisp as your grand description. What you have achieved is a surge of your experience and empowerment, physically, definitely, emotionally too. The snaps are excellent.

  14. Lovely write up on the very epic and personal trip Sam! Thanks so much for sharing and making me relive the 9 days as I read thru it.

  15. ☺️

  16. With great once in a lifetime adventures sometimes it is so difficult to explain what one actually experienced – with all the story, preparations and dreams in mind but you penned your thoughts so beautifully Mam.. Delightful reading and a great help for lot of people who might have same aspirations.. This is in fact like a super hit short film with a great emotional climax at the end 🙂 but on the same lines such a wise decision.
    More strength and power to you Mam and hope nature, environment remains like this or even better forever so that our future generations also get to experience it.

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