These days I have come to think of in my mind as the days of the “never-ending stone staircase of pain and torment”. This is not a gentle slope into the mountains but rather a steep climb up and up and up. The stone staircase is very roughly built, the steps are spaced widely apart with little consistency between them. This trail was built as a trading route for the people of the Nepal mountains. I wondered frequently if those people had giant long legs to be able to walk on these stairs. Or if the original builders just stopped and dropped a stone wherever they felt convenient.
One of the more frustrating parts of this journey I have taken to calling the “triangle phenomenon”. You see, mountains are funny shaped. They go up and down. And because we had to cross over so many mountains we also had to go up and down. We would climb higher and higher on those infernal stairs and then get to the point of the triangle to discover that we now had to go all the way back down. And then once we reached the bottom, we would climb up again. Working so hard to gain elevation and then immediately losing it all again only to have to turn around and climb back up was maddening. And this went on for several days. For me, not in peak physical condition, this just became a matter of sheer will. Holding my self together and taking another step mostly out of a stubborn refusal to let the stairs win.
Oh, and we smelled really really awful.
Ok so those were the rough parts. There were also amazing parts. The food was delicious every day. Made fresh from produce grown in the local villages, there was a startling variety of choice. Though we often ate the traditional local dish Dal Bhat. More on that later. I haven’t eaten meat since we got here, there are tons of great vegetarian options. I have been craving steak though (Katie if you read this, don’t yell at me!). A particular food highlight for me was the mountain village of Chhomrong. There I found the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. The cake is legendary, word of it passed from trekker to trekker as we climbed down the mountain. “Oh you are going near Chhomrong? Make sure you have the chocolate cake!” It’s so good in fact that Time magazine has written an article praising it. Flavored with exhaustion and the hunger that only comes from hard physical labor, that cake was ambrosia.
Lodgings were very basic and simple. Most nights I was so tired I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings and just collapsed into bed. We did especially enjoy our Guest House in Chhomrong which was several stories high and had huge windows that gave us a spectacular view.
And of course there were the views. We could see the Annapurna range every day. Getting closer and closer to us. Truly stunning mountains, the views were worth the effort it took to get there. The first half of the trek had us moving through lush forests of bamboo and rhododendron. Tiny streams and waterfalls were frequent along the way. The rushing sounds of the Seti River could be heard constantly even when we couldn’t see it. We crossed over giant crevices on “rope” bridges made of wood or cables and wires.
Most of the wildlife we saw on the way was the domesticated variety; sheep, goats, donkeys, and foreign Trekkers. A particular fascination of mine was the transport donkeys. The mountain villages in this area are very remote. There are no supermarkets, limited electricity, and no roads. Most of what is needed to run these Guest Houses in brought in on Donkeys which use the same trail the trekkers do. They are assertive, consider the trail theirs and don’t care if you are in the way or not. We learned quickly that when you hear the bells the donkey’s wear you move to the side of the trail and hug the wall as fast as you can. Especially since they are often loaded with gas cans, that bang and scrap again the tight stone walls….
As we got higher and higher in elevation the forest disappeared and we were left with stark rocky hills covered in a low growing yellow grass. We reached Annapurna Base Camp on Day 5 of the Trek. It deserves its own separate post which you can view here.
It rained on the last day of our trek. Not a light sprinkle, a 48 hour non-stop downpour. We were soaked completely and cold when we finally arrived back in Pokhara. Katie said the weather matched her mood as we left and she wore black in mourning for leaving the Mountains.