Deep Breath post-Annapurna Circuit

December 3, 2009: Pohkara

For the past month my life has been very simple. All I do everyday is eat, walk, and sleep. I’ve been on an adventure through the Himalayan mountains, hiking the amazing “Annapurna Circuit” and on up to Annapurna Base Camp.

This famed adventure leads trekkers through some of Nepal’s most diverse and beautiful landscapes. And though it consists of many days of arduous hiking, the journey takes you around and into some of the world’s highest, most beautiful, mountains.

Mt. Everest, standing at 29,035 feet, is the tallest peak in the world. Just a hundred miles to the west there is the Annapurna Himal, a stretch of the Himalayan mountains containing the equally impressive Annapurna (26,545 feet), as well as the magnificent Machapuchare, Gangapurna, and Kangsar Kang peaks. (Annapurna is the one of the deadliest mountains to climb, and in fact only 60% live to tell about it.)

Along this awe-inspiring aggregation of mountains, there are rivers and trails that lead you through remote villages. The trails are the only way to get to these villages, and so, in addition to tourists wearing expensive mountaineering gear, these trails are walked by the villagers and the many porters carrying large loads upon their back. You also see many goats and yaks being herded and chickens and roosters scampering around. All along the trail, life in these mountains is being lived as it’s been lived for many centuries.

Along the Circuit, there are many locally-owned ramshackle “guesthouses”, or hotels. The rooms at these guesthouses are rarely more than a cold concrete room. But at little more than a dollar per night, and in context of the perilous mission at hand, the lack of comfort quickly becomes irrelevant.

Not to mention, trekkers don’t tend to hang out in their rooms. We all congregate in the dining room where there is life, there are candles burning, there are conversations and laughter. Travelers from all countries of the world gather around among porters, and guides, all sharing stories and experiences, tired but satisfied about the day’s achievement. And in the morning, we will pack up our belongings and begin the day’s journey off to the next village.

When the exhaustion of the journey becomes too much, you set down your bag and enjoy a cup of tea at a trailside hut, which can be found all along the trail. These tea-drinking moments has earned trekking in Nepal the nickname, “Teahouse Trekking”.

The food along the circuit is often quite greasy and pretty disgusting really. The one exception is a dish that happens to be Nepal’s national meal, and for many is the dish that they eat every single lunch and dinner, every day of the year for their entire life. It is called “dal baht”. Dal is a spicy soup made with various lentils or beans. And “baht” is rice. Of all the food you can eat on the trek, dal baht is the one consistently satisfying, nourishing, healthy, and sometimes even delicious food. For this reason, I ate it pretty much everyday. Dal baht, oatmeal, Nescafe, and Snickers were my sole-sustenance for a month.

Every day was a curious journey that always seemed as much mental as it was physical. Typically your destination for a day is maybe 6 to 10 miles away. Each day’s journey varies in elevation gains and losses, but without exception, every day is hard work. The temptation to quit is strong. These mountains lead you straight up a stone staircase that seems to never end, only to lead you right on down the backside. This goes on for several hours. Your feet are in pain, your hips are aching from the weight of your heavy backpack. Your legs are weak and you find yourself dizzy when you look down the cliff’s edge and think of the misfortune a mistep would be.

Your will is challenged constantly. Sometimes your suffering becomes unbearable. Huffing and puffing, with sweat pouring down, your mind becomes c loudy with something that resembles a bad mood. You are hungry and tired, you’re wishing you were at your destination. But then you take a cup of tea, enjoy a chocolate bar, or maybe some lunch. And then a new hopeful air comes over you, a surge of strength and vitality, and you realize you’ve got more left in you. You look around and you see the green valley and a massive mountain standing boldly before you with a clear blue sky backdrop. The sun is shining, and you realize you are ecstatic to be experiencing one of the this world’s greatest journeys. And so you triumph over fatigue once again and continue walking onwards.

The route of the journey is this: you start off on the south-western part of this upside down horseshoe shaped trail, in a town called Besi Shahar, where you begin walking north along the Marsyandi River. Once you pass the Annapurna Himal a week later, you then turn west into the mountains and over the Thorong La pass. Once you’ve crossed the pass, the second half of the trek takes you back down south around to the west of the mountains along the Kali Gandaki River. After completing the Circuit, I opted to head back up north into the heart of these mountains, into what they call the “Sanctuary”. The Annapurna Sanctuary. Pure heaven on earth, a man is but a grain of sand surveying 360 degrees of sacred mountains.

I will be posting each of the days from the journey just as soon as I can transcribe my journals. Every day was a different day of different landscapes, different challenges, different people, different religions– everything changed everyday. It was quite surprising really, that such diversity exists amongst such a relatively-small physical locale.

Bob Dylan sings, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kinda pain”. Since I’ve been in Nepal, those lyrics keep coming back to me. Anyhow, at the journey’s very conclusion I left my camera in the taxi that returned me to my home sweet hotel. I realized it immediately, but it was not to be recovered, and so I have no pictures to share. I was quite sad and it kind of put a damper on what should have been a great celebration. But that’s how life goes for me, and unfortunately, I seem to leave things behind often.

So there’s the trek recap in summary. Soon I will be posting each day.

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