Sunday, 13 April 2014

hills to the left of me, mountains to the right, here i am stuck in a valley with a view...

So. Where were we. We went to sleep on moving beds in Scotland and awoke into a London morning, and then before we even knew what was happening we found ourselves back in the reassuringly chaotic streets of Kathmandu. And immediately slipped back into the rhythm of Nepal, the intervening months in Europe becoming a shimmering mirage in our minds.

Our first few days were spent form filling and queuing in Kathmandu (Kathmanqueue?) and then it was time for the much more important brotherly reunion. So we dodged the rain and hail the night threw at us to meet and welcome Harry and Alex with hugs, and got ready to set off on a journey that would carry us through the heart of the Himalayas. 

We began in BesiSahar. The purpose of this town, I suppose, is to fill with relief all the trekkers who find themselves trudging out of it. Unfortunately once you leave its dusty underwhelming streets you have a good 4 hours of walking up roads along which the construction of a huge hydro-electric station (financed, I am fairly certain though I have nothing in the way of evidence except a few Chinese signs, by China) is a constant. This is not great for the morale of four trekkers who set themselves off on a 3 week trek based on the assumption of seeing some pretty spectacular natural beauty. Thankfully the last hour of our walk this first day took us up up up, into hillier, greener, more soothing pastures.

From here on in our days were one....we woke- early always as there is not a lot to do in a trekker's night once you have overdosed on card games-, then we ate, then we trekked, usually we stopped for our lunch of 'Trekker's Fuel' muesli bars (which were so highly regarded in the beginning that we would collect every spilt crumb and became so hated after two weeks that, now, to even look at the packaging turns my stomach), then we trekked a little more, then we found lodgings and we simultaneously collapsed on the bed and dove upon the menu in the manner of starving castaways. And this, essentially, is what you do when you trek in Nepal. Of course, it is all against a backdrop of some of the most impressive mountains in the world, so immediately something as mundane as going to the toilet becomes an exercise in wonderment.  

The mountains were not giving themselves away easily. This was one of the very first, very exciting peeks of the peaks that we had on our second or third day (it's all a bit of a blur now). This was also the place where we began to feel the kilometres in our legs and stopped for some impromptu street yoga, much to the amused bemusement of the locals.

Up and up we went. Every day the views produced more gasps and excited pointing from us. But one thing that is pretty much constant in the Himalayas (all Nepal in fact) is the Tibetan prayer flags. At home they flutter from the veranda of that one house on the street where the hippies live but in Nepal they adorn everything from temples to Bodhi trees to bridges. I can't work out if their presence on those uncertain bridges which join two river valley walls, the river rushing far far below, is an appeal for safe passage or purely aesthetic...

As well as prayer flags, there are these. Name? I don't know. But they are stone and they have a seam of prayer wheels- which are to be spun sequentially, all of them, in a clockwise direction- all down the middle. There are often flat black or white stones carved with beautiful Nepali script scattered about the place too. 

On our way up to the widest pass in the world we decided we may as well take a little detour to visit the highest lake in the world. A tour of superlatives. Later we will add: the longest time without a shower, the highest altitude we have achieved, the happiest I have ever been to catch a Nepalese bus. But for now we are on our way to the lake. And we saw this very stylish yak, with flowers in its ears. 

We walked across this incredibly dangerous section of 'path'; essentially about a foot of slightly less steep gravel where miss-step ends in probable death. This was the scariest part of our entire trek. Pretty cool picture though. And worth it. The lake, although frozen into an oval of white, was set amongst the most perfect, whitest, cleanest (still on the tour see?) mountains I've ever seen. We were almost completely surrounded by them. We heard an avalanche. And after a very arduous climb- remember we were at an altitude of about 5000 metres, which in human speak means every 5 or 6 steps we had to stop to catch our breath- and some biscuits by the frozen oval, we rewarded ourselves with some impro-skiing (toboganning without a toboggan) back down the slopes, reducing what was a 1 hour climb into a 5 minute thrill. The wet jeans were totally worth it. My body objected a little to the extremes I was subjecting it to and gave me an afternoon of altitude sickness after our return from the lake, but it was very good preparation for taking on the pass a few days hence.

A few days hence: 5000 metres is quite high; it gets quite cold. This is what we found adorning our guesthouse when we arrived at High Camp, the final stop before Thorung La; world's widest pass and 5500 metres above sea level. This night was probably the coldest I have ever been while sleeping. I wore all my clothes. Even gloves.

This is where we were though. The cold is secondary when you wake up to this.

And this. This is the famous pass.

We are triumphant. We have done it. Now all that remains between us and civilisation is a very steep descent and another couple of days. We celebrated (how else?) with water and Trekkers Fuel (whenever I say this in my head it is written in lightning and surrounded by exclamaton marks).

We've done the pass. We're bad-ass. 

Then we started the journey down. The lower we got, the warmer it was and the more the scenery began to resemble what I imagine Grand Canyon country to be. It was less spectacular than what we had just left, but quite beautiful still. We were in good spirits too. In acknowledgement of the feat we had just pulled off, we were on our way to enjoy some juicy yak burgers at a place called (in what can only be described as a stroke of genius) YakDonalds. Our expectations weren't actually that high...the visit was mostly because we couldn't let a pun that good pass us by. Happily the burgers were delicious. I am now a fan of yak in all their incarnations.  

I also like goats. Because they are so nimble and their horns are so very funny. These goats we met while wandering around a little village famous for its apple products (we sampled crumble, pie, juice, brandy and cider), on our way back to civilisation. The walk back down was quite pretty...lots of blossoming trees, the mountains still in the background, tiny villages perched here and there. But there was no denying that there was certainly less enthusiasm among our group. We had done the pass, the hard part was over, we were no longer in mountains and, to be honest, we were fairly sick of walking.  

So beautiful though the mountains undeniably are, we happily caught a bus down to Pokhara to enjoy beers, momos (dumplings), chocolates and sunsets on the lake, three days after crossing the pass. 

Satisfied in the knowledge that we had walked 208 kilometres in thirteen days.

And I will leave you with this...remember, always go clockwise...

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