We are an accumulation of our experiences, albeit good or bad, and the only way to increase the depth of our being is to expose ourselves to all that which is alien to us. I am not talking about professional growth but growth as an individual. It is about exposing ourselves to the plethora of cultures, customs and rituals that exist out there; to familiarise oneself to all that which was once considered different. It surmounts to taking a leap of faith, hoping to discover something new or to simply overcome a previous fear.
Over the years I have had my forays into trekking but none that rivalled the trek to Annapurna Base Camp. The trek up to the Base Camp was as difficult as it was spectacular, with the Crème de la crème being the final view of the Annapurna Mountain Range at the top.
The Annapurna, translated into the Goddess of Harvest, is a mountain surrounded by mysticism that is as vast as the expanses. It is the 10th highest peak in the world with one of the highest climbing fatality-to-summit ratio among any of the eight-thousand peaks.
The Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek is a much sought after trekking route for enthusiasts. The peak seasons for the trekking are after fall, between September to mid-December, and after winter, between March and May. Although it is possible to trek to the camp during off-peak seasons, it is highly advisable to avoid doing so due to unfavourable weather (and let’s not even talk about the leeches on the ground during the rainy season!). I decided to impart on the journey with my cousin, my long time trekking buddy and travel enthusiast.
Although we lacked the experience, we opted to not take a guide or a porter for the trek. We did not want to feel constricted or be coerced into following a specific routine or a specific path. This decision, while giving rise to certain challenges along the way, also provided us with a sense of freedom to dictate our own pace. As someone who has inherently been afraid of getting lost since childhood, a trek through the mountains gave the perfect opportunity to face the fear and thus, establish a sense of empowerment.
The journey to the starting point of the trekking site is quite simple. Regular flights are available from Katmandu Airport to Pokhara (tourist buses are also available, which take about 7 hours). The beautiful setting of Pokhara makes it a wonderful city to relax in. The streets are lined with cafes providing live music in the evening. It provides a perfect platform for both the calm required before the trek and the relaxation needed after it.
Situated a short half an hour drive away from the centre of Pokhara, Phedi serves as the starting point for the ABC trek. I am still not sure what I was expecting, but the starting site is inconspicuously marked with a simple signboard directing the way towards ABC.
With our bags securely rested on our shoulders, we started on our seven days-long trek through the different expanses that the mountains offered. The first day, although difficult, set the tone for the rest of the journey. It was a simple routine of waking up early, trekking 7-8 hours a day, chatting away the evening with other fellow trekkers, sharing stories and experiences of our travel and then hitting the bed early for the next day.
Day 1: Phedi to Pothana
Day 2: Pothana to Jhinudani
Day 3: Jhinudani to Sinwa
There were two specific observations that we made over the days: one, the inhabitants of the mountains share a similar trait – the ability to make the most out of whatever resources are available; and two, the trekkers all seemed to be warm hearted and welcoming people. We somehow managed to overcome language barriers and learn about the most spectacular experiences of each other.
It is then that I learnt that there’s nothing that provides greater warmth than a hearty conversation and there’s nothing that provides a greater satisfaction than a shared meal.
Our company of two grew when at the end of our third day, we were approached by a wonderful Korean couple, Shirley and Juan, who offered to trek with us. It was a godsend. Shirley and Juan happened to be veteran trekkers, having completed many treks over the years. They took us under their tutelage.
Day 4: Sinwa to Durelli
We reached Durelli completely drenched and ended up, due to shortage in supply of rooms, in a shared room. We four had to share a room with another wonder Australian girl. The shared distress over wet clothes brought the inhabitants of the camp closer together as we managed to convince the owners to light a fire to help dry our clothes. The night made for interesting conversations over servings of masala tea.
Day 5: Durelli to ABC
This was the last part of our ascent to the top and coincidentally happened to be the most difficult part. We had not previously undertaken trekking to such heights and so on account of our inexperience at such altitude we were not sure what to expect. The first marked change was the drop in temperature, combine that with the wind chill factor, we came to face Mother Nature’s fury. The ascent from Durelli to ABC was approximately 900m and that meant a shortness of breath owing to the altitude. Due to a stroke of bad luck, both me and my cousin suffered from a spite of altitude sickness. But when we reached the top, overcoming all obstacles, an uninterrupted view of the range was worth every inch of the trek.
We were further rewarded with a view of the moonlit peaks of the mountains at night which far exceeded our wildest expectations.
Day 6: ABC to Bamboo
Day 7: Bamboo to Siwai
I must admit, once we started our trek downward we were eager to get back to Pokhara where we left our clean clothes. Owing to the constant rain, most, if not all, of our clothes were wet. As we headed down the slopes, the weather gradually got warmer which was a pleasant change. It was the basic necessities that far outweighed our desire for any form of luxury. Some clean and dry clothes and a warm shelter.
Travelling is meant to open one’s mind and trekking provides the perfect opportunity for that. The hours of walking through the mountains allows time for a degree of soul searching comparable to the magnitude of the surroundings. As such a trekking experience is recommended for all.
Personally for me, I found the trek itself was analogous to the struggles of life; there may be many obstacles along the way but it is imperative to muster the willpower and stay on track and enjoy the journey, because the eventual destination is worth the effort.
Photographs courtesy of Syed Eshamul Alam