Sitting with my two feet safely planted at sea level (well just about at 820m) in Pokhara and a blank word document in front of me I’m wondering why on earth I decided it would be a better idea to write after we had completed the trek. The experience of putting pen to paper while surrounded by the gargantuan landscape turned out to be extremely overwhelming. I felt that my words were impaired by fatigue and would be clearer at a distance. To condense everything that was seen, experienced, endured, gaped at, blistered, bled, loomed… it is impossible. Amoung other things, I have been reading Kerouac’s Dharma Bums while trekking and with his influence while romping through the valley’s in the shadows of the great Himalaya’s snippets of sentences and words floated in and out of my oxygen deprived brain. They played around, perfectly describing the surroundings, lyrically encapsulating sights that camera’s meekly mirror. When completing the days trek exhausted and beaten I was sure that they would still be at my disposal when we had returned back to civilisation. Yet of course, now they evade me.
For me the trek was split into three parts; getting to Manang at 3500m where we had to remain for two days to acclimatise, journeying over Thorong La Pass battling altitude at 5416m and then the final days making our way to Tatopani where we would take a local bus leaving the mountains behind us. I have deduced that the only way to channel my thoughts and accurately bring events to page is through the power of compartmentalisation. I have decided to write three more instalments of our journey around the Annapurna circuit for your own enjoyment and my own (slightly selfish) cathartic needs.
So here it goes, episode one, that I did in fact start during the trek but the call of a snickers, a hot cup of tea and bed proved too much.
As I write it is the end of our third full day of trekking the Annapurna and I am surrounded by giants. We are at 2750ft on the roof of a teahouse in the small mountain village of Timang and in every direction my eyes are met by a peak that rivals the snowy heights of her gargantuan neighbour. The afternoons tend to be far more over cast than the mornings but Kangaru Himal refuses to hide completely, teasing us with mere glimpses of it’s summit.
In the run up to our departure I was so preoccupied sorting out gear and calming both my mother and my own fears that I left no room in my mind for excitement. I was focusing so much on the notion of walking for hours everyday that I gave no time to ponder upon what I would be walking through. The beauty of the landscape is unfathomable and the vast variation between luscious, overhanging jungle and unforgiving, rocky cliff faces is constant. One hour you are pushing your way through dense Kiplingesque undergrowth then you find yourself next enduring a seemingly never ending climb up a landslide that was once a path. As you can tell from my writing I am very enamoured with what I have seen so far, although that is not to say that my legs are not jelly and my feet throbbing.
Today we ascended over 1050m in under 4 hours, a feet that I can assure you was not our original plan. We had thought that we would only walk for 2 hours to Daripani and rest there for the evening while doing some washing and maybe taking a dip in a hot spring. Delightful. However, last night in the gorgeous valley village of Tal our Tibetan host whose name I cannot recall but I know it sounded suspiciously similar to the Dalai Lama informed us that we should press on to Timang. He said that the views of the mountains were far superior and it would be no problem for us. When we pointed out the difference in altitude of the two places on the map and asked if it was up hill he replied in a playful giggle, ‘little steep. Not very, you do easy. You both go speed of true Nepali.’ Maybe it was the unwarranted compliment or maybe we were light headed from exhaustion, but why we believed that it wouldn’t be four hours continuously scrambling up mountainsides I do not know. Both Yusef and I are both currently nursing painful muscle spasms, have thighs that feel like lead and extremely sore feet. We have both made mental notes never to believe a local when talking about the difficulty of a route and always believe the map. Although you got to hand it to the Dalai, he was right about the breathtaking views.
After enjoying a plate of fresh veg momos, a hot shower and with a hot cup of coffee in hand I felt ready to write in a way that had evaded me for our first two evenings. While walking I was so inspired by nature that I had only before seen in pictures and aspects of the route that I knew I would find useful to read if embarking on the circuit. There were so many sentences swimming in and out of my mind that I wanted to get down before they somersaulted over the snowy peaks and out of my reach. Predictably when arriving at our destination dripping with sweat and starving, the notion of forming coherent sentences was laughable, let alone a piece of writing worthy of reading. So forgive me but I allowed myself two nights of eating delicious home cooked, home grown food and snuggling up with my aptly titled book, Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’. In the future I promise to be more disciplined and write down those words that flicker in and out of ones mind. (As it turns out, sadly I'm not that disciplined.)
A lovely Danish women in Darjeeling asked me whether I was a person of the sea or of the mountain, I thought it an odd question but in the end answered the sea. I was brought up with the sea as both my parents were keen sailors and we spent countless hours playing around in old sailing boats learning how to rig them. My family home is situated just five
minutes walk from a beach in Liverpool that looks out on to the mouth of the river Mersey and the Irish sea. For all of these reasons and more I deduced that ‘sea’ would be the obvious answer. However, I’m quickly realising that to dichotomise things that are so intrinsically linked devalues the intricacy of nature’s design. To choose is to force a separation between the lakes and rivers from the vast sea and the billowing clouds, something that cannot be done. Precipitation from the clouds drizzles down to the mountain tops which form gushing waterfalls that crash into the lakes and seas of the world. The mountains have found their way into my life in a big way (excuse the pun) and I can now start to grasp why people risk their lives to summit them. Whereas before, to seek the desolation of the snowy peaks which appeared to me as devoid of life I found baffling. But after three long days I am starting to realise that the Annapurna is a experience that is carving it’s dramatic shadow into my mind and will no doubt influence my life for years to come.