On day 3 we were woken up at 04.30 and by torch light climbed Poon Hill to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. It was worth it, our first real sight of the Annapurna range with the first rays of the sun catching the summit of the highest peak and then gradually moving down until all the snow covered peaks were brilliant and glowing. There were a lot of trekkers up there and the mood became almost euphoric; people dancing , pulling funny poses and running happily around and taking photos.
Ours was the first Gap trek after the monsoon and there was still a lot of rain about. There was a weather pattern, dawn would be clear and peaceful and was the best time to view the mountains. As the sun rose higher water would evaporate from the soaked earth and form clouds and mist which would gradually obscure the mountains. Morning walking would be hot and humid and we would sweat buckets and then by the afternoon it would start to rain lightly. Evenings it would often clear and then we would see the most amazing sights sometimes completely by accident . We would be gazing at white fluffy clouds and then with a delighted shock realise that peaking out above the clouds would be a snowy mountain top. Often it would rain all night.
We progressed to walking through forests; bamboo, rhododendrons and wild flowers interspersed amongst the trees. Here we had to watch out for leeches, they would lie in wait on leaves and jump on to you and then make their way on to your skin and suck your blood. We used to check each other out and remove them but some escaped our attention, I found a bloody sock one evening and a mark on my neck.
With so much water about the waterfalls were truly spectacular. They were everywhere, falling vertically for hundreds of metres, crashing into rocks at the bottom and forming fountains. The scale of the Himalayas is awesome, raging rivers, steep mountain sides where land slides and avalanches roar down and mist which would suddenly swirl and then part giving glimpses of the snow covered peaks high above.
It was high up on the mountain we had an earthquake , I felt it as a 30 second shake of the bedroom with the door frame moving backwards and forwards but the others said it was 2 mins. It was 6.5 on the Richter scale and killed people in Kathmandu. A dog had followed us up the trail and had adopted our room to sleep in until I threw him out . I thought it was him trying to get into the room.
Only on the last day before base camp did we break out of the forest and walked through grass land. Then our luck deserted us and it rained heavily with thick mist. We slogged on and up and at last in the late afternoon stumbled up to Annapurna base camp, 4100 meters high. By then we were tired, wet and a bit miserable but our luck hadn’t entirely deserted us because later again the mists cleared and we caught views of the mountain tops , boding well for the morning.
And in the morning our luck came back ,the weather was clear and we were on the edge of a glacier and surrounded 360 degrees by the Annapurna range, impossibly high peaks cloaked in snow and glaciers ; all of them between 7and 8,000 meters high. Again the mood of the trekkers was exuberant, people dancing, whooping and doing cartwheels. Amongst it all were sheep herders living in a smoky bivouac tending their flocks. I think Ben felt quite at home. I couldn’t help thinking about the mountaineers where the base camp is just the start of their climb to the top. I couldn’t imagine how they summon the effort and will power to climb those summits.
Our luck really was out on the way down, it chucked it down. From then on it was wet clothes, socks and boots and often wading through paths pouring with water. It’s here where good gear is invaluable, I was lucky in that I had a 1st class rain jacket and pants but Adam seemed to do the trek in a yellow T shirt, cut off jeans and an umbrella and he suffered. We descended on a circular route and crossed the longest suspension bridges on the way down These swayed alarmingly as we walked and often we could see planks which had fallen off lying on the banks of the churning , roaring rivers way down below. One tilted dangerously to one side and we held on like grim death to the highest guard rail. The Nepalese health and safety inspectors were conspicuous by their absence.
We reached Pokara by the third night after base camp, and bliss; long hot showers, steak and chips and a chance to dry our clothes. Then it was one more time on the bus ride from hell back to Kathmandu, a lovely last dinner and then the following day people made their way home.
When we were climbing Poon Hill we saw early morning planes flying down the valleys and then swooping over the cols to continue on sight seeing trips of the Himalayas. They were below us as we continued to climb the mountains. Ramesh , the tour leader, offered us an opportunity to fly on one on the last day in Kathmandu. We all turned it down . On that day an Everest sightseeing plane crashed on the approach to Kathmandu and everyone was killed. On my return I read that Sir Edmund Hillary’s wife was killed in the same way many years ago.
I stopped off overnight in Dubai and the contrast with Kathmandu was amazing. I moved from 3rd world to not just 1st but a future world. What an influence our politicians and leaders have over us to create such contrasting states.
Trekking in the Himalayas is demanding physically but very rewarding. I take back with me memories of soaring peaks , misty valleys , beautiful indigenous forests, tranquil farmland in almost impossibly steep hillsides and everywhere the sounds of water rushing along in rivers and waterfalls . Last but not least I won’t forget the friendly helpful people, always courteous and always smiling