Seeing the Himalayas has been on my bucket list for life. We had a 6-day holiday from the volunteer base during the very festive Dashain Festival, which left us a perfect amount of time to complete a 5-day trek in the western part of the Himalayas here in Nepal, the Annapurna Range. The trek is called “The Ghorepani-Ghandruk Trek” or “The Poon Hill Trek”, and no guidebook or online forum could have possibly prepared us for the challenging and magical experience that it was.
On Day 1, we hiked up through the first valley along a big, rocky river. After about an hour, we finally escaped the vehicular road with its honking and noise and officially entered the Annapurna Conservation Area, where cars and jeeps are replaced by quiet, quick, herculean porters carrying enormous baskets and bags along the trail. Yellow butterflies graced us and the crickets chirped so piercingly loud that I literally needed to plug my ears! We stayed at a little teahouse in Tikhedhunga where we drank Everest beers, ate hot pasta dishes, and slept to the soundtrack of a rushing river running behind our room. As we sat in the common room with our beers that evening, we tuned in to the many different conversations around us and heard what seemed to be every possible accent on the English language. Enchanted by the beauty we’d witnessed in the hills that day and exhausted by the exercise, I became so overcome with emotion that I stated to Brian that this was ‘one of the happiest evenings of my life’…and I meant it.
Day 2 consisted of over 3000 stone steps in the hot sun accompanied by about a thousand whining exclamations of “Oh my God.” At first we chatted happily with the people who started up the stone staircase with us, but after hours of climbing, we were all drenched in sweat and silent—I imagined that everyone was cursing themselves for being ‘out of shape’ and attempting this trek, as I was. What kept us all heaving ourselves up toward the heavens were the occasional glimpses of the high Himalayas. Our first time seeing Fishtail Mountain’s icy surface rocketing up between the lush hills of rhododendron forests was electrifying and we both cried. In our moments of misery when our legs were like Jell-O and our 30-pound packs pulled down on our shoulders, Fishtail was our beacon. When we finally reached the town of Ghorepani, we were crying out in pain. Brian did not look well. We admired the planetarium of stars and fell asleep by 7:30 p.m. in a cozy lodge under a huge warm blanket.
Waking up at 4:30 a.m. on Day 3 to watch the first rays of sun hit the Annapurnas is the climax of this trek. Like a band of zombies, we climbed another thousand or more stone steps to the top of Poon Hill along with the two hundred other trekkers staying in Ghorepani. The steps seemed to go on forever, especially after the intensity of the climb the previous day. But, when you reach the top of this hill 3200 meters in elevation, your heart stops as you are enveloped by a panorama of mountain majesties in blue twilight. Everyone there is bundled up, holding a camera, watching with tears in their eyes as the tips of the white giants are illuminated by warm colors. How magical to stand in the cold with a bunch of other amazed little earthlings and see the beginning of a new day drape a pink glow over one of the highest points on the planet.
For the remainder of Day 3, we hiked along a high ridge and into the town of Tadapani, where we lucked into a room that we were pretty sure had the most incredible view in the entire town. That evening we sat around a big wood burning stove warming up with a bunch of Nepalese guides and porters (the men who carry people’s heavy bags while they trek). The porters did not speak English so our communication consisted of occasional smiles and head nods. I was shocked when I realized that one of the porters was wearing my beanie hat that had fallen out of my hand at some point during the trek to Poon Hill that morning. He was a sweet, wrinkly old man who had obviously lived a very hard life. I had read a lot about people hiring porters (who are usually men from very impoverished areas of Nepal) and failing to provide them with proper warm clothes and gear for the trekking conditions. It warmed my heart that my hat had found its way onto this particular head.
On Day 4, we hiked for about five hours through lush fern gullies and along a beautiful river to the village of Ghandruk. As we descended in elevation, we could feel the humidity return to the air. A big thunderstorm hung over the valley that evening while we ate dinner at our teahouse. Our room was run-down and we were very tired from the exertion of the past few days, so we looked forward to completing the trek the next day.
The scenery on Day 5 was breathtaking—slate and stone villages, rice terraces, lush hills in varying shades of green, and people happily celebrating the Dashain Festival with their families. The downhill trekking all morning was meditative. Brian commented that this 5-day excursion had given him the time and space to actually think and reflect on a lot of things. Each day our packs felt a little lighter and our legs a little stronger, and we felt very accomplished when we reached the town of Nayapul where we had begun the trek. The trail is so diverse in landscapes, vistas, and vegetation, and the sheering Himalayas are so astounding every time they cut up through the clouds. The magnificence will be burned into our minds.