I’ve only been in Nepal for a total of 14 hours, yet I somehow have found myself sitting on top of a moving bus being versed on the Hindu goddess Shiva. My teacher is a 28 year old Nepali man by the name of Krishh, who also happens to be our guide for upcoming trek of the Annapurna Sanctuary. We are a group of 12 strong, all Aussies and English and one lone American (myself) who have made the journey to Nepal to climb as high as the base camp of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world.
Keeping a hand on the light blue railing so as to avoid allowing one of the myriad potholes to dislodge me from the bus top, I lean forward to catch the trailing parts of Krishh’s regal British accent being carried away on the wind. Shiva, as it happens, is believed by the Hindus who dominate southern Nepal to live at the top of “Fish Tail” mountain (Machhapuchhre), the glacially white finger exploding from the Earth behind me. At 23,076 feet, it’s the tallest mountain I have ever seen in my life. For the first time since leaving the garbage lined dirt alleyways of Kathmandu—its poverty stricken streets reigniting the guilt-fueled humility that too easily goes dormant while back home—I finally feel the Himalaya rising all around me.
With the cool valley breeze on my face and the drops of a late afternoon thunderstorm beginning to populate my salty old North Face jacket, I wish I could have made the entire journey on top of the bus. Such was not the case, however, as a litany of small vehicle crashes and general traffic bottlenecks turned our 6 hour journey from Kathmandu into a patience-testing 9. Though Nepal may be home to the highest mountains on Earth, the early October temperatures still swelter when down in the valley, and 9 hours inside a heated metal cage isn’t the best activity Nepal has to offer.
In a word, it was time to get on the trail.
Aside from the stupefying scenery (more on that later), what separates the Annapurna region from other notable treks around the globe is the concept of the “teahouse trek”. When trekking in Annapurna (the Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary, or any number of treks in between), trekkers have the luxury of spending each night in a village guesthouse complete with restaurant, facilities, and trekking supplies. There’s no need for packing a week’s worth of food or bulky tent and sleeping supplies (although a warm sleeping bag is still required), as most villages are separated by only a few hours of walking and heavily cater towards visiting trekkers.
Granted, as you would expect, however, the amenities aren’t exactly a beach resort in Hawaii. The water is questionable for drinking, the beds can be hard, and the communal squat toilets have a particularly vomit inducing stench. Nonetheless, it’s a roof over your head that you don’t have to carry on your back—although since there are few roads running through the region, someone once had to.
Leaving the highway at the small town of Khande (1770m), our Anglo-Saxon trekking train begins the 11 day foray into the hillside. Meandering amongst narrow stone alleyways, wrinkled old woman dutifully squat at dripping water spickets and methodically tackle a soapy wad of laundry. Just meters down the pathway, a group of 8-10 children push each other on an ingeniously constructed swing made from towering stalks of bamboo. I pass it off as simply being the village swing, but as is often the case when entrenched in a different culture, there is more to the swing than meets my naïve Western eye. In passing I mention the swing to Krishh, and he informs me that it’s actually been specially constructed for a Hindu festival that requires that children spend portions of the day elevated off of the ground. This is one argument for having a guide versus trekking independently. Without Krishh by my side, this swing will forever be just a swing.
Stumbling my way down the densely forested walkway, I casually flick a slug from my lightly sweating forearm. It’s rapidly getting dark and I don my freshly purchased headlamp, its brightness a welcome change from that $4 waste of plastic I purchased in Bolivia. I would later find out that the slug I so casually flicked was in fact a bloodsucking leech, though my nonchalant reflexes would rob him of his evening meal.
After shoveling back a welcomed dinner of mixed meat momo (Nepal’s answer to potstickers) and a long-awaited Everest beer, I collapsed face first into my rock hard pillow completely wracked with exhaustion after three continuous days of travel just to end up in the Nepalese village of Pothana. My assigned roommate John apparently snored loud enough to keep the girls awake next door, but after 19 hours of air travel, 9 in a bus, and 2 spent climbing up a mountain, no amount of snoring was going to disturb my much needed slumber.
Finally I have made it to the Himalayas, and the tallest mountains on Earth are resting right outside my door.