A Himalayan effort

A Himalayan effort

A Himalayan effort

It was a late summer afternoon when the jeep I was travelling in jerked and came to a halt. I had just landed at Besishahar, a dishevelled settlement, a couple of hours away from the enchanting town of Pokhara in Nepal. I was on a solo trek to the mighty range of Annapurna Mountains.

Though the mountain kingdom offers a plethora of treks and trails into the Himalayas, two of the most popular yet arduous routes are the trek to the Everest base camp and the Circuit trek around the Annapurnas, both regarded as classic treks of the world.

I chose this trek as much for the sheer beauty and adventure it offers as for the facility of guesthouses along the route. Managed by local Nepalis, these lodges offer basic shelter and food, which spared me the ordeal of engaging cooks and porters. Teahouse treks, as they are known, are hugely popular with trekkers from countries all over the world.

The highlight of the trek involves climbing the Thorung La, a 17,769 ft high pass, traversing around 180 km in a span of 16-18 days. A Herculean task, literally, but one is assured of endless views of the Annnapurna range and the towering Dhaulagiri, provided the weather holds good. Reaching Jagat, the starting point, by evening, I refreshed and relaxed for the day.

Beginning the trek by dawn, I found a bunch of trekkers, some with porters and guides, marching ahead. Among trekkers, a great camaraderie develops, invariably, and that is an important part of the whole adventure. Together we walked along the Marsyangdi river, stopping now and then to enjoy the view.

Upon reaching Manang, which stood at 11,500 ft, the trek was broken for a day, in order to acclimatise to the altitude. Besides, Manang is also an interesting town worth spending a day. With local horsemen sporting cowboy hats, prancing along the cobbled path, I wondered if I was transported to a town in the wild west!

Walking through the museum gave me an insight into the unique culture of Manangis, their lifestyles and artefacts. And equally important was the lecture at the Himalayan Rescue Association, where the trekkers were advised about the symptoms of altitude sickness and the ways to treat it. I did not forget though, to sip a glass of seabuckthorne juice, made from a berry — a local speciality.

Leaving Manang behind, I passed by swathes of buckwheat, the staple food of the locals. Buddhism is largely prevalent here as the innumerable chortens and monasteries suggest. As I climbed higher, snow-covered peaks revealed themselves. Annapurna massif itself has five summits, apart from other peaks like Gangapurna, Tilicho, Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri, though all the peaks are not visible from any one point.

The camp at Thorung Phedi was my last stop before climbing the pass, and descending 5,000 feet below to Muktinath. As such, the long walk began before dawn and the relentless climbing brought us to the top after five hours of gruelling ascent.

It was a moment of triumph and the success was celebrated with the hoisting of flags and banners. But the task was far from over. As we took on the slippery snow-bound descent, we negotiated with care, but not without a few slips and falls. Muktinath , the famed pilgrim destination, was abuzz with visitors.

Taking a well-deserved rest for the day and paying obeisance at the temple, I moved further down, taking in the views of a surreal landscape, of Mustang across the border, with Tibet. The wide gorge of Kali Gandaki went along the downward trail, dotted with scenic villages.

At Tatopani, which means hot water, a dip in the sulphur springs rejuvenated the tired body before the last leg of the trek, which brought me back to Pokhara.

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