This is the 3rd time we are walking through these steps. The swollen leg is killing me and Adi also has his own problems with his sprained leg. The 45 minutes horrible climb down brought us near the bridge to cross to the other side. The steep path to the lower Sinuwa (2340 M) is a piece of cake compared to the former. We cannot make mistakes like the last time for the rooms as the availability is getting lower and lower as we go up till MBC. The caretaker of a lodge in Sinuwa helped us to book 2 beds in a dormitory in Himalayas, which comes after Dovan, for a bribe of Rs 500. Oh! anything for a room! Talking about cash I don’t think we have enough of it in our pockets to survive till the last day if we are going to eat and drink like this. So I cut down Adi’s milk tea to black tea.
Sinuwa seems never ending as we realized the next 45 minutes of the climb took us to the upper Sinuwa only. The sun which made us sweat throughout the morning is now slowly hiding behind the thick branches of the tropical forest on the way to the next village – Bamboo (2190 M). The trail through very deep and narrow gorges will be like this till MBC, I can see it from here whenever the forest opens up a bit to allow us to peep. Through the gaps of branches one small village is appearing far far away. Hope it is not Himalayas because that is an awfully long distance to cover.
The famous 750 steps of Bamboo is a climb down and is easy according to one lady traveller. But she has no idea about our condition. My partner is in tremendous pain and is limping most of the time. “Maybe I won’t be able to make it to MBC, you go and comeback. I will wait for you at Himalayas”. I seriously hope he doesn’t mean that!
The daal bhat (now costs Rs 500) from Bamboo is making both our stomachs upset. Here in the mountain area as you go up the price of food and its taste are inversely proportional. The costlier it becomes, the tasteless it gets! “Just 3 more hours to Himalayas” encourages a guide. The 1 hour trekking from Bamboo to Dovan (2505 M) is the easiest way I have travelled so far. Maybe the beautiful trail through the woods distracted me from the pain. It is lush greenery everywhere and absolute silence. The sun is totally behind the mountains and the light is fading fast. It’s been a while since we saw a human soul. Memories from the way to Ghorepani. Oh no… We know where this is going. Not good.
Suddenly from the woods appears a guy running with his track suit on (I swear he was running through that trail!). “45 minutes more to Himalayas if you are walking”. Yah, as if we are going to run like you with this luggage!!! Anyway thank you so much for the encouraging words, fellow traveler, and please carry on with your evening jog. It is just like a deja vu of the 2nd day evening, isn’t it? Trekking through the dark trail with tiring legs, a stranger appears like an angel to encourage us and disappears into the wilderness for jogging!! The only missing part is of Thuppali. I miss him so badly.
The nature is in no mood for party as it unleashes layers upon layers of mists to fill the ravine. The other side of the mountain is totally invisible now. Soon our trail as well. One wrong step and it will be a deadly fall to the deep cliff. And finally there it is…… the lights illuminating from the inns of Himalayas. With the troubling legs we entered the dormitory which they had offered earlier. The reception has the info with mobile numbers of all the lodges from Chomrong till ABC. Perhaps this should be made into a check post. Mark, the Irish follow. gave us pleasant company in the crowded group.
We are heading to the base camp today. Not the Annapurna‘s but to the Machhapuchchhre’s. That unclimbed mountain plays a huge part in the Hindu people’s beliefs over here. For them it is sacred to the Hindu god Shiva, for the geographers it is the eastern boundary of the Annapurna Sanctuary. The 2 hour trek to Deurali (3230 M) seems not very tough. The distant view of Deurali from the last curve we took before the village made me realize that in fact it was this village that I saw from Sinuwa. People coming back from ABC are constantly passing us by. All of them have only one thing to say – the surreal beauty of the Annapurna. Can’t wait any longer…
The woods which followed us throughout the day end here. Now it’s the mountain world, the real mountain world. The ravine has got nothing but grass from here on wards. The steep and dangerous path to the MBC is getting tougher and also making us sweat thanks to the sun. But no more steps now, that is all I care. Hiunchuli (6441 M) and Machhapuchhre are standing like guardians to this sacred land on each side of the narrow gorge reminding me of the twin towers from the movie The Lord of the Rings!
The river Modi Khola which has been flowing through the bottom of the ravine all these days is now at a touching distance. Man and the river are on the same height. Originating from the glaciers up near the Machhapuchhre, Modi Khola is in fierce mode as she runs madly to join with river Ganga/Ganges in India on its journey to the Bay of Bengal. With all the energy left in us we climbed the last push to the MBC (3700 M) with great satisfaction. Have to get a room fast before the Spanish team which has been following on our tail all day, invades the lodges.
Machhapuchhre may have got more fame than any other mountains in this sanctuary apart from Annapurna I itself but it certainly lacks in terms of height. With an elevation of 6997 mts, it is one of the shortest among her sisters. Direct sunlight is really a luxury here as it lasts just around 6 hours a day due to the tall mountains surrounding the valley. But it seems nature doesn’t like us enjoying even that as it fills the entire place with thick mist, which comes all the way up from the gorges. To the left of the base camp is the way to the ABC. Annapurna South is visible from here but no sign of Annapurna I. Soon even that sight vanished in the mist. Adi suggests to push for ABC now itself. But we decide to stay at MBC to acclimatize ourselves properly before the 4100 meters climb of ABC. After all we have to respect these mountains…..
Mark who reached late came and joined us for a cup of tea (without milk of course). “People come to ABC after a mentally and physically torturing trekking just to take selfies with the mountain and head back fast. It is not that you come here every year. You have to make the most of it.” Couldn’t agree more. Thanks to our stay at Himalayas instead of Dovan, we have enough time to chill at MBC. The sky gets clear once in a while when the mist vanishes into thin air only to be followed by more of it from down the valley. Our conversation moved to Brexit and to the freedom of Northern Ireland, under the supervision of Machhapuchhre who peeks occasionally.
Svetlana, the Russian woman in our dormitory is really a photography enthusiast; I can sense it by looking at her setting up her camera to get the time interval of the mists which keep coming up. Maybe she can help me with the settings to get a decent picture of the Milky Way with the mountain in the background. My guess wasn’t wrong; she has some printed instructions of the settings for different modes. The cold grips the MBC very slowly. Even with the occasional black tea it is very difficult to stay outside. With our limited budget this is the only thing that we can afford now.
Twilight is here. One more day falls and it is time for the stars to show up, also the Milky Way. Our home galaxy is peeping slowly as the mountains settle for sleep and darkness spreads. The spirals which I had seen from Gangotri Gaumukh two years ago, are not clear but the towering presence of Annapurna south is giving a different depth altogether to this frame. This mountain’s perfect alignment with Milky Way is a dream for any photographer to capture. The absence of the tripod is managed with some pebbles! With the help of Svetlana’s instructions I finally managed to pull one off. Ha, only if I was good at photography!
Back in the dining room, Svetlana joins us for dinner. Her interest in photography is rightly paid off with the stunning pictures she took especially of the mountain birds, which she got on the way to MBC. Where are all these birds and animals?? I didn’t see any of them! Not even a Himalayan Bharal that I usually saw in all my previous Himalayan trips. Perhaps in the agony of climbing up, I was not paying enough attention to the nature. It is all out there…. all you have to do is keep your eyes open.
Marks bids adios for the day, promising to meet up there in ABC tomorrow. It is just one more night. Tomorrow morning we would depart for the destination that we have been dreaming for a very long time.
Finally the day arrived. Funny it is not the destination that excites me more now, it is the fact that we have got only 2-3 hours of trekking left to ABC. There is a sea of people coming back from ABC …among them was Ali whom we met yesterday night in the crowded dining hall of our Inn. He is dancing with joy after yet another successful summit to the base camp trip. “I cannot stand like this if this is February”, says a man who is wearing shorts. Did we hear him right? Crazy guy!! Tomorrow we will be one among them walking back after saying goodbye to the mountains. Sigh…..
For me the trail to ABC from MBC with the gradual ascent is the perfect trekking trail.. The MBC is no longer visible now. It is down somewhere there. Finally Annapurna I, the 10th highest mountain in the world, shows up after hiding behind the gorges all this time. Five days before, we were on the other side of the mountain at the Poon hill dreaming of the day that will take us here. That dream is a reality now. One gets stunned by the sheer scale of her as we move closer and closer. The info map of one inn in Deurali has marked somewhere here as a place where the snow leopard’s presence has been identified. I looked around. No, no danger here! We haven’t seen the snow leopard but the snow leopard might have seen us (sorry I had to copy these lines from Peter Matthiessen)!! The four lodges of ABC are getting filled fast with today’s arrivals. The thermometer that we picked up from the lodge shows closer to 0 degree.
The temple behind the lodges most probably built by the trekkers only, is full of prayer flags. It is believed that the writing on these flags will be carried across the land by the wind that blows through here. For mountaineers Annapurna I is the deadliest eight thousand meters to climb, countless infamous accidents having occurred while summiting, especially through its south face. More people have been conquered by the mountain than her being conquered. I set my sight on that breathtaking mountain. Fumes are coming from its top like an ice cream cone. For a moment I wished I could see a mountaineer conquering her, down from here. But what could be the view that person will be having from the top?… For now that is a complete mystery for me. Expedition is one thing that excites me a lot from the moment that I saw the Himalayas for the first time back in 2013. People coming here try to summit the mountain knowing all the risks that they have to face. Some of them succeed, some of them become the part of the mountain. The pictures of the souls who vanished into thin air around here, are pasted on the stone walls of the temple. Candles are burning around. Somebody has lighted them already.
For many back home in India, a trip to the Himalayas is only spiritual. For Hindus this is the most scared of all lands. But then again each god has their own favorite place on earth, haven’t they? Jerusalem, Mecca! May be when the ancient people got fed up with their daily chores which they went through every day, they came here just to chill out. To cover up that, they must have invented this whole propaganda called the divine land. Yah, that makes perfect sense!
No idea what is happening in the world back home….. For now I don’t want to know any of it. But then again the Wi-Fi at the lodge will remind you through the mobile updates. The slight nausea which is part of altitude sickness made me take a Diamox. Adi is strolling here and there with Mark who came just after us. Svetlana is on her way to a small trekking camp up near the glaciers to take more photographs. Surely she will get some spectacular snaps today. The aching legs are holding me back from all these temptations.
For once the Nature shows mercy. Unlike yesterday the alluring valley isn’t filled with the smog. The clear view is certainly a feast to the eyes. The sound of avalanches or landslides happening somewhere is echoing across the valley. The ice glaciers at side of the mountains are visible even from here. The small streams fed by them are all frozen for the time being. It is crazy to think that this entire place was once Sea land! How strangely our Nature works. Spanish couple Marry and Javier joins with Mark for tea outside. They have selected Nepal as the final pit stop for their months’ long trip across the world.
Darkness is approaching fast. For some reason here in Himalayas I always adore the night sky rather than a sunny day but without the cold of course. The countless shooting stars look beautiful with naked eyes but it gets irritating once you realize that they photobombs your starry pics! And then there are the satellites. In the last few years spotting them circling around the earth through the sea of stars, has been my favorite hobby up here in the mountains. Of course showing it to my companion as well. Travelling to these remote places makes you realize the smallness of the place that you live on the earth but seeing a starry sky like this enlightens you as to the tiny bit of place that our mother Earth occupies in this vast universe.
The body cannot take the cold anymore… I must go inside.
It is sad that we are leaving this heaven today, it is even sadder that we have to walk an awful lot of distance all up to Chomrong. By the time we reached the Himalayas for lunch, I was out of breath. So was Adi, but without complaining we started walking again. After crossing Dovan it is now the turn of those horrendous 750 steps to test our stamina to get out of Bamboo. I started counting every step in mind to distract my mind from the horrible pain. The smog has started its long journey to MBC already. It is thicker than the previous days, just reminds me how lucky we were at ABC to get a clear warming sky all day.
The forest is dotted with the Langoor monkeys who just keep on jumping from one branch to another. One small slip and they will end up in the abyss. “Bro look at their confidence”. From behind the giant root of the tree one small shy deer peeps. After staring at us for some time it goes back to the woods. Chomrong is not possible, let’s settle for upper Sinuwa. For once Adi and I agree on one thing!Our cash shortage story made the lodge owner sympathetic towards us….. she cut down the bill very much. But I would say it is Adi’s homeless- guy- look which helped to convince her more than our story. Camila and Amin, the Malaysian doctor couple provided us good company in the cold of Sinuwa.
The lights from the lodges of Deurali are shinning like a group of fireflies. So many people would be staying there dreaming about their final push to ABC tomorrow and here we are reliving those precious moments
I would like to just erase from my life the climb down from Sinuwa till the bridge to cross Chomrong Khola and the subsequent climb up to Chomrong through the horrendous steps! 4th time, isn’t it? The good for nothing check post and the lady are still here. Stamping the papers for one last time we say adios to Chomrong. Now it is a new route to the village called Jhinu Dada, the small village famous for its hot springs on the shores of Modi Khola.
I said no immediately on hearing that the hot spring is a 20 minutes’ walk from the inn where we took room. Because their 20 minutes is 45 mins for us. “Dip yourself in hot water for some time; it will heal your knees very much” “Really? Then let’s do it” Adi finally succeeded in persuading me. Camelia and Amin are already done with the bath but Marry and Javier are here, small world haaa. Slowly I dipped myself in to the warm water in one of the three pools they had constructed here. After all the self-torture called the ‘trekking’ we deserve this completely. Missing this would have been a crime. The Europeans who followed us all day are jumping in to the cold stream of Modi Khola and jumping back to the pool again and again. Crazy people. Though I know relaxation won’t last longer I completely enjoyed the hot springs while Adi looked quite sulky. After all this was his plan! The money in our pocket is just sufficient to pay the bills at the lodge for the day.
Today we say good bye to the mountain world. Camelia and Amin have gone ahead of us already. Crossing the New Bridge we stopped at Shiwai for lunch. Like a beautiful song of the cuckoo bird the honking from a vehicle is echoing from somewhere near. It’s been ages since I heard it! Like the deserters seeing the mirage we started running towards the vehicle! I looked behind to see the mountain for one last time before we reach the asphalt roads of Nayapul. Sadly the snowcapped mountains are now completely behind the hills. I couldn’t say a proper good bye, after all the things that we had been through. It is better to end some stories like this.
When the taxi finally came out of the muddy path to enter the tarred road towards Pokhara I could have looked to the left side to see the Annapurna massif. But it wouldn’t be the same feel as from the trekking trail. Over here we are just tourists not the travellers. At night the bustling streets in the Lake side of Pokhara is filled with people from all across the world. With the help of Ranbeer we managed to get a good deal in purchase from almost all the souvenir shops. Adi is flying from Kathmandu day after tomorrow and me going back through the same way we came from.
Next day morning I said Adios to Adi and boarded the bus to Sonauli. Like they say….. It’s just my body moving to India, mind is still up there at ABC! It is filled with all the good, bad and the ugly moments from the 10 day long trekking and the lovely smiles of the Nepali people. One thing that I am sure is that this won’t be my last trip to Nepal. This could be just a beginning of my adventures in this magical land. Everest base camp may be for the next time, I thought, as the bus rushed through the road which snaked across the valley towards Sonauli.