Day 11 (continued)
We were on a flight and in Pokhara in the blink of a eye.
MK was very quiet, our guide was still smiling and I was trying to keep conversation going. It was just soul destroying after a year of dedication that we were not even going to attempt the Everest Base Camp Trek. After a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel. In the space of our 20 min flight the travel company had changed all our arrangements. We were now doing a 10-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp.
In the hotel room we called home and checked in. We freshened up before meeting Raju in the lobby. Raju took us down to Lake Pokhara. It was very over cast and the mountains were hidden behind the clouds. The lake had lots of colourful wooden boats waiting to take people out on the water or transport them to the temple in the lake. It was a quick trip to the lake before Raju took us out to dinner. We asked a few questions about the hike and if he thought we made the right choice. After dinner we headed back to the room for our last night of comfort because the next day we would be finally putting our walking boots to the test!
After a lovely breakfast in the hotel we packed our duffel bags and headed back down to the lobby. We met our Sherpa who had caught a bus from Kathmandu overnight (8-hour bus ride) to be here this morning. He was a young lad wearing trendy clothes, skinny black jeans and a purple v-neck T-shirt. It was his first hike as a Sherpa. We all got into a mini bus and headed to the police station to collect our permits for the trek. Once all the paper work was done, we began our 2-hour car ride to the start of the trek. By this point we were not fazed by the road works, busses backing up along the edge of cliffs and cows in the middle of the road. We climbed all the way up to the top of a valley then began going down on a incredibly bumpy road. At one point there had been a landslide and a huge bolder was blocking the way. One car at a time had to slowly and carefully drive around it. We finally reached the start of the hike. We bought rope and a plastic sheet to cover our duffel bags. Our Sherpa tied up the duffel bags with the help of some more experienced Sherpa and carried them with the weight on his head. It is a sight to be scene. Raju explained to be a mountain guide you have to have at least 2 years’ experience as a Sherpa beforehand.
With all our bags secure we began. It was not long until the heavens open. Quick pit stop to put on our water proofs and collect our passes for the national park. We walked through a small village then on to a windy road which went up and down. We crossed a river and stopped for lunch. We were so used to eating big meals we had a sandwich each and a can of soda. Such a big mistake for me. I was so full after lunch I struggled to get going again. My day pack was also to heavy for me to carry. The next two hours were long and hot. It was incredibly humid and raining, it was very sweaty with the rain coats on. It was a slow incline all the way up to our first tea room. The scenery was rolling valleys rich green fields with small villages set in to the valley side. We had to climb up through the village we were staying in. It felt like it was never ending steps, but little did I know that tomorrow I would be climbing 1500 steps. Finally, I saw Mike and Raju sat outside a tea house, day one was complete. I sat down MK was laughing as I had steam coming off my head. I was so hot but as soon as I had sat for a few minutes the cold set in. Raju got us some water and a local tea. The tea was delicious and really warmed us up. The tea house was in our first stop of the trek Tikhedhunga. We went to our room which was a dark room with two single beds either side of the room. There were posters on the wall of places around the world. The beds have thin foam strips as a mattress and the bedding is dropped off in your room later. We both had a shower and got ready for the night. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. We didn’t need thermals on. When we came out of our room the clouds had rolled in and the beautiful view had disappeared. We sat on the balcony with other guests. Raju came up to take our order for dinner and our order for breakfast the next morning. The choices for dinner are the same in every tea room. It is a choice between the local Nepalese food and western. MK chose the Nepalese food every night and I was not as brave and ate pizza every single night. I didn’t have to worry about any issues in the toilet area. Raju came back after dinner and gave MK and me a plate of apple and pomegranates. Whilst we tucked into the fruit Raju explained the plan for the next day. The next day was one of the toughest out of the 10 days. We would be walking uphill for 7 hours and conquering 1500 steps. At the top we were told we would have a fancy tea room. The owner of the tea room loved to share his jokes and stories with us about his guests. Once he had finished, we headed to bed. I was a bit worried about bugs so I had a bug proof bed outfit on in bed which consisted of sweat pants tucked into socks, t-shirt tucked into sweat pants and ear plugs. MK was not so fussed just sleeping in his undies!!
It was a early start. I was a bit anxious about the challenge that lay ahead on this day. It would really test my training. Breakfast was great and with a full belly we packed up our bags and set off. There were a few groups walking the same way as us and the whole day we just kept passing them. We soon realized that a few of the groups were like us an had changed their plans as they could not get to Lukla for the base camp Everest trip. The morning was spent slowly making our way up the never-ending steps. They were very uneven which made it hard for me to get into a rhythm. I was super slow but Raju kept saying ‘ slowly, slowly’ ‘bistarai, bistarai’ to us which did keep me going. MK was fine and walked a lot faster then me. We would take breaks as the sun in the morning was incredibility hot. Raju provided us with a cucumber at one of our stops, freshly picked from a farm we were walking through….so fresh and delicious! We passed through marijuana farms as we carried on climbing up through the valley. After lunch we only had 2 hours of walking left. I could not believe it we were nearly there. After lunch I pushed on and kept up with MK and Raju I just wanted to get to the tea room. The village came in view and just like the night before we had to walk up the entire village as our tea room was right on top of the village. I had exerted all my energy on the last stretch of the walk which meant it took me 30 mins to get up to the tea room. It was a big building and it looked more like a hotel. There was lots of construction going on in the village getting all the accommodation ready for peak season. This village seemed like it was built for tourists. This village was popular because of the trek we were doing and because this was the last stop before Poon Hill. Poon Hill is a popular shorter hike. MK was already checked into the room and chilling. I did some stretches as my legs had begun to ache slightly. It was so cold in the room we took off our wet clothes as we waited for the Sherpa to catch up with us. Obviously, this day was so tough for every one and it took our Sherpa another hour to reach our tea room. By this point i was wrapped up in the spare bed keeping warm. We had an ensuite in the room which was very fancy. There was a pair of little shoes in the bathroom for us to wear. We soon realised why when we flushed the toilet and it flooded the bathroom. After a warm shower (my last shower of the hike) we went downstairs. The dining area had a huge fire pit in the middle of it. It was lovely and warm in there and people had all there walking gear hung around it. I began to journal and MK was on his phone. We just relaxed and reflected after a long day of uphill walking. Same routine for dinner, we would eat then the fruit came out and a cup of tea. Raju explained about the next day and taught us how to play a local card game. This card game became very important to us all throughout the rest of the trip.
We were up at 5AM in the pitch black. We would be using our head torches this morning as we did a short hike up to Poon Hill to watch sunrise. We had to bring our big down jackets as it would be cold at the top. It was also our first taste of walking at high altitude. Torches on we started to walk up to the top. It was very busy with lots of other groups going up hoping to catch a glimpse of the mountain range. I again was back to a slow pace and focused on my breathing. We saw a peak for the first time walking up and MK got excited and rushed up to the top which did leave him short of breather due to the high altitude. Everyone was gathered at the top looking around at all the clouds. I didn’t really know what to expect. Then for about two minutes the clouds parted and a entire mountain range of peaks appeared. I have never witnessed anything like it in all the traveling I have done. Raju was as excited as we were. He had my camera and was snapping away while explaining to us all the different mountains. We took lots of pictures and soaked up the view. In a blink of an eye the clouds rolled back across and it was gone. We had so much adrenaline from the morning we quickly descended back to the tea room talking about what we just saw. We learnt later on we were very lucky to see the whole mountain range as the weather is very temperamental. A couple of hours later after a feed we were back in the walking boots and heading off for our next 7-hour day. The day began with a steep incline up out of the village and then we walked downhill until lunch time. We walked next to a river the whole way down the valley. Along the way we came across a section of the path covered in small rock formations which from first glance looked like grave stones. Raju explained that hikers staked the rocks on top of each other as a symbol of luck. We walked across a very old looking wooden bridge to our lunch stop. The heavens opened and we did feel a little smug being inside while we watched other hikers get caught in the rain. Well as you probably guessed we started to walk after lunch and the rain retuned in full force. This part of the day we had to climb up a step path which was now slippery and in some small areas had a waterfall hitting your face from the rain bouncing off the rocks. I had a break with some of the Sherpa’s, one of them told me it was his first and last trek. He did not like the walk at all and was exhausted. I noticed he had blood on his clothes, he had been bitten by a few leeches along the way. The rain got heavier and the path got steeper. I decided that not looking down or behind me was my best option for getting to the top. I trekked on until I saw the tea room. Raju as always was waiting for me and as always MK was already in the room. MK did have his first leach on him which we got off and out of our bedroom. We spent the whole night in the dinning hall as the rain continued. There was a huge fire pit covered in clothes drying from the days wet walk. The room kept us nice and warm until bed. I did not shower as MK had spilled my shampoo in the last tea room which meant my hair for the next 8 days took on a life of its own.
In the morning at this tea room we woke up to the clouds parting and an incredible view of the valleys and one mountain peaks called ‘Fish Tail’.
It was still raining when we left the tea room. It was a slow decent as there was lots of mud and slippery surfaces to contend with. We walked through a forest then across a farm until we reached a steep part of the valley and walked down a windy path. The best bit about this walk is you can see where you are walking down to and then the steep climb up waiting for you on the other side. Once at the bottom of the valley we started to climb up again. We had lunch at the top in a tea room and we even saw a line of horses carrying goods up to the villages ahead of us. It was either by person or animal that anything and everything would be transported up to the villages from this point on. We passed a primary school and some children hanging around outside the school. Raju asked them why there were not in school…they just giggled and asked MK and I for chocolate. On this day there was a section of the path which split into two levels I went on the lower level and Raju yelled for me to go back on to the higher one as the ground was weak and it would slide from beneath me. It did scare me a little but also made me thankful to have such a experienced guide looking after us.We were so high at this point all you could see was clouds. Our tea room came into view at the top of the village. It was the best tea room we stayed in. We were told we got the honeymoon suite, which I think meant double bed. They also had a barista machine so for the first time in the trip I had a great coffee half way up a mountain! When we arrived in the tea room there was a bit of panic from people. We later found out a hiker had fallen down a waterfall and died. The mountain police where searching the river for her body. The thought of what happened to this hiker stuck with me the rest of the trip. I also could not work out how she fell and at this point no one knew any more information. It was a terrible tragedy that happens a lot on these mountain tracks. Raju walked us down into the village. Along the way the dogs of the village decided to join us which made my day. Raju told us to wake up early in case the clouds moved over night as at this point in time there was no view.