Hiking the Himalayas: Part 4 the Final Days in the Conservatory

Day 13: Marpha to Kalopani

When traveling from Marpha to Kalopani there are two options: walk along the road or take the much longer and more difficult hike through the forests.  Obviously, we decided to cross the river and hike through the forests.  The trail is marked periodically by white and red flags which were left by a German trekker who has completed the trek multiple times.  Thank goodness for these trail markers as it would be incredibly difficult to navigate through the many diverging pathways in the forest.

As we crossed the river, we took a trail through large coniferous forests full of fresh pine trees, providing a fresh earthy smell in stark contrast to our 13 days of trekking man smell.  The path lead into gardens full of apple trees and potato fields with jaw dropping views of Dhaulagiri I, the 7th highest mountain in the world at 8,167 meters (26,795 ft).

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Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world.

After many hours of ascending and descending through the mountains, we decided we should cross the river and take the quicker path along the road for the rest of the day in order to reach Kalopani before sundown.  The path to get to the bridge in the distance was wiped out by another landslide, this one comprised of much bigger rocks that were stable and unlikely to fall.  Willem and I climbed up the landslide looking for the other end of the path, ascending a good 600 feet or so before dejectedly climbing back down.  Of course about 15 feet from the base of the riverbed was the other end of the path that we had completely overlooked because we were too focused on looking up at the landslide.  Gabe had found the path and was awaiting us at the start of the bridge, surrounded by small children who shouted “Gimme sweet!” upon our arrival, their faces expectantly dreaming of chocolate.

From here we made the brisk hike to Kolopani and caught some great views of the moon rising over the mountain massifs as the sunset.  As it was Christmas Eve, we bought ourselves some small presents in the form of whisky and apple brandy to go with our nightly dal bhat.  The dal bhat at the See You Guesthouse was incredibly delicious, complete with a salad and a chutney like sauce made of rubab.  Playing cards, sipping on apple brandy, and savoring apple pies, we eventually retired to our beds as visions of sugarplums danced in our heads.

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The Christmas Eve mountain moon.

Day 14: Kalopani to Tatopani

Christmas day!  We awoke and wished each other a Merry Christmas, slightly disappointed to find no snow on the ground outside despite the fact that it was a white Christmas back home.  As the See You Guesthouse had internet, Gabe and I called our families via Skype for the first time on the trip and wished them a Merry Christmas.

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No white Christmas where we were, but there definitely was one on top of Annapurna South.

The hike to Tatopani was very nice and relaxing, it was a beautiful day out and our spirits were high due to the festivus mood.  We eventually made our way to Tatopani, which means hot water in Nepali, and contains local hot springs that can be enjoyed for 60 rupees.

Day 15: Tatopani to Ghorepani

The trek from Tatopani to Ghorepani was the most exhausting day of hiking for me personally.  The trek has a very steep grade and seems to go on forever.  At one point, the trail turns into a series of never ending steps.  We literally powered our way up thousands of steps on the day, and a surprise return of the dal butt didn’t help my situation.  Once we finally got to our lodge in Ghorepani, we saw that it was very crowded.  Everywhere we looked people were speaking Flemish in large groups.  Many people embark on short treks through the Annapurna Conservatory region, which we had now entered.  Instead of heading to Nayapul, the traditional ending point to the circuit, we decided that we would cut inwards and enjoy another couple days of hiking, making Pedi our final destination.

Day 16: Ghorepani to Ghandruk

Wow.  As soon as you start to think that the best views of the trek are behind you, Annapurna pulls out the ace up its sleeve and takes all your chips.  After a morning uphill climb (we decided to skip Poon Hill as we didn’t want to wake up early and jostle with tourists for a view) we came to a clearing where we had an unobstructed view on both sides of the mountains.  A glance to our right provided us with a panorama of the lower mountains, resembling great bearded giants covered in pine trees.  A glance to our left showed us number of the world’s highest mountains lined up in a neat row, extending majestically from the cloud cover.

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Some of the highest mountains in the world all lined up.

As the trail started to descend, the landscape changed once again.  Coniferous forests converted into deciduous forest full of rocky streams and leafy trees.  Small waterfalls comprised of moss covered rocks and freshly formed icicle groups greeted us around many bends.  The forests gave me déjà vu of exploring the forests near my house as a small kid.  As the day progressed, crowds formed overhead for the first time in our trek, threatening to unleash the heavens on us, but ultimately deciding to spare us.

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Fresh icicles from the nightly freeze.

Day 17: Ghandruk to Dheurali

Ghandruk is situated on a hill about 700 meters above a river.  Landruk, the next town, is situated on an opposite hill about 500 meters above the river.  Is there a suspended bridge to lazily walk across?  No chance.  So our morning started off by climbing down a very steep set of steps (680 meters worth to be exact).  As we passed by porters struggling to carry huge loads up each step, we couldn’t help but cringe in empathy.  I guess our feelings of empathy turned into actions of empathy as we then had to climb up 900 meters to get to Landruk, and then on to Dheurali.  We joked with Willem that the worst fate would be to have parents who were divorced and living in Ghandruk and Landruk respectively.  Close enough that you couldn’t avoid visiting both parents, but hours worth of pain away.

Once we arrived in Dhuerali we were treated to great views of Annapurna South and Hiunchali.  At our guesthouse we ate dal bhat filled with huge lentils, and made love to some banana pie that we accented with chocolate sauce, honey, peanut butter, and sugar.  We then played Gumball and downed two bottles of raksi, meandering to our rooms and passing out for the night.

Day 18: Dhuerali to Phedi (to Pokhara)

Our last day of trekking.  With mixed emotions, elation at having successfully completed our journey, and depression that our time in this incredible slice of mountainous paradise was coming to a close, we woke up early to catch one final sunrise.  As Annapurna took off her makeup from her night out, we watched strokes of orange and red highlight the mountains overtop Pokhara.  A short, but steep trek down a flight of steps, marked the end of our journey.  (I feel sorry for the people who start their trek from Phedi and work their way up.  I would not want to have my calves quivering before the first day was even half over.)

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One last sunrise.

As we reached normal elevation, we stopped alongside the road to make some muesli and made a new friend, an adorable puppy keen on stealing Willem’s walking stick.  For an hour and a half we walked alongside the road to the outskirts of Pokhara.  Here we caught a series of three overcrowded local buses, sharing our space with goats, until we finally arrived in the Lakeside area where we were surprised to find a street festival awaited us.

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A curious little pup intent on running off with Willem’s walking stick.

Reflecting on the trip that evening, I recalled a slogan that was posted on some of the signs on the trek.  “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”  I cannot say that we followed this slogan.  We did nothing to jeopardize the beauty and nature of the region, we made sure to dispose of all our trash and even pick up others’ trash.  But we certainly took more than pictures.  We took with us some unforgettable memories, new friendships, a greater respect for nature, and a love of Nepal.

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