Continued from Chapter 7: Annapurna Base Camp. Part I
…I woke just before my alarm for a routine jaunt to the latrine and slid across the ice in my untied hiking boots and, to the amusement of two Korean women, my skin tight long john and down jacket combo. I peered around the corner to check the sky and see if the weather forecast was true. We had, until now, been sheltered by a constant overcast sky, when I glanced upwards I was immediately starstruck and taken aback, my eyes were met with the monstrously huge Annapurna I at 8,091 metres, the 10th tallest mountain on the planet. I returned, flung the bedroom door open “Holy sh**, Annapurna I is big!” Like an over-excited, yet confused child at Christmas I quickly began to wrap myself up, in fact I donned almost every layer I was carrying and joined the other early risers to grab a spot at the sunrise view point.
The crescent moon hung perfectly above Machapuchare, the sky a deep, cloudless, ocean blue. The sky gradually came to life, as the sun peered over the ridge, Annapurna I was illuminated in a golden light, snow drift swirled from the summit. The entire 360° view was out of this world, breathtaking, a phrase I have used a number of times during this trip but genuinely “One of the most incredible sights I have ever witnessed.” From the heart of the Annapurna Sanctuary where the Annapurnas meet, encompassed by majestic mountains, awesome, just awesome. I was glad to have met Laura who persuaded us to stay for another night, the 24 hours of merry making, trapped in the lodge was worth every second.
It was outstandingly beautiful but absolutely baltic and I could barely hold my camera in my un-gloved hands for more than 20 seconds. We savoured those precious moments and attempted to capture the view as a perfect memory implanted in our minds before heading back to the lodge, teeth chattering. I enjoyed an omelette breakfast whilst the feeling crept painfully back into my toes.
Will and I wanted to be back in Pokhara the next day, sadly we couldn’t linger for too long. As we left Snowland Lodge the tourist helicopter flew over head with the first unadventurous, indolent bunch who willingly threw piles of money at a 16 minute helicopter ride. But then again it pleases me that the less-able had the opportunity to witness such an epic morning.
I was reluctant to leave and kept stopping to take in my surroundings before we past Machapuchare Base Camp and turned the corner to leave the Annapurna Sanctuary behind for good. We descended to Deurali in good time and de-layered. Scores of trekkers were passing the opposite way, I couldn’t help but feel that we had timed it absolutely perfectly, the recent snow fall had not only enhanced the experience and the spectacle of the sanctuary but had also held back the crowds for just long enough.
As we descended, passing back through Himalaya and Dovan I was stopped in my tracks when I heard rustling in the trees, then all of a sudden an adult Nepali grey langur leaped from one tree to another, I signalled to Will to keep quiet and move slowly. We stood and watched in silence as a whole troop of langurs moved effortlessly between the trees in search of ripe fruit. I was mesmerised, watching them ‘hang out’ and get on with their daily business. It was a perfect condiment to the delicious memories of the morning.
After descending from Sinuwar to then ascend an obscene number of steps, we arrived at Chomrong and checked into a cosy tea house lodge, The Lucky Guest House. Will and I obviously enjoyed a daal bhat, unfortunately Laura was feeling fatigued and unwell and retired to bed. In the morning my routine, as per usual, consisted of making fresh Nepali organic coffee in my orange mug, my luxury items for the trek. The sky was crystal clear and we had a final chance to enjoy the sights of Annapurna South and Machapuchare before we dropped into the valley below. Laura planned to spend one extra night in the mountains, Will and I had one thing on our minds, pizza and beer.
We were blessed with beautiful weather for our final day trekking in Nepal. The trail descended through the forest green, picturesque valley. We followed the fresh clear glacial waters of the Modi Khola and eventually joined a jeep track that connected the main road to Ghandruk. We flagged down next bus that was heading to Pokhara and jumped on board. It was a crazy, hectic journey. I felt truly immersed in the lifestyle of a local as people barged on and off the bus that took hairpin bends at breakneck speeds, but I loved it.
I was sad that my Nepali Trekking experience had finally come to an end but excited to step into the realm of solo cycle touring, albeit for only a short spell before I met with my Chinese cycle touring buddy, Mario, in Sri Lanka. It took the entire duration of the Annapurna Base Camp Trek for me to finally lock in a route and plan of action that I was content with. I’m sure Will was relieved that I would finally shut up about the topic. We checked into the Pokhara Backpackers and were warmly welcomed, for the third time, as if I was a local propping up the bar at the Kings Head, not saying a word and the bar staff slam a pint of John Smiths down on the bar. We showered, I got back into the same clothes as all of my other clothes are still in Kathmandu, though I did save a clean pair of underwear, before making our way to Godfathers Pizzeria. It’s a cliche but you have to love the small things in life. You simply can’t go wrong with pizza and beer.
Will and I reminisced over the unforgettable memories that we now shared and our love for a plate of daal bhat, or two. We were extremely grateful for each others company and glad we teamed up for the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Despite the age difference of a decade, Will was excellent company, mature and a great laugh, I will certainly miss the times we shared.
I was keen to have one more beer, Will was keen for an item or two from the bakery so we wandered through town. I was astonished to see Leicester City vs Manchester United on the big screen in a bar. I swanned straight in. Will, not so excited, towed behind. I enjoyed a second pint and the second half while Will decided that he could spend his evening more productively than watching a premier league match and retreated to the hostel. Unfortunately, City lost 1-0.
The next day we met back up with Laura to celebrate our achievements and our safe return. We devouring a second breakfast followed by a selection of cakes in the peaceful back garden of a German Bakery. Gluttonous, but well deserved if you ask me.
I was glad to have met Laura on the trail, our conversations about work, life and our future were very thought provoking. And a good thing as I would be soon planning my return to the UK. We could relate to each other and I felt as though we had known each other for a long time but perhaps that was due to the 24 hours spent sharing our life stories at Base Camp. We hoped to meet up and rock climb together in the future.
The last four weeks were insane, I had lived out yet another dream of mine, trekking in the Himalayas, and had more tales to tell my grandchildren. The Annapurna Circuit was an expedition, a challenge and an accomplishment shared with a great team. The Annapurna Base Camp trek was more leisurely but offered the eye watering sunrise, also enjoyed in good company of course.
I said goodbye to Laura and Will as they, in turn, left Nepal and flew back to their respective homes. I was back in Kathmandu alone but both legs were in working order, my Achilles tendon had held out. I spent my last day in Himalayan Java enjoying one final Nepali coffee before loading up my bicycle, which was the heaviest it had ever been due to my additional trekking gear. I set my sails and headed out of Kathmandu, over the mountains and into India.