High in the Himalayas

Trip Start Oct 22, 2007
Trip End Dec 12, 2007

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

So where's Mike? Oh, he's high in the Himalayas.
I just returned from an exhilarating five day trek in the Annapurna Himalayan mountain range.
Earlier this evening, I was sitting at a restaurant roof top terrace, enjoying Santana music and the waning pink-colored evening light over tranquil Phewa Tal lake. I was back in the city of Pokhara. The city of Pokhara sits at the base of the Annapurna Range and just to prove that point, the massive snow-white head of the mountain Annapurna South bid one last day's appearance before disappearing behind the clouds. I know the mountain was calling me back. I strongly felt the urge to oblige. Most of the folks I met up with along the trek were still up there, probably finishing their approach to Annnapurna base camp before nightfall. Five days earlier, this same restaurant vantage point crystallized my plan to attempt the trek and it went something like this....

I arrived late afternoon on the 5th of November in Pokhara under gray skies so the next morning, drinking my first cup of coffee, I gazed across the lake. I was still getting my bearings as to the direction the Himalayas were in relation to the lake. Morning clouds were obscuring my view. The waiter then had me shift my chair, and look to the right. Ka-boom...bigger than life, that massive snow head of the peak Annapurna South glared back at me.
Within minutes the striking fishtail feature formation of Mt. Machapuchre loomed into view as well. Easy response....WOW !!! I'm going tomorrow to those mountains.

After a serpentine drive through the rugged lower valley hills, I was dropped off at the beginning of the trail at the ramshackled village Naya Pul. I slung my backpack on my shoulders, looked at the Nepalese Annapurna Circuit welcome sign and dirt path before me, and began to walk to the Top of The World.

I was thinking as I took those first steps my few mental references to Nepal were limited. There's Bob Seager's emphasis on traveling to Kathmandu, of course, and a favorite book of mine when I was a teenager was Annapurna, a book about a summiting of the peak.
Otherwise, the Himalayans were only a distant wilderness, where only people associated with National Geographic ventured to travel. And yet...here I was, crossing rivers, walking through Nepalese villages, stepping higher and higher on thousands of granite steps toward that same Annapurna. I was trekking the Ghoripani-Gangdruk loop, a path that would take me close but not within the massive cluster of Himalayans peaks which included Annapurna 1 through 4 and Machhapuchhre, all 23 to 26,000 ft. peaks. Weather conditions were not optimium; overcast with brief hints of sunshine. No views of the mountain peaks. The passing scenery was stunning: aquamarine-colored pristine waterfalls; rice paddy terraced fields. Other hiking groups, all nationalities, joined me along this stretch, all of us forging upward, ever upward. All progress stopped however when we came across a Maoist rebel outpost.

No overt threat i.e. no weapons, merely a table, a red Maoist flag and three attendants. No voluntary contribution to the cause anymore. Contribution is now mandatory and is a sliding scale fee for all travelers. Several tour guides were engaged in heated debate with the young Maoist over the legitimacy (which there isn't) and price of the fee.
Brief update on Maoist situation: word among Nepalese is after a year since their king was dethroned and parlimentary procedure established with Maoist representation, Nepalese are disenchanted with Maoist. Their great rhetoric to "help the people" appears disingenuine. There is no evidence that money collected goes to the villagers. One fellow I met later said he saw the Maoists spend the money on booze for the upcoming Tihar festival. Also, Nepalese government already collects 2000 rupees from all foreigners who trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary Area. If Maoist are now part of government, why not take their part of the 2000 rupees and leave trekkers alone.
These were the questions being raised at the outpost and would enhance a lively discussion later that night in Ulleri at the lodge around the warm fireplace. Since the debate quagmire was causing a distraction, I slipped in with two folks who had paid and walked away with them. Hee, hee, ho, ho, an independent trekker I go. I figure at the next checkpoint I'll try the "My permit ticket fell out of my pocket" trick. (The next day I did try this to no avail...oh well, 300 rupees or $5 to "the cause". )
Travels continued through the lush, mysterious rhododendron forest up ahead. These reddish, gnarled trees conjure up images of Lord of the Rings and Grimm Bros. fairy tales, tangled, eerie, and altogether beautiful.
From village Tikedungha a straight ascent 1000 ft. up stone steps toward the evenings final destination, Ulleri, where a bare essentials lodge lay waiting for weary trekkers. Take baby steps; a few steps, catch breath, wipe sweat off brow, continue and repeat.
That evening, right before sunset, the clouds above parted and a view of the peak Annapurna South appeared before our eyes. A visual treat and a motivator for tomorrow.

To view more of my travel photos, visit  www.michaelmcguerty.com

To view more of my travel writing, visit www.pecoskid.com
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