The peaceful nature of Nepal’s three million inhabitants stands in stark contrast to the jagged peaks of the Himalayas, the primary reason why thousands of adventure travelers visit Nepal every year. Tourism in Nepal is a vital industry, the evils of which manifest in the abundance of counterfeit trekking gear in touristy Thamel, Kathmandu.
However, $10 counterfeit North Face pants are perfect for temporary trek use. Too bad they don’t come in “tall.” The upside to a geography warm to tourists is the fantastic array of available activities: hiking, rafting, climbing, biking, bird-watching… you’ll surely find an adventure to suit your needs.
While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to study micro finance in Nepal. The program was canceled last minute due to political unrest in downtown Kathmandu. However, a good friend reminded me that things aren’t always as bad as they look on television, so to Nepal I went. Come along on my trek to Annapurna Base Camp, the lesser known but equally stunning alternative to Everest Base Camp.
Our guide was a young, slight gentleman in his early thirties named Sudarshan. He was accompanied by a similarly-sized yet rock solid porter we called Buddha. Though Buddha didn’t speak English, and spoke very little in general, he had an uncanny way of communicating to Sudarshan, when my stride was off. “How is Madame’s knee?” Sudarshan once asked, seemingly out of nowhere. “Madame’s knee is sore,” I would respond, “But let’s keep moving!”
We meandered through rural villages, where I was surprised to see toddlers roaming around the family land, including up and down massive stone steps. Farm animals and high altitude fields were their playground. It struck me that independence and strength were encouraged at an early age, though perhaps not by choice.
Water consumption was a near constant necessity, given our activity level. Day one on the trail was a challenge — 3,000 steps up a natural staircase. Days two and three included upward climbing over roots, and trekking past rice fields. Though there was a healthy competition among some of the men (pushup and rock-throwing contests included), there was plenty of quality rest time. Here is the intrepid Buddha, resting.
One of the highlights was the climb to Poon Hill (10,400 ft), or what I like to call a Himalayan Sunrise. Rising at 4am, we reached the peak, covered in clouds. They parted just long enough for us to view Annapurna I and Annapurna South.
We saw strong, vital women doing “yardwork” daily. Needless to say, this made it difficult to complain about being sore or tired. We would stop at huts along the way to fill up on water or buy Snickers bars. Everything in these huts was carried there, on the backs of women and men like these.
By day seven we were approaching Annapurna Base Camp. We ascended through a dense fog, the lush vegetation of the earlier part of our trek giving way to icy tundra. Green turned to grey, and sounds of chirping wildlife gave way to distant sounds of water streaming from mountain top.
We reached Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) with excitement and energy to spare, though we couldn’t initially see much because of cloud cover. Our night at the hut was funnest of all, sitting around the dinner table with trekkers from Belgium, Iran, Israel, and the Netherlands. We sipped tequila and sweet lemon tea, relishing the company of our international friends after a long journey.
Nepal left an indelible impression on me. A wild, untamed thumbprint on my list of big adventures. Hopefully it won’t be long before I return.