It’s about 10, 10:30AM and there’s a small wooden upwards pointing sign with "ABC" painted in yellow lettering. On the opposite side of the road is a canteen selling water, chai, and other simple eats. I stop to get my bearings and double check I’m where I’m supposed to be [Phedi]. While I’m fiddling with my poles and smashing things down into the pack so my balance is centered, an old Tibetan woman waddles over my way holding a variety of beads, braided bracelets, and other handmade items she’s trying to sell. “You my first customer of the day, I give you good deal, look at these bracelet” she says to me while pulling more and more items from under her yak-haired shawl. “You hike Annapurna Base Camp? This one good luck!” She directs my attention to a dual draw-string bracelet made of the familiar maroon colored beads I’d been “scammed” with earlier by a Chinese monk in Kathmandu. Except these are smaller in size and have “jade” and some yellow stone strung in with the sandalwood beads as well. Honestly, they’re pretty cool and I’m jiving with ‘em - I negotiate her down to 150 rupees down from 300. Apparently the cost of good fortune is $1.50 - with her and the Chinese monk's "blessings" I’ve got all sorts of good vibes going for less than the price of a happy meal. Sold.
Hard Starts: I start my climb with vigor - armed with two adjusted trekking poles and my tightly laced hiking boots I’m ready to tackle this first section. Damn, it feels good to be a trekker. First stop on the route is the village of Dhampus, time to destination approximately 1.5 hours. No big. I’m moving along fine, but after about 15-20 minutes of stair-climbing I start to break a major sweat. I had thrown off my fleece maybe 5 minutes in, but I’m just pouring sweat from everywhere now. My neckline is soaked, my brow is dripping onto the ground in front of me, and I can walk maybe 10-15 minutes at a time, maximum, without stopping to lean on my poles, panting, heaving my chest up and down. “What the flying fuck, who is hiking this shit in 1.5 hours? It’s been almost 45 minutes and I don’t see any remote sign of a village” I think to myself. It’s embarrassing, but I legitimately contemplate turning around and returning to Pokhara and just hiding at some other hostel so I don’t have to face the people at the Kiwi who had cheered me off in encouragement maybe 1.5 hours before. I decide that if the whole damn hike is like this, after this full day of trekking I’ll turn back. I continue onwards in my piecemeal fashion, plodding along occasionally awkwardly leaning against some rocks so my pack is supported and the weight taken off my shoulders for a few moments. Vegetation/scenery wise it all looks the same and resembles what I’ve seen in Colorado on mini-hikes. The major exception, however, are the tall, rounded hills with in-cut combed ridges that sweep down the face. From what I can tell, this is the best they can till the ground and plant their crops, some of which include corn, spinach, and cabbage.
I get to Dhampus after about another hour and plop down in the first cafe I find. “Uh, can I get food here?” I ask in Hindi to the oldest looking person in a gang of four people relaxing on an outdoor patio. “Yes, you can get food here”, he responds gently mocking and mimicking my grammatically poorly constructed Hindi sentence. I settle down on said patio table that all four have now evacuated into a plastic blue arm chair. The table has a brightly floral patterned print and there are hens, roosters, and puppies running around the stone-paved path I just detoured from and a brave rooster starts getting peckish with my pack. Denied of any morsels of satisfaction, he turns back to the grassy patch, head cockily bobbing forward and back. I browse through the menu and decide I’m suddenly not in the mood to eat chicken - eggs won’t require murder though. I order two boiled eggs and a chapatti and wolf it down as soon as its put down in front of me. While I'm eating the son and daughter of the store owner [a cute Nepali family] are wandering in an out of the restaurant carrying eggs and cleaning [fils] and surveilling personal hairstyles and making duck faces [fille]. I finish up, thank and pay the man. I swing my pack around and start heading towards my next destination, Pothana.
Time for a mea culpa. As I'm going along this rock-strewn uneven path, I realize that what I'm doing is really freaking stupid. I'm walking totally alone in the Himalayan mountain countryside, I have no mobile/GPS service, no one knows who/where I am, and I'm one misstep + twisted ankle away from having to find a nice rock cave to cower in while hoping for someone to come my way. Yeah, those other bloggers did the trek alone and blah blah blah but this is just unsafe, Ronil, why you so silly? I tell myself that if I don't meet any one at the next town, Pitham Deurali, I have to head back because it's too unsafe to do this for 6-7 days if the path will be this sparsely populated. I'm pissed at myself because by all indications thus far it's looking like I'm going to have to head back, but the gamble of continuing alone and risking injury just isn't worth it.
DAY ONE: LANDRUK
DAY TWO: UPPER SINUWA
DAY THREE: DEURALI
DAY FOUR: MACHAPUCHARE BASE CAMP
Snowstorm: I stumbled inside, threw off my pack, and collapsed into a seat, almost tearing up from happiness at finally reaching base camp after three and a half days of laborious trekking [see above photo of exasperation]. Only one room at ABC was heated - the dining room. Inside, fellow trekkers congregated in their groups, huddled together under layers of jackets and blankets attempting to keep warm. About an hour after our arrival, the visibility outside the window, which had only been about 50-100 meters at best before, turns into a sheet of grey and around us we hear chiclets of ice start slamming against the glass window panes and corrugated metal roof above our heads. The snow starts and doesn't stop for nine hours. Marooned inside, little islands of language groups form: the Koreans in one corner, the Aussies against the far wall, the Nepali loiter around the kitchen, and the French on the closer wall. I'm sitting kind of halfway between the Aussie and French colonies, alternating between both trying to improve my second-language skills and relishing the first chance in days of Englishing with native speakers. New friendships form catalyzed by the calamitous weather; travelers united under piles of tacky blankets and over mugs of steaming tea.
Sunrise: I'll keep this uncharacteristically short. There's no use trying to describe the overwhelming surreal sensation of being encircled by gargantuan towers of rock in the early morning darkness, watching the sunlight bend around and over Machapuchare behind us to slowly brush the peaks in front with a pastel pink that morphs to a silky yellow that then glides silently in an unbroken line down the cragged façades as we mere mortals hold our breath, too afraid to even blink lest we miss a moment. It was the most naturally beautiful and moving thing I've ever had the privilege of observing.