I was alone on the trail and on my way to Annapurna basecamp. I charged through the forests on a well maintained trail towards Tadapani, but then plunged into a quiet and stunning valley. It was an amazing route with stunning views and perfect trails through a steep sided terraced river valley full of little colourful houses and welcoming tea shops. I found a great little lodge on the corner just before Chhomrong – the gateway to the Annapurna base camp trail – and enjoyed the spellbinding views across the valley. I drank a cup of lemon tea and relaxed. There was so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to: the mountain trails, the welcoming villages, the cheap lodges, the apple pie.
I got up super early and started walking at 7am from Chhomrong (at 2210 metres). After 22 days on the trail, the straight, steep stepped climb was fine for me. I wanted to sleep as high as possible to make sure that I was well-acclimatized for visiting base camp. I only stopped to gobble down a huge plate of cheesy spaghetti in Himalaya and eventually reached Deorali at an altitude of 3140 metres.
I beamed with pride when I was able to tell people: I am on day 21, 22, 23. Wow was their response, all alone? Yes I eagerly chimed. My body was well acclimatized. I was feeling supreme, lean, invincible. I went sprinting up the climbs with a constant rhythm and reliable confidence. My well packed pack weighing easily on my back.
At 4130 metres, Annapurna base camp was an amphitheatre of rock and snow – unreal surroundings of mega clear and perfect high mountain views, including the near vertical south face of Annapurna, first climbed by Chris Bonington and team in 1970. Prayer flags draped nearby moraine fields where I found the memorials to climbers killed in avalanches. Now the trail had come to a dead end, it was time to turn around and run back down to Chhomrong. The journey was almost complete.
I walked and walked all day long, out of the mountains, past villages, begging children, deserted lodges, long steps of stone, lovely views, into Tolka and on into the misty afternoon towards Dhampus. Step by step, further away from the mountains of the Annapurna region and into the flat lands around the city of Pokhara. It was all finally coming to an end.
On my 26th day on the trail, I left Dhampus early in the morning and descended on stone steps towards the road. I was in high spirits, listening to music, enjoying the sun, and chatting to fellow trekkers on their way up. And then I met the road at Phedi and the mountains were over. An old crooked lady walked up to me, grabbed my wrist and looked at my bracelet with interest. I had brought it back in Marhpa and she told me that the words meant Long Life and Good Health in Tibetan. It was special – I should hang onto it. Then I bargained a great price on a taxi to zoom the 30 minutes down the road towards Pokhara.
I had loved this trek for the contrasts and the variety: the jungle, the deserts, the lush greens and the icy whites. I had loved this trek for the people: the camaraderie of a trekking team, the drunken nights on apple brandy, and the constant games of cards. Also the lack of people, with the long stretches of solo silence in the wilderness. I had loved this trek for the great food: the apple pie, the momos, fried rice, stews, pancakes, soups and curries. I had loved this trek for the adventure: exploring remote villages, climbing high passes, and walking through deserts
Wandering through Lakeside in Pokhara, the brilliant sunshine, the promise of plentiful cheap food and a comfy bed all gave the true and rounded feeling of total pride and satisfaction.
26 days and 12,000 metres of ascent later, the loop was finally complete. It had been a wonderful first time wander through the mighty Himalayas.