I began my trek in Nepal at a height of 1070m. Where I come from, in Scotland, we’re very proud of our mountains over 914m (or 3000 feet) called Munros. Here I was, just shy of Scotland’s tallest peak, except at the bottom of the hill – a stark reminder of the monumentality of the Himalayas in which I would spend the next 8 days.
Unlike most I chose to go alone and without a guide, hoping to meet people along the way. That didn’t stop me from stashing a kindle full of page-turners including the epic recounts of the first men ever to claim a mountain over 8000m; Annapurna.
Way back in 1950, Frenchmen Herzog and Lachenal reached the apex at 8019m only hours before a deadly monsoon would wreak havoc on their expedition and leave them disabled for life. My plan was to trek to Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130m; half the height and but a fraction of the undertaking.
That isn’t to say, however, that it was a doddle.
Day one quickly showed up my inexperience as a lack of signage saw me set off in the wrong direction. Who knew MapsMe, an offline GPS app, works even on remote mountain paths? As if sensing my foolishness as I backtracked downhill, I was joined by a mountain dog who conscientiously walked with me for an hour then wisely shaved off before a torrential downpour would turn my boots into ponds. Not a great start.
But it seemed all my bad karma was dispensed on that first day. From then on it was, quite literally, uphill. I quickly met new foot fellows of all nationalities, from students to young professionals, retirees to families with children.
No matter how many stairs you climb up and down, the scenery is intoxicating. Fur-like rice fields carved out the slopes of the lower valleys, while rich crimson gladioli reached for the sharp foreboding peaks.
So simple yet satisfying is that feeling of arriving at your destination each evening, exhausted. A hot shower, some spicy momo dumplings perhaps or a yak cheese pizza, and bed. It doesn’t come much better.
Guesthouses come along every hour or two and menu prices across the region are regulated by the tourism board, removing the stress of bargaining. Often I was able to sleep for free, as long as I took dinner and breakfast in the same lodge, making it perfectly manageable to budget 150RMB on average per day for everything.
By the fifth day I made it to base camp, not perhaps in the most monumental fashion for a thick mist that blurred the welcome sign we almost marched straight past. But just before dinner the clouds dissipated and we found ourselves centre stage in an amphitheatre of mountains. It felt like New Year. Even if we couldn’t see our surroundings after dark, we could sense them. We all knew we were in an immensely special place; there was such a buzz.
Trekking in the late monsoon season meant benefitting from fewer walkers and a guaranteed bed upon arrival, although catching a glimpse of the mountains was at times a gamble.
Apparently, the Annapurna region is being spoilt by roads and ever more beaten tracks, but I can’t say I had any such complaints. The mountains do not welcome those without drive to climb them, and the road; well, they are quite something else! Tourism hasn’t spoiled Nepal and throughout my trip I was met with the most genuine kindness from locals, as fair as the mountains they live among.
The best season for trekking starts in March so anyone keen for a gulp of truly fresh air and an exhilarating challenge should start thinking about a trip to Nepal now. A guide will cost around $100 a day (with food and board) and, with enough enthusiasm and time, the trek is accessible to a wide range of fitness levels.