Annapurna Base Camp
Anyway, the clear and beautiful morning welcomed us the next day. Himchuli, Machhapuchchhre, Gangapurna and Annapurna were making golden and stunning 360 degree view. I clicked the photos as much as I can. Bikash's uneasiness was still intact so we decided not to take any chance. Following the ' All or None' policy coined by Praches ;), we quit our plan to go to ABC unhappily. Everybody were feeling the pain of not reaching the final destination. Sunil and I went around 100 meters towards ABC and it hurt more; the sound that came while stepping on the fresh snow was so nice that you forget your favorite song. ' I will hit the trail again very soon ' I silently said to myself as I turned opposite.
The desire to be away from our routine lives, spending some quiet time in the wide open arms of the Himalayas, to leave behind the rat race and just be, is not unnatural.To the uninitiated, it is difficult to explain why people trek, what their motivation is, to leave behind creature comforts and settle for dirty clothes, cramped tents and unappealing (although nutritious) food. Why would a person want to ‘work hard’ on their existence rather than a fun filled, relaxing vacation?
Finally we reached Thadapani around evening 5. No more night trekking then, yay! Keeping a promise has its own joy. Small village of Thadapani is having only 4 lodges which all seems full. After a brief search we managed to get a tiny room around the corner. Giving few clothes for washing we went outside. Machhapuchchhre and Annapurna South are barricading the opposite side. From the valley of Machhapuchchhre something is illuminating like the fireflies. "The shepherds set it the old grass on fire purposefully to grow the new one for the sheep to eat" says the caretaker boy. The small dining room is filled already but still we manage to find a little space to have the veg noodles and pasta for dinner.
Machhapuchhre Base Camp
As I was feeling cold, I asked for a glass of hot water with honey and that drink warmed the body soon. Guys had drinks of their choice. After some moments, the snowfall was stopped but clouds were still covering the sky. Some glimpse of Mount Fishtail and Mount Himchuli shined with the sunset color but moving clouds always acted as villain. We had enough time to whatever we like - from removing the snow with shovel from hotel backyard to sleeping & dancing on it. While we were doing all crazy stuffs, an Argentine expressed his dissatisfaction with us in very rude fashion but we ignored him. Darkness covered the mountains early that day due to the clouds and that was dinner time too. Meanwhile Bikash felt some sort of stomach pain and he claimed that was due to gastritis; we had no options rather than believing him as gastric was normal for him. Due to pain he had very little rice. After dinner we went to the bed but his pain became intense and medicines weren't showing any effects - we didn't know what to do. With the warmness of the bed I was asleep after few moments into the bed but the guy with pain and other two were busy doing this and that to minimize the discomfort resulting very less sleep. We were in such a situation that if that wasn't the snowy trail, we would have descended during the night.
Coffee in our cups and water with the cloud emptied at the same time. Then we tracked the trail to Dovan (2505m) through the rain forest. The trail was not steep but we were somehow gaining the altitude. As we reached Dovan, we went to a hotel just in front of the nice waterfall, asked for the room, dropped the backpacks, put some warm clothes on as it was too cold and went outside. When we got out of our hotel room, we saw a group of tourists gathered in the backyard of another hotel and were looking at the hill. I joined them and with a smile and a usual "Namaste" enquired the reason behind the gathering. One among the crowd told that there is a bear moving in the far hill. I watched it through the camera viewfinder with some zoom, some object movement was there but I was unable to confirm whether it was bear or anything else. Meanwhile a lady from maybe from Korea or China approached me to look at it and later thanked me saying she saw it, but I was not sure because with the noise due to high camera ISO everything were moving. Anyway it was some fun.We had potato soup before having nice dinner and in no time we were off to bed.STAR TRAILS TO SNOW FALLAs we slept early yesterday, we had no hesitations on getting up early. It was 4:15 AM when we left our bed and got outside of the hotel room. The surroundings were still covered with darkness but the twinkling stars were making the sky beautiful. I thought it to be the perfect time to find some movements of stars over Himalayas and set the camera accordingly. I did few shots with relatively long exposure settings; results were pretty cool. In this type of photography the camera need to be busy than the person behind, so Sunil and Me stayed in the outside table covering us with the blankets bought from room. It was 4:45 and shivering cold.After around 30 - 40 minutes, the east horizon began to spread the lights and Mount Fishtail was clear in front of us and few patches of clouds were hovering over it. Other mountains were not visible from Dovan. After the dawn, we became fresh with ice cool water and get ready to hit the trail. We had light breakfast before moving.
We started our 10-day trek in the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and every day we steadily moved higher, every day edging closer to the mountains we had come to find, each day better than the last. We followed a valley wedged between a cliff and a drop into the river. We went through villages with groups of shy children acting as toll merchants demanding sweets, chocolates, school pens or balloons. We crossed suspension bridges every day, always swaying and bouncing. We kept going, pushing on and upwards getting glimpses of looming snow-covered mountains in the far-off distance. Halfway to the pass we climbed through small forests with the red colors of rhododendron bushes bursting through the green. The air felt cooler than before and soon the forest thinned out, the terrain became barren and we ventured higher into the mountains. The changes were an encouraging sign of progress. The conversations also turned from excitement to philosophy. Traveling through such calm solitudes, so far removed from the tensions of civilization, clarity and hopefulness pervaded our thinking. We all seemed to be overwhelmed with grandiose ideas for the future. Our thoughts seemed to reflect the magnificent mountains we were passing through. We walked together and we walked alone, talking a little but simply content to be moving and making our way. We ambled up and up. The only thing we needed to do was to keep moving, not necessarily at a fast pace but just keep moving. Then we neared the pass and a completely new challenge. After three hours of solo toil, we came upon other hikers who were feeling sick and nauseous and moving very slowly, even slower than me. We rested for a while, dicussing the view and our inability to appreciate it in our fatigued states. We set off again, the climb was not as steep as before but we walked at a crawling pace for the next few hours up and over small hills.
The caretaker of the inn had his jaw opened wide as he heard we are planning to go to Machhapuchhre Base Camp the next day. “That is not possible. The maximum you can go is up to Deurali or Himalaya, that itself is a long walk." Really? Then how could I have set the itinerary like that? Let me take a look again. Oh my gosh, he is right! As per my plan we should go and stay at Dovan tomorrow not at MBC. We have got enough days to cover all these. That inadvertent mistake nearly broke our legs. Adi is getting furious at me. "I'm never going to forgive you for this" “You should have also checked the itinerary, you lazy." I tried to cover up my mistake.The rift is not going to help us revert back whatever happened, so let's take some well deserved rest now. The last rays of the day are hitting the Annapurna south. Soon the sky gets filled with countless stars as the night also gets colder . The ice cone spear of Machhapuchhre is glistening as the moon joins the party later.
It was the relaxed trail till. The uphill track started after crossing the bridge and it kept going in the similar fashion most of the times as well as occasional flat area till Kimrong Khola, the base of Jhinu Danda from where the trail was steep for around 30 minutes. After reaching Jhinu Danda we got into the first hotel to the right, ordered lunch, kept the backpack and went down to the much awaited hot spring. As that was first time for me in such natural hot spring I was excited a bit more. Three square shaped, human made ponds were there, little above the bank of Modi River that collects the hot water. In addition to that few hot water taps were also available. After taking off the clothes and keeping them in a small hut nearby, I slowly jumped in to the refreshing warm water and stayed inside for some moments. It was good revitalization to the body. I felt quite strange to touch the hot water about two meters up from the freezing cool water of Modi River. I, along with friends spent more than an hour in different ponds, water temperature inside the pond was almost same in all but water from the tap was hotter. After completing the hot water bath we changed the clothes and ascended towards the hotel. We reached hotel at around 15-20 minutes, lunch was almost ready. We had delightful meal staying in the dining table outside of the hotel, packed the bags then got ready to climb steep hill towards Chhomorong. Floating clouds began to cover the surrounding hills increasing the chances of rain. As we spent more time than planned in Jhinu danda we didn't make further delay. We put on the raincoat and started the final trek for the day. About 5-10 minutes after we started ascending, it started raining heavily; we decided to wait for the rain to subside staying in the nearby hotel area and that continued for few minutes. As the force of the rain minimized, we continued the walk. Small yet beautiful settlement of Jhinu Danda started fading and it slowly lost in the cloud. As we crossed all of the few remaining human settlements of the area, it started raining very badly - not only cats and dogs but their neighbors and friends too ;). Me and Bikash were leading the way but other two guys were not on the scene. We were enjoying the walk in the rain but I was a bit worried about my camera, which was strapped on the shoulder. With that intensity of rain, raincoat seemed almost useless and we didn't even have any place to stay and wait for the rain to abate. We were only seeing each other as every other things were under the clouds. It was too cold and fingers were shivering. The frustrating rain continued for 30-40 minutes and in the meantime we reached Chomorong too. Following the track covered with flat stones, we went to a hotel to the right that seemed pretty nice, requested a room and unloaded the wet backpack. I immediately took off the camera, removed the battery and kept it covering with the towel - as per the company's description, battery and card slots were said to be weather sealed but I didn't want to take a chance. We went to the dining area after changing the clothes, ordered soup and coffee waiting for other two guys. As we were about to finish the soup, guys came into the scene and instantaneously we called them.As I started feeling some kind of warmness after soup and coffee, I came out of the dining hall and looked at the surroundings but everything was hiding behind the cloud, my hope to have some shots of mountains with twinkling stars went on vain. I had nothing to do except waiting for the dinner to get ready, so I entered to the dining hall again. It was almost packed with domestic as well as international tourists and they were busy in their own way. After having usual Nepali dinner, the tiring day was over.THE UP-DOWN TRAIL
This is the 3rd time we are walking through these steps. The swollen leg is killing me and Adi also has his own problems with his sprained leg. The 45 minutes horrible climb down brought us near the bridge to cross to the other side. The steep path to the lower Sinuwa (2340 M) is a piece of cake compared to the former. We cannot make mistakes like the last time for the rooms as the availability is getting lower and lower as we go up till MBC. The caretaker of a lodge in Sinuwa helped us to book 2 beds in a dormitory in Himalayas, which comes after Dovan, for a bribe of Rs 500. Oh! anything for a room! Talking about cash I don’t think we have enough of it in our pockets to survive till the last day if we are going to eat and drink like this. So I cut down Adi’s milk tea to black tea.Sinuwa seems never ending as we realized the next 45 minutes of the climb took us to the upper Sinuwa only. The sun which made us sweat throughout the morning is now slowly hiding behind the thick branches of the tropical forest on the way to the next village – Bamboo (2190 M). The trail through very deep and narrow gorges will be like this till MBC, I can see it from here whenever the forest opens up a bit to allow us to peep. Through the gaps of branches one small village is appearing far far away. Hope it is not Himalayas because that is an awfully long distance to cover.The famous 750 steps of Bamboo is a climb down and is easy according to one lady traveller. But she has no idea about our condition. My partner is in tremendous pain and is limping most of the time. “Maybe I won't be able to make it to MBC, you go and comeback. I will wait for you at Himalayas”. I seriously hope he doesn't mean that!
Landruk is a small village in the just opposite side of the Ghandruk village and it is low in altitude. Beautiful view of Annapurna is visible from Landruk but Fishtail hides behind the hill. The weather got cleared after the evening giving us the chance to view some glimpse of mountains along with the twinkling stars. While walking around the village we reached Hotel Moonlight, which was almost at the end of that small village and decided to have dinner there. As we didn't order anything in the hotel where we kept our bags, we thought that won't be a problem but they were disappointed after we informed them that we had dinner somewhere else. We went to the room after having fantastic dinner. As the people of the hotel were dissatisfied with what we did, Sunil was worrying on whether they will give us blankets or not, sleeping on the bed."Will they give blankets to us?" Sunil enquired."Why not? They surely need to." Praches responded.Sunil was still in confusion."What would you do if they didn't give it?" Sunil queried again."We will get the bags and leave to Moonlight." Prachesh replied with confidence.After 10-15 minutes of this dilemma, the hotel staff bought the blankets making everyone happy. We were asleep in few minutes.We will be reaching Chomorong till tomorrow evening after having hot water bath in Jhinu Danda.HOT WATER DIP THEN FREEZING RAINFALLEarly morning view of 'Himchuli', 'Annapurna South' and 'Annapurna I' was enough to make everybody feel fresh and energize for the new day. We left the hotel at around 7:30 and followed a stone covered trail towards the Hotel Moonlight; sometimes the track was through the narrow alley of the classical houses. We had Gurung Bread, Oats and Milk in the Hotel Moonlight before continuing the descent to New Bridge. Listening to the flow of river and capturing the waterfalls as well as different landscapes we crossed the suspension bridge built over Modi River. Very near to the bridge we met two young guys who were dead drunk. One was leading a sheep and other with a small side bag. As the bridge swung while crossing, their discomfort and action became the center of attraction for some time.