In nature’s lap with the mighty Annapurna as backdrop
“Are you sure I will be able to complete the trek and handle the altitude, the cold?” quipped my wife Prachi, who had never been on a serious trek before. The question did raise some anxiety in me as well. Born and raised in Assam, amidst the greenery and mountains, and now living in Mumbai for the past 14-15 years, trekking and camping has been my connect with nature.
Having done a couple of short treks in Uttarakhand and Himachal, trekking in the Nepal Himalayas was always on my mind. Getting time out of our schedule in Mumbai for a longer trek was a bit difficult. Plus I couldn’t leave the wifey alone.
I had to kill 3 birds with a stone! So, I decided to do a shortish trek for the wanderlust me, take the wifey along and make sure she was comfortable during the trek. Once this was decided, the next thing was to plan, choose the destination, draw up the itinerary and finally do the bookings. As avid travellers, we have always felt, this is the best phase of every trip, when you start researching and the excitement keeps growing with every discovery.
After some deliberations, debates and lobbying (with the wife, of course!), we finally sealed the Annapurna Region in Nepal as our destination. And with the Diwali weekend coming up, it was a perfect opportunity to escape the city pollution and head for some fresh, crisp mountain air!
Finally, we drew up our itinerary for the trip, making sure we included things both of us liked. We decided to fly down to Kathmandu from Mumbai, via Delhi, spend overnight at Kathmandu, then fly to the picturesque Pokhara, before moving on to the Annapurna Region for our trek. And what lay ahead of us in Nepal, was just awesome!
We took a connecting flight to Kathmandu from Mumbai and landed in Kathmandu around 4.30 PM. Both of us had been to Nepal earlier, albeit during our respective childhoods. I did have faint memories of my previous trip, so we decided to hole up for the night at Thamel, the backpacker’s heaven in Kathmandu city. Lined up with numerous curio shops, eateries, adventure gear shops and travel operators, the buzz and energy in the narrow lanes of Thamel truly gets on to you. We spent the evening strolling around Thamel and meeting our trek organizer, before something totally unexpected happened! We bumped into a childhood friend of mine from Tezpur after almost 30 years! This surely was a great beginning for the trip.
“Pulak, I don’t think I will be able to do the trek, I am feeling too weak.” That’s the first thing I heard when I woke up next day morning for our flight to Pokhara. Prachi had a bout of diarrhoea during the night! I was cursing the delicious Newari cuisine we had hogged last evening for Prachi’s condition, until, we figured that it was something else. Prachi had consumed unbottled or tap water and some bit of research told us that unfiltered water is contaminated in Kathmandu. So, that’s a tip for tourists visiting Kathmandu. Out there, buy bottled water!
Despite the minor setback, we headed to the airport to catch our flight. And, this was a sight and an experience by itself. No baggage scanners, no conveyor belts, only trust, hospitality and love. The domestic airport in Kathmandu has pretty basic facilities, but the warmth of the people makes up for it. Next was the flight. Having seen the mountain flight videos to Lukla (airbase for Everest Trek), domestic flights to mountainous regions in Nepal were scary affairs. The aircrafts are small, with around 40-50 seats and passenger load needs to be balanced while taking off and landing! But the snow-capped views you witness from your window seat takes away all the anxiety. We were both awestruck, and in love with the place already.
Next, we land at Pokhara, a little past noon. Pokhara, in Nepalese translates to a lake. And indeed, it is a lake city. It is also known popularly as the gem of Nepal. The mesmerizing lakeview on your right, cobbled streets dotted with numerous souvenir shops, cafes and currency exchange counters on your left and the mighty Annapurna ranges as backdrop. Now, imagine Pokhara. Underrated among Indian tourists, you will find half of Europe here! Besides being picturesque and postcard perfect, this region has a strong food character, as well. Unlike Kathmandu valley known for its Newari cuisine, this region has a distinct Thakali cuisine which relies more on locally grown legumes and lentils. We spent the night right on Lake Road. While I was exploring the local food, I was making sure Prachi was having enough fluids for the trek, which was to start next morning.
We woke up early next morning to find Prachi in a slightly better state. I didn’t want to push her though and had already planned to drop it if her health didn’t permit. But she was resolute. I think the early morning view from the hotel balcony made the difference. From our hotel in Pokhara, we could see the mighty and magnificent peaks of the Annapurna ranges, and trust us, those were views to die for!
We finally embarked on our trek with our trek guide, Gurung dai; dai in Nepali meant elder brother. In his early fifties, one can’t imagine how fit he was. I had chosen a pretty moderate trek to Australian Camp, in the Annapurna region. The trail took us through some awesome terrain with mountain view, lush green valley and rice fields. We interacted with the limited village populace enroute witnessing their way of life. Our hearts pumping blood continuously with every climb, we finally reached our campsite after a good 5 hours of trek, burning 2000+ calories!
Our campsite at Australian Camp was nothing short of a luxurious experience. Right on the edge of the mountains, this place was complete with cosy cottages, magnificent views, and a restaurant with mouth watering array of local snacks and food. I thought, “Oh lord, could I have asked for more?” This was until the night temperature dropped to single digits. But then, I had a special Apple Brandy from the Nampha region to my rescue. It was a multi-cultural experience at the camp, meeting people from different nationalities and beliefs and yet sharing the same connect with nature. While a trek is meant to push yourself physically and connect with nature, networking and meeting random strangers is so liberating. Oh, we didn’t tell you this, there was paid WiFi at the camp too.
We were already thanking our stars for such a brilliant experience, until the morning sunrise which left our jaws wide open. At around 6.15 AM, the sun came up throwing its golden hue on the mountains. As the sun came up and lifted the veal of clouds, we could see the grandiose Annapurna South peak glowing in full glory. Witnessing it from such close distance was so surreal and made everything look so small.
We are glad we could do this despite our limited time and an initial glitch. I am personally glad I could take Prachi on a real mountain trek. And she is glad we planned this and got through.
Go travel guys! We are leaving you with some quick tips to plan your escapade.
What to Eat?
• If you are a non-vegetarian, Newari Cuisine & Thakali Cuisines are a must. There are plenty of options for vegetarians too, minus the meat. Mutton Sekua, Mutton Sukuti, Chicken Choila, Gundruk are part of authentic Nepali meals
• Momos are found widespread, typically mutton, pork and buff
• Bhaat (steamed rice) and Aloo ko tarkari (Potato curry) are staples
• Sel Roti, a round shaped rice batter fried cake is a must for the sweet tooth
What to Shop?
• Plenty of curios, fridge magnets, woollens
• Local drinks like Apple Brandy
• Adventure gear, if you are an adventure seeker looking to venture out in the outdoors
What else to do?
• Take the mountain flight to view the amazing mountain peaks
• 2-seater Ultra-light flights for a unique flying experience
• Trekking through the picturesque landscape and mountains
• Boat ride on Phewa lake
• Paragliding over the Phewa lake
• Shopping at Thamel and the old city near Hanuman Dhoka, in Kathmandu
• The famed Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu
About the Author
Prachi and Pulak are an avid and passionate travelling couple based out of Mumbai. Taking out time from their professional pursuits, they record their travels on their blog www.tummiesontour.com.