Trekking in Nepal: A Diary - Part 1 of 6
Twenty years ago I embarked on a trek on the popular Annapurna South circuit in Nepal. Nothing special about that, you might think, unless you take into account the fact that I was a city girl whose idea of a good walk was on pavement, and preferably heading towards shops, a café, or a restaurant. (On a good day, all three). But having been made redundant following a Murdoch takeover, I was ready for new experiences.
I’d spent two months in India by this point. I’d lazed on the beaches of Goa and Kerala, admired the Taj Mahal, and sipped chai on the banks of the River Ganges. I’d never had it so good.
Then I joined a trek. In my defence I was young and foolish and getting pretty tired of my own company. I’d also been lured by a handsome Frenchman I’d met in the south, an experienced trekker who’d organised a group of six. Unlike most organised treks, however, we were carrying our own packs, and starting off by taking a rarely-used shortcut. By day two, we’d all understood precisely why it was so rarely used.
The following are extracts from a diary I kept, aptly called: The Reluctant Trekker.
* All names have been changed to protect the innocent. (And not so innocent.)
DAY ONE: POKHARA – SARANGKOT
In Goa everyone kept telling me how great trekking was: people shorter, fatter and apparently less fit than I enthused, misty-eyed, about the sights, the majestic mountains and the thrill of the experience. I was reassured: if they could do it, so could I.
On my last night in Pokhara, enjoyed a civilised supper overlooking its tranquil lake with fellow novices Sarah and Doug, my eyes kept wandering up to the village of Sarankot, nestling impossibly high on a mountain top, and I shuddered to think how I’d ever make it up there. Then again, I consoled myself, people did it all the time, it couldn’t be that bad.
It was worse.
If someone had led me to the path, if you could call it a path, pointed upwards towards the sheer climb and told me that that was the route we’d be taking, I’d have laughed in disbelief. If they’d reminded me that I’d be carrying ten kilos’ worth of back-breaking equipment, most of which was to protect me from the fourteen freezing cold nights ahead, I probably would have turned around and retreated to the lake and the cake-shops of Pokhara.
I’d initially not been keen on going in a group. I don’t know what I’d been expecting: sunbathing on Kovalum Beach with Pierre describing the mountains, I think I’d romantically pictured us taking a gentle stroll through some of nature’s greatest scenery. The chance of catching up with the bugger would have been a fine thing. Thank God for the other four mere mortals like myself, who sweated and panted and had to take endless stops like me, and agreed that the route was tortuous. I could never have managed without them.
Onwards and upwards we struggled, feeding off each others’ misery and seeking refuge in each others’ pain until we’d get to a shady clearing and find Pierre, cool and unruffled, not a trace of sweat on his brow, smiling encouragingly (or was it smugly?) at us.
Beyond smiling bravely
By 3:30 we’d made it to Sarangkot, an hour late. I was last; I had been for most of the way, damaging my competitive spirit but probably doing less damage to my wilting body. Pierre gave me the key to my room and told me he’d been there for 1½ hours and had already eaten. I was beyond smiling bravely. I staggered up, nearly fell over taking off my backpack, and threw myself onto the bed, forcing back the tears. Never before had I experienced anything so physically hard in my life: the unbearable pain in my shoulders, the tightness in my chest, the throbbing ache in the backs of my legs.
A little later we went for a walk. I praised Pierre for his athleticism and he casually mentioned how he’d once climbed two days’ worth of trek in just nine hours, a feat everyone had told him was impossible.
ELECTRICITY – YES
WATER – NO
LOO IN GARDEN
DAY TWO: SARANGKOT – BIRETHANI
Had a dreadful night’s sleep. The café opposite insisted on playing Bob Marley on a tape deck with fading batteries; a dog barked incessantly, a baby started screaming and finally some old woman took to shouting – it was as if the whole town had conspired to break the Guinness World Record for sleep disturbance, and I was an unwitting beneficiary.
Still, I felt good as we set off knowing that today would be an easy day – three hours on an even path, then a truck ride to Birethani. How wrong could I get? Yes, the three hours on the flat went fine, and I felt a tremendous sense of relief as we approached Pierre. He was in a bad mood though, because the trucks were asking too much money, and so stomped off alone along the road. I set off with the others, hoping to flag down a truck.
No such luck. They’d stop and let the locals scramble aboard, but just laugh at us. When the road ended we were cross-country again. I’d expected it to last about twenty minutes, but it was more like two hours. At least it was mainly downhill. (But what a hill.)
Back breaking, blisters rubbing and sweat pouring, I approached the suspension bridge over the burbling river upon which sat Birethani, to find Pierre and Doug, sitting in a café. I thought Pierre might have congratulated me, (I wasn’t last this time) and offered some words of encouragement, but oh, no. He told me he’d been there for at least two hours and that he’d eaten, showered and made himself thoroughly comfortable.
He took me to my room, letting me lug my pack up three flights of stairs. I fell on the bed and slowly peeled off my disgusting, sweaty clothes, before gathering myself together for the trek down to the shower, which was out beyond the restaurant. There was no water and so I had to go back up to ask the girl to turn it on. Then she didn’t turn it off, so everything in the cramped space got wet.
So now my back’s breaking, my legs are failing me, and I’ve got two blisters on my right foot. There’s just one question lingering in my mind: is trekking worse than childbirth?
Over supper the others announced that they were going to take a rest day in Birethani. Now I’m a big wimp but even I think that’s being defeatist. Pierre tried to talk them out of it, insisting that we’ve only got 4 ½ hours ahead of us, but they’d made up their minds.
So now it’s just the two of us. Trekking alone with Superman is a frightening prospect.
COLD SHOWER MILES AWAY
LOO MILES AWAY
DARK AND POKY
In the next, thrilling installment, our plucky heroine thinks she's getting the hang of this trekking lark, but as for the donkeys...? Click here for more.
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