The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Trekking to Annapurna to welcome in 2010

Back in the poor and jobless days of October, there was a nasty moment
when we weren't going to make it into The Himalayas during our Nepal stint. Luckily though, after 6 weeks of working, we managed to justify a Christmas and New Year break in the mountains. So, after a little too much Marmite, chicken tandoori, Nepali beer and brownies (the strange combination of goods indulged in over Christmas) we headed off into The Annapurna region for 9 days of walking.

When we set out on our trek on Boxing Day we were not sure if the weather would permit us to reach Annapurna Base Camp, the highest and most exciting destination of the trek. If it snows at base camp there is a high avalanche risk and being without a guide, we weren't going to take any chances. Being the snowy season, we were braced with optimistic phrases about how unimpressive base camp would have been anyway. But we needn't have worried. On the day we planned to head into the big stuff we awoke to a clear, crisp sky and it remained that way for the next 24 hours.

Walking into the snowy bowl that makes up Annapurna Base Camp, which is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world, was one of the most breathtaking moments of the trip. We gazed and gazed and gazed and still couldn't take it all in. Rock broke away from under our feet as we gazed down a 50m cliff to a sea of boulders, brought down from glaciers thousands of years ago. Whisps of cloud flew off the tops of the icy peaks, as if to warn you against even attempting to reach such inhospitable heights. Mile wide glaciers moaned and groaned as the sun went down and came back up. Semi-frozen streams cracked and creaked their way through the snow. At sunset colours turned from blues and whites to pinks and oranges until a full moon tinted everything silver. Melted ice crashed down from mountain ledges and froze solid again when darkness came. Nick and I walked through this colossal land completely alone. Never before have I been so silenced by a landscape.

On New Years 2008-9 we were just picking up the trade winds somewhere off the Atlantic coast of Africa. This year felt almost as remote, sipping on whiskey in a dark stony teahouse, shrouded in the cold mist of the Himalayan foothills. Despite being in bed by 9pm the evening was a charming one. We had a handful of entertaining fellow trekkers to chat too (unsurprisingly, a couple of very enthusiastic Dutchies were the pick of the lot), hot coals to warm our feet by and a huge plate of Dal Bhat to fill our hungry bellies. At 7am on the first day of 2010 we awoke to panoramic views of The Annapurna Range, while golden cloud floated through the valley below us. In Nepal it is considered a very good omen if the first day of the year is clear, which is a relief. All in all, a pretty spectacular way to see in what is set to be a terribly exciting year.

In case any of you haven't heard yet, 2010 is the year of our homecoming and of me becoming Mrs Tuppen. For a long time such exciting (and a little terrifying) events have been a long way off, far too far away to begin to comprehend. Cycling back into Hyde Park has been an unconceivable moment, out there in the futuristic and unknown year of 2010. Suddenly, on the turning of the year, this all changed. Our mindsets did a complete u-turn. We are now on our way home and getting there feels incredibly close.

With this in mind, we skipped along the ancient trails of the Annapurna region full of joy and wonder at everything that passed in 2009, and everything to come in 2010. As if this wasn't mind boggling enough, our backdrop never ceased to leave us in complete awe.

Returning to civilisation after this blissfully simple world of walking from A to B, was a bit of a shock. Minds quickly filled with the admin of getting home; sending passports to the UK to collect our Russian visas, listing every single country we've been to in the last 10 years for the Russian authorities, training for an ice marathon, completing work in Kathmandu, getting permits to travel through Tibet, making sure Carlos is ready for Istanbul... The list goes on. But after an initial panic and finding a bargain happy hour, we happily sunk into our tasks.

One of our more enjoyable tasks was to visit some orphanages in Pokhara where some volunteer buddies were working. One orphanage proved rather entertaining. As hard as we tried to explain that calling a children's home 'The Innocent Children's Center at The Love Company' was not the best idea, the name remains. And despite having been told not to ask for financial aid from volunteers, the manager of this orphanage spent the last week trying to persuade one poor Dutch lad to buy a $700 buffalo for the kids and to fund his retirement. On hearing this we were slightly alarmed to notice that not all the kids had beds. In stark comparison, the other orphanage was a wonderfully homely home kitted out with all the toys, games and comforts kids could want. The answer to such success was a clever chicken farming scheme rather than depending on the wealthy Western folk.

After soaking up all the warmth we could from the Pokhara sun we headed back to our Nepali home in Pepsi-Cola, Kathmandu. A warm welcome from the kids and a plate of 20p momos from our local, quickly made up for the smog and cold. Increased electricity outages and the arrival of a comically talkative and heavily bearded Irishman have hindered work progress considerably. But there's still 30 days left to make our mark in Nepal... we'll see how it goes.

For those of you that want to be persuaded to go trekking, more photos of the mountains here


Rad said...

Great post! Nepal sounds fantastic and you seem to have successfully resisted taking any of it for granted. A surprisingly hard task given how much tmie you have been away and all the amazing things you have been up to.

The ice marathon sounds interesting- would love to hear more about that.

best of luck with everything out there and happy 2010.


Jonathan said...

I love reading your commentary wherever you go, but the description and photographs of your visit to these tallest of mountains really moved me. As the song says, 'You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; you raise me up to more than I can be'.
Thank you both.