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A gentle knock at the door announced the arrival of a steaming hot cup of coffee and the dawn of a new day. After a quick yawn and rub of my eyes, I left the blissful warmth of my bed and put my down jacket and slippers on. As the door opened, the light-flooded in and, as my eyes adjusted, they focused on the most jaw-dropping of views.
Towering above me, and as far as I could see, were the magnificent, startling snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. I settled into the wicker chair on my balcony and cradled the cup of coffee. The air was crisp and fresh and smelled of woodsmoke. The light breeze carried the gentle, distant sound of Sherpa; the language of the legendary mountain people who tirelessly aid trekkers and climbers visiting Nepal.
I was one such trekker and had just two days before I set out from Pokhara on my own trek through the Annapurna Range. My time in Pokhara was fabulous. The newly-opened Pavilions Lake View cared for my every need. The hotel rooms had floor-to-ceiling windows with terrific views across Phewa Tal, Pokhara’s iconic lake. The restaurant there fuelled me with some of the most lip-smacking Nepali cooking imaginable. I had a vegetable Thali for dinner – each of the small dishes divine – and washed it down with an ice-cold Gorkha lager.
Anyway, back to the trek. I chose to trek with Ker and Downey who have an excellent reputation and operate seven simple but comfortable lodges in the Annapurna region. After a day spent walking you can expect friendly service, excellent food, a hot shower and a comfortable bed. Bliss. My favourite of the Ker and Downey lodges was Basanta Lodge, located in a village called Dhampus. Just a short walk from the lodge and you are among traditional Gurung houses and phenomenal mountain views.
Hard as it was, I decided to turn my back on the brooding peaks and instead stare out across the valley. Far below me, four eagles glided on thermals. The path I had walked to reach this viewpoint was lined with flame-red poinsettias and brilliant orange marigolds. Millet and chillies lay drying in the sun. A young boy hesitantly came forward from his home and greeted with me a soft namaste (or, “hello”). I replied as his mother watched on proudly. The warmth of the people in Nepal is one of the reasons so many people return time after time.
I continue walking and, as I glance up at the mountains, the clouds drift away revealing the iconic ‘fish tail’ or Machhapuchre, an unclimbed and sacred peak. At 6,993m above sea level, Machhapuchre is a minnow in these parts, but its fabulous razor-sharp peak juts out proudly to catch the eye. As we walked around the corner the mountain views gave way to soft greens and a path that snakes through farmland. Above us came the echoing sound of laughter – and, as we climbed the path, we almost bump into two women who were sitting on the ground spinning a length of wool and chuckling as they worked. The light was perfect; so I asked them if I could take their photographs. This set them off into fits of giggles as they pretended to preen and beauty themselves for the shot. Their laughter and easy manner made for some great photos, but beyond that, it was just tremendous fun despite our language barrier. I continued on the trail smiling inside and out.
“Don’t look down,” came the cry from Deepak, my trek guide. The suspension bridge bounced and swayed while foaming white water roared beneath me. Hundreds of feet beneath me. With my fear of heights kicking in, I decided to look at the horizon and walk slowly and steadily. Once over, I allowed a quick glance back at the bridge before walking up the stone steps leading to the village of Landruk. Perched on a hillside in a deep gash between the mountains, Landruk’s skyline was dominated by Annapurna South.
As the sunset on a terrific day of walking, the clouds and snow on the mountain glowed pink, then red. It was a moving and touching visual. With nowhere better to be, I sit on a stone wall warmed by the sun and allow the mountains to capture my imagination. I start thinking about the Everest region and the possibility of a trek there. Just maybe.