When a series of knockbacks left us sleeping outside the Taj Mahal in India, we took it as a sign. Our journey wasn’t flowing, and it was time for a change in direction.
On my first visit to India with my friend Jack, we found ourselves sleeping outside the entrance to the Taj Mahal after two hotels and Tuk Tuk driver mix-ups (another blog story). During our long unexpected night on the street in a strange country, we warded off potential monkey robbers. It made us realize perhaps India is a place we’re not yet ready for. So, our 4 days plan for Nepal transformed into 2 weeks.
I entered Nepal with no expectations. Our first drive through the hectic streets of Kathmandu gave a chaotic impression. Soon we were in the beautiful Boudha Stupa World Heritage Site and it was peace on earth! A central 5th-century white dome, with colorful prayer flags and pigeons fluttering in the wind. Monks wandering the large circular courtyard with prayer wheels. No cars welcome and ornate historical buildings circling the stupa.
I’d come home to the origin of most hippy things on offer at my local Byron Bay markets. A few years earlier it would have been my shopping heaven. I was pleased to find I’d developed some discipline. It was enough to absorb the fantastic atmosphere, and smoke a tasty shisha. We enjoyed people watching and talking about life from the rooftops. The cooing pigeons transported us to another era. I’ve been a lover of oriental spirituality for years and felt excited to be in the genuine culture.
The Himalayas started calling us, and after days of Boudhanath relaxation we set off for Pokhara, the lake entrance to the Annapurna circuit. Being a couple of adventurers who trust that no matter what happens we’ll get through it, we booked a four days trek. Only the night before did we discover on google, it was 51 kilometers. It didn’t help that Jack had a stumble, and pulled his leg muscles before take off.
The drive to the beginning of the trek was exhilarating, with glimpses of snow-capped mountains. We met our porter An who was blinded in one eye. An was happy to go along at an “it’s the journey, not the destination” pace. Our first day was relatively easy, with only four hours of hiking. Jack realized his leg hurt with every step uphill. Luckily, I’m a massage therapist and could relieve some of the tension.
The second day took off with 3300 steps first thing. Jack used to think the 5-kilometre lighthouse walk at home is too much effort. This was a real test for his get up and go. He found the motivation from the views. The mountains were just incredible. Coming from relatively flat Australia, I’d never looked up that high. It was amazing to know we’d be at the top of one of them by the afternoon.
The second evening ended on a hotel rooftop watching the golden hues of the setting sun on 8000 meter plus peaks. My body was aching and nervous in anticipation of the following day’s even longer trek. I took a moment to meditate, self-massage and release the fears. Then I worked on the rock-solid knots in Jack’s leg. Witnessing so much endurance by the locals, carrying trekkers bags on their backs and heads, three at a time, left us no excuse. A fear of limits reached moved on and fresh energy moved in.
The third day began with a 1000 meter dawn climb to the top of Poon Hill. This offered the most dynamic view of the Annapurna range. There was a lot of foot traffic with dozens of trekkers having the same agenda. The scenery was like a movie, as good as any desktop screensaver. Back down the mountain for a quick breakfast, we set off on the longest part of the journey. Eight hours of trekking up and down hand cut stone steps. Many wobbly ones and pony poo dodges. When the ponies came down the mountain we moved out of their path. They stop for no one. Waking up to their tinkling bells in the village was a wonderful experience.
Going past dozens of crystal clear waterfalls, I would have liked to pause and dip my feet in. Perhaps on our next journey, we’ll be adventurous enough not to take a porter and do our own thing. In the meanwhile, uncomplaining An was loaded up with more of our luggage every day, as we grew weaker.
Although the people living in the mountain villages had few modern conveniences, their views seemed a compensation. The children played games against a spectacular backdrop. The locals didn’t blink an eye to the trekkers going past, as common a sight as the ponies.
It was such a relief to stumble into the last village and the car taking us back to our hotel. Our minds and hearts were uplifted from sights we will never forget. I was happy we’d spent a night slumming in the streets of India to arrive at this experience.