But, in reality, you’ve hiked madly for days in deceitfully hot and cold weather, shed more kilos in one week than weight-loss programmes can guarantee, and you may be left with really crappy photos at the end of your journey - but one thing is for certain, the “National Geographic” scene in front of you, undoubtedly leaves you breathless.
The Annapurna region, according to Wikitravel, includes the Annapurna mountain range, home to the world’s 10th highest mountain, Annapurna 1 standing at 8 091 metres above sea level. Everest is the world’s highest mountain at 8 848 metres above sea level - just imagine standing in the shadow of the giants of the world. The mountain has also been labelled one of the world’s most dangerous mountains because more mountaineers have died trying to reach the top than any other mountain.
Hubby and I decided to head to Annapurna’s base camp for our honeymoon. Be warned, though, trekking in the Himalayas is no walk in Paradise Valley.
Many people consider it a “bucket list” item to trek in the Himalayas, and the highest spot many people get to is “base camp” - in some cases this point marks just about halfway up the mountain, quite a feat in itself.
From October to the end of the year, Nepal, a sliver of a country with some of the world’s greatest natural wonders, is swarming with thousands of trekkers. They are easy to spot with oversized backpacks decked with dangling (sometimes stinky) hiking boots and a tightly stretched sleeping bag oozing out of its carrier bag as though it’s trying to escape from the journey that lies ahead.
There are dozens of different routes you can hike in the Himalayas. There are short treks, long treks, physically demanding treks and all come with great views and experiences along the way. You have to have a good level of physical fitness to tackle the many steep inclines that go on for hours on end. You don’t have to have super expensive hiking gear either, and wet wipes are your best friend on a trip like this. We flew to Mumbai, and then took a flight on Nepal Airlines from Mumbai into Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
After a day spent sorting hiking permits and shopping in the tourist area of Thamel, where you find streets lined with hiking gear, we headed by bus from Kathmandu to the next big city of Pokhara, for the start of the trek. We met our guide Krishna Acharya, whom we friended on our first trip to Everest, and together we began the journey to Annapurna base camp (ABC).
We did not have a set number of days for the hike, to allow for days when we needed a break, or was feeling ill from altitude sickness. We opted to live off whatever we had in our backpacks and “rough it out”. It meant only having “wet wipe baths” for the seven days we were on the mountain, and wearing one set of clothing, with a spare set in case we got wet in the rain, and a set of sleeping clothes. Other important items to carry are a sleeping bag, a waterproof/windproof jacket, a down jacket, and a good pair of boots, with spare changes of underwear and socks..
Each day, we hiked uphill for around eight hours a day, moving from village to village, uphill then downhill, and across bridges with gushing water below us. Other hikers were able to complete the hike between villages in a shorter time frame. The landscape changed from the lower altitude from green lush rain forest type surroundings, to rocky brown surfaces the higher up you go. And at the top, where the air is bitingly cold, the landscape gives way to spectacular snow-covered mountain tops. Every night, we chatted to people from around the world, all undertaking the trek as a special journey
The villages along the route to ABC comprise “tea lodges” which are very basic accommodation facilities for trekkers. Most of the toilets are “eastern”, be warned, and you may have to share dormitory-style rooms with other trekkers. The rooms are basic with a bed, onto which you roll out your sleeping bag. The dining room is the warmest of all rooms, with steaming mugs of tea, and good food. Food options include pancakes, omelettes, soup, fried noodles, toast, and the Nepali national dish of “dhal bhat” - rice with a side of split pulses made into a runny soup - something that’s familiar in SA.
It’s a difficult life on the mountains, everything that is available is carried on the backs of porters, such as food items, mattresses and even fridges.
The last day of the trek to ABC was the most physically demanding as the air was so thin at 4130 metres above sea level. We struggled to catch our breath and slowly made our way to the tea lodge at ABC. It had taken us five long days, and hours of hiking each day, to reach this point. It would take another two days to hike back to the village closest to the city. But each time, we remembered to motivate each other and support each other as we took every step.
With temperatures skirting the zero degree Celsius mark, we wrapped up carefully in all the clothing we carried, and bundled into our sleeping bags that night.The next morning we joined dozens of other trekkers as we watched the morning sun break through on the top of Annapurna’s highest peak.
There were no words to describe the magic as the sun illuminated the snow on Annapurna’s peak, setting it afire with an orange hue, and a silence enveloped the group as we watched.
* This trip was paid for by the writer.