When it comes to trekking in Nepal, there's good reason Annapurna comes to mind. With waterfalls at every turn and jagged mountain ranges cutting a harsh line against the horizon, its rugged and breathtaking landscape can enthral even the most well-trodden of hikers.
We had been walking for several hours, but my enthusiasm had yet to die down. Like many others, I had spent years dreaming of visiting Nepal, only my visions of mountainous scenery were met with an altogether different scene when I exited Kathmandu airport. While the first few days in Nepal were met with a little trepidation that the entire country would match the hectic traffic and pollution of Kathmandu, the subsequent drive to Pokhara and our eventual stopping point allayed my fears. Instead, I spied from my window waterfalls thundering down gorges, with mountains in the purest shades of green towering over them. Rice paddy fields were hewn into the side of the cliff, as though they were a series of stairs that could tumble down the side at any moment. Lorries bedecked in every colour imaginable with tassels and other decorations normally reserved for ball gowns chugged past.
Safe to say, by the time we had reached our starting point, I was bouncing on the spot in my eagerness to get hiking. And while I was revving to hike up the mountains, my pace had slowed considerably to stop and take photos of every waterfall and flower I saw. It was exactly this eagerness, and that of my fellow hikers, that our group’s guide Narendra was trying to tame.
“Guys, save your camera battery, there is scenery much better than this further up the mountains! Plus, we’re close to our lunch spot...” he called out. The promise of food and unimaginably breathtaking scenery instantly focused our efforts, and within a short interval we made it to our spot.
One of the things travel companies forget to tell visitors to Nepal is the abundance of oxen and yak that inhabit the Himalayas. Every settlement we trekked through contained several, and near the end of our first day we happened across our first yak/oxen. This being the first time myself and several of our group had seen one, we leaned in closer to the fence to take a photo.
“Ahh no, I wouldn’t get to close to them. These aren’t like cows, they’re vicious, they attack humans and have been known to kill people, ” Narendra explained, and proceeded to tell all of us a story of one of his fellow guides who ventured too close to an ox, only to be chased down the path by it. Just as Narendra was mimicking his friend jumping in the air as the ox’s horns pricked his bum, the oxen standing before us let out a hoarse cough, turned to us with a wide stare and propped his ears up, as if to hear the punchline. Chuckling, we continued down the path, lest we suffered the same fate as Narendra’s friend.
After a refreshing dip in a nearby waterfall, which was deceptively fast and caused several of us to fall over (myself multiple times, erasing any gracefulness I might have had) our group settled around a large table on the front porch of the Laxmi Guesthouse, drinking Everest beer, listening to music and chatting frequently, stopping only to watch the odd horse or group of pack mules wander past. With nightfall descending we joined our sherpas and Narendra inside, where we all sang and danced to Nepalese music; despite everyone’s best efforts no one could beat Narendra’s ‘chicken dance’.
After a third round of drinks Narenda warned us, “Make sure you don’t drink too much, you’ve all got a hard day tomorrow, and the last thing you want when climbing those stairs is a hangover!”
The thought of dragging ourselves up a never-ending series of steps up the mountainside while acclimatising to the altitude was warning enough for us. Well, most of us, as we found out the next morning.