Nepal doesn't do anything by halves, and that includes sunrises. Watching the first rays of daylight cast the Himalayas aglow is an experience anyone trekking in Annapurna should see for themselves, as I discovered through bleary eyes early one morning.
Darkness enclosed the surrounding landscape, with only the muted outline of shapes discernible to the eye. A hazy orange glow, the size of a appeared to the side of the teahouse, casting a pale light on the craggy outcrops on the side of Macchupuchare. The clouds transformed into a ghostly mist, hovering just below the mountain peaks. The light edged forwards, casting a dazzling shine on the snow capped peaks and rivers of sliver from the waterfalls that crashed down its side. The gloomy pall of night began to retreat, until the entire village of Tadapani was cast with the warming light of dawn. Sitting down on the edge of the hill, I stopped taking photos momentarily and studied how different the mountains and village looked in the sunshine, when a small guffaw behind me distracted my attention.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Just got a great photo of the sunrise behind a marijuana-looking plant out back,” said one from my group, with a bemused expression on his face. We all had a little laugh, and as the sun began to cast its full rays on the mountains, we swiftly returned indoors to grab our gear and begin that day’s trek.
A few hours later, half of our group stood waiting ahead on a rocky platform in the middle of a muddy patch of ground. Narendra walked a little further ahead of us, approaching the group in long strides and calling out, “Don’t stand in one spot for too long, you’ve gotta keep moving!”
“But why? We’re on schedule to make it to the next place!” someone from the group called.
“No, not that, the leeches!” Narendra answered. At that point one of the ladies standing on the platform let out a shriek and began an erratic jig on the spot.
Leeches. The one thing many people seem to forget to tell you about when trekking in Nepal. When the mountains experience heavy rain showers, the leeches come to the surface and wait near waterways, muddy patches, or even on the edge of leaves, wait to tumble into a hiker’s shoe and feast. Unlike the leeches seen in films, Nepal’s leeches are small, thin and black, and possess the ability to stretch themselves needle thin to penetrate the seam of hiking boots, fabric and even rucksacks. Although they’re not dangerous, simply seeing one squiggling its way into the seam of your leather boot is enough to jerk anyone’s reflexes, which is exactly what was happening to our group now.
After calmly helping everyone inspect their boots for any sign of the leeches, Nerandra picked one of them up by his fingertips, as if to prove its harmlessness. With surprising agility and speed, the leech latched onto his finger and with a yelp Narendra furiously tugged him off his index finger. The porters and everyone suppressing a giggle, Narendra composed himself and turn back towards us all.
“They won’t hurt you,” he explained, “but they can be annoying, and can cause some unsightly blood stains after they’ve had their fill and drop off. They release a chemical that prevents your blood from clotting as readily as usual around the bite area, so just be prepared that the bite might look worse than it really is!
“Try to keep on stoned areas; they can’t camouflage themselves as well on that, and don’t stand in one place for too long! They can be fast and even leap small distances to enter your shoes. The best thing to do is forget about them and just enjoy your trek, you don’t want them to ruin it!”
With wary eyes keeping a watchful surveillance on the ground, we continued along the route in single file, this time careful to keep on the stone path.
The trail eventually led to an open grassy field on the top of a large hill, where a large wooden teahouse sat perched atop. The rain from earlier that morning had been burned away by the sun’s rays, leaving the surrounding landscape in a harsh, clear haze of light. The hilltop afforded the best vantage point to view the surrounding hills, rivers and waterfalls. The hills were thickly covered in green forest, and the river running between two hills brightly reflected the sun. Pausing to enjoy the view, I laid my bag down and noticed another, more rudimentary bag next to mine. The main body constructed of wicker, with braided straps of twine forming two big loops, the basket was filled to the brim with plants and herbs. A small, stooped Nepalese woman came trudging over, and slipped one strap around her forehead, another her stomach, and began her precarious tottering down the side of the hill. Fearing she might fall at any minute, I kept a watchful eye until she disappeared under the cover of the trees.
“Well, I’m not gonna complain about my rucksack straps anymore,” I said aloud, “that lady can show me up any day, and that’s only using her head!”
Our group headed down the hill, with all the previous thoughts of leeches gone and instead replaced with discussions about the estimations of the extreme weights the sherpas and Nepalese people carry up the mountains.
Arriving early at the teahouse where we were supposed to spend the night, we quickly found our rooms and dumped our luggage. Earlier Narendra had told everyone about visiting Jhihu Springs, a natural thermal hot springs next to the rapids where apparently monkeys also joined for a warm soak as well as humans. Following the slippery stone path downhill, narrowly dodging branches and tree roots, we eventually made it to the entrance. While we were sad to see the monkeys were not in their makeshift hot tub, on the bright side our group had a corner of the springs to ourselves. On the bad side, the leeches had made a return.
While they were repelled by the hot waters, the muddy warm areas by the entrance to the springs was perfect conditions for them. We watched as people hopped rapidly to the entrance of the springs, as if they were walking on hot coals, to avoid the jumping leeches, then took our turns rushing through the entrance. After four days of trekking, we all eased our tired legs and shoulders into the waters and immediately ‘ahhhh’ sounds were heard all round. A good hour was spent splashing water at one another, chatting and looking around at the surrounding trees and rapids, hoping that the odd monkey would make an appearance. As the day drew to a close and darkness began to dim the sky, we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the hot springs and made the quick jig over the entrance and back along the path.
I spent 12 days on Earthbound Expeditions’ Nepal Mountain and Tiger Tour, with our guide Narendra Timalsina, whom I would highly recommend. For more information about the tour, please click here.