It was a clear day. The bulk of Annapurna South was nearest to us, looming tall, pristine white with yesterday’s fresh snowfall. From its summit, it blew a plume of cloud. To the east it was connected to Huinchuli by a ridge that drops off in a 80 degree wall of snow, ice and rock. Further east was Macchapuchare, draped in a shawl of clouds, silent, dignified and aloof.
We had breakfast accompanied by the usual last minute flurry of activity. After the customary team prayer, we achieved the scheduled departure time of 8 am.
The first hour saw us descending steadily through a beautiful jungle. The trees were tall, reaching up to catch the sunlight. The path underneath was a soft carpet of fallen leaves, turning back to dust. Old trees that had lived out their lives had fallen over and were covered with thick moss. Birds were singing and calling their mates. Through the trees we caught occasional glimpses of Annapurna South and Macchapuchare. The air was crisp and cool after yesterday’s rain.
After a short break we hit the trail again and we were back to the stone steps that have been characteristic of this trek so far. Most of today’s route runs east to west and unless you are passing through a forest, you are exposed to the sun. In about an hour we were down to about 6000 feet. At one point, high above I saw what to me looked like big crows, circling lazily in cruise control under the warm sun. Vishwanath, our ornithologist enlightened us that these were in fact Himalayan Griffon Vultures. After a steady descent, we reached the Kimrung Khola, a river we had to cross to get on to the next range of hills. We walked like drunks as the iron bridge over the river swayed under 20 pairs of trekking shoes. After the crossing, we were climbing once again, over stone steps for the most part. A cool breeze coming up from the valley blunted the heat of the sun as we now made our way up the next range of hills that would take us to Chhomrong.
Hours 3, 4 and 5 were a hard grind. Nothing exciting by way of views. Exposed to the sun most of the time. Steep climbs and descents. Hard on the knees and lungs. The only highlights were a juggling act we saw by a German trekker waiting for his lunch at a tea house and a herd of at least 500 baa’ing sheep we passed on a steep climb. At the end of the climb, we came to Hill Top Restaurant and our guides encouragingly told us that now we had only about half an hour of downhill walk to get to Chhomrong. That half hour was endless for most of us as we plodded step after step hoping for our guest house to arrive. When we finally did reach, it was a huge relief. For us city folk, a big attraction was that we were back in phone range and in touch with our ‘real’ lives!
We had had a typical trekkers’ day and were getting closer and closer to our final destination.
The day ended on a sober note as over dinner we heard the terrible news of the avalanche at Everest claiming the lives of 15 sherpas as they were opening the route for the season.
But that is the beauty of the mountains. Those that love them are drawn irresistibly towards them, to climb them ‘because they are there’. Tomorrow is another day.