“Annapurna, to which we had gone emptyhanded, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins.
There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.”
― Maurice Herzog, Annapurna
Although the sentiment behind this quote was a Herculean first ascent of a virgin 8,000er, it resonated strongly with my experience of Nepal – albeit on a much more diminutive scale.
Despite my proximity to Malaysia (living in Singapore), my first real trekking experience was in the Himalayas, an accidental adventure which shifted the focus of my travels since. With no concrete idea of what a multi-day trek at altitude would entail, I landed in Kathmandu with the must-sees dutifully mapped out, eager to discover, armed with a Lonely Planet and plenty of naivety.
At an elevation of 1,400m above sea level, there was just enough crisp in the night air for a pleasant change from the humidity of Singapore. ‘What beautiful temperatures we are going to get in the mountains’, I thought in blissful ignorance, ‘4,100m will feel just a little cooler.’ (On top of everything else, “wind chill” has not quite made its way into my lexicon.)
The next 4 days became an exercise in humility. Huffing and puffing each day while dragging an out of shape body up the slopes of the Ghorepani – Poon Hill region was as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Watching elderly ladies chug past me hoisting bags and sacks on their shoulders gave me motivation – after I got past the mortification.
Nepal was also where I first experienced “mountain spirit”, the camaraderie of fellow hikers and mountain people that crossed my path, always with an encouraging word or a smile when the spoken language failed. This lovely energy from strangers would become a constant feature in treks the world over.
On my second trip, eight years later, I joined two friends on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, one of the most popular in the region. The mountains have not changed. Prayer flags line the trail, and stupas and traffic dot the valley of Kathmandu.
We were blessed with a gorgeous winter trek over Christmas and our guide regaled us with stories and piled us with gourmet meals enroute.
Strong connections were formed with the crew and a scant 3 years later, I returned with Wildfire Expeditions to Mardi Himal, an off the beaten path trek still within the Annapurna region. It starts beautifully up a quiet path through the village into the forest, where we were led by rhododendrons strewn along the trail like a red carpet.
We incorporated some yoga into this trek at the lower altitudes. Our wonderfully hospitable hosts, rearranged the dining room for our wellness hour. Our wellness hour one morphed into party central just a couple of hours later as Raksi and Nepali music flowed, the two bemused tourists were warmly welcomed into their midst!
We found time to clown around during the lighter hiking days, inspired by Nature’s backdrop. The weather remained changeable. In one day, we went from dry forest to a blizzard!
In the last decade, I have visited Nepal thrice. Each time, the landscape took my breath away, somehow always more awe-inspiring than I remembered. Gazing upon the iconic Machaphuchare with its peak shaped like a fish’s tail the sense of familiarity and wonder never ceased. In March 2017, the air was still crisp, the weather predictably unpredictable, the altitude just as punishing to sea level lungs, and the panorama even more breath-taking than in my memories. There simply aren’t words to describe the views, the emotion they inspire, and the experience.
As the world is gradually coming out of Pause, I look forward to the day I can take to the mountains once more.
If Nepal calls out to you as much as it does to us, join Wildfire Expeditions on our next very special Mardi Himal trek. Trek is suitable for families and groups of all ages. Check out our website for more information about this amazing location! If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, then check out our other treks in Nepal, including our special Annapurna Base Camp Trek.