Shortly after we checked into Pokhara and while there, Su outlined our trekking itinerary in the social media. Lest we forget and for the record, let me provide a summary of the villages we had passed for lunches or we had stayed overnight in the ten days.
We began trekking from Birethanti (1,025m) and Tikhedhunga (1,500m) which are at the west end of the area we covered at the centre of Nepal south of Tibet. We went north to Banthani and Ghorepani (2,750m) to climb Poon Hill (3,200m) which is a highlight in itself and which was our first serious trial and tribulation. It was our Day Three and we did not finish Day Two until after 6pm when the sun had already set. We got up at 5am and started walking up at 5:30am in the dark with torches and head lamps and in thick clothes. The plan was to reach the top in 45 minutes for the sunrise. Soon, it became clear that the 45 minutes estimate was unrealistic. We did not make to the top until 6:45am by which time the sun had risen, but from the other end. Moreover, it was a cloudy day, though we had bursts of sunshine at the top. The consolation was, nobody saw the sunrise that morning, nor the day before, nor a day or two later. It was just the way Nature works at times. On top of Poon Hill, we took many pictures, some with other trekkers, in all sort of posts. There was a festive spirit up there which would last those who got there a long time.
From Poon Hill we went all the way down to Gandruk (1,940m), went east to Tadapani and Chomrong (2,170m), passed Sinuwa and Bamboo (2,335m), Dovan (2,870m) and reached Himalaya (3,270) where we stayed for the night, planning to reach Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) (3,700m) the following day, starting as early as possible. It was all uphill and snowing. Ascent was slow and hard work. We went as far as Deurai (3,230m) at 10:35am when Mohan suggested lunch, to which we won’t disagree. We met three young Chinese, two men and a lady, waiting to get a lift off from a helicopter to Pokhara with a promised flyover above ABC, having agreed to pay US$1,500 for the less than 30-minute ride. We didn’t see the chopper when we set off again at 11:30am.
It began to snow, first rain snow then in pellets, and it became very windy. Returning trekkers asked whether we had chains for our hiking boots, suggesting that we were ill equipped. By noon, it became clear that we could not move further up against such high winds and Mohan advised that we returned to the lodges before they were filled up by returned trekkers.
It rained and snowed incessantly for the rest of the day; and by daybreak, we decided to abort our operation to MBC and hence ABC and return to Chomrong (2,170m). We passed Bamboo and stayed overnight at Lower Sinuwa. The next and last day of our trekking, we continued to go west and downwards to Jhinu Danda and Siwei where we took a jeep to go to Pokhara.
Before I outlined what we did in Pokhara and Kathmandu, let me address a few FAQs. Has the trip been a success? Was it epoch-making? Would you do it again? Would you recommend your friends to go?
To start with, travelling or going places is not be an end in itself. As T S Eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far on can go.” Or “The journey, Not the destination matters…” Or from his Four Quartets, “We shall not cease from exploration; and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
In short, I would say it was no more than an activity in a series or continuum in our lives. One needs to be particularly mindful in trekking, for any step or slip matters and each step influences the next one, up or down. We thank God that we had sustained no apparent injuries throughout, but accidents often happen in trekking. We were walking up a flight of endless steps when a huge boulder ran down from the top of the hill on our right. Su cried out at the top of her voice, “Run, John, run!” I couldn’t, for two reasons. First, I was so tired already; and secondly, I feared that I could run into the boulder if I ran.
I recall my trail walking experience in the Nineties. I took a month off in July to start practicing, first by myself on the Hong Kong Island trails and then as a team doing sections of the Trail. I thought we were rather prepared when we did the walk, but accidents did occur and when one least expected them. A friend asked me afterwards whether we had trained for the trip, to which I responded, “I can’t recall who taught me walking and when.” Yes, walking or trekking is somewhat different from skiing: the latter is an acquired skill which is counter intuitive while the former, I would like to believe, is instinctive. But I did learn how to walk better while trekking. I learned how to avoid injuries: we wore good walking shoes, albeit somewhat expensive, we wore gloves, and we carried the right stuff.
I hope to talk to you again soon.