At the Edge of the Earth

We are standing at the edge of the earth… The entire world just seems to drop away in all directions, dissolving into grey as thick clouds engulf the Annapurna range we are standing on.

As we climb higher along the ridge, the clouds close in to kiss our cheeks, leaving our skin slightly damp and cold. We are 3000m above sea level, between Tadipani and Ghorepani, and on a clear day this ridge would award trekkers with 360 degree mountain vistas; but for us, we will have to wait another day.

IMG_8690 copyOur Himalayan adventure starts here, two days earlier, along the rushing grey waters of the Modii Khola River at Nayapul, the entrance to the mountain conservation area. It is hot. We have only been walking a few hours, and already the heat from the dry earth is rising up to meet the heat of our faces, thick humidity mixing with the sweat dripping down our necks. I can see the sweat soaking through the bottom of our guide’s shirt beneath his pack, which makes me feel better about the condition of my own shirt.

Turning off the dusty road, we start our first real climb, upwards through several small villages nestled into the steep slopes; twisting black between the brilliant green of the rice fields. Each village is built with flat stones and wood that would have been carried up the range either by foot or pack animal. I feel my own light pack on my shoulders and can only imagine the effort put into creating these homes on the slopes of the Himalayan base region.

“Travelling to another region in Nepal for us, is like going to another country,” our trekking guide Ram Paudel tells us, “each area has its own nature, people, culture and language even. People didn’t used to travel very much between the regions, so the cultures and tradition have stayed very strong.”

He is right. As we amble up the stone steps, we are met by a number of donkey herds and men and women with packs strapped to their foreheads, carrying goods and materials to higher regions, or returning back down to reload. The indigenous people of this area are the Gumin people, aclimatised to life in the mountains, making them popular for selection as Ghorka Soldiers. In many ways, they live off the land, growing their own crops and livestock for food.

After our break at one of the many tea houses en route, we move at what affectionately became known as daalbhat pace. With a belly full of rice and lentils, the last thing on our to-do list is conquer a flight of stairs the size of a mountain. So we go, but we go slowly. Anyway, it’s a good idea to stop and see the scenery every once in a while. *Make sure you do stop though, so you don’t trip and end up sprawled across the uneven steps, with a face to face view of the moss and dirt.

It’s amazing how many stairs you can climb in a day. Really, I think you would surprise yourself. From the sunny rice fields and villages of the first day, we hiked through rainforests, crossed waterfalls and mountain streams, through Rhododendron forests teeming with monkeys and finally, on our second afternoon on the trail, into the cool air of tall pine forests, branches dripping with ferns and moss.

The nature of the mountain path is such that you can only ever see the flight of stairs directly before you, each small section criss-crossing across the slope. So, it works out that you are never faced with the extremely daunting view of a staircase leading directly to the summit of the mountain you are climbing.

Because of this, it’s much easier to take each step one at a time, stop and look around the ever changing scenery and before you know it, you’ve reached your destination.

So there we were. On the edge of the Earth, staring into the abyss and imagining the awe inspiring mountains that surround us, currently cloaked in grey. Ram tried to explain what we would see if we could peer through the clouds, ranges to the left, to the right and stretching in front, but each had been swallowed in clouds and the air is chilly, so after a short while we carry on. With each few steps a new section of the path reveals itself, winding over roots and knots of grass until finally we start our descent to Ghorepani.

A collection of tea houses and hotels at the base of Poon Hill forms the hotel village of Ghorepani. Built in the 1970’s to provide for the high number of trekkers who stop here, the village is always quite lively, as seeing the sun rise from the top of Poon Hill is high on many trekking bucket lists.

No question why. The next morning we started up the hill in the pre-dawn darkness, a trail of headlights and torches weaving into the chilly heavens. It’s only a 45 minute climb from our warm beds, and the anticipation in the air keeps us moving at a steady pace. As the first rays of sunlight touch the peaks, leaving pools of gold along the blue horizon, we are finally rewarded with a view of the three ranges.

It was worth the wait. The blue and white peaks spread before us, piercing the purple and red of the awakening sky, glowing under the early morning sunlight. A jagged horizon of mountain glaciers and deep valleys, leaping from the mess of trees and greenery below.

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Finally, we had a stroke of luck with the weather, and the morning’s view was crystal clear. To our left stood Dhaulagiri Range, in front of us the famous Annapurna Range and to our right, with the sun rising from between the peaks, the Manaslu Range. A bit of info on our spectacular view: each range has
a mountain peak over 8000m high, and hidden behind Annapurna South Mountain lies Tilicho Lake,

resting at a cool 4920m high, the highest lake in the world. Between Dhauagiri and Annapurna ranges lies the world’s deepest valley, Kochipani Valley, 1300m deep, and Thorung La Pass, the highest pass in the world, reaching 5416m, serving as a popular trade route between Nepal and Tibet.

There isn’t much time to admire the view, by 8am, the fickle clouds have already reclaimed Poon Hill, and the surrounding peaks. We watched the cloaking white wave rise until the view was once again obscured, then began our journey down. The adventure is far from over, but there is a certain calm settled upon trekkers heading back down. We set out to test ourselves, and to find something in the mountain air. I don’t think it was there on top of Poon Hill, it was much more likely to have been a result of the four days journey, the people we met and the lives they lead. Maybe it was even there, on the ridge, as we stood on the edge of the world with the mountains stretched invisible before us, swallowed by the clouds.

By Jessica Saxton, published Tourism Times Newspaper October 2013.

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