They say there isn’t anything you can’t do if you set your heart on it. I realized that when I went for the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek alone. I had been trying to convince my family and some friends for more than six months but I finally decided to do it all by myself when nothing worked out and even my children didn’t seem interested in going with me. I can understand they would rather go with their friends. It’s a generational thing, I presume.
So, it was a spur of the moment decision, and I flew to Pokhara (after convincing my daughter to let me do this on my own) where I shopped for all the essentials, hired a female guide, and made my way to the base camp, all within 48 hours of making up my mind to do so. There are two ways to get to ABC: from Ghandruk, and from Ulleri. I chose the Ulleri route and the entire trip was nine days long.
Even after having gone on tedious treks to Everest Base Camp and Upper Mustang, I found the ABC trek rather daunting. The trails are such that you have to climb steep hills, and descend through precarious, slippery slopes.
At Ghorepani, 90% of the people were foreigners and a lot of them had come all the way to Nepal just to go to Annapurna Base Camp. The guides there talked about how Nepalis rarely give so much importance to local tourism, choosing instead to go to exotic foreign locations. Other trekkers often asked me where I was from and when I told them I was Nepali they would be surprised and then proceed to ask me where I actually lived and how long I was back in Nepal for. People also asked me if I were scared to be doing this alone, as everybody was there in groups.
At the guesthouse in Chuele on the third day of the trek, I had to share a room with a Korean lady. I had got caught in the rain and was drenched and didn’t want to create a fuss though I was apprehensive about sharing a room, never having done so before. But this Korean lady instantly made me feel at ease by fussing over me and insisting I go change immediately lest I catch a nasty cold or worse come down with fever. She gave me a glass of hot water to drink and even rummaged in her tightly packed luggage to find me a pair of hand warmers that she insisted I put on. This incident brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps I had started feeling a little lonely, being alone and away from home, and craved for a little care and affection.
Once we crossed Ghorepani, it was impossible to get single rooms because there were very few guesthouses along the way and many tourists. At Ghorepani, there were 22 hotels and guesthouses with five quite luxurious ones. But I loved every aspect of the trek, from the interesting conversation I had with my tour guide to the tiring walks that would often leave me out of breath. At Poon Hill, I was amazed to see foreigners carrying out elaborate proposal rituals. I had only seen that kind of romance on TV, happening in Paris and Switzerland, and was fascinated to see it actually happening around me, in the hills of our own country.
The sights at Annapurna Base Camp have been etched on my mind. I will never forget seeing the sun set on the mountains while the moon slowly came into view. To say the combined effect of the lights was stunning would be an understatement. I don’t think I will ever be able to describe it in words. I actually spent a while in the freezing cold to capture that moment forever in my camera.
Though I have only fond memories of the trip, there is an incident that haunts me time and again. A senior Nepali guide refused to help me saying he would rather help the tourists who were his sources of income. But the good memories always manage to sneak their way through and brighten my mood. There was an instance when it rained and the hills were covered in snow and the foreigners asked their guides for the name of a particular mountain, which was, in fact, just a snowcapped hill. This confused the guides no end and they looked so perplexed that I burst out laughing. And I still do every time I think about it.