Saturday, May 5, 2007

Annapurna, Nepal

Just when you feel you have begun to understand a little of India and your affair with her, you discover she has a more charming and beautiful sister! Nepal is that rarest of places, somewhere of which I had high expectations, all of which have been exceeded.

Mary and I just arrived back from 12 days walking through the Annapurna mountain range. We were 'teahouse trekking' - staying at small lodges in villages along the mountain trail. The scenery was amazing, slowly transforming from hot and humid rhododendron forests at lower altitudes to a cool, spartan, alpine landscape as we approached the base of the big mountains. Our turnaround point was the Annapurna Base Camp in the Annapurna Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is a gently sloping valley in the middle of the Annapurna range where one is surrounded on all sides by enormous peaks, of which more in another post.

The lodges were great - basic but comfortable - run by local Nepalis who we found to be friendly, open and fun-loving. At first glance the big difference between Nepal and India seems to be the attitude of the people. Each village we stayed at was spotless and each lodge carefully and charmingly built, particularly the slate terraces and patios on which each building perched. I can't help feeling that the landscape and villages would be tended very differently in India, and we saw evidence of this in the Kashmiri mountains. Indians seem to be infected with a slap-dash, make-do attitude and there seems little quality in anything that is built. In contrast their northern neighbors do a terrific job in more difficult circumstances: Nepal is much poorer than India, although at first glance the opposite seems true.

The Annapurna region is not typical of Nepal however, benefiting from the two largest sources of foreign income - trekkers and the British Gurkas, of whom many are drawn from the local villages. Still, our first impression is that the people here seem richer than in India, if not economically then in their outlook and character. Always smiling the Nepalis we met were an unusually happy people who enjoy life to the full in some of the most beautiful country imaginable.

Mary rests by one of hundreds of waterfalls that cascade into the deep valleys of the Annapurna. Many of these waterfalls might be the centerpiece of a European or US national park, but here in the big mountains, they're just a part of the amazing scenery.

Annapurna I, one of 14 mountains in the world over 8000 meters tall and the first of the 14 to be climbed. In the foreground is a monument to Anatoli Boukreev who died on Annapurna I in 1997. Boukreev is famous for the controversial role he played in the Everest disaster the previous year when 8 climbers were killed descending from the summit of Everest. The book "Into Thin Air" criticised Boukreev's actions, although he saved several lives in a solo rescue during the night of the deadly storm. "Into Thin Air" is a cracking read. I've just finished "Into The Wild" also by Jon Krakauer and also a ripping yarn.

Butterflies were our constant companions throughout the trek, particularly at lower altitudes and in the blooming rhododendron forests. There seemed to be many dozens of species, several as large as small birds. We saw a lot of other wildlife including a couple of snakes, one an 8 foot Python (Mary says 10 feet!). There were also many raptors and we watched one golden eagle from a ledge as he flew below us in the valley, then steadily climbed above us and the mountains, riding thermals without a single flap of his wings.

Nepalis are always laughing! Their lodges and houses, particularly the wonderful wood-fired kitchens, are always filled with non-stop chatter and laughter.

Your intrepid reporters in the Annapurna Sanctuary hiking down from Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) back to Machupuchare Base Camp (MBC). The peaks Annapurna South and Hiun Chuli are in the background.

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CoolGifts said...
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