Thursday, December 6, 2007

Annapurna

In Dharapani we said 'goodbye' to the Manaslu Trail and 'hello' to the Annapurna Circuit. It was liberating to shed our tents and porters to become a slimmer and more nimble party, and after camping so many days, the tea houses we stayed in felt surprisingly comfortable. Many had electricity, hot showers, real beds, and a varied menu. Sure enough most of them offered apple pie (or pye, phi, pii), none of which were quite as good as mom used to make. You could also get a beer that somebody carried up the trail for several days on their head, but at about $3 it was by far the most expensive thing on the menu.

But, this so-called "apple-pie trekking" was a mixed blessing, as the trail was quite crowded and the traditional ways of life we saw in Manaslu have long been transformed or supplanted by the lure of the tourist industry. It's hard to begrudge the modern-day improvements this influx of money has allowed, but I fear that it may lead to an eventual downfall in the end - the government is currently building a road along the trail and I can't imagine that many foreigners will want to spend weeks trekking through small villages that they can drive to. But, perhaps the road will simply mark another transition, because on foot or by car, the Annapurnas undoubtedly contains some of the most magnificent scenery in the world.

One of our favorite parts of the trail was a side trip that took us through Upper Pisang to Ghyaru, an small village perched high on the mountainside. The village is reachable only after a long slog up a series of steep switchbacks, which meant that we got to explore its intricately carved buildings and spin its prayer wheels undisturbed by the masses. It was definitely worth the climb just to take in the spectacular sunrise views of Annapurna II and IV, a vision that truly made us marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty in this world.


Although the Thorong La pass is nearly 500 meters higher than the Larkya La, it proved much easier for us to ply our way to the top. The snow was well packed and we were much better acclimatized - Oren pretty much danced up and down the mountain, he was so relieved not to have AMS! A bit of a party ensued at the top of the pass, with everyone celebrating the pinnacle of their long and difficult journey. The descent was steep and punishing on the knees, but delivered us to Muktinath, one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus and the original purpose of the Annapurna trail. An entire complex of temples (Hindu and Buddhist) have been built around a natural flame that emerges from the ground and people travel from all of the world to pray in this very special place.



Two days later, we reached Jomson, the ending point of our 23 day trip. We were tired and proud, and a bit sad to see our trek come to an end . We flew in a small 15-seater plane to Pokhara, which made me feel as if we were in a toy plane, soaring over a toy model of the earth below, complete with miniature mountains, rice terraces and evergreen trees. It was a surreal experience and a fitting conclusion to our time in Shangri-La.

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