I was never supposed to go trekking in the Himalayas, you see. With a minuscule piece of hand luggage to last the entire trip, and clothing apparel tailored to the islands and beaches of Southeast Asia and the deserts of Rajasthan, it simply couldn’t work. The plan was to get to subtropical Kathmandu overland by bus from India, spend a few days in the capital looking longingly at the million signs advertising trips to Everest Base Camp, and head west to Pokhara where I would spend a few lazy days in the sunshine by the lake and perhaps go for a spontaneous hike or two. My bucket list ambition would have to be parked to one side for a while, and I would descend the Himalayan foothills back into the scorched earth territory of Northern India in summer. Goodbye Nepal, I’ll be back, I hope.

But life doesn’t work out the way one expects, and I am quite ok with that. On my first evening in Kathmandu, I bump into an Indian girl in the street whom I had met the day before on the other side of the border, back in West Bengal. She is also heading to Pokhara, and is planning to do one of the more popular and shorter treks, the Poon Hill Loop, and did I want to join her? Not an hour later, Ludo, a French Couchsurfer I met in Osaka in March, was messaging to inform me of his imminent arrival in the country, and did I, perchance, want to do one of the longer treks? I think we all know what happens next. To the mountains! (in trainers, shorts, and Hawaiian shirts)…

Dream Team #1

I often think of what I would have become had I not been bitten by the running bug back in 2014. Leading a desperately unhealthy lifestyle and overweight by a good 12kg, I may or may not have been heading towards high blood pressure, fatty arteries, and the imaginable consequences thereof. One thing I certainly would not have been doing was gambolling up and down Himalayan mountain tracks like an overexcited mountain goat. And yet here I was, within half an hour of the local community bus spewing us out onto the side of a vertiginous ravine, climbing up almost vertical hills with a maniacal smile on my face, sweating like a Spanish piglet in a wood-fired oven and loving every single second of it.

Love at first night…

Because what is there not to love? With the snow-covered peaks of the world’s highest mountain range drawing us ever closer with each step, accompanied by graceful eagles circling overhead, and with a succession of bucolic mountain hamlet teahouses awaiting our weary bodies with log fires, hot tea, and spicy dumplings, and the joyous mountain camaraderie of proud trekkers reaching their daily objective with tired but happy muscles, what is there not to love? I realise by lunch on the very first day that I wish this would never end. That my costly visa extension to accommodate the additional five day Annapurna Base Camp trek will not come close to satisfying my needs. And so I must make the most of this.

JMK’s highly technical equipment

Fortunately, and to our mutual delight, Ludo and I crackle with hiking chemistry, pushing each other from the first step to the last each day. And we go hard. When our guide says we should be done by 3pm, we look at each other and know we will be sipping a beer and enjoying the views with our shoes off by noon. We clamber up the unexpectedly brutal hills as though on a time challenge, race past other trekkers not to overtake but simply because they are there. On the fourth day, as we trudge wearily through the now ankle deep snow, we spot one solitary hiker who set off an hour before us a kilometre ahead, and likely to reach Annapurna Base Camp first that day. Again a quick look, then heads down and with one last power push, we overtake him 300m before the hallowed sign with a polite hi-and-bye, and we make it to our objective at 10:30am, kings of the mountain.

10:30am – Kings of the Mountain

10:35am – Kings of the Bar

What a dream sequence of the journey this has been, an unexpected siren’s frosty call convincing me to abandon seas and beaches, and revel in the majesty of the planet’s finest mountainscapes. I have more than a small pang of regret as my interminable bus journey inexorably drags me away from the pristine Himalayan snow and sends me back to the furnace that is Northern India in May. But as I cross the border and bid Nepal farewell, I do so with a feeling not of regret but of satisfaction. I understand the country and what it represents, and took what I needed from it. It just so happens that I want more…

I want more, so much more of this…

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