Nepal, Annapurna Circuit: where the mind shall be a blank sheet of paper (part 1 of 3)

We are sometimes naive enough to think that we can get prepared for anything, if we try hard enough. The truth is, we are never truly prepared for any experience until we actually face it. 

I did read a substantial amount of blogs and guides about trekking in the Himalayas, I even did short treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas a few years back. However, nothing could prepare me for doing the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal - neither for its challenges, nor for its marvels.




Kathmandu - Besisahar - Chamje - Dharapani - Chame 

The perils of riding Nepalese vehicles

The first few days of my journey are mainly marked by excitement. I am cheerfully approaching every part of the beginning. As I leave Kathmandu at 4:30h in the morning, we already have a little accident - my taxi hits a motorbike on the street..."bla bla bla Namaste bla bla bla Namaste", everything is arranged peacefully between the drivers. I find myself in a local van, where I am the only foreigner, except for another trekker (who turns out to be from Brussels, too). The van is loaded with people, crying babies, gas bottles, onions, potatoes. Our backpacks are diligently tied to the roof and we hit the road for some 7-8 hours towards Besisahar, the starting point for most trekkers. 




In order to stick to my itinerary I get on (what is supposed to be) a local jeep for another 5-6 hours "as it is the best idea for this part of the root". My life does pass in front of my eyes a couple of times, as we drive through land slides and missing roads. Thankfully, the jeep is equipped with some super loud and cheerful Nepali music, so I can hardly pay attention to my terrifying thoughts. 






There is no strict direction for the traffic in Nepal, no fixed stops, people wave on the road, load some vegetables for some shop a few villages away, sometimes some kids would literally get a lift by holding onto the door outside of the jeep to get to the next village, some guy travels on the roof on top of our backpacks....the jeep would stop in the middle of nowhere so the passengers can buy some apples from a guy by the road. Everything seems to be in chaos, but somehow very skillfully orchestrated, I think.





Himalayan lodges - a new perspective of comfort 

After my first night in the small village Chamje, I head to the next village, Dharapani. The Annapurna circuit is done nowadays by sleeping in wooden lodges. One basically walks straight and will always reach the next village, where they could find some sort of accommodation. If lucky enough, there might even by gas-warmed water available. Some 10-15 years ago, trekkers could only sleep in tents, which I find hard to imagine, given the unbearable cold I already experience on the 3rd day of my journey (around zero degrees, and will only get lower). 




The lodges through the Annapurna circuit are mostly wooden, wind comfortably enters the rooms, sometimes I hear some heavy fast walking, which must be those gigantic Himalayan rats, which people talk about, but I am too cold and scared to check. I stick to the belief "until I don't see it, it does not exist". There is no heating, there are beds and sometimes some blankets, too. The linen is usually not washed, I can well identify the smell of prior trekkers. These are considered very good conditions, a guy tells me, who had done the Annapurna circuit 10 years ago with a tent. So I have no other option but to be thankful and embrace it. Sometimes (but not always) there might be a little stove in the dining room of the lodge. But stoves are only lit for 2-3 hours during dinner time (17:30 - 20:00) to save wood, and are basically insufficient for the size of the dining halls. It's only the beginning of my journey and I realize - there will actually never be any salvation from this cold.

The beauty of doing nothing in the cold

The cold in these remote areas is a factor, which generates a sense of great communality. People never stay alone because there is just one warmed up room in the house. We, trekkers, stay all together around a fire, too. There is no possibility to do anything outside in the cold, and anyway we walk like 5-8 hours every day. For some reason, whether it's the height or the cold, we cannot even read a book. I personally can hardly keep my focus for a page. It is dark around 17h already, so all we can do is sit together inside, talk and eat apple pie long hours in the afternoon. I meet three British guys already on the second day - the avid photographers, Andrew, Ryan and Dan and we keep sharing these apple-pie afternoons until the end of the trek, which is one of the things that keeps my spirit up.





These long purposeless afternoons bring me an entirely new perspective on my free time. I can almost never afford those back home, and while in the beginning of the trip I am kind of unease, I quickly dive into it and start enjoying... so much space opens in my brain.

Sometimes I struggle to find the right balance between overdoing myself and living on an autopilot. I start seeing more clearly that I need to try both, in order to see how I feel in either of the lifestyles. Only then I can have an idea of what needs to be different, what needs to stay the same, and where I can find a balance.


The Himalayan style

I still find it difficult to conceptualize what exactly is one's life purpose when living in a village of five or ten houses. What is it that one aims for? What are the social interactions? What drives people, what keeps them going? Is this too Western an approach of me? I adopt an open mind, without attempting to compare to my existing notions of a life purpose (what do I know, after all?) and I simply try to find the answers for my blank sheet.


Locals around the Himalayas live off some little selling to trekkers by the road (toilet paper, apples, twix..) plus maintaining the lodges. There will be almost no villages, if it is not for the trekking culture. The houses somehow reflect the sweet nature of the locals - they are painted in all colors and there is almost always an old lady standing in front, looking who passes and doing nothing.



 







During lunch I meet a 22-year old Nepali boy and we have a long conversation. When they see me eating alone, locals always come to ask "if I am single", it is apparently a curious thing. Trying to find my answers, I learn that he tried to live in the city when he was studying but he was so sad that he returned back to the mountains right after finishing school. "Nothing can compare with the quiet life in the mountain", he says...




Landscapes feeding all senses













Part 2 of my adventure is here and the final part 3 is here. Thank you for sharing your time :)

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