Trekking in Nepal is as easy as ABC
THERE must be something about the Himalayan air that keeps people longing for more, at least for me. Barely 365 days after taking on the Everest Base Camp trek, I'm once again in Nepal; this time to trek to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).
This country is home to eight of the world's 10 highest peaks. But contrary to the movie Everest, with its images of impossibly high, snowy trails and bone-chilling temperatures, one does not need super fitness to trek in Nepal.
For instance, any hiker with average fitness can tackle the ABC trek, where you are served a feast of dramatic mountain scenery and traditional culture in a moderate trek. And you can do it all without burning a huge hole in your pocket.
The ABC trek, also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, is highly popular because of its convenience and easy accessibility.
After a seven-hour bus ride from Kathmandu, our team of five arrive in Pokhara, a relaxing town near a lake.
This is a good place to start and end a trek, as it has many guesthouses, restaurants, trekking equipment shops and easy transportation to trailheads.
Looking up from almost anywhere in town, we can see the Annapurna mountains towering in the distance - a teaser to the grandeur ahead.
With stomachs satisfied from the last pre-trek scrumptious meal, we are whisked off on a 45-minute drive to the trailhead at Birethanti village (1,050m).
It has been over a year after the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal and the country is slowly but surely healing and rebuilding. The people here need tourist income more than ever.
UP AND DOWN
The standard ABC trek is usually an eight- to 12-day round trip from Pokhara - altitude, trail conditions, weather and trekkers' pace determine how long you will spend in the mountains.
For most of the trek, we walk alongside the raging Modi Khola River. The thunderous gush of sky-blue glacial waters is music to our ears, as we trudge through rhododendron forests and hanging bridges.
The first day itself presents an unenviable welcome gift - approximately 3,400 stone steps to get to our teahouse lodge in Ulleri (1,960m). Taking one step at a time, we take careful control of our pace and breathing to avoid overexerting our bodies.
Acute mountain sickness (from the thin, high-altitude air) is the last thing any trekker wants while on the trails.
Known as a "cultural trek", the route to ABC brings hikers through the laidback villages of Nepal. These are tucked up against steep mountainsides on small terraces and inhabited by the Gurung community.
Accustomed to trekkers walking past, farmers go about their daily routine of working in the corn and wheat fields, while their wives tend to prized water buffalos, goats, chickens and horses.
Namaste, a Hindu greeting, becomes our most frequently used Nepali word on the trails.
Clad in slippers or barefoot, children traverse the trails like mountain goats.
On day six, we set sights on reaching ABC. Setting off early in the morning, with multiple jackets, gloves and thermal hats, the cold air brings about a sense of excitement of what lies ahead.
The trek from Deurali (3,200m) to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3,700m) is fascinating.
As the heat of the sun rises, we strip down to a single layer of clothing and walk alongside the Modi Khola River on a narrow path.
Despite trekking in the dead of winter, there is, surprisingly, no trace of snow on the trails. Even the surrounding mountains have minimal snowfall - highly unusual in this season, according to our guide.
Early next morning, the entire population of ABC wakes up to watch the sunrise. We stand in the middle of the most magnificent mountain cirque, witnessing 360-degree views of mighty peaks.
The feeling is completely out of this world.
There may never be a better time to visit this heaven on earth.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK