After the saturated colours and constant chatter of Kathmandu, we decided to escape to the mountains up to the base camp of Mardi Himal, 4500m above sea level. Our adventure began in a garden in Pokhara at 7am. After a breakfast of hot porridge and spicy tea our guide, Arjun, whisked us off into a jeep to get to the first point of our trek. I can only describe Nepal as the friendliest place I have ever visited. The people greet you with the warmth of family, Arjun was no exception to this. We became a team of three (Arjun, my husband Jack and I) off to conquer the mountains.
The first few hours were filled with energetic chatter. We marched up to Australia camp, sharing stories about our lives and asking endless questions about the geography and nature around us. The sky was cobalt and the sun was hot. Locals decorated their houses and gardens with marigolds and shared a greeting of ‘Namaste’ as we passed.
This energy carried us up past Australian Camp, at 2060m and supposed to be our first stop, to the next camp. Here we collapsed on the benches and filled up with garlic soup and sugary chai. We needed it. From here on up the route got much harder. The days were long and tough. But when we arrived at our tea house accommodation each night we were greeted by a new group of fellow hikers and these people became our friends. We met Israeli, Dutch, American, German, Swedish, French and Chinese hikers and of course lots of cheery Nepali guides and porters. Each evening we sat round the fire with new companions, playing cards or listening to tales of avalanches.
Simplicity gives you freedom and a chance to completely escape modern life.
As we ascended the mountain, we saw less. Less plant life, fewer tourists and less tea houses to stop at. With this came peace, serenity and space to reflect. The teahouses were basic set ups. There was no wifi or phone signal. Our hosts cooked on fires, our milk came fresh from the goats and the toilets were holes. Simplicity gives you freedom and a chance to completely escape modern life. With little else to do we went to bed early and rose with the sun.
As we trekked, the peak of our mountain was always ahead of us, its icy peak glistening, a reminder of what we still had to accomplish. Reaching up behind Mardi Himal (5,555m) we could often see the angular peak of Machhapuchhre (6993m) jutting in to the sky. Its name literally translates as Fishtail because of its shape, however Arjun told us it is more often called The Holy Mountain by the locals. So many climbers died trying to conquer it, in the 1960’s it was declared sacred to the god Shiva and became off-limits. It is the only mountain in the Himalayas which has never been climbed to the top.
It is the only mountain in the Himalayas which has never been climbed to the top.
On day three, after a night up at High Camp (3580m above sea level) we awoke before dawn to begin our final ascent. My body still ached from the day before and the air was icy. There was an eerie silence, and as we packed our bags we watched three blinking lights head up the trail ahead of us.
It only took two and a half hours to reach base camp (4500m), but those hours were the toughest of all. The trail became steeper and much more rocky and the air was thin and sparse. We stopped talking completely as the lack of oxygen made conversation almost impossible. The Himalayas fell silent. We climbed higher. The mountain challenged our bodies with its tracks and soothed our souls with ever more breathtaking views.
That night with bellies full of home-cooked Dal Bhat, Jack and I fell asleep dreaming of the incredible views we saw that morning. That day was the toughest, but most beautiful of the whole trip.
That night with bellies full of home-cooked Dal Bhat, Jack and I fell asleep dreaming of the incredible views we saw that morning.
From then on this became easier. As we came back down through the clouds, the sights and sounds became more vibrant and the air felt like soup by comparison. We gulped it down greedily. After a few days trekking we came to our final home stay with a family in Sidhing. Here we recovered with more Dal Bhat and a few beers to celebrate our achievements. There was even a hot shower in an out-house to melt away our aches and pains. We watched the sun sink down as we played more games of cards. Once it grew dark we sipped chai and our hosts taught us about the political history of Nepal as moths danced in the candle-light.
The Himalayas are completely awe-inspiring. They are literally the peaks of the earth, with more of the highest mountains found in their range than anywhere else in the world. The views we saw in Nepal will stay with us forever. But the real reason to visit this country is the people. They greet you with a Namaste and a completely open heart. We experienced none of the defensiveness or hostility we often greet each other with back home. Trekking with Arjun was a most wonderful experience which we can never forget.
Hearing of the earthquakes that have hit Nepal was devastating. The loss of life and destruction is unimaginable, sadly thousands are still without homes, food and clean drinking water. Money and time will help and we can too by donating to the DEC. What also upsets me is the thought that a country full of such sociable people may be left without visitors. Much of Nepal’s economy is built on the tourism that comes from the trekkers. We’ve kept in contact with our guide Arjun and it seems that one of the best ways the rest of the world can help, now that it is safe again, is to pack our bags, get on a plane and get trekking.