Visionary Mountains

28 Jun

Last real free day – so time to take the trek I have been putting off for a couple of days now (it rained!).

Sarangkot is a hill a ways out of Pokhara with beautiful views of the Annapurna ranges, of Mt Machhapuchhare (damn. I said I wasn’t going to type that again).

There’s a couple of miles walk out of town – a route by the lakeside that’s feeling kinda familiar by now – I have done it about six times) and then turn right by the paragliders and start walking. Climbing. There are stone steps from aeons ago straight up the side of the mountain, but it’s tough progress. I’ve seen Harrier jump jets rise more slowly. The heat doesn’t help – it’s early afternoon and I am going through water like it’s going out of fashion.  Really, I only have myself to blame for this – but I engage mountain lion mode and move on up the hill. Mountain. Sheer cliff. SAS torture device.

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A cow appears from the vegetation half way up the mountain, looks at me with faint surprise and carries on chewing. Grasshoppers leap from where I disturb them, and sleepy grandmothers look up from their work to point me in the right direction. Kids appear to ask for chocolate (no), suntan lotion (eh?) and Tigger and Snuff (over my dead body). I pay a few rupees to a farmer who shows me a better route.

After a while, I start to be aware of voices, and cries of ‘Hello…’. It’s the paraglider crew  above me – but soon I climb above their lofty eyrie and look down even on the colourful chutes and their chatty passengers, and the inevitable hawk circling above them.

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I’m in full trekker mode now, focussed only on the objective. One foot in front of the other. I take the most direct route, never wasting a step – on the way up a hill, any step downwards is a step in the wrong direction, and every step is carefully calculated to bring me even a few more centimetres closer to the top.

But wait – the summit. A friendly sign saying ‘Welcome’ painted on the rocks. But no – cresting the rise reveals the true summit, probably still an hours walk above me. It’s even tougher now, and I am starting to feel the exhaustion. There is a part of me that wants to turn back… and yet the stubborn, bloodyminded core inside isn’t going to let something like a hill defeat me. Not even this hill.

After a while, I’m joined by people who have taken the easy (taxi) route up the hill, a jeep full of UN personnel and we’re on the last few metres climb to the top. The lake is at 900m, while Sarangkot tops out at over 1500m – so that’s 600m elevation in what feels like straight up.

Even with the mist, the views are stunning. Occasionally a mountain peeks out from its fluffy covering, but mostly they stay coquettishly hiding behind their veils. But still, I can see across the town, across the lake – I can see the full extent of my previous walking tour of Phewa Tal, and across to the Peace Pagoda. I collapse, exhausted and ready to take on energy with an ice cold Coke.

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After a while, it becomes clear that the mountains are going to stay hidden, and I begin my descent. I’m joined by a Nepali family, who aren’t sure of the route down, and spend most of the descent (much easier downhill) chatting to their little girl, who is most interested in everything there is to know about me (and, of course, why I am travelling with two (slightly grubby) cuddly toys.

Phewa Tal from Sarangkot climb (9)

And finally, we spill out back onto the main track…my new friends wait for the bus (good call with two small children – I would do the same) – but I opt for walking, on the basis that I can walk back faster than the bus will arrive. I am proved right.

Last night in Pokhara, so I spend a couple of hours in the bar, listening to a reasonable covers band (they just need some work on their trashcan endings… exactly how they can manage to make a trashcan ending sound unco-ordinated is actually beyond me). Wandering back through town I feel sorry for some of the spelling errors: while handwritten signs have to have spelling errors and apostrophe abuse to make them authentic, I feel sorry about some of the higher cost signwriting investments – the full size bill board advertising ‘instant noodels’ for example – but I reserve my greatest sympathy for the person responsible for a huge order of water flasks proudly inscribed ‘Nepal Toursim 2011’. Although maybe they sell better with the misprint

Sunday morning finds me up early, greeted by our gorkha owner with a cup of coffee (I suspect he doesn’t actually sleep) and onto the motorbike for the trip to the bus station. He’s quite concerned – mostly because last time I got my pants leg snagged on the bike and toppled off into the flowerbed, rucksack attached. This time the journey passes without incident, and I am onto the bus to Kathmandu. The previous scenario runs in reverse – once the Annapurna massif disappears into the distance, the hills remain wistfully beautiful, while the river crashes madly through the valley in early monsoon mode. We rise toward Kathmandu and the skyline gets more beautiful, more dramatic… I do like this country, and it’s one of the few that I would plan to come back to..one day.

It’s raining in Kathmandu and just time to catch up on stuff in my Buddhist monastery room before the trip to the embassy…. here goes….

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