(4 hours, 400m elevation gain)
Today, the first steps I took across that rickety bridge with prayer flags flying in the wind, were the realisation of a long-term dream. As I sit here in our first tea house with my luscious Masala tea, looking up as the mist rolls down the steep green hills over the brightly coloured collection of tea houses in Hille, I can finally breathe out and appreciate the work that went in to this moment. Every book I’ve ever read about Nepal and the Himalaya, the countless people I’ve quizzed about their experiences in Nepal, devouring National Geographics, and watching one documentary after another, together with months of planning, researching, packing, not to mention the 220 hot sweaty floors my FitBit says I climbed today have all come together to get us here.
I’d like to say that Annapurna Day One was hard because it was so hot, humid and dusty. Or that it was hard because of the elevation, or the uphill road, the heavy packs or unsteady legs. No, Day One was hard because it was Day One. My head was still jazzed that we were actually trekking in Nepal – in the Annapurnas. But my mind hadn’t yet created the inertia required to carry a body plus pack on and on up a dusty road and over mountains higher than I had ever climbed in my life.
Its a road that has been widely travelled for generations, but perhaps not so widely travelled by families with small children.
Austin attracts attention wherever we go, and today I saw him gain respect from the people we met along the way. Here was this little boy, trekking in a mountain range where few families dare to venture.
He did well on his first day, although we ended up having to carry his pack — the pack he was so proud of — for all but the first 45 minutes. We switched him out to Mark’s day pack, which weighed exactly the same — exactly — as the fitted 30L pack we have for him that was filled only with two sleeping bags and a koala (stuffed).
He hardly complained, and gave us all plenty of reasons to go slow and take breaks. So in a way, he’s our beard. Four adults hiding behind one small child so we can manage a long uphill walk before heaving our sweaty packs off our sweaty backs when we, at last, turned a corner and realised we had arrived at our Day One destination.
The trail wound up switchbacks on a dusty road before disappearing into the forest on stone steps. We weren’t mentally prepared for those stone steps, but they gave us our first glimpse of a vast green valley with mountains lined with rice terraces on all sides. We passed tiny villages with little stone buildings painted brightly in blues, yellows and reds, and were greeted by their smiling inhabitants with “Namaste”, a short bow of the head, and hands together at the face as though in prayer.
Day one was work, and I was concentrating too much on moving my body and pack up the hill to really appreciate my surroundings.
After a steep climb up a long set of stone steps, we collapsed into a small resting place at the edge of a little village, and voted to call it on the day. Little did we know at that point that we had reached our target. It was exhilarating to learn that we had succeeded — not quit, defeated and exhausted.
Beth 1 and I went scouting for lodgings in one of the 4 tea houses that made up the village. We chose the second one we looked at, mainly because of the lovely proprietor, an affable grandfather with a crazy wife and good English.
After a refreshing cold shower, Austin still had enough energy to run races around the little village — really just a collection of four tea houses on a relatively flat patch of land on the side of a small mountain. He desperately wanted a Fanta, so I gave him 50 rupees, and set him off to barter for that drink. Turns out, at this elevation, a Fanta will set you back 200 rupees – the same price as our room. He negotiated himself into an apple juice instead, and saved us spending as much on orange sugar water as our lodging!
For the record, 200 rupees is approximately $2 USD, and the laws of supply and demand clearly show you what priorities might look like after a day’s uphill trekking, Rumour has it that Snicker’s will set you back two night’s sleep in these parts, and we’ll have to see just how desperate you have to get in order to splurge on one!
We had an hearty meal prepared with love by our hosts – the whole family pitched in, including grandparents, parents and an 11 year old grandson. What they turned out from the small stone kitchen was nothing short of amazing. Shelves carved into the stone walls held glass jars of so many different spices. The vegetables from their garden were cooked on a wood burning stove that helped to dry to rows and rows of corn that were hung in the rafters. My vegetable dal bhat warmed the stomach and filled the senses. You could taste the love that had gone into this meal, particularly the curried potatoes, which continued coming out at pace until I had to beg them to stop!
We all felt the love in that little place, and if you ever should find yourself in this part of the world, do stop in to say hello.
There is more ahead, but for now, today I trekked in Nepal. Today was a good day.