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THE ADVENTURES OF ANNAPURNA Pt 10 - the end of the road

Day 19 Tatopani – Ghorepani

Tatopani lies beside the Kali Gandaki river. Ghorepani lies atop a hill. And when I say hill, I mean just over two Ben Nevis’ stacked on top of each other. Between them, as we would soon discover is a staircase – actual steps all the way up. This to my mind sounded a pretty easy ride considering some of the climbs I’ve done. But have you ever, ever, walked upstairs continuously for 10 hours? No, neither had I. Until this day.

The day starts in beautiful sunshine, bouncing across the last bridges that straddle the Kali Gandaki with Tom losing his Ray Bans to the torrent below; his wife will be pleased, apparently she never liked them. Then ascending through steamy rainforest-like paths to a small teahouse perched on top of a bump looking right back Dalaugiri and the miles we have travelled. We don’t know it now, but this will be our last full day walking and Christ, it’s a day to put anyone off walking for life.

We rise through humidity soaked greenery into leafy terraces with beautiful villages dotted along the hillside, with views over a vast valley of trees and tended agricultural land. Sadly we are just ahead of the rhododendrons flowering that this area is famed for; this is due to the unusually late cold weather and snow that has made its presence felt right along this trek. It’s a shame not to see such a spectacular sight, but I certainly can’t complain.

My legs did all the complaining for me. We stop for lunch, waiting an hour for a bowl of noodles. Tom and Susan fall asleep. I consider following suit but instead I choose to tentatively try the bottles of random condiments on the table. Checking each one for both chilli content and how long it may have sat being frozen by the cold and heated by the sun through the huge windows.

No one really wants to get going again, so the afternoon is tough. I plough ahead with Nima, choosing my own pace over waiting for the others at intervals as I’m worried that my tired body will just give out. Cloud and cold closes in and its just getting dusky as Nima and I finally find the teahouse Dilli has booked us into for the night in Ghorepani. ‘Superview’ does what it says on the tin. At least I assume it does as by this time the place is enveloped in thick, swirling damp clouds. The others are an hour behind and so is my backpack – I only have my day pack with me, which although about the size of my main pack doesn’t contain any toiletries or spare clean knickers. Superview is currently in darkness, suffering one of the many power outages that punctuate the nights here. I consider a (possibly) hot solar heated shower in pitch darkness, without soap but decide instead to sit in my own grot, freezing and drinking a life-affirmingly sugar-stiff lemon Fanta while I wait.

The others arrive, the fire is lit, showers are had and dinner is served before Dili sounds us out about tomorrow’s 3am start in order to reach the summit of Poon Hill before dawn. We are aiming to watch the sunrise over the Annapurnas and I can’t wait. Then he drops in that we will need to cut the trek short by a day in order for him to return to Kathmandu for a dental appointment, and suddenly the guys’ day of disagreement earlier in the week makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is Dilli not understanding that as we are now losing a day, and therefore a day’s accommodation, that we will need the money back to find accommodation in Pokhara. He refuses siting that Pokhara is much more expensive than up here and he can’t afford it. The back and forth goes back and forth without resolution. Everyone’s tired and we have an early start. Slightly dejected we go to bed and sleep a really good, but short, sleep.

Day 20 – Poon Hill – Pokhara

My legs hate me. Years of climbing, endless spin classes and over 100 miles of trekking have not prepared them for the beasting of yesterday only to climb over another 1000ft in darkness to the top of a hill. Alongside hundreds of other trekkers. It’s like a highway of bucket list explorers all out for that Instagram shot to prove it back home. Except that I’m one of them and I feel slightly embarrassed.

My parents climbed Poon Hill 50 years ago, a photo of my Mum standing looking at the Annapurnas in her bright red socks sticking in my mind. I’m not sure if it’s being away from them for so long, or the thought that she stood right on the spot I stand, but suddenly it feels like returning home.

The sun rises and it is truly spectacular. All the mountains come into view, illuminated in gold and reds from the cold blue and grey. We have walked all that. All around that. I’ve done it. All of it. Every step around those beautiful lumps of rock has been a triumph against the crushing anxiety that has plagued me for so long. The years of abuse from a certain boyfriend telling me I was useless and had no place in the world. The times anxiety stopped me from driving down the road, popping into a shop or going to a friend’s house for a cuppa. I am stronger. Physically and mentally. This trip came about by chance. I saw an opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands. Everything has led to this moment.

Take chances in life. Be curious. Grow.

Introspection and euphoria come crashing to reality in the shape of a weird fried corn pitta bread type effort in place of where a normal breakfast might be. Grease on grease to power me on the very slow plod down some of the most beautiful fairy-glen like rhododendron forest. Ponies transporting chickens and tomatoes to Ghorepani pass us alongside tourists climbing towards Poon Hill on short treks from Pokhara.

Tom, the absolutely superstar that he is, has sorted our accommodation issue for this evening. By trading his Cocoa-Cola debt he’s arranged a night’s stay at the British Camp in Pokhara. It’s a relief to know we have somewhere to go, and luxury in comparison to what we have become used to.

We stop for one last bowl of steaming noodles - I’m going to miss these – and all pile into a jeep to take us from just outside Hille to Pokhara. The drive is eventful. Bumpy in the slightest until we pass what would have been our stopping place for the night had we still been walking and then the heavens open into the most ridiculously heavy thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced. Lightning strikes the road just in front of us, blinding us with blue white light and bringing traffic to a standstill. We eventually wind our way down the hillside into Pokhara, which sprawls around the sides of the hillside towards the lake.

Dropped at the gates of the British camp, we’re signed in and shown our digs for the night in the officer’s mess. It’s sparse but comfortable with a big shower, flushing toilet, lights, wifi… and we’re right back to reality and it feels a bit alien. We literally drop everything and leave the camp again to meet Dilli, Gyalzen and Nima in a local bar for our first and last beers together. I’m really going to miss these guys and we promise to keep in touch. They’ve been incredible at taking care of us, laughing with us and they truly feel like friends. It’s sad to say goodbye. I hope it won’t be for long. This is a journey we’ve taken together. It may just be paid miles to them, but it has been so much more to me. Take chances in life. Be curious. Grow.

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