Sunrise in the Himalayas
01.04.2010 - 08.04.2010
It's still dark out when we head out the next morning. Our goal is Poon Hill, about an hour's climb from Ghorepani, a popular place for trekkers to catch the sunrise. We shuffled out into the cold mountain air, our guide leading us through the town and onto the trail in the pre-dawn darkness. We saw other dark figures making their way up the hillside, and within minutes we had joined the silent army, a line of bundled up figures stretching in front of and behind us. I remember the hike being mostly quiet, except for the semi-regular exhortations of our guide, urging us to pick up the pace in order to reach the summit in time. Based on our lackadaisical trekking experience so far, his concerns were very real, but we eventually found ourselves scrambling up the last few steps and emerging on to a small, grassy plateau. A small crowd had already formed at the far end, where it looked out onto a dark valley, a shivering audience waiting for the curtains to go up. The sky had already begun to shift, from the deep black of night, to the royal blues of a new day dawning. Below us, the shadows of the valley began to dissolve and recede, and hints of forests and rivers and foothills emerged from their nightly slumber. We watched as the sun's first rays lit up the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas across the breach - the mighty Mount Machhapuchhre, Daulaghiri I (7th highest peak in the world), Annapurna I, Tarke Kang, Tukuche Peak, and Gangapurna - and then, all of a sudden, a blinding invasion, as the fullness of the sun emerged from behind the stone curtain. The sight of it was breathtaking, and all second thoughts about the lack of sleep from the night before were dismissed and dispersed in the sun's relentless light. After a few moments more, we turned around and headed back down the hill. Breakfast awaited, and we still had another full day of trekking in front of us.
This was probably the best day of the trek, in terms of what we were able to see. After witnessing the sunrise in the morning, we packed up our things and headed back into the blossoming heart of the rhododendron forests towards the Deurali Pass. The Himalayas remained at our periphery throughout the morning's hike, but there came a moment when the treeline broke and we walked out onto a ridge of hillsides that gave us an unbroken view of the mountains beside us. We had arrived at the Deurali Pass, and over the next hour or so, we took our time wandering the hillside trail, interspersing our hike with brief periods of lying down on the grass or sitting on cliff-sides to survey the panorama of sky, mountain, forest, and valley. From our vantage point, we could trace the unbroken contours of the Himalayan landscape, from the top of the highest peaks, down into the forested foothills and valleys below, ending in grassy plains or river bends. The entire scene was just so big, so immense, it hardly seemed real, like I was looking at an incredibly detailed matte painting. We had to eventually leave the pass behind us, but I wish that we had had more time to appreciate the simple fact of being present. Whenever I think back on this trek, years later, many of the images that come to mind are from this day, and on this pass.
After making our way across Deurali, we began to descend, leaving the mountains behind us, for now. We hiked for another couple of hours before arriving at Tadapani, where we would be staying the night. Of all the hostels that we stayed in, this was the most basic. The shower line started outside the kitchen, for starters. The idea was to wait outside until somebody in the kitchen had boiled enough water to fill up half a bucket of water. Afterwards, with bucket in hand, you would be led downstairs into the basement, a dark maze of mud and wet brick, until you arrived at a bare room with a metal spigot. Here you would find out that the bucket was only filled up halfway because you needed to fill it up the rest of the way with the cold water from the basement tap. You would then be left with a smaller bucket with which to scoop out the warm water and splash over your tired body in a vain attempt to feel clean. No complaints here, I knew what I was getting into with this trip, but I did check off "bathing myself in a dank Nepalese dungeon with a small bucket" on my ... bucket list. For dinner, we had our usual metal tray of dal bhat - steamed rice, lentil soup, and a mishmash of vegetables - and mac and cheese (of the yak variety). Our guide appeared to subsist purely on dal bhat and fresh yak milk every day, and that seemed to give him more than enough energy, so we followed his lead, at least with the dal bhat. It was a simple dish, but in my energy-depleted state each night, it was like spoonfuls of heaven. The yak milk was not unpalatable, but we much preferred a hot mug of masala chai instead. In any case, sleep that night was very sweet.