Published: January 6th 2009December 10th 2008 Pokhara - Birethanti - Ghandruk - Chhomrong - Dovan - Deurali - Macchupuchhre Base Camp - Annapurna Base Camp - Bamboo - Chhomrong - Tadapani - Ghorepani - Birethanti - Pokhara 1. I Bow to the Linguist in You
"Hello Bob". "Hello God".
The gates of heaven aren't pearly white nor is there a guy with a list deciding who gets in. Heaven can be entered by anyone willing to pay the 2000 Rupee fee and fit enough to walk for 6 or 7 days. Here between Macchapucchre Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp at 4000m where eagles soar and snickers rolls (a Snickers wrapped in a Chapati then deep fried! Yeah! I know...mmmm!) are served by a one eyed man with a hearty smile and fire under his table; this is where you'll find heaven. This is beauty. No doubt.
The creators of the Nepali language were worried that they’d never be able to come up with enough words for a full language so they started doubling up fairly early on. For this reason the Nepali (and Indian) word ‘namaste’ (meaning ‘I bow to the God in you’) is used as both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and may, in certain circumstances, be used as ‘good luck’. Such a versatile word is pretty useful for someone as useless at languages as me and I took it upon myself to help the Nepali people, in that special way that only an ignorant foreigner can, by extending its use to include ‘thank you’, ‘please’, ‘I’ll have that please’ (accompanied by desperate pointing), ‘do you speak English?’ (‘Namaste, English?’), ‘is this the bus to Pokhara?’ (‘Namaste, Pokhara?’) and finally, that old chestnut, ‘I’ve been trying to identify by way of its markings and colouring, the giant bird riding in the thermals above Sarangkot hill without
any success and was wondering if you know what it might be?’ (‘Namaste, eagle?’). 2. I Bow to the Unfriendly Hermit in You
It is not by accident then that this well recycled word should, appropriately, be the most used word in the Annapurna Conservation Area - a place where foreigners practise the conservation of the Nepali language in much the same way that I do: by not wearing it out with overuse but instead concentrating on the many alternative and diverse uses for ‘namaste’.
Just as being on a boat or a train makes people wave at strangers in an inexplicably sociable and friendly way despite the fact that in their normal stationary lives they may be angry, withdrawn hermits who hate society*; so people who indulge in Trekking in Nepal are overcome with a desire to ‘namaste’ everyone they pass on the track.
* This phenomenon of waving while in motion has fast become a fascination of mine. I’ve realised that, regardless of the country you are in, it’s socially acceptable to wave at total strangers so long as one of the following criteria are met: you have a ticket (you are on a
train, bus or ferry that is not a private vehicle - waving from your own car would therefore be considered crazy) or have a stretch of water between you (you are on a boat or you are in the process of drowning). In both sets of circumstances the key factor is that you or the recipient of your wave must be in motion.
Namaste eagle?, Ghorepani
We spent ages watching this enormous (2m wingspan!) as yet unidentified beast swooping in the fields around Ghorepani. On several occasions I was sure it tried to lift off with a mule in its talons. For some reason I can't get the theme tune to Cities of Gold out of my head...?
Nothing wrong with that I hear you say - and indeed, you won’t get an argument from me on that score - it’s polite to meet each of your fellow trekkers with a smile and a cheery greeting, however, it’s a bit of an odd phenomenon that stops as soon as you get off the track and reach the road again when everyone reverts back to the standard tourist routine: avoid eye contact, stick to your own and for Gods sake don’t talk to anyone unless you’re American (see section 4: I Bow to the Democrat in You).
The problem is the number of times you find yourself namaste-ing. These are long walks. They last for days or weeks. And they’re busy. The different treks vary in distance and difficulty and people choose the
Dhaulgiri: The Big Boy of the Annapurnas
You should all brace yourself for lots of pictures of mountains with me just telling you how great they are and generally doing a lot of "wohhhh"ing. So here you are: Dhaulgiri 8167m - the 7th highest mountain in the world... Wohhhh.
trek they do on the basis of the what time they have available, their estimated ability to complete the distance, what their friends did and how quickly the chaffing of their jeans will rub red-raw the skin around their crotch before they have to walk like a bow legged cowboy. Within these restrictions the popularity of the various different trekking options in the absolutely stunning Annapurna Conservation area can be fairly accurately measured in nph (namastes per hour).
The Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek, which we chose because you’re supposed to be able to complete it in 8 days and we had 15 - all of which we took - was a fairly busy walk: I would estimate it to be 15 nph. The Nayapul - Ghorepani - Ghandruk loop which I was doing for the second time (because I’m amazing) once we completed the ABC walk was a much busier 30 or 40 nph dependent on your own group namaste-ing policy. 3. I Bow to the ANS in You
The Annapurna Base Camp trek has a higher proportion of independent trekkers travelling as couples or small groups of three or four than the Nayapul - Ghorepani
Sunrise from Poon Hill
I'm going to have a giggle about the word "Poon" now and that's the last I'll mention of it - I promise: tee hee, titter titter: you said poon... huh huh.
- Ghandruk circuit Trek which attracts more of the much larger tour groups. In the case of the Annapurna Base Camp trek therefore, assuming they are well bunched, it is easy to capture the whole group with a single hearty ‘namaste’. It will have to be a little louder and less personalised than an individual namaste (fleeting eye-contact with each member only and a smile timed so it lasts for the duration of the passing without dropping into the inane grin category that might make the people at the back of the group think you’re a nutter and do their best to avoid you when you meet them again later) but it can be done.
Where the group is larger than four people you’re going to have trouble namaste-ing everyone in one go and, if you’re well into your trek and have overdone the namaste-ing thus far or have come down with ANS (Acute Namaste Syndrome - symptoms include dry mouth, swollen tongue, general dislike of human beings and slurring into ‘mamaste’, ‘mmmste’ or just blowing raspberries), then you may have to consider adopting a One Group - One Namaste policy at the risk of offending the hard of
Photographer On the Lens
Some people will do anything for an arty shot.
hearing at the back of the group. 4. I Bow to the Democrat in You
People who are apparently immune to the effects of ANS are generally of the American persuasion due to a recessive gene that is activated during trekking and means their ‘namaste’ glands are able to keep producing ‘namastes’ long after their European counterparts have worn theirs out and withdrawn back to their dark, sombre and defensive medieval roots. Obviously this gene is not present in all Americans but during our escapades into the Annapurnas it was quite apparent that this gland was particularly active following their countries big step from the darkness toward the light with the election of a man who can wave at you and everyone else without having to be in motion. He defies social norms. He can do no wrong.
While the election results had the effect of increasing the number of ‘namastes’ we received and the number of people who wanted to stop and tell us they were Democrats, it also had the effect of significantly reducing the number of ‘Canadians’ on the track. Suddenly it’s OK to be American again.
We did our best to find
Vik and Macchapucchre
This is Vik just approaching ABC - Annapurna Base Camp. She makes ABC look like easy... as 123 perhaps. (Sorry, I've been dying to get that reference in).
a Republican but it was soon pointed out to us by our Democrat friends that the chances of finding one outside the US were about as good as our chances of finding a vegetarian in Texas. 5. I Bow to the Ugly Potato Among You
It was a cheerful American fellow dressed like a 1920’s soccer player (shorts just about meeting his red and grey striped knee high socks), who claimed to “just always know the time” without the aid of a timepiece and who was constantly tickled by the word “Poon” who became the second recorded victim of Australia’s version of the evil crone from the Goonies.
Sat opposite us, with a large group of Aussie’s immediately behind him, at a restaurant that specialised in oily rice and oilier potatoes, in the heat of a glorious mid-afternoon sunshine, our American friend decided to take off his heavy sweater. In doing so, he briefly exposed his pale naked torso for all who were watching to see. Despite the show of muffiny boy-flesh, it wasn’t the numerous female Australian university students who reacted with anything other than a swift aversion of their eyes, but the groups guide, a
Annapurna 1, Bob 1
This is Annapurna 1 - the 10th highest mountain in the world... wohhhh. In the foreground is Bob 1 - the 1st highest Bob in the photograph. Suddenly 10th place doesn't look so good does it Mrs Anna Purna.
strapping dopey eyed Nepali fellow, who made a soft ‘phewing’ noise. They were both standing quite close; it was difficult to see - perhaps ‘phew’ was accompanied by a smile - perhaps it was accompanied by a look of disgust - perhaps there was a special moment between the two of them - either way, our cheeky American friend who it seemed was inclined to err away from the side of caution read the situation and came back with “what’s wrong - am I making you hot?” I suspect that had president elect Mr Obama been stood there waving in front of him, our American friend would have said exactly the same thing.
But before the Nepali guide could respond with anything other than a broad smile, the old pitt bull, who was entirely out of place among the otherwise young, fresh and friendly university girls, took exception to what she had heard and tore into the American with a diatribe about how he had offended the guide and all Nepali’s with his crude display of flesh and that his insensitive actions were a slur on Nepali culture etc. etc.
As I said earlier, this wasn’t her first
Plane, Clouds, Mountain...
Man, that is my least favourite combination of airborne low-flying conditions although Hot Air Balloon, Lightening storm, Ocean might top it.
friendly interjection into a situation that didn’t concern her.
Five or six days earlier we had been huddled round the heated dinner table of a high altitude gaff on a freezing evening in our thermals and hats with these same Australians, a real Canadian, a German who liked to describe to you in great detail the places you’d already been and a Sherpa who spent more time guiding the kitchen staff than his own client. Conversation with the close-knit Australian group was in its infancy but blossoming nicely. We’d just passed the ‘where are you from?’s the ‘how long have you been in Nepal?’s and the ‘what do you do?’s and were beginning to share pleasantries and chuckles about our common situation when somehow, from the other end of the table, the pit bull got off her leash.
Sharing a lighter moment with our Canadian and Sherpa friends about how I would be summiting (that’s terminology us pro climbing types use for ‘reaching the top of’) the 7000m Machhapucchhre before breakfast and could they make sure the kitchen boys had the pancakes ready, I was cut off in my flow by the fug-faced heckler from across the table.
“You can’t climb that mountain - it’s sacred. So don’t even try”, came the bark that killed all conversation. “It’s against Nepali culture. It’s a sacred mountain”, she continued like some panned-in retarded robot. It was as if someone had just shamelessly vomited on the dinner table and nobody quite knew what to do or say next.
I wanted to say something smart. I wanted a line to just roll out of my mouth that would leave the room in stitches and her in a wobbling heap on the floor. Unfortunately these kinds of responses are the thing of TV cop shows and Steven Segal movies and my retort was neither witty, nor funny. It lacked the bladed edge I hoped it would. I simply told her in that truly British way, with a tone of voice that us Brits hope conveys our extreme displeasure with the road the conversation has been forced down, that I was fully aware of Machhapucchre’s sacred unclimbed status and that I was delighted she thought me capable of attempting to climb such a peak in the first place. Nice but disappointing, I thought; diplomacy and humour when what was needed was a machete.
“But you can’t climb it. It’s sacred”.
(Smile and ignore her, she’s clearly a nut.)
“Yes, thank you - I know it’s sacred - I was joking.”
This was the second time we’d seen this group and while the rest of them were pleasant enough, she sat among them like a tattered sack of rotting spuds among the well washed virgin white Charlotte potatoes you find in Marks & Spencers. We’d later overhear her quite sternly tell one of the girls “you should really take a bath.” Oh lady! Pot and kettle! Pot and kettle! However I believe the tears she brought out in the girls with comments like this isolated our oddball potato faced pitt bull pal to a place even further removed from normal society. Why was she with them? Who was she? It was like someone had placed some vicious curse on this group of students. This was one group who needed all the namastes they could get. 7. I Bow to the Gecko in You
Before I end the blog, I just wanted to share with you my favourite Vik quote from our trip so far. In a
Marlboro Time in Ghandruk
Usually at about 7am the whole village reaches for their cigarettes to create this steamy haze over the village. Vik says its the first rays of the sun evaporating the night time moisture but I think shes barmy. Evaporation! Whoever heard of such a thing!
dark bedroom late at night, possibly early in the morning trying to get even the faintest hint of sleep as dogs bark, cockerels crow, cats meow, mosquito’s dive and spiders scuttle:
[Sitting suddenly bolt upright in bed]
“The gecko can stay; the rest of you can just F*%K off!”
There are more photos below