Travel

A rucksack of resilience

One of the routes to the Annapurna is a cocktail of steep steps and meandering streams.

One of the routes to the Annapurna is a cocktail of steep steps and meandering streams.  

Why we spend precious hours of our life on a sole-killing, glute-crushing, lung-punching trek

People have often perplexedly asked me, “Are you really off on holiday to go on a long, hard walk?” Yes, almost. Yes, because one half of you is walking briskly. Almost, because the other half is pulling its might to keep the first half going when all it really just wants is to snooze on a cool rock by the bustling stream beneath the kind shade of a moss-cloaked tree after walloping a chocolate bar.

Why then do so many of us choose to spend precious downtime on a sole-killing, glute-crushing, lung-punching long walk?

This is exactly the kind of question that should never be asked on the first day of a trek when the dangling promise of a private moment with snow-capped peaks makes one dizzy with excitement. Day two and beyond, without an antidote to aching muscles, this question begins to nag you.

However, on the day of the final climb, be it to a mountain summit or a high-altitude base camp, all questions and apprehensions swoosh out the window into crisp, snowflake-dusted air.

There, amidst passing clouds, vast glacier fields pave the way to imposing peaks with jagged edges, wrapped in white-brown sheaths of snow. All questions somehow rest answered. Even the ones you didn’t ask aloud.

Warm ventures

Annapurna has the ability to pack a punch of reality, but with oodles of friendly soul. You are just a visitor who she chooses to tolerate temporarily.

Whether one chooses the longer circuit trail or the abridged Annapurna South route, the journey is a cocktail of steep steps, meandering streams from Annapurna Glacier, and whistling birds hiding in rhododendron jungles. En route, myriad teahouses possess contraptions that provide hot showers in near-zero temperatures (ah, creature comforts after an eight-hour uphill walk).

Common resilience

The people of Nepal, men and women, wrinkled or youthful, share a striking resilience of spirit. An old lady sits in her courtyard on a lonely hillock and smilingly peers through eyes set deep below a wrinkled forehead. She cannot recall her age but exclaims animatedly that she has lived for oh-such-a -long-time, before springing up to feed her cattle.

Our guide, with a voice that contrasts his military disposition, tricks us into believing we are only 30 minutes away from the campsite when the truth is it’s a brutal four-hour climb away.

A young lady, Mailee, in a a dragon-print skirt carries a basket on her back with materials from the village below to sell to the one above — a Sisyphean task she repeats over and over.

Machhapucchare (Fishtail) Base Camp, the penultimate stop before Annapurna Base, never leaves your sight along the journey, but when you finally ascend its base, it might just wrap itself in an opaque tarpaulin of clouds.

Finally, Annapurna Base Camp at 14,000 feet is thrilling and tricky with capricious weather. Annapurna can be moody and unleash hours of surprise snowfall, vanquishing all signs of the trail into a carpet of blinding-white snow.

At last, when you finally watch the dramatic sunrise over the range, in those few moments when the clouds dissipate, it gives you the answer to the why trek question: resilience, resurrection, recreation, all rolled into one rucksack. Another holiday to take a long walk in the mountains? Heck, yes.

Archana Srivatsan lives in Bengaluru but comes alive in the mountains.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 1:42:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/a-rucksack-of-resilience/article19895530.ece

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