They are some of the highest points on earth, arguably the most beautiful too. They have captivated thousands of soul searching trekkers and remain to be ticked off the bucket list of countless others. Here in stills and words I chronicle the ineffable snowy yonder that are the Annapurnas.
Calm, solitude and high altitudes: Chimti, an outpost shortly past Humde in the most tranquil middle of nowhere, will sedate any nerve. When air starts thinning out and breathing gets heavier, treat yourself to a warm glass of seabuckthorn juice against rippling reflection of the mountains.
Waiting for a Himalayan sunrise: Huddled together, braving chilly winds are tourists at Poon Hill to witness an awe-inspiring sunrise over the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. The grand chain of mountains from the hilltop at 3,200m appear just a stone’s throw away.
Gateway to Heaven: Along sandy banks of the azure Marsyangdi River lies the village of Braga, tiny at best compared to its nearest station, Manang—some half an hour away. The picturesque walls of Swargadwari and Manaslu are shrouded by stunning clouds in the background. Your awe and admiration for ancient monasteries, religious caves, erratic cliffs, towering chortens and snotty children will be brought to a brief halt by an armada of horsemen picking up dust in the valley.
Stargazing: With hardly any lights from the town to rain on your cosmic parade, starry nights in Manang are one to savour. Giving you company are hungry yaks and horses grazing about the fields for a midnight snack.
The wild: Be the envy of your friends should you be lucky enough to spot an endangered snow leopard. Notwithstanding, mobs of blue sheep in high pastures, jumping rocks and climbing vertical cliffs, get a praiseworthy mention.
Traversing massifs: Strides become baby steps along undulating dusty trails that run against arid, precarious slopes. The last stretch to Thorung Phedi demands utmost attention, from not only tumbling rocks but also hefty beasts of burden we share the trails with.
Soldier on: Flaming clouds silhouette Kancha, a rugged porter, at dawn’s break during the final ascent of the notorious Thorong La Pass. He makes it look easy—carrying 20-odd kgs on his back, strutting at a pace that would embarrass the most seasoned of trekkers. Kancha dai is an unsung story, as are his fellow porters, who make the mountains possible for the mediocre. A father of three, he relocated from Gorkha by the civil war bloodshed. On off-tourist seasons Kancha hunts the crème de la crème of aphrodisiacs—the legendary Yarsagumba.
Humbled: The Himalayas predate us by millions of years and will stand tall for eternity, long after we’re dead and gone. There’s more to mountains than meets the eye. They are not lifeless rocks. They remind us that we’re merely a momentary blip in time. That our anxiety is without premise, our egos but self-fed lies, dwarfed by the sheer imposing facade. Before the mountains, we get a reality check. Before the mountains, we are humbled to the bones. Mountains, they tend to do that.
Yearn for a longer trek: Challenge yourself to a trek around the Annapurnas. Seen here, rocky mountains peek between hills at the village of Tal, a misnomer at best, the lake but dried up. The first sight of mountains up close and a gush of a giant waterfall justify a treacherous walk across eroded trails a few hundred meters to the town.
Touchdown: The first rays of the sun lands on Dhaulagiri and far into the Kali Gandaki valley over the horizon. Poon Hill boasts quite a reputation to this spectacular show, making the pitch dark hike before the crack of dawn worth every sweat and wheezy breath.