I was awoken to the feeding of the mules, gearing up for their long day of transporting goods. Today was going to be a long, brutal day. The scheduled hike for the day was supposed to be to Yak Khara, only four hours away. But we wanted to get ahead of the hordes of trekkers in Manang and keep going. Thus we opted to continue on going up all the way to the last village (Thorung Phedi at 14,570 feet) before the highlight of the trek, the Thorung pass.
The trek was grueling, yet the scenery and company were fantastic. The mule trains dwindled as did our fellow trekking groups and you really felt like you were out there in the middle of nowhere. The surrounding mountains were as majestic as ever and it was so peaceful that the only sounds you could hear were our labored breathing and exhalations as we climbed higher and higher into the thinning air.
One thing that continued to amaze me was the contrast between the two worlds: The old and the new. We were in the middle of nowhere with hardly enough electricity to eat through a meal at the teahouses yet porters who made nothing in our standards were walking by chatting away on their cell phones. It was unbelievable. As I mentioned before, there are few phones along the trail and internet access is not great either. Yet I was able to use Hari’s cell phone from at least 80% of the trek to call home and touch base with my family. One night, Hari even volunteered to escort me fifteen minutes up the mountain from our village in the moonlight in order to get reception to call home. It struck me as quite remarkable and reminded me just how small the world is getting.
Although the trek up was long and exhausting, we still pressed on, filled with interesting conversations and lots of laughs with Hari and Chrring. It was hard to believe that the trek for us was nearing an end (due to time constraints, my father and I were only doing half of the Annapurna trek. The full trek can take up to three weeks to finish). It was hard to imagine not being together and sharing these moments of laughter, joy, tranquility and spirituality together. We had become such good friends in such a short time. Yet we were very tired from all the physical work and quite frankly, dreaming of that western toilet and hot shower and warm bed which seemed forever away.
As we neared the end of our 9 hour hike up, dragging our feet and looking forward to a hot meal, I realized that I had made it to the highest altitude I’ve ever been to before (14,570 feet) and thankfully, I felt fine. Altitude sickness can be a serious problem starting even before Manang (at 10,000 feet) and unfortunately, if you get altitude sickness at this point you have only two options: (1) Get emergency evacuation via helicopter which costs a fortune, or (2) Walk ALL THE WAY BACK….at least 6-8 days walking depending on how bad you feel. Thus having no sign of altitude sickness at this point was a very good thing.
Finally, after hours of trekking we finally saw a brownish brick building in the clearing. We had made it to the last village before the pass, Thorung Phedi, a world of its own.
Here are some pictures along the way (Note the third picture: There is a man standing on top of the building which gives you a sense of the size of the mountains. The last two pictures who the remote village of Thorong Phedi which consists of two teahouses and nothing else but wind):