“Walking the uphill staircases in Gurung villages is endless vertical marathon.”
What happens to us by chance determines choices and what kind of chances we expose ourselves to later. I’m still in fascination for how things can be connected. My family would not have come to Nepal if not after a chat with a Nepalese woman, wife of a Gurkha police, at a playground near my Singapore home one evening last year. It was a conversation that changed my life forever and probably for my family members: my husband Goh, teenage sons Robin and Dominique, and seven-year-old Clement. It seems to be an overstatement but this holiday is really the best that we have and when I was there and now writing this post, I am planning inside my head to visit Nepal again.
On 16th June 2014, as we began our trekking in Annapurna ranges, a spectacular landscape of lush and green unfolded before our eyes. The clouds perform dramatically and periodically part to reveal the splendour of spectacular vistas. This is the homeland of the Gurung people, an ethnic group for bravery in the Gurkhas.
From the time we stayed at Syauli Bazar (1175m), I became a captive of nature, enamoured by its beauty. It was not just the grandeur of the mountains but also the simplicity of lifestyle so seamlessly as to lead my mind from one thought to another. Soaking my feet in gushing cold water from the mountains of Annapurna at the river, and later at Ghandruk (1940m) overlooking Annupurna South (7219m), Hiunchuli (6441m), Annapurna III (7555m), “Fishtail” Machhapuchhre (6993m), the Himalaya is so immense, I felt so small and insignificant. The scenery form a mental picture and indelible impressions in my mind.
Our trekking was an average of six hours a day. Conscience twinge as we saw our 3 porters each carried three backpacks bundled with a rope, climbed the endless flights of stone steps with us. However, I was glad that our presence in this low season created jobs for them otherwise they would be working at their farms. I learned that one job is created for every 7.5 tourists who visit, a ratio that rises to 1 to 3 in the trekking industry. Trekking in a modest style is a good means of getting money into the hands of people in the hills of Nepal, because the villagers, who provide food, run the lodges and work as porters, benefit directly.
Without training and little trekking experience, this Singaporean family was obviously walking at snail-pace. My eldest son Robin was sick for a few days and if not for the Arjun Adhikari (our trekking guide, Earthbound Expeditions) and the porters, we could not imagine how we could have made it. On the first night, there were a couple of frogs under my bed. My sons saw a big spider on their room’s ceiling. It’s nothing alarming, these little creatures are just part of the eco-system that we city dwellers don’t get to see often in Singapore’s concrete jungle. Hot water in the lodge’s shared-toilet is heated by solar power. It is the identical, standarized food menus at different guesthouses and teahouses serving home-cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. The business are operated under an entrepreneur committee of Annapurna Conservation Project. For those 4 days, the nine of us trekked under occasional blistering heat and showers and on a multitude of terrains, moving from one accommodation to another. We walked on numerous vertiginous rockscapes and, as we manoeuvred our way around difficult ascents and negotiated passages on a daily basis.
During the monsoon (June-September), the Himalaya experiences more rainfalls than other season. Fortunately, rainfalls were just showers that lasted for not more than 30 minutes in the day, more often at night. However, the joys of trekking during rainy season are numerous. The flora and fauna, much of it indigenous, is remarkably diverse and spectacular at this time. Trails are not packed with trekkers, things are less expensive than peak season. There was one night at Ghandruk, we were the only group in the entire guesthouse.
It was not our first trekking experience, but after this time, we felt trekking we did in the past in Myanmar, Vietnam and Philippines pale in comparison. What we discovered at the end was something far more rewarding. It is basically true that anybody can trek in Nepal – if they match their experience to the difficulty of the journey. Trekking in the Himalayas is considered at the high end of the spectrum of walking, backpacking and mountaineering. Trekkers must come prepared, fit for climbing especially steps. Uphill portion was like an endless vertical marathon. However, if my seven-year-old Clement could make a 2000-foot climb painlessly, I think most people can do it too. Given the tremendous travel expense, time commitment, and for once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, ambition can easily outstrip ability.
We had come to know of other trekkers en route who shared their experiences. The most inspirational was a 68-year-old American professor who completed Annapurna Base Camp Trekking (4130m above sea level). The camaraderie that grows us (my family, trekking guide Arjun, our 3 porters with other trekkers with their guides and porters) is heart-felt. Each and every person who crosses our path, there is an opportunity to learn and grow.
After 4 days of trekking, there were many deep questions of no easy answers. When one grows and finds abundance of materiality in life, it will be like unassuming places in the Himalaya that will bring us back to our roots with gentle reminders that minimalist living can be truly enjoy. The Nepalese have more to teach us in living in contentment. We saw owner of a teahouse at Landruk exchanged cold drinks with another teahouse because their refrigerator was not working. The Nepalese live in harmony and helped each other despite being rival business-owners. In the unfussed ways of villagers we met on the trek, we learn that patience, humility and tolerance for all virtues worth thriving for.
True to the family’s mission, the creed is simple: Live to the fullest. Push your limits. Celebrate often. Be thankful always. Travel whenever you can, write your own rules, because footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down.
On our return to Singapore, I asked Clement what the best thing about the trip was for him. To my surprise, my boy said it was those 4 days with our trekking guide and the 3 porters, played football, held his hand, sat on Arjun’s shoulders during the trekking. Sure, we can do this at home, but trust me, there’s nothing quite like sitting so high up there to rest the tired legs while looking at the mountains.