From Deorali, we began the ascent towards Macchapuchre Base Camp (MBC). The weather gods sure were in our favour because not once did we have to reach for our rain ponchos. All along the trek, we were greeted with sunny weather and thanks to internet accessibility, we had a fair idea of the forecast ahead. Many of us donned shorts still although we kept warmer clothing in our day packs. Our guide, Gyaltshen, pointed out that beyond MBC, it would be prudent to wear thick jackets and thermal inner wear.
As we neared MBC, we came upon a local who was busy cleaning what looked like a stack of worms. It was, as one group member pointed out, the fabled Himalayan treasure called yarsagomba. It is essentially a caterpillar-fungus—meaning it begins life as a moving creature. The worm then becomes ‘mummified’ when it is infected by a parasitic mushroom. More popularly, it is termed Himalayan Viagra and some five or six years ago, it had led to a harvesting frenzy on the lines of a gold rush.
The final ascent from MBC to ABC
We halted for lunch at MBC and we then set upon the final stretch to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Yet again, we were fortunate that we were able to book a lodge at ABC itself. More often than not, trekkers must resign to staying at MBC and then walk up to ABC for a few hours’ visit.
I was anticipating a hostile steep climb on this final stretch. Fortunately, it was mostly a gentle slope, meandering through meadows. Since we’d begun early from Deorali, we had ample daylight ahead of us to explore ABC. Every so often, we’d stop for pictures and also try and spot any yarsagumba. The Himalaya gold, however, eluded us.
It was probably just after 3 pm that we checked into the Namaste Lodge at ABC. We’d expected the rooms to be absolutely spartan but they were actually a pleasant surprise. And when we looked at the menu, it had all the offerings that tea-houses along the other stops also offered. The only difference was only vegetarian fare was served because these areas were considered sacred.
Climate change really is a threat
Once we’d settled in, we took a brief stroll to the moraine nearby. Now I’d heard about climate change and global warming and I will admit I often reckoned that it was perhaps not as serious as it is made out to be. To our disbelief, we learnt the moraine had come to be because the glacier that once existed there had receded by a good 300-400 metres. It was then I realised the magnitude of concerns that environmentalists have been voicing. The area was also marked by several memorials that commemorated lives lost while attempting to scale peaks in the Annapurna range.
Close to our lodge, we also chanced upon a small patch of green which was possibly artificial turf. At first glance, it seemed like a tiny golfing green. One group member suggested it was possibly a helipad. My quick retort was that it probably can fit a toy helicopter at best. But the following morning, I was caught with my foot in my mouth when an actual, albeit tiny, rescue helicopter did land.
As evening came upon us, we couldn’t help but marvel at the panoramic vista that greeted us. On three sides were mountains and for those of us who’d thought the vistas on this trek would be somewhat lesser, were definitely spell bound. The clear skies later that night allowed for the moon to cast its soft glow on the peaks. The silhouette, as a result, was nothing short of ethereal.
The homeward stretch begins
The following morning was bright and sunny and a few us donned our trademark shorts yet again. Breakfast and photographs later, we commenced on our descent towards Bamboo. Yes, this was the name of the hamlet that was going to be our night’s halt. Most trekkers will usually descend hurriedly and halt in Chomrong but we were not pressed for time. At our lunch stop on day eight of the trek, we caught a glimpse of some really large bee hives in the distance. We were possibly duped with honey from one of these regular sources.
From Bamboo, it was onward to Jhinu. Basically, we were treading the exact same route that we’d taken on our way up to ABC. It was only from Chomrong that we would take a different route. It was a steep descent to Jhinu and all the while, the boys were very excited at what awaited us there.
Jhinu has natural hot springs by the river and fatigued trekkers use these warm pools to rejuvenate. I was a little sceptical at first because it entailed another 30 minutes of walking to the springs from where we were staying. Following eight days of walking, I was more inclined to just sitting on a chair and gazing at the mountains. But I am glad I decided to visit the hot springs because it really was one of the trip highlights. In fact, much as the springs, the other reference point for all group members will definitely be the wizened old man who looked after the hot spring area. He could easily bag an award for being the grumpiest man if there was such a recognition.
The lodge at Jhinu was quite hotel like. It even boasted a large retail area that sold souvenirs and clothing. We indulged in a heavy dinner that evening because the following day was only going to be a three-hour walk. We’d then take taxis to Pokhara from Ghandruk.
The conclusion of a trek is always marked by mixed feelings
On day nine, we set out at a leisurely pace. I am sure none of us were entirely looking forward to urban settings. But as with all good things, the final stretch marked the curtain call on what was a most memorable trip. I was ambling along, lost in thought, when I was jolted out of my reverie by the harsh sound of a diesel engine. And almost abruptly, the walking trail merged with a wide road bringing the Annapurna trek to a close.