At the conclusion of the Goechala trek in May 2017, it was a no brainer that the trekking bug had bitten us all. We’d already begun discussions in earnest as to where we’d head next. Over the course of 2017, we shared articles and pictures with one another and the momentum fortunately did not fizzle out. It was probably in February 2018 when we decided the forthcoming trek was going to be to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.
Decision making among us is not difficult in the least; the underlying motive is any place will suffice so long as we are assured of one another’s company.
When it came to narrowing down on the actual dates, only a few had reservations. But not too long after, it was decided that we’d all congregate in Kathmandu on 15 May 2018. We were a group of 12 classmates – five were from Nepal itself, two from Bangladesh, three from Kolkata, one from Sikkim and yours truly from Siliguri. Chettri from Sikkim, and I decided we’d drive to Nepal’s Bhadrapur airport and fly to Kathmandu.
And so we did, flying in from Bhadrapur, Dhaka and Kolkata on 15 May 2020. The party commenced at the hotel with a sense of serious urgency and this was just the beginning of what was to continue for the next two weeks. Busy as life and other trivialities are, we seem to be able to budget for fairly long drawn getaways. I mean, what is the hurry, anyway?
Last minute preparations and onward to Pokhara
The first day in Kathmandu on this particular trip remains a tad hazy, thanks to the unrestrained indulgence in intoxicants and more. The following day was set aside for last moment preppers like me to get their gear in order and make any purchases for the trek ahead. Given most group members were keen to go last moment shopping, Jemin took us across to an inexpensive area called Kalapatthar in Thamel.
We were staying in Thamel itself and it was therefore all easily accessible on foot. The lunch on the second day was a major trip highlight. Abit had invited us all to his place for an authentic Newari meal. The food was beyond any superlatives I can conjure but I will attempt one that should depict the picture. Even our ‘mostly vegetarian’ friend, Akhil, tasted goat brain as also the buff preparation.
Needless to say, the evening was celebrated in earnest, all the more so because the more level headed group members suggested alcohol would not be partaken of during the trek. And it was logical then to compensate for speculated losses in party time ahead.
The following morning, we were three groups travelling via different modes. Akhil, Ratul and Chat—the Kolkata boys—were going to fly to Pokhara. Abit, Parvez and Alam set out earliest since they were taking a bus along with most of the luggage. The rest of us were going to drive in Murtaza’s and Katwal’s cars. I was going to be among the driving lot because any opportunity to drive cannot be missed.
While much of the drive was uneventful, Katwal’s car began overheating when we were just shy of Pokhara. Luckily, the breakdown happened not too far from a repair shop and since the vehicle would need a parking place anyway, it was perhaps a blessing of sorts.
Our halt in Pokhara was to be at the KGH Waterfront Resort. It was a beautiful property and the boys who’d reached earlier were able to go for a quick swim. For me personally, the priority was the breakfast. This is my favourite meal of the day when staying at fancy places. It is also my yardstick when deciding whether I like a particular place or not. Fortunately, the breakfast did not disappoint.
We made sure to retire early on day three since the following morning was when we’d begin the trek. Abit had shared that the stair climb would be quite strenuous and much as I was mentally prepared, I knew I was in for an exhausting climb.
The actual trek begins
We had a Toyota Hiace van ferry us from Pokhara to Nayapool — the little village where we’d begin walking from. No sooner had we begun than we came upon a most irate official who almost threatened to send us back. We were apparently missing one ‘not-so-important’ document. Tact, negotiation and patience luckily saved the day and we were then comfortably on our way.
Those of us who’d been on the Goechala trek the previous year were a bit sceptical. We reckoned this route would not quite present the dramatic views like Sikkim did and the trail seemed liked a well worn one traversed by thousands. In our minds, we were still in very ‘urban’ territory and with strong cell phone reception, we felt even closer to regular life.
However, these thoughts soon gave way to exhaustion as the endless flights of stairs were upon us. They seemed to stretch all the way up and beyond. I was the heaviest among the lot and I had Parvez for company. He was an athlete when we were in school but indulgences had ensured we were both tipping the scales at well over 100 kilograms. But although we were slow, we were by no means on the verge of collapsing. We trudged up the hill, one step at a time.
The first night’s halt was to be at Ulleri. Now, Nepal has proper amenities available along their popular trekking circuits. By amenities, I mean the likes of lodges offering comfortable rooms, sometimes even with attached toilets. There’s running water flowing out of taps and even WiFi connectivity for a reasonable fee. And we would even come across well stocked bars at higher altitudes. Interestingly, we’d crossed the likes of a night club on our way to Ulleri.
In contrast, the Goechala route in Sikkim was absolutely bare bones. With the exception of rudimentary trekker’s huts at a few locations and basic toilets (a wooden platform upon which you performed your business without looking into the depths below), there was little else by way of amenities. Also, it wasn’t as though you could book one of these huts beforehand; it was a more medieval process. Whoever laid claim to it first, on any particular evening, got to stay there. Otherwise, a tent was the next best option. Not that the lack of luxury in Sikkim was in any way less fulfilling, but Nepal’s offerings sure seemed 5-star in comparison.
As we settled into Ulleri for the night, we tried some kodo, a smooth tasting local rice brew that left a mild sense of warmth. The rooms were tiny but comfortable, and we sure had a good night’s sleep.