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Aftermath of CIT

·17 mins·

Prologue #

One ring to rule them all.

The idea to complete the Annapurna Circuit came about with the taste of hot jeri and mirch tea on our lips in the midst of our event, Children in Technology. One utterance was all it took to change our itinerary from Tilicho to Thorong La. But we didn’t get ahead of ourselves since we still had one more day of CIT left, however it was safe to be prepared just in case, so we packed crampons and a bit of extra supplies at Chame.

The stars above Mt. Manaslu.

(Astrophotography at 2 degrees below zero.)

The Lost Projector #

I need to know now, can you love me again.

(Tanki Manang.)

We were to fall in love with Manang once more, this time without the obligations of the duty at hand. Our plan was to now reach Thangsar, the same day we completed CIT. After a warm lunch of thukpa, we packed our bags and left to explore Tanki Manang before bidding goodbye to Hotel Lake View.

We arrived to the hotel after exploring Tanki Manang for about an hour. We were going to hand the projector to the hotel owner in order to take it to Besisahar the next day. He’s where the plot changed course, the projector was nowhere to be found.

‘Collateral Damage’ meant that we wouldn’t be paid what we had been promised.

How could we be so stupid? Who had it last? Who saw it last? We were irritated and searching everywhere for the projector. The housekeeper had not had a sight of it.

A shopkeeper from across the hotel told us that someone took the projector towards the village. This was another twist since up to now we believed that it was misplaced. Now we get an intel that someone took it.

Why on earth would someone take away the flex? The projector understandable, the flex…damn. After about two hours of scampering for the projector we lost any hope that it would be found. As we were about to leave Manang, we saw a CCTV camera mounted outside a hotel door. Another hour gone skipping past the footage of the last three hours. The sun was long gone, it was getting dark and now if we moved out we wouldn’t reach Thangsar on time, we had to return back.

Gloom filled us on bright full moon night and we were in a state of complete torpor.

That gloomy environment was disturbed by the housekeeper calling us out. We rushed to see her.

“Vai tapaiharu lai high lacha kyao?”

“Chaina hola dd, kina teso vannuvayo?”

“Ani ka aarko room ma lagera rakhya ta projector, aafno room vanera store ma lagera rakhnuvayecha kya?”

Getting our hands on the projector felt like holding a long lost child. A warm poker-filled night followed the events of the day. Talks with fellow trekkers ensued, sharing each others music preferences, hobbies and profession, but above all the love for travel. We lay in bed discussing conspiracy theories of ‘The Lost Projector’.

Asphyxiation #

Do you know what it feels like to sleep on the lap of the mountain?

The hot fresh baked bread filled our room with an aroma early morning. Peanut butter and bread had given us enough energy to get the move on, the destination for the day, Tilicho Base Camp.

One of our friends hadn’t adjusted well to Tanki Manang the second day and as we started ascending he felt heavier. We waited for about an hour from the top of a small hillock overlooking the majestic valley of Tanki Manang under unrelenting mountains, as beautiful as they are, they are also unforgiving. He didn’t seem to acclimatize well. When he couldn’t take it any more we decided to descend for a while. He admitted feeling a lot better after climbing down only a few steps.

Not meant to be.

The team of seven was down to six. He gave us the green light to go on while returned to the hotel we had stayed last night. Leaving a friend who was most excited about this travel put a dent in our hearts, but health before all and with a promise to continue this journey some other day we walked towards Thangsar.

Through suspension bridges, early morning winds and dusty road, we reached Thangsar at about 11AM.

We went to a nearby pharmacy and got scammed well and good, but with what other option did we have. “Bloody hell she charged us Rs. 600 for ‘NOT FOR SALE’ medicine(Vitamin C, Vitamin B)”. After lunch, we rested under the canopy of yet another mountain, a recurring theme on our travel.

Rivulets flowing from tall hills to meet the Marsyangdi below running along the mountains that stood like a wall across us. The ascend to Shreekharka was steep. Following another dusty trail alongside load-carrying donkeys we reached Shreekharka at about 3pm. Staring across the cliff, one could only imagine how on Earth is this piece of rock across us so intriguing.

(Shreekharka)

After some sugary diet of chocolates and dates we were ready to march but the trail ensured that there would be no quick marches but a slow and steady race with the sun to Tilicho Base Camp.

As we trekked along, we were greeted by the sounds of blue sheep baying, trying to blend in with the sparse vegetation and the snow that had yet to melt under the sun’s warmth. The terrain soon changed, and we found ourselves navigating through the landslide area. The ground beneath our feet rocky and unstable, and we had to tread carefully to avoid losing our balance. Carrying the behemoth alienware all the while, it was on this day I realized how much I loved my laptop. The bag I had been carrying was a 70l trekking bag inside of which was another laptop bag for protection. The bag had been so heavy that we used a terminology for it, the mighty Vhagar. Apart from this bag there was one more handbag that lingered on about our sides which had the microcontrollers and hardware which we had demonstrated in CIT.

The beauty of the surrounding landscape made the effort worth it, with snow-capped peaks towering above us and the valley below and stretching out as far as the eye could see. We were in awe of the nature around us, and grateful for the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

By the time we reached Tilicho Base Camp, the sun was long gone and the mountains shone in the moonlight. Tired and cold we threw our bags in our room, and rested in the warm and cozy dining room with a central heater surrounded by trekkers. After about half an hour of rest, my mind now looked for ways to get engaged with the crowd in the dining hall. I spotted a group playing chess, and my night was decided. We played chess at 4150m above sea level. In case you’re wondering, I won the games, thanks in no small part to the whiskey that my opponent was chugging all the while he moved his pieces. Before we went to bed, we decided we would leave for Tilicho at 3AM to be at the mercy of the winds.

Exclamation #

Our minds were so fixated on leaving at 3AM that we forgot about the importance of breakfast. As we set off for Tilicho on that cold, dark, and starry night, our empty stomachs began to gnaw at us.

The water froze inside our bottles, which made it impossible for us to quench our thirst. On top of that, some of us suffered from gastritis, which made the arduous climb even more unbearable. Despite our hunger, we found ourselves wanting nothing to eat, and we relied on a single granola bar to keep us going.

As we continued to climb alongside the mountain, we soon came across a snow desert that we were thankfully well prepared for. We had crampons, which made our progress easier than it would have been otherwise. We had to carefully navigate the treacherous terrain, cracking and crunching ice underneath our feet as we went.

We finally reached Tilicho after four grueling hours. Exhausted and cold, I took a much-needed rest before I could appreciate the stunning view that lay before me. It was a memorable experience that tested our limits and made us appreciate the beauty of nature even more. The fun however had only just began as a helicopter started landing bicycles just a few paces from where we stood flattening anyone who stood close to the icy ground. They were cycling their way down from the Tilicho lake.

Blue and pristine.

(Tilicho)
The wind was so cold that you couldn’t feel your hands. No one dared to take off their gloves. Rubbing hands and passing the phone around quick, we took turns capturing the moments. Descending on the slippery ice which had started to melt under the sun, it took us another two hours. These two hours were extremely long and frustrating because of hunger. After reaching the base camp we had lunch and checked our Oxygen levels to make sure we were fit to continue. Although the Oxygen level seemed fine, I didn’t feel well at all. The toughest day of all the days of trek for me. My head pounding and my lungs panting and gasping for air. Might have also been because I hadn’t taken Acetazolamide, the medicine for altitude sickness even while climbing up to Tilicho.

The lovely tales

To take my mind off my pounding head and panting lungs while we walked back to Shreekharka my chad friend discussed all the golden and unspoken rules of dating. I didn’t keep track of a lot of things but by the time we reached our destination we were up to chapter six of the presumed book we were discussing. Thanks to these small talks and heavy lifting of Vhagar by my homies we were all in one piece come evening.

With how difficult the day had been, my mind started to wonder if I could make it to Thorong La at all, with what right would I wear the headband I had bought that said Thorong La (5410m). A good meal and sound sleep was all I needed. One pill would now decide my fate for the next day, flexon.

Resurgence #

And sure enough come morning, the magic pill had brought me back my strength and the will to climb. We didn’t repeat yesterday’s mistake, we had a toast and omelette with milk peanut butter and jam.

As we began our trek, we quickly noticed the treacherous conditions of the trail. It appeared as though the path was covered in a thin layer of ice, which was camouflaged beneath a layer of dust. Despite our best efforts to carefully assess the ground with our trekking sticks, we still found ourselves slipping and sliding on more than one occasion.

The terrain reminded us of a similar path we had taken from Tanki Manang to Thangsar. The narrow trail wound its way through the rugged landscape, forcing us to cross bridges and traverse dusty roads as we made our way uphill. Despite the challenges, the stunning views and sense of accomplishment made every step worth it.

Our trekking group set out with the intention of reaching Yakkharka and eventually Phedi. The journey was filled with anticipation and excitement as we were eager to explore the beautiful landscapes that lay ahead. However, as we continued on our path, the weather took a turn for the worse and it started snowing. We knew that we couldn’t continue in such conditions and decided to stop for the day at Ledar, a picturesque spot that was covered in snow. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were able to enjoy a magical night, surrounded by the snow-covered mountains.

An old trekking guide accompanied us at dinner, a social gathering the cold weather commenced as everyone in the hall tuned in to listen to the words of wisdom from the man who had spent his life on mountains. He was guiding a mountaineer to climb Annapurna South but due to adverse conditions they would be trying on a mountain which would be much easier. That distinctive red jacket holding up a bottle of hot local alcohol will always make me cheer when I think of my trekking memories. Our dinner that day was a comforting one with cheesy pizza, cheese bombed spaghetti and thukpa each worth every single rupee. While the restaurants in big cities like Pokhara and Kathmandu are busy scamming customers with their extravagant pricing and below average food, Ledar served us the food that will hold a special place in our heart and stomach.

Early morning after a breakfast of mixed vegetables and potatoes, we hit the road with a group of other trekkers who had been halted by the snow. Our destination: High Camp. Two roads led to our destination. Punpun and I decided to follow an experienced trekker and took the shortcut, while others had already moved onto the a longer and more comfortable road. The shorter road we took was approximately 150 meters lower in altitude to the longer road that went uphill and came down again. The trail we followed was a dangerous one, with stones sliding down from hill tops at some places, making the journey even more thrilling. Despite the danger, we were able to appreciate the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and one of the clicks from this road is a wallpaper on my phone.

(The valley)

At Phedi, we regrouped and had lunch before beginning our ascent to High Camp. The climb was steep, with an incline of approximately 45 degrees, and it took us nearly an hour to reach our destination due to the thin air and our tired legs. However, the effort was well worth it once we reached the 4910m high view point at High Camp. Despite the extreme winds, we could not deny the stunning view of the curved valley and the icy glaciers, which seemed ready to drop from the mountain crevasses. We took our time to fully take in the breathtaking scenery, admiring the beauty of the surrounding nature and the peacefulness of the moment.

Hot ramen soup filled our bellies for the evening. We sat around playing cards and making small talk with the guests in the dining hall. It was the end of the season for trekkers and the dinning was crowded like all places with the almost last batch of travelers. Light snow fell and made the atmosphere colder.

In between the cover of another perfect wonder and it’s so white as snow.

I took no chances, the thoughts of the repeat of Tilicho made me take a pill for high altitude after dinner. We decided satu, dates and milk peanut butter as our breakfast before going to sleep.

Vindication #

Thou shall not pass.

Sleep was hard to come by due to the altitude. We were woken up by the sounds in the room next to us, they were preparing to leave already, it was 4am. The winds once the sun shines would be merciless. About an hour or so later we were also ready depart.

Trekking stick, check, crampon, check, Vhagar check, red bull check and my workout playlist check. Nothing was going to stop us, not gastritis, not headache, not altitude nor a snow storm. Blasting the music on my phone on a dim lit night we set off.

Under wandering stars I’ve grown by myself but not alone - Wherever I may roam

Nice music choice”

“Oh, thanks”

“Don’t you think it will disturb others”

“That’s why I’m trying to move away as quickly as I can”

“Don’t seem to me like you moving quick”

“Quicker than you, it seems”

“You challenging an American Son?”

“You should know I’m a Gorkhali.”

“Let’s see who gets to the top first then”

A challenge was just what I needed to get the spring in my steps.

The trail was extreme, if you could call it a trail. The dawn was upon us and winds started getting extreme as we moved towards the pass. The road was snowy and brittle icicles topped everything around. There would be gusts of strong winds when you could do nothing but try not to fall on the thick ice below. Icy shards were entering your jackets, your cap, gloves and shoes, the cold unbearable. A progression of iron poles striped with colors were placed to indicate the direction of the trail. The ice blowing in the wind struck the iron poles making them chime. Nature itself was in mood for music it seemed. So violent yet so pleasant.

(The pass)

Ah mountains, you love them, you hate them but you can’t stay away from them.

After an adventure fraught with danger the holy grail was there in front of us. Thorong La Pass welcomed us with the sound of fluttering buddhist flag. The small crammed hut came with a sense of relief after a long and hard climb. The Pass was just as reluctant to us taking pictures as Tilicho.

I might climb mountains and passes but never would I ever have my laptop with me throughout the journey. A few eyebrows raised when I took my laptop out at the top. My beloved and I also clicked a picture, me holding her ever so protectively.

Bargain with the Gods #

The journey through the snowy hills had been nothing short of awe-inspiring. The crisp, fresh air filled our lungs, and the snow crunching beneath our feet was music to our ears. Every step was a struggle, as the thick snow made the terrain treacherous, but the view of the majestic mountains surrounding us made it all worth it.

Muktinath awaited us on the other side of the pass.

However, the descent from the mountain pass was not going to be an easy one. The steep slope and the slippery snow made the journey down a treacherous one. We had to be cautious with every step, ensuring we didn’t lose our footing and tumble down the mountainside.

As we made our way down, the snow-covered hillsides seemed to stretch out endlessly before us, creating an otherworldly and surreal landscape. The mountains still surrounded us from all directions, and their grandeur was truly humbling. We couldn’t help but feel small in their presence. The descent was also an exhilarating experience. The feeling of sliding down the snowy hills, the wind whipping through our hair, and the thrill of adventure filled us with excitement. It was an experience that we would cherish forever.

Finally, we reached the bottom of the slope and Muktinath was right in front of us, welcoming us with open arms.

It hadn’t been a week since last I visited Muktinath. Circumstances had it that I was bargaining with Lord Bishnu for the third time under the lap of Himalayas. A visit to Muktinath would feel incomplete without the daring act of bathing in 108 stone taps with bone chilling cold water and a dip in the mind numbingly cold ponds in front of the temple.

(Muktinath)

All the pain and the sins of life washed away.

We had planned to stay in a hotel in Jomsom that day. Haggling for the price of the jeep to take us to Jomsom, we met a driver who even had the courtesy to book us a hotel and a bus for departure to Pokhara the next day. An anecdote that cannot be missed from our travel was that of our expert drivers. The thing that fascinated me most was their ability to multitask while navigating such rusty terrains. Only their left had would be at the job full-time, the right always busy in making phone calls, preparing tobacco or smoking cigarettes. After shopping for souvenirs at Jomson and a delicious Thakali thali, we went to bed.

Epilogue #

“You know there’s something about a tangle of strangers pressed together for days on end with nothing in common but the need to go from one place to another, then never to see each other again.” - Bouc (Murder on Orient Express)

Early morning the next day, rocking and swaying with the road we returned to Pokhara. Tired legs looking for some much needed rest rode along in the seven hour journey back to Earth from heaven. Recollecting and rejoicing the things that happened and things that nearly happened in the journey we were back to the place where we were loved as much as we loved the mountains, home.

(Top G)
The cold burned skin, sun burned faces, chapped lips, tired eyes but a glowing soul of content of the six of us at 5410m.