After a hateful exercise in restraint we’re finally off to Annapurna today, just saying that seems forbidden such has been the wait. We’ve had a great time in Kathmandu but Nepal has always been about Annapurna, one of the few big items on the travel list that was never at risk of falling foul of the budgeting razor when the planning was taking place. For so long the Himalayas have been a region of the highest romance for these alpine junkies and Annapurna is, along with Everest base camp, the big one, the one we simply have to tick off the list. In truth Annapurna has a decent claim to being the greatest, grandest trek in the world. Romantically to those in the know there is a slang term for treks like Annapurna, the apple pie trails, due to the unwavering availability of apple pie in the guesthouses you stay at.
Apple pies here we come, it’s a long bus ride to Buhlbuhle, the first town on our route into the himalayan wilderness and a natural world escape beyond anything I’ve experienced. The formerly dampened dream now burns out of control after being so moderated, even the dodgy local bus isn’t enough to dampen our spirits. On this trip we’ve become experts in bus travel but immediately obvious is that there’s nothing quite like this in the long repertoire of our bus resume, a new experience unfolds in an annoyingly long prelude to Annapurna. It’s on this bus that we face another true Asian cliche, they can stuff more people in a smaller space here than anywhere else in the world, it’s a true art; a true personal space destroying artform.
We watch the world go by in various degrees of filth and squalor, the thought I can’t shake is that we humans really can be disgusting animals at times. In contrast we see a constant procession of people washing in public taps, personal hygiene seems to be a huge battle in this world where hygiene seems so unattainable. Bustling through the heavy choking air of Kathmandu our bus conductor struts his stuff, this guy is a real human study all on his own. With a feminine masculinity that only sub-continental men can really reach this pubescent mustachio’d diva is a cross between an early career Diana Ross and a late career Prince. At any stop Diana dashes from the bus to cajole and bustle people onboard, he’s lively, motivated and clearly on the ball, she doesn’t miss a trick.
With the filthy air of Kathmandu easing we exit the grossly over populated valley and in turn the over population decides to board our bus. Miss Prince basically plays human Tetris with scant regard for the shape of the people, theres always space for one more; always. In seats made for Nepali’s who are a shade behind Ecuadorians in the diminutive height race it’s safe to say that Diana ‘Prince’ Ross is over estimating my skills at the game of twister. It’s 90’s cliches roaring back to a bus ride of cultural experience quickly losing it’s shine.
And on and on the saying goes; six hours become eight, a kid vomiting next to me still smells bad as ever and we’re sardined into a can of gaudy coloured robes, gold jewellery and humid humanity pressing closer than humanly habitable. Through the muddy windscreen of this trip we maintain eyes on the road, Annapurna lies unerring before us to lift us above this trip that would otherwise seem horrendous. Past the checkpoint to the Annapurna region and waiting for our favourite musical gender illusionist to rustle up more fares we’re onto a dodgy dirt track, Buhlbuhle and Annapurna proper. Originally the hike went from the checkpoint at Besi Sahar but development and progress has made the alpine track into a dusty road, not what we had in mind so Buhlbuhle it is.
It’s the Christmas present that has waited under the tree for four years, Annapurna now lays before us in a pile of shredded gift wrapping and ribbon stripped of mystery. The ginger tea uplifts our spirits after the bus trip welcome to Asia we didn’t want as we overlook a raging river that thrums the enticing tune of the Himalayas. Heaven guesthouse is also my first try of the famous Dalbhat, simple lentil curry with rice and roti that forms the staple for Nepal, particularly in regional areas. With a beaming humour our host tells us a local rhyme: Dalbhat power; go to the toilet, then you have a shower. And we’re hiking for twelve days, this should be fun.
Our host leans in to have a look at our photos, she’s interested, interesting and utterly charming, an emblem of simple rural life’s virtues so far from the hectic aggression of Kathmandu. Showing a photo of a Hindu idol in Kathmandu, Charlie asks this Buddhist lady what god it is. ‘We’re buddhist’ she replies in short good humour, oops. Sandwiched between buddhist Tibet and the myriad of Indian gods Nepal is a mash up of salvation for those who choose to seek it. Kathmandu remains a magnet for spiritual nomads but for us the mountains remain our semi spiritual equivalent, mountains are the idols for us to chase. Be it spiritual or otherwise, there’s something in Nepal for the masses and the rest, we’re in search of that buzz, that thrill when a wild world reaches out and grabs you tight. Annapurna we’re finally here, send out your apple pies.