A buzz of excitement permeates the village of Chame and the path leading from it. The topic on everyones lips is Lamjung Himal, with clear skies the whole town awoke to the gleaming sight of the mighty peak. For a time we thought it was Annapurna-2 but not quite, that will come hopefully later today. What is for certain though is this game of hide and seek with the Annapurna range is slowly turning in our favour. Edging into higher territory brings the first sight of down jackets, long pants and beanies to add to the buzz. We’re climbing higher and while the minds of trekkers sits currently on Lamjung Himal and Annapurna the unspoken devil in every closet is Thorung La. No one mentions it but we all know it’s coming.
The translation is vague as far as I can tell but Himalaya essentially means the home of snow, or where snow lives; not far out of Chame the first drifts of compacted snow line the path. The chill, the wind, the snow all combine to set the air alight with excitement, so far distant now seem the quasi slums of humid Kathmandu as we finally feel like we’re pushing through the cloud of disappointment of the lower trek. The hints of what we dreamed of for so long are now more than just sparse hints of something we can’t quite grasp, there’s a handover of sorts underway and we’re surging headlong into it. A procession of cars regularly force us off the road but Annapurna is slowly winning, we can feel it.
Strangely enough we started this hike at only 800m above sea level. We all know that the Himalayas have the highest mountains in the world and I always thought that the overall land mass was just simply higher. Where the Andes have huge mountains also, the higher peaks are far lower yet the base of the mountains often sits higher. The Andes are indeed a grand and immense mountain range but in geological terms they’re quite young, the Himalayas are far older and it’s so plain to see up here; big brother still sits high above his younger sibling.
Into the home of snow takes us by breathtaking walls too sheer to seem possible and onto Upper Pisang. The path splits here and the infernal road stays on the lower path, it’s not even a decision to take the tougher, more picturesque high path. A stop in Upper Pisang reveals a bit of a time warp, Nepal style. The brightly painted buildings are fewer, given way to a hillside dominated by rough dusty stone dwellings placed haphazardly together. Charlie dashes up the hill with the camera while tea is coming only to return with an excited buzz, he’s been welcomed by a monk while I’ve been fending off a pushy hotel owner trying to sell me drugs. He even asks if there’s Israeli’s coming because they always buy hash; good to know.
Despite the insistence of the local drug pusher we’re off for Ghyaru but not before I run uphill to see the monastery. Rising to a platform I’m taken aback by the sight, intricate woodwork and bright colours frame the monastery which looks over both Upper and Lower Pisang and on to Annapurna-2 barely peeking through a break in the clouds. A cold wind rips at me but I feel no chill, it’s hard to place the well that the emotion springs from: the scale, the grandeur, the sincerity of the young monk, the feeling of being on top of the world. I have no shame in admitting to feeling a little emotional and it seems unimportant why.
With no small degree of privilege I’m invited into the monastery to a world of warm colour, simple symmetry and a whopping golden buddha. Privilege is just the word, I’m here overlooking the world chatting to a young monk who is going back to Kathmandu very soon to continue study for a further nine years. He laughs cheekily at hearing that Australia has a highest peak of 2280m; his home sits at 3300m. Years of strict study have done nothing to dim a boyish innocence, a beaming smile and youthful inquisitiveness; he wants to know Australia’s capital, do we have open spaces, is it all tall buildings? The inside of the monastery is impressive and the view from the doorstep is nothing short of uplifting, again the flutter of breath and quiver in my stomach grips me as a touch from a desired lover.
After emotionally soaring like the birds before us we’re pushing into the home of snow cured of aches and fatigue, the sharp climb to Ghyaru becomes a relished stroll. Well it’s still pretty tough, straight up 400m, into genuine altitude air the endless switchbacks are a bit of a killer but nothing is stopping us today. With lungs heaving and legs yelling out to us we can see a stupa above, that’s the town and it’s coming closer and closer, each look back over the valley forces another flutter to the heart. Ghyaru is the highest we’ll be for days still and cresting the final platform of the pyramid like stupa brings gentle flutters of snow to caress our already too perfect world. Tired and uplifted, challenged and privileged, welcomed and inspired, it only seems fitting to arrive at our shelter in the home of snow to be greeted by snow itself.
Like a dam bursting the retained experiences of the last few days comes colliding forth, Ghyaru means yak horn in Nepali, our place is named the more English friendly version, Yak-Ru. With family off studying, two brothers Karma and Raju Gurung prefer the mountain life retreating up the mountain to escape the tranquil but rapidly changing Pisang. With a sunburnt looking face more akin to Mongolian type features Raju’s smile is humble and infectious, such a warm persona to exist in such a cold place. After a good chat he’s off to get food ready before bursting back into the room crying ‘avalanche’. Initially I’m terrified, when a Nepali who lives at 3670m calls out avalanche, I imagine it’s wise to take note. My short spike in awareness ebbs away as he charges outside pointing to Annapurna-2. Like the crashing froth of a wave breaking, a monstrous front hurtles down the mountain to the sound of repeated thunder engulfing a huge part of the mountain in a cloud. Amazing; and it would have a capital ‘A’ even if it didn’t start the sentence.
We’ve stepped off of the road for less than a day and already we’ve been in the grip of Pisang’s charm, hung out with a monk on top of the world, scaled to see the home of the Gurung brothers and seen a massive avalanche. We’ve had a dream of Annapurna that has burned for so long quelled so unceremoniously thus far. The feeling of emotional rush feels nothing short of standing in the way of that avalanche on Annapurna, it’s more sensation than we know what to do with. Maybe it’s the beautiful sights, possibly the brush with spirituality, meeting locals might be it, could even be a lack of oxygen in our brains. Whatever it is Thorong La can wait, arrival in Ghyaru is nearly enough to shed a tear, a frozen snowflake tear for us to deliver back to the home of snow.