Naya Pul to Hille

Day one and it’s an early start.

Six a.m. and we’re all packed and ready to go, standing in the garden, bleary eyed and dazed, waiting for Laxman and the cars that will take us to Naya Pul and the start of the trail.

I am no good in the mornings so all I recall is a bewildering blur of cars and baggage and confusion as to who is going in which car. We haven’t had breakfast yet and the lack of coffee at such an hour is playing havoc with my brain. I am failing to absorb any details of the scene around me.

At some point I am in the back of the car with Dave, while Laxman sits up front chatting to the driver. We head out of Pokhara, already bustling and bristling with activity in the white morning sun.

Zigzagging through the barbed wire chicanes, we zoom past market stalls and playing children, through security stops manned by machine gun totting soldiers and on towards the mountains.

Ahead a snow capped Mount Machhhapuchhre glows in the distance. Laxman sees we have failed to spot it and points it out to us. Our gaze is still fixed at a lower point on the horizon it seems. We need to learn that when they tell you to look up in these parts, they really mean look UP.

I stare at Machhapuchhre in disbelief. The Himalayas. Can I really be here? Or am I still in a stupor? Guns, checkpoints, mountains and rhododendrons and it’s still only past seven in the morning.

Up, up through the mist we rise, climbing for almost an hour, the air getting noticeably fresher and cooler, my head clearing as it dawns on me that in a few minutes I’ll be donning my backpack and setting out at last.

Naya Pul turns out to be little more than a few wooden huts selling tea and snacks, and a taxi stop for dropping off and picking up tourists.

I look at the wooden shacks and the lack of any obvious living space and wonder where the inhabitants sleep.

Laxman notices me and quietly explains that the tea house owners live in Birethani, a village a little further ahead across the river. We will stop there for breakfast.
So we set out down the hill to the river, following the path for twenty minutes or so before we see a little suspension bridge and a blue roofed tea house on the other side.

Birethani. Breakfast.

We’ve been walking for less than half an hour and already the first pit stop is in sight. Gee.

Birethani turns out to be pretty representative of the luxury to be had on this trail, in fact. A small, immaculate village, with guest houses providing a whole range of delicious nourishment.

Such as a breakfast of Tibetan bread and honey washed down with hot lemon and ginger. Delicious.

It feels quite decadent actually, sitting there on the terrace above the frothing river, sipping tea and gazing around. I try to imaging what it was I was expecting at the start of this trip but, in my relaxed state, the memory eludes me.

Suffice to say I had visions of snow and tents and dried noodles. Something brave and bold and harsh in any case. In the warm sun I sip my tea daintily and laugh. Trekking in the Himalayas, huh? Don’t mind if I do …..

After breakfast we all feel pretty chirpy and bright. This is the life! A few regular pit stops such as this and we’ll make it round the whole Annapurna circuit no problem.

Day one optimism and energy. Fools you every time.

Still, we set out up the path, heading to the village of Tikhedunga the first scheduled stop of the trek.

The lushness of the surrounding countryside has rather taken me aback. Green, green rice terraces rise up all around us. Gladioli sprout from the ground like some alien creatures. Fruit dangles off the banana trees. There are dahlias everywhere.

It’s so lush, so fertile, so, well, far from what I had imagined that I start to feel very inept, because I am unfamiliar with so many plant names and feel annoyed with myself.

Over breakfast Tania and I had hung over the balcony rail and gazed down at the garden below us, marvelling at one particularly tropical looking species that was entirely unfamiliar to us.

“Looks like it could be ginger. Or a hot poker or something.” Tania offers

“You reckon? I dunno.“

Even guessing at ginger or hot pokers is further than I’m going to get. I simply stare at the plant admire it, peeved at my own ignorance.

All along the path I gaze at the unfamiliar flora then decide simply to enjoy it even if I don’t know the names of a single one of the species.

We walk on, the sun rising high above our heads.

It’s a blazing hot day – above thirty degrees Celsius – and the heat is relentless.

But never fear! Laxman knows the perfect spot in the village of Sudami. A little cool pool of crystal clear water, near a small waterfall, where we can bathe and cool down.

It’s the promise of this which keeps us moving, and eventually, around 2 hours into the trek, Sudami rears into view and, true to his word, Laxman beckons us to the pool where we can bathe.

Now when I say we, I mean my Kiwi companions, Jeanna, Lucy and Tania. Kiwis are cold water kids apparently, so jumping into a glacial stream in the Himalayas is nothing, in fact, it’s a treat!

Dave and I though are Brits, a slightly more reptilian breed in some respects. We need warm sun on our skin, we need to bask and feel warm and moasty. Cold water swimming is simply not on the cards.

So we sit in a small cafe overlooking the bathing pool and watch our Antipodean buddies as they cavort in the icy water below us.

We drink tea and look bemused as do the local kids, a small crowd of whom have now gathered to watch the spectacle, and to join in.

After a while, my curiosity gets the better of me and I head down to the water’s edge to test just how cold the water really is. Under the blazing sun, it must feel a little warmer than it looks, is my theory.

Now, you know the feeling of an ice cube when it sticks to your hand after you take it from the refrigerator?

That tingling feeling left on your skin when you peel if off and plop it into your drink? Can you get a sense of how cold that is?

Okay. Then that is how cold the bathing pool was.

To me.

Not to anyone else, clearly. But to me that was how cold it was. Painfully so. Numbingly so. No way in hell am I ever, ever, ever getting in there, ever cold!

So how it was that Lucy, Tania and Jeanna managed to pass a fun filled 30 minutes in that glacial water, I will never know.

Kiwis must have special genes is all I can figure. Something thermal in the blood that us lesser mortals don’t possess.

Pit stop number two of the day over, we carry on another ninety minutes or so slowly and leisurely through the valley up to Hille where we will stop for lunch.

Sheesh! The drudgery of it all.

The tiny whitewashed village is nestled in between the rice terraces and the smallholding plots of buckwheat and corn. A true little paradise, a little cornucopia of abundance.

In the guesthouse we order lashings of food (after all it’s tiring work this walking malarkey). Noodles, Daal Bhat (rice, curried vegetables and lentil daal), fried rice, cokes.

And this is just lunch.

And lunch in Nepal, is a leisurely business it turns out. All the food is prepared fresh, so expect to wait thirty to forty minutes for lunch to arrive. A long wait perhaps, but be patient, it’s worth it.

Especially the daal bhat when it’s good. Basically this is a mixed plate of white rice served with a popadum, lightly spiced vegetables, pickle (containing marjhuana seeds apparently) and a lentil daal that has a soup like consistency. It is a perfect dish. A little bit of everything and all of it tasty.

And maybe it’s the comfort and relaxation than comes from good food, or the effects of the warm sun, or the walking and the swimming. Or maybe it’s that cheeky marjuhana pickle, but in any case we all kick back in the guesthouse and watch the world go by.

Watch as crowds of other trekkers march determinedly past us on their last climb up to Tikhedunga. After a while, Laxman turns to us.

“I think perhaps we should stay here tonight. I’ve been watching all the people head up the trail. Very many. The good hotels will be full now. It means a longer walk tomorrow, but perhaps we should stay here tonight?”

We look around at the cheerful streets, the flowers, the corn drying on the rooftops, the green terraces, the inviting dining room of the guesthouse, the delicious menu …. and we need no persuading.

“Sure, we can stay here!”

So we take a few rooms and settle in for the evening. Day one gone and not a blister or muscle strain among us…

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