Hiking the Foothills of the Himalayas – The Annapurnas
Hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas was on Mark’s bucket when I met him 14 years ago, before a bucket list was a thing. Sometimes a long anticipation of such a thing can end in disappointment once realized. Not so with hiking in the foothills of the section of the Himalayas called the Annapurnas. Truly some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
Our flight west from Kathmandu to Pokhara (100 miles) shadowed the Himalayan Range on its south face. We flew along at 10,000 feet with haze filling the sky from a few thousand feet below us to several thousand feet above us. We had deliberately sat on the right side of the plane for a view of the mountains, but all we could see was murkiness. And then suddenly, there were the peaks of Langtang Himal, Ganesh Himal, Gurkha Himal and Annapurna Himal, snow-covered pinnacles sticking out of the haze miles above us.
Each Himal is a complete mountain range within the Himalayas with many high peaks, spectacular glaciers and deep gorges. In fact, the Kali Gandaki Gorge is the deepest gorge in the world, plunging 18,278 below Annapurna I which bounds it at one point.
It was humorous to watch the woman in front of me searching, searching at eye-level and below in vain. When she finally looked upward and noticed the startlingly white peaks high above us, her surprise and delight were obvious.
Our first trail came as a very pleasant surprise. We started the hike from Lumle village, and the trail was COMPLETELY stone-paved… the flat parts, the ups, the downs. And mostly in big flat flagstone type paving, not small uneven cobble-y stones. And not just for a small stretch through the village; the stone pathway went on and on and up and down for miles. For anyone who has hiked up and down the hillsides of the Amalfi coast, it reminded us of those paths, though much more sparsely populated here in the Annapurna Conservation Area. Wow, I remarked to our guide, how nice of them to make the trail so walkable for all us tourists. He just laughed at me. Apparently, the paths have been paved for hundreds of years, by the locals who’ve had to use them to get to/from their farms and villages without roads.
We were hiking lodge-to-lodge with our local Gurkah guide, Mani, often away from the main trails. We shared quiet routes with farmers and the domestic traffic of locals and animals: women bearing huge bundles of vegetables, sticks or plants, sturdy young men transporting enormous loads on their backs, mule caravans carrying rice and propane tanks. The landscape of the terraced hills is delightfully beautiful. The vibrancy and density of the vegetation was surprising to us. Even now before rainy season (June-Aug), the landscape here is much greener and more lush than what we experienced in Bhutan.
We enjoyed every moment of our 5 days of hiking the foothills of the Annapurnas; the scenery and the details of daily life were mesmerizing. A man and his ox plowing tiny fields, uniformed children climbing up or down a mountain to arrive at school, millet being threshed by cows driven round a pole, barefoot women bent over rice patties, weeding one little plant at a time. But the biggest delight of all was when the clouds and mist finally cleared and we had a stunning close-up view of the 30-mile-long Annapurna Himal. As icing on the cake, the next morning we were treated to a clear morning sunrise lighting up the behemoth peaks while we sipped milk tea.
And here a just a few pics we managed to snap on our drive out of Pokhara (flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu cancelled = 6 hour drive over bumpy, crowded, windy mountain roads… ugh). The stonework on the houses around Pokhara fascinated us, and the bright trims made us smile. One thing we couldn’t capture as we were snapping pics from the car below as we zoomed by, but many of these buildings had an outdoor spiral staircase up to a small ‘lookout’ upper floor…some architect or ironworks manufacturer really started a trend – it was everywhere!