I woke up sore all over, on the day of the final descent. New muscles had begun to ache across my upper body. Unsurprisingly so, since for the past two days I was basically trekking with a crutch.
But my knees were in pain again, even before I got out of bed. So it was not the best morning, even though I was actually no longer quite so cold. We had descended a considerable distance from Annapurna Base Camp.
Nonetheless, I felt a kind of calmness. The kind where you know there’s no help for it but to accept the situation and carry on, somehow. After nine days of monsoon trekking through mountain trails, feet always squishing in wet socks, rationing clean clothes and often sleeping cold, I wondered how I must look.
Actually, not too bad, I thought.
There again, I do have a strange tendency to look my best after having been exposed to the mercy of the elements, yet struggle to look healthy in the city.
But I did have one friend who could somehow tell that I was struggling. I appreciated that. Not many people can see how I really am.
You do not look happy? he had asked with concern, when others were mostly just in awe of my monsoon expedition.
Inflamed knees and constant cold would do that. Ah, I’m such a tropical mermaid after all.
Re-entering Annapurna farmlands
We left Jhinudanda’s (lack of) hot springs to return to the mountain trails. Even on the final day the monsoon sky was still overcast, blank and white, although thankfully at least it held back from raining.
As we stepped back onto the flagstones paving the trails near the hot springs retreat, I noticed that we had returned to the area where the stones were shot with silver flecks, like the paths on the first day.
We trekked as quickly as I could manage. The trails became less sylvan and more monotonous, often passing through habitations. There were steps, but they were not as steep as before. Nonetheless, because my knees had deteriorated, this became harder for me proportionately.
Despite all of that though, I was still feeling grateful. I had seen some amazing things, and felt I learned a little bit more of wisdom. Thinking back to all the little animals that had come out in the recent days – the cute little gerbils and the birds and butterflies – why, I thought, it was almost like being a Disney princess! All I needed was for a butterfly to land on my finger!
And what happened next, is 100% true.
Annapurna’s blue farewell ambassador
As we stepped down along the route between farmed terraces, we were suddenly met by a bright blue speck on the path stone. We stopped short, expecting the butterfly to wing its way away, after sensing us on the path.
But it didn’t. It simply stayed there, waiting.
Curious, we came closer, camera at the ready. Still, it did not budge. We took pictures of the butterfly, and it stayed put. And when it started moving, it was not to fly away. It was almost as if it was waiting for us specifically.
Then it began to dance. It stepped its way left, and it stepped its way right. Round it went in a half circle, snapped its wings sharp, and twirled.
You could not find three happier ladies in the mountain, I’m sure.
Devi videoed it right to the end, until it hopped from one stone to another on the path. And flapped away.
And she was looking for it, looking, looking…
But the blue butterfly winged right back around.
And it landed – on my finger!
I simply could not believe it. Especially mere moments after I had wished it to complete the Disney princess theme!
Its delicate legs tickled my skin lightly as it crept around, but it didn’t fly away. Obligingly, it stayed for a while, allowing us to take as many picture as we liked, as close as we liked.
At that moment, I did not care about the pain in my knees. Everything in the world was absolutely perfect.
The last of Annapurna’s monsoon waterfalls
Eventually, we came upon the Modi again, its turbid waters just as fast flowing as on the first day. Here, the countryside was the picture of rustic idyll, farmland and fallow all peaceful beneath the slow drizzle of rain.
Against the hill, shooting out from the forest, a waterfall drops down to find its way to the river. A lone water buffalo supine in the grass, ears flicking away flies from about its face.
But that was not the last waterfall of the trek. It would not be monsoon trekking to be let off so soon!
We came upon the final one soon after this. It came into view quite dramatically, as we rounded a bend in the trail. A slender stream of rushing water, flowing so fast that when it struck a ledge of rock in the middle of its fall, the water sprayed high up in the air, creating a curtain wall of water.
I was sure that, if the sunlight had been at the right angle, rainbows would be thrown up against the waterfall.
Passing through the Annapurna jungle
We had lunch at a rustic restaurant not too far after the waterfall. I remember it was a quiet place, the rain dripping around us. It had a sign saying yak cheese was available to buy, but they didn’t actually have it at the time. Too bad, I was wondering what yak cheese was like.
But it couldn’t be lunch time forever. Reluctantly I got back on my feet to resume the journey. By this time, I was switching my trekking broom stick much more frequently between left and right – both the knees were complaining. So much, that there were few photos from this day.
The forest from here on in, felt the most like Malaysian forest than anywhere else in the trek so far. It was warmer, and there was a kind of thick humidity that felt familiar to my senses. The paths were siltier as well, which made for more muddiness. Occasionally there were passages through trails where the shrubbery had grown to almost enclose it – I can imagine it would be eerie in the evening.
The perils of monsoon trekking
My guide received some information from a passing villager. If I understood right, one of the ways down had collapsed in a landslide, not uncommon during heavy monsoon rains.
I can’t remember for sure if we took a different route. Pain erased a lot of my detailed memory from that day. Nonetheless, on the route that we did take, we still came upon a portion that had slid away.
We needed to get across to the path we could see on the other side, but there was only a slope of rubble in between. My guide scanned it and judged it passable, explaining to me the route she would take – and therefore, also me. Before she crossed, she told me to cross quickly, not stopping to take pictures.
“Cross now. You can take pictures afterwards,” she said, as she turned to cross. “The slope is not finished sliding.” And she was off.
The slope is not… what???
I took a deep breath, commended my soul to God, and followed resolutely after.
And of course, the trusty Seema took it calmly in stride. Nothing seemed to faze that girl.
How I got to Nayapul from Syauli Bazaar
The trail grew wetter even though the weather didn’t. Puddles collected among the leaf litter, and made for muddy-clayey paths. This was the hardest part of the trail for me – but paradoxically, it should have been the most familiar. These monsoon trails were very like Malaysian jungle paths.
But I had never hiked with my knees in such pain before. My guide reassured me, every now and again, that we would reach Syauli Bazaar soon.
When we did, it was a bit of a surprise. We emerged into a bustling little village centre. Not charming and rustic like Chomrong, but in the ramshackle way of Nayapul and much of Southeast Asia.
Devi sat me down somewhere – I forget where – and we all took a rest.
And then she asked, “Do you want to hire a car from here to Nayapul?” She told me that the rest of the way was basically just going to be a trek on gravel roads, like the beginning of the first day. Boring, was the implication.
I paused. I really didn’t want to give up. But then again, I was on my, er, last legs. I had to be well enough to last all the way back to Kathmandu, and then for whatever it was that I might do in India. Besides, the ‘real’ trekking part of the trek was over.
I decided to be sensible, and asked Devi to negotiate a ride down to Nayapul for us three.
The questionable driving on Nepal’s winding roads
Soon we were packed into a jeep, amongst a local family on their way back to Nayapul. They were cheerful in that way of group trips out on chores.
After some further negotiations, the jeep started off, Bollywood music blaring, on roads as narrow as the ridiculously slender country lanes in remote rural England – except they were untouched by Roman or Scot engineers.
Straight ahead it went, bouncing and jouncing on the gravel road that wound tight against the hillsides down the mountain. It was a madcap rollicking ride, the jeep sped and braked, careering at the edge of cliffs as it slid by other vehicles, honking madly at goats suddenly appearing from the verges.
But I had consigned myself to God since the still-slipping slope. There is a kind of tranquility to that, which allows you to be extremely tolerant of the ill-advised perils of the situation.
And as you can see, I happily survived.
Did Annapurna turn me into a trekker?
A question that’s hard to answer! I certainly did not regret doing the trek. And I think I understand now why my friends are into mountains. I pushed my limits and learned much about myself along the way – which is an important reason for my travel. I’ve certainly learned more than I bargained for about trekking in the Annapurnas during the monsoons season as a novice trekker!
But I began that year considering to do Macchu Picchu at the same time as my Easter Island trip for my birthday that year. Late November or December would be rainy season in Peru. And despite the enlightening and humbling experience of monsoon trekking in the Annapurnas, I simply didn’t think I could do wet trekking twice in a year.
Will I trek again? Maybe – never say never!
But for now, I leave the mountains and the monsoon behind.
Carbon offsetting information to Pokhara, Nepal
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Pokhara via Kathmandu produces carbon emissions of approximately 2,807 lbs CO2e. It costs about $14 to offset this.
Trekking in the monsoon was difficult, but it taught me joy in difficulty.
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