Day #43: Trekking the Himalayas
On the third day of trekking, our alarm rang at 4 am so we could see the beautiful sun rising behind the majestic Himalayan mountain range. The day was promising to be the longest of the 4 days. We had 10 hours of walking up and down in front of us and our first destination before breakfast was the Poonhill top.
We woke up in a freezing room! The cold had been penetrating the room all night long through the thin wood walls and the one layer window glass. Although we were under 3 blankets, inside a sleeping bag and fully dressed, we suffered. We got up and finished dressing up with a pair gloves, a winter jacket, a scarf and a pair of boots. I grabbed my dear companion green bamboo stick and Jess her two walking sticks and we were ready to stepped out of the tea house. We met Mariana, Tiago and our guide Madhav at the reception of this little and traditional mountain guest house. Outside, the moonlight was so bright that it provided enough light to see the path in front of us. The way up was hard! The lack of oxygen and the exercise from the previous days made it even harder but we all felt that the effort was worthy. The sunrise lasted for an hour and it was a beautiful movie of changing colours with a view to the majestic himalayan mountains: Annapurna and Fishtail. Beside trekking for the sake of trekking and exercising, we were there to salute the rising of our dear sun that invites the world every day to new beginnings. I believe, it was inviting us for this new project: Food for Soul. :)
The Poonhill trekking is an 80 km trail surrounding the hills of the big Annapurna mountain, know for its beautiful nature and landscapes. Poonhill seemed the perfect trail for us as it was considered easy and could be done in just 4 days. Naives to this sport/hobby, we found ourselves in a challenge that was everything but easy. Our entire journey was a mix of beauty and physical effort of up and down. Even I, who loves to go for long runs and had done marathons in the past found myself in moments of physical struggle. Every day was very similar and followed a simple routine of: walking up, eating, walking up, eating, more walking up and some down, and sleeping. We would walk between 6 to 12 hours a day depending on our performance. Before we started it, this reality was far to be understood by anyone besides our guide because no one in our group had done proper trekking before. However, suffering would come with some rewards. The landscape and nature was untouched and changing according to our pace. After the serene rice fields came the lush green jungle and on the top came stunning views over the Himalayas. After expansive views came the splendour of the jungle symphony. Birds, insects and water streams all singing together in an effort to communicate with the world. Nature there is so relaxing and beautiful.
On day 1, after walking 2 hours we found a great spot to swim in a freezing water stream. This bath gave us some muscle revitalization for the rest of the day. Water was so pure and close to its source that I almost wanted to drink it. Jess and I quickly realised that we made the mistake of bringing too much stuff with us. We were carrying around 9 kilos each and it was not easy. We could now start to understand the effort this was going to be. Everyone had its own strategy and pace to approach this physical challenge. We finished our first day with a 3 hour walk upstairs. I lost the count of the steps, but I would say we climbed at least 5000 steps. At some point, I carried Jess’ bag in a trial to help her. :)
Day 2 was the easiest. We only had to walk for 6 hours. I was very excited to try my camping stove and to make our second breakfast. Our eating habits had to be spread throughout more breaks in an attempt to restore energy for the next intensive hours of walking. Usually, I would cook the second breakfast around 11 am for everyone in the middle of nature and do some apple, honey and toasted nuts porridge along with a ginger tea with gingsen and honey. Mariana had brought an amazing instant porridge with maple syrup that we would mix with regular oats. This was always an impatiently expected moment of the day and it would provide us with extra motivation to walk faster during the mornings. Along our trail, we would come across small villages of 3 to 10 houses, called tea houses. These are the guesthouses where people stop to eat and sleep. Only locals, are authorised to own a property or a business so that this mountain area stays protected from unreasonable tourism. All the villages seem to have adopted the colour blue as part of their identity. All the food here is grown organically and you can see beautiful vegetable and colourful flower gardens around each tea house. Every village produces its own beans, rice, corn, millet and raw honey. Moreover, many other ingredients are sourced in the jungle. I had the chance to try the delicious dry and fried jungle spinach with soya seeds on one of the Dal Bhats (It is the Nepalese traditional dish made of lentils, rice and vegetables). These areas are also known for having many different types of super foods that Jess and I might one day love to better explore.
Day 3 was the hardest day and we felt it hard on our body. After the beautiful sunrise at Poonhill, we still needed to walk 4 hours up to then start our way down for another 4 hours. We were all super excited to reach the start of our descent. At 3000 metres of altitude, vegetation started to change again. Jungle became a forest of bamboos and old trees covered in moss. Views from the top of the hills were impressive and we could clearly see all the surrounding mountain peaks covered in snow and the smaller hills, it was gratifying. Another characteristic of this trail is the number of human porters. A porter is a common profession in the trekking business where locals are paid the little amount of $15 a day, which includes everything (their food and stay), to carry other peoples' bags during their trekking. It was impressive to see all those young and old man carrying sometimes more than 20 kilos on their back with a ribbon attached to their front heads, sometimes for as long as 15 days. We felt bad for them and it seemed unreasonable. Moreover, other things like merchandising products and foods would circulate between villages through a system of carrying mules. We finished the day exhausted! Once again, we were fouled by our first impression: going down wasn't easier than going up.The impact of gravity on our knees and ankles made each step down harder to control. Also, avoiding to slip became a new challenge.
On day 4 we arrived safe and sound at the starting point but we were physically and mentally tired. After the first days of the trekking over-exercising, we could only count on our mental strength to keep pushing until the end. It was interesting to see how everyone reacted to this challenge. The mental strength of each one of us was being fed by different types of motivation. In this particular situation, I came to discover that I am clearly more self-motivated during physical challenges compared to Jess. I can take pain more easily and I am able to enjoy more easily long periods of effort. This doesn’t mean I didn’t find it as hard as she did. My reaction in this context was to rely on my introspection and an inner motivation to keep on going. This led me to experience the challenge more by myself. I was able to keep my mental up through intrinsic motivation. Jess, on the other hand, found her source of motivation through the environment. The people and the beautiful surroundings were what kept her going. She had more esteem for her own body than I did and over exercising for the sake of it wasn’t her cup of tea. She seemed to have suffered more and relied on sharing it with others to make it easier. For her this was a challenge to be lived together in order to find meaning. It is interesting to understand what are the different types of motivations that drive human beings to achieve things. The right balance of self-motivation and self-esteem are clearly essential ingredients to achieve anything as hard as it might be.
I feel we all achieved something big, I would like to congratule Jess, Mariana and Tiago for the effort! Next time lets think about it twice before and plan some pre-trekking workout! ;) I hope Tiago recovered well from his leg muscle strain.
Jess and I decided to stay in Pokhara for a week to restore our strength and enjoy a simple routine. Those days, led us to create our first Food for Soul test product: a hemp and cotton t-shirt! Soon to be shared with all of you ;)
We are heading back to India to the holy city of Varanasi and Bodhgaya.