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Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Day Five: Breathless

Shafts of sunlight dissected the dark morning sky, shooting straight and bold from behind the glorious fish-tailed peak of Machhapuchhre. It was 5.30am, and I was stood on the balcony of our guest house, once again rising before the big yellow ball of energy hit the sky. A lazy morning was spent watching the sun climb up over the mountains before us; it was 8.30am before we left the village of Chomrong.

For the first time on this trek, my legs were sore. My calves had paid the price of our descent from Poon Hill at 3210m to Chomrong at 2210m. We had a long day ahead of us; a six hour walk and 1100m climb to the Himalayan Hotel, which would be our last stop before reaching Annapurna Base Camp the following day.

From Chomrong, we descended 400m to the bottom of a valley, and briefly followed a small river before reaching a bridge to cross. Letting the others go ahead to the bridge so I could photograph them crossing over, I jumped off the path and onto a rock by the river’s edge to capture Salik on the bridge. A couple of snaps later and I jumped back towards the path. I threw my foot out onto what I thought was solid ground, but instead fell in a ditch with all the grace of a drunk Paris Hilton, slamming my forearm and my camera into the path’s edge in the process.

Thankfully my camera escaped unharmed (lens hood, people, I can’t say enough good things about using a lens hood), and my arm received little more than a graze. After cleaning myself up I caught up to the others and we began climbing up the other side of the valley.

It was a steep climb (is there any other sort in the Himalayas?), one of those climbs where you put your head down and don’t look up for half an hour. All you concentration goes into following the pair of feet in front of you, and trying your damnedest not to imagine sitting in a pub back home with a cold beer. And when you finally do look up, all you see are more stairs, going up up up up and up (starting to sound a bit like an Ani Di Franco album now).

Once the climb leveled out, we descended into the forest of the next valley, and followed the Mhodi Khola (river) up between the green-topped ridges on either side of us. The noise of the river echoed around the valley as the water crashed over the rocks. The sound would rush past your ears as you turned each corner and crested each little rise.

The powerful river was being continually fed by small streams that fell down the valley and crossed beneath our feet. On the other side of the river, the landscape was much rockier and steeper, and narrow streams of water raced down the almost vertical cliffs, criss-crossing each other like the veins in your arm.

We reached our destination just before three o’clock. The shower beckoned. Well, shower is a rather generous term; I was standing on a wet concrete floor in a tiny brick cubicle. I had to slouch my head forward like a hunchback to avoid slamming it into the wooden beams and corrugated iron roof. It was cold in there; the afternoon clouds had moved in and we were up at 2900m. To wash myself, I had a tap that spat out cold water, and a bucket. And when I tipped that bucket of icy cold water over my head, I’m not ashamed to say that I let out a little bit of a yelp (well, it was a damn big yelp, what with me being a pansy and all).

Now that I was clean, and totally invigorated (the cold shower was actually rather good), I wandered back down the path for a bit, and found a rock on which to sit and relax. The river raged fifty metres below me, the noise rising up and floating out of the valley.

I watched as a group of deer, five or so, jumped from rock to rock along the shoreline, chasing each other’s tails. They were barking deer. That’s right, barking deer. Babu had mentioned them a few days earlier.

“That noise, that is barking deer.” I could hear a dog barking in the distance.
“Oh, you must mean a barking dog,” sometimes Babu’s English was not so good.
“No no, a barking deer. It is a deer that barks like a dog.”
No shit. Although their bark is not the powerful guard-dog like bark. It sounds more like a hoarse dog coughing up a lung.

I watched the deer below me silently jump out of sight. Misty clouds hid the ridges above m, looking cold, but somehow gentle and friendly. I felt a million miles from anywhere. The only thing that could’ve made life better at this point was Bec sitting beside me.

I missed her like crazy.

Songs of the day: Ryan Adams – Come Pick Me Up, and Nick Cave – Breathless. I think subconsciously I was trapping songs my my head that were eerily appropriate to my state of being.

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