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Travel: Bistari, Bistari

Travel: Bistari, Bistari

  • 02 Mar, 2014
  • Mumbai Mirror

The Sherpa 'slowly, slowly' mantra works wonders on the 13,545-ft Annapurna Trek.
I am standing on the 150th step of a stone staircase that is made up of 3,000 steps leading from Tikhedhunga to Ulleri — an ascent of 1837 feet. My breathing is ragged; my heart beats in my ears like a tribal drum heralding war and I have a mild ache in my chest. 
I wonder if signing up for the Annapurna Base Camp Trek was a misjudged move. The ABC trek is one of Nepal's most iconic and one that goes to the base camp of the South Face of the Annapurna mastiff. It is from here that teams attempt to scale the mountain. But for the recreational trekker, getting to the base camp is itself quite a trip. It starts from Nayapul, is an hour from Pokhara. A six-hour drive (or 45-minute flight) will take you to Pokhara from Kathmandu. 
It's just the first half of the first of the 12 days ahead and I already feel as if I'm headed towards a cardiac arrest. 
But then a small voice in my head tells me that it has been the same for the three treks I've done in the last seven months. 
The first day is always one when you feel like throwing up, throwing in the towel and turning back. 
Keshav, the assistant guide of our group of five, says "Bistari, bistari, this is your time, enjoy the Himalayas, try to spot some birds, breathe in the fresh air and go at your own pace" 
Bistari, Bistari is local lingo for 'slowly, slowly' and it is a phrase that sherpas and guides often use because they want you to realise that the whole point of trekking in the Himalayas is to take your time, enjoy the walk, savour the views and get there when you will get there. 
So, I take his advice and continue slowly and eventually reach Ulleri - the first night halt. The next morning my close brush with bypass surgery is a thing of the past. Maybe it's the cold fresh air blowing off the snow-capped peak of the Annapurna South that I can see from the window of my teahouse but I am feeling more energetic than yesterday. 
Sun spotting 
I walk at my own pace not trying to keep up with the rest of the group and I realise that I can sustain my energy longer. The trail today climbs higher and goes through magnificent forests of oak and rhododendron and arrives at Ghorepani which is quite the popular hub since three trek circuits in the region go through here. It is also the base for an early morning walk to Poon Hill and back which is known for spectacular sunrises over the lofty snow capped peaks of Dhaulagiri 1, Annapurna 1 and Annapurna South. There are scores of trekkers climbing Poon hill, all defined in the dark by only their LED headlamps. The climb is probably steeper than the one to Ulleri, but today, though I don't exactly scoot up, my pace has improved and I stop to rest fewer times. The sunrise is a washout, thanks to dense cloud cover. But yet there is a singular 30-second opportunity when a gap in the clouds aligns itself exactly with my camera's viewfinder and the spot where the sun peeps from behind the Dhaulagiri. In the few seconds that follow, the sky is awash with splashes of gold, orange, indigo and red. 
We've been steadily ascending over the past two days and enroute from Ghorepani to Tadapani I realize how high up on a ridge we are really trekking when I hear the drone of a plane and look skywards to search for it. Keshav taps me on my shoulder and points down at the valley. The plane is actually flying a few feet below us. 
People watching 
The location of the tea house (Hotel Grand-View) at Tadapani takes my breath away. During the evening the setting sun lights up the Macchapuchre to make it look as if it is on fire and we have ringside seats from the terrace of our Teahouse. 
I am told that the trail now gets a little harder since it traverses a few ravines. This means we have to climb down steeply to where a bridge spans the ravine and then climb steeply up again. It sounds disheartening but once again I take Keshav's advice and take small steps at a steady pace and I find myself actually walking without my breathing hard or my heart beating in frenzy even on the uphill sections. Keshav tells me that I have found my Nepali Nirvana - the right pace at which I can walk for hours together without reaching exhaustion. The trail continues to traverse ravines and kholas (streams) across the creased and crumpled topography and we steadily head towards the Macchapuchre and the Annapurna. The trail alternates between dense forests and terraced hillsides but through all this the views continue to hold us spell bound. 
Halfway through the trek I realise that all my initial aches and pains have faded away. I am more surefooted over broken sections of the trail, have a keener sense of balance over slippery tree-trunks that are often thrown across streams as makeshift bridges and the eight-kg pack on my back seems to weight nothing at all. It is on the last two days from Bamboo to ABC via Deorali and Macchapuchre that the views get even more overwhelming. On the 2.5 hour walk from MBC to ABC where we climb from 12,135 feet to 13,545 feet. ABC is a hive of activity since it is also the base for expeditions that want to climb the Annapurna Peaks. All teahouses here have good restaurants and fairly decent rooms and I am amused at the cross section of people and nationalities this popular trek draws. There's an elderly Russian and his shapely mistress, an American couple doing a round-the-world-trip, a student from Heidelberg called Patrick, Liane, a South African kickboxing instructor who works in Dubai, two blondes from France and two nurses from Denmark. There is a group of guys from Korea and a group of Caucasian ladies from Buenos Aires. The former are trying to impress the latter with a very out of key rendition of Don't Cry for me Argentina. 

Getting to ABC from the road head of Nayapul has taken seven days but we make the return trip in just three. 

On the way back I see trekkers headed towards ABC slowly struggling up the steep inclines I did a few days earlier and I feel an incredible sense of achievement. Today I feel lighter of body and clearer of mind. 

 Don't go solo 

This trek comes as a 15-day package. There are several trekking agencies you can book through. Check out: Active Holiday Company