In October I was set for a 12-day trek to do the Annapurna Circuit. In the last minute I opted for an extension to Tilicho Lake too. I boarded a bus to a long journey to Besi Sahar from Kathmandu with a guide and porter. Then, we headed on a jeep for an adventurous trip to Syange where our walk kicked off. We could have gone directly all the way to Chame by jeep but I had enough time to walk.
Thanchowk was a little village just out of the main route to Chame where we stopped for lunch. The village remains mainly unspoilt as not so many tourists come this way. People from the Thakali caste live here. They don’t speak much English and not so many actually speak Nepali either. I tried to greet an elderly Takhali lady in Nepali with little success. Shyly, she quickly made a gesture with her hand to indicate she didn’t speak Nepali. So communication wasn’t so straight forward but I enjoyed that experience. Takhalis were very friendly and hospitable people and I feel I could have easily spent a couple of days there to learn more about their culture and traditions. That was a hidden jewel.
During the trip I went through a number of beautiful villages and magnificent views. Around Chame I saw some sort of ‘tiny kites’, thrown in the forest along the way. There were tweaks on top of which a diamond-like woollen shape had been knitted. I came to know that people in this area believe in bad spirits that follow you during your journey. They, therefore, leave these shapes along the way to mislead and fend off the bad spirits.
We reached Upper Pisang a bit late in the day. We rushed up to the gompa before the sun set. The monastery is being rebuilt since 1999. Each family of Pisang made a financial contribution for the cause. Those who couldn’t afford it, volunteered giving up 54 days of their time. The views from up there, to include that of Annapurna II (7937m), were simply spectacular. The sun shining on my face, the light wind fluttering my hair, the scent of incense coming from the gompa, the stunning views before my eyes, all danced in perfect harmony as the sun slowly disappeared beyond the mountains.
The following day we were set for Manang. On the way, we followed highs and lows and enjoyed the stunning views over the valley, slowly opening up. We reached Ghyaru, an exceptionally picturesque and charming village perched on the south face of a mountain. I was mesmerised by the beauty of this traditional village and the surrounding enchanting scenery. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there for the night as we had to reach Manang before dawn. We continued our journey towards Nawal, another hidden gem of this trip. We finally arrived in Manang, point of confluence between the treks going to Thorang La and those leading to Tilicho lake.
The following morning, after a comforting breakfast, we headed to Tilicho base camp to climb up to Tilicho Lake the morning after. Tilicho Lake is the highest lake in the world (4920 m) and well known for its exquisite beauty. I couldn’t wait to get there. The way to the base camp wasn’t all that easy and a little reckless indeed. We had to go across gigantic landslides that fall all the way down to the river. Luckily, it didn’t snow that day so we could successfully reach our destination. It was a bit challenging to climb up to the lake due to altitude but the views of the lake were breathtaking and needless to say worth the effort! The combination of the bright light, the spotless blue sky, the deep-blue water, and the snowy peaks around, it all created a perfect landscape symbiosis.
Three days later, we reached Thorong La pass, the highest mountain pass in the world (5416 m). My father had sadly passed away earlier in the year and I had promised myself that I would burn some incense sticks for him at the highest pass in the world. My dream was accomplished. I was brimming with happiness! The fact about being in this special place, the peaceful environment, created a special symphony of sensations for me. The same as Nepalis of the mountain regions do by burning an aromatic plant called ‘sunpati’, hoping that the fragrance will reach the Gods and my father in the Infinite.
A version of this article appears in print on January 14, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.