Annapurna Circuit — Day 4

Happy

I awake to the roar of the river and roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing. I stand on my balcony, gathering my washed clothes from the evening before. I can’t tell if they are still damp, or merely cold. I look out at the massive expanse of mountain and sheer cliff in front of me. Daylight has not yet quite broken. I breathe deeply, the cold mountain air filling my lungs.

I didn’t pack a mirror with me on this trip and it’s been surprisingly liberating. I feel beautiful all of the time. I know by conventional standards, I’m not. I’m sweaty, I wear no make-up, and my hair is tied back randomly.

We begin the ascent. It appears to be endless steps and switchbacks going higher and higher. A few minutes into it and I must stop. My head is spinning and I can’t breathe. I stop at one of the switchbacks and look at the view. Pine trees, everywhere. I begin again, slowly. I make it a few steps and have to stop again. I sip some water and try to breathe deeply. I tell myself that once I get to the top I’ll have a nice long rest. Except the top never comes. I stop again, sitting on a rock, my head between my knees. Min asks if I’m okay. “Very dizzy. Need to rest.” “Oh, you see all the colors at once?” “Yes, like that.” Is this altitude sickness or simply not being properly fit to take on an 18 day trek in the Himalayas, I wonder to myself. After a good rest, lots of liquids, and a few bites of a Luna bar, we start again. With many pauses we make it to the top where Durga is waiting for us, pack laid aside. He and Min exchange words in Nepali. “Did he think we were lost?” I joked. “Yes,” Min solemnly replied.

As we walk, it begins to drizzle. Not heavy enough to be considered rain, but enough to be slightly uncomfortable. I put my raincoat on over my daypack. We walk. I’m hot. Is it better to be hot and dry or comfortable and wet? I opt for the latter. The entire day is spent putting my raincoat on during heavier sprinkles and taking it off during reprieves.

“Want to see mill?” Min asks. “Sure,” I reply. We deviate from the path, up a hill and through a thicket of trees, pausing by a small shack next to a stream. Inside work three people: an elderly grandfather who appears to be blind in one eye, and two sisters, 8 – 10 years old. The younger sister is excited to see visitors, she stops her work and comes to us, smiling. The older sister and elderly man work to solve a technical problem with the mill. Moments later, the older sister runs up the hill, releases the water, and the mill starts grinding wheat, producing a fine flour, dust fluffing. The younger sister runs in, then comes out, hand outstretched. She offers me some of the fresh flour. I taste it. It’s delicious. The wheat flavor bursts through. It literally melts in my mouth. I smile and thank her. She responds by smearing her face with the fresh flour and laughing.

Moments after placing my backpack in my room, it begins to rain. Not just rain, but downpour. I say a special prayer to the gods who have allowed me to be inside rather than out at this moment.

We are talking over a pot of tea, Marlies and Sofie, the mother and daughter from Holland. Our feet are warmed by the pot of hot coals placed under the table. Suddenly, all electricity is gone and the room goes black. The grandmother of the house scurries in with a slender white candle. She lights it and places it in between us. We continue our conversation by candlelight, sipping warm tea. To our left the young twin boys of the household, in the matching black and white striped knit hats and red shirts (a Nepali version of Where’s Waldo?) play a card game by candlelight, their heads bent intently over the game. It’s a lovely way to spend the evening.

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