Cold (Part 1): In a time before snow

I love a contradiction. And so, in complete disrespect to the title of this little ’novella’… it’s hot. Its bloody hot.

Barely had we stepped from our rough-and-tumble bus from Pokhara. So few steps had we taken up a dust strewn road. Already we were stripping off layers and stuffing them mercilessly into already laden backpacks.

The sky was piercingly blue – a magnanimous gesture from the heavens – for our first Himalayan day. Many steps lay ahead. Many metres to climb. Yet buoyed by the weather our spirits were high and we were glad to be finally on the path to Thorong La – the widest pass in the world – the objective of our ’jaunt’! Lying at 5416m we would be aiming to cross this inhospitable and perpetually frozen waste in the depths of winter. However, that lay many days away, and as the sweat beaded – and fell – from our foreheads it was hard to imagine subzero temperatures.

As we turned slowly up the winding valleys along sandy roads we were occasionally deluged with dust thrown from the tortured tyres of speeding jeeps. Thankfully in winter few make the journey, but the few times it happened made us wish for the trails to come.

Each step was an escape from the towns below and brought us closer to the mountain and its people. Passing Nepalese always ready with a smile, hands held together, and a lilting ‘Namaste’.
Children always ready with a playful glint in their eyes and, more often than not, bubbles in their hands.
An the land lifted ever so gently from the horizontal the tumbling water roared through the valley that much stronger. This latent power – held within the turbulent waters of the Himalayas – has caught the ever-greedy eye of Chinese neighbours. And as the quiet trails every now and again gave way to roads we were greeted with the eyesores of construction, the clash, clank and clamour of steel machinery and the sadness that so often accompanies progression.
Alongside the electricity cables that already spew out in every direction across the mountains large scale hydroelectric dams are well underway. Whilst it his hard to begrudge such an isolated place the conveniences of the modern world, as we walk just that bit quicker through the chaos, we find it hard not to wonder if the convenience that progress brings might not be at too great a cost.

The trails that brought us to this catastrophic construction also carry us higher and away from blighted landscapes and back to a more peaceful simpler life (at least for now).

Where simple stone buildings house generations of families. Sometimes we found ourselves questioning just how simple these buildings were as with even cursory glances finger, arm and even body wide cracks could be found in the walls, windows and archways allowing biting night winds to rip through the rooms without issue and cause us to question the stopping power of our sleeping bags. We wondered whether construction would improve with altitude where winds would bite with increasing ferocity? (SPOILER ALERT: The buildings did not improve!)
With each passing town more friendly faces came and went. Teenagers whiled away dull winter days with simple games that required deft dexterity.
And as those towns fell away behind us we felt ourselves falling into the rhythm of the mountain. The gentle – and not so gentle – rise and fall of the valleys and the slow perpetual climb towards those still distant peaks.
As expected each footfall brought with it an ever chilling air. In the sun sweat still poured from every surface but behind the ever imposing shadows of the mountains the wind would turn instantly chill and; when the wind saw fit to roar, hands found pockets quickly and nimbly.

Despite the changing climate the land in places remained green and verdant. Although dust and brown barren slopes was the order of the day where water cascaded – which in did in gallons – life abounded. Crashing from outlandish heights…
… Or hidden away from view, water created magical alcoves of life.
As slopes steepened cold tendrils invaded the early morning hours. And as we rose from the warmth of our blanket covered sleeping bags and dressed for the day ahead the cold vestiges hidden in our clothes made us shiver and scream.

The cold brought as its companion a new landscape. From brown to white the transition was slowly made. Underfoot we still trod the dirt, but gazing up at far off peaks a tantalising scenery beckoned; a treat for the eyes and mind…
… Made all the more grand with just a ’twist’ of setting sun.
The wind continued to blow colder and with it the temperature followed with its ever steady descent. Almost unnoticed except for the odd patch of old snow. Water frozen in time.
Amidst this chilling landscape life continued. Villagers use to freezing temperatures continued without batting an eyelid. A frozen pipe here, a road glistening slick and slippy there. The animals likewise continued to move and munch. It was only us that seem to take note, as with each passing day we begged louder (and earlier) for ’fire’.
Alongside ice and slithers of snow manifestations of the Buddhist faith became more prominent with our perpetual climbs. From rough-hewn stupas on rocky outcroppings to fields of prayer flags in full bloom, writhing and whistling in the brisk mountain air. As colours faded from nature, the human hand had seen fit to replace it.
And so with snow still only really gripping the peaks above us we crossed a well worn wooden bridge into our next town. Loosening the laces on our boots, stretching out ever tightening muscles and warming extremities next to the blazing fire we sat and pondered on the days to come and reminisce on the early days already gone.
We felt ready for the next leg of the journey. We, unlike others, were no where near ready to hang up our boots…

’No guide. No porter. Just Dal Baht Power. Twenty four hour.’

This part of the story covered the following:

Day 1: Besi Sahara – Nadi Bazaar
Trekking time: 4.25 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 760m / 930m / +170m

Day 2: Nadi Bazaar – Jagat
Trekking time: 7.00 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 930m / 1300m / +370m

Day 3: Jagat – Dharapani
Trekking time: 5.50 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 1300m / 1860m / +560m

Day 4: Dharapani – Chame
Trekking time: 6.45 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 1860m / 2670m / +810m

Day 5: Chame – Lower Pisang
Trekking time: 4.45 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 2670m / 3200m / +530m

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