They're building a road across the Himalayas. You can now drive to Everest Base Camp where you can enjoy wifi and other modern luxuries. I'd heard a lot about trekking in Nepal—a lot of people have done it. The style of hiking is called "Teahouse Trekking", owing to the numerous small guesthouses/restaurants lining the trails. You can walk almost indefinitely with few supplies; sustenance and shelter is provided for you.
I'd heard a lot about the impressive vistas and the necessity and omnipresence of Snickers bars and the all-you-can-eat dal baht. But no one had told me about the hyper-efficient agriculture or the way the steep mountains cause the fall colors to explode into a horizontal rainbow of green to dead in a single glance across the valleys. The Maoist revolution signs posted on doors and trees were a surprise to me, as was the marijuana growing wild alongside the trail.
If you just want to reach high points in the Himalayas you can drive there, or with enough money take a helicopter. But it's not about just getting to the top, at least not for me. For me it was about the journey. That's why when the trail forked off the new road, I took it, even when it was longer and involved far more up and down. I had no external factors rushing me along, and cresting the pass, even at 5,400m/17,800ft, is no exceptional task—thousands of people do it every year and a 68 year old woman did it the same day as me.
I spent the first couple days of my trek alone, passing very few people as I journeyed. Eventually I joined up with a Dutch couple and eight Israelis. Meeting people is part of the fun of hiking in the Himalayas, though as a lonely Israeli guy reminded me in a lonely city near the end of my voyage "You're always meeting up with people, getting to know them and as soon as you form a connection, they're gone." Don't I know it.
I was enjoying the company and hitting my stride—the first day of trekking completely kicked my ass—so when most of the group I was with decided to detour to the worlds highest lake (subsequent fact checking on my part revealed that it's not even one of the ten highest lakes on earth) I chose to go with them. Tilicho lake is a two-day side trip from the standard Annapurna Circuit. The second day involves getting up real early to best the weather and give yourself plenty of time to climb the 800m/2600ft scree and reach the lake at nearly 5,000m/16,400ft before turning around and hiking most of the way back to the main trail.
When I looked outside at I saw a giant mountain towering over base camp. "That wasn't there before." I thought. It was a feeling I was starting to get used to. High clouds conceal monstrous mountains and often shift to reveal false peaks and trick you into thinking that the mountain is smaller than it actually is. The Himalayas are a whole new kind of huge and have a presence that can't be captured with pictures. The region is so mountainous that there's no good reference for the true behemoths and any picture you see of the true goliaths has it's base at around the neck of the mountain. Images are deceived by parallax.
The hike to Tilicho lake was arduous, but for some reason I was able to fly up the path. Eventually I passed all the other hikers. I was passing an Australian couple who had also been making good time when it began to snow. To most people, being caught in a snowstorm high up in the mountains may not seem like fun, but to me and the Australian woman it had it's charm. She had never seen falling snow before and I had entirely missed winter last year and it reminded me of home. The smile on my face was large, but it slowly faded as I sped past the Australians and reached the plateau and the visibility began to diminish.
"My dad will be so mad if I die like this." I thought. "I wonder if I'll be able to follow my own tracks back or if they'll be covered up by then? There's no lake up here, or if there is I can't see it. I know I shouldn't, now that the trail is beginning to get harder and harder to follow, but I'm gonna push on and look for the lake." Eventually I came upon a small body or water. "This is it?" I took a selfie and grabbed a frozen snickers bar out of my pack. "Good, I can still see my tracks." On the way back I met the Australians. "Did you make it to the hut?" They asked. "Hut, what hut?" "There's supposed to be a hut at the lake." A moment later we heard a bell and then a man on a horse came dashing through the storm like the headless horseman riding through the fog. He sped past us. "Well, he must be going somewhere." I remarked. Having company and horse tracks to follow, I felt better about pushing on for the lake. Eventually we came to Tilicho and the hut with the recently arrived keeper starting water to boil for tea.
I didn't get a good view of the lake like the people that hiked up the day before me had, and I didn't have nice weather on the day I crossed Thorung La Pass like the people that crossed it the day after me did. But the whole time I had an excellent journey. The day after I came down from the snow I took an alternate route through charming Tibetan villages. When I thought the sun was setting on my expeditions I was tempted into taking a two-day excursion to watch the sun rise over Poonhill. I had fine weather for the entire 1,600m/5,250ft climb and descent, but I didn't think the sunrise was anything spectacular. The important part of that journey was meeting cool new people and having a deep-fried Mars bar for dessert.
Weather may suck and sunrises may disappoint. Temples get old and sometimes you don't even reach your destination. If you do everything you can to make the journey more enjoyable, the trip is bound to be a success (even when the highs leave you breathless but unamazed). For me that included taking a 24 box of Snickers on the trail and some of the other things that are worth their weight in emotional enhancement. I found more happiness in the gold colored leaves and the blinding flakes of snow than I did in the tops of the worlds highest mountains. I made some awesome connections and observed a lot of interesting (horti)cultural practices. It wasn't what I expected or what people had told me about, but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless.Soundtrack: Different Drum (The Stone Poneys)