Facing Mt Annapurna

GS Laitonjam *

Why do people of the advance Academy of Manipur (ADAM) go very often to the mountains? The same queastion has been asked many times by many people. The obvious answer according to my opinion is- We love wilderness walk.

Really speaking, there are lots to be learned from mountain, climbing and trekking. We are facing hardships in it and this in turn helps in easing mounting tensions, stress and strain develop in our will power, physical strength, adaptability, endurance etc.

Two months back ADAM had organised for a trekking trip at Mt Annapurna Base Camp in Central Nepal and consequently a team of fifteen members left Imphal on the 5th September 2009 for Nepal. Since I was once in that trial I took the role of a guide for the team which was led by Shri Ng Tomcha Singh, the president of the Academy. The team was flagged-off by Shri Salam Rajiv Singh, the present vice-president of ADAM.

On our way to Nayapul, the initial point for trekking we spent a day at 'Pokhra' the favourite spot for tourists. Then on 10th September we left Pokhra by bus for Nayapul. Trekking trials for Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Fishtail peak, Annapurna III etc branch off from Nayapul/Chandrakot. We started our trekking in the afternoon and reached Birethanti, a market centre situated at the confluence of Modi Khola and Bhurungdi khola, after half an hour.

After submitting the necessary documents at the check-post stationed at Birethanti we crossed a bridge and proceeded through cultivated areas until we reached Shyuli Bazar. Leaving behind Shyuli Bazar at 3.30 pm and Kimche (1600) at 5.15 pm we climbed upwards to reach the targetted destination at Gandrung.

Being a journey of the first day we felt much tiredness in trying to cover the targetted destination. Anyway we reached the place at 7.15p.m. Gandrung (1951m), pronounced 'Gandruk' is one of the largest Gurung villages in Central Nepal. Its slate-roofed houses are clustered on the higher slopes amid a complicated network of terraces where wheat, maize, barley and pulses are cultivated.

On the morning of the eleventh September we left Gardrung for 'Chumrung' (2030 m). We took much time in negotiating the leach infested muddy trial. There was stress and strain besides fatigue, sweating and thirst. The sweats poured out from the pores of my body drenched the clothes which I wore as a result the welted clothes were clinging firmly to my skin thereby captivating me from free walk.

At an occasion I was about to collapse because of dehydration. In spite of drinking three/four mouthfuls of electobion solution I had the eagerness for drinking water. After covering nine kilometres in eight hours we were now on the doorstep of Chumrung. We reached the place at 3.15 p.m and decided to stay at Himalaya View Guest House for the night.

In 1994 there were two or three lodges at Chumrung but this time I found a number of rest houses all catering the needs of the ever increasing tourists. At Chumrung it was interesting to see the snow clad peaks of the 'South Annapurna' and Fish tail. On seeing the serenity of the peaks I forgot everything what I felt on the way to 'Chumrung'. But such a joyful moment did not last long by the overlapping thought of the next day's journey which would surely be a repetition of the previous one.

On twelfth September we left behind Chumrung by descending through many wide stone slabs until we reached 'Chumrung khola'. Crossing the stream we climbed up towards 'Dovan' via Sinuwa and Bamboo. Now the trial becomes crowded with many Europeans and oriental tourists.

We hardly found any Indian tourists apart from ourselves throughout the trek. Whenever the foreigners met us, they greeted us by saying 'Namaste'. We responded by the same word 'Namaste'. While going towards Dovan I saw luxuriantly growing rhododendron and Oak forest alternating with bamboo groves.

Encompassed on left and right by towering rocks heavily clothed with mountain vegetation Dovan (2650m) is nestling by the side of Modi Stream. We took seven hours to cover a distance of nine kilometres from Chumrung to Dovan. At Dovan, interestingly, the daughter of the lodge owner enquired me about the identity of our group. She also asked me if the leader of the team was a Lama.

I told her-We were neither Tibetans nor Nepalese but Manipuris. I knew she was more confusing with the word Manipuris. No response came form her except the small gestures shown by her smiling face. We stayed for the night at Dovan where the delicious bamboo shoot curry we had at dinner reinvigorated most of us for the next day's assignment.

On the thirteenth September we started to resume our trekking by crossing many streams ascending from the top of steep mossy cliffs. we went through a trial which was shoddy, often tangled with roots of trees and at the same time strewn with sharp edged rocks. While climbing the upward trial my whole garments which I wore without changing from the start of trekking were all soaked with sweats, therefore, it smelt bad.

When my breathing was in rasping gasps I bent down slightly and inhaled deeply the thin air as much as I can to get enough oxygen for purification of my blood. In such a situation the icy water which I drank was just like a magical potion in restoring my lost energy.

On the way to 'Fish tail (Machapuchare) Base camp' we came across settlement areas like Himalaya (2920m) Hinko Cave (3015m), Deorali (3250m) and an open ground known as Tomo. Here Modi Khola flows in an awful manner with huge waves successively striking against many huge boulders to transform its icy waters into white froth and foam. Leaving behind Modi Khola we then proceeded upwards through the foot of a moraine ridge.

Now we reached the 'Fish tail Base Camp' (3700m). As we had decided to stay here for a night we spent the night at a lodge by paying Rs.75/- (Nepal Currency) per bed and 400/- per non-veg dish. The milk tea cost Rs.40/- per cup. A moonless night here in the high altitude areas is not a gloomy and dark night generally find as a phenomenon in the lowland areas. In such areas we find only a feed varieties of birds which can be adapted to the harsh climate of the region. Of these birds, green pigeon is remarkable.

Unlike doing in the lowland areas you may listen hardly any noise including even the chirping sound of the birds in early morning. Machapuchare is always cloudy in the evening and at dusk its temperature decreases suddenly. Here the air is very thin and moist but luckily no one suffered from high altitude sickness.

The final climb to the Annapurna Base Camp started in the early morning of the fourteenth September. Since we kept all the ruck sacks at the custody of the lodge owner at the Fish tail Base Camp we moved to the Annapurna Base Camp as fast as we could. On the way we saw some of the most beautiful flowers of the area. The trial was not so steep as it did in the previous journey.

We reached the first lodge within one and half hours. The Annapurna Base Camp (4130m) is situated on a shelf near the west side of a glacier at the foot of a spur from Annapurna South. Crossing an old moraine we reached the edge of the Base Camp after thirty five minutes from the last lodge. Now we reached the final destination after four day's toil of hard walk. A sense of euphoria and enthusiasm thrilled everyone of us.

On the sight of the majistic, snow clad peaks I felt then as living beings who guarded their hidden treasures. It was beautiful to took at but how dangerous it would be in climbing its steep walks. In the next moment I thought of the mountaineers like Maurice Herzog, Christ Bonnington, Reinhold Messner, Jerzy Kukuczka etc who sealed South Annapurna (7219m) and Annapurna I (8091m).

In my mind I also mourned for those who lost their lives in their attempt to scale Mt Annapurna. Suddenly a thundering sound of avalance disrupted my trance. In the meantime I nodded my head to the mountain as a mark of humility. When I saw Tomba Sharma offering something to the mountain deity I felt quite sorry for myself as I came here empty handed without bringing anything from home for offering.

However, I offered something, something which was not tangible and that was nothing other than 'regard' and 'humility' I had already shown to the snow clad mountain.

* GS Laitonjam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted at on 16th December 2009.

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