People travel to Nepal to conquer mountains. Sometimes the mountains conquer them. It was tragic to hear about the loss of more than 40 lives due to an unseasonal blizzard and avalanche on the Annapurna circuit while I was in Nepal.
I’d read a lot of things about the trekking industry ahead of my trip – sherpas risking their lives in order to make big money – but the complexity of what is going on in the mountains was summed up on the front page of the Himalayan Times during my stay.
The story contained quotes from an Israeli backpacker who described the moment when the blizzard hit – and how, in the confusion of the white-out, tourist began pleading with a 46-year-old porter called Pasang Tamang to rescue them – offering him sums of money in US-dollars to save their lives.
Tamang saved 20 foreigners during that storm but he could not save himself. His dead body was found in the snow…his pockets stuffed full of rescue-money – cash that he, no doubt, had planned to carry home to his wife and two children.
A week after the tragedy I flew to Pokhara – the closest trekking centre to the Annapurna circuit – to escape the smog and noise of Kathmandu. Nearly every person I spoke with during my four days in that town asked me if I was going to go hiking in the mountains – and each seemed dumbfounded when I said, “No, I think I'll just watch them” – as if nobody had ever travelled to Nepal to sit and stare at the snow-capped peaks.
I found myself mesmerised from the moment I laid eyes on those mountains – so unfathomably high – so striking – so powerful – so unpredictable. One minute they were towering over me – the next, they were gone – swallowed by the clouds as if they never existed.
And then, after hours of nothingness on the horizon, they’d burst through the blue – catching me so off-gaurd with their might and beauty that there was nothing to do but stand in awe and shed tears. In those moments, under those peaks, I felt so small – but at the same time was filled with a desire to be tall – to stretch myself to higher places – to make my life bigger.
I spent my evenings on the rooftop of my hotel, watching the shadows of the night slowly creep over the town – enveloping the rice paddies, then the buildings, then the surrounding hills. Above this darkening landscape the mountains would stand ever so still, allowing the last rays of the day to paint their snow-capped peaks yellow, then orange, then pink, then grey…and then they were gone for another day.