Pilgrimage to Annapurna Base Camp

 I never really think about this journey until a week before it. I only think ‘i will see snow, at last’ – I thought there will be snow in the base camp, but thank God, it’s October, and there’s no snow. This journey (That my Sherpa Guid said is the easiest trek in Nepal) was already very hard for such amateur climber like me, and snow will only add suffer into it.

About 1 year ago, in October 2016, my friend, Bagus Berlian and Rizal Rakhmat, just set up a budget-travel strat-up bussines. They called it: This new start-up needs logo and promotional tools to market their trips, therefore they offered me this ‘once in a lifetime’ deal – to design their logo and promotional tools, and get 12 days trip to Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Annapurna basecamp as the reward. I’d never thought of travelling to Nepal or trek to Himalaya before. So i said yes. I design their logo and some posters, then i fly to Kathmandu at October 1, 2017.
I never really think about this journey until a week before it. I only think ‘i will see snow, at last’ – I thought there will be snow in the base camp, but thank God, it’s October, and there’s no snow. This journey (That my Sherpa Guid said is the easiest trek in Nepal) was already very hard for such amateur climber like me, and snow will only add suffer into it.
The journey started at October 3, we move from Kathmandu to Pokhara with ‘tourist bus’ for about 8 hours. After admire beautiful Phewa lake, go for party in busy bee, buy some souvenirs and spent a night there, the real adventure is started at October 4. Everyone in this trip are new for me. They are Iwan – a Geologist, Rendy, Nia, and Andri. Our guide is Mingma Sherpa, that already climb mount Everest four times -listen to this, i feel like a paper doll. We got 2 porters, Binod and Nigmal.
At 7, we drove from pokhara to Nayapool with mini van, from Nayapool, we drove to Seewee, where we start our journey on foot. According to the schedule, we should walk for about 6 hours that day to a place called Jhinnu. There we go, up to hills, down to the valleys, accross the rivers on wobbling bridges. Iwan, the Goelogist told me, about the metalic surface of the stones and rocks that spread around us. It’s formed under very high pressure and temperature under layers of earth’s crust. Why are they here now? The Himalaya mountain range is formed because of collision between Indian Continental plate and Eurasian Continental plate about 50million years ago. Along with that collission, those pressured-heated rocks and stones leapt out and scattered over the region.
At 12, while we have lunch at Kyume, Mingma told us that all rooms in Jhinnu tea houses are booked, so we have continue our journey to next tea house clusters in next stop called Chommrong. I don’t know why, i stupidly believe that we will be stick at the schedule and find some room in Jhinnu. So, from Kyume to Jhinnu, i keep on thinking that the journey that day will be ended at Jhinnu.
After another valleys and hills and rivers and fountains (i got my water support from them); series of endless stairs and herd of donkeys that climb down over it; porters,mighty freight workers, guests, and Singaporean fireman that told us to step on zig-zag pattern over the stair, we finally made it to Jhinnu. Iwan and Rendy was so fast. They already gone ahead, while Nia and me, accompanied by Mingma are the last to reach the village. But then Mingma said, this is not the stop.
So what he said during the lunch is true. We were not sleep at Jhinnu that night. We have to go to the next stop Chommrong, and the good news is, it’s located on hills, 2 hours from Jhinnu. All up and very steepy. My energy was drained. I think my energy was drained. I need more rest, so Nia and Mingma leave first. I took my time to sit, take some photos, enjoy the evening and its cool breeze. Well, not so enjoyed it, i just want to get to the tea house fast and get real rest. But i was so tired, i need to sit every 10 -15 steps on that endless stairs over the hill, to catch my breath. I need more energy, but my chocolate bars was in my backpack, and my backpack is with the porter. So i move slowly. At about 6, i meet my porter, Binod at the gate of Chommrong. Our tea house was located 5 minutes by walk from the gate. I cannot simply ask for the chocolate, because my backpack is tied with other backpack and it’s silly to unload it 5 minutes from the destination just because i need energy booze.
After take 5 minutes break on that gate, we actually reach International Guest House, our tea house at 6.15. I think the rest of my team had reach it like 45 – 30 earlier than me. Some of them has already taking a bath. At my room, while eating my chocolate bars, i wrote down a journal for that day. I realized that what i think is my limit, is not my actual limit. Despite of my tiresomeness, I still can move, step by stap, stairs by stairs, slowly. While in my daily life, maybe it’s easier to decide ‘it’s my limit’ because to retreat is easy, and hundreds other choices are displayed. But when its happened on the mountain, it’s another story. For me, Jhinnu is a point of no return. I can’t get room there, and i cannot simply go back at Pokhara or Kathmandu, though i really want to. The only option to get proper rest and call it a day is on another steep hill located about 2 hours, called Chommrong. I wrote to a friend after that journey, ‘how if we pretend that we are on the mountain each time we got stuck on a problem, ready to raise up our hands and scream ‘THIS IS MY LIMIT!’?’ Maybe we can still goes on, maybe we don’t always have to retreat, maybe it’s not our actual limit.
‘Limit’ is an imaginative border create by our mind anyway. Why don;t just elongate it and got extra experience?
That night, i feel thankful that we should spent night at Chommrong. Since it was located on the top of the hill, we can see such beautiful scenery of Annapurna and Machapuchare summit, right in front of our verandah. It was fullmoon, so the moonlight are reflected over the snow on the top of these two mount. With the stars twinkling on the clear night sky, it was a surreal experience for me. I never seen any snow-coated mountain before.
The next morning, at October 5, we get down to another stop in the valley named Bamboo. This journey was short, only about 4 hours (yet the rest of the journey, we only go for 4 hours each, and arrive at the stop about lunch time). The path between Sinuwa and Bamboo are located under deep jungle. I feel the jungle is like the garden of the earth. With rock stairs and twisted twig and fountain. This journey was easy and cool, but I started to get bored from only walking and doing nothing. Then an idea comes to my mind. Why don’t make this journey a pilgrimage? I’m not so religious person, but when i got a chance to add spiritual value on something, i think to myself, Why Not? I startt to pray the rosary. I don’t bring my rosary, so i pray with my fingers. After a cycle of rosary done, i continue it with chant of Hail Mary. Sometimes, when i chant Hail Mary on my mouth, chant of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ earworming in head. I don’t mind.
Since Bamboo is located in the valley, we have to get down over very long stairs to reach it, and no summit should be seen. But that night at Bamboo, i was awake about at 2 in the morning. I plan to take stars and milky way photos (which is imposibble, because it was fullmoon). The moon is big and shines so bright, almost like a street lamp to lights the whole village. No other lights, just this moon. It’s reminds me when i was climb mount Sinai 3 yaers ago, it was full moon as well, and everything was so clear under that bright night sky. Under that night sky also, i found a left bamboo stick, that will help my steps in the rest of my journey.
At October 6, our destination was Deurali. From Bamboo to the rest of the journey we have to climb up and up and up. I start that day journey with Hail Mary, and i feel like almost meditating on that chant. Somehow i imagine myself as a hermit from hundred or thousand years ago, that took myself from the urban crowd, going to the mountain to expreience unity with my creator. With a higher being that is outside of me, but at the same time dwell inside me as well. While have lunch in a stop called Himalaya, Iwan told me, that that tea house is under risk of rock falls, because it was build under cracked rocky mountain. The crack is visible, and some boulder stones are ‘decorated’ some corners of it surface. Horryfying! To continue journey after lunch is not very pleasant things to do. Being tired and cozy, we still have to go to another distance, up, and up, and up! We got short break in a cave called Hinku, where we saw the blue roofs of Deuraly guest houses, and fog start to appears. Walking through the fogs was reminds me of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. For an urban person like me, to encounter nature could be very surreal experience, because hills and valleys are not my daily reality. Maybe the same thing will happened if you bring those mountainers and porters and freight workers to city live. I love this journey, but i think ‘Back to Nature’ is not ‘natural for me’. When we have to sleep at 7 o’clock in the evening, because electricity is limited, plus everyone is tired and have nothing to do, i really missed my life in the city, and all my ‘normal life’ productivity. It’s still other 4 days before back to city life!
October 7, we will arrive at Annapurna Base Camp by lunch time. The path is going up, but not so steep as the days before. Just it’s stony and bumpy. I keep on my Hail Mary while inhale the cool air of dawn. We start our journey by 7, but i just see my first sunlight about 2 hours later, at around 9, near Machapuchare base camp. From around Machapuchare Basecamp, the vegetations are drastically changed. No more tall trees, only savannah and shrubs, and boulder stones here and there. The panorama between M.B.C and A.B.C was magnificent. I found myself touched when in was in a spot where i can see Machapuchare in the East, and Annapurna on the West. I got into a higher ground, take photos, then sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ it was one of not so many spiritual moment in my life. I feel so close to my Creator, I feel so thankful that i am there, on that very spot. For a while, i forgot about my leg pains and my tiresomeness. I don’t meant to be religious, but while i sing, i shed a little tears, and i said, ‘O Lord! How Great Thou Art!’
Annapurna Base Camp is already very near, i can see its roofs, the journey will be ended in the less than 1 hour. There are some people compile stones to built little temple for Shiva. I rested on that place, and built my own temple for my own God. While i built it, i still feel spiritualized. I sing the Psalm 63 and shed a tears again. Unfortunately, my temple collapsed before i take a photo of it, the remains was just a short trmple with little flower on the top of it, but it’s okay. Since the ground get higher, and the fog starts to appear about at 11, i start to question myself, why am i not reach it yet? I chant psalm 63 now, and pretend that A.B.C is my Jerusalem, final destination of this pilgrimage. While i got closer, it’s getting harder to breathe. I stop every 10 steps, and eat my chocolate bars while A.B.C was very near. I need energy booze!
I’m the second person in my group to reach The Welcome board of Annapurna Base Camp. Iwan, that reach it first already taking a nap. Not so long after that, my other companions are arrive. I’m so glad we finally made it! I might not do this kind of journey in next 5 or 10 years, but this one is really One in a lifetime experience.
While we reach our destination, we saw a helicopter, it transport the passangers from Pokhara (i guess) to A.B.C in no time. Will their grateful feeling to reach that place is as great as us, that has walk for this last 4 days?
Annapurna Sanctuary, our Guest House has very warm dining room, people are eat and jumble there. It has no electricity, and all electronic tools are powered by solar. Foods and Drinks are expensive there, a couple of toast will cost you about $7. No wonder if you see the efforts that being made by those freight workers.
I woke up at 5’o clock on the next day, October 8. We will see the sunrise over the summit of Annapurna Summit. It was clear dawn, i’m so glad, since the day before is all foggy, so we cannot see anything behind those thick fog. The other thing that i should thankful for is, despite of my almost drained battery for my camera (no electricity means no charging battery), i still can took some good shoot of that morning scenery. The golden rays gracefully coloring the snowy top of Annapurna. From the place i stand, i can see al path from my place to the summit. It feels near, but of course it’s not.
There’s a Korean girl wearing her hanbok to take photo of that magnificent morning. I don’t wear special costume, only light down jacket and stripes sweater. Then i took photo in a monuiment built for the climbers that fall down while climbing the Annapurna. It’s only still half of our Journey, we will have 8 hours journey to go to Sinuwa, and tommorow, another 8 hours to Kyume. So, after finished my breakfast, i took my bamboo stick, and chant my Hail Mary.
The pilgrimage is not over yet. When i feel tired, i remember my porters, their burden is about 20 -25 kgs – 2 guests backpacks, and their own bag. My burden is only camera and water bottle, and few light things inside my sling bag. I’m Strong! I’m tougher than a paper doll.