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Reaching For The Sky - Part VII

2016 09 06

Nagarkot is not far from where we live – a mere 26km. Back home that would mean a 15 minute drive. [Approximate Cost: R20/Rs150.] In Nepal it involves one of two options. You could take a taxi, which would deliver you at your destination within about 90 minutes. [Approximate Cost: R400/Rs3,000.] Or you could take a 10 minute stroll to the bus station, wait about 30 minutes before the bus departs, enjoy an hour’s journey to Bhaktapur, then change to another bus, wait another 30 minutes, and enjoy the last leg of the trip: another hour to 90 minutes into the hills. [Approximate Cost: R10/Rs70.] The total travel time in this case could be as much as 3 to 4 hours. Yes, life sure is different in Nepal.

Especially the difference in scenery. While it’s true that life moves at a different pace here, the view more than compensates for the adjustments we’ve had to make. In South Africa, we’ve never taken our morning walk through terraces of rice paddies. The view in Kimberley, while close to my heart (especially when you’re sitting on the other side of the world), has never included layer upon layer of mountain-sized hills, fading away in the mist. And that’s still only in Kathmandu. Now, transport yourself to Nagarkot (if you don’t have a Star Trek transporter at hand, just use the modern version: Google Images.) Here the number of man-made structures decrease drastically, and the alternating landscapes of forests and farmland refreshes the soul. Nagarkot (altitude 2,195m) was originally a strategic fort, from which rulers in the Kathmandu valley could keep an eye on neighbouring kingdoms. In time, it became a retreat for the royal family, and eventually the tourist industry discovered it. These days it’s one of Nepal’s most well-known hill stations. On a clear day, you can see 8 of the 13 Himalayan ranges from here: the Annapurna, Ganesh Himal, Jugal, Langtang, Mahalangur (Everest), Manaslu, Numbur and Rolwaling ranges. It also provides beautiful views of the Kathmandu valley and what we fondly call “the green mountain” – Shivapuri National Park.

So we set off one morning towards Nagarkot with one goal in mind: to practice for the Annapurna Circuit. We’d been invited to stay at the home of some of our friends, which includes the famous Nepali hospitality. This means that the early morning hike was delayed until mid-morning. We set off from their house at the entrance to the town with the ubiquitous blue backpacks, heading for the view point, a few hundred metres higher. In the past we’d been driven along this road, as well as walked and run to the top, so we had some idea as to what lay ahead of us. In hindsight, it’s clear that the human brain works in mysterious ways. Even though we could remember the fact that it was a long, uphill struggle, there was one little detail that remained hidden from our memories. That little detail was the fact that the road to the view point seems never-ending, even though it’s less than 5km.

Each time a hill drains your reserves, you tell yourself the view point must be just beyond the next bend in the road, only to face an even steeper stretch of road once you’ve turned the corner. Halfway up the mountain your patience with your hiking companion may be tested to the limits, and you might find that your body automatically kicks into a new gear. Your blood pressure may spike because That-Man giggled when you said you were going to DIE after about 30 minutes of up-hill trudging. You’ll be asking yourself if it’s true that exercise lowers blood pressure. You’ll pray that it’s true, otherwise you might not die walking, but because of bad temper, and who’d want THAT written in their epitaph? You’ll start bargaining with yourself. How much do you really need to exercise for a hike such as this? Are humans not naturally able to walk? We each have two feet and two legs. We walk every day. Is all this really necessary? Is the view point coming up at that corner? Why does That-Man not apologise for his insensitivity? When will this end? Why bother putting up mile posts if no-one can read it because the paint has faded? How far do we still have to go? ARE WE THERE YET?!?

Eventually, we passed the Army Base, a handful of tea shops, some tourists out for a leisurely stroll, a whole troop of soldiers with guns and targets on their way to the shooting range, the Army Barracks and the Meteorological Department, and eventually we reached the tea shops at the bottom of the steps that lead to the view point. It actually exists! It’s not a mirage, shifting further away with each step you take. (On second thought, mirages probably require flat landcapes, horizons and dry heat, none of which were present that day.)

As it was still September and the rainy season had not yet passed, and as we arrived at the view point late in the day, any possibility of seeing the awe-inspiring Himalayas were squashed. At least we didn’t DIE on our way to the top, so we turned around and set about descending the hill-which-would-qualify-as-a-mountain-back-home. They say what goes up must come down, and it’s true, but the question remains: “With what amount of dignity did i come down?” Steep inclines are tough, but i find steep descents are more challenging. Gravity can be cruel, you know. It pulls and tugs and aims to bring you down.

Not that i'm ungrateful for gravity on an ordinary day. Thank goodness we’re not flying around with everyone and everything else. Getting to the top of a floating mountain, now THAT would be challenging. (How would you be able to measure the altitude of a floating mountain?) But while your heart and lungs and hamstrings tire very fast when you’re climbing upwards, gravity seems to call you more earnestly when you return downwards. And when the hills are as constantly steep as these, the call seems almost impossible to ignore.

Thankfully we drowned out Gravity’s voice with some of our own chatter, discussing our plans for the trip. The mere thought of standing atop “the world’s largest pass” thrills me and fills me with a healthy dose of nerves. Can you imagine what it must be like? i can imagine many things, but i'm convinced that the reality will be extraordinary to me. Yet, to the people of the Manang and Mustang regions, it will be just another ordinary day.

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