Wafting cinnamon smoke, frazzle-haired golden highland cows, prayer flags eternally flapping in the wind, handmade copper bowls overflowing with offerings, bunches of bells strung together on fences, silhouettes of religious stupas decorating every high point, timeless waterfalls that have carved trenches into vertical rock walls, and gold threads of light knit together the morning sky. There are dramatic snow peaks layered in impossibly thick slabs of hard packed glacial ice. There are hawks and kites gliding over the Annapurna ranges, seemingly never flapping their wings.
There's no place on earth with more drama and few worries.
We started two weeks ago near Jagat, a long bus ride out of Pokhara. Each morning we would start trekking early and stop after lunch. The afternoons have been filled with card games, riddles, reading, journaling and watching a science fiction series called West World which fills conversations throughout the day. As we hiked higher, we took it ever so slowly, trying to escape altitude sickness. We also walked slowly because this region is surreal. There are cobble stoned villages stuck in ancient time to greet you along the way. Tibetan mountain dogs sit poised on stone walls and smile knowingly as we click clack with walking poles into town. Scruffy yaks with dread-locked tails navigate cobble stones with nothing else on their mind. We roll prayer wheels and marvel at stacks of hand carved stones.
The Nepalese are possibly the most raw and beautiful people I have ever seen; every mature adult is worthy of a portrait in an art gallery. Their taut skin has been stretched over a weathered existence, using their bodies to obtain all necessities. Bare hands tending to animals, building fires daily, scorched by sun and snow. Bodies used to carry huge loads with a strap slung around their forehead, dressed in the same heavy robes year round. The stories of their lives are whispered through the infinite lines in their leathered skin.
Our lives have been comfortable on the Annapurna Circuit. Our bellies have been full of buffalo milk chai, dry fried curry potatoes, apple pie, a bit of yak here and there, buckwheat chapati and an array of other starchy carbohydrates. Our eyes have been full of crisp blue skies and fresh views around every corner of the deep, winding gorges we followed. We hardly glanced in a mirror, showered only every few days, and hand washed socks and undies when needed. Our porters carried our gear; a mound of duffel bags roped together with a pair of stick legs jogging underneath. We couldn't have spent so much time enjoying ourselves if it weren't for their help.
Hindu pilgrims flock to one big town called Muktinath, where orange swathed sadhus hold out one hand begging and the other holding a smouldering joint. Once we got over the pass we could see that corporate civilisation is wrapping its oily hands around the Circuit; there are roads being jack hammered into existence, ripping a line through the ground to connect Nepal with China. Thirty five years ago my dad was here and slept in caves, twenty years ago my uncle was here and slept in huts, six years ago I was here and slept in basic guesthouses, now there are very nice guest houses and even a few trendy cafes along the way. The world is changing and we may not want to repeat the Annapurna Circuit in twenty years, but we will surely want to discover other far reaches of the mighty Himalayas.
It's been a dream run.