Stairway to Ulleri
The next morning, we joined a small procession of trekkers streaming out of Tikhedhunga, towards the stone staircase that would take us to the village of Ulleri. We took our time advancing up the steep hillside. Every so often, we’d come across a rest station that offered stunning views of the valley below us, and we made sure to take advantage of each one. Our guide would urge us to get on our feet again, and we would try to get a serious trekking rhythm going, but as soon as the next rest station appeared, we’d fall to pieces again and pretend we were merely stopping to take in the sights around us.
First Glimpse of the Himalayas
The top of the hill came soon enough, though, and with it a sight that took my breath away. From our vantage point, we could see clear through to the end of the valley, or, at least, we could see where it ended in cloud and sky. As we continued along the crest of the hill, however, the clouds began to drift apart, and then it became clear that what I was looking at was not just empty space. A massive snow-covered mountain range was unveiled – the scale of it was mind-boggling, on a different level completely from the Rockies that I saw the year before. I had trouble reconciling the size of the object in front of me, like it was a trick in the perspective, or an optical illusion. The vision soon became shrouded in cloud again, but it was enough. I had gotten my first glimpse of the mighty Himalayas, and that alone made the trek worth it.
The Fairytale Forest
After passing through Ulleri, our guide led us into the beautiful oak and rhododendron forests of the Himalayan foothills. The wild rhododendron trees, with their brilliant pinkish-red flowers and gnarled roots and branches, lent the trek a bit of a fairytale feel – looking back at the pictures from the trek years later, it certainly gives off some enchanted forest vibes. After filling up our water bottles and taking a dip in the mountain-fed stream in the forest, we stopped for lunch at Nangethanti, just in time for rush hour. Goats poured into town soon after we arrived, and our post-lunch trek was slow-going for much of the early afternoon. The absolute flood of goats covered the trail in a mass of white, washing up into the surrounding hillsides as the overflow forced the animals to find the path of least resistance. Our guide was not happy about the situation, but there was nothing that could be done.