Sunrise at the Edge of the World
It was still dark out when we headed out the next morning. Our goal was Poon Hill, about an hour’s climb from Ghorepani, a popular place for trekkers to catch the sunrise. We shuffled out into the cold mountain air, our guide leading us through the town and onto the trail in the pre-dawn darkness. Other dark figures could be seen making their way up the hillside, and within minutes we had joined the silent army, a line of bundled-up figures stretching in front of and behind us. The hike was mostly quiet, except for the semi-regular exhortations of our guide, urging us to pick up the pace in order to reach the summit in time. As we scrambled up the last few steps onto a small, grassy plateau, the sky had already begun to shift from the deep black of night to the royal blues of a new day dawning. A small crowd had formed at the far end, where it looked out onto a dark valley, a shivering audience waiting for the curtains to go up. Below us, the shadows of the valley began to dissolve and recede, and hints of forests and rivers and foothills emerged from the morning mists. We watched as the sun’s first rays lit up the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas across the breach – the twin peaks of sacred Mount Machhapuchhre, Dhaulagiri I (7th highest peak in the world), Annapurna I, Tarke Kang, Tukuche Peak, and Gangapurna – and then, all of a sudden, a blinding invasion, as the fullness of the sun emerged from behind the stone curtain. The sight of it was breathtaking, and all second thoughts about the early morning climb were dismissed and dispersed in the sun’s relentless light. After a few moments more, we turned around and headed back down the hill. Breakfast awaited, and we still had another full day of trekking in front of us.
The Deurali Pass
This was probably the best day of the trek, in terms of what we were able to see. After witnessing the sunrise in the morning, we packed up our things and headed back into the blossoming heart of the rhododendron forests towards the Deurali Pass. The Himalayas remained at our periphery throughout the morning’s hike, but there came a moment when the treeline broke and we walked out onto a ridge of hillsides that gave us an unbroken view of the mountains across the valley. We had arrived at the Deurali Pass, and over the next hour or so, we took our time wandering the hillside trail, interspersing our hike with brief periods of lying down on the grass or sitting on cliff-sides to survey the panorama of sky, mountain, forest, and valley. From our vantage point, we could trace the unbroken contours of the Himalayan landscape, from the top of the highest peaks, down into the forested foothills and valleys below, ending in grassy plains or river bends. The entire scene was so big, so immense, it hardly seemed real, like I was looking at an incredibly detailed matte painting. Whenever I think back on this trek, years later, many of the images that come to mind are from this day, and on this pass.
After making our way across Deurali, we began to descend, leaving the mountains behind us. We hiked for another couple of hours before arriving at Tadapani, where we would be staying the night. Of all the hostels that we stayed in, this was the most basic. The shower line started outside the kitchen, where we waited outside until somebody in the kitchen had boiled enough water to fill up half a bucket of water. Afterwards, with bucket in hand, I was led downstairs into the basement, a dark maze of mud and wet brick, until I arrived at a bare, unlit room with a metal spigot. The idea was to fill up the rest of the bucket with cold water from the basement tap, and then use a smaller bucket to scoop out the warm water and splash over my tired body in a vain attempt to feel clean. For dinner, we had our usual metal tray of dal bhat – steamed rice, lentil soup, and a mishmash of vegetables – and mac and yak cheese. Our guide was fueled on a steady diet of dal bhat and fresh yak milk every day, so we followed his lead, at least with the dal bhat. The yak milk was not terrible, but we much preferred a hot mug of masala chai instead. In any case, sleep that night was very sweet.