When on vacation, especially when on a longer vacation through a minimally secluded place, without any deadlines or timetables to keep, days tend to blend into each other and the conventional passage of time becomes irrelevant, as the only thing marking it that remains of interest is the sun's movement across the sky (moon and stars too, but more often than not it was too cloudy at night for them to be visible). With that in mind, May 1st's arrival, which would have been expected with great excitement back home (because of the Labour Day extended weekend it brought), came pretty much the same way the previous days had come - quietly, uneventfully, after a long, restful sleep. Of note was that access to our bedrooms, and from them to the toilet, was made through a high deck from which we should have had a clear view of Annapurna II and III (which, as you'll remember from yesterday, were sadly blocked by clouds); of somewhat less dignifying note, I was woken up by an overflowing bladder and, after turning around in bed for a good quarter-hour in an attempt to suppress the natural urge, rather than brave the early-morning chill outside, I did eventually succumb to human physiology and, quickly throwing several extra layers of clothes over me, stepped through onto the porch, where I was treated to the most stunning view of the above-mentioned peaks, gleaming under the still, dark sky, barely lit by the sun, still far away and under the horizon, so much so that, for just a few seconds, holding it in didn't feel like such a titanic ordeal, before the cold wind brought me back to reality and reminded me of the strenuous grip I had on my bladder, forcing me to rush to the toilet. After that, more at ease, I took a few photograph, then realising it wasn't even 5 o'clock yet, went back to sleep.
|Still groggy from having just woken up, in very dim light and with no tripod, this is the best I could muster.|
When I woke up some 2 hours later, it seemed bright outside, but not as bright as I'd have expected. Stepping onto the deck, I was met with a disappointing sight: in the short time since I'd gone out earlier, the clouds had risen like a gray tide over Pisang and its surroundings, including - once again - the peaks we had hoped to see. Not only that, before we could finish breakfast, rain had already started falling in small drops, quickly intensifying to the point that we decided waiting it out, rather than brave the muddy slopes we'd have to climb today through the downpour.
|Sure, we'd had a warm breakfast to get us ready for the day, but we still didn't feel like going out into that.|
To my surprise, as we waited and time went by, rain drops gradually turned into snowflakes and before long, we were surrounded by an increasingly white landscape.
|We had the fire burning in the stove, we had the snow outside, all we needed was a bearded fat man in a red suit.|
Pisang (3250 n - Lower and 3310 m - Upper) was something of a fork in the road - from there we could either continue by the road all the way to Manang, a fairly straightforward walk along the river valley, or we could take the high road through Ghyaru and Ngawal (altitude 3680 m) for an extra day before descending to Manang, avoiding the road altogether, catching some arguably better sights and improving acclimatization, but fighting a steep, 300 or so meters climb. And while the original plan was obviously to take the high road, as the hours passed and the snow slowly built up, we started considering skipping it and going directly to Manang. In the end, with Dawa's wise input, we decided to tough it out on the high road; we waited long enough to have lunch in the same tea house, and as we ate the snowfall started to wane.
As as side note, Pisang brought with it a few more reminders that I was not in tip-top shape - my coughing fits had reached, as Adriana can frustratingly attest, their ne plus ultra in the previous night, dinner had brought after it a luckily temporary feeling of nausea and I'd started having small bouts of shortness of breath, which I suspected was due to a combination of altitude and the infection running its course through my system, and assumed would disappear as I'd naturally fight it off the next few days.
And so, bellies full after lunch, we set out through the receding snowfall towards Ghyaru, somewhat wary of the steep climb we'd soon find ourselves on but optimistically thinking that it was only some 300 meters, whereas we'd climbed twice that in previous days. The mild snow, by no means troublesome in itself, was mildly irritating (or perhaps the better word would be disappointing) because the clouds it associated itself with blocked out most of the sights we were hoping to catch on the way.
|We left Pisang behind, with the mountains behind it still enshrouded by clouds.|
Regardless, we trudged on the winding path, through mud and snow, towards Ghyaru, and boy was I forced to swallow my words of "only" 300 meters ascension, because steepness, altitude and common cold worked together perfectly to make a climbing experience that felt never ending.
And, in retrospect, I'm grateful for that, because as we moved up, the clouds started to gradually clear (in an unexpected switch of weather pattern from the previous days), revealing - at first timidly, still partly engulfed in seas of gray, then eventually in all their splendour, shining white against clear blue - the icy peaks of Annapurna II, III, IV and, a bit later on, Gangapurna and Pisang (as well as several other whose names I know not).
|Bit by bit, the clouds receded, slowly revealing majestic mountains behind them..|
|..creating blue windows through which we could glance at stern peaks, indifferent to weather's whims|
|The stupa was waiting for us at the end of the laborious climb to Ghyaru|
|And we followed the village narrow, quiet paths, with nary a soul to be seen.|
|We did encounter a horse, right at the village exit, contemplating the path towards Ngawal|
Walking slowly on a road that felt endless only made me appreciate all this more, as well as gave me ample opportunity to look at my more immediate surroundings, admiring the small, nearly desolate village of Ghyaru (most of whose villages had left for the city) with its stupa majestically overlooking the valley far below, staring wide-eyed (but, you know, not in an obvious way) at locals walking by us on the path from Ngawal, wearing but slippers on their feet (we were at 3600 meters and there was snow all around us!), excitedly taking photos of a small flock of what I believe was a pheasant-related bird (Himalayan snowcocks?), as well as a herd of blue sheep (bharal).
|Perhaps a Himalayan snowcock? A fairly pretty bird, at any rate.|
|So much so, that it likes to pose as if on a catwalk.|
|Ghyaru, now behind us.|
|A close-up of Gangapurna, I believe (though at this point I'm no longer certain), surrounded by translucent clouds.|
|I'm unable to identify the exact species, but it did soar majestically over the valley.|
|The lens glare couldn't be helped, but it was worth it for such a view of the valley.|
|We literally paused every 5 minutes just to look around and maybe take a few more photos|
|Dawa's silhouette, I can't say with any degree of certainty against which mountains.|
|Another bird. This time I've really no idea what it is.|
|Pisang peak, rising alone behind us.|
|The Humde airport, which we would have passed by, had we (poorly) decided to take the low road to Manang. An airport at 3553 m, mind you.|
|My first of many sighting of blue sheep.|
Although it felt arduously long, eventually Ngawal popped out from around a corner, just in time for me to try to (unsuccessfully) take some nice shots of the sunset. To that end, right after dropping our backpacks at the teahouse, I decided to dash up through the village towards what I assumed would be a vantage point, only to realise, after running for maybe 20 meters on a slight incline, that I was desperately gasping for air and needed to reassess how capable I was of running uphill at 3600 meters. I got my breath back quickly, but like I said, the sunset photos were lacklustre.
|The same view, through a telephoto and wide lens, respectively.|
|Pisang peak still gleaming in the sunlight, as dusk was falling over Ngawal.|
After walking around the village for just a bit more, I returned to the teahouse, where, once again around the stove, we had dinner and socialised, this time with a Malaysian couple. It was around then I realised that, in the past 3 days, I'd met and spoken with a fair number of tourists, and out of them all I knew the names of two - for lack of asking on either of our part. I could, on the other hand, accurately recall each one's country of origin, which I figured was because most of us felt names were largely irrelevant when spending a few minutes or hours talking to somebody, whereas where they're from plays a more important role in bonding because it helps bridge gaps much more quickly ("You're Romanian? I've been to a Romanian guy's wedding!") and, more importantly, finding people around me from such different places and different ways of life enjoying the same simple, beautiful things as I was, it made me feel that we all, regardless of our countries' borders, belonged to the same world.
|A last view of the Annapurna range, as their peaks were still defiantly shimmering against the encroaching darkness.|
|And then, once again, unde the first clear, starred night sky I saw while in the Himalayas.|