Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sarangkot, 1590 meters

Saturday was reasonably sunny, so we decided to make the hike up to Sarangkot the following day, inspired in no small part by the Lonely Planet's claim that "The view of the Annapurna Himalaya from Sarangkot is almost a religious experience." I've come to take such claims with a grain of salt, of course, but I'm pleased to say that in this case (and thanks to a break in the weather), they seem to have gotten it right.

Sunday morning I joined Alex in consuming his usual, the massive Trekker's Breakfast: Oatmeal porridge, banana lassi, eggs, toast, home fried potatos, and coffee; all for about $2. We set out with our daypacks, following the road away from Lakeside for about 25 minutes before seeing what appeared to be the turnoff for the trail. A few men were working to build a stone road through a massive spread of rocks, dirt, rubble, trees and branches. We later learned that this was the product of an enormous landslide brought on by last year's monsoon, the wettest in some seventy years. The path over the landslide was rough, but soon enough we found ourselves climbing along a trail through the forest.

We cruised along for the first hour or so behind a guy lugging an enormous pack, all of us huffing and puffing, until we came to a clearing. There we saw the sky swarming with paragliders, like dozens of colorful insects. I realized then what our mate as carrying on his back.

The rest of the way took less than an hour, including a slight detour to the paragliding Take Off Point. We watched a tandem run and take off, the greenhorn shouting at the top of his lungs.

"Kot" means hill fort, but not much is left of the old kot at Sarangkot. The fort's site is currently occupied by a small military installation cum viewing tower and a Shiva temple. Ground has been broken (by the Sarangkot Committee for Religious Propagation) for another, larger temple, in honour of Durgha, I believe. After eating lunch and checking into a corner room with magnificent view, we climbed up to the lookout point to catch the sunset. It was too cloudy to see the sun directly, but the various breaks in the clouds created interesting photo opps, I mean light phenomena, like Jacob's Ladders. It was windy and rainy (and considerably higher than Pokhara, so considerably colder). On the way out, one of the Army guys asked if I'd take his picture. I told him 'maybe tomorrow'.

There's not much to do in the village of Sarangkot, so we walked around the town for a while and took too many photos. Then we went back to our room, took more photos, and got out our sudoku books to occupy us until dinner. Exciting, no?

We were out of the room around 6:30 the next morning. The previous night's rain had cleared the way for an amazing sunrise. We skipped up the stairs to the lookout point, where we found a couple dozen mostly-Chinese tourists already there. (Note: I've been surprised by the number of obviously-wealthy tourists from Mainland China that I've come across in Nepal.) As the sun began its ascent over the hills to the distant East, everyone began madly taking photos. Honestly, I often feel that digital photography is more disease than hobby.

The really huge mountains of the Annapurna range are to the North-northwest of Sarangkot. Due North is the nearly perfect pyramid of Machhapuchhare (6997 meters), the subject of the above photo. Before the sun actually made its appearance, it cast a reddish light on the northern range. Beautiful.

Once the sun was up in the sky and we were photoed-out, we went back to the guest house for breakfast. Around 10:00 we began our descent, which as usual was more challenging than the ascent had been. Alex's knees were wobbling by the time we reached the road.


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