It was here – the first day of proper trekking! I think we were all keen to put our hiking boots to good use (mine for their debut) and get stuck in. As our guide, Pasang, had briefed us the night before, today we were in for a long day.
We needed to begin our ascent up the mountain, and that meant a long 8 hour hike up a steep stone staircase, through neatly terraced hillsides on our way to the top of Ulleri. As we rose early, the sun was not yet out and temperatures were cold. But as I quickly began to learn, it’s all about the layers in the Himalayas (rhyming unintentional) as after a couple of hours, the sun emerged mid morning and it warmed up extremely quickly, plus the sheer exertion of walking on a constant uphill made sure we had our sweat on. It was a constant striving to retain a good balance, but I made sure I was prepared – with about 4 to 5 layers to play with everyday in and out of my ‘Mary Poppins’ bag, much to the amusement of my fellow travellers!
Once it hit midday, the sun was at its strongest and this was hard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the heat and I’d much rather be walking in the sun than in the snow, but it made the ascent difficult. What was really great about our group – and we didn’t take for granted how lucky we were – was that every single one of us was on the same level, the same wavelength, with a similar mindset. There was no-one striding on way ahead or anyone lagging behind the rest of the group. I think we all wanted to take it at a nice, steady pace and enjoy the scenery as we went – and if that meant regular water breaks then so be it. I definitely wouldn’t say I’m the most active, fittest person ever, but equally I try to be relatively active in my normal life with yoga, the odd fitness class and trying to do as much walking as possible. And for me, this trek was the perfect balance – definitely enough to be a bit of a challenge and keep me motivated but not unimaginably or unenjoyably hard.
The difference between this route we were trekking compared to others in the Himalayas was that although it didn’t go to as high an altitude as some of the others, our route involved a lot of up and down, a lot of ascent and descent through the mountain valleys. This meant that the scenery we saw was so varied and beautiful, so much more so than I had imagined. We trekked through lush forest, stony staircases, past rocky waterfalls in the shade of the trees, above neat green terraced hillsides, through scorching, sandy paths on the valley’s edge, past tiny mountain villages, through forests teeming with monkeys and birdlife way up in the trees, through rocky mountain passes set between sheer cliff faces, through icy sleet and thick clouds, and finally towards the snowy peaks of the himalayas in fresh white snow and bright sun. The constant ascent and descent also meant that it was very hard on the knees – as you will later find out (story to follow).
Anyway, I really enjoyed this first day. Lunch consisted of egg fried rice – a very important choice every day, of course, and one which we quickly learnt there wouldn’t be much variation from, as it’s no exaggeration that absolutely every single menu in the himalayas was the same! There would occasionally be a slightly new variation of the same dish (eg. fried vegetables with cheese) but we soon knew what was on offer and I’m probably not speaking for just myself when I say I began to think about what my lunch order would be for that day from about mid morning.
We reached the village of Ulleri around late afternoon, before continuing onto lower Banthanti (altitude 2240m) where we stopped for the night.