Sunday, July 21, 2013

Over the rainbow

I'm back in Pokhara, where I learned anew that monsoon rains aren't just downpours of a few minutes. I'd walked to the far end of Lakeside, taking cover in a bookshop as rain began, and had time to look through their entire selection of English books, and to pick out a slim volume on Buddhist-Hindu festivals of Nepal as well, perhaps wishfully, as a pre-loved copy of D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow. No rainbows in sight even the better part of an hour later, I got drenched just finding a place selling umbrellas!

I should have known. It started raining like this - steady, heavy, unrelenting - the first night of my mini-trek. We weren't in Jomsom, probably for the best as scoring a flight in as well as out would have been a miracle, but also because the Jomsom area is dry like what we'll be seeing approaching Kailash. Doing Phedi - Dhampus - Pothana - Landruck - Ghandruck - Nayapul showed me a different Nepal, steep, green and overflowing with water, terraced rice paddies rendering the few available hillsides corduroy, the stone steps of our many steep trails doing double duty as waterfalls.

If you google any of these places, you'll see amazing Annapurna skylines. I had to content myself with the painted signs at guest houses called Perfect View, View Top, Lucky View, Annapurna View, Sunny View, Hungry Eyes, etc., as the rain continued through the second day (we trekked 4 hours nonetheless - and, beyond my glasses fogging, it was fine), and was replaced by thick clouds on the third. Plenty to see anyway, just not the peaks  - come back in March or October, everyone advised. But we did get to see something I've not experienced before: a rainbow, deep in the valley below us!

Then last night in Ghandruk - photos should arrive in 36-48 hours - I got lucky. Just as the sun was setting the clouds around Annapurna South started to clear. It was, as promised, higher than I could have imagined in the sky. It awakened thoughts of Moby Dick and distant planets. Late at night it still mutely shone, as if a moon had decided to park there for the night. It stretched a landscape already severely vertical (Landruk-Ghandruk looks like a straight line on the map but involves going down about 400m in a narrow v-shaped valley and up again about 700m). Magnifique!

And then, as the last light faded from Annapurna South and its saddle, the region's other star, Machhapuchhre, the Fishtail, emerged from wispy clouds on the other side of the valley, shining in the day's last light. From farther east it looks like a mega-Matterhorn, but from here it looked like one of those fluted volcano-tops of art or animation, impossibly slim. How could it have hidden behind so few clouds? It, I learned, is the holy mountain.

Ah, the thunderstorm is threatening a blackout. More soon!

(Monsoon rain view from a café between book and umbrella purchases; during the night, a big old tree just to the left of this one fell over.)

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