Trekking The Himalayas
By Amal Ghazali
By the time I reached Annapurna Base Camp, 4130 meters above sea level with fierce winds, freezing rain and a 2-degree temperature, I had not showered for days. There was a moment when we’ve settled down in the base camp cabins and I was staring outside the window into the misty vast nothingness of alpine highlands, with no heater, internet or a hot shower, that I was shrouded with this strange feeling, like I was just a tiny being in the middle of a large, unknown nowhere.
The whole trek took 7 days, although the days may vary depending on which route you plan to take. I did the necessary preparations, of course – I trained, packed enough medications, bought the right pair of shoes, and even brought some packets of instant Maggi noodles (if you don’t travel with at least a packet, are you even a Malaysian?). But of course, as much as one might prepare for a long-haul hiking trip, there are always bound to be surprises and new lessons along the way. Here I try to share some of them, in hopes that they would help you should you ever plan to go.
Tips I’ve Learned
First and most importantly, the shoes. There is absolutely nothing more outrageously annoying then having to hike everyday for a week for hours on end in wet, soggy shoes. The Base Camp trail receives plenty of rainfall, and if you’re not in waterproof shoes the puddles, streams and pouring showers will get to you. Hiking with wet feet is then just a getaway for blisters, colds and discomforts.
One of the main concerns of hiking in high altitudes is the risk of getting AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The symptoms vary from headaches, tummy aches, nausea and in severe cases, death. I took a specific insurance plan to make sure I would be covered financially in case I needed helicopter evacuation due to any possible medical incidents, and on top of that I took prescribed AMS medications as an additional preparation. If you see choppers flying about the trekking region, chances are they are not taking a Paris Hilton out for sight-seeing, but rather, evacuating someone on a medical emergency.
Speaking of Paris Hilton, forget all your vanity luggage. Really. Don’t worry about which shade of lipstick to pack with you, how many foundation tubes to bring or which outfit looks great on Instagram. There will never be such an occasion during the hiking expedition where you’ll need to look fancy. In fact, chances are as the days become colder and you feel more worn out with time, you really wouldn’t care about how you look. And neither does anyone else there. In extreme conditions such as these, be practical and emphasise on comfort, safety and hygiene.
And on the subject of hygiene, remember that Nepal is perhaps not as privileged as your own hometown. Tap water is not safe to drink, and using purifying pills for all drinking water is advisable. Take my advice and bring enough wet wipes for various reasons – you will thank me later. Unlike your last vacation in the Swiss Alps where there’s a warm fireplace and a rug made from Llama fur, the accommodation throughout the hike are very basic. There are no heaters, and the rooms are just a square hole with a simple bed and a blanket. No mirrors either, and this could be a good thing. I didn’t have to watch myself gradually turn into a stinky, un-showered ape form as the days pass by.
It’s also good information to know that the natives in this side of the Himalayas, mainly the Gurung tribe, are devout vegetarians. What it means is that at pretty much every guesthouse, everything on the menu is vegetarian, with the occasional canned tuna. If you’re not used to this, which is basically most of us, best be prepared mentally for this temporary shift in diet. Otherwise, you can also opt to sneak in some packed meat products, which seemed to be the norm with many trekkers.
Gear Up For An Adventure
But above all, aside from all the tips I’ve shared, perhaps the most important preparation is setting your mind to have realistic expectations over the whole experience. Unlike the comforts of your own home, with your favourite coffee shop, your comfy bed and your luxury lifestyle privileges, when exploring the outdoors, Mother Nature is no pampering feat. Sometimes it will be so cold you can barely feel your face. Sometimes you get so tired after hours and hours of hiking up steep terrains that you feel almost demotivated. Sometimes the sunburn is so cruel that no amount of SK2 can immediately fix it.
There will be discomforts, things that don’t go according to plan, and incidents that tests your patience. Furthermore, hiking with other people will also allow you to truly discover how people react in a situation of high tension of exhaustion. You’ll bond, you’ll make new friends, and you will definitely learn a thing or two about yourself.
For me, it was an exhilarating adventure I would never forget. Amidst the adrenaline rush of seeing how beautiful and magnificent the earth is, I was glad to be able to walk the Himalayan ranges, something I had only seen and dreamed about before by watching TV. I was tired, but I discovered how much I’m really capable of physically and mentally. The Himalayan highlands is a vast and lonely place, but through the expedition I made good friends and learned so much about them.
Perhaps this is what I love the most about adventures. They hurl you out of your comfort zones, and this is the only way you will ever explore and learn new things.