“Should we go back?” I asked myself, as the pelting rain and thunderous rivers created an unrelenting cacophony in my mind. I stopped to flick two thumb-sized leeches off the rubber grips of my trekking poles in an attempt to avoid another feeding frenzy—a horrific sight I hadn’t gotten over since the night before, when I discovered these invertebrates can weave through fabrics otherwise thought to be impenetrable.
It was day five of a 14-day trek in the Annapurna Region of the Himalayas, and I was beginning to question our aspirations. My hiking partner and I were warned about the rains in Nepal this time of year, so we packed to withstand the conditions. I secretly hoped the dry season would start a few weeks early, gifting our mid-September trip with blue skies and fewer tourists.
Despite our wishes, the first week delivered thick fog in the valleys and we didn’t have any visual access to the views listed in our guidebook. The peaks we were chasing became phantoms, a running joke on days when all that was left to do was laugh: “Maybe they’re out there and maybe they’re not… we’ll never know!”
My daily practice became letting go of expectations, and once I settled into the mystery and mercy of Mother Nature, I realized the beauty of the rainy season—a nuanced, intimate version of life in the mountains that surely isn’t at play during peak months.
Because my attention wasn’t drawn outward to the summits, I looked down at the vibrant green mosses, the purple and orange wildflowers that flirted between the second and third layers of vegetation lining the trail. Hundreds of ferns in all shapes and sizes reminded me of my grandmother’s watercolor paintings, and I stopped every so often to pick up stones that caught my eye through the cold, trickling water. I moved deliberately, honoring the Nepali mantra, “Bistarai, bistarai,” meaning “Slowly, slowly.”
I observed new life all around me: the birthing and blossoming delivered by the same rain that carried destruction in its wake, as the water reshaped the land each year during monsoon. I opened my ears to the sounds of ravens and mountain hawks above and the clamor of buffalo adorned with belled collars. The rushing river became a melody, and my footsteps fell into harmony with the sounds around me. The trails were quiet, devoid of trekking traffic. Some days we walked for hours without seeing another human.
Each day, I became more comfortable with this reality. As we neared Chomrong, a Gurung Village at 2,170 meters, the clouds that had been matching our pace finally dissipated. The sky opened, illuminating the famous Machapuchare, or “Fishtail”, Mountain. It was the first clear peak we’d seen in six days—and I was awestruck. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to bear witness to nature’s cycles and the deep ecological changes that shape our world.
Without another drop of rain for four days, we reached Annapurna Base Camp and climbed to the stupa above the village, staring in silence at the majestic panoramic view—a front row seat to several of the world’s highest mountains: Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I, Annapurna II and Machapuchare.
I slid into the dry soil and lay beneath the prayer flags. “Thank you,” I whispered to the gods and goddesses for exposing the true beauty of the Himalayas, seen and unseen.
Published by Inside Himalayas March 2019: https://www.insidehimalayas.com/finding-beauty-himalayas-in-the-monsoon/