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Day 54: Annapurna Base Camp to Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal 
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Return from Annapurna. Bird's eye view of the forested slopes above Pokhara and the green fields of the valley below.
Michael Palin - HimalayaIf there is a reward for reaching this height (13,400 feet (4080 m)) it is the exhilaration of the immense. Because we're that much closer to the top of the peaks, the sunlight reaches us earlier than it did below and the dazzling clarity of the light sharpens and intensifies every detail of this mighty bowl of mountains. My scepticism thaws a little with the sun and as we walk beyond the camp and look out over the monumental sweep of the glacier that unwinds from the Annapurna Ridge, gouging a valley from the sheer rock, I realize how extraordinarily lucky I am to have seen all this.

And how much luckier to have a helicopter to take me away from it.

Our magic carpet arrives on time and, anxious not to hang around in these unpredictable conditions, takes off as soon as we've strapped ourselves in. Below us, in the slipstream, our porters spread-eagle themselves on their tents to stop them blowing away. I feel embarrassed and a little ashamed. We could have got down without a helicopter, but we certainly couldn't have made it up the Annapurna trek without our porters.

After circling the massif, we turn due south, following coiling glaciers, until they melt into streams that cross the spiky grassland and grow into small rivers, which disappear first into coniferous then tropical rain forest, re-emerging where the trees have been cut back to make room for cultivated clearings. Then the first isolated settlements appear and the clearings grow into terraces and the settlements grow into mountain villages with marked tracks, and the terraces become rice paddies in all shades of green and yellow and the marked tracks become paved roads, with power lines running beside them through the tin-shack slums around the airport. And the rivers become a lake.

The evolution of human settlement in 22 minutes. At Pokhara, the joys of hot water, shower, bed and the excellent news that Adrian Griffith and his fellow Gurkha officers were released, unharmed, after 48 hours in the forest.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 54: Annapurna Base Camp to Pokhara
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Annapurna Base Camp
  • Book page no: 124

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