I’m not sure what’s worse about trekking in the Himalayas: the agony, which is not inconsiderable; or the slightly smug, sprightly way in which our guides skip up the ancient stone stairs ahead of us. Just three days ago, I found scaling Dubai’s highest peak, the Burj Khalifa, a good deal easier than this, although admittedly I had a high-speed lift helping me.
Partly because I’m a journalist, but mostly because I’m an idiot, I have my laptop with me. I’m tempted to throw it into the valley, but after a day’s walking it feels so heavy I don’t think I could manage. When we finally get to the hilltop village of Ghandruk I sling it to the floor and fall into a grateful sleep.
The next morning we awake to find we’re not the only ones lodging at this old cottage. There’s a quiet student from Taiwan, and a hardy Dutch lady who greets me with a merry ‘Hello!’ as I creak gingerly out of the room. Legs ruined, shoulders powdered, I feel like I’ve been kicked around the bottom of a particularly furious rugby scrum.
‘I come from Dubai – I’m not really used to all this,’ I offer to the lady. ‘I come from Holland – I live below sea level,’ comes her chirpy reply.
‘Oh…’ I say, a little embarrassed. ‘So have you been to Nepal before?’ ‘Yes,’ she laughs. ‘I first came in 1962.’ I later learn from the guest book that this is her 40th trip, and that she is 67 years old. Embarrassment turns to shame.
Dyabin Gurung, the man who owns the cottage, comes to my rescue. Dyabin was born in these mountains, but left to study and travel. After he’d seen a bit of the world he decided that he liked nowhere better than home, so came back. I can see why: it’s a bright, clear morning and the views of Annapurna South and Fishtail are glorious. The air is fantastic, the sound of laughing schoolkids drifts up the hill and is joined by the gentle aroma of a wood fire. Life is simple and, without having to travel, he meets people from all over the world.
To my surprise, he’s very keen to hear about the Burj Khalifa. When I admit that I may have some pictures on my laptop, he bounds off to find a USB memory stick. Given the surroundings, it’s all a bit surreal.
I find it odd to see such enthusiasm for something so foreign. At 7,219m, Annapurna South is about nine times taller than the Burj – and many more times prettier. But Dyabin knows that; he’s simply fascinated by what man has made. For him, Annapurna is a daily pleasure. ‘Every morning I come out with my cup of coffee and check my mountain,’ he says. ‘When I know it’s OK, I go on with the day.’