I was warned before I arrived here. Seeing the mountains in Kathmandu isn’t a daily occurrence. The monsoons, mist, fog and pollution all play their part in keeping the giants hidden from us valley dwellers. But I was also told that the early part of Winter (now), after the monsoons, is the best viewing season– before the pollution levels rise with the increased emissions that the cold weather brings. That was the rhetoric. The reality has been quite a bit different: Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a snowy peak. Not even a suggestion of one. Certainly nothing like a majestic Himalayan view to frame the backdrop to my day. I was starting to joke that the whole Himalayan experience was an elaborate hoax. How could something be so big and yet so elusive?
Even our journey to Pokhara was unable to deliver on the promise, even though it is the is the gateway to the Annapurnas and the Pokhara guidebooks are full of tantalizing photographs of crisp blues skies and rugged perfect peaks just sitting as an indisputable, omnipresent backdrop to the town. For us, the Annapurnas remained stubbornly absent during our entire stay. We would never have seen one glimpse if we hadn’t made the decision to take an early morning side trip to Sarangkot.
Sarangkot is a popular viewing destination as it is an a higher elevation than Pokhara. Above the bowl of the town and lake, the odds improve that you can grab a view of Machapuchare (or Fishtail) and the row of Annapurna mountains that are unimaginatively named Annapurna 1, Annapurna 2….3 and 4.
Everyone wants to take you up to Sarangkot at dawn to see the sun rise over the mountains, and the early morning offers the best odds of a clear view. Dawn required something like a 5.15am departure and Robert didn’t want to do it. He also didn’t want to do it with a crowd of bus tours, so we decided that we didn’t need to see the sunrise but would go just a bit later in hopes the crowds had left.
We arrived just as the last of the bus tours departed. Their giant buses were parked along the roadside and our taxi had to squeeze past them as we drove up; the narrow mountain roads certainly weren’t made for tourist buses. We walked up the dirt track to a viewing platform and climbed the stairs to the flat, empty rooftop. It was covered with plastic chairs and we were the only ones there. I sat and drank hot ginger tea and looked out at the mist. No mountains, only mist. It didn’t look very promising. The waiter told us that there had be no visible mountain sunrise that morning and everyone had gone home empty-handed.
And then it happened….very slowly. The barest outline of a corner, of a peak, started to appear. Then a little more, and a little more, until a whole peak was revealed. Very, very slowly over the next 30 minutes, like a giant curtain being pulled back, the range came into view. There they were…not a hoax after all!