Annapurna Circuit Day 5: Ngawal to Braka
Day 5 March 27, 2018: Ngawal (3680m) to Braka (3470m), distance: 5.75 miles, duration: 4h 30m, elevation gain: -210m, ascended: 1125 feet, descended: 1620 feet, food: $28.30, lodging: $2.00 at New Yak Hotel, total distance to date: 43.5 miles
The sheer scale of the Himalayas gives new meaning to common adjectives. A higher bar is set for words like "steep" and "magnificent" and "stunning". I have used such descriptors so casually in the past, never really understanding their full magnitude; their fullest expression. I feel as if I have done those words a disservice by using them in any context outside of the Himalayas.
This is day five of our trek and I've stopped using superlatives, as well. Yesterday, I thought we had climbed the "most" strenuous hill, only to encounter even-more strenuous hills today. Yesterday, I thought we had the "greatest" views, but today, the views are even better. Now I understand how a landscape can leave a person speechless. How do you describe the beauty or scale to someone whose frame of reference for the words you will use is inadequate for true comprehension?
The route between Ngawal and Braka is like a rollercoaster. First, we ambled across the dry barren ridge on the outside of Ngawal, past grazing horses and a mani wall piled high with cold slate prayer tablets. As we approached the white Buddhist stupa poised prominently on the far edge of the plateau, we could smell the scent of smoking juniper branches still warm on its platform. Not a single sound emanated from the nearby monastery. The low bellow of a cow across the valley was the only sound interrupting the morning's silence.
Beyond the monastery, we picked our way carefully down a very long, steep slope. At the bottom was a grey, thorny meadow not quite ready to show signs of Spring. We crossed an icy stream that flowed into the village of Julu, where we observed only a single inhabitant - a man with a cell phone standing on a roof. On the opposite side of Julu, we climbed another long, steep, dusty hill to a narrow ridge and walked to the tip of the promontory. We put down our packs and sat cross-legged on the ground, taking in the awesome (truly AWE-invoking) view. Laid out before us in full panorama from stage-left to stage-right was the entire Himal cast: Pisang Peak, Heaven's Gate, Annapurna II, IV, III, Gangapurna, Khangsar Kang, and Tilicho Peak. There cannot be a better seat for this show!
We sat there in silence for about half an hour before reluctantly hoisting on our packs for the final descent. We had only one thing on our minds: cinnamon rolls from the Germany bakery in Braka.