The village of Ulleri at night
Our trek started with a nausea inducing taxi ride over a smaller mountain to Nayapul. Once we got out of Pokhara, the air cleared and the iconic peak of Machhapuchre glistened against the morning sky. We drove along the Seti River, then up and down a winding road to Nayapul. Nayapul occupies a patch of land between road, mountainside, and the Modi river which has its source near the Annapurna Basecamp. Nayapul is named for the “New Bridge” (Naya Pul), a suspension bridge across the river. The village street had a bunch of mules with colored decorations and strings of bells that jingled as they trembled. The road went towards Machhapuchre “Fish Tail” which showed its fish tail peek from the angle.
The Naya Pul, New Bridge
Mules ready for a trek
The entrance to the Annapurna Conservation Area was the village of Birethanti which was a pretty collection of lodges and restaurants set in the hill above the river. The women in the area wear pretty wrap skirts made in a combination of earth tones and rich colors.
Gurung woman and child
As we walked up the path, which was a neat flagstone road, we passed bright white washed stone houses with blue trim. Orange honeysuckle flowers hung from vines like the marigold garlands hung on shrines.
Honeysuckle draped building
Village from the trail
At one shrine we heard the sound of drumming. A crowd was gathered. Close to the shrine were a group of men, each leading a sheep. Dipak, our guide, said it was an annual festival where the ancestors are honored through each family sacrificing a sheep or goat. He explained the holy day was only celebrated by the Gurung people of this region.
Drummers at a temple
The last stretch of the trail consisted of more than 3500 stairs. Sometimes we stopped to admire the view of Annapurna South. Annapurna means “food enough”. The range got the name because people thought it looked like an overflowing dish/pile of rice. As we were going up the stairs, we passed porters, carrying huge loads of mattresses and fabrics. They would visit the various villages then go down and bring another load.
Stairs to Ulleri
Porters resting with loads of beds and bedding
A local girl gets used to carrying a load on her back
At another point on the stairs, we saw men working on fitting rocks into a wall to support the area around other stairs. Dipak said they'd been working on it for a month. One Month ago there was a huge boulder which threatened safety since it could come loose and roll. So the workers lit a bonfire under it then poured cold water over it until the rock cracked. Then they broke the pieces further and made the wall.
Working on making the path safe
Finally we reached Ulleri which is a small village with its share of hotels but also some buildings that may be normal people's homes. The climb, of course, was worth it since Ulleri commands a view, between tree covered mountains, of the huge mass of Annapurna South. As we arrived it looked like clouds would cover it by the time sun set. But the clouds seem to have sunk and gathered on the bottom.
Moonrise behind the mountains
In the evening we ventured away from the fire to go to a cultural presentation the town was putting on. When we walked in, garlands of orange marigolds were draped over our heads. Different young people danced: women danced barefoot although everyone else was bundled up.
Ulleri girls perform a Tibetan dance