Monday, April 11, 2011

Hiking Phulchowki

Yesterday, we embarked on what was my second hike in the Kathmandu Valley. Now that I was no longer a virgin to our surrounding hills after conquering Shivapuri peak last week, we set out to top Phulchowki, the highest peak in the Valley at around 9,200 feet. At this height, Phulchowki is famous for sweeping views of the Valley and the glacial Himalayan peaks beyond. Unfortunately, we also learned just before departing that this hiking path is known for robberies and muggings of hikers. After leaving our nicer camera at home with other valuables (so, please forgive these photos) and loading ourselves with water and courage, we embarked on the hike with small a crew of friends, old and new.

A bit like the proverbial large and small dog (the former merely barks, the latter bites), Phulchowki proved an easier, if longer, hike than her shorter sibling Shivapuri. If our steep path up Shivapuri was an unending Stairmaster climb, our winding path up Phulchowki was a treadmill walk on a varying but manageable incline.

The afternoon started sunny, but the air proved a bit hazy in the altitude, obstructing our views of the world's highest mountains. Still, on the way up we glimpsed sun-dappled scenes as we watched rain clouds tumble into the Valley and sail their way toward us.

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As we neared the top, a light rain arrived, gently refreshing our incline-weary bodies.

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(the front approaches)

Sunshine greeted us at the peak, where we ate lunch in the shadows of prayer flags flapping in the Valley's highest breeze. We weren't rewarded with stunning views, but I wouldn't say we weren't rewarded.

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On our descent, we encountered rain again.

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Rain turned to hail (yes, hail), and this bout with precipitation felt less like a salve for burning quads than an assaulting reminder of Mother Nature's fickle whims. Especially if you negligently failed to armor yourself with anything other than shorts and a thin t-shirt. (Note to self: check weather forecast and plan accordingly on next hike.)

It took our group about 4 hours to walk the approximately 13 km to the top, moving at a very reasonable pace and allowing for multiple snack, water, and -- let's be honest here -- rest breaks. Our descent took about 2 and a half hours, and during the moments of rain and hail I felt every minute of it.

"The rain is subsiding," Claudine remarked as we neared the base.
"The rain is exciting?!" I retorted incredulously, mishearing.

But spending a Sunday hiking in good company -- all while avoiding roving bandits -- was pretty exciting. Can't wait to do it again.

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