ARM­CHAIR TRAV­ELLER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

A team of Egyp­tol­o­gists pon­ders why the boy-pharoah Tu­tankhamun was so hastily em­balmed and en­tombed. Sun­day, 8.30pm, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic.

When a skier and snow­boarder head to Alaska full of der­ring-do, things are bound to go bot­toms up. This 2008 action thriller stars Michael Mad­sen and Eric Lively. Mon­day, 8.30pm, Movie One. Su­san Kuro­sawa moun­tains re­flect the moon­light as we fol­low the nar­row path through the snow. The pre-dawn dark­ness gives way to the ris­ing sun, lighting up the peaks. At times my legs sink knee-deep in the snow. My wa­ter bot­tle freezes. Some­one takes it from me and tucks it in­side his jacket so his body heat will melt it.

Af­ter five hours, we reach the top of the pass. The cel­e­bra­tions are marked with tea, yak cheese and chocolate. So far this day we have climbed al­most 1000m and have an­other 1600m to de­scend. At times it is eas­ier to slide down rather than walk. I roar as I sit down and hur­tle to­wards the bot­tom of a slope.

We have walked for an ex­haust­ing 11 hours by the time we reach the next town of Muk­ti­nath. Af­ter mak­ing it across the pass, there are an­other 51/

2 days ahead. At Jom­som, planes take off over the moun­tains from an airstrip near our guest­house. We cover our faces against the wind and dust as we fol­low the Kali Gan­daki River.

At Thakali, we pass ap­ple trees and stop for fresh juice. There are also plums, car­rots, wheat and an apri­cot brandy dis­tillery. Rain drips from the lush gar­dens of Tatopani. Steam rises from the hot springs.

On the path to Ghorepani, it feels as if we have emerged from weeks of win­ter into spring. The red flow­ers of rhodo­den­dron trees look like pom­poms. We stop to buy man­darins.

There is ev­i­dence of a past land­slide on the de­scent into Hille. Boul­ders lie where they have come to rest on the hill­side. We pass a fu­neral cer­e­mony, with its in­cense, food, flow­ers and colour­ful saris. Our guide says funer­als bring in a good new life in the cy­cle of rein­car­na­tion and can last up to 13 days.

Af­ter al­most three weeks of walk­ing, we are met by a bus at the shops of Birethanti. We bid the An­na­purna Cir­cuit good­bye, but re­turn sooner than ex­pected. In the ex­cite­ment of fin­ish­ing the trek, one of our guides has for­got­ten his back­pack. The bus turns around to pick it up be­fore tak­ing us to the lake­side town of Pokhara, where we share a feast.

Af­ter­wards, I am fas­ci­nated to watch Nepalese men dom­i­nate the dance floor. The party con­tin­ues at a pub where a band plays Jimi Hen­drix cov­ers and stops for daal bhaat at mid­night.

Back in the cap­i­tal, Kath­mandu, I wan­der through street mar­kets sell­ing flow­ers, fruit, veg­eta­bles and meat. The head of a pig, sep­a­rated from the rest of the car­cass, ap­pears to watch the comings and goings.

Else­where, cars are be­ing dec­o­rated with flow­ers. The traf­fic comes to a halt around a march­ing band lead­ing a wed­ding pro­ces­sion. In Dur­bar Square, the site of the old royal palace, three boys ask me where I am from

Check­list

In­trepid Travel’s round-trip An­na­purna Cir­cuit from Kath­mandu costs $1235, cov­er­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for 21 nights; meals are ex­tra (In­trepid rec­om­mends you al­low $525). The phys­i­cal rat­ing for the trek is level five (six is high­est); porters carry trekkers’ big back­packs but you are re­quired to carry your day pack. In­trepid uses the lo­cal trekking com­pany, Hi­malayan En­coun­ters, based at the Kath­mandu Guest­house. More: www.in­trepid­travel.com; www.hi­malaya­nen­coun­ters.com. Su­san Kuro­sawa’s next week.

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