TRAVEL: Reaching for the mountain tops
LIVING by the sea for most of my life has been great, but when I am in the mountains I feel my spirit soar.
There is something about the mountains that gives me a sense of freedom.
All that fresh air and amazing vista ignites a desire to reach higher ground and see the world from a different view.
There have been many explorers who have set out on quests to discover and conquer mountains. Sir Edmund Hillary is one such explorer who has held my esteem for some time.
With his native homeland of New Zealand, it certainly would have given him a nice backyard to fulfil his interest in mountaineering.
Most people would know Sir Edmund Hillary as being the first person (along with Tenzing Norgay) to reach the summit of Mt Everest.
My love of mountains enticed me to travel to Nepal. The thought of climbing Mt Everest did cross my mind but, let's face it, I know my limitations. The compromise was to trek through the Annapurna Mountain ranges instead, which didn't disappoint.
Much to my amazement, the snow-capped mountains lined up one after another, providing a stunning vista as the Himalayan ranges were well within sight.
My adventure began in Kathmandu, which is a place no one can really prepare you for. My senses were in overload at the traffic chaos of cars, rickshaws, bikes and trucks.
Kathmandu is an exciting city filled with amazing sacred shrines, temples and pagodas, not to mention shops filled with a huge array of trekking gear, handicrafts like yak wool socks, singing bowls, pashminas, jewellery, clothes, scarves, spices, teas and lots more. Haggling is their way of life so be prepared to barter.
From Kathmandu we enjoyed a scenic flight along the Himalayan Mountain ranges and witnessed Mt Everest on the skyline. With so many other big mountains standing alongside, Mt Everest didn't seem so daunting.
Leaving the city behind us, we headed into the mountains. The Annapurna region provides one of the most dramatic sceneries in the world.
Walking through the Annapurna Sanctuary gives a wide variety of terrain. We passed terraced rice fields, strolled through forest of rhododendron and oak, climbed high mountain passes and swayed across huge suspension bridges.
In places we followed the thundering river of the Modi Khola valley and stopped at little villages. Encountering mule trains carrying supplies from outlying villages was common and often in precarious places with little to no room to pass.
We stayed in tea houses along the way, which provided interaction with friendly locals and hearty meals from welcoming hosts. The tea houses are basic but provide a good place to refuel and rest.
There are some sections on the trail of large stone steps which may test your physical fitness, so training prior to the trek should be considered.
Being there at the end of summer was too hot for trekking. Leave it till October or November when there is less rain and cloud cover.
It's hard to imagine such beauty exists in such a small country. Here the people have little in the way of possessions. What they do have are big smiles and plenty of time.
Simple things we take for granted, like running water and waterproof shelter, are an everyday struggle for remote villages.
The cultural differences and amazing scenery leave you in awe. I've been fortunate enough to see a lot of the world but there has never been a country that touched my heart so much.
While I didn't summit Mt Everest like Sir Hillary, I venture to say that he was as touched by the country as I and many others have been.
After Sir Hillary's summit of Mt Everest, he went on to found the Himalayan Trust, which helped build schools and hospitals in Nepal with the aim of improving health and education.