A few years ago my friend Garry and I endeavoured to do a ten day hike around the Annapurna circuit. We chose to tackle the hills in July despite the fact that the Lonely Planet said ‘…the worst time to trek is the monsoon period from June to September.’ They also added that trekking during the monsoon posed ‘undeniable difficulties.’
Undeterred, we set off with our Nepalese guide Ganesh from the small town of Besi Sahar. There was an ominous mist that morning. Further signs that this wasn’t going to be a picnic came when we met two American backpackers coming in the opposite direction.
‘There’s a waterfall about two hours from here and it’s unsafe to pass. You guys should turn back!’ they warned. Seeing that they couldn’t talk any sense into us they scrambled away, presumably to grab hold of other backpackers, shake them violently and scream – ‘You are making a big mistake!’
A couple of days in Kathmandu had us itching for some fresh air. The capital city was a sight to behold; Narrow crowded streets, horn’s parping all day long, laneways crammed with people, vehicles and stalls. You got the impression you were one wrong step from being run-over, or the taxi you were in was about to cough and quit, or the temple was in danger of being swept away by the monsoon rains. There was a smoggy consistency to the air that made you feel like a smoker with a 50 a day habit. The people were small, neat, quick and friendly but carried on as if silence were an enemy. We needed to get out of there to avoid the catastrophe the city seemed to be heading towards. Perhaps it was a case of going from the frying pan to the fire. If early signs were anything to go by, we had placed ourselves in another perilous position – albeit a quieter one with fresher air.
The aforementioned waterfall was challenging, thrilling and a little dangerous, but not impassable. The mist had lifted too. In fact, for the remainder of the hike we were troubled only by a few showers. Like a drug smuggler who had just breezed past airport security with pockets filled with illegal substances, we had the sense we were getting away with it.
However, the fact that doing the Annapurna in July was not a danger strewn path of angry waterfalls and landslides was our little secret. There were no other tourists about. According to Ganesh from October to May the circuit is teeming with backpackers – hostels overflow to such a degree that people end up sleeping on the dining room floor. We got the feeling we had arrived in town just after the circus had left. Every night we came to a different hostel where the dormitories, with their empty bunks, told a sad story of unfulfilled potential.
Also failing to live up to their promise were the menus of these establishments. After a day’s hiking I’d salivate while poring over the long list of sumptuous meals.
‘A cheese burger and chips please!’ I’d cheerily announce to the waiter. In broken English he’d break it to me that this dish wasn’t available.
‘Well in that case I’ll have the Hawaiian pizza with extra olives and blue cheese. ..No…Not available either…Just bring me the daal bhaat.’
Daal bhaat is a Nepalese dish of soup, rice and potatoes that Ganesh ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. ‘Daal bhaat gives you 24hour power!’ he liked to say. ‘ And a dose of the shits,’ Garry and I muttered.
The scenery was dramatic and ever changing. White waterfalls split mountainous walls of green, rivers rushed and meandered and plants in the ditch exploded with colour. We passed through arid wild west-esque landscape, farmland, marijuana fields, shaded woodlands and the quiet, chilling hush of snow.
Anytime we passed a waterfall we always got up nice and close to allow the spray wash over us. It was truly invigorating.
In fact the spray from the waterfall, coupled with too much time to think, led me to come up with a product that I planned to unleash on an unsuspecting public when I returned home. ‘Waterfall Spray,’ was to be a shampoo. The ad would feature an Amazonian beauty standing by a waterfall, massaging the shampoo into her scalp. She would clearly be enjoying a sensual experience; eyes closed and emitting groans of pleasure. Then a soothing voice would say – ‘Waterfall Spray. Truly Invigorating.’ The target audience, who I pictured as a jaded female office worker, would be flicking through the channels and sipping red wine as she happened across this ad.
‘Oh My God,’ she would say. ‘That’s exactly what I need! True Invigoration is what my life has been missing. I want Waterfall Spray now!’
The next thing you know there’d be tyres screeching as she hurried towards the Supermarket. Sadly, she’d never make it. The two and a half glasses of wine impaired her judgement and she crashed into a tree receiving multiple injuries, all of which left her feeling far from invigorated. But that’s the kind of reaction I wanted this product to evoke – not drink driving, per se, or back injuries for that matter, but a frenzied desire that would make people think ‘I need Waterfall Spray now.’
Who would have thought that such idyllic surrounds would promote such scheming?
I shared my brilliant idea with Garry and learned his mind wasn’t idle either. He had his own notions. Upon returning home he would launch himself into a career as a travel show host. He’d interview travellers on location and ask them how they came to be in such a faraway place.
‘The show is gonna be about the how and why of travelling. Everyone’s on the run and I wanna know why…and how.’
The two of us talked excitedly about our future projects casting aside all practical considerations and well, reality. It didn’t seem to be relevant that my job had absolutely nothing to do with shampoo or marketing. And it was an inconsequence that Garry was not employed in TV land and was uncomfortable even with getting his photo taken.
While we were hiking, it seemed to us, something in the universe and ourselves shifted. Apparently, upon our return, it would be no bother to saunter in to a ‘Head and Shoulders’ boardroom and greet the alarmed faces with ‘It’s okay lads. I got this!’ and then proceed to win them over with my pitch before security could get their hands on me. The meeting would finish with me doing a round of high fives with the suits and skipping gleefully out the door with a cheque for €1m euros in the back pocket. Feck it, the suits would probably be behind me in a congo line. Somewhere in my pitch I had taught them how to cast aside their inhibitions and now they were dancing like no-one was watching.
‘And maybe,’ I enthused, ‘In one of your shows you might film a lady taking a shower in a waterfall, using ‘Waterfall Spray.’
‘That could work.’
‘Actually with your programme featuring exotic places, exactly the type of places I want Waterfall Spray to be associated with, it would make absolute sense for my product to sponsor your programme!’
‘Deadly. It’s all falling into place.’
We lost interest in the landscape and let our imaginations run wild. Garry practised his interview technique on me and I tried to figure out what colour and shape bottle would hold the precious elixir Waterfall Spray.
By the time we made it to Thorung La (at a height of 5416m) however, my contribution to our brainstorming sessions was nil. The altitude, cold and general exhaustion had rendered me dumb. I had been struck with flu like symptoms, not helped by the fact the only hostel close to Thorung La had cold wet blankets. My mind lost focus. Waterfall Spray faded to the background as other, more pressing issues came to the fore, like surviving. Perhaps sensing I was struggling Garry tried gamely to draw me out of my shell. He did mock interviews and stuck a hiking pole under my nose as a type of stand in microphone.
‘So how are you finding the Annapurna?’
I didn’t reply.
‘And indeed…why were you compelled to it?’
Still, no words came.
‘It’s okay. I know it takes time to gather your thoughts,’ he said patiently.
The ‘microphone’ lingered under my nose for a few more seconds and then Garry took it away and walked on ahead, no doubt scratching me off the list of people to interview for his future show and perhaps dwelling on the more worrying fact that his travelling buddy had lost both weight and his mind.
We survived. We made it off the Annapurna and flew to Pokhara. Pokhara was (and I’m sure, still is) a beautiful lakeside town nestled at the foot of the mountains. It had a wonderful laid back charm. The restaurants served pizzas and cheeseburgers and the hotels were comfy, crisp and clean. We had a new found appreciation for the simple things in life.
After a couple of days rest I made, what I deemed, a full recovery. I was putting on weight and speaking again. I announced that I was ready to explore the rest of Nepal. Garry wasn’t so sure. He asked loads of ridiculous questions and spoke to me in a fake, calm voice. Questions like what day and date it was and who was Ireland’s president. Basically, he was trying to determine the level of my insanity. I breezed through his amateurish ‘Sanity Verification Quiz’ and I could see the worry lift off him.
‘On reflection my whole travel show idea is never gonna happen,’ Garry said.
‘Yeah,’ I agreed. ‘It wasn’t exactly original and it’s not like you know anything about TV anyway.’
‘Ha, yeah,’ Garry laughed and no doubt, in his mind, ticked off a box that said Return of Reason. ‘ There were a few crazy ideas cooked up during the hike.’
‘Yup,’ I agreed.
There was a silence. Garry wanted something more to convince him I was ready for the travails of travelling.
‘One more question. Would you consider yourself to be in a positive frame of mind?’ he asked.
‘Of course. I’m in a wonderful country with a wonderful friend!’
Garry beamed and picked up his rucksack. I had passed the test. We were road ready.
‘And,’ I enthused. ‘I’m practically sitting on a winning lottery ticket with this Waterfall Spray idea.’
Garry put his bag down.
‘Maybe you need a few more days’ rest,’ he said.