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Tim Rowland climbs the Himalayas

June 02, 2000

AnnapurnaThe 23,800-foot peak Annapurna South rises out of a rhododendron forest near the village of Ghorepani in north-central Nepal. In the background, the peaks of Varaha Shikhar and Annapurna I top out at 26, 700 feet, about 2,300 feet lower than Mt. Everest. In Sanskrit, Annapurna means "goddess of abundant harvest," a reference to the fertile valley beneath the peaks.Woman & GrandchildA Nepalese woman and her grandson bundle up against the cold in a teahouse in the village of Chiltre. The dining room in this primitive hotel contained an oddity: an iron-barrel stove. But with temperatures scheduled to drop no lower than the mid-20s, proprietors had seen no reason to light it.Tim RowlandHere's Tim at the 17,500-foot Throng La, a seven-hour climb out of the village of Muktinath. this pass is two-thirds of a mile higher than the tallest peak in the Colorado Rockies.ChildrenTwo children in the village of Khingar pose for a photo in exchange for a sheet of notebook paper and a pen.HutNepalese guide Amber Tamang stands outside the home of a woman, below, who sells cups of black tea to trekkers. The hut is on the banks of the Kaligandaki River near the village of Charlogaun. The river splits the 27,000-foot peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in what is said to be the world's deepest valley.WomanSunriseSheepStory and photos by TIM ROWLAND / Herald-Mail Columnist

GHOREPANI, Nepal - The 5-by-10-foot sleeping room had rough-hewn plank walls with half-inch gaps between the lumber.

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At some point they had been apathetically whitewashed. The crooked door and flooring were of the same material, but without the paint. It all had the look of early-American chicken coop.

Typically there was no phone, no bath, no sink and no other furniture.

Dim light streamed through a hand-sawn window.

A small light bulb dangled from a reedy wire overhead, weakly promising I might be able to get in an hour or two of reading after the sun went down, a break in the tedium of long, empty evenings.

"Does the light work?" I asked the proprietor of the Snow Line, a dismal inn wedged among the forested folds of a high mountain pass and further humbled by the glory of Annapurna South, a soaring peak of better than 23,000 feet.

The middle-aged woman - which in Nepal means late 30s - in an ankle-length dress of a bright red pattern with a loud orange sweater and violently purple scarf over her black hair, nodded emphatically.

I switched the toggle switch crudely taped onto the wire and watched the tiny, 10-watt bulb. Nothing.

The woman narrowed her eyes and moved her head closer to the bulb. She watched for a few seconds and muttered a quizzical "hmph."

As propaganda, it was a poor effort. I knew that she had no more expected the light to work than she expected the bed to be equipped with Magic Fingers. Or, for than matter, that the lodge would have the "attached bathrooms" or "hot showers, 24 hours" or "buff (beef) steak" that the hand-painted sign out front also advertised.

But none of the other half-dozen lodges would have these luxuries either, and after a steep half-day climb in thin air a mile and a half above sea level, I was in no mood for comparison shopping. So I sighed and booked the room, along with four others for my traveling companions. After all, what can be expected when the nightly room rate is 75 cents?

While the accommodations are rough and the food makes the traveler pine for the delicacies whipped up by the chef at a typical American regional jail, the rewards of trekking in Nepal are outstanding.

The Himalayas are vertically two to three miles higher than the tallest of the Colorado Rockies. Standing at the airport in Pokhara where we got our first real perspective on them, the pure height of these soaring peaks seemed, in a word, impossible. Unreal, as if some clownish cosmic artist had painted them against the blue sky like the disproportional backdrop of some high school stage play.

Our group of seven, which had met as members of New York's Adirondack Mountain Club, had enlisted the assistance of Amber and Dhan Tamang of Tamang Expeditions, two young, educated Nepalese with a strong sense of the mountain-people's history and culture and an enthusiasm for sharing their heritage. Three porters, two Tamang and one Sherpa, who hauled our baggage on their backs, rounded out the group.

Our route was the western half of what is known as the Annapurna Circuit, a foot trail that circumnavigates more than a dozen major peaks that make up the Annapurna mountain range in western Nepal - a 30 minute plane ride from Katmandu and the more celebrated trails of the Everest region.

We elected to fly deep into the Himalayas to Jomsom, a lonely outpost with a makeshift landing strip, and hike out of the mountains and back to Pokhara.

The 20-seater plied a seemingly bottomless cleft in the stunning peaks, through a phantasmal swirl of white snow and black slag that, had we been equipped with vent windows, we almost could have touched.

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