Today’s plan was simple: take a horseback ride to some ancient caves, have a picnic lunch and then ride back.
I’ve found each day the pain endured roughly matches the reward. The horseback ride from 12,300′ up to 15,200′ was for me a continuously excruciating reminder that the Buddhists are right, life is suffering, at least that part of life spent on a somewhat competitive, ornery, bony Mustang pony with a thin blanket for a saddle.
The trail was rocky and the climbing and descending always harsh. The wind and dust never ceased and everything hurt at every moment from knees to neck. Brutal winds come up every afternoon so we rode almost straight through to the caves in the morning to be able to get home before the wind torture began. When I got off the horse, one of the horsemen was there to catch me when my knees buckled.
On the way home, after the caves and lunch and two hours of butt and back pain, I jumped off my horse and announced I was walking home. Immediately, Hem and Mahesh hopped off their horses too, our common solution to horseback agony. We thoroughly enjoyed the last two hours walk home savoring the joy of hiking again.
You might be expecting to hear about the “great reward,” having endured the pain. Yes, there was a great reward, but it was a composite, not an event. The whole Annapurna Range appeared again, but in an entirely new context. Bryce Canyon-like rocks and pillars lined the canyon walls. Every bend in the trail presented new vistas, every village provided an insight into the culture.