By KEN ONG :: THE mission began with a crazy joke by my fiancée, Nicole, when we were brainstorming where to take our pre-wedding photos.
She said, “Let’s go up to the Himalayas, then it will be unique!”.
I answered “Let’s make the joke come true, what say you?”
Next day, we bought our air tickets to Kathmandu, Nepal. Then, we started our meticulous research and planning for the trip.
We decided to trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) which lies at an altitude of around 4000m. This is a section of the Himalayas which is home to Annapurna 1, a peak which is 8,091m high, the tenth highest mountain in the world. In addition to this magnificent beast of a mountain, the region has 13 peaks over 7,000m.
The mission was slated for approximately 14 days, including seven days trekking to ABC from Pokhara, two days for shooting and five days back to Pokhara.
We planned to shoot the pre-wedding photos ourselves while hiring a porter to help with our luggage.
Six months of planning involved figuring out the wedding gown, make-up, hairstyle, photography methods, trek guidance, various modes of transport, accommodations, weather conditions and safety precautions.
We didn’t dare underestimate the difficulty of this mission, especially since we were not hardcore trekkers or atheletes. In fact, this was the first trek in our lives!
We were so excited yet full of doubts until the day of departure.
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst” was our motto.
Roller coaster ride
We arrived at Kathmandu and travelled to Pokhara by bus to begin our trek the next day.
On average, we would be trekking for six or seven hours per day. Luckily, there were many little lodges along the way to stop by for lunch, dinner or to stay overnight.
Surprisingly, meat is prohibited after some point in the trek due to the belief of the ancient Himalayan gods, so we were eating vegetarian food for much of the journey.
The first two days were fine because we were psychologically ready for the long walk and the steps.
Every day, the trail was like a roller coaster, we went up the top of a ridge, then down to the bottom of a valley to cross a suspension bridge, only to climb yet another ridge.
The same journey was repeated many times, with descents as tiring as ascents.
On the third and fourth days, the weather turned bad after noon time with rain, snow and even hail. The temperature plunged down to 5°C or even 0°C.
There were many steep slopes and we were exhausted due to minor altitude sickness.
At times, we doubted if we could even make it to the base camp; but we gave each other courage to keep moving on.
We made a lot of international friends along the journey and some showed us photos of the magnificent scenes at the base camp.
The super fit porter was always ahead, so most of the time, we were trekking as a couple.
Apart from enjoying the mountain views, we took lots of selfies during our rest times.
On the fifth day, we walked through spooky forests and were shrouded in fog for almost six hours.
After that hazy hike, we were welcomed by clear views of the Annapurna Mountains.
However, we were entering an avalanche risk area in this high altitude zone. The ground conditions were dangerous: sometimes we were walking on cliff edge, or on collapsed rocks.
To avoid accidents, we took our time to trek carefully, with a slow but constant rhythm.
Eventually, we managed to get through the danger zone, right before a small avalanche occurred at the opposite side of the mountain. It sounded like rolling thunder.
Finally, we reached ABC on the seventh day. We were so amazed by the stunning views, as we were surrounded almost 360° by snow mountains and waterfalls.
Our sense of determination was recharged and after checking into a lodge, we could not wait to explore the surroundings while also hunting for our photography spots for the next day.
At night, the temperature was at minus 5°C and all we could do was to curl up inside our sleeping bags with extra quilts.
During two days of our pre-wedding photo mission at ABC, we woke up to enjoy the multi-chromatic sunrise every morning.
When the surroundings were warmed up by the sun, we set up the camera on the tripod with a wireless remote control for our selfie photo shooting sessions.
Sometimes, we walked on thick layers of snow without knowing how deep it was – trekking sticks were important to balance ourselves but even then we fell down a few times. Luckily, no one was injured.
The weather was freezing but we were so excited to have our feet at the legendary Himalayas that it warmed up our hearts.
We were blessed to have clear blue skies in the mornings and clouds in the afternoons, so we could have different background effects.
Many trekkers stopped by shouting: “You guys are crazy!!” or “You guys rock!!”. Some even took photographs with us.
In this season, the snow storms always came around the late afternoon, so we had to be alert of weather changes while shooting.
When we reviewed our photos in the evenings, we believed our aim had been achieved: we truly had unique and meaningful pre-wedding photos!
On days 10 to 14, it was all about trekking downhill to Pokhara and our knees were in pain even with the assistance of knee guards and trekking sticks.
The journey was almost ending. It felt unbelievable that we had actually fulfilled what was just a daring joke in the beginning.
It was not a regular relaxing vacation for us, but it was worth every single drop of our sweat and tears.
Together, we had experienced the hardships of days of trekking, cold and wet weather, plus dodgy terrain, pushing our physical and psychological limits in the process.
This was the most adventurous trip we had ever made in our lives, and we were so proud of each other.
The experience was extremely memorable but more importantly, our mutual love and understanding had been made stronger and deeper during this crazy mission. (The Star)
:: Take my breath away: Ken Ong and Nicole Wong trekked for 14 days in Nepal to take spectacular pre-wedding photos. – Photos KEN ONG.
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