of the Annapurna Circuit
friend, Dan, and I had travelled from Australia to do the three-week
AnnapurnaCircuit. We set off from Kathmandu with our porter, Suresh,
on 17 September - post-monsoon season is a great time for trekking,
with the rain bringing many lush crops, new-born animals and generally
clear weather and views. It's also not too busy on the track (October-November
is the peak season).
Day 1 - Depart Kathmandu.
Missed the 8am bus to Besi Sahar where the trek starts, tried to
catch up to it in the taxi, failed, and had to get another bus to
Dumre, then switch to a smaller bus to Besi Sahar which was so full
we had to sit on the roof (until it poured with rain). Day 1 ended
in a guest house in Besi Sahar, not having trekked anywhere. Those
who didn't miss the bus would have done 3 hours trekking already
and be sitting in Bhulbule by now…
Day 1 (take two)
- Besi Sahar to Ngadi
Set off bright and early (after enjoying great views of white peaks
from our guest house), had lunch in Bhulbule where we crossed our
first suspension bridge (great excitement!), before making it to
Ngadi by about 3pm for our first village guest house experience.
That is, a tiny room with two beds above the family's 2-room home.
Very friendly family and locals and we loved sitting on their front
porch drinking tea and watching their kids playing and the local
cows wandering up the main street.
Day 2 - Ngadi to
Beautiful walk through humid rice fields - I took too many photos.
But I fared better than Dan, who had forgotten to bring a hat and
was slowly getting sun stroke in the warm weather. When it was time
to stop walking we found ourselves in Syange village. The sparse
guest houses and the not-so-attractive village is a good reason
to keep walking if you can. Our English friend, Ros, would agree
after suddenly throwing up out her window in the middle of the night
after some very dodgy potato curry for dinner!
Day 3 - Syange to
Steep walk today, but the waterfalls and suspension bridges over
the torrential Marsyandi River rewarded us for our hard work. Suresh
maintained that the day's walk was not steep, so Dan and I developed
some trekking lingo for Suresh: "Nepali-flat" (read "steep")
and "Australian-flat" (read "downhill/flat").
Suresh then taught us some handy Nepali words, such as pistare,
pistare (slowly, slowly) and moto manche (fat man - that was Dan).
Tal was a bit of a change of scenery - the village was on a plane
by a section of the river that resembled a lake (tal means "lake").
Day 4 - Tal to Danaqu
Some more "Nepali-flat" sections on this day, and my stamina
started to fade a bit. But we were rewarded by a lovely guesthouse
in Danaqu when we stopped at 2pm (apple trees and a cute baby in
the sunny courtyard, and even a hot shower). Warm apple pie for
dessert topped off our enjoyment of this place.
Day 5 - Danaqu to
Another "Nepali-flat" day, and the scenery was becoming
more alpine, with fewer rice paddies and more apple and fir trees.
We stopped off in Chame (altitude 2630m) - our first really cold
night. There was a bit more action (and shopping) in Chame, so we
stocked up on trail mix and chocolate ready for the prices to go
up with the altitude in the following days.
Day 6 - Chame to
As we trekked further north the people become more Tibetan in ancestry,
and Buddhism become the main local religion. We arrived in Pisang
(3190m), with a Buddhist temple overlooking the pretty alpine village.
These villages had ever-longer rows of prayer wheels, which we always
tried to spin on arrival (which could take ages). First hint of
altitude here, as Dan started to get the headaches of altitude sickness.
Day 7 - Pisang to
Amazing scenery after Pisang as we passed a black skateboard ramp
mountain, and some serious white peaks. Loved watching the villagers
harvest their crops - my favourite was the pink-flowered champa
(buckwheat) which grew darker red as it was harvested. It looked
like back-breaking work beating the grain off the harvested and
dried bundles. Braga (3475m) was about 30 minutes before our designated
rest day of Manang and we stopped there because a brand new guest
lodge caught our eye and the views were spectacular. Our friends
walked up to the Buddhist temple overlooking Braga, but Dan and
I stayed in our room trying to ward off the altitude-induced headache
that had hit us.
Day 8 - Manang (rest
It was a relief to only walk 30 minutes up the road to Manang (3500m)
and find ourselves another nice lodge with amazing views - white
peaks towering all along the Manang valley. To assist our bodies
to acclimatise we all trekked up a steep track for 45 minutes to
a stunning lookout beside a glacier and over-looking a turquoise
lake. Couldn't breathe as I hauled myself up the track with my new
walking stick (yes, I felt like an old woman). At altitude it's
hard to get a good night's sleep, so the next day I didn't feel
any younger and was happy to have had a rest day.
Day 9 - Manang to
Running out of puff very quickly now, so it was a steep struggle
up the path towards Yak Kharka, where we stopped for lunch. This
was a nice spot - really just two guest lodges - but after lunch
we kept going the extra 45 minutes to the next stop-off, Letdar
(4250m). Very bleak when we arrived there and I wished we had stayed
the night at Yak Kharka instead. Letdar was freezing cold and I
put on every item of clothing I had and went out to meet the local
yaks (there were no villagers to meet up this high). One of the
other trekkers we had met had already decided to go back to Manang
due to altitude sickness, but we were managing despite our throbbing
Day 10 - Letdar to
Headed up the path towards the last night's destination before "the
big day" - the Thorung La Pass. Everyone was following the
up-path, but Dan and I happily followed some porters along a down-path
and took the opportunity for some "Australia-flat" walking.
Were completely exhausted and breathless even on a downhill stretch,
and really battled up the last bit to Thorung Phedi (4420m) - really
just two hotels, the third hotel and hydro power station having
recently washed away in the monsoon. Once again to try and acclimatise
to the altitude we hiked up to the High Camp, which was just a lodge
about 45 minutes walk (read, stagger) up the STEEP incline. This
was the walk we were going to have to do the next morning at 4am
in the dark on our way up to the pass, and it was a bleak world
up there with just rocks and a solitary donkey train to keep us
company. Slid back down the slope to our lodge to ready ourselves
for the next morning's exertions.
Day 11 - Thorung
Phedi to Thorung La Pass to Muktinath
This was it - the big day. Rose at the crazy hour of 3.30am (other
trekkers thought this was crazy too, but we were aiming to avoid
the fierce wind on the way down). At 4.15am about 8 of us followed
one of the porters in single file (with torches) up the path to
the High Camp. Sunrise illuminating the first huge white peaks,
we continued our walk up the frozen path and had a cup of tea (worth
the exorbitant price) at a teahouse along the way. The final few
hours walking to the Pass were damn hard (I could barely breathe,
and a few people were vomiting as they reached the higher altitudes),
but we were elated on reaching the coveted location - Thorung La
Pass (5416m). After proud group photos with every Tibetan prayer
flag and mound of rocks, we commenced the 1600m drop to Muktinath
(3500m). The way down was almost as hard as the way up, however,
and after 6 hours sliding down the gravel slopes our knees were
starting to fail. Views of the arid Mustang mountains in the distance
were stunning, as was the feeling of finally walking on flat ground
as we approached Muktinath, a sacred Hindu site (passing lots of
Indians making the pilgrimage to the temple).
Day 12 - Muktinath
A very windy trek down to the old stone village of Kagbeni (2810m),
but only 2 hours, thankfully. Enjoyed a stroll around the medieval
village and the views up the river towards the arid Mustang region
were amazing (like looking towards the end of the earth). The wind
of Kagbeni made for a good washing day and, apart from clean clothes,
we also enjoyed the start of the culinary delights of this side
of the trek (pizza and chocolate cake to add to the usual chapati/fried
potatoes/dahl bat trekking diet).
Day 13 - Kagbeni
Up early to avoid the wind to walk the one hour to Jomsom, an unattractive
town, but our first taste of civilisation. This is the largest town
on the trek and has a busy airport where many people start or finish
their treks. Enjoyed a large meal of cakes, croissants and other
foods we had missed during the past 2 weeks, changed some money,
and then continued on to Marpha (2665m), the culinary capital of
the trek and a lovely village. Our lodge there had a sunny courtyard
with a small lawn - yes, grass! - and some comfy couches. In the
spirit of such luxury some of our group got heavily into the local
apple brandy and there were some horror stories the next morning
of Dan's night by the toilet bowl!
Day 14 - Marpha to
The path on this side of Jomsom was much busier with the increased
number of trekkers, and there were so many donkey trains that it
was sometimes a real traffic jam. Learnt quickly to stand on the
inside of the track to let the donkeys pass, so as not to get knocked
into the river below. The flora had changed from arid mountains
to green English-style forest, with the added bonus of abundant
marijuana plants. My German friend got very excited and by the end
of the day had stuffed my day pack full of the buds (can't remember
Day 15 - Kalopani
Body starting to suffer, after so many days trekking without a rest.
An eight hour walk to Tatopani did not aid my recovery. Perhaps
it was my weakened physical state, but I was less captivated by
the scenery and the village life than on the other side of the Pass.
The Tatopani hot springs (steaming natural spa baths beside the
river) went some way to reviving my spirits, however.
Day 16 - Tatopani
Due to my poor physical state, it was necessary to break the trek
up into shorter days so, unlike many others who went on to Ghorapani,
I stopped in Sikha after a steep climb. It had been a while since
we had had an uphill day and I actually enjoyed it - you can get
sick of going down hill.
Day 17 - Sikha to
Happy to see some more tropical scenery again - rice paddies and
banana plants in the steep valleys. This was still a busy path,
though, and there were loads of guest lodges to choose from. Above
Ghorapani was Pun Hill, the site of most postcards of the Annapurna
peaks and a must-see view, I was told. So I prepared to rise early
to walk up to Pun Hill before breakfast.
Day 18 - Ghorapani
Up at 4.30am to climb up to Pun Hill (3210m) in anticipation of
some amazing views. But unlike our previous luck with sunny skies
at the Pass, we reached to peak to see clouds all around and only
the odd glimpse of a white peak behind the mist. So straight back
down for breakfast - and to buy a postcard of Pun Hill (friends
on the trek went up Pun Hill the next day and it was totally clear,
so I guess it's just a lottery). After breakfast it was a tough
walk down some neverending stone steps to Ulleri, where we paused
for our last night of the trek (and apple brandy again, to celebrate).
Day 19 - Ulleri to
Relieved that this was the last day of walking, but would miss the
relaxed life of the mountain villages and the simplicity of life
there. Another down hill, knee-breaking walk to Naya Pul and then
a final taxi ride to Pokhara. What a shock to return to the busy
tourist shops and comparative luxury of the Pokhara hotels. But
I was happy to recover from the trek and eat until I put all my
lost kilos back on, sitting by the beautiful lake.
If I did it all again,
what would I do differently?
(a) Less luggage!
Smaller rucksack! Ideally I would pack a smaller bag of just 8kg
or so and carry the whole lot round the circuit myself. I think
the porter was a luxury that I afforded but could have done without
(our's cost US$10 per day which we shared and you can get cheaper).
If I had struggled at the higher altitudes I could have rented a
porter at that point for just a day or two. But for those who want
to take it easy or who aren't too fit, a porter would be a good
idea - it's personal choice.
(b) Go slower.
We took 19 days to do the circuit and it nearly killed me. If you
can spare around 25 days I think that would be ideal. Extra rest
days in villages like Kagbeni, Marpha or Tatopani allow you to get
into village life a bit more (as well as letting your legs recover
By: Suzanne Brown
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