14 Apr 2013

Annapurna Circuit: Part 1



Surprisingly, Josi was the one to originally think about completing the Annapurna Circuit.  As John was a seasoned mountain trekker & climber, he was thrilled at sharing his love of mountains with Josi.  The Annapurna Circuit is a trek within the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges of central Nepal. The total length of the route we chose was around 250km and would rise to an altitude of 5,416m on the Thorung La pass, touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  We were excited to see the culture, people and, of course, the mountain scenery including 2 of the 14 8000m peaks. We would see the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), DhaulagiriMachhapuchhre (“Fishtail”), ManasluGangapurna and Tilicho Peak.

Highest altitude:          5,416m
Total elevation gain:    14,000m                     


Our route was:

Day No.
Day
Date
City
Altitude
Transport
Kilometres travelled
KM Running total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation

42
Tue
26/03/2013
Syange
1100m
Taxi & Bus & Trek
138
17,593
9
n/a
43
Wed
27/03/2013
Tal
1700m
Trek
5
17,598
3
Potala Guest House
44
Thur
28/03/2013
Danakyu
2300m
Trek
10
17,608
4
Peaceful Hotel
45
Fri
29/03/2013
Chamae
2670m
Trek
12
17,620
4
New Tibet Hotel
46
Sat
30/03/2013
Upper Pisang
3200m
Trek
13
17,633
5
Hotel Manang Marshyangdi
47
Sun
31/03/2013
Manang
3540m
Trek
12
17,645
5
Tilicho Hotel
48
Mon
01/04/2013
Manang
-
Trek
0
17,645
7
Tilicho Hotel
49
Tue
02/04/2013
Manang
-
-
0
17,645
0
Tilicho Hotel
50
Wed
03/04/2013
Lether
4200m
Trek
10
17,655
4
n/a
51
Thur
04/04/2013
Thorang Fedi
4450m
Trek
5
17,660
2
New Hotel Phedi
52
Fri
05/04/2013
Thorung La Pass to Muktinath
5416m then 3760m
Trek
15
17,675
8
Mona Lisa Hotel
53
Sat
06/04/2013
Marpha
2670m
Trek
24
17,699
8
Hotel Mona Lisa
54
Sun
07/04/2013
Ghasa
2010m
Trek
24
17,723
8
n/a
55
Mon
08/04/2013
Tatopani
1190m
Bus
13
17,736
3
Old Kamala Hotel
56
Tue
09/04/2013
Ghorapani
2860m
Trek
17
17,753
6
Nice Viewpoint Lodge
57
Wed
10/04/2013
Poon Hill - Tadapani
2630m
Trek
12
17,765
7
Hotel Super View
58
Thur
11/04/2013
Ghandrung / Kyumi
1300m
Trek
10
17,775
4
Bright Guest House
59
Fri
12/04/2013
Dhampus
1650m
Trek
12
17,787
4
Hotel Yama Sakura
60
Sat
13/04/2013
Phedi - Pokhara
880m
Trek & Taxi
23
17,810
3
Baba Lodge Hotel


Day 1: Kathmandu - Syange

We set off from Kathmandu by taxi (complete with crazy driving!) with our Sherpa guide for the trek, Tsering.  John had climbed Cho Oyu in 2008 and had also had Tsering as a guide so it was great to have him accompany us for the next 19 days.  It was the 26 March and everyone was celebrating the Hindu festival of colour (“Holi”) so there were bright powders (sometimes mixed with water) being thrown on people, their clothes and onto cars & buses by way of water bomb.  It was quite fun but our taxi driver was not so amused when we drove through a small village with the windows down and all got a splattering of red, purple and yellow on us and inside the car.  The views were just a glimpse of what we would see on our trek: vivid green trees and flowers and flowing terraces.  We stopped for tea and lunch, where we had our first Dal Bhat of the trek (usually rice, lentil sauce, poppadum, vegetable curry and pickle) – it was served in the traditional way on a compartmentalised tray and seconds was soon on its way!


Next we took a local bus for a few kilometres and then started our trek.  It was only to last for a few hours but it was hot so we were glad of the “starter” hike.  Tsering was good at showing us plants and animals as we were walking so we were experiencing the nature around us as well and walking through it – a trait he continued throughout the trek.  We crossed a river at one point and John, being chivalrous, came over to give Josi a hand, unwittingly resting his leg next to a vicious nettle which caused an inflammation on his leg later that evening (needless to say Tsering looked a little concerned that we had hardly started the trek and already had an “injury”!)







John's reaction to the vicious Himalayan nettles
Our first tea house was just by the river and you could hear the roaring sound of the water tearing past 24/7.  It made you realise just how much water there is, even before the monsoon!  We had our first experience of the menu we would later understand to be the “standard tourist menu” on the trek.  It was complete with Teas/Coffees, Soups, Momo, Spaghetti, Pizza, Noodles, Dal Bhat and desserts.  We were also surprised to find that all the food was cooked to order and was all homemade – Tsering explained that all guesthouses had to go to a class to learn the “western cooking” – but some teahouses took more liberties than others.  For our first night we chose Pumpkin Soup, Vegetable Momo’s (a type of dumpling) and an apple pie.  They were all delicious and we even saw the pumpkin in the garden before it was taken into the kitchen!


Day 2: Syange - Tal
Comparative elevation milestones: Snowdon (1085m) & Ben Nevis (1344m)

The breakfast was as good as the dinner – we tried Tibetan bread, banana pancake and eggs.  John’s leg had flared up even more than the night before and we raided our extensive first aid kit for anti-histamine cream and pills.  We started trekking at 7am, which meant it was nice and cool – we also continued this throughout the trek.  In Jagat we stopped for lunch and John decided to have nettle soup in revenge for the multiple stings.  We passed a sign for a hot spring but didn’t have time to stop – Tsering noted our enthusiasm and made plans for other hot springs instead. 

John's Himalayan Nettle revenge!
As we walked on a section of the road which has started to be constructed, Tsering said that is was both “good and bad for locals” – it had taken away some of the charm but had brought opportunities for tourism to some local villages.  Buses and 4x4s seem sure that using the horn at all times will prevent a collision so unfortunately you could hear the echo of horns on this initial section of the trail.  They also blew up a cloud of dust when they passed which meant the buff Josi thought she had bought for warmth – was actually a face mask substitute! In the road also lay the remnants of the plastic covering of the dynamite that had allowed for the road to be widened – it seemed to be a shame to destroy the landscape in this way.

This day also marked the first day we saw an eagle – it was amazing to see it soaring with its enormous 3 metre wing span.
  






  


  





In Tal we met a lovely American couple – Adam & Marina - who had been travelling for nearly 18 months, they had been in New Zealand climbing and trekking & then South East Asia and were on their way to Spain before heading back to the States.  We ended up meeting with them often on the circuit and resolved to have dinner together when we happened upon each other again in Kathmandu on our return!  Their blog was www.alifelesscrowded.com.


Day 5: Chame – Upper Pisang

In Chame we met a German motorcyclist who was riding the new road from Besisahar to Manang or “as far as I can get”, as he said.  He did mention he would try to put the bike on a yak to take it across the pass…and part of us wasn’t sure if he was joking!

The road was rocky and there were a lot of waterfalls – some of which were quite difficult to cross but they were all beautiful and showed the intense power of water.  Down in the river you could see the sculptured rocks – fashioned to look so smooth and curvaceous over many years.  Its fair to say we spent a lot of the day just watching the scenery around us.
  
  

We passed through many villages and were surprised at how well they all catered for tourists – some seemed to have more marketing skills than others!   We also saw what we like to call the “donkey trains”.  Many businesses still rely on donkeys to bring their goods up the mountain despite the increase in 4x4s.  The donkeys seem to know the way and the “herder” can be quite far behind the donkeys and they will wander quite happily towards their destination – even if they have to cross the wooden or metal suspension bridges that hang between the valleys (this was Josi’s biggest nemesis – so seeing the donkeys walking over with ease was a little embarrassing!)

 


  

  

 


We started to gain altitude and between 2700m and 3300m rocky terrain gave way to pine forest, apple orchards, pink and white blossoms and peach trees.  After a steep climb through the woods we were surprised that three souvenir shops had decided to set up shop there – seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  They didn’t seem to understand the concept that everything we bought, we had to carry for the next two weeks. We pressed on.

  


  


We arrived in Upper Pisang and stayed in one of our favourite lodges.  The staff were lovely and the views were stunning – we had our first up close views of the Annapurna range and the 7000m peaks.  John dreamt of being at the top, Josi was quite happy with the current vista.  Unfortunately, this was the altitude at which John had an altitude induced headache.


Before dinner, we headed up to the Buddhist monastery at the top of Upper Pisang.  Tsering took us up there, and I think his motives were two-fold:  Firstly, to show us this old village and the new monastery and secondly to start acclimatising.  The monastery was new and was being built by the local community as the old one had fallen into disrepair – each family (56 in total) had donated money or time to the project and it was quite impressive.  While we visited there were locals preparing the material they used to make sculptures.

  


  


  

That evening Tsering told us that in a few weeks all the lodges in this area would be full and the price doubled.  He said this is when people come to collect certain plants from the hills – he said there was a worm that dies and strangely this worm then grows a plant from its head (perhaps the vast marijuana fields that we had walked past on the trek had something to do with this strange freak of nature?) These were what were collected and sold in larger cities and after chatting a little longer we realised that this is the plant (or animal!) used to make Viagra!  What a strange fact!




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