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Day 11: Thorung Phedi - Thorung La Pass - Muktinath
We set off at 4am and started up the hill. It was pitch-black and the only light was coming from our head torches. The path was slippery as the water had frozen overnight – Tsering fell over at one point but he was ok. We plodded for an hour until we reached the high camp where some people had stayed but we had decided to sleep at the lower altitude lodge.
The walk after that camp was long and became gradually slower as we ascended the various minor peaks – this was mostly because Josi was setting the pace! The path was mostly in the snow which was deep in places and hadn’t been trodden by many. But worst was the wind and the cold – after two hours both John and Josi couldn’t feel their fingers (John cursing the £3 gloves he had bought!) and it was a gruelling plod to the pass, which we reached at a very respectable 8am. The views were fascinating and we were now standing at our highest point on the trek - 5,416m!
We were the second group to reach the pass summit café – a small hut which served only black tea or coffee, but relative luxury. The sun came out as we were on the pass and we warmed ourselves before starting the long decent to Muktinath. Here the snow had started to melt as the sun was warming the surface – this made some sections very slippery. We were impressed that Tsering always seemed to be there to catch Josi when she was slipping – although he took a small tumble in the mud at the end but managed to do a handstand and end standing up – impressive!
We entered Muktinath and Tsering took us to the Buddhist monastery which had two eternally glowing flames in one of the temples. He then took us to our hostel – which, unfortunately, was one of the worst ones we had stayed in. Later that evening two girls arrived who had taken 14 hours to complete the pass. Tsering couldn’t believe it and said he was pleased that he had been with us!
Day 12: Muktinath - Marpha
We decided to start making up for our extra day in Manang straight away, so we planned the very long day to Marpha (passing the usual stop in Jomsom). The terrain on this side of the pass was completely different to anything we had seen so far. It was very dry and rocky and more earthy/orange coloured. We were also very close to the Tibetan border here so Tsering mentioned that this was geographically very similar.
After some hours of walking we came to a valley where we walked in the dried out (pre-monsoon) river bed. The wind here was intense and relentless – at times meaning you could hardly take a step forward. At one point Tsering looked as though he would be swept away by a small twister. For this reason, flights in and out of Jomsom can only operate until about 10am after which the winds are too intense. It was very tiring but our efforts were rewarded with a good lunch in Jomsom.
When we arrived in Marpha, we loved it immediately. It is a small, traditional village with only white stone houses with piles of wood on top (the latter historically being a measure of someone’s wealth), donkeys, yaks, goats and sheep. There was a monastery at the top of the village which gave a great vista of the village, the green fields and the orchards. We also looked in the many Tibetan shops – all of whom used the phrase “just buy one little thing, this is a small business!” or “you are my first customer today – for you, special price!” We decided to sacrifice some space for three traditional Tibetan wooden containers.
Marpha is well known for its apples, and we stayed in a great little guesthouse which made its own apple juice, apple crumble and on that day had finished brewing apple cider and apple brandy. The chef was a hilarious man, fuelled somewhat by his own brew. We all sat in the kitchen and ate his famous lasagne – which was our favourite meal of the trek – it was made with 100% local ingredients. He was so impressed with Josi’s height that he renamed her “Everest” and John “Poon hill” (a diminutive 3200m peak we would be climbing in a few days). Tsering loved this and we used it for many days!
The last two days had been very long and challenging and Tsering had told us that Tatopani had some good hot springs. We wanted to make sure we had a full day for this so we decided to take the local bus for the short journey to Tatopani. The terrain was similar to what we had been trekking for the last few days so we didn’t miss anything going by bus. The local bus was also an experience – it was colourful, full of people, played loud music and wasn’t afraid of corners or on-coming traffic, despite precipitous drops just inches away!
We arrived in just three hours and checked in to another of our favourite teahouses – Old Kamala. They served great food, had an excellent chocolate cake, and were just minutes from the hot springs.
The hot springs had been diverted into two pools which you could sit comfortably in while holding a cold drink of your choice – Johns was beer. We enjoyed many hours there and met a few more travellers. After relaxing there we both felt revived and that our legs were once again ready to move on. It was a good rest day.
Day 16: Ghorapani – Poon Hill - Tadapani
From Tatopani to Ghorapani, we had trekked through some beautiful villages surrounded by green fields and a self-sustainable lifestyle. We both agreed that you could spend many days here and when John saw they were excavating white marble from the mountain to make steps for the village, his mind turned briefly to renovations.
From Ghorapani onwards we had been surrounded by the famous and beautiful rhododendrons in pink and red - they covered nearly every inch of the view.
On this particular morning, we woke up at 4am to head up Poon Hill, where, on a clear day, there are spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The trek took about an hour – but we were not alone. This part of the trek is enjoyed by many tourists as it can be done as part of many shorter treks as well as the longer ones. We seemed to get a lot of kudos from the people we spoke to as they were complaining about being sore after only one day of walking. On arrival at sunrise on Poon Hill, we were unlucky to have a cloudy day, which meant that we could only see part of the range and it was quite hazy, although we did have a good view of the Fishtail (Machapuchare). The views we had seen on the Annapurna Circuit so far had been much more impressive.
Day 17 – Day 19: Tadapani – Pokhara
We continued on our trek for three more days, moving quickly as we were now on the final stretch. We stayed in some good teahouses again and were able to spend an afternoon by the river. Josi decided to buy a “lungi” which is a local Nepali skirt – this received much attention and praise by the locals. We bumped into one man who said to us: “This lungi is very nice. Now to be a true nepali woman ("Didi") you need to carry a basket on your head with both rucksacks. And then you (pointing at John) need to carry the woman” – then he started laughing.
Our trek finished in Phedi where Tsering, John and Josi held hands to complete the final three steps, followed by congratulations and a sense of achievement on completing the Annapurna Circuit. We then took our taxi to our final destination, Pokhara.