Neil and Robin|
The Annapurna Circuit
Distance Covered: 300 km
Average Hours Trekked Per Day: 6
Number of Nights Over 3,500m: 5
Highest Sleep: 4420m
Highest Elevation: 5416m
Number of Showers: 3
Number of Nights In A Heated Room: 0
After a hellish 10-hour local bus ride from the Indian border, Pokhara seemed like Nirvana (coincidentally, the name of our guesthouse). With its lakeside setting and stunning views of the Annapurna range, it was a relaxing place to spend a few days. The German bakery, cheap beers, and pirated DVD showings of recent movies also made for an easy adjustment to life in Nepal.
We quickly decided we didn't need a guide to find our way around the ever-popular Annapurna Circuit. However, we weren't so sure if we were physically up to carrying our packs all the way around. Decision made: invest in our enjoyment, support the local economy, and hire a porter!
We found Huri through our guesthouse. He was half our size and well over our age (47), carrying our pack and his, never without a smile on his face. It was quickly confirmed for us that we had made the right decision as "Curry in a Hurry" became a guide, porter, and great Nepali friend all rolled into one.
Luckily for us, the weather was unseasonably predictable for December: cool and sunny everyday. Also luckily for us, tourism was way down. For our first ten days, we rarely saw any other trekkers at all.
We came face-to-face with plenty of mules, however. We would hear the jingles and see ten to fifteen of them wearing elaborate bells and head dresses, as if in some kind of procession for the King. They would be loaded down with more than their own weight, but trodded along without too much defiance toward their Nepali "shepherd". One day we were completely taken aback when the mule-train turned out to be a team of 'mini-mules'. Before having a chance to call the animal rights authority to make a claim against child labour, we were informed they were a full-grown breed of mule. Who knew?
Other regulars on the trail were the Tibetan prayer wheels at the beginning and end of every town, and the local Nepalis hired to carry super-human loads up the trail. One Nepali man carrying a 100kg generator passed us going uphill!!!
The river-crossings were always a hair-raising part of our day. Whether it was the local ramshackle variety or the super-reinforced swiss-built jobbies, the heights and views were breath-taking in more ways than one.
The food was definitely lacking the sizzle of India. The best value Nepali staple was Dahl Baat - a local dish of bottomless rice, lentils and vegetable curry. Unlike the locals, who eat it twice a day, we had to branch out. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that many of the Annapurna Nepalis can make a mean enchilada, excellent chocolate pudding, and a decent apple pie.
Our Christmas dinner of tuna (Ramen) spaghetti and re-heated vegetable curry did lack a little of the holiday magic. It came the day before crossing the pass (Thorung La), so the mood was naturally a festive one. We're not sure which was tougher, celebrating Christmas over 3500m or getting up at 5am to face the day-long hike over the Pass. The morning temp of -30C would be enough for most people to stay in bed. Except, the lodge room was as cold (or colder) than outside, providing ample reason to get going. Once the sun came out, it was a clear day and the painstaking 'baby steps' and numerous 'false summits', made crossing the Pass feel like quite the accomplishment. From that point on, it was literally, all downhill...
The other side of the pass brought us to the more developed "Jomsom region" with its pluses and minuses. More development meant more tourists. While enjoying breakfast one day in Muktinath, a stream of tourists riding on mules sauntered by us, looking quite refreshed. As it turns out, they had flown into Jomsom the day before and come to Muktinath to enjoy a day excursion. They must have wondered why we looked (and smelled) so bad. The high-point of this side was the village of Tatopani, famous for its natural hot springs. After two weeks of trekking, it was truly paradise in the mountains. The German bakery there, with its decadent chocolate cake, was a very close second...
The following day, we arrived at Gorepani on New Years' Eve just before the snow started to fall. The big, fluffy snowflakes added the perfect touch to our stay at "Snow Land Lodge". The Nepalese don't celebrate New Years, so try as we might to get the party started, lights were off and everyone was in bed by 10pm.
The next morning, we climbed up to the viewpoint of Poon Hill. The fresh snowfall added to the stunning views and managed to keep the usual crowd of tourists away. It was just the two of us and the mountains. The perfect farewell to our time in the Annapurnas.
At the time, we had no idea that this huge trek was just the warm-up, and we were about to face the main event...
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