Published: June 27th 2012April 25th 2012
Ut oh, it’s happened again... Once again it’s been another top trumping day of obscenely good scenery. Just as I thought I had seen the best of the Annapurna’s they go and blow me away once again with literally the best views I’ve seen in my life, and, as a cheeky bonus throw in what has now become my favourite place on earth, the monastery on the hill at Braga. However, more about this later.
You may have noticed from my tone in yesterdays blog that I wasn’t feeling on top form. Maybe this was because the weather was miserable, maybe because my hotel room was small and oppressive, maybe because fatigue was getting the better of me and maybe because I was having a difficult day adjusting to life by myself without my Drago buddies. I guess it was probably a mixture of all of the above. I decided when I went to bed the last night that I would wake up today in a much more positive mood and sure enough despite intermittent sleep (due to altitude) I woke up feeling infinitely better. Can’t beat a bit of all American PMT (positive mental attitude)! Today the sun was
shining brightly, we had just 300m of altitude to gain and we would finally be arriving at the gateway to the Throng La Pass, Manang. What I didn’t realise that morning was that today would also feature the most stunning scenery of the trek to date, I wasn’t really expecting much in terms of scenery so what we encountered came as a very, very pleasant surprise.
The day started with about 45 mins of relatively gentle ascent on a path which rose slowly above the valley floor and Marshangdyi river. At the top of the hill we were greeted with a fine vista of the Manang valley below. The sweeping view of the alpine valley below and the fortress like ring of craggy snow capped peaks which encircled it looked breathtaking. From our vantage point we could see the trail we would be following today snaking through the alpine forest, in the distance we would see the only airport on the east side of the trail, Humde. I thought at the time that this view would be the best we would see all day, oh how wrong I was.
After passing Humde airport (basically a patch of mud
about the length of a hairdryer), we continued through some woodland before arriving into another valley. Awaiting us as we turned the corner was the almighty Annapurna III peak, looking like it was so close that if you stretched hard enough you could touch it. Indeed I would guess that with 5-10 minutes walking we could have reached the base of the mountain. Then again distances can be deceiving. The mighty Annapurna III would stay with us all the way to our final destination, Manang. It seemed that no matter how far we walked we never seemed to pass any further around the peak, a testament to its truly goliath stature. The strange thing about being so close to these mighty peaks is that they look relatively short and easy to climb. It certainly doesn’t look or feel like the peak is another 4-5000m above you. Looks in this case however are deceiving, and I shall not be attempting any ad hoc summits of 8,000m + peaks anytime soon.
On the walk we passed through increasingly sparse pine forests and some unbelievably scenic villages. My favourite village of today’s journey and home to my new favourite place/view on earth
was a little village 20 mins outside of Manang called Braga. Braga sits at the foot of Annapurna III and has views of Annapurna IV and Gangapurna to the left and right respectively. Braga is split into two villages, upper and lower. Most of the buildings in lower Braga are dedicated to tourism, although the village is still incredibly scenic. Upper Braga is a traditional village with no tourism facilities at all, the homes are built in traditional Tibetan style (incorporating human and animal living quarters in one building), the reason for this being that the villagers are all Tibetan refugees. Upper Braga is built on the edge of a very steep rocky hill and is backed by snow capped mountains and a steep wall of fairy tail chimney rocks, which reminded me of Cappadocia. Narrow stone staircases and mud paths link the village homes and also provide access to the village monastery.
Walking to the Monastery was a detour from today’s planned route, my guide asked if I would prefer just to take photos from the bottom as the walk up to the monastery was very steep. Looking at the time it was only 11.30am and we were
just 20 mins from our final destination, as such I told my guide he could wait below while I took a wander up to the Monastery. This turned out to be very, very wise decision. From the monastery the view of the quaint village homes, lush green fields and the almighty Annapurna range silhouetting it all was really rather special, Wordsworth would have loved it. Add to that crystal clear aqua blue skies (as you ascend higher the depth and clarity of the blue in the sky increases), the perfect heat of the afternoon sun, the precious sound of silence and the intoxicating sense of tranquillity, all of which combine to make a truly special place. I sat for around 15 mins at the top of the monastery grounds taking in the view below. Had my guide not been waiting I could easily have stayed much, much longer. Looking down I could see no sign of human life, just a few cows grazing in the fields below, the combination of peace and quiet with the fantastic views was truly intoxicating. While I feel like a bit of a douche for writing this, I did feel an all encompassing sense of
contentment and wellbeing flow through me as I sat there, for a few moments all was good and my mind was at peace. And this is why the Monastery on the hill at Braga is my new favourite place in the world, I recommend any one walking the trail to take the 15 mins extra it takes to walk to Braga monastery, you will not regret or forget it.
Leaving Braga it was a short 20 min walk to Manang our final destination. Manang is much more like a traditional tourist destination than most of the places enroute ie there are shops that sell trinkets, trekking clothes and a place with a projector which shows films. Still it’s a very pretty town situated in a stunningly beautiful place. My hotel room here was particularly good, not only did it have an ensuite toilet but it was also at the end of a terrace and as such had a huge window which looked directly onto Annapurna III. I can’t recall having a hotel room with such a good view, all for 3 gbp per night, not bad really.
A few days back I had the pleasure of bumping into
Neil and Dot the English couple who had travelled with me at the start of the trip. It was something of a surprise to see them as they were supposed to be a day behind me, however it appears that I was either slacking or they were walking very quickly, I’ll go with them walking very quickly to make myself feel better. In Manang I bumped into them again in a cafe which sold genuine Lavazza coffee! It was great to see them again and have a good chat, we will now be on the same itinerary schedule so will hopefully be seeing much more of each other along the way.
We would be staying in Manang for two nights, the reason being that we were now at 3,500m and needed to spend some time at this altitude to allow our bodies to acclimatise to the altitude. It was exciting to be staying two nights in Manang, this meant I could get up 20 mins later as I wouldn’t have to worry about packing my bag and daily battle of trying to stuff my sleeping bag into a bag that was obviously designed to hold a 4 year old
childs sleeping bag, why do they always do this?? There was however to be no lie in, no, no. KC decided we would set off for a walk on our second day in Manang at 06.30! Why KC why?! Fortunately the restaurant at the lodge only started serving at 06.30am so departure was pushed back to a still rather cruel 07.00am. I hadn’t slept well due to the ever increasing effects of altitude. Just as I did start to drift off my alarm rudely announced that it was time to wake up. My body however clearly didn’t agree with the alarm and almost mutineered when my brain told it to leave the comfort of the warm, toasty sleeping bag and instead put on icey clothes in the near zero degree temperature of my room. I shivered throughout breakfast and kept my hands wrapped tightly around my ginger tea for warmth. No one else seemed to be awake, clearly their guides were not as masochistic as mine. The idea today was to walk to somewhere at relatively high altitude so that there was less chance of getting altitude sickness tomorrow. I believe the mantra regarding altitude is the you should climb
high and sleep low i.e. you should always walk at least a little bit above where you will be staying for the night. Tomorrow’s destination Ledar (4,200m) was 660m above Manang and as such an acclimatisation walk today was essential. KC thought the best possible option would be a walk to the ‘100 rupee Llama’, a man who blesses your walk over the Throng La pass for 100 rupees. His monastery is 500m above Manang village (Manang, 3540m) and as such a good height for acclimatisation. We left just before 07.00am and immediately started climbing a very steep, slippery gravely trail. I always find to first few minutes off walking the hardest whether this be first thing in the morning or after lunch (even worse) and sure enough I really struggled for the first few minutes, the altitude, cold and my undigested breakfast were not making life easy at all. Sure enough though after a few minutes I got into the rhythm of things and it became much easier. I find with walking that once you get into a rhythm you get into an almost trance like state and walk for hours on end without really noticing. The walk was
supposed to take 2-2½ hours but we smashed it in an hour. The views from the temple were incredible, especially in the clear early morning light. After catching my breath I headed to meet the entrepreneurial Llama, I received a blessing in the form of a thread necklace and duly paid my 100 rupees (200 actually as I had to pay for my guide also!). I’m not really sure the thread will do anything but it was an interesting experience in a beautiful place which also helped me reach my goal of reaching high altitude. After a cup of complimentary (not really that complimentary really) tea I left the 96 year old Llama, took some photos and headed back down to Manang. The trip down took us just 30 mins as we were near running most of the time. The reason for the running is not because I’m a super narle adrenalin freak who likes to live life on the edge and treat everyday like it could be my last. No, it’s it is actually safe actually because it is safer and easier to move quickly on steep, lose ground than it is to walk slowly. I find the chances
of slipping when walking slowly are significantly increased, then again the chances of a horrific accident when running are I’m sure also substantially increased. I spent the afternoon doing another acclimatisation walk, this time by myself and to a village we would be heading through tomorrow called Gunung (3,900m). It took me around 1 hour and 10 mins to get there, a good time considering it was a fair distance from Manang and 360m above it. I had a ginger tea in the Gunung at a tea house which had no guests. The owner asked me if it was busy in Manang (it was), I told her reasonably. She went on to tell me that business was very bad nowadays since the economic crisis in the west, I felt bad for her and told her I would make sure to stop for ginger tea here again tomorrow. I ran pretty much all the way back from Gunung to Manang, the main reason being that I was due to watch a film with Neil and Dot at the local DIY cinema and was running very late. I got to the cinema just after the film had started but fortunately didn’t miss
anything crucial. I then sat down to watch possibly the worst film you could watch before attempting a challenging and potentially dangerous crossing of a 5,500m high pass, Into Thin Air. Into Thin Air is a true story that documents the year (1996 I believe) when more people died on Everest than any other. Needless to say watching it didn’t fill me with confidence and excitement about my own up and coming battle with altitude which is known to claim several lives of it’s own each year.
Feeling a little anxious about the challenge ahead I told myself that evening as I lay in bed that all would be fine. I would need to sleep well tonight as tomorrow I would be starting the 3 day ascent of the Throng La Pass. 3 days that would be potentially be the most physically demanding of my life thus far. I told you I was prone to hyperbole.
There are more photos below