Published: March 23rd 2006March 10th 2006
View of Annapurna II
This was my reward for hiking 10 hours.
Nepal is full of two things, Mountains and misconceptions. Sorry for the people I met traveling in India and who wished to go to Nepal but didn't for reasons read in the news. True, everyday I spent in Nepal included reading a newspaper filled with Maoist related violence and killings. Uncomfortable to see bunkers, barb wires and all manner of guns slung over the shoulders of young police and army. But the glut of rooms and absence of people on the trails was a bit more disquieting. Confirmed on my flight out of Kathmandu which was full to the brim with Nepali migrant workers bound for Gulf countries, tourism is such a vital part to this poor and corrupted country. There still hasn't been any tourists directly targeted by any group within the country, unless you count the mild extortion from the Maoist themselves, an amount for which you are provided a receipt should you run into others later on.
I wasn't complaining too much as I arrived in Pokhara, what an enormous change in cleanliness and hygiene from India. For much less than in India, I enjoyed clean rooms, fresh baked goodies (a little too much) and
Carrying a fridge with no shoes.
So they say the Nepali people are tough?
beer that didn't taste like it had formaldehyde in it. King Fisher, two thumbs down.
Before setting off on the Annapurna circuit I hung around town riding motorbikes, eating cinnamon rolls, learning the basics from American para gliders, eating muffins, drinking Danish beer with a couple Scots and Japanese, eating cakes, searching through scores of 'North Fake' stores for extra cold weather pieces, buying Tibetan crafts from the refugees in town and dodging endless offers of porters and guides.
Starting off on the trail advertised to take between 14 and 21 days reaching a peak of just under 18000 feet I was hoping to meet other trekkers setting off. Not until six days later would I run into another group, cranky Germans who were having attitude, I mean, altitude problems and zero conversational skills.
Arriving in a village with 50 rooms and one foreigner (me) got pretty dull, I spent the first few nights downstairs with the Nepali families practising English ABC's, making paper footballs and airplanes and having my hairy arms pulled by cheerful kids under the glow of candles and LED headlamps. Nepal is in drought and being largely depended on Hydroelectricity
Upper Pisang Village
I took an alternate route to Manang via a high trail to gain a better view of the mountains. Stone cold villages like this one blew wind and chill in their facinating alleys.
the country is averaging 6 hours a day of blackouts and may move up to 12.
I ended up hiking till an hour or two before dark and was sound asleep by 8 pm, exciting. The first seven nights were spent before Throung La (the 5400 meter pass), a valley that is distinctly Nepali, dry and full of small, quiet and hard working people. On the third day I left the main trail for a climb up the east side of the valley for a tour through high, windy stone villages and clear views of the seven to eight thousand meter peaks. Without a guide I took a few wrong turns but it doesn't mean you are really lost, one way in, one way out. I had a few outings in CO climbing fourteeners where I felt rotten effects from the altitude so I took it very slow once I reached 12000 feet. From 12000 on I crawled up the pass never letting myself get out of breath or too fast, it paid off, spending one night at 14100 and another at 15800 I slept well and never had a hint of a headache.
10 rupees for a photo
She conned me into taking a photo but how cute is she?
Crossing the pass at 7am marks real start of the day where I would lose half of the altitude over 32 Ks, murder on the knees. When you cross the pass the scenery changes as do the people. Mustang valley is more Tibetan in landscape and tradition and protected for it. A one week visit in Upper Mustang costs 700 US and must include a guide. The terrain features relentless winds and wide arid desert hills feeding down into an enormous rocky river bed that serves as the high way into Upper Mustang. My lips became cracked and bleeding and drying like I ate chocolate ice cream and made a mess of myself. Working into lower Mustang valley the charm sort of wears off, the biggest village has an airport (shuttling lots of out of shape people clogging the trails as bad as the donkeys) and an ATM. Coming down brings you into the area where large work crews are carving a road out of the mountainside by hand. Dangerous work doesn't begin to describe what these people are doing. My last night was spent in a guest house between two villages when I ran out of daylight, upon signing
I like a Donkey with style
The only unpleasant aspect of hiking in Annapurna is the never ending donkey trains carrying supplies for the villages. Some donkeys were biters, huge muzzles over their snouts.
in I looked at the visitors book and counted 17 hikers over a three year period. Slow business and a good reason to trek in Nepal.
Getting off the trail and catching a bus to Kathmandu I met up with Matthew, a Scotsman I hung out with in Pokhara and met a large group of Americans volunteering in Nepal. I talked everyones ear off and danced in the cheesiest club playing Michael Jackson, 50 cent and other music out in America before I left, we ending each evening with a huge 'call it a night sandwich.'
For anyone looking at the the circuit hike I kept a simple list.
Day 1 Pokhara to Mampata 1100 meters 230pm-530pm
Day 2 Lampata to Chamje 1430 meters 800am-400pm
Day 3 Chamje to Lata Marang 2400 745am-420pm
Day 4 Lata Marang to Ghyaru 3670 meters 730-530pm
Day 5 Gharyu to Manang 3500 meters 830am-1230pm
Day 6 Manang to Letdar 4200 meters 1000am-200pm
Day 7 Letdar to High camp 4800 meters 900-1300pm
Day 8 High Camp to Jomosom 2710 meters 630am-530pm
Day 9 Jomosom to Kaiku 2085 meters 830am-530pm
Day 10 Kaiku to Pokhara 900am-430pm
There are more photos below