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Published: June 28th 2010
After arriving in Kathmandu very tired and quite ill after the epic six day overland trip from Leh and a dodgy Thali in Varanasi there was much to do. I needed to find someone to go trekking with in 4 days time, get a permit, register for the trekker’s info system, and get some equipment. I’d arrived utterly unprepared for trekking, I had no shoes, coat, waterproofs or any of the equipment I’d have if I’d just come on a trekking holiday. In the end it all worked out rather well as I bumped into two guys at the kebab shop who had just come back from the Everest trek which they’d done without guides and porters. This reassured me that I’d be able to do the same as my finances would be stretched dangerously by having ‘staff’ with me. I also had some remarkable good luck when a Canadian fellow I met in the pub gave me his boots as he didn’t need them anymore, bonus! In the same pub I also bumped into a dour Scotsman named Callum who decided that a 10 day trek would serve him better than spending that time drinking in the pub, under the condition we returned for the knock out stages of the world cup (beer is disappointingly expensive in Kathmandu).
In the time remaining before the match that was not used in the pub watching football I attempted to check out a few of Kathmandu’s tourist attractions. After having now spent months going round temples and forts and all that I’d began to get a little weary of these things. That said I was impressed with the Buddhist temple at the top or one of Kathmandu’s small hills, some excellent gold-work of similar craftsmanship to that of the Golden Temple of Amritsar in quality if not quantity. I also headed down for a walk round Durbar Square which boasts some of the best examples of Asian architecture. Some very impressive pagoda type buildings, although there’s one neoclassical construction in amongst all the Asian style buildings that sticks out like a sore thumb and isn’t even that good.
Before I knew it, it was time to go. We had to get up very early to take the tourist bus to Pokhara, from where we could start the trek the following day. However, all the benefit of the early start was destroyed by a truck breaking down on the road out of the Kathmandu Valley which caused a traffic jam as long as the A6. Much later, we arrived in Pokhara, hot and sweaty (I was hoping it would be nice and cool in Nepal but that’s not the case) and found a decent place to stay. After an hour or so spent getting the last bits and bobs for the trek, an almighty downpour of biblical proportions began to soak the town, the problem was compounded by the fact that in my rush for shelter I seemed to have inadvertently run into the most expensive café in Nepal, shit! The rain went for two hours and it appeared a rather ominous sign for the upcoming trek. It was at that point decided that early starts would be the way to go on the trek so by the time the rain came in we’d be home and dry with the day’s walking complete.
The next morning true to our word, after breakfast at 5:30 we jumped in a tax to the bus stand to take the bus to Phedi where the trail starts. After a brief argument with our taxi driver who had attempted to fleece the tourists for a fare several multiples of the going rate, we jumped on the bus and we were on our way. It was crystal clear and the golden morning sun could be seen illuminating the spectacular Annapurna mountain range. After getting off the bus in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, with only a small shack and some rice paddies for company we were pointed in the direction of the trail. The walk started as it meant to go on, with steps, and more steps, an eternity of steps. The stone steps went straight up the steep hill from 900m above sea level to an altitude of 1700m which was hot work with the sun on our backs. The trail then continued through a vast forest of rhododendron trees bigger than anything I’d ever seen before and very impressive. The trail climbed to about 2100m when we came over the crest of the hill to look into the valley that leads up to the Annapurna Base Camp. Sadly by this point the mountain views had clouded over so we stopped for lunch which turned out to be rather disappointing mashed potatoes with cheese (in many ways I miss cooking for myself). After lunch we headed down into the valley as unfortunately all the trail goes up the other side of the valley to the one we were on. We descended to a place called Landruk (1500m) to stay the night as enough had been done for one day. One bonus of trekking in low season is that we managed to get free accommodation in exchange for eating at the same establishment; food is by far the greatest expense on these treks as it all has to be carried up the mountain by porters, which is back breaking work because the steps on the trail make yak trains unpractical.
The next morning we were back on the trail after a rather large breakfast by 6:45 am and we had to descend all the way down to 1300m to cross the great river before going up to 2100m again, today was going to be a tough day. It was a muggy misty humid morning and just prior to crossing the river we were attacked by leeches, I ended up with 4 but Callum suffered far worse by accruing a total of 12 leeches. This had never happened to me before, the leeches don’t hurt when they bite but it’s very annoying and the wound won’t stop bleeding for a long time once the leech has gone. Fortunately, we were only 5 minutes from a tiny village and we managed to get some salt from the kind lady there that turned the tide of the war with the leeches. They have no defense against salt and are immediately defeated. Immediately after this we came to the bridge across the river, a vast construction made of wire and wood of the sort normally seen in Indiana Jones films, excellent stuff. After a few more hours walking we came to a place called Jhinu where we dumped our bags and headed down to the hot springs. This was a real treat and we stayed in the pools for an hour or so taking it easy, the springs are right next to the raging river right at the bottom of the valley in the thick forest, there were also plenty of monkeys about too. After a quick spot of lunch we ascended up a ridiculously long and hard set of stairs and we had reached Chomrong, the last permanent settlement before Annapurna. We were exhausted and had managed to find a place with a TV where we could watch the world cup. However, we weren’t made to feel that welcome and the hospitality left much to be desired; at least the football was good. We were glad to be on our way the next morning.
That morning we were up at 5 and treated to some spectacular views of Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre, a sharp pointed mountain with lots of snow of the sort I would have drawn in my single digit years. We then undid all of yesterdays work by going all the way down to the bottom of the valley to cross another river, before having to go all the way back up to 2100m (up yes, you guessed it, many more steps). The weather on this day was excellent and we had soon arrived in a place called Bamboo for a decent lunch where we joined by a very nice French woman who arrived just after us with her ‘staff.’ After a jovial lunch we continued on along the side of the steep-sided valley through the dense forest, with spectacular waterfalls crashing down to our proximity from high above. After a few more hours walking we came to a place called Doban where we stopped for the night. That evening a Spanish couple arrived at the same place who were a good laugh.
By the next morning the silliness of the steps was behind us and the path gently ascended up the remainder of the valley, on this day we were to pass though some of the greatest and dramatic scenery I’ve seen anywhere. The forest goes up almost right to the snow line, so you’re treated to amazing luscious rainforest and stunning 7000m snow covered mountains all at the same time, everyone should come to Annapurna! That night we had made it as far as Machhapuchhre Base Camp and an altitude of 3700m, it was at this point that Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can set in, the air is noticeably thinner and it’s very much like being very unfit, and breathlessness sets in after even the smallest of exertions. Fortunately we were both feeling fine, I think my week and a half spent in Leh at 3500m must have helped significantly with my adjustments to altitude, Callum explained that he’d only began to feel ill on the Everest trek above 4000m. That evening the clouds cleared momentarily to reveal some spectacular mountain views, but the cloud come in again so quickly, there’s no way you could out run it, it is blown up the valley at such speed. That night we had an early night as we planned to walk the final 2 hours to the Annapurna Base Camp early in the morning, and then if it was clear head back down the mountain as food this high up had become rather expensive. It was a night of interrupted sleep as the rain on the corrugated iron roof above kept me awake, and it’s hard to sleep normally in the thin air as I kept waking up short of breath feeling as though I was slowly suffocating. A few deep breaths later and I was fine, it’s a strange feeling when you’re breathing normally like you would do at home and it isn’t enough.
When I got out of bed at 4:00 am in order to get an early start, it was still pitch black and hammering it down with rain, so the early start was postponed until later. The weather and visibility had improved little by ‘later’ but it had at least stopped raining. We decided to walk the last 2 hours to Base Camp (4200m in altitude) anyway in the hope that it would clear by the time we arrived. By the time we arrived it hadn’t. So, we had a cup of tea and after about 20 minutes it started to clear, it was about 7:00 am by this point. We quickly raced outside cameras in hands, and the great Himalayan amphitheatre that is the Annapurna Sanctuary was slowly in part revealed to us. This is the best mountain scenery I have seen anywhere ever; the mighty Annapurna I towers in front rising to 8091m, the world’s 10th highest peak. It appears to be matched in stature by some of the other slightly smaller but closer mountains, but its an illusion, the mountains surround you in a horseshoe shape that now panorama mode on any camera can get. There’s no point in elaborating further on the beauty of the place, no words would do it justice. We decided that we might as well spend another day up there in the hope of seeing the famous ‘frozen dawn’ the next morning. So back we went to the other base camp, picked up or stuff and walked back to the Annapurna Base Camp. It had clouded over again for the rest of the day, but we were joined by the French lady, and the Spanish couple, so it was all good. Also there was a sound English lad called George and a weird American guy. Sadly it didn’t really clear that evening and it grew very cold so we took an early night.
At 4:30 am the next morning we were up, as the mist grew golden in the rising sun the sky began to clear. Initially the sun began to hit the tips of the mountains on the opposite side and these views were even better than the day before. Within an hour however it had all clouded over again so having seen what we’d come for and with a small chance of seeing it again we gathered our stuff and headed off down the mountain in the hope of reaching a place with a TV showing football. We eventually arrived back at Bamboo in time for some tea where we had the grave misfortune to acquaint ourselves with an incredibly irritating know it all type Swiss gentleman in his early 60’s who proceeded to lecture us at how there was no difference between England and Scotland, not the most prudent of arguments to make with a proud Scotsman. This is by far the most annoying person I’ve met on this trip, such people should not be allowed passports. Irritated, we continued on to Sinuwa (the last place before Chomrong) where we came across a guesthouse with a large satellite dish, this looked promising. We asked the owner if he’d be showing the football later, and when we received the affirmative we happily elected to stay and we were exhausted. At 17:15 we went to watch the game only to find that there was not football at all, we’d been done over, despair descended upon us, all was lost. This was made much worse the next morning when we received the news that Portugal had destroyed North Korea 7-0 (take that Kim Jong-Il!).
The next day we’d decided to go to Gamdruck where they’d definitely had the world cup, so we took the 2,700 steps down and up to Chomrong on the other side of the valley and set off for Gamdruk. However, when we saw that the route would take us on another completely pointless down and up, though we did see a snake, we decided that it would be much better if we went back to Chomrong and rested (at the place with football) before taking the big march by another route back the next day. This time the hospitality was very much improved and we caught up on all the world cup that we’d missed in the past 3 days up the hill.
The next day we walked all the way to Naya Pul where we could get the bus back to Pokhara, all went well and because we had a different route it was just a nice gradient all the way down and no damned steps! Also, on the bus back someone brought a goat on, you don’t see that on the 88 to Clapham Common. Eventually, and very tired we arrived back in Pokhara and I managed to get an immaculate room with double bed and en suite bathroom for less than two pounds fifty per night. I spent the next few days taking it easy in Pokhara and all was well. I also randomly bumped into a guy I’d met in Mcleod Ganj which was a bonus. I’m now back in Kathmandu taking it easy and not doing much, and I’m off to Bangkok tomorrow, adios!
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