Day 2 - Tal (1,700m) - Danakyu (2,200m) (Annapurna Circuit)

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April 16th 2012
Published: May 22nd 2012
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After a fabulous sleep I start the day with a local speciality, Tsampa porridge. Made from barley, sugar, water and a little milk it is brown in colour and thick and smooth in texture. When it is placed in front of me I think good god what have I done, this large bowl of thick, brown gunk does not appear to have been a good choice. However, on further inspection things start to look up. It smells good, a little like peanut butter and it’s cement like texture is somehow reassuring. When I come to finally tasting it I realise that my initial fears were misplaced, it tastes good, really good in fact! Sweet, a little nutty, thick yet perfectly smooth, it makes for a very satisfying breakfast and blows boring oat porridge well out of the water. I’m also told that it is very good for slow release energy and thus great for trekking. I’ll let you know if this truly is the case, either way I can quickly see this becoming my breakfast of choice, something I could not say for oat porridge.

Today’s walk starts with more Tolkieneseque scenery as we pass from the open sweeping valley where Tal lies into a narrow high walled rocky canyon, the towering, narrow entrance to which looks like the gateway to another mysterious realm, I can almost here Sam Ganges behind me saying “there it is Mr Mark, the gateway to the Kindgom of Azriul”. No more Tolkien/Lord of the Rings references from now on I promise.

The Annapurna circuit trek is famous for its regular and dramatic changes of scenery. From what I had seen this was certainly proving to be true so far. The landscape today is somewhat different to that of yesterday, gone are the lush green canyons and their exotic flora, instead now the scene is considerably more alpine and dry in nature (due to altitude gain and the rain Annapurna rain shadow) and we are now surrounded by alpine plants, grasslands and pine forests. I was amazed at just how quickly the scenery had changed in just a few short kilometres, it is exciting not really knowing what aesthetic beauty may lie behind each corner.

The trail today continued to follow the pretty Marsyangdi river (as it will do until Manang), on the way we passed through several sleepy medieval villages where the ancient stone houses were built in the traditional style with living quarters for humans on top and for animals below. At times it was like taking a step back in time and peering into a way of life which has little changed over the past few hundred years. Of course this isn’t strictly true, tourism has radically changed the lives of almost all locals on the circuit, most will derive at least some of their income from tourists (traditionally most income was from just agriculture). However you do get the impression that the day to day ways of life, local culture and beliefs have changed very little for a long time.

We pass countless Donkey caravans en-route, with no roads after the village of Chamje (halfway point on day 1) donkeys (and humans) are the only way to transport goods around the valley. The size of some of the caravans is staggering, we wait at a bridge for around 10 mins at one point waiting for a 50+ strong donkey caravan to pass. The Nepali government are however in the process of building a road through Marsyangdi valley, it will take a few more years to complete but once completed it will bring massive changes to the trail. Locals that I spoke to en-route had differing opinions as to whether or not they thought the road was a good thing. On the negative side the road would put the porters and donkey caravans out of business, less tourists may decide to walk the trail once it has lost it’s ‘wild’ edge (this has happened on the west side of the circuit where a road has already been built), this in turn may cause big problems for the villages on the trail which are now completely reliant on tourism, it would also put a lot of guides and porters out of work. The benefits include it bringing development to the villages along the trail and making it much easier for the villagers on the trail to get access to important facilities such as hospitals. The road may also cause the development of day walking trails for people who don’t have the time or want to do a long trek, the problem with this however is that such tourists often don’t require guides or porters. As a biased tourist I think building the road is a terrible idea and will ruin one of the best walks in the world, however I can also understand why some villagers want development, it will be interesting to see how things work out.

The real highlight of today’s walk was catching my first glimpses of snow capped peaks and then later on in the day the Manasulu mountain range and the awesome peaks of Annapurna II (7937m) and IV (7525m). Seeing the snow capped mountains rising high above everything else was a truly exciting and awe inspiring experience, walking round a corner to be greeted with a sublime mountain view can revitalise even the most tired of legs. Today’s walk involved a 500m gain in altitude which was paced much evenly than yesterdays walk, making today feel fairly easy. We left in the morning at 08.00am and arrived into Danakyu after just 4.30 hours of walking at 12.30. As is fast becoming my theme, I ate Dhal Bat for lunch upon arrival, then slept for a few hours before dinner, after which I slept again!

In the evening, seeing me sat alone in the dining room (I was the only guest at the guesthouse!) the guesthouse owner invited me into the kitchen and placed me on a seat directly by the warm cooking fire. I sat here for around an hour with KC, the hotel owner and a cute young boy where we chatted, drank local rice wine (more like a spirit) and ate some yak meat fried with garlic, ginger, onions and a few other spices. The yak meat was good, I would describe the taste as similar to beef but with slight gamey/venison overtones. The meat was a little tough (not dissimilar to leather at times) as it had previously been dried (like Biltong) to preserve it. Sitting in the kitchen round the fire eating Yak meat and drinking the local wine with the locals was a really great experience and felt like a real privilege. The people of the Annapurna’s have so far been incredibly kind and hospitable.

A few hours after arrival into Danakyu it started to rain heavily and was still doing so by the time I headed off to bed. I was very much hoping at this point that it would have stopped by the morning, walking for 5-6 hours in torrential rain on slippery paths does not sound like fun. One potential benefit of the rain however is that it should clear the haze which has been reducing visibility for the past few days.


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