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Published: January 13th 2013
Our cubby house come tea house.
Our arrival in Kathmandu was a shock to the senses! Swarms of people, cars blearing their horns with no regard to the road rules, minivan 'buses' with people squeezed in like sardines in a can and livestock wandering the busy streets. Luckily, our hostel for 2 nights was a lovely oasis from the hustle and bustle of the streets, which gave us a bit of time to acclimatise to all the noise and movement. There was a gorgeous garden and lots of balconies from which to view the craziness on the streets from a comfortable distance! After a night recovering from our sleepless flight from Europe, we braved the streets in search of some cheap trekking gear. Our 21-day Annapurna Circuit trek started in a few days and we would be climbing to an altitude of 5414m during Nepal's winter months, and although the temperature in Kathmandu was a balmy 20+ degrees, it was going to get decidedly cold during our hike. The only 'equipment' we had bought from home was our walking shoes, bought especially for this trip and worn in by a few Pyrenees, French Alps and Greek hikes over the previous few months. We still needed warm fleeces,
waterproof pants and jackets, beanies, gloves and water bottles. Fortunately Kathmandu's tourist area caters for souls such as ourselves, and has an abundance of retailers selling 'North Face' trekking gear at suspiciously low prices. After a day decking ourselves out with our 'North Fake' attire, we were ready to meet up with our group and start trekking!
We were a group of 12, more than half were Aussies, one Canadian, one Swiss and three Brits. Abe only one of three boys, and the closest in age to him was 63 year old Greg! Very much a Girl Power trek! The first friend we made on the trip was John, a 65 (ish..!) year old retiree from the UK. He had only taken up trekking in the last 6 years, and during that time had been to Nepal about 5 times and had completed some of its famed treks (including Everest Base Camp). He was also mighty keen on the beers so you can probably tell why we got along so well right from the start!
Our trek began at a town called Besisahar, about 100km east of Kathmandu and at an altitude of 760m. The weather
for the first few days was very sunny and warm, and a lot of us were very surprised to be sweating it out in shorts and t-shirts during the day. However once the sun had set, there was a chill in the air. Most days consisted of 5-6 hours walking with breaks for morning tea and lunch. Our accommodation was at Tea Houses spotted throughout the villages on the trail and in most places was very basic indeed. Our first night on the trek was in some funny little cabins made out of fibro sheeting with a huge draught - they reminded me an awful lot of a kids backyard cubby houses that Dad had whipped up over the weekend. After a few nights freezing my bum off wearing pyjamas in my sleeping bag, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to sleep fully clothed if I wanted to stay warm! During the depths of the trek, I was wearing woollen socks, fleecy tracksuit pants, a t-shirt, jumper, fleece jacket and a beanie in my sleeping bag! I might point out here that we only had to carry our day packs, filled with water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, jackets
Abe is blessed by a Lama!
(who charged 100 rupees for his trouble - excellent business model Mr. Lama!)
etc. Our main backpacks containing all our clothes, sleeping gear and sleeping bags were carried by 5 amazing porters. These guys strapped 3 bags together (weighing 10kg each) and carried them uphill, day after day. Most of the porters carried the bags in the traditional Nepalese way, strapped to their forehead. It was an amazing sight to behold. All along our trek we would also see village men and women carrying similar sized loads from town to town. The strength and endurance of the Nepalese is mind-boggling.
Over the first few days of our trek we were hiking through some beautifully lush farming villages. There were rice paddies and vegetables growing in terraces calved out of the hills and all sorts of farm animals (cows, buffalo, chickens, goats) roaming the streets of the villages. There were also convoys of donkeys (some wearing very beautiful headpieces!) carrying goods from town to town. We arrived early into the stunning hilltop village of Bahun Danda and had the afternoon to rest, eat and explore the town. A few of us went for a stroll with two of our very sweet assistant guides (Hari and Chandra) and they pointed out all
Almost at the top!
the tropical plants that were growing in the area. We saw guava, papaya, banana, coffee, poinsettia and even a sly marijuana plant! In the coming days as we climbed higher and higher, the scenery became less and less green and tropical and more mountainous.
The most difficult day of our trek was 'Pass Day'. We rose at 3am to begin our hike at 4am to make the cross over the Thorung La Pass before the wind set in. Unfortunately for us the wind came unusually early on Pass Day and instead of beating the wind, we made our 1000m ascension to the Pass right in the thick of it. The wind was ice cold, and our water bottles kept freezing over. I had wrapped a scarf around my head to protect against some of the dust that was being whipped around by the wind, and the moisture that I was breathing into the scarf was also freezing solid. At about 5000m, we began feeling the effects of the altitude. Up until this point our group had been going remarkably well with regards to coping with the altitude and Abe and I hadn't really felt any effects at
We made it!
5416m high and all survived!
all. It seemed that all of a sudden, the air disappeared! After every few steps we were out of breath, and I was beginning to feel extremely nauseous. We just kept plodding along very slowly, stopping every hundred metres or so to catch our breath back. At about 8.30am, we reached the Pass! There were gorgeous prayer flags flapping in the breeze (which had died down a lot), a big sign congratulating us on our achievement and of course, some men selling hot mugs of tea! After a lot of back-slapping and picture taking, we made the trek back down the other side of the mountain range to reach Muktinath (an altitude of about 3700m) by lunchtime. It was a massive day!
The remainder of our trek took us down through some spectacular gorges and past the Dhaulagiri mountain range (8,167m). It was also this side of the range that we got our best views of Annapurna 1 (8,091m).
After 17 long days of hiking, we were glad to take some time out in Kathmandu after the trek. We had 10 days to rest and recover before we hit India, so after a few days celebrating our achievement a bit too hard at the sheesha bars, we made our way out to the Chitwan National Park to spot some Rhinos!
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