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Published: August 6th 2007
View from Poon Hill
Trekking. It's the ultimate in guiltfree chocolate indulgences. You can justify scoffing loads of chocolate by reasoning that it is infact "energy" and when faced with a steep mountain ascent (all that lies between you and a hot shower) - you need all the help you can get. Help sometimes takes the form of small wrapped parcels of chocolate and peanut joy which can be guiltlessly devoured (safe with the knowledge that the calories will be worked off sometime during the next several hours of your uphill slog!). Our score: 15 mini snickers bars, and 3 full size ones - not too bad for 10 days trekking and for three people!
We've just returned from the Jomsom/Muktinath trek which forms the second half of the famous 3 week Annapurna Circuit, but can be done as a shorter trip from Pokhara. It allows a significant gain in altitude (highest point is 3800m) and is both geographically and culturally diverse. It's a "tea house" trek which means that after a long day you can rest in relative comfort at one of the many tea houses or villages dotted along the track. If you're lucky you get a warm shower and something resembling
western style food, if not, the local dhal bhat is a safe bet (though pretty pricey in the hills for a basic meal of rice, dhal and curry).
Our guide was the fantastic Krishna Lama
who maintained a continually upbeat attitude and kept us endlessly entertained with cheesy phrases you'd expect to find on a calendar such as: "You laugh together, you stay together", "your satisfaction is my motto"
, and when we purchased him a plastic poncho after all being drenched in a downpour - "My happiness knows no bounds"
. Turns out he was a bit of a card shark too and reigns as the official "One More Chance" champion!
Together we started in Jomsom
and trekked north to Kagbeni
through the world's deepest river valley. The majority of the track follows the Kali Gandaki River which flows between the Annapurna 1 (8091m) and Daulagiri (8167m) mountains.
We passed long-haired cows, hairy and fluffy (and very weird) looking sheep, mountain goats scrambling up the sides of the mountains and goatherders chasing after them trying to pretend they were in control! Donkeys laden with supplies, and local families (and tired tourists!) passed us by on ponies. Porters carrying up
to 80kgs ran past us, seemingly oblivious to the massive loads that they carried. Some were hired porters carrying tents, food and provisions for expeditions, and others carried supplies up and down the mountain for shopkeepers and carried everything from toothpaste to live chickens!
We had a 900m ascent up to Muktinath
which is place of religious significance for both Buddhist and Hindus due to the earth-water-fire element present there formed by spring and the eternal flame from natural gas vents. Both Kagbeni and Muktinath are predominantly Tibetan villages and the culture is very evident there: in the traditional clothing still worn, the music, the Mani prayer stones, and prayer flags flying everywhere.
Between Kagbeni and Jomsom the ferocious winds whipping along the valley brought with them loads of dust and we found ourselves trapped in a sandstorm, barely able to inch forward due to the sheer force fo the winds. We'd purchased some rather geeky looking trekking poles and tried to pull ourselves forward (without much luck) with the poles. Sort of like skiing without skiis in a snow storm - unsucessfully.
Coming down we passed through Thakali villages and came to Marpha
which according to
one sign is the "Pleasant Apple Place of Nepal". So we stopped and had some apple juice and apple crumble, which were both very pleasant indeed. We were keen to sample the delicious carrot brandy at nearby Tukuche but sadly the distillery was closed when we visited so our hankerings for vegetable based alcoholic beverages go unfulfilled.
The track between Ghasa
and Tatopani is notoriously bad for landslides which block the track, meaning you are required to carefully negotiate yourself along the edge of the cliff on a tiny goat track with a steep jaggered cliff on one side, and a huge drop to the river below on the other. Now imagine doing this in a hail storm (with hail the size of marbles), reducing visibility and rendering everything wet and slippery, and you'll be up there with our experience!
Landslides aside, by far the biggest danger on the trail are the heavily laden caravans of donkeys that wind their way along the mountainside. If we can only impart to you one piece of advice that you will remember for the rest of your life, let it be this: "When passing donkeys always stand to the hillside (not
the cliffside) to let them pass". Yes, to some it may sound like common sense, but Suz was almost taken out and sent plummeting to her death when a malicious donkey decided to hip-butt her off the side of a cliff. Due to her lightening sharp reflexes (a piercing scream and madly flailing arms) Suz was able to grab hold of the offending donkey who righted himself and lurched away from the cliff thereby preventing both of them rolling down the mountain, and narrowly averting disaster.
Outside of Ghasa the bridge was blocked and the peace disrupted by loud explosions where they're attempting to blast the new road. One of the reasons that we chose this trek is becasue in a couple of years it won't exist, which is a tragedy, so we decided to see it before it's changed forevermore. They're building a road from Birethani to Jomsom which will effectively wipe out most of the trek we did, and infect the Annapurna Sanctuary with cars, motorbikes, and buses and associated noise and pollution. For a place that is so naturally beautiful, remote, tranquil, and relatively culturally intact, it's hard to believe that the Nepali government is moving
to willingly destroy this. Tatopani
(1190m) is home to the thermal hot pools so we enjoyed a day and a half here resting, soaking in the thermal hot pools, playing cards and making new friends.
We endured a massive seven hour climb from Tatopani (1190m) to Ghorepani
(2750m) which was a continual slog of uphill steps, and we ascended 1560m in one day. Clearly it was a tough day for others too - halfway up an American girl hired a pony and rode it the rest of the way up, and one Japanese man was helicoptered out!
The next day while Suz was suffering from a nasty and prolonged episode of "travel sickness" Dave and Krishna made the steep ascent up Poon Hill (3210m) to watch the sunrise over the vast mountainscape of the Annapurnas. From Ghorepani to Ulleri and then out to Birethani it was downhill all the way - steep stairs that hurt our knees and gave us flashbacks to our summit and descent of Sri Pada! (see our blog on Geriatric Trekking).
All in all, it was a fantastic trek and one we would happily recommend - but you'd better do it fast
before the cars come!
It was a real task trying to decide which photos to publish, so there's loads here for you over a few pages!!
* To hire our fantastic guide Krishna Lama, he can reached at:
Mr. Krishna Lama
Step By Step Treks & Adventure P.Ltd
Head Office: Pokhara,Lakeside-6,Khahare-Nepal
Contact Office Number : 977-061461523Contact M.Number: 977-9846149129E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Or visit Krishna's blog and website
Pokhara > Jomsom > Kagbeni > Larjung > Dana > Tatopani > Ghorepani > Pokhara
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