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Published: September 28th 2005
From a wall poster depicting the various fates of various sinners.
I've just returned from a fast round of the Annapurna Circuit. It is an amazing hike around a series of high mountain peaks. In good weather it would be simply mind-blowing. As it was, even with the romantic, cloudy, misty weather, it was lovelier than I can describe.
But i'll try.
The Annapurnas are a range of mountains which come near to the Tibetan border and which bring you right to the region of Mustang, a region in Nepal but kind of its own municipality. To go there requires a permit of $700, so for the time beingI had to dreamily salivate and make do with the already impressive areas on the circuit.
Officially, the entire 200 or so mile circuit takes about 21-24 days, at a leisurely stroll, a few hours a day of hiking. If pressed for time, it can be done in 12. I was pressed for time. The actual hiking time was 10 days, with a day of acclimatisation in one town, and simply a day of exploration in another.
The trail begins in the sticky heat of lowlands Nepal and climbs gradually through the rice terraces and humid forests, up, up, the
terrain rapidly changing. Each day brought impressive new vistas, new flora, new house-styles, new temperatures.
Having no idea what to expect along the trail, I was pleasantly surprised when it passed through areas reminding me of both Eastern Canada and areas around my home in Ontario.
It continued further up, through pine trees and cooler forests. When I saw the first close-up of a snowy-peaked mountain, I could only exclaim things unprintable here, such was my inability to verbalize the beauty.
Instead of describing each stage, I'll let the photos speak for themselves, and include some snippets from my journal:
(day 1: Pokhara to Besi Sahar, the starting point of the trek) The bus is filled in the usual Asian bus-cramping, with the usual start-stopping. But I hadn't expected to see goats being hoisted down from the roof.
The driver's assistant uses a sonar method of communication, thumping his hand at varying speeds to indicate whether the driver should slow down, stop, continue...
Rounding a sharp corner, we passed another bus, turtled, but ours didn't stop to see whether anyone was hurt.
(day 1 continued: Besi Sahar to Bahundanda ~4.5hrs) We
passed through the more-touristed lodging area of Bhulebule and Ngadi, with their larger and glaringly-coloured buildings promising luxurious accommodation. Instead, just before sunset, we've arrived at a small, family-run wooden-tin home. The man is cheerful, the family and local guests riveted by the same, repeated music videos on tv. Our bedroom is a small, newspaper-covered plywood box with an amazing view over the rice terraces and with layered mountains beyond.
(day 2: Bahundanda to Tal, ~7.5 hrs) The trail has twisted up and down, left and right, along ridges and over the river on suspension bridges. It has passed through villages with shacks and villages with lovely stone homes and surprisingly well-kept gardens.
After a long slog uphill, through heat-trapping ferns and around donkey crap, the path passed through a town and began to climb again, this time along a stream which brought refreshingly cool air.
The mountains are not as stupendous as N. Vietnam but are still pointily overlapping cones, bright green terraces slicing horizontally from bottom to very near the top.
Nearing Tal, the trail went up in a zig-zag until blissfully flattening out into a wide plateau, with Tal strung out along the
(day 3: Tal to Timang, ~5 hrs) At near 10 am, lines of students pass on the trekking trail, on their way to the regional school. It serves about 300 students, some of whom walk for 2 hours in each direction every day to attend. Still, it is wonderful that there is a school in this remote area. About 18 teachers instruct up to grade 12.
The area is suprisingly well-equipped, huge satellite dishes on some rooves, and power generated by the river as well as solar-power.
A few of the people I've talked with who speak English well tell me they've lived in Kathmandu for a year or three but came back to live here and prefer it here. I agree.
(day 4: Timang to Pisang ~4.5 hrs) According to a Nepali man, the World Bank and some foreign donors have given one or two hundred thousand dollars for the building of a motor road from Besi Sahar to Manang. Today, from Timang, the trail passed over this road-work: teams of Nepalis who camp out in long tents and who daily pound boulders to pieces, pieces which are then hauled
in back-baskets to needed spots. The ACAP** office predicted the road will be finished in 15 years, but it seems likely that in under 10 years cars will be motoring on this same path that we now labour.
The road does promise to bring help in the form of easier access to big cities, emergency routes to hospitals, and to bring in the many supplies that are currently hauled by the mighty porters.
**ACAP is the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, which is encouraging responsible tourism and sustainable development. They seem to be doing good things, like initiating safe-water drinking stations at intervals along the trail. These stations both provide revenue for the village in which they are situated, as well as discourage trekkers from buying and chucking plastic water bottles. The ACAP is also combatting deforestation (though at time, passing through the road-work areas, this was hard to believe) by encouraging cooking over gas fires as opposed to wood ones. Yet, there are people within the area who have cooked over wood for generations and are unlikely, due to the traditions and finances, to switch to gas.
(day 7: Manang to Thorong Phedi ~5.5 hrs)
The trail is yet again changed. Open, it winds a pleasantly slow ascent around the jagged-rock mountain. It isn't a dramatic climb but a comfortable one, rising a bit, flattening, rising a bit, flattening.
The terrain is of low shrubs and bright red-berried bushes. Paralleling the trail, the tops of the next ridge roll in a scaley, boney ascent. And, of course, clouds hang persistently and beautifully around the tops of the mountains.
Following me on the trail are a trio of local Murungs, taking their time, and murmuring in their Tibetan-Murung dialect. A back-basketed older woman shuffled past, pausing to watch me write, then left with a "bye-uh bye-uh."
At Thorong Phedi, two hotels dominate the lower base camp.
The other climbers are sitting around the heated table and, with a flair for drama, discussing emergency airlift options and dying en route.
(day 8: up and over Thorong La pass ~ 3 hours up, 3 hours down) The first 10 m up drained my lungs and left me panting, actually worried about the next 1000 m up.
In all the climb took 3 hours of climbing, 3 taxing hours on the lungs.
The trail shoots
up, levels a bit, winds, and shoots up various times over.
Like magic, snow suddenly covers the path and provides a great distraction from my feeble physical complaints. It is truly wonderful and refreshing, despite the exertion.
The landscape and trail are too surreal to adequately describe. The path crosses mounds in a diagonal, gravelly lines cutting across fresh white, then angling up.
Rising to the top, a series of false summits, false hopes, lead to the real summit, garnished with prayer flags and a congratulatory sign. Just before this summit, my hiking companions broke out some Bagpiper whiskey, which hit the stomach immediately but really did warm the body.
Completing the summit is an empowering feeling which kicks in right away and repeatedly. It is exhausting and challenging, despite that so many have done it, ordinary, unathletic hikers, and that porters do it time and again with 3 or 4 times my load.
Anyway, for another few days, the hiking was wonderful. A challenging bit from Muktinath to Marpha, where it was a continual battle against winds and sandstorms. But so many beautiful places along the route, good people, new sights.
This was a last-minute
decision on my part, to try the Circuit. It is definitely some place I'd recommend, particularly in the next few years, before it becomes over-developed and sadly changed as it already must have in the last decade or so.
Tot: 0.592s; Tpl: 0.076s; cc: 11; qc: 56; dbt: 0.0438s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb