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Published: April 1st 2010
The Annapurna Circuit is a 210km walk around the Annapurna region of the Himalayas in Nepal. It has been billed as the World's greatest walk for many years and manages to combine lush valleys, pine forests and Nepali villages, with some of the world's giant peaks, snowy passes and beautiful high level tea houses.
We set off aiming to finish our trek at the 140km mark at Jomson where a road has been created to aid village life for the hundreds of people who live in these valleys. While the road detracts from the peace and tranquility of the route there is no doubting the benefit to the villagers who are able to get supplies in and emergency aid if it should be required. Anyway, that was our designated finish line.
We walked from Besi Sahar, the official start of the route, and followed the dusty road until it ended at Bhulhule. From here it was a 7 day hike over one of the highest passes in the world to Jomson. Besi Sahar sits at about 800m above sea level in the Himalayan foothills. The route of the circuit takes you up to 5416m at the Thorong La pass
and then falls back down steeply on the other side to Muktinath, a famous destination for many Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims who go to see the Eternal Flame that the town is famous for.
There was nobody around. Well no tourists anyway. We are a month off the busy peak season at the moment and then it gets even busier during the October/November climbing season. To give you a guide to popularity, Everest Base Camp receives over 9000 walkers a day on its 100km route out and back during October. Here we saw maybe 100 people in a week. But there were plenty of local people going about their business, carrying boxes full of chickens up the mountain or supplies to restock the many tea houses.
On day two we ate Dal baht, the staple Himalayan food of rice, lentil soup and vegetables on a balcony in a tea house under the stars and the moonlit figure on Manaslu (8000m+) one of the giants of the Himalaya. By day, temperatures sore to mid 30's and by night they drop below freezing. This is part of the reason people are unwilling to walk it at this time of year.
They'd rather wait for the more Mediterranean evenings. Fine by us.
We happened upon a monk reading in the forest and ended up following him for the next 6 days on and off. He wore sandals to cross the pass in minus 5 degree temperatures! We stopped moaning about the cold when we saw him! Another sobering sight is that of porters struggling up the mountains with up to 50 kilos of weight secured to their backs via a strap around their forehead! We had just 20 kilos each with us.
Food was incredible - we would order vegetable curry for lunch and watch as they dug up the veg and then washed it in streams next to the tea houses! It tasted amazing and was relatively cheap. The price increases as you gain height but you accept the reason for this when you see the effort required to get it there. On day 4 we woke to snow covered valleys and bright white mountain peaks. We would have eight consecutive days of bright clear skies all morning and snow in the evening. The views were out of this world.
The pass was tough going, a 900m
ascent followed by a 1600m descent over snow and ice but passable without crampons. We lugged our packs up and down in about 6 hours in fine weather and settled in for the night at Muktinath. This is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists alike. It is where the eternal flame is created - a natural gas jet emanates from a gap in the rock near where the monastery stands. Although easily explained by science the Sadhus travel all the way from Southern India to see this phenomenon. We didn't bother.
Next up Everest Base Camp and the Gokyo Valley.
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