Annapurna Circuit

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March 21st 2016
Published: March 21st 2016
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Annapurna trail (the short one, missing the West side)
I spent my last night in the company of Sonia after meeting the new crew….But everyone was friendly and excited for the trek. We met our guide Krishna and were given a run down on what was going to happen over the next couple of weeks.

Our first day was a later start than usual and we didn’t meet up until after 9am. We spent most of the day on a mini bus heading to Bandipur. Now I know I have mentioned Nepalese traffic in previous posts but I really feel like it needs to be revisited…driving in Nepal takes guts, serious guts!! Close calls, strong brakes on steep hills, fast accelerations and confidence that yes I will fit through that smaller than average gap and that motorbike rider had better get out of the way fast…it is disorganised chaos that seems to work itself out eventually and they all seem to know the rules at play…us poor foreigners in the bus used to the nice polite overtaking lanes and traffic lights were a bit more on edge than usual!! We had to fill up the bus once we were all on it – due to India cutting off fuel supplies they have to prove that they need the petrol before they will be given the petrol. Once we were on the “freeway” I discovered that the Nepalese use their vehicle horns as a means of communicaion, constant constant communication…there are honks for “is it safe for me to pass now”, “no it isn’t” “yes it is” “thanks I’m passing you now” “I’ve passed you thanks” “no worries” – they also use indicators to say when people can pass or if something is coming up on a corner the person behind them should be aware of – it is a complex series of long and short bursts, some of them are musical which at first was amusing then annoying then it gave me a headache…the truck drivers like to decorate their vehicles, no simple advertising here it was full of colours and slogans my favorites being “Star Lover” “push horn” (ike anyone needs to be told that here!!) “Please Pass” “See You” “facebook” “google” and there was a plethora of other combinations but these were the most popular – these weren’t just simple words on a plain background these were decorative with pictures and colours galore…it is hard to describe but they defiantly like to decorate and be colourful with all things including (but not limited to) clothing, homes and vehicles.

We made it safely to Bandipur in one piece. It is a beautiful town – we were staying in an old mansion with beautiful wooden carvings and Nepalese sized doorways (I am over 6’ tall so Nepalese doorways come upto aroundabout my chin level…lots of bumped heads and I couldn’t even stand up in the room properly!! But the building was beautiful and the views from the back porch into the valley were stupendous. I spent the afternoon wandering the streets. In the evening there was a festival on where they smoke illegal substances and honour one of their gods…I didn’t partake in the marijuana laced foods or the smoke itself…they lit bonfires in the street and the children would put sugar cane in the fire until it was boiling hot then it is hit on the ground causing it to explode – so they got to make loud noises then eat hot sugar…who could ask for more than that?!?! We sat by a fire for a while and then we went for a walk along the town where we saw a group of teengers dancing…so of course off to the side I started to dance and was spotted by one of the girls and dragged into the middle of the circle – never one to turn down a challenge I did my best dance moves and joined in the party…it was a lot of fun but knowing we had the start of the trek the next day we had an early night (that and the tea house locks it’s doors at 9.30…

So up the next day and we were back on the mini bus which took us back down the hill to the start of the trek where we met our porters and assistant guides. The assistant guides were Bashu (the fastest walker on the trail) and Raj (the best Yak pace on the trail). The first day we became aware of how the Chinese have changed the area. There is no longer a walking trail but a roadway and lots of construction. This would be a repeating theme throughout this trek where we would spend most of our time walking on the roads avoiding trucks and vehicles and roadworks. It is good for the area meaning they have easier transportation and can move goods between locations with ease but I can only assume it will reduce the tourism to the area as it becomes less of a beautiful track to walk. Anyway we were walking the roads and actually walked through a tunnel and had to dodge a few trucks with workmen calling out their appreciation for the female form as they passed (guess that happens everywhere) so not quite what I expected from the start of the trek but it does get better!

After lunch we were back on the road (literally) and started our walk. We followed the river along through farmland and beautiful forests. It is a beautiful sight and it was an easy walk along…until we reached the stairs leading to Buhundana our village for the night…of course the village was set at the top of the mountain (what I call a mountain the Nepalese call a hill but for the sake of this post it was definitely a mountain!!) and the teahouse we were staying in was at the top of the village on top of a mountain…so very very very slowly (half yak pace I would say) we went up the stairs...I thought I was doing well until a local easily passed me whilst carrying rocks on her head…literally carting rocks up the mountain…needless to say I felt very unfit after witnessing that!! The teahouse had hot showers and a meals room with a view. So we settled in for a night of playing cards and watching the sunset.

The next day we had an early start and after a quick breakfast we were ready to go. We headed back down the the river through a beautiful forest and followed the meandering walking trail…until we had to cross the bridge and through the middle of a construction site to get to the road and start walking on the road again – but the morning views were stunning and it was so calming it made the walk that much easier. Our guides tried to take side roads as much as possible and I think they were creating some of their very own walking trails along the mountain because they knew we wanted off that roadway!! The following days followed much of the same formula and involved lots of steep climbing (at Raj designated Yak pace) there was one time where Raj lost the trail and we ended up going through the “Nepalese outback” or as Australians would say “bush whacking”! quite the adventure through snow.

After a few nights we stopped at Menang where we stayed for two nights – it was snowing outside but it was so so so warm in the meals room…not so warm in the bedrooms but definitely warm in the tea room – there were “hot” showers on offer…and by hot they mean just this side of freezing…but it wasn’t ice so therefore it was hot!! But after all our walking I needed a shower (luxury if you think about it) On our “day off” we went for an altitude hike which was supposed to be for 30 minutes but an hour and a half later we returned huffing and puffing. So instead of spending the afternoon sitting around and relaxing we decided to go on the hunt for adventure. First we went back a town to a 500 year old Buddhist monastery…which was at the top of a hill…so just a gentle vertical climb later we were standing at the monastery doors…which were locked!! We were climbing around outside the monastery when we heard an old lady shouting at us “locked” and “Key” not really understanding what she was trying to tell us we kindly sent Wade down to speak to her…when he got there he discovered she was saying the door is locked and the man with the key will meet us up there…so he ran back up the vertical hill where we met a lovely old man from the village who had the magical keys of entry. He unlocked the doors and we took off our shoes then entered the room. The monastery was originally 7 stories tall but only one room is still used so it is full of old artifacts, beautiful statues and magical artwork. The old gentleman was humming mantras under his breath as he took care of the daily requirements of the monastery. After we left and were putting our shoes back on he rang a gong which echoed through the building…just magical…then we were headed back down the vertical town through the front gate...which we missed when coming in, opting instead for the side path…perhaps the cause of us not being able to get in right away…but what is an adventure without a little confusion am I right?! After leaving the monastery we went to the lake…another vertical climb down past a herd of goats that were taking themselves home then a climb up a hill to a lake surrounded by mountains and fed by a glacier…we had just enough time to take some photos before we had to get back to the teahouse…so back up the vertical muddy slippery slope to the town and we were back in the wonderful warm meals room of the tea house… Not content again to sit around doing nothing we went out to watch a movie…for what else is there to do with yourself? We went down a stairway into a room filled with seats covered in cow fur…I found the seat with the padding and the blanket, don’t know how but I wasn’t giving them up! Because there were so many of us we got to choose our movie so we chose “into the wild” as it seemed appropriate all things considered. Halfway through the move (playing off a DVD through a projector) the lights were turned on and they came through with a cup of hot tea and popcorn for all. It was so much fun and an awesome experience, if you are in menang you must go watch a movie!! We headed back ready for an early day…but a mention of Menang wouldn’t be right unless I mentioned the bakery…the crew went wild for the many different yummy options, it was the only place I have found in Nepal that knows how to bake Western style bakery items…and they hit the nail on the head…so after buying the bakery out of all their goods we set off on the road again…

Previously while we were walking, long days with lots of hills (sorry, Nepalese flat) the cloud cover had hidden all the mountains from view. As we left Menang the clouds lifted and we were finally able to see the mountain view. We slowly made our way up the hill away from Menang and got a view of the town left behind us. At one of our resting points we came across and old male who called himself “the white porter” and claimed to be Nepalese but had a surprisingly strong French accent for a Nepalese male!! At one point I was resting sitting on a rock and he came over to me speaking in an unidentified foreign language he dragged me up from my comfortable rock and placed a jumper on it so the seat would be padded “alright” I thought “his an eccentric old male but harmless enough and seems concerned about the comfort of my dairiarie” then he came upto me speaking loudly and reached for the clasp on my backpack that sits across my chest…so quick reaction from Mel…all I know is a male speaking an unknown language is animatedly reaching for my chest…I intercepted his hands and he grabbed my wrists speaking excitedly in that unidentified language…So i moved away…we eventually figured out he was trying to tell me to undo the clasp so I could breathe easier…I thanked him for his concern and he moved along…he was a recurring theme in our trip and would resurface at the very top but more on that later…one of the girls on the trip had unnecessarily jumped to my defence and I thought I would had to intercepts her going for his jugular for a while but we managed to calm everyones farm and everyone moved on…when we ran into him later I saw him trying to give the same advice to a porter…now I don’t know much but I do know if there is one thing porter knows it is how to carry a heavy load…I for one would never tell a porter how to do his job!!! (for everyones information I kept the clasp on and managed to breathe just fine thank you very much!)
The day was short ending at the teahouse in Phedi at lunchtime…that’s where we thought our day had ended…then Krishna came in and suggested we all go for an acclimatization hike…yay there was nothing I wanted to do more!! up the steep hill we climbed, past the blue sheep (who weren’t blue and didn’t look like sheep to me) we stopped at the top of the hill to take in the view below us…then we wandered back to the teahouse ready to sit in the sunroom and warm up…unfortunately while we were gone a group of 9 Israeli people had moved in and taken over the sunroom…as I opened the doors the rooms went silent and 9 pairs of eyes started at me…they refused to move bags out of the sun for us and we were less than welcome in the room so we went into the cold dining room to shiver our way to dinner…then our assistant guides lit the fire for us (yay thank you Raj!!) – once the sun was down the Israelis wanted us to move out so they could sit in the meals room…we didn’t move but made some room for them at some tables…which they chose not to take and all sat on the floor around the fire…it was all very awkward!! But then when we ran into them later on the trail they were very friendly…it seems none of them bothered to bring things like thermals or those small things like sleeping bags with them…so they would have been freezing to death every night…infact 3 of them were helicoptered out with altitude sickness and 2 of them were flown out with hypothermia…so news flash kids…when hiking in the Himalayas bring some thermals and sleeping bags with you!!!!

After getting up in the morning we set off yet again headed for base camp…which we reached by lunchtime…and wait for it…you know what is coming…another acclimatization hike (yay, love those!) so we hiking up another vertical hill and found a flat rock in the sun and out of the wind and watched the sky for a helicopter taking yet another person off the hill for acclimatization sickness…so it is a good thing we were doing those horried acclimatization hikes as horrible as they are.

So the next day was the day for the Thorung La Pass…so we woke at 3am…breakfast at 3.30 and started hiking at 4…so we were going up this little teeny tiny path with head torches on…I was just watching the feet infront of me and putting one foot infront of the other slowly slowly going up…then we crossed and ice bridge (well a bridge covered in ice) and started across a thing path with knee deep snow on one side and a drop off to a glacier on the other…slowly slowly with several stumbles into the knee deep snow and being knocked from behind by a porter and I made it to the next stages…luckily we were using head torches and did that climb in the dark because if I had seen the drop off to jagged rocks I don’t know if I could have done it…but do it I did…I was so happy to see the sun rise over the mountains as I was ready for the warmth it offered and the views were just amazing!! 4 hours after starting the hike I made it to the top!! Yay…I couldn’t feel my fingers and had to get someone else to get my camera out of my pocket…but I made it!!!...and remember the white porter? He was there too and managed to get himself in all our group photos!! Gotta love it! There is a tea house at the top where you can get a hot drink – as we arrived the porters all gave us a hug and we had our group photo (minus 2 members who were suffering from the altitude and the cold and had to head down) after our photo shoot we started to head down the mountain…now this was Nepalese steep…not just Australian steep…but Nepalese steep and if you have been paying any attention you know this means danger danger danger~!! And just to help us out there was ice and snow and mud to help you glide your way down the mountain!! 4 hours later we made it to Muktinath where we stopped in at a Hindu/Buddhist monastery then onto our teahouse where I celebrated with an Everest Beer (what better way to celebrate!!)

We chose to take the “short cut” the next day and cut an hour off our walking time…after lunch we walked along a dry river bed and discovered why it is called the windy valley “just a little bit windy they said”…kind of like Nepalese having a little bit steep it was gale force winds for 4 hours before making it to the sanctuary of the teahouse in Jomsom. This was our last night with the assistant guides and porters so of course we danced with them…they were very happy to be finished with carrying our bags (how they did it over that pass I will never know) We had an early morning flight and the porters some with rather sore heads, helped us get our bags to the airport and we had a very scenic flight to Pokhara.

Pokhara is a beautiful lakeside town which has become a bit of a tourist/hippie mecca and the prices match this popularity. I wandered the streets and took in the scenery then 3 of us decided to brave the waters and get some kayaks…worst kayaks ever!! My kayak did not want to stay in a straight line and kept turning and spinning me in a circle…but we managed to navigate going around the temple on the island in the middle of the lake then get back without falling out (well I didn’t fall out…there were a couple of close calls tho!!) Lots of locals were taking video of us, not sure why, 3 white people in out of control kayaks singing random english songs, what’s the interest there?!?! We sat in a bar and had a cocktail before joining the rest of the crew and having dinner together.

We left the next morning on a bus…we spent the whole day on the bus…THE WHOLE DAY!!! I don’t fit in bus seats so was squished up against the window but we finally made it back to Kathmandu Guest House where arguments ensued as we tried to get our rooms allocated but eventually I made it to my room (my own room, no mare sharing!) and had a long hot shower…my first hot shower in weeks…it felt amazing!! And then we headed out for our final crew dinner. It was as physically and mentally difficult 4 weeks doing both treks but I made it through and I am so proud of myself for continuing on through all the challenges…don’t know if I would do it again but I will be back Nepal for another adventure!!

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