Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Annapurna Circuit

The main tourist attraction in Nepal is the trekking routes in the Himilayas. We chose to do the Annapurna circuit, we had originally thought that we wouldn't be able to as it is often closed due to snow at this time of year, but luckily for us (due to global warming!) the pass was open. It's a 2-3 week trek that has lots of varied scenery and culture. We considered getting a guide as it is recommended, but due to our budget and not wanting the company of a guide, we decided to go independently, and not take a porter to carry our stuff either.

We set off on an early morning bus to Besi Sahar at the start of the trek. There is a new jeep track that is being built down the valley so we could have taken a bus to the next settlement, but we decided to walk it instead, it was only 9km. The first part of the trek was ascending towards the world's highest pass. It mainly followed a river through a valley and we stayed in various villages along the way in basic teahouses. As it was out of season there were very few other tourists trekking (especially on this side of the pass). But there were a couple of groups whose paths we crossed throughout the trek which was nice for the company. As it was so quiet we were quite often the only guests in the teahouses. The rooms are generally cheap but this is because you are expected to eat there and meals were relatively expensive compared to down the mountain. We mostly ate daal bhat, the local dinner of lentil soup, veg curry and rice, this was mainly because it was a cheap option and you got a second helping, or sometimes thirds! In one lodge we got invited to join the family who owned the teahouse and eat in the kitchen (wooden shack) with them as it was so cold which was a really nice experience. The rooms were basic, normally just 2 beds and no furniture. Sometimes they had electricity, sometimes not. Sometimes there was a solar shower with warm water (if it had been very sunny), other times it was just a cold bucket.

On the way up towards the pass the scenery gradually got more barren. There were some very impressive mountains to be seen, including some of the highest peaks in the world. After 5 days of walking we had reached a height of 3500m and had to take a day off to acclimatise in Menang. It was then slow progress up to the pass as it is not far but it is not advised to ascend too far in one day if you are going to spend the night there due to the high possibility of getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which can be fatal.

It took 2 more days to get to Thorung Phedi from where you go over the pass. We set off from here at 6.15am in order to cross the pass before the winds get too strong. It was a pretty tough ascent, climbing from 4400m to 5416m, made much tougher by the altitude which meant you were always out of breath even on the gentlest of slopes. We made it to the top in about 3 and a half hours and then had a 1700m descent (which we hurried through due to the altitude induced headache!).

The walking on the other side of the pass was mostly downhill now. The scenery was quite different and as we had now joined the route of the Jomsom trek it was more touristy. There was also (unfortunately) a jeep track all the way up, so there was not so much walking on trails as we had had before. We pushed on, walking over 20km a day. We stayed in some nice villages along the way, the food was a bit cheaper on this side. We got to a place called Tatopani after 3 days. They had some natural hot springs here which was just what was needed, especially as they served cold beer while you relaxed. From Tatopani we could have walked just one more day to finish the trek, but we decided to do an extra day which involved a gruelling ascent of over 1500m to a place called Ghorepani. It was a tough day, made tougher by the heat and also Alice hurting her achilles, so Ed had to carry quite a lot of her stuff as well. But we got there in good time to find Hotel Superview which really did have a phenomenal view of some of the biggest mountains in the Himilayas, for 50p each after bargaining!

We got up at 5am the next morning to walk up to Poon Hill (with a good crowd of other tourists) which is 45 minutes uphill to watch the sunrise over the mountains. This was a really nice way to start our last day of trekking. We had a porridge and headed down the mountain. It was another long day's walk but we made it down by 2.30pm and were bundled straight onto a bus (dripping sweat over all the unimpressed locals) to get back to Pokhara, where we are now chilling out for a few days, enjoying the sun, resting our bodies, and eating absolutely loads of cheap food before we head to Delhi and fly from there to China.

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