Annapurna Circuit Trek
We definitely wanted to do some hiking while we were in Nepal so we chose to do the Annapurna circuit trek. The trek normally takes between 16-21 days to complete depending on how many rest days you chose to take along the trek. In Kathmandu we signed up with a company called Himalayan Scenery Treks for a guide to take us through the trek. His name was Chhatra Karhki and he would be with us for almost three weeks. Let the fun begin!!
Here's 2 good maps of the circuit to follow through some of the details of this blog
We started out driving from Kathmandu and spending our first night in the village of Besisahar, the first village at the beginning of the trail. The next morning we started out early and hiked for about 7 hours to reach the village of Bahundanda. These first few days proved to be some of the hardest along the trek due to heat, humidity, muddy trails, inclines and declines, and the fact that our bodies were not used to traveling for several hours a day while carrying a backpack. The scenery was postcard perfect though. The monsoon rains left all of the surrounding tropical forest lush and breathtakingly clean. The Marsyandi River (which we followed all the way up to the Thorung-La Pass) was swelled and rushing at phenomenal speeds. Waterfalls could be seen every 100 meters it seemed and we were forced several times to traverse some rapid waters by skipping from rock to rock. After some hard daily hiking, we spent the following nights in the villages of Chamje, Bagarchap, and Chame before noticing a change in the climate and vegetation.
Our guide Chhatra pointed out early some strange vegetation (Cannabis) that grows wild all throughout the Annapurna region. At first we noticed a few plants here and there, giggling to ourselves about how you would never just find marijuana growing wildly along a trail in Canada. As we continued though, we would come upon areas completely overgrown with the plants, some as tall as trees, two or three times my height. I kept thinking of the movie The Beach, where some backpackers come across an island full of marijuana and make it their home. In these parts though, crops of rice and corn are much more valuable, and thus many of the "weeds" are removed for these crops.
From Chame we steadily climbed towards the Thorung-La Pass, spending a night in Pisang, and 2 nights in Manang to acclimatize to the new altitude. Many trekkers and mountaineers have gotten very sick in the past by trying to climb too fast at an altitude above 3500m. From Manang to the pass, everything seems to change including the vegetation, the climate (much cooler), the humidity, the people (much more Tibetan descent) and, of course, the landscape. We stayed in the villages of Yak Kharka and Thorung Phedi, and even here we would see porters (people hired to carry loads of goods to villages) carrying 50-80 kg loads up dangerously slippery slopes using nothing but worn out flipflops on their feet and using tumplines across their foreheads to carry the brunt of the weight. Since there are no roads anywhere along the trail, some of these men and women carry these loads for several days, only to turn around, climb back down and do it all over again. Simply incredible, made more incredible when you take the time to look around the village or the guesthouse only to realize that every single item present, at one time or another, had to be carried up there.
We stared early in the morning to reach the Thorung-La Pass (see attached video), which sits at an altitude of 5416m, one of the highest passes in the world at almost two thirds the height of Mount Everest. It was a tough climb, but after that many days of trekking, it was a thrill to finally reach the top. Unfortunately though....this meant we had to go down. This is really not as easy as it sounds, especially when you are trying to descend 1600m carrying a backpack. It was a killer on the knees, hips, and ankles. We were glad to see the village of Muktinath when it came into view. The village actually has a very sacred temple, for both Buddhists and Hindus, and many pilgrims make the trek here all the way from India. Some interesting information about Muktinath and the ever burning flame at the temple can be seen here: http://www.muktinath.org or here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muktinath .
The next day we traveled to the very cool rock village of Kagbeni. Since the climate is much drier here (mountain desert) there are fewer trees, and as a result almost everything is make of rocks collected from the Kali Gandaki river bed. It was certainly one of our favourite villages, especially since we stumbled upon a gathering of villagers singing and dancing (see attached video).
From here we enjoyed some apple brandy night in Marpha, the apple capital of Nepal. This was followed by an entire day of trekking in the rain to the village of Kalopani. We spent two nights relaxing in the village of Tatopani, whose claim to fame is the muscle relaxing natural hot springs. We then spent nights in the villages of Sikha and Ghorepani. All of these days were certainly hard hiking days as our bodies were beginning to tire and the humidity was upon us again.
On our final day of hiking, we awoke at 4:00 am to hike up to Poon Hill (3200m) a viewing area from which you can see both the Annapurna mountain range , which we had been hiking around, and the Dhaulagiri mountain range. Since we had been hiking during the tail end of the monsoon season, we had only caught rare glimpses of the high snowy peaks on early clear mornings. The sky was clear for us that morning and the view was outstanding. Being able to watch the sun rise over the mountain range made the last 18 days of grueling hiking all worthwhile. Pictures will never do the scene justice. Amazing!
So....we are now in the city of Pokhara, a vibrant, busy, yet touristy, city. Yesterday we enjoyed some hour long early morning massages, at a mere cost of $20 each. We also enjoyed three fabulous meals, including a supper that consisted of 2 glasses of freshly squeezed pineapple juice, a Chicken Spinach Salad, Bruschetta, Lasagne, 2 glasses of some extremely strong Irish Coffees, a Chocolate Banana Crepe, a 640ml Everest Beer and a Long Island Ice Tea.....all for only 1200 Nepali Rupees.....about $20 !! Nepal....what a fabulous country!!!!