The diversity of this two weeks hiking blew me away. This was by far the most beautiful hike I have ever done, even more beautiful than the John Muir Trail. By the end of the trek I felt I started in Costa Rica, went immediately to Alaska after two days, ended up in Nevada instantly on the ninth day, back in Alaska for days eleven and twelve and then back to Costa Rica for the last day.
The Annapurna circuit starts in a lower elevation, in a tropical region flanked by lush green rice terraces and jungles. You spend two days in this tropical region, a region reminiscent of Costa Rica, in Hindu villages, waterfalls cascade down in every direction. Climbing quickly up the Marsyangdi River Valley, by day three
I emerged into an alpine setting, with huge granite walls reminiscent of Yosemite. By now I had uninterupted views of Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world. Once into alpine territory, I found myself in Tibetan Buddhist villages and really had to remind myself that I was really in Nepal and no longer in Tibet. In addition to Mt. Manaslu, the weather and the trek treated me to amazing views of Annapurna II, III, and IV, Gangapurna, Niligiri, Tilicho, Dhaulagiri, and Pisang.
I write this now from Pokhara where I just visited the Internation Mountain Museum. Walking around the museum I saw traditional wool spools, cooking equipment, scenes of mule drivers, and mountain villages from throughout Nepal. All these scenes at the museum I saw everyday on this trek and previously when I was in Tibet. Yet when I was trekking, I was impressed at how much more modern and organized the villages were along the trek compared to Tibet. Everywhere had electricity and solar heated showers. Lonely Planet
warned that I would become sick of eating nothing but dal baat
. Everywhere I ate always offered at least spaghetti, fried rice, chow mein and dumplings (momos) in addition to dal baat.
One night I even fasted on a sizzling yak steak! The last week it seemed every restaurant had a bakery with fresh apple pie and chocolate croissants. I can get used to this kind of backpacking.
Many guest houses were understandably rather stark. When I did stay at a couple guest houses that were bright, cheery and cozy I really couldn't believe how great they were. Especially considering that I never paid more than 60 rupees ($1) a night for any accommodation. Some of my favorites were the Pisang Guest House in Bagarchhap which had the first real hot shower that I got in a week, a clean cheery, well-lit room, and a fast, friendly and tasty restaurant. Likewise the Bob Marley Hotel in Mutkinath had a great outdoor patio overlooking the main drag, plus indoor seating with a great atmosphere serenaded by Bob Marley and Michael Franti, delicious food, and best of all, unlimited 24 hour hot showers. My favorite was the Sunrise Guest House in Marpha where the room had windows on all three sides with views of Nilgiri Mountain and apple orchards. Again, their food was tasty and most of all the young woman who ran was so friendly, always laughing and very organized.
Numerous books have been written about this trek and I could continue on for hundreds of pages about what I saw, felt and did on this trek. I know most of you don't have that attention span, so I'll give you some highlights and anecdotes.
From Kathmandu I caught a ride on a 'tourist' microvan called "Safe, Nice Bus" which promised A/C, comfortable seats and a non-stop ride. Hah. The Toyota minivan arrived an hour late, had no A/C, the seats were so tightly packed that my knees jammed into the steel frame of the seat and the back of person in front of me, the driver stopped constantly to solicit, pick up, and drop off new passengers, and of course the driver drove crazily like most Nepalese, slamming on the brakes and swerving all over the place. It didn't help that I was suffering the beginnings of some serious intestinal distress at this point. All in all, though, I did arrive at Besisahar in about 5 hours, so I guess I shouldn't complain.
From Besisahar I walked for only 10 minutes before a Mahindra Jeep driver offered me a free ride to Khudi...on the roof! Wahoo! There's nothing like traveling on a 4WD only mountain road in Nepal when you're on the roof of a Jeep.
On the fourth day, October 8, I pulled into Chame in the middle of a horse festival! Before I could cross through the city gate rider after rider came racing through it right at me. Eventually I slipped through the city gate during a lull and stood to the right along a stone wall where several tourists and many locals stood or sat, watching the races. As I stared up into town trying to determine the nature of the race and trying to snap some photos, one rider and horse came careening right towards me as the rider tried to slow his horse down. Looking through my camera and not paying too much attention and I didn't realize the danger until the horse ran smack into me and knocked me back against the wall. Everyone around me seemed pretty surprised. I couldn't believe it happened or that I came out unscathed.
After the horse ramming episode I moved closer up to the start of the race and got some great photos of the racers trying to bend down and pick up white scarves laid out on the course. I couldn't ever figure out what the object of the race was, but I can tell you that horsemen in groups of about 4 or 5 would come charging down the road through town at top speed and occasionally bend down and attempt to pick up a white scarf on the ground. At the bottom of town they would turn the horse around--sometimes no easy feat--and then head back up, repeating the down hill performance. To my and the crowd's dismay, I never saw anyone successfully pick up a scarf.
Aside from the horse festival I quite enjoyed Chame. After the festival ended life went immediately back to normal: women fetching water, doing laundry, soldiers with loaded, ancient, bolt-action rifles watching guys play volleyball, and tourists paying obscene prices to use the Internet. I stayed at the New Tibet Guest House next to the river and just loved the lounging on the balcony there, reading a book, overlooking the river and their flower gardens next to it.
After Chame, on the recommendation of an older Canadian couple who were doing the trek for their second time, I headed off the main trail up to a sleepy Tibetan town called Ghyaru. From here I felt as thought I could summit Pisang Peak (6091 m; 20,000 ft) and be back by supper time. I also felt tranported a thousand years back in time. I relaxed at the Yak Ru Hotel in the quiet, off the highly touristy circuit, with only 4 other guests. Incredibly both the husband and wife proprieters spoke impeccable English. Trying to fein disgust at the price of the room, 120 rupees, the husband said, "I kid you not. It's in the menu."
I beheld an incredible scene looking back to Ghyaru as I hiked away the next day. Barley fields patched together below the ancient Tibetan town with the snow-covered Pisang Peak in the background kept me turning around and staring back the whole morning.
It was around this time that my shoes began to die. I bought the most expensive trekking shoes, Garmont, that the Mountain View REI had to offer. Don't buy these shoes. They suck. After just 5 months, the soles have almost completely detached. The rear of both soles has broken off and I worn all the way through the bottom of the shoe on the left foot. Hopefully I can get them repaired in Kathmandu. Otherwise I'm shipping them back.
On day 5 in Dhikur, I encounter the first of devine bakeries and indulge in apple pie for lunch. Mmmm.
Got duped into buying a cheese buger for the third time just outside of Braga on day 6. Instead I got a 'mush' burger. Arggh. Luckily a divine sizzling yak steak at Mavis's Kitchen in Manang cheered me up the next night. Speaking of Manang, I had to stay at the Gangapurna Lodge as all 16 lodgers were quite full of trekkers in Manang. The room was nice but the restaurant took two and a half hours while I sat freezing in their unheated dining room to serve dinner to just 4 tables. I wouldn't recommend it. Mavis's, on the other hand, was warm, friendly, fairly fast, and had just amazing food and deserts.
After a rest day in Manang at 3500 m, where I climbed up to Ice Lake at 4600 m for acclimitization purposes, the LP
recommended just a short walk to Letdar, then another night in Throng Pedi before attempting the Throng La pass at 5400 m. Feeling quite strong I skipped Letdar and headed straight for Throng Pedi which only took 5 hours walking. I'm happy to report that the next morning I had no problems heading over the pass and felt strong and energized. I think I retained quite a bit of acclimitization from Tibet.
Climbing up the snow-covered Throng Pedi in the sunrise, looking back towards Gangapurna, looked divine. After crossing the pass I found myself descending into a barren, arid world that reminded me of nowhere else except Nevada.
On Day 12 in Tatopani I found myself soaking in hot springs with dozens of foreigners from around the world, watching the sunset, enjoying a cold beer next to the sacred Kali Gandaki River. Later, back at the lodge, I slipped on a wet rock in front of 3 female trekkers, fell down and busted a fence.
Day 13 brought me to the end, in Beni, resting my feet and sleeping.