The Anapurna CIrcuit

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
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Trip End Jul 15, 2009


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Flag of Nepal  , Himalayan Region,
Monday, May 4, 2009

Anapurna

Our plan was to hike about 140 miles in 18 or so days depending on how we feel.  The Anapurna Circuit is a trail used by locals to get to remote Tibetan villages scattered around the Anapurna mountain range in the Himalayas.  It is nicknamed the "Apple Pie Trek" or "Coca Cola Circuit" due to the number of restaurants and lodges that populate the trail.  In 2000 over 75,000 people did the circuit.  Luckily for us, tourist numbers are down this year so we were able to have more privacy than usual.  We often went hours or even whole days without seeing any other trekkers, except in the towns.  The Tibetan towns add a cultural bonus to the trek that made this the best thing that I have ever done in my life!  In each village and along the trail all the locals greet you with "namaste" which literally means, the god inside me salutes the god inside you.  It is a beautiful way to say, "hello."


Day 1


We took a 5 hour bus ride from Pokhara to Besisihar. After eating lunch we then hiked about 4 hours to Ngadi with a stop in Khundi for tea. We met some Israelis and paid nothing for our room. This would be an ongoing theme on our trek.  The rooms are free if you eat dinner and breakfast at their restaurant, not a bad deal.  The scenery was beautiful and it felt good to be in the mountains.  We met a German couple that had been in Nepal over 40 years ago.  You run into the same people throughout the trek if you stick to the normal schedule.  We decided to do some half days so we could avoid this.  Also, you can get to a town for lunch and have time to explore the area and meet some locals.  This is the real special thing about the Anapurna Trek. 




Day 2


It was an extremely long day as we hiked over 20 kms to Chamje. We got stuck in the rain and took a wrong turn near the end of the day. We ate lunch at a small establishment with shocking views of the mountains.  We were lucky enough to find a hotel overlooking a beautiful mountain and river gorge below.  We were the only people staying there and the family treated us like kin.  They made a big fire so we could dry our stuff and get warm.  We sat in their kitchen while they made us dinner.  There youngest daughter, who spoke excellent English, sang songs while the little cross eyed boy gracefully danced in the corner.  It was very surreal being in the mountains and hanging out with a local family.

Day 3


It was another long day as we hiked to Bagarchaap. We passed through a beautiful valley town called Tal.  It was hard not to stop there for the night.  The scenery was spectacular as each day only seemed to be better than the day before as we accented toward the 16,000 ft. pass.  At our guest house we met Bruce, Graham and Karen.  Bruce recognized me from Burma.  He changed some of our "dirty" money at the airport.  Burma only accepts clean, crisp American dollars and ours didn't pass the grade.  Bruce was nice enough to trade with us so we could pay the fine for overstaying our visa(Bangkok airport closure).  A small world indeed, it is not everyday that someone recognizes you from Burma while trekking in the mountains of Nepal.   Graham and Karen are a Canadian couple traveling through India and Nepal, they just finished grad school.  We all ended up getting along and finished the trek together. 

The cottages were brand new and reeked of pine.  Graham convinced us to take the high road to Pisang.  It was a better route to acclimatize and supposedly has the best views on the trek.


Day 4

We started with a smoke with the gang and ended up running into them enough times along the trek that we just kind of stayed together. We ended in upper Pisang, a medieval looking city on a hill overlooking Anapurna II.  . At 11,000 ft. the altitude started to set in. I was really lightheaded and had difficulty focusing.  We stayed in a great place with amazing views of Anapurna 2(about 24,000 ft.) There was a beautiful monastery on top of the hill with stunning panoramic views of the valley below. 

Each day was better than the one before and this was no exception.  We were surrounded by peaks and already I knew this was something special, better than anything that I have ever seen before.  Normally, you do a 3 day trek with some highlight at the end.  On this trek you are surrounded by highlights, plus Tibetan villages, monasteries and cultural interaction with the locals.  I was truly blown away by the experience. 

We ate lunch at a great place that had amazing sandwiches.  It was nice to break up the monotony of Dhal Bat and pasta dishes.


Day 5

We started out with a hard climb in order to acclimate, it is best to hike high and sleep low. Graham and Karen convinced us to acclimate well so we could get over the pass. The views and clarity from this day were amazing. We learned the German 2 step and had a long day. The altitude was becoming a factor and we saw a large German tour group slowly make there way up the steep pass.  They were methodical; one, two, one two, they were German.  We used this baby step method to make it up the difficult areas. The top of the first area had amazing views, an ongoing theme.

It was pretty steady after the initial 400 meter climb.  We passed through numerous medieval looking Tibetan villages, many seasonal and made our way for Manang.  We decided to stay in a small town about 40 minutes from Manang.  Manang is a "big" village where most people spend a few days to acclimate.  It is a landmark on the Trek. We ended the day in amazing fashion entering a valley full of baby sheep.  Everyone was giddy and overcome with joy, it was such a beautiful sight.  The river valley had sweeping views of the snow capped glacier mountains littered with Tibetan stupas and prayer flags.  It was a perfect end to the day.  It was as if we were in a movie and the sheep were cued flood the pass as we came over the hill and ended the day, it was truly magical.  That night we stayed in a family guest house where the owner had to call in cooks and food to feed us. It was the second night in a row where we had the place to ourselves.  We played cards around the fire and ate a huge dinner looking forward to some much deserved rest in Manang. 


Day 6


It was a short 1 hour hike to Manang. We were looking forward to better digs and food. Manang is the first town with an airport and any semblance of civilization. We took care of business, watched a movie and relaxed. Ana had a hard time with the elevation.  It was funny to watch 7 years in Tibet in some basement of a local bar. 


Day 7


We took a stunning day hike up to 4000 meters in order to acclimate and enjoy the views. We saw another movie and soaked up the culture.  Bruce and I found a nice sunset spot and chatted with some locals, in the best manner that we could.  We continued to be blown away by the experience and were in a state of awe.


Day 8


We hiked to Yakarka, about 3 hours away and up to 4050 meters to stay the night. We made the mistake of not going higher and Ana felt really bad. I convinced her to move on the following day and felt that she just needed some time to get better. We stayed at a family run place as the better hostel was already full. We donated some money to a family that was living in a tent next to the guest house. It seemed that they could really use the money.  The nights were starting to get cold at this elevation.


Day 9


We hiked up to Letdar, only a couple of hours away and at an elevation of 4200 meters in order to continue the acclimation process. Ana spent the day in bed and we felt she had to turn back. Many idiots thought we were being irresponsible and that she could die.  Apparently, they attended some hour seminar and now they were experts. I read the guidebook and she wasn't experiencing any of the severe symptoms.  I felt pretty bad as well, but knew I would be OK.   I convinced Ana to wait till the morning to make that call.  The others were already moving on when Ana surprised everyone and said she was OK to move on.  It was quite the dramatic turnaround for us, we were already planning on booking a flight a few towns back


Day 10


We hiked about 3 hours to Thorong Phedi, elevation 4600 meters, in time for lunch. We did the right thing and hiked up about 400 meters to High Camp in order to acclimate. Ana and I had a hard time going up and had to fight dizziness and severe headaches, but we persevered. I felt a lot better the more time we spent on the mountain. I felt after eating dinner, we shared a large pizza and an enchilada.  We had read that the food and accommodation were pretty basic in Thorong Phedi, but were pleasantly surprised to find it one of the best places to stay and eat on the trek.  It was the first time that we had a bathroom in our room and the dining hall was beautiful.  We felt like we were in a ski lodge.



Day 11

The dreaded day of the pass.  It looms over the entire trek, the 5416(16,248ft.) meter Thorong La pass.  It is 800 meters above Thorong Phedi, where we slept, and then you have to go all the way down to 3800 meters.  That is a decent of almost 5,000 ft. We did the initial 400 meter climb up to High Camp the previous day in order to acclimatize and weren't looking forward to doing it again. 

Karen wasn't feeling too good, but we convinced her to give it a try.  We woke up at 4:30 for breakfast and took off for High Camp.  Karen had a very difficult time making it up, but it was her boyfriends life long dream to do Anapurna so she trudged on.  About an hour after she had to give up and turn back, along with her boyfriend Graham.  He was sorely disappointed and it was a big blow to the team, but the four of us continued on.  I was sure that they could make the pass the following day in Mukkinath.  It was like a real expedition with some members of the team not making it up to the pass.  We trudged on using our "German two step" and slowly made it to the summit.  It was an exhilarating feeling to finally be at the top.  We felt like most of the trek was behind us.  After relishing the moment for about 45 minutes we started our long decent toward Mukkinath.  It was a rigorous and sharp 4 hour decent the mountain.  We were all exhausted and delirious by the time we found the Bob Marley hostel.  It was like an oasis, with cold beer, a pool table and beautiful mountain views from the rooftop.  The hot shower was one of the best showers of my life.


Day 12

Mukkinath is a big pilgrimage city and we decided to take a days rest and check out some of the sites.  We wandered around the villages.  Bruce and I met some school children who insisted on posing for photos and showed us into their village.  The temple used to be considered magic because of an eternal flame, but some westerner pointed out that it was caused by natural gas and some of the allure of the town has gone away.  Numerous Nepalese people insist on bringing their dead love ones to the sacred valley.

Karen and Graham showed up early in the afternoon and the team was reunited.  We were all happy that they made it, the alternative is to walk back where you came from.  We had a fun night eating and drinking together.




Day 13

After a days rest it was time to move on.  We planned on getting as far as Jomson or even Marpha, but got a late start due to saying goodbye to our friends in Mukinath.  We left Bruce and the couple behind, but we were sure we would run into them again on the trail.  The wind was very strong that day.  I think it averaged about 35 miles per hour right in our face with gusts up to about 60.  The landscape was much drier on this side of the pass.  It had a moonscape like quality, dusty and barren.  In the distance we saw Kagbeni, a green oasis up rice terraces and orchards.  We went down into the valley for lunch and to take a break from the wind.  We found a restaurant called Yakdonalds and I ordered the Yakburger set, what else would you get at Yakdonalds.  It was a Yakcheeseburger with fries and a coke.  It was excellent, I have pretty much been a vegetarian in India and Nepal, it just happens naturally.  The town was so cute and charming that we decided to stay the night.  We would also be able to meet up with our friends again. 

We found a really nice guest house and wandered around the town for the day.  Kagbeni is the jump of point for the Mustang trek.  The permit for Mustang is $800($25 for Anapurna).  Only about 2000 people do the Mustang trek every year, they don't want people spoiling the local Tibetan mountain population of Mustang.  Apparently, people still live in caves in this remote part of the world that straddles the Nepal/Tibet border.  We ran into an archery competition while exploring the town.  It was the last day of the tournament.  We spent the next few hours drinking apple brandy and conversing with the locals.  There English was more than adequate and we were able to learn a lot about the area.  I met a man named Samuel from Kathmandu who works for Ecovillage, his job is to educate the locals about Eco friendly products and how to avoid using chemicals that will pollute their villages.  We packed into a little bar that was not much more than a room with some benches and drank the local whiskey.  I felt like I was in a Discovery Channel documentary.  The men were banging drums, singing, dancing and drinking while the woman watched from the kitchen or stuck their head in the windows.  It was one of those moments that makes traveling special. 

That night I was showing the owner of our hostel some of the pictures that I took and she recognized her husband.  She was surprised to see that I also had met two of her children.  The husband came back later and was surprised to find us at his place.  He became a little nervous when I told him that I had showed his wife pictures from the contest.  He had been dancing with Linda and Ana and I think he was worried about what his wife would think, I quickly assured him of the nature of the pictures and I could immediately see the relief in his face. 

We were very happy to have stopped off in Kagbeni.  Each day on the trek seemed to be better than the day before. 


(I will write more later)......the rest is just an outline for me to fill in.  enjoy the pictures


Day 14


We went to Marpha and fought a huge wind storm.


Day 15


We went to lhete via jomson, met up with graham and Karen again.


Day 16


We hiked to tatopani and enjoyed the hot springs.


Day 17


We caught a bus to Beni and another to Pokhra to end the trek back where we started.
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