Pokhara and Annapurna Sanctuary Trek
Trip Start Feb 07, 2007
69Trip End Ongoing
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The next morning we head to the bus station to find a bus to Pokhara and embark on the 2nd day of big bus journey. It's a government bus, so we're in there with the chickens etc. and the passengers cram in or sit on top of the bus. I can't help feel for the goats that are unceremoniously put in the boot where it must be like an oven in these hot temperatures. Nepal looks like paradise after India - it's much greener and cleaner and people (especially women) look much happier here. W
Pokhara really is Easy Street. Everything that you could possibly desire is on your doorstep - kushy accommodation, chocolate brownies, beer, endless souvenirs, adventure shops, cool lake waters to swim in. It's a bit of a shock after India where comfort is so fleeting. We were lucky enough to get a view up to the Annapurna ranges on the second morning here, even though this isn't the best time of year for crystal clear vistas. We've spent the last couple of days vegging out, floating around on the lake and organising our trekking. We've decided to do the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, which will take us all the way to Annapurna Base Camp (fingers crossed!). We'll be trekking for about 10-12 days and up to an altitude of about 4150m, staying in tea house accommodation. Myself, Tim and Simon have employed a very experienced Nepali guide called Chandra, but we won't have any porters, so we're carrying our own stuff (which we've limited to just day packs). We're expecting to see some awesome views, but apart from that we don't really know what to expect! We leave early tomorrow morning up the mountain in a car to our starting point so there's no turning back now.
We made it back from our trek to Annapurna Base Camp yesterday. It's been 9 days, 130km, and 4130m .... However, this doesn't paint a very accurate picture of the ups and downs of our trekking route. Read on if you want to know more!
Day 1: Pokhara (820m) - Ghandruk (1940m)
Myself, Tim and Simon left Pokhara with our guide, Chandra in a taxi for the hour long drive into the foot hills of the Annapurna ranges to a town called Naya Paul. We were soon on our way and it all started out pretty easy, our first steps up the valley of the Modi Khola river. However, it wasn't long before we were confronted by the first of many endless sets of rugged, steep rock steps. How else did I think we'd get to the roof of the world?! I guess I was trying not to think about it too much! We paused for a lunch of dhal bhaat halfway up the steps and continued on with full bellies to our first stop in the village of Ghandruk. Despite breaking my hiking boots in during the London winter, wearing flip flops for the last few months doesn't bode well and I already have a angry looking blister developing on my heel. We soon got into the trekking routine of bedtime at 7.30pm, as they turn out the lights and there's shit all else to do!
Day 2: Ghandruk (1940m) - Chhomrong (2100m)
Up before 6am to catch a view of the sublime Machhhapuchhure peak (6993) as well as Annapurna South (7219m) as the sun rises. We've got fairly hazy conditions, but are hoping for the best! Today's climb starts with a gradual incline through pretty rural country - lots of tiered fields and mountain streams. Then it's 'down, down, down,' as Chandra says, on a rugged path of loose stones and wet leaves to the tiny village of Kimrong in the river valley below. Many of the rocks here are a dazzling silver, as if someone has spray painted them.
In my simple conception of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp, I envisaged trekking 'up, up, up'. However, the basic theory is that you you go up and down over and over in order to get 'up, up, up'! A sobering thought, because every time you go down, it dawns on you that this is adding to the amount you have to go up! Infuriating! So the elevation of the starting point and finishing point is deceiving, because inbetween these points you make and lose ground. My blisters are strapped, but throbbing all the same and we get in the habit of removing shoes and socks so they can dry off in the sun during lunch breaks. Above us there's an enormous landslide that happened two years ago - it looks ominous and becomes more so when Chandra points out that the path has to divert higher to pass over the top of the landslide! We tackle the dreaded path which winds up the mountainside until I think I can't take anymore! Then we begin to descend through some magical farmland where potatoes, garlic, wheat, corn and various other crops are being grown in the tiny tiered fields perched on the face of the valley. We make our next destination, Chhomrong, where we glimpse the Annapurnas through the afternoon haze.
Day 3: Chhromrong (2100m) - Bamboo ( 2335m)
Up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun catch the peak of Annapurna South, a bit of motivation for the day ahead. Porridge and Tibetan bread is a pretty good way to start the day up here - my appetite is enormous with all the exertion. I've already run out of tape to strap my blisters
The guesthouses have very basic rooms which get very cold at night, so you're given a manky blanket to put over your sleeping bag. There are small communal 'dining halls' where food is served and if you're lucky a kerosene lamp is placed under the central table in an alcove in the ground. There's a blanket around the table to keep the heat from escaping and this is how you keep your legs and feet warm and dry your boots, socks and anything else that is wet! The kerosene steals every iota of oxygen from the room, so after dinner everyone is feeling pretty whoozy and ready for bed by 7.30pm! The menus are based on a basic list of ingredients that are carried up by the porters (mainly rice, noodle and pasta dishes - all very stodgy fare, which is just what you need!). Local committees assist with the creation of the menus and set the prices - it's all very organised.
Day 4: Bamboo (2335m) - Deurali (3200m)
Finally! An awesome view! We're so excited that it is finally clear and we can see where we're going. Unfortunately Tim lost his sunglasses the day before - a necessary piece of the equipment because of the snow glare ahead. We set off hoping we can beg, borrow or steal something between now and then. We head through the steep valley through gorgeous and very dense forest. It's very rocky and damp with loads of streams and waterfalls flowing down the valley side - meaning we have to cross loads of shaky bridges.
No hot water and minimal electricity now. There's some excitement when a tour group of older English people come down with news that one of their party has dislocated her hip on the snow trail above. Six porters spring into action, collecting an old door and placing a mattress on top, they head up to rescue her and later bring her down the mountain side. She is put into one of the rooms while a runner heads off down the mountain to organise a helicopter to pick her up the next day. It soon starts to rain and we retire to the dining hall for yet another dose of kerosene comfort.
Day 5 : Derauli (3200m) - Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)
This is the big day. We wake up before sunrise to see the moon lighting the huge ridge above the guesthouse. It's pretty damn cold,
We soon set off for the day's trekking and it's either altitude or nervousness that is making my heart beat quite fast! The foliage thins out as we go and the snow is creeping in around us. We pass one of the most risky avalanche paths where a group of German and Israeli trekkers died a couple of years back - at a similar time of year. We divert as far as possible from the risk area, which means 'scrambling' over an area of boulders, which is pretty hard going. We get some awesome views of Machhapuchhure (Fishtail) mountain from this part of the valley. The patches of snow are getting bigger now and it's extremely slippy in places as the morning sun hasn't reached this part of the valley and there is a thick layer of ice on top of the snow, which is very compacted. Not being very experienced with snow, I make a bit of a mess of things and keep getting stuck in slow motion slides down steep inclines! Luckily, our guide Chandra always seems there to drag me up to get a footing! Thankfully I have my trekking stick to help me out of a few situations as well! The slope below looks incredibly enticing until you notice the rocky river bed far, far below in the base of the valley. I was pretty nervous about this whole avalanche thing, especially as I watched a local guy with an ice axe coming from the other side slipping as he tried to hack into the worst of the ice to make some grip.
Finally Machhapuchhure Base Camp (3703m) comes into view! The views from here are fabulous and we take some tea and rest up for 20 minutes. We set off for the final 2 hour ascent through the snowy valley to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp).
Day 6: ABC (4130m) - Bamboo (2335m)
Today is the morning we have been waiting for that makes all the pain disappear! It doesn't disappoint. The snow is banked up everywhere and the resthouse is just about buried,
Day 7 - Day 9: Bamboo (2335m) - Finish
I guess the rest is a bit of an anti-climax after making it to the top, especially as a lot of it is retracing your steps (knowing what's coming ahead isn't that great either!). On Day 7 Chandra managed to find Tim's sunglasses on the much-tread path, where they had been somehow camouflaged by some leaves! They'd been sitting there for 4 days, so we were pretty impressed! The same day we have to face the DREADED and infamous steps up to Chhromrong - 2135 in all. These steps are hard going and stretch above you like some infinite biblical trail that you must climb to escape hell! Maybe I was just delirious, or maybe the my throbbing blisters were effecting my brain? Having got up there, we have to then go down (whose idea was that?). The good news being that our destination was Jhinu Hot Springs.
On Day 8 we have an easy day - heading along the river valley, taking in some beautiful rural areas and having lunch amongst the tiered fields next to the river. We've read that there's 'flat' and there's 'Nepali flat', because we think all the ascents and descents are over and it's easy street from here, but I don't think there's such thing as flat ground out here!
Day 9 is home day and we have a super easy walk along a wide trail to our end point for the trek. The drive back to Pokhara is interesting - about 10m visibility around hair pin bends! And we thought we were safe now we had left the avalanches behind! We have a great night in Pokhara - the boys indulge in steaks and we later head out to celebrate New Year at a local festival with Chandra.
Back in Pokhara
Since we've got back we've helped our trekking guide set up a basic website. He's a real gem of a guy and if anyone is thinking about trekking in Nepal, he comes very highly recommended. You can check out his website (it's a work in progress!) www.geocities.com/chudamani_2000
On Sunday we hired some motorbikes to visit Chandra's family up on the mountain (what we thought would be a leisurely ride). It actually involved a hard ride up the mountain on a sealed road (with some mad truck overtakes), then along a rocky track to Chandra's village. Our bikes we just small light weights with me on the back with Tim and Simon on the back with Chandra. Chandra and Simon had a small stack on the dirt road, but luckily we weren't going too fast! We met Chandra's wife and children and had lunch sitting on mats out the front of his family hut, a little baby goat milling about and a bunch of children staring at us! We then went on to meet his extended family up the hill. They are Hindus and name new babies on the 9th day after it's birth, so there was a bit of a celebration going on. We met lots of family members, who were very welcoming, and we smiled at each other for a while as only a couple spoke any English! The trip back down to Pokhara involved more rocky track and i'm surprised that my brain isn't scrambled from that trip! We didn't do much else in Pokhara but relax after our exertions...
Where I stayed
Annapurna Base Camp