The Sanctuary (Annapurna Base Camp)
Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
27Trip End Jan 11, 2011
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We were accompanied by Hira and Kishan, respectively the guide and porter we had hired. Kishan was a quiet, very slight boy in his late teens. It was his first time in the mountains and became clear that he had never shouldered a pack before when he initially couldn’t work out the straps
Hira, our guide, was a lovely 30 year old woman who took care of us over the twelve days. She led the way and set the pace, told us about the local people, plants and wildlife and booked our accommodation. She ensured we acclimatised well and told us when to start eating garlic soup for lunch and dinner (according to the Nepali it assists with acclimatisation although no one was able to tell us how). What we hadn’t expected was that she really did everything for us. She took our orders and brought us our bills. Anything we needed we just asked Hira and she sorted it out.
It’s very unusual to have a female guide. We decided to use the 3 Sisters trekking agency precisely because they are pioneers of employing and training women as guides
Teahouse trekking in Nepal, such as we were doing, is really a very civilised business. We walked from village to village, with breaks for tea and lunch in restaurants along the way. There is even cellphone reception throughout the area! (Although not for us – our NZ phones don’t work at all in Nepal and we haven’t got around to buying local SIM cards). We slept in private rooms and had our warmest showers since leaving New Zealand. These were available until the very top of the trek, so we only went without a shower for two nights. We became well acquainted with the squat toilet although sit-downs were available at some of the lodges
There were difficult days, notably days two and three which consisted of endless uphill climbs on not-yet-strengthened leg muscles. We had to walk at a very slow pace, stop thinking about reaching the top and concentrate only on the current step and the next. It became quite meditative after a while although the muscles ached and longed for rest. Day eight was also testing which came as a surprise because we had assumed we were now fighting fit, but it turned out to be our longest day and the first of solid downhill
On day three we were climbing up more than 400 vertical meters at 5am. At the top of Poon Hill there were about 200 other people all there to see the same display as us, the sun rising over the panoramic view of the majestic Himalayan mountains. And it truly was impressive. The sky was perfectly clear and the giants sparkled in the morning light. After breakfast we started out for the day’s leg of the journey. The path climbed steeply until we were on a sharp ridge with excellent views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges on either side, set against a clear blue sky.
During a tea break later that morning I noticed an old man spinning wool without any tools. With gentle movements of his right hand he created an impressively even yarn which he wound onto a spindle that he held in his left hand. I chatted to a young man sitting with him and discovered it was yak’s wool. The young man himself is Tibetan and lives in a refugee camp during off-season. His parents escaped Tibet in 1951 after the Chinese invasion and have lived in the camp ever since, where he was born. Yes, he said, he would like to go to Tibet one day but he is unlikely to ever achieve this as he is not a citizen of Nepal and has no passport
At Tadapani we talked to two young Nepali girls sitting near us outside our lodge. Starting with “What is your name?” we had a English textbook conversation during which they somehow managed to con me into singing them Swiss songs (I couldn’t think of any English ones and, in my defence, they returned the favour with a Nepali song). The girl that spoke the best English said she was sixteen but from her looks and gigglyness we put her at no more than fourteen. She was from Pokhara but spends high-season working in lodges in the mountains away from her family
The next morning I woke Nathan before sunrise. Again the morning sky was crystal clear. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than watching the light change on the Himalayan mountains as the sun rises, while listening to our ipods and drinking sweet black tea.
While marijuana is illegal in Nepal the police don’t seem to bother leaving the highways to check for plantations. If they did they’d have a field-day. Often we’d see a plant growing in between the cabbages. The place we stopped for lunch on day four proudly displayed an entire crop right next to the seating area (in fact it was obscuring the view!)This crop was much too large to be for personal use alone and Hira informed us that mainly elderly Nepalis smoke. I guess, like with opium use in South-East Asia, old folk are seen to have earned a right to get high and I imagine it also provides them with pain relief
On day five I was walking along, looking at the path in front of me when a little green snake suddenly jumped out of the bushes in my direction. I stepped back, shouting “Ahhh!” Only that morning we had learned there are poisonous snakes in Nepal and some friends we had made had seen one. Laughing, Hira pulled me back to safety, although it turned out that this one was of a harmless variety and my terror created much amusement amongst the rest of our little group.
At our destination that evening we noticed a goat tied up beside our lodge. Later the locals made a fire. Some time afterwards they walked passed carrying a barbequed carcass and a bucket full of innards. We quickly realised that this was our friend from earlier. Feeling adventurous I asked Hira whether goat would be on for us that evening and she said she could arrange it. I figured meat doesn’t come fresher and decided to take the risk (Nathan opted out). Although the curry it was served in was delicious the meat was very chewy and tasted decidedly of mutton. Only later did we find out that the creature we had seen earlier was in fact a sheep, not a goat. So much for adventure...
It was day seven by the time we reached our destination, Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)
Having retraced our steps down the valley, we left Kishan at our tea spot on day ten and followed Hira down a side path through the forest to the much awaited hot springs
The day before I had mentioned to Hira that I was surprised at the lack of birds in the Nepali forest. Well, on the 20 minute walk back to the village we found where they all hang out. We saw woodpeckers, little swallow-like birds, parakeets, bright red and yellow birds and more. We spent the rest of the day walking along a relatively flat (yes, flat!) path beside the river, crossing some extreme swing bridges. The village of Landruk, where we spent the night, is really lovely with locals going about harvesting crops and children playing and working, and Nathan said he would have liked to spend a few days relaxing there (I have a feeling that the availability of large cold beers may have also had something to do with this!)
During the final two of days we walked from village to village through woods and farmed areas
On the last day of trekking we stopped at a small lodge for tea. I was approached by two little girls and soon they were led me off by the hand towards their incredibly tall swing that hung from a bamboo structure (these are all over Nepal). I had a great time as they pushed me backwards and forwards. Afterwards we entertained each other by drawing pictures in my notebook, including a rather unflattering one of Nathan, detailing his scraggly, twelve day old facial hair and freckled arms
As you can see we had a really fantastic couple of weeks in the mountains. We got away without any tummy bugs, altitude sickness or major health issues. Our only complaints in this regard were that Nathan had a headache at base camp and I struggled to sleep. These are both side effects of the altitude, but not of a level to worry about. Nathan also developed some truly whorey blisters which luckily didn’t hurt when he had his boots on (we will refrain from posting the photos!) Sadly now that we are back in Pokhara we’ve both got a cold, so we are doing nothing much for a few days to give us time recover and feeling grateful that we don’t have to spend six hours a day hiking through the Himalayan mountains.