|We headed to the mountains to do one of Nepal's classic treks: the Annapurna Circuit.
This hike takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks (we took 23 days) and Christy was fond of referring to it as "Boot Camp with a View". The trail meanders over 120 miles up and down valleys and mountains and through villages to enable you to circumnavigate the massive Annapurna mountains. The lowest elevation on our trip was 3510 feet, the highest was the Thorang La pass at 17,768 feet, reported to be the highest mountain pass in the world. Lots of ups and downs. The beauty of the trek is that in virtually every village there are places to stay (tea houses), so you don't need to carry a tent or food. We opted to do the hike independently, rather than hiring a guide and/or porters, as it is an easy-to-follow trail and our packs weren't terribly heavy (though as the days got harder we did begin to notice how much less everyone else - with and without porters - seemed to be carrying). Occasionally the track was a little difficult to follow, but we soon learnt that if you were not sure which fork to take all you had to do was follow the trail of poop from the donkey trains which are very frequent, hauling supplies up to the high villages. This led to many people to refer to the trail as the 'Annapoona' Circuit.
The classic route starts in Besisahar, but now jeep roads go as far as Syange. We opted to take a share jeep here as our starting point (saving ~12 miles walk on dusty, jeep roads). This was by miles, the most terrifying time we've ever spent in a vehicle of any kind. During many sections of the ride it was better not to look at the sheer drop-offs inches from our jeep. The road was little more than a rocky trail with landslides around every corner and the river hundreds of feet below our precipitous path. Our driver was slow and safe, but when we met other jeeps and had to back up or squeeze through with inches to spare - it was very, very scary.
Once on the trail, we adopted a fairly steady routine:
* Leave before 6am (avoiding heat/sun and getting amazing, cloudless mountain views).
* Take breakfast around 8-9am in one of the villages.
* Stop by lunchtime. Order food (often takes an hour to be ready), search for a guesthouse, check into guesthouse. Do laundry. Wash (shower, bucket of hot water, wipes, whatever was available). Stretch. Foot Massage. Nap.
* Dinner at 6pm.
* Asleep by 8pm. Our shortest day's walk was 30 minutes, our longest 8...John's was 10 - we'll get to that later.
For a map of the area, click here
Day 1: Bus from Kathmandu to Besisahar.
Day 2: Jeep to Syange. Walk to Jagat. Steep climbing with many donkeys carrying supplies to towns further on. Rain convinced us to stop early.
Day 3: Jagat to Tal. Some steep climbs and lots of rock steps. Good views of distant snow-capped peaks.
Day 4: Tal to Danaque. Christy finds huge, live beetle in her boot (she thought she had a stone - imagine the surprise and flapping that ensued!) Easyish day, stopped at a great guesthouse and tried Tibet tea (yak butter and salt). Must be acquired taste.
Day 5: Danaque to Chame. Some steep climbs to beautiful village with rice paddies, apple trees in full blossom and sighting of large vulture/condor/eagle (Himalayan Griffin?)
Day 6: Chame to Lower Pisang. Good views of Annapurnas. Huge mountains everywhere. John's knee suddenly begins hurting. Not good.
Day 7: Lower Pisang to Braga. Cute, ancient town with Gompa (temple) at top of hill. Walked to Gompa via old village for some great views and acclimatization. Huge centipede in shower made worse by having no light.
Day 8: Braga to Manang. Short walk to Manang for rest day. Visited museum and went to altitude lecture at Nepal Rescue Association. Serious consequences to being so high. Beginning to feel altitude and to take Diamox to reduce it's effects.
Day 9. Manang. Acclimatization day. Climbed ~1000 feet up to gompa built into impossibly high cliff. Blessed by 93 year old Lama. Amazing views!
Day 10: Manang to Yak Kharka. Finally saw yaks! Views getting better and better.
Day 11: Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi. Some hard climbing (breathing harder) & very cold.
Day 12: Thorong Phedi to Throng La Pass to Muktinah. Christy very sick. We walk to high camp and decide that Christy will get a horse and porter over the pass (believe it's altitude). John walks on with an Australian and American couple. Doing it alone would have been long depressing day! Long day (5 hours up, 5 hours down) and not sure if up or down is harder. John not feeling 100%.
Day 13: Muktinah. Sick day. Day spent trying to recover and stay hydrated.
Day 14: Muktinah to Kagbeni. Long, dry, dusty jeep road to charming medieval town. The landscape is dry, desolate and looks like some areas in Turkey (John says). The wind is insane and blows so much dust that we can't see any mountains! Hoping lower altitude will help recovery.
Day 15: Kagbeni to Jomson. Another dusty walk with high winds blowing in our faces. No views again. Wishing we'd taken a jeep down. Still not feeling well. Go to clinic in Jomson and get medicine for potential "Giardiasis" problem.
Day 16: Jomson to Marpha. Still windy, but visibility and health improving. Marpha is cute town with narrow streets famous for apple production.
Day 17: Marpha to Larjung. Decided to stop early as still not 100%. Range of emotions. Feeling brilliant for stopping early as hail storm hits (huge marble-sized hailstones) and we are comfortably in lodge reading. Horrible food and rat-infested room (they scratched at the walls all night long) made us feel miserable with nowhere to go in the night (we'd already picked the best of the bad hotels in town). Morning revealed fresh snow on peaks and clear views that (almost) made up for night's torture.
Day 18: Kalopani. Stopped after short walk because we found a beautiful town and guesthouse (nicest in our entire stay in Nepal). Hot shower, excellent food and some of best mountain views so-far restore our happiness.
Day 19: Kalopani to Tatopani. Long day. Had intended to stop at ~6 hours, but had to walk 8 hours (13 miles) as earlier towns had no reasonable accommodation options.
Day 20: Tatopani to Sikha. Had agreed to take jeep up to Ghorepani, only to learn that there are no jeep roads on this part of the track so we will have to walk it. Tough climbing in heat leaves us tired. Very scenic villages a good reward. Huge hail storm (larger than before) again leaves us happy to have had a short day.
Day 21: Sikha to Ghorepani. Short day of more climbing (not as steep as prior day).
Day 22: Ghorepani to Tikhedunga. Awake at 4am to climb Poon Hill for sunrise. An hours walk (up, of course!) pays off with some of the best views of the Annapurnas yet. Spectacular! Breakfast in Ghorepani before starting off down long journey back down mountain. Walked down over 3000 steps (I guess down is marginally easier than up?) that left us both sore and tired. Descended 5600 feet in a single day. No wonder we were tired.
Day 23: Tikhedunga to Pokhara. Walked a few more hours down (much more gentle slope) to catch taxi to Pokhara. Ready for civilization again after 3 weeks without alcohol, caffeine, or fresh veggies. Bring it on!