Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary, Nepal 8th – 30th May 2014
Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary, Nepal 8th – 30th May 2014
5:00 alarm in order to catch the mini bus from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar. The real advantage for getting up that early was that it is so much cooler to travel early in the morning. We also hoped to catch a jeep from Besi Sahar to Syange. You can walk this distance but to be honest it is so hot I would not be able to bear it. So we took the Jeep. The road is rough but John says better than last year and certainly better than three years ago.
No problem with cellular devices in Nepal. Most people have a samsung galaxy which they seem to have no problems with. Of course I am having trouble getting onto the NCell network (grrrrrrrr).
It was tight up front as well. I had to straddle the gear shift, the driver stayed in second most of the time so there wasn’t too much fumbling!
We arrived in Syange about 3:30, went for a walk up the hill to the “hamlet” of Shrichaur. We enjoyed a much need hot shower, a supper of fried potatoes, eggs, and cheese and a veggie “spring roll”. Couldn’t keep our eyes open so went to bed at 8pm! The tea houses are basic but so far clean and comfortable. The toilets have been very clean so far!
Got up at 5:20 and headed out the door 25 minutes later. Almost straight away there was a set of switchbacks to warm us up, which wasn’t really necessary as it was already surprisingly hot. Fortunately the sun wasn’t hitting the path yet so we made good progress towards our breakfast stop at Chyamche. It felt fantastic to be out with packs on our backs (not so sure now that we’re at the end of the day).
Nancy struggled after breakfast with the heat – or so she says. I think it’s because we haven’t done any exercise for weeks (or, truthfully, months). Nancy here… I was definitely toooo hot ( and knackered) but I was much better after lunch in the shade. It was certainly warm on the steep climb to Tal, but worth it getting there in time to avoid the midday sun and with enough time to enjoy a 3 hour respite in the shade. It’s a lovely spread out village on the banks of the Marsyangdi river.
Lovely food at the Potala guesthouse (including a lychee pickle!). Potential lunch as well, some beautiful baby goats.
Decided it not to stay in Tal as we would be higher up if we walked up to Dharapani. Although having walked up here we are both a little shocked as to the poor state of the village. We are staying in the same guest house we were in three years ago, The 3 Sisters Guest House but it is rather tired. It may be that the first time we stayed here we had just come down from the Larkye La, Manaslu which had pretty basic accommodation. We thought the 3 Sisters Guest House was paradise! However we did have a hot solar powered shower, good food (tuna and tomato pasta) and a great sleep. No bugs so all good!
Woke early (5:30) and headed out after a quick cup of black tea (funny how I drink black tea in Nepal but not in the UK). Steady climb up the road but we were in the sun pretty early. Found a short cut which took us back on to the original Annapurna Trail (they have built a rough road which you can walk on but you do share it with a few vehicles. The problem is that it is very exposed to the sun). I was very happy to go the steep, shaded way instead the gentle, sun-exposed way.
Stopped for breakfast at the lovely village Timang. We walked through and chose a guest house which was owned by a very smiley man. As we were waiting for our tea and apple pancakes to arrive I decided to lay down on the terrace and have a sleep. When he saw me there he was very concerned, but John assured him that I was well, just sleepy! He proceeded to bring up a rug, a long cushion and a pillow…. Ahhhhh. What a lovely man! We really enjoyed our apple pancakes with honey. The view from the terrace was spectacular as you look right across at Manaslu ( which is over 8000m and we think the world’s 8th highest mountain). It is fantastic to see the high mountains.
We walked down the gradient and turned off the road to the path and met Nick soaking himself under the tap (it isn’t only me that finds the sun hot :o)). Halfway to Koto we stopped near the road so John could adjust Nick’s pack. We have been doing this for many people along the way. It is incredible the difference a “fitted” pack can make to one’s happiness. The three of us stopped for a cup of tea in Koto and ended up eating lunch at a brand new restaurant. The lady who owns the cafe had great English. It turns out she was sponsored by a German tourist to learn English in Pokhara. John had fried rice and I had egg noodle soup. Nick just had tea as it transpires that he is carrying 6 packs of mixed muesli, energy bars with him – no wonder his pack was so heavy! It was good and it was bliss being out of the noon day sun.
Walked on a bit and stayed in Chame at a ‘cottage’ guest house. It turned out to be very busy with Trekkers but the host was very friendly and up to the task. I was even able to get on wi-fi and FaceTimed my mother and sister. That was amazing! Am still so surprised that it is possible!
Not long after talking to Mom and Sharon, we heard some drums and singing. It turns out there was an archery competition between two “rival” Tibetan communities. How they managed to fire any arrows was beyond us as they were all fairly merry after drinking vast quantities of Tibetan rice wine. They all looked lovely dressed up in their traditional dress, sadly I didn’t get a photo as my battery was charging. Hopefully Nick see will send me one (he is a professional photographer) .
Ate an early supper of fried potatoes with egg, cheese, mixed veg and tuna. It was massive, they don’t scrimp on the portions.
As usual we went to bed early.
May 11th: Chame to Upper Pisang
Up early and had breakfast in Chame before we headed out. It was lovely and cool to walk early in the morning. Went through Bhratang which was rather sad and run down. It was almost deserted. Along the way we saw a small Pica and a Marten. It was lovely to see both, they stayed long enough for us to get a good view. John saw a scarlet minivet but sadly I missed it. Hopefully there will be more later on.
We tried a side track through beautiful forest but were very surprised by the fact that a large amount of forest had been cleared. We are not sure why they cleared it as the road is on the other side of the river. We both felt like Treebeard….hurrumph.
Crossed back over the river to the road. The road finished as the bridge wasn’t yet complete. Lots of porters lugging cases of beer, whisky etc across. Not long after we crossed three different mule trains came over the bridge. It was lovely, and smelly walking with them through the forest.
We arrived surprisingly early in Dikhur Pokhuri. Had apple pancakes for breakfast (yes a theme is developing). Had a long chat with some Aussies, Erin and Paul, they were ambling slowly up. Really nice people. We ended up staying at Dikhur Pokhuri until 1. We headed off as the clouds were building and we were afraid of getting soaked.
It was a lovely, steady ascent to Upper Pisang through some beautiful lush meadows. We decided to stay in there as we hoped to take the high road to Manang. Upper Pisang is the first traditional style mountain village. Unfortunately we could see a big storm coming in. The guest house had a nice sitting area and they were very helpful. They gave us a small bucket of hot water to wash with. It is amazing how little water you need to get clean! The rain came pouring down, and continued to do so throughout the night. Sadly we had a very disturbed night as there was a rat trying to chew its way into our room. It was very persistent and noisy! Before the rat there was Tibetan chanting and drumming!
May 12th: Upper Pisang to Manang
We woke to very limited visibility and more rain. So we decided not to brave the elements but take the low road to Manang. It was very dull walk along the road although we did see Lammergeier and Himalayan Griffons. We stopped for tea on a roof top terrace at Humde. It was fascinating watching the world go by. There were communal groups planting fields and lots of people coming and going.
Took a side trip to the 500 year old Gompa (monastery) in Bragha. It great to see that they are renovating the monks houses. It is a very important Gompa for the region of Manang.
Arrived in Manang in good time. Lured into the hotel by the display of cinnamon rolls, chocolate pastries and the list of great food on offer. It turned out to be a nice place to stay although the suppers weren’t great.
John starting to really feel his cold. His head is full and he isn’t feeling great.
May 13th: Manang rest day
Hung out in Manang. Had cinnamon rolls and ground coffee for breakfast. John is not feeling great so he is going to spend the day in bed. I walked up to the stupa at the back. Just chilling really. Met up with Piera and Dylan for lunch. I had delicious veg and cheese momos (dumplings). I also tried the local sea buckthorn juice. It tasted a bit like apricot. Apparently it is very good for you. John headed back to bed and I wandered to the local museum. I learned a bit about local culture and festivals.
I went to a very interesting talk on Acute Mountain Sickness which should be compulsory for all trekkers. So many people are suffering but are ignoring the symptoms. Nuts!
Met up with other trekkers and we all gathered together to watch “into thin air” a film about the 1996 disaster on Everest. I couldn’t handle it as I kept thinking about the Sherpas that have recently lost their lives. It wasn’t what I would call entertainment.
Had the worst meal of our trek so far, macaroni and cheese for me and John had tuna and cheese spring rolls. I ate his and he managed to eat mine, serves me right for ordering something not “normal”.
Late breakfast and headed off to Tilicho Lake Basecamp. It was a very interesting walk. I loved the rock formations and the scenic mountains. We stopped for tea at Khangsar and learned about the football scores. We have been joined by Chen and Gal, two lovely Israeli tourists. We all stopped for lunch at Shree Kharka where we were treated to some delicious Israeli coffee. They are carrying it with them and as they say ‘coffee is to be shared’. It was fascinating talking to them about their army experiences. Chen seems to be able to put a happier spin on his memories. Gal said ‘thinking about it makes me want to cry’.
After lunch Chen and Gal headed off as they are quick walkers. Sadly they took the Upper Trail (despite the red ‘x’ on the sign!). We took the Lower Trail which was fascinating because of the rock formations. We did have to traverse a rather large landslide area. Basically watch your feet and don’t look down! It was an undulating walk with some steep bits but not too bad. In fact Tilicho Basecamp is at the same altitude (4150m). It took us about 2.5 hours to get there.
When we arrived we found the guest house was very busy so the proprietor chucked the porters out of their room and five of us piled in there. In fact it turned out to be very warm as it was above the kitchen! The snow came down garden and fast from about 5pm. Not long after the snow started someone noticed two people running down the steep scree! This is when we found out that the boys took the wrong road. They were frozen and scared when they arrived.
Woke very early and saw that the mountains were clearish. Plenty of low cloud around but at least it stopped snowing and you could see some of the peaks. After a quick scrabble of stuffing all our things into the packs (which we left behind) we started off towards Tilicho lake (4920 m highest lake in the world). The way to the Lake is quite challenging as we climb from 4150 to 4920m . The track starts out gentle but it quickly becomes quite steep.
On the way we saw Blue Sheep, Wild Yaks, Himalayan Snowcock, skylarks, Goats, choughs and a couple of cuckoos ( I wonder what nest they take over up here? ? Pipits, Larks
Sadly John is just not feeling well at all. He started off ok but 2/3 of the way up he made the decision to turn around. His head is full of cold. A climb of 800m is a big climb. I suspect we managed 500m which is good for acclimatisation. We walked slowly back down and came back for breakfast of pancakes and honey. John steamed with some Vicks and he is now sleeping in the corner. We may stay here for the day we will see how he feels later on.
May 16th Tilicho Lake to Shree Kharka
John stayed tucked up in bed whilst Nancy headed off up to Tilicho lake. The early morning weather was stunning.
May 17th: Shree Kharka to Yak Kharka
The first thing John said to me this morning was ‘I am feeling sooo much better’! The antibiotics must be kicking in. He is still full of cold and is still coughing thick stuff but he says he feels more “like himself”. Breakfast was yet another apple pancake with honey plus coffee with milk and sugar. We started walking to Yak Kharka about 8 am. Not long after leaving Shree Kharka you climb up a hill and arrive at an almost completely abandoned village. There were a few Yaks and yak calves about but no people. However there was a stunning meadow where we strolled and bird watched. We loved it. The views were spectacular, the sun was shining, the birds singing and John was feeling better. What’s not to like. As well as birds we saw some Pica scuttling in the undergrowth. It was a beautiful balcony traverse with the massive slopes of Gangapurna (7454m) on the other side of the valley. Lots of blue sheep around as well. We finally saw some males in a bachelor herd. Some of which had massive horns. They now do look like sheep. Why they are ‘blue’ I don’t yet know.
After a long downhill (am working up to the 2800m descent in two days time!). In order to avoid the noon sun we stopped at a bridge cafe for Tomato Soup and hot chocolate (note to self, give up on the hot chocs as they are watery and dull!) .
May 18th: Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi and then to High Camp
Had a disturbed night as my lower lip is so incredibly sore. The nights are the worst as my lips stick together. This sun blister is taking ages to heal (I seem to be more susceptible to them after our ‘burned lips’ experience in Manaslu). Yak Kharka is a hive of activity with so many Nepalese people gathered to harvest Yarsha Gumpu. A guide that John spoke to said that there were 2,000 people in the area. It is incredibly lucrative but a tough trade. We really enjoyed just ‘people watching’ as we headed out of town. The walk to Thorung Phedi was undulating….aren’t they all? There were some steep bits but generally it was a long, gentle traverse.
(Just went and put my power stretch tights and more layers on. Once the sun dips it get very cold up here!)
We stopped for tea near Thorung Phedi as I was feeling sorry for the woman who ran the tea shop…. She charged us double. Oh well it was a big cup ( double by the way is 100 rupees ~$1.00). It is funny how expensive things can seem until you put them into context. We were at almost 4200m. After tea we were traversing another landslide when rocks started falling down and whizzing past our heads. It was very frightening. Luckily we were near a large group of rocks so we could take shelter! We didn’t see the sheep but they must’ve been there to disturb the rocks.
We arrived at Thorung Phedi (4520m) at around 10. We treated ourselves to a hot drink and a cinnamon roll – stale 🙁 Instead of staying at the incredibly well appointed lodge – it even boasted wi-fi we headed up the steep slope to the HighCamp. I am so glad we decided to do that climb today instead of tomorrow morning. The final 20 m seemed to take forever ( and a lot of strength). Had spicy tomato and noodle soup for lunch (my lip said ‘OWWWWW- the chilli brought tears to my eyes!)
After lunch we went for a walk up to the view point near the lodge. The views were stunning! I tried the panoramic function on my camera. It will be interesting to see if that worked or not. It was hard to see the screen in the light.
We saw three new species of birds, none of which are in our bird book of course. An Accentor, a robin (ish) bird and a wheatear.
May 19th: High Camp to Kagbeni
Whilst I type this am laying in bed with John listening to Paul Lewis play the complete Beethoven concertos. It is wonderful.
Today was a big day as we headed over the Thorung La pass 5416m. We woke at 5am, had breakfast and headed off towards the pass at 6. Neither of us slept particularly well as it is difficult to sleep at that altitude plus John’s chest isn’t great and he is coughing a lot. The way up to the pass from high camp took us 2:30 hours. It was a hard climb. I struggled to get my rhythm at the beginning and then the “false summits” were doing my head in. Even though I knew they were coming, I still found them to be very demoralising (altitude can affect ones mood as well). I was also a bit dizzy and wobbly. John waited for me and I followed along behind him looking down at his boots. We finally made the pass and all of a sudden my mood lifted and I was smiley and happy!
It was great to finally make it as this pass has been the focus of the trip. Now all I needed to do was descend 2800m to Kagbeni! The way down off the pass is steep, but at least the weather was stunning and we had great views. Truly not a cloud in the sky. Lunch was Veg and Cheese MoMos ( in fact they were the last MoMos I ate as there is some strange taste in the veg mix… I reached my limit). After lunch we continued on our way to Kagbeni. The way was long, hot, dusty and very windy. One could see ‘green towns’ in the distance- I got excited as I thought we could see Kagbeni. Sadly Kagbeni was still miles away. But we plodded along and eventually came into Kagbeni which was a very cute, beautiful green town. One if the first shops we saw was the Apple Bee cafe which had delicious, cold, iced cappuccinos and apple pie. Heaven!
We stayed in a guest house that on the surface looked very clean. The building was old but we were put into the ‘new’ wing. Once you looked around you quickly realised that it wasn’t particularly clean. The big difference was in the lighting…. We actually had electricity so this was the first place we could see the dirt! As John says… ‘Did we actually see anyone washing sheets, duvet covers and pillows? Sadly no. Thank goodness for sleeping bag liners and pillow covers!
May 20th: Kagbeni to Marpha
Up early to avoid the winds. Changed some money in Jomsom as we had been spending more than budget ($20.00 pp/pd rather than $15- J says the prices have gone up within the year). It was a gentle day walking along the river and sadly on the road. My legs were definitely tired after yesterday’s long descent. Any decline was very, very difficult.
Arrived in Marpha in time for some refreshments- fresh apple juice, an apple lassi, an apple crumble followed french fries! The rain came down in buckets. Met up with Hannes and Bernhardt, we had last played cards with them in Tilicho Lake Basecamp. To our surprise, Jonathan arrived much later and completely soaked. He took the back road which wasn’t the most direct route. He was still smiling though which was impressive!
Ate homemade Nepali Lasagne. It wasn’t lasagne as we know it but it was tasty nevertheless. We also had some local apple brandy which was quite yummy!
May 21st: Marpha to Ghasa
Stunning walk through the forest. Sadly we got a bit lost and ended up walking up the hill quite a bit before we found the trail again. The heavy rain the previous day washed away a lot of the trail so it was difficult to find (that is our excuse anyway!). Really lovely, lovely walk until we reached Kalopani which really isn’t a nice place. We had a quick omelette and tea for lunch and moved on to Ghasa.
The afternoon’s walk was a bit of a slog down the road although we did see a very large male Langur monkey sitting in the tree.
Selected the first hotel on the left, New Florida Inn. Basically it had a garden and we wanted to rest and to bird watch.
May 22nd: Ghasa to Tatopani
Awoke at 5am to go looking for some of the six varieties of pheasants that are resident in the area. We didn’t see them but did see some lovely birds… Blue headed rock thrush and greater barbet to name two.
After breakfast we headed to Tatopani on the trekking path. This path is much nicer as it has some shade but the path is undulating. So lots of ups and downs. I found myself getting very hot so I switched into auto pilot. auto pilot 1 allowed me to walk at a steady pace and still admire the villages and butterflies. Once we lost the shade I went into Auto pilot 3…. Head down just watching John’s feet. No sense of humour or wonder! Then when we saw the signs to Tatopani I went to auto pilot 2 which is like 1 but I could feel the pain in my feet! Truly one of the hardest days trekking for me. I couldn’t speak until we had had something cold to drink (lemon and soda x 4). But we ended up at the same guest house with many people we met on the trip – so it was a jolly reunion.
After a long soak in the hot springs we were starting to feel better. Really looking forward to our rest day tomorrow!!!
May 24: Tatopani to Ghorepani
Got up early to get an early start. But sadly it started to rain again (it had rained and hailed the previous afternoon evening). So we went back to the guest house to have breakfast and to wait it out. Luckily the rain didn’t last long so we were on our way again by 6:30.
A long, hot, humid walk up 1800m. But for me it wasn’t as bad as the Ghasa to Tatoponi leg. Arrived hungry and hot around midday. Stayed in the same quirky guest house J stayed last year. It was good food with a funny, eccentric owner.
May 25th: Ghorepani to Chromrung
Fabulous rhododendron, tolkeinesque forest. A slow amble as we tried to bird watch. We were slow until John’s legs were covered by midgies. Had a reasonable view of the Annapurna mountain range at Deurali top. The clouds were quite low but at least we saw the peaks (others coming behind us weren’t so lucky).
Wow what an up and down day. So much climbing and descending. You start to hit the stairs that Annapurna is famous for. Up and then all the way down to the river followed by up, up, up and then half way back down again. I am glad we were acclimatised to trekking. Those that just do the Annapurna Basecamp must have found it tough.
Stayed at the Lucky a Guest house in Chromrung. It was ok, nothing flashy but it was clean. Really hot water. John had veggie burger, I had to tomato and cheese pizza ( each slice had more than a clove of fresh garlic on it… Wayyyyyy tooooo much garlic!)
May 26th: Chromrung to Deurali
Big descent on the stairs to the bridge and then up you go! I counted 490 steps from the bridge to the nearest tea house. There must be tens of thousands of steps on the sanctuary trek! Good for the bikini legs!
By the time we reach Chromrung there are a mixed group of 7 – 9 of us. J and I always left first (to avoid the heat) and usually we arrived first however on this occasion we were delayed by the absolutely stunning firetailed sunbirds. As we were the only bird enthusiasts we waited to show people the birds. They loved a certain type of bush and there were dozens of them flying about. Really spectacular.
Deurali itself was damp, a bit smelly but in the best position for us as it enables people to get into the sanctuary as early as possible the next day. No hot showers and the dining room was rather cold. For those of us who chose Dhal it was the worst Dhal we had had on the trip. Dull and tasteless. By this time our group was joined by Anna and Jenny, two teachers on holiday from Abu Dhabi. They were great fun and really livened us all up with their smiles and chatter.
May 27th: Deurali to Annapurna Basecamp
Beautiful, clear morning. We were fortunately in the shade and it was clear all the way to Machapuchhre base camp. At MBC we stopped for breakfast (apple pancake w honey every day for Nancy) and met up with Seong Min (a lovely, happy South Korean man we had met on the Circuit). He had been to ABC the previous day and was just heading down.
The walk from MBC to ABC is stunning. Not only do you have the mountains but you also have wild flowers, butterflies, rivers and birdlife. We took our time as there wasn’t any hurry and we really enjoyed all the nature surrounding us.