First, if your haven't put on the kettle yet, go do it now...coz this is a long one :)
After our brief stop in Germany where we swapped our shorts and t-shirts for cold weather gear, we were ready to hit the Himalayas. We set off from Zurich and after three ~4 hour flights, the last one spent staring out the window at the beautiful mountains peaking through the clouds, we landed in Kathmandu. Outside the airport we jumped into one of the tiny Suzuku hatchback cabs that have a boot big enough for a handbag and a front seat not much bigger. I somehow folded into the front seat by getting one knee up to my chin and keeping it there while Andrea squeezed into the back seats with the two big bags. The reason for the micro-cabs became instantly obvious as we wove through the manic traffic and into the backstreets of Kathmandu, some of which were newly paved but mostly could've been used to test the Mars Rover. After a bumpy ride (where I steadied myself by hanging out of the window and holding onto the roofrack) we landed happily in the tourist district and settled into our hotel. Over the next few days we chilled out enjoying the sights and sounds of Kathmandu, which is an incredibly vibrant city, bustling and full of life. There we sorted out our trekking permits (very hassle free) and headed for the second city of Nepal, Pokhara.
This involved a 6hr trip in the local micro-bus over another mixed bag of the worst roads you'll ever see and some pretty decent highway. The real highlight was the driver, who managed to shave an hour from the journey time by driving like we were being chased, while never even coming close to crashing! We left anything we wouldnt need for the trek at a hotel in Pokhara and the next day headed off for the start of the trail, this time taking a real local bus, which had seats for around 15 or at most 20 people. It ended up with around 30 people and a chicken inside and a few more, we think around 5 or so, on the roof. This might sound dangerous, but the old bus was so slow they were prob more comfortable up there than the people inside (and definitely more comfortable than the chicken). Anyway, after a fairly tedious 4hr bus trip we arrived in Besishar and were looking forward to stretching our legs out on the route.
You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them!
|The Annapurna circuit|
|The Annapurna massif|
|Our first view of the mountains|
|Enjoying an Everest on our first night :)|
|A very comfy cow...and some pigeons|
|A local bus...don't let the fancy paint job fool you. I've seen lawnmowers go faster than this.|
|After a 5am start and 5hrs on the bus, we were glad to get started!|
One of the best things about the Annapurna circuit is that you start of in a tropical landscape only 700m above sea level. From there you climb up through rolling hills covered in terraced rice fields, followed by a patchwork of pines, which start off proud and tall but become ever more stunted until finally you're in a desert of snow and ice, with breath taking views all around.
|Getting a Tika for Divali from some local kids|
|This kind of room usually cost ~200 rupees...which's ~1.50€!|
|One of the many nice places we stayed|
|The only injury I got on the whole trip was straining my shoulder turning too many prayer wheels!!|
|Ayal and his bamboo walking stick :)|
|Me trying out a porters pack!|
|After the road stops, everything gets carried up the mountain|
|Dal Bhat...very tasty and you get free refills! :)|
|Ayal the barrista!|
|Everyone else was wearing thermals but not Philippe!|
|A beautiful temple in Upper Pisang|
|The monks gave out hot drinks to all the visitors! :)|
|Ayal, Me, Philippe|
|Upper Pisang covered in fresh snow|
|A very cold wind!!|
|Meeting lots of new people... :)|
We arrived in Manang (~3500m), the biggest town on this side of the circuit not expecting much and finding an incrediblely picturesque town with every possible treat available for the weary tourist, including a selection of bakeries filled with goodies, all unexpectedly cheap. Luckily we arrived early and were planning only a short but steep hike the next day which left us a blissful 24 hrs of over eating... sampling everything from the delicious macaroons to the even better yak burgers, all the while enjoying the sunshine and company over other hikers from all over the world, relaxing together in this oasis. In the evening we packed into the local cinema and lined up on yak hide covered benches with tea and popcorn to watch Into Thin Air, a movie about a disaster on Everest where 8 people died... and then headed off happy to bed :) The next day after a very tasty breakfast, brunch and lunch all packed into about 4hrs, we decided to delay to trip over the Thorung pass and instead make a detour for the Tilicho lake, which at nearly 5000m claims to be the worlds highest (this i'm sure is just for the benefit of the tourists).
|Nom nom nom :)|
|The main street in Manang|
|Tine, Andreas, Andrea, Ayal, Sleepy Dog :)|
|Yak burgers all round|
We headed out from Manang late in the afternoon for a short but steep walk up to Khangsar. Unfortunately Ayal forgot some things in Manang and had to run back, and as it was already so late in the day and we had no time to spare, I loaded up with Ayals bag over mine and headed on up.
With an extra pack strapped on I looked like a porter (or a donkey) and it was fun to see the looks on the locals faces who were more used to seeing westerners carrying no bags than carrying two!
Luckily Ayal caught up with us again in Khangsar and the next day, along with Julian (another German we met on the way), we headed off up to Tilicho base camp (~4200m). This route took us through a series of fairly hair raising sections including a path straight through a landslide area that extended over a few kilometres, with a very shear drop on one side and the threat of falling rocks on the other. Luckily no one in our group was bothered by the heights so we managed to get through it nice and quick.
|Hauling two packs :)|
|Julian, Andrea and Ayal|
|Landslide area..its a few km long, and you do it twice! :)|
Continuing the ascent we finally arrived into the snow covered shadow of the mountains and tucked in the middle of a big bowl beside a half frozen stream was the base camp. We settled into a rustic lodge, enjoying a few hours of sunshine before the sun sunk early behind the peaks, leaving us then to huddle around a yak dung fire that never even threatened to warm the draughty dining room. After more enormous quantities of food and tea we headed off to bed around 6 or 7, waking early to find our water bottles, which were beside the bed, frozen. After our usual breakfast of porridge and tea we put on our headlamps and headed off into the gloomy morning, straight over a frozen stream and a very steep and icy slope that both seemed perfectly placed to convince anyone with any lingering doubts to turn around and go back to bed. Up we went, Julian and Andrea going quiet gingerly on the slippy slope while my crampons (which I'd brought from Germany) allowed me to walk comfortably. After around 3hrs we crested the last hill and arrived at the lake, where in typical Nepali fashion, there's a teahouse.
|Trying to keep warm around a yak dung fire|
|A great photo from Julian, The first rays of sunlight on Dulagiri, with the full moon in the centre.|
I never got up early enough to take photos like these!!
|Andrea and Julian coming up the last hill|
|Me and Andrea at Tilicho Lake|
After a quick cup of tea and look around an ice cold wind came up the valley. None of us had ever experienced such incredible cold and even with all off our gear on we couldn't hang around and so we plowed back onto the snowy trail to descend as fast as possible to a more sheltered spot, which luckily didn't take too long. After that it was a nice easy descent down to the base camp... at least for those of us with crampons! Since we were down around midday, we had the day to relax and recover before heading off the next morning for the long hike back, retracing our steps through the landslide area and cutting across another valley to re-join the Annapurna circuit at Yak Kharka. At this stage , being well accustomed to the altitude and conditions, we had no problem pushing through the usual base camp (Thorung Phedi, ~4300m) up to the High Camp (4900m),which was much more comfortable than the over priced accomodation at Thorung Phedi and had the added bonus of cutting a few hundred metres of the final ascent to the pass. Setting off early, we reached the pass by 9am, where we enjoyed more tea from the compulsory tea house, chilled out for half an hour enjoying the views, before making the rather gruelling 1200m descent to Muktinah. It's a long day!
|At the pass|
|A very chilled out Julian enjoying the view|
|With the hard work done, we could enjoy a beer! :)|
|It's easy to spot the holy places in Nepal! This is at Muktinah.|
Having done the hard work, we began taking it easy and added a couple of rest days in nice villages to slow our inevitable arrival back in Pokhara. We'd a few very good reasons for this...first we preferred being in the peace mountains to the hustle of the city, and second, the elections were taking place in Nepal and one of the major parties here, the Maoists, were organizing strikes all over the country in an attempt in to disrupt the election. So the cities were definitely not a good place to be! After a few more days walking, including a detour to visit the Titisee (a very small but scenic namesake of the famous lake in the Black Forest) we landed in Tatopani, finally ending our trek with a well earned soak in the warm waters of the local hot springs.
|They'll put a bell on anythin in Nepal|
|A well earned soak at the end of the trek|