Okay, for real reals this time, Ben and I did the Annapurna Circuit. Or most of it anyway. And there was none of this mimby-pimby porter/guide stuff neither, we carried our own bags and let the Lonely Planet be our guide! (Although I’m not knocking having a porter, those dudes are awesome, and will often run ahead and book a room for you in that night’s village, and make sure your food order is top of the pile, which can be pretty handy…)
So, after a couple of lovely days lounging around in Pokhara, we caught an early bus to the trailhead in Besi Sahar. We met a couple on the bus who were off to do the same trek (also without porters and carrying bags twice the size of ours!), and so we spent the first couple of days walking with them, discovering on the way that the woman Fereshte was a Londoner, and had been at Warwick at the same time as us – small world!
The trek started out fairly gentle, following the dirt road through a sub-tropical landscape and criss-crossing a milky blue river. It was only half a day’s walking, but novice that I was, it still felt like a hell of a day for me. In the guesthouse in Bhulbule that night we met a French couple, Pablo and Marie, who were in the middle of a year long trip, from France to Japan, via Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Nepal, India and China. Boy did we feel like losers!
Day two was Ben’s birthday, and we made various friends along the way, but somehow ended up in a guesthouse all alone at the end of the day, as the more experienced trekkers decided to push on to the next town. I’d been hoping there’d be a convivial day’s end for Ben to celebrate his birthday with our new friends, but he assured me that being in the Himalayas for his birthday was enough. He drank one beer and conked out around 5pm, so I guess he was pretty content.
Now the trek was two weeks long, so I’m not going to bore you with a day by day account (I’ll leave that to Alterna-Siri). But much like Alterna-Siri and Diane, our days started at 6.30am with breakfast. Most days we walked between six and ten hours, arriving in our village for the night in time for a late lunch, a bit of reading and some cards before dinner, and then a very early night. Once we got into the habit of stretching properly before and after walking, life got a lot easier, and I settled into the walking.
The early stages of the trek were the hardest for me, as we had to walk along where they are currently extending the road, and that means roughly ‘blasting great chunks out of the rockface to create a path’. In places the path was only a foot or two wide, made or rubble and dirt, with a steep drop to the side. These are the times that I stopped walking and started crying, telling Ben there was no way I could cross and that I was going to die here on this bloody cliffside. And Ben, god bless him, talked me through those grim moments, and even walked me through them at times, holding my hand to guide me across. I was also massively helped by several strangers, who lent me their walking poles for added balance and reassurance on crumbly descents. After seeing how much the poles helped me, Ben found me a long stick to use as a pole, which we dubbed the Hoff for its life-saving properties. The Hoff was my constant companion for another 2 weeks.
After the roadworks the scenery changed from subtropical rice terraces to wide, shaded alpine paths, making me much happier. I was determined to make it across pass at this point, because there was no way I was going back over the road-building parts!
And there were mountains, the whole time! Did I mention that? Sometimes I couldn’t really look at them because they gave me vertigo just to think how high they were, and much of the time I was just watching my feet anyway. But Ben… I’ve never seen him so delighted by anything. Some days there were huge operas of mountains, and some days they’d be hiding, but every once in a while a cheeky mountain would stick its head out. On day 5, walking from Lower Pisang to Manang, nothing was on show as a thick low-lying cloud had obscured all the sky. And sure enough, as we arrived in Manang, it started to snow, and didn’t stop all day.
Fortunately, Manang is the place where you stop to acclimatise, so we sat tight and hoped for clear skies. The next morning everything was clear, and we found ourselves surrounded by snowy peaks. We did an acclimatisation trek up the hill (just 400m!) to a gompa (monastery) with the most breath-taking views of the whole trek (at some point, my camera will make nice with the net cafe computers and I can actually upload some photos maybe…)
On the way up the very steep hill, we met a French guy and girl that we’d met the day before in Pisang, Sophie and Pierre (hello Sophie if you’re reading this!) I was in the midst of one of my steep climb panic attacks (mostly thinking how the hell I was going to get back down again), and Sophie saw my distress and helped me get up the hill. At the top she suggested we four continue together to the pass, as she found my pace much more pleasant than her companion Pierre’s (Pierre walks up mountains like he’s going for a stroll to the shops. At the pass, everyone was wrapped up in great big down jackets and gloves and hats and all sorts. Pierre was in jeans and a hoody).
Okay, the Thorung La pass and the party on the other side and the nasty leg infection that curtailed our trek will all have to wait until the next post, cos I am out of time dudes! Gotta go eat lunch, gotta go catch a 17 hour bus to the border. But next time I’ll tell you all that, and then a bit about Kathmandu for good measure.
Until then, email me! Tell me what’s going on at home! I miss you guys!