When I sat buying my flights to Nepal back in January I was dreaming of the Annapurna Circuit, it was kind of one of those things I thought I’d say and never do. With Thorung La pass sitting at 5416m altitude, taking anywhere from 7-10 days to climb to and me barely able to complete a weeks workout regime, it was a very pretty pipe dream.
As most of my travel dreams have begun I thought of the photos and the stories and little about the grueling long days walking or weather conditions… when I packed extra thermals they were an afterthought not a necessity.
Still on the 4th September, side by side with my new friend Emma the kiwi (New Zealander not bird or fruit) and overpacked backpack, we caught our first Nepalese bus to Besi Sahar.
13 days later I’m laid in a noisy Pokhara guesthouse after just completing the most challenging and rewarding physical and emotional days of my life.
The Annapurna Circuit sits in the Himalayas of Nepal, and houses some of the highest summits in the world. Most people think of Everest when thinking of Nepalese mountains but, nicknamed ‘the ugly mountain’ by locals, the Annapurnas offer the perfect alternative and contrary to popular opinion, like much of Nepal, completely untouched by the earthquake and safe to visit!
Day 1: Kathmandu – Besi Sahar – Ngadi
Anticipation grew with the excitement that met me as I woke on day one, we were leaving with only a few paragraphs in a Lonely Planet book and a fold-out map of the Annapurna circuit. A local (frankly terrifying) bus to Ngadi dropped us at the last stop with our backpacks, poles and probably a few compressed vertebrae. The last minute decision to start here instead of Bhulbhule came about after tales that the walk between these places were littered with construction sites and new mud roads frequented by machinery.
Instead our first night was spent just down stream from the construction site of a damn, still not entirely picturesque but we spent the evening playing with the local children, taking in the first breathes of mountain air and eating Dahl with the family of the teahouse in which we were staying. Would this be the first Dahl of a two week supply?
Day 2: Ngadi to Syange (1080m)
My early turn in last night was maybe a little ambitios to someone used to 6hours sleep a night and I kept waking in cold sweats with anxiety, I felt so naive, I didn’t even know which way we were supposed to set off in the morning, what hope did this give for the days ahead? Emma seemed blissfully void of these fears, and I envied her!
After a late start the sun was already blaring down upon us which has lead to some rather unfortunate first day sunburn(!), we made our first mistake 100m in and took the wrong path, quickly corrected by some strange glances from onlooking building men. The presence of electricity pylons and iPhones seemed strangely ill fitting with the villages we passed through but present non the less and quickly I was absorbed in the beauty of the surroundings. How far we were from the packed suburbs of the city.
I thought I’d be writing that today was torture, turns out after a good 5hrs walking uphill, downhill, around hill, we arrived at Syange which lies next to the hugest waterfall I’ve ever seen, lurching itself of the mountainside with such intensity that everything within a couple hundred metres of it is covered in a thin constant film of water.
Walking around and ambling over so many landslides it brought home the constant threat of erosion here, blocking these small villages from their lifelines, their ‘get outs’. True Nepalese style, not being ones for being held down it seems, have become adept at weaving around or up and over. I have to laugh, these people are not in need of pity, that’s one thing I’m sure of, they live in a place I could only hope to survive.
Day 3: Syange – Tal (1675m)
DAy 4: Tal – kote (2600m)
Day 5: kote – upper pissang
day 6 & 7: Upper pissang – MAnang
day 8: Manang – lakda (4200m)
day 9: Lakda – Thorung High camp (4850m)
Day 10: Thorung high camp – muktinath
day 11: Muktinath – tatopani
day 12: Tatopani – ghorepani
day 13: ghorepani – poon hill – pokhara
As the days passed the beautiful rice paddies that greeted us as we began evolved into pine forests, into desert landscapes with giant peaks topped with snow. The Nepalese people throwing greetings of “namaste” at us at each village,and though at points the trail seemed empty we managed to meet some fellow travellers around the circuit, namely a lovely German couple, who took us under their wing.
We went through towns teetering over raging waters and slept in brightly coloured teahouses with the most basic comodities although, after a tough day trekking, that cold bucket of water and jug seemed like the perfect luxury. We tackled leeches and walked higher than the birds flew, along winding forest paths and up endless switchbacks. All with the Annapurnas dominating our skyline, albeit glimpsed through cloud somedays, our eyes seeing things a camera would struggle to capture or would struggle to bring justice too!
So I’m sure this all sounds glorious (and believe me it was), but please I beg of you if you do this or any other trek don’t be the one who gets the nickname ‘monster’ for your backpack, because honestly 15-16kg on your back all day with no prior training kind of sucks…and gives you blisters on your shoulders… And makes you cry BUT also gives you the most amazing muscles (just encase you needed an upside).
I’m so pleased I put this experience at the beginning of my trip, not only is Nepal completely humbling and beautiful but the trek gave me time to think about what I wanted from my time, 13 days of putting one foot in front of the other being in awe of what lay around the corner taught me to have no expectations, I would simply find what was there. Passing over Thorung La seeing all the wonders I felt so blessed to have made it, and on the last day as we sat, hot chocolate in hand, waiting with baited breath for the sun to rise over the peaks in a perfectly clear sky on Poon Hill,I thought how lucky I was to be living this dream when many daren’t even dream at all.