The Annapurna Journey
Nepal has so many stunning treks to do, and I chose none other than the famous Annapurna Circuit after hearing tons of recommendations from fellow travelers. The beautiful thing about the Annapurna Circuit is how it takes you through a range of landscapes. The beginning of the trek starts off in a luscious green terrain, going through trees and forests before it starts to get significantly colder and icier as the trek ascends up to the pass, then descending gradually through a desert-like landscape that’s filled with brown hues that’s vast yet picturesque.
The trek usually begins in Besi Sahar but I decided to ride a jeep through and star in Chamje instead, because I had to meet my porter who was coming from Manang (in the middle of the circuit), and there was a lack of time since I wanted to take side treks to see Tilicho Lake, the highest lake in the world.
My Annapurna Circuit route:
< trek > Chamje > Taal > Danaque> Temang> Koto> Chame> Bhratang> Upper Pisang> Gyaru> Humde> Braka> Manang> (Rest day) + (half day trip) Gangapurna Lake> (side trek) Tilicho Lake Base Camp> Tilicho Lake> Yak Kharka> Ledar> Base Camp> High Camp> Thorong La Pass (5416m)> Muktinath> (side trek Lupra)> Jomsom> (day trip) Kaisang> Jomsom (day trip) MarphaÂ < /trek >
The jeep ride experience was totally crazy. Between bumping up and down on the crammed front seat with a Tibetian girl, Tashi and her brothers, I had to struggle with the crazy plastic jimjams hanging from the front mirror of the vehicle, occasionally cursing as the jeep sways and hits me on the face. I wish I had taken the trek because the views outside was phenomenal, there were waterfalls and mountains and woods that I missed out on. If I had to do it over I’d walk the first part of the circuit. Settled down that night in Chamje.
I was on my way to Tal to meet my porter, Kortor. My first proper ascend of the trip was tough, considering that I had to carry all my baggage with me. I even got pricked by the thorns of nattle leaves in my silly curiosity in the organic shape of the plant.
The walk through Tal was absolutely alluring. Blue waters, soft sand and a quiet village that had very welcoming locals. After walking 7 hours that day, I finally arrive at Danaque and settled for a guesthouse since daylight was running out.
That night, I met a mother and son from California, Nile & Gail. We shared an apple pie; my first apple pie from what they nickname as the “apple pie trek” since there’s apple pies being sold in so many different guesthouses along the entire circuit !
T’was a phenomenal day. The route wasn’t too tough and I took it incredibly slow. Kotor and I progressed at our own pace as compared to the first day when I was struggling to keep up with him. The good thing about the communication between me and my porter was that he understood I enjoyed hiking alone and listening to music so we didn’t always have to walk at the same pace. After a hearty traditional Tibetian bread for breakfast, I set off for Timang.
The climb to Timang was really steep through the woods. But upon arriving, all the exhaustion goes away because of how gorgeous the place was. Being surrounded by the mountains 360, this village is extremely picturesque.
Chame was one of the first bigger towns of the circuit and there were heaps of lodging options. Kortor recommended that I crossed the bridge and stay at one of the guesthouses near the hot springs. I ran into Tashi and her brothers, Karma and Sopa, the Tibetian siblings from the jeep ride and they invited me to join them
The hot springs wasn’t so much of a pool area but rather a small opening with hot water running through while the main stream was icy cold ! It was really funny that we had to find a middle section to actually dip our feet in warm water.
Before sunset I managed to get some alone time outside the room to read while sucking on my peanut butter filled fingers. I even went to sit by the rocks to enjoy the sound of rushing water by the river while watching birds fly freely around the mountains. What a view indeed.
After a good filling dal bhat for dinner, I went back to the hot springs and ran into Nile & Gail againÂ It’s nice seeing people you know on the trek. I also met Tashi’s mother and aunt who ran a guesthouse next to mine, where we sat down to watch tv, sipping on hot cups of tea and played with their adorable baby niece. Evenings like these aren’t too lonely when I’m surrounded by other trekkers 🙂
My friend’s uncle, Tripple was a contact I had in Nepal that helped me in sorting out permits and porters. Hiking to Bhratang, I met his brother who owns the apple farm. Kortor introduced us and he gave me a bag of apples to bring on my trek ! At that moment I felt genuinely contented with how generous and hospitable the Nepalese are
Taking breaks in between treks in the middle of the woods just because I love being surrounded by trees 😀 Lunch break was tea with peanut butter and bread at Bhokar Phokari before starting the ascent towards Upper Pisang to spend the night. Really enjoyed the day’s hike walking through dense forests and looking at pine trees. There’s a lot to ponder about and to notice the little details. That’s the true meaning of being surrounded by nature and nothing else.
The hike to upper Pisang was a lot longer than expected, but I got some company from a really chill Canadian couple, Jackie & Jessie. Picked a guesthouse that overlooked the view up above on the mountains and cooped up in my sleeping bag dying of the cold. I arrived at the guesthouse rather early today and had just enough time to sit around and have a pot of tea while reading.
Discovered a giant box of Yak brand matches. That would’ve made a sick souvenir.
I liked days like these where I get to end trekking earlier in the afternoon. I even had time to go exploring around, where I found really old temples and prayer wheels, accompanied by a breathtaking view of lower Pisang. There was also some… bonding with cows.
Extremely long but BEAUTIFUL day. The upper Pisang road to Manang splits into two different ways. The initial steep climb up was so intense that it felt as though it was never going to end. “Follow all the way to the top of the power cables and you’ll get there”, they said. I persevered on but it seemed like forever. I trekked without Kortor for the day as he took the lower Pisang trek, which was shorter and easier. It was rather nice to be completely alone with no porter! There was no pressure to keep up with him even though I could simply walk at my own pace. The view from upper Pisang was so much more amazing that being on lower Pisang, no regrets picking the harder trail !
I took my time today and watched as eagles flew over the panoramic landscapes filled with views of the Annapurnas, accompanied with the winding rivers with waters flowing all the way from Tilicho lake.
Stopped for some overpriced cinnamon roll and piping hot masala tea at a viewpoint right before Ngawal and shared music with Andy. It was a really amazing place to chill out for a bit. A lot of trekkers are in too much of a rush to complete the trek in record time that they don’t stop to appreciate the nature. A real shame if you ask me. Even at my pace I wish I slowed it down a little.
Heading down to Humde.
The walk towards Braga was seemingly painful even though the terrain was flat and an easy gradient. I was just so drained from the steep ascent from the morning, plus the walk was incredibly long, strenuous and had not much to look at, I got bored very quickly. 2.5 hours of non stop walking with no amazing view whatsoever, at some point it felt as though my feet were just about to break. I was running on auto pilot, mentally drained as my feet kept pushing on.
Bumped into Gail & Nico ! We stop by for an apple pie treat while I wait to rendezvous with Kortor, who was eagerly waiting for me because I was a lot later than I said I would :S
Finally arriving in Manang! Decided to do a rest day instead of pushing on to the next stop. I was absolutely beat by then and the amount of delicious looking baked goods was very tempting. A group of us gathered at a tiny basement theatre to watch “7 years in Tibet”. The movie ticket even came with free popcorn! The heater stopped working midway into the film and we were practically freezing our butts off. It was also here that I first met Stuart, the crazy English guy that had the same trek itinerary as me through till the end!
~REST DAY (7)~
It felt so liberating to do absolutely nothing and rest my muscles. People use their rest day in Manang to acclimatize as well. But after trekking daily for a week, it was slightly strange to sleep in and not hike, so I headed to the Gangapurna lake with Nico which wasn’t too far out from Manang, possibly just an hour. We went to have a look at the lake where I sat and read a little under the tree. Extremely shanti !
My rest day also inlucded posting out some postcards, stocking up on some necessary food items for the trek, drawing a little and chatting with some new friends from Belgium, Tina & Tim. Â I even befriended some German boys by having a window to window conversation from the opposite hotel — now that was interesting. They invited me over to join them for some whisky with their crazy guide, Pema from Pokhara. Apparently their guide is always dancing singing and drunk on the trek. I don’t know how they do it O_O I simply can’t. Thats when I realise that you really get to meet all sorts of people on this trek. I wondered which category of hiker i fell into. I had an early night as i knew the next day was going to be a tough climb all the way to Tilicho Base Camp.
Hiking to Tilicho base camp was rather exhausting. I was mentally challenging myself the whole time. Passing through the landslide area has got to be the toughest part of the climb. Loose rocks were falling, massive steep slopes that end at the edge of cliffs, so abrupt that if i went over the edge I’d just fall off. For the first time I actually dreaded being on the trek. It was so intense to keep going for hours and hours without knowing when I will reach the destination without any tea houses to stop on the way like the usual trekking route. Also, it was hard not being able to get a break because of the fear that rocks may fall while going through the landslide area. I couldn’t even listen to music because I had to keep my ears attentive for sounds of falling rocks.
I finally arrived at the Base Camp and there were only 3 lodges to stay in. The wind was really strong that day and the whole landscape was foggy from the sand that was being blown in. The better lodge was completely full and I ended up staying in the guesthouse that Kortor recommended. It was cold and a really difficult night, didn’t sleep too well at such a high altitude that night but I was extremely psyched to see the lake the next day.
Day 9 ~TILICHO LAKE~
Got up at 0530 in the morning to hike up to the highest lake in the world. The only thing on my mind at that time to keep me going was me telling myself that I only got this chance once to see this lake. I’ve never noticed how terrible I am at trekking on ice. It’s almost as though I was taking each stepÂ only to slip or fall, cursing and swearing like a sailor along the way.
The lake was extremely stunning though. When I emerged from the steep slope and saw the epic blue waters of this massive lake up at 4900m in the mountains, surrounded by such an amazing landscape of snow capped mountains in the distance, I almost cried. Though I was having a bad day because I developed at least 3 more blisters on my toes and as if that wasn’t enough, I chipped my tooth while chewing town on a frozen granola bar. That little uh-oh has caused my molar to be so sensitive that it pricks every time I drink cold water, and hey, when in the mountains, even regular water is cold. Imagine me having to brush my teeth with pain every day after this incident. THE PAIN. . Back in Tilicho Base Camp I had to plant my butt down and attend to my family of bursting blisters and take a long rest before I could proceed to Shree Karka. This was the first point in the trek that I felt absolutely discouraged, but I knew I couldn’t stay put in the base camp. I had to keep moving as long as the weather was looking up and daylight was present.
Heading from Shree Karka to Yak Karka was a slow and easy day, though I slipped many times going downhill. Guess I don’t do so well with ice. Whenever there’s ice on the ground I start getting completely paranoid and walk extremely slowly. The blisters on my feet was getting completely out of control as well so it was a huge challenge to waddle downhill like a penguin to prevent exposed skin. I had to pop the blisters with my swiss army knife knowing that it would better prepare me for the trek to high camp the following day. I also had another situation on my hands. So my porter was from Manang and supposedly he wasn’t going through the pass with me and I didn’t realise that until it was too late. Our attempts of reaching Tripple (who arranged the porter for me) was pointless once we reached Yak Karka. Because any higher than that, there was no more signal. I spent that night in Ledar, which was my first horrible night of sleep at4200m. Not sure if the room was just plain uncomfortable or I just couldn’t breathe properly.
Despite the bad sleep I had a fairly easy hike up towards high camp, going at a good pace without taking any breaks. I figured my stamina held up pretty well considering I had acclimatized from being at Tilicho Lake. I hated high camp because there was only one lodge and the assholes running the place was absolutely snobbish. Shared a room with Anna and we were both huddled up in our sleeping bags. How ridiculous is it that the highest point of lodging along this trek is the ONLY one that has NO heater/furnace/fire?! Everybody was freezing… Although we all watched a very beautiful sunset from the hotel restaurant.
Day 12 ~CROSSING THE THORONG LA PASS~
Sleeping at High Camp was the worst night ever. I experienced difficulty breathing from the thin air and my heart was pounding very quickly in the night. But I doubt anybody could possibly sleep well at 4900m. Got up at 430am that morning to start the hike, starting with a hot cup of cocoa as a pre-pass prep. It was still dark then and the path heading towards the Thorong La Pass was lit up by headlamps from other trekkers slowly making their way to the top. As daylight slowly filled the sky, I was hoping to warm up slowly but my hands and face were beyond freezing, it was very painful indeed. That was when I wish I had thicker socks because at some point I couldn’t feel my toes anymore, i even began to worry that I may get a frostbite.
Stopped by the first tea house and got a hot cup of tea so I can warm up a little, during the whole time liquid was just dripping from my nostrils. Never have I ever experienced such cold in my entire life !
Feeling slightly discouraged, my pace got slower the closer I got to the top. It didn’t help that I was physically drained from not sleeping the night before. But Kortor patiently waited for me and told me to take my time and rest. I was destroyed at this point, not doing too good for my first long hike ever. But I persevered on because I knew how close I was to getting to the top. Determination really takes you far when you’re not feeling too encouraged.
When I finally arrived at the pass though, I felt this huge sense of accomplishment; so epic that I felt choked up. I made it. I finally made it. I’ve been dreaming of standing at this very point for years and I was finally here, in that very moment. It was as real as the numb in my toes, the frozen water in my bottle, the moistness in my nose. I told myself not to cry from happiness and take my victory shot by the prayer flags.
Staring at the prayer flags blow in the wind, and watching the other hikers cheering and clapping, I almost forgot all the pain that it took to get here. Here I was, Thorong La pass, the highest pass in the world at 5416 meters. As happy as I was, there wasn’t anyone I could celebrate with except Kortor. I started the trek with a group of trekkers I met along the journey but somehow or another they were either ahead of me or behind me. Feeling a little dejected that I didn’t have anyone else to share my happiness with, I turned to spot a familiar face. It was Stuart !!! We ran towards each other and hugged, he told me how he enjoyed a beer that he packed all the way from Manang in his backpack and bid farewell as he’s been hanging around the top for an hour now. :O I didn’t realise how slow I was.
It was also at this pass that I had to say goodbye to Kortor. It was such a great journey with him being my porter and companion for the trek. That was also when he passed me my entire backpack which I sadly had to lug all the way down. This was when I realised that I should have done my research and came to Nepal with the knowledge that people actually drop their main backpacks in Pokhara before beginning the trek. A lesson well learnt â€” the hard way. Mind you, I’m not exactly the fittest person and I’m only 5″2/158cm. Having to lug 15 kilos for 3.5 hours downhill all the way to Muktinath with blisters that were as big as a kraken’s toe was no joke. I couldn’t tell you which is worse, heading up to the pass in the painful cold, or hiking down carrying that much weight with an injured knee and blisters. This was possibly the bit of the circuit where my mood was really foul.
When I finally got to Muktinath, my butt was numb from sliding down icy slopes. But I was famished and happy that I finally survived the steep ~1700m descent ! Staying at the Bob Marley hotel, I meet Stuart again. Just as I was enjoying the heat by the fireplace, Tripple (my Nepalese friend’s uncle) showed up looking for me. I finally meet the man who has arranged so much for me prior to the trek and he informed me that we would be trekking through Lupra tomorrow to Jomsom together. BOY, WAS I PSYCHED !
Bright and early we were ready to go and was joined by Tim & Tina,the Belgian couple I first met in Manang. Trekking through the un-explored paths, we found our way off the beaten track towards Lupra. The view was absolutely stunning. The foresty woods and the snow capped terrain was suddenly replaced by vast earthy hues. We bump into a group of cyclists conquering this part of the trek on wheels. RESPECT !
Lupra was a religious village and as we approached, there was plenty of autumn trees with shaded yellow leaves. The village was quiet and empty, almost untouched by tourists unlike other towns we’ve trekked through. We ordered some tea and thukpa in the only guesthouse we found before heading towards Jomsom. Walking through the valley, we pass colourful rocks and stones of all sort along the river banks. We went through the windy valley where we joined again with the main road and onwards towards Jomsom.
Finally arriving in Jomsom, which was where most trekkers end their trek. We were brought to Om’s Home, the hotel that Tripple managed and he showed us to our room AKA the best room i’e stayed in my entire trek ! There were carpeted flooring, coat racks, nice soft beds and duvets !!! Were we in paradise!! 😀 That night we were invited to our gracious hosts’ friend’s farewell gathering where we were introduced to some of the commanders and colonels in the Nepali army. Tina was a Bollywood dancer by profession back in Belgium and she impressed them all with her knowledge of Bollywood music and dance moves. We had a marvellous night filled with delicious Nepalese food, glasses after glasses of raksi, oo-wa(barley wheat liquor) and lots of dancing and karaoke with everyone.
As we were digging in to a nice hearty breakfast in the hotel, Commander Ram showed up to pick us up and we all hopped onto horses to head towards Kaisang, the army barracks training camp ! A day trip with the locals! Super exciting!!
The commander had invited us to a nice private picnic at his cottage in the barracks the night before. And Tim & Tina decided to stay an extra night so we could all spend some time together. We got off the horses at some point because they started getting tired and trekked through an amazing forest trail that was filled with beautiful pine trees. The landscape was splashed with red & orangey hues. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the army gates and every soldier we passed by saluted the captains ! It was so strange being a backpacker and suddenly getting all these VIP treatment O_O. Talk about displacement.
We hung out at the commander’s cottage to enjoy the sun for a bit, skipped stones and pebbles on the half frozen turquoise lake, sat around the dorms and enjoyed snacks and sea buckthorn juice.
There was never-ending food and apple brandy being served up to us and once the music came on, everyone started dancing again ! Tina was being an amazing Bollywood dancer again as usual and it then occurred to us that we were making merry and dancing at 3500m, in an army barrack surrounded by beautiful mountains of the Himalayas ! What a once in a lifetime experience <3
Once the picnic was over we all rushed to leave as the sun was setting too quickly. On the way, limping down, I meet Sameer, a junior captain and we had a nice little chat about living in Nepal. Upon arriving at the bottom of the hill, there was a massive dance celebration in the valley. The men were carrying speakers blasting music and everybody was so happy! I loved all of their energy and spirit. Daylight ran out gradually because I was walking so slowly from my godforsaken blisters (curses!) so Sameer and I had to walk back in the dark with our phone lights. We finally make it back and sat together in the restaurant with Tim, Tina and the other other captains for some rum and coffee, reminiscing the day’s events 🙂
I said my goodbyes to Tim & Tina as they were leaving for Pokhara and headed out for a lonely day trip out to Marpha. I really needed some space and alone time after being constantly surrounded by people. Although I really did enjoy the Nepali hospitality and the wonderful company that I’ve had in the past few days, some days it’s nice to be in the midst of nature alone. Marpha was SO gorgeous ! It was only 1.5 hours to hike from Jomsom and a perfect day trip. Hiking past the riverside where there was nice pastures and trees of orange, red and yellow, I took my time to waltz along, listening to the sound of water rushing down the stream.
Marpha had white brick walls everywhere, tiny alleyways that lead up further into the village and plenty of stores selling Tibetan souvenirs. I stopped by in a cafe for cake and tea, ordered what was possibly my last yak cheese omelette of my life and sent out a few postcards to friends. As my relaxing day in Marpha came to an end, I hitched a ride in a jeep with some Greek tourists that happened to be passing by Jomson because I got lazy (HEHEH)
Spent the whole day relaxing and reading by the bridge while waiting for the transport back to Jomson. I was really sad to say goodbye to the Annapurna Circuit, and while the jeep went through all the trekking routes that I would have missed out on, I felt a tinge of sadness that I couldn’t complete the whole trek. That was my plan but because of how bad my blisters were, there was no way I’d be enjoying the trek any further.
A traveller I met, said that the moment you find yourself not enjoying a hike anymore, then it’s time you stop. Because trekking is about enjoying yourself, not wishing that it would be over sooner. For now I’ve completed the first big trek of my life with massive ups and downs (geographically and mentally), Nepal is possibly one of the most alluring places I’ve ever seen and I will definitely return again some day for yet another big trek (perhaps Upper Mustang or Everest?) and this time I will be prepared with my bags and trekking shoes that are well broken into. x)
On the topic of preparing for a trek, check out this post : Things to know before doing the Annapurna Circuit