I am back from my trek, alive, unhurt and defrosted by now. I can tell you it was a long, long way to go. For those of you who don't know what I have been up to over the past 3 weeks, well, I have been doing the Annapurna circuit, a 17 day trek through the Himalayas. Although I didn't join a group to do the trek, I wasn't on my own. I had a guide (called MB) and a porter (called Suri), yes, a porter who was carrying the majority of my stuff. Even though I felt very guilty at first, that soon vanished when I saw what other porters were carrying! Mine probably had about 12kg to carry, others easily carried up to 60kg by strapping a little plastic band around their head! Unbelievable really. Quick summary of where I went:
Day 1: Kathmandu to Bhulbule (840m)
Day 2: to Bahundanda (1310m)
Day 3: to Chamje (1430m)
Day 4: to Dharapani (1860m)
Day 5: to Chame (2670m)
Day 6: to Lower Pisang (3200m)
Day 7: to Manang (3540m)
Day 8: "Rest" day in Manang
Day 9: to Ledar (4200m)
Day 10: to Thorung Phedi (4450m)
Day 11: over Thorung La (5416m) to Muktinath (3760m)
Day 12: to Marpha (2670m)
Day 13: to Ghasa (2010m)
Day 14: to Tatopani (1190m) with the superb Hot springs
Day 15: to Ghorepani (2860m)
Day 16: up to Poon Hill for the sunrise (3193m) and then to Ghandruk (1940m)
Day 17: to Nayapul (1070m) to catch the bus to Pokhara
It all started with 12 hour bus ride from Kathmandu to the start of the trek, Bhulbule where we stayed our first night. From here on, it was uphill all the way for the next 11 days. Bhulbule is at an altitude of less than 1000m and we eventually had to make our way to 5416m to cross Thorung La, apparently the widest pass in the world. It was amazing scenery (and I will try to upload the photos as soon as possible, promised), which kept changing every day. At the beginning it was lush valleys and forests but it soon became more open and much rockier. Every day we walked between 3.5 and 7 hours, all uphill. Effectively from the fourth day, it was so cold once the sun had gone in that you had to have your dinner with two fleeces and gloves on, even though you could wear T-shirts and shorts during the daytime. I used to be in bed by 7pm because it was just simply to cold to do anything else even though we normally didn't get up until 6:30am! But it was just too cold to stay up. From the sixth day onwards I had to ask for additional blankets, even though I bought a 4 season sleeping bag before coming out here! And inside the sleeping bag I was wearing my newly purchased fleece trousers, warm socks, a T-shirt and another fleece. Yes, I know, you're not supposed to wear much in a good sleeping bag so you can warm it up quickly but hey, I tried that and I tell you: all lies!!! It's f***ing freezing without much on!
For acclimatisation purposes we had a "rest day" in Manang. The acclimatisation is necessary to avoid the high altitude sickness, which, if left untreated, will kill you. But although this day was meant to be a rest day, my guide suggested going for short walks to higher altitudes to help the acclimatisation. Effectively this meant that we climbed two hills on my day off, managing a nice 1000m ascent and descent in the same day! So much about rest day....
From Manang onwards, everything was just cold, even the waterfalls would freeze over night! Manang is at an altitude of around 3500m and you can definitely feel that there is less oxygen in the air. From Manang we went to Ledar where a lot of people who were doing the trek at the same time as me got food poisoning! I was lucky and had nothing, apart from mice in the room during the night so that I had to get out of bed, out of my sleeping bag and put all my trekking food into a watertight bag and suspend it from the ceiling! That thank God did the trick! Otherwise I would have just slept through the noise of the mice because I was tired and cold. One more stop before the crossing, Thorung Phedi is at an altitude of 4500m and there is not even any running water anymore!!! Manang was the last place for a hot shower (well, luke warm more like it) but at Thorung Phedi we had to walk 100m to the nearest running water. And that only worked during the day as everything freezes solid during the night. In the afternoon we went up to High Camp at nearly 4900m altitude, again to help the acclimatisation. Bloody hard, I can tell you. There isn't that much oxygen in the air anymore and everything takes at least twice as long as normal to complete. Back down at Thorung Phedi we had dinner around a little oven and went to bed early (i.e. 7pm again) as we would start our crossing of Thorung La at 4:30am in the morning. Yes, it still is dark at that time and we had to walk with head torches for the next 2 hours. After 4.5 hours we finally reached Thorung La at 5416m, after crossing deep snow, ice fields and endless hills without being able to see where we were going until right at the end! But once at the top, the feeling was absolutely incredible. It was very emotional and I even shed a tear or two. The sense of achievement was simply overwhelming and I must say that I have never felt anything like this before. It just makes you realises what you have just achieved when you have to bend down to do your shoe laces and you get out of breath doing it! Not kidding! Everything at 5416m is effort, even chewing the well deserved Snickers!
After the pass it was effectively downhill for another 2.5 hours before reaching Muktinath. You wouldn't believe how much I appreciated to be able to have a shower and wash my hands under running water again! You really start being happy about very little things in life....
The scenery over the next few days was completely different to what I had seen so far. It resembled more a cold dessert than anything else. Everything so barren, no trees, no bushes, no nothing around. We must have walked for 50km through this river valley with incredibly strong head winds before the scenery changed again and it became a little more greener around Ghasa. After Ghasa followed Tatopani where there are some hot springs! Amazing, you can sit in the sunshine, slurp your beer, eat your popcorn and relax in a hot tub (swimming pool size). What more can you want? Well, easy to answer: two nights in this fabulous place!!!! But instead we headed on to Gharopani and got caught in a rain/hail/snow storm the next day! It is hard to imagine that this can happen within such a short time scale! But walking through 2 inches of fresh snow has something too, and I enjoyed this at least as much although it meant being back in the cold again!
Another early start in Ghorepani as we went to climb Poon Hill (3193m) to see the sun rise. Yes, another early start but well worth it, although it made this day extremely long, having to walk a total of 7hours to Ghandruk. Ghandruk was our last stop before talking the bus to Pokhara the next day and had totally different scenery again, a bit more like rain forest really. Between Tatopani and Ghandruk, they call the area RhododendronValley because they have vast amounts of Rhododendron trees everywhere, it must be absolutely beautiful in spring in this area.
After another 3.5 hours trekking to Nayapul, where we concluded our trip, we took a bus to Pokhara where I stayed for 3 nights to relax, chill out, and get my washing done as I didn't have anything to wear in my pack that could be considered halfway clean (filthy would probably be the better word for it).
I must say, it was an amazing trip and although it was harder than I expected it (thank you Helen for getting me fit during the spinning classes!), I really enjoyed it. I wasn't what you would call relaxing but certainly mind blowing. I hope you will be able to feel a little bit of it after reading this blog and seeing the photos (when I get the chance). Am leaving Nepal tomorrow, flying to Singapore for a day before heading to Borneo where I will be meeting my friend Harriet. Will let you know how the "broadband" connections in Borneo are soon.
Until then, have fun doing your Christmas shopping! Namaste again and take care. x