19 Days through the Annapurna Circuit: Part 1

This is a combined journal from our time in Nepal. All posts from Lex will be titled in blue, and all posts from Mari will be titled in orange.

Last month we were lucky enough to explore the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. We landed in Kathmandu and shortly after began our trek through the mountains. We tried to capture each day in an image and a short written post. We hope this captures just a sliver of what we experienced out on the trail, it was a truly incredible journey.

day-1-1st

The roads wind through the mountain passes between Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Day 1

Actual traveling days can be long and tedious. Crammed into vans and buses with 10 or 20 strangers can test your abilities to endure. This last day was no different, but also by no means the toughest journey I’ve ever done.

We hit the ground running yesterday morning, up just before six to guarantee our spots on the bus, still managing to grab a roadside tea and sweet bread breakfast before boarding. The bus rumbled its way out of the narrow streets of Kathmandu, horns blaring and the driver heavy on the brakes. It was probably an hour and a half later when we finally climbed out of the city and over the first pass.

The mountains opened up and gave way to views of deep valleys and rolling mountains ahead. The traffic snaked its way down the pass as we made our way along the busy road. Lines of trucks and buses climbed both back into the city and out of it, and the tight mountain paths demanded a slow descent.

As roads widened, so did our views. Tall green peaks rose up around us as we followed rivers through the curving valleys. Here and there local shops and villages formed clusters along the way, the local people using the fertile landscape to farm rice and fruit to make a living.

The bus ride seemed to go on forever but with a window seat and a working aircon, the ride through a country nicknamed ‘the world’s ceiling’ was anything but a chore. We arrived in Pokhara tired and hungry from the ten hour journey, but with a taste of what’s to come our excitement levels have reached even higher.

day-1-2nd

View from the road on the way to Pokhara.

Day 1

When I travel somewhere new I’m always reminded of the places I’ve been before. Driving up into the foothills of the Himalayas, the bright green rice paddies and plots of farmland stacked at severe mountain angles reminded me of East Java.

The curry and chickpea-filled roadside snacks and vibrant saris were the same flavors and colors as I remember in Punjab, India. It seems like our mind seeks these connections to give us a sense of familiarity and understanding when we travel to somewhere foreign and completely new.

At the same time, there were aspects of the roadside scenery that were nothing but unique to being in Nepal. As the road hugged the side of a wide rushing river, you could see narrow rope and wire bridges connecting workers in search of rock and mineral deposits to the opposite shore. Stupas were scattered across the hillside, and stream after stream cut their way down the mountains to join the river below.

The villages themselves had their own style of architecture and taste. Many of the houses were covered in mosaic tiling like that of an elaborate ceramic floor. Painted tree trunks with protruding limbs were painted in bold colors and used as pillars supporting the houses. On the cement sides of many houses were painted advertisements featuring symbols of the mountain peaks that lay ahead of us.

day-2

A small stone archway opens up to the lake which gives the area of Lakeside its name.

Day 2

While our exploring of this city has been limited to this tiny part of the city, we have been continually impressed by its offerings. Lakeside is filled with little cafes and inspired restaurants, making it the perfect place to take slow walks with plenty of stops to admire the lake views along the way.

Unfortunately our day hasn’t only been coffee and beer, our time in Pokhara has been mostly a time of necessity. This morning we made our way to the local tourist agency for the required trekking permits. Instead of being greeted by the usual dour faces of bureaucratic officers, we instead left with a skip in our step as the women on duty added smiles and enthusiasm to their service.

Panic struck once we were home as Mari realised that she’d left her wallet, stuffed with money, at the tourist office. We kept our composure but dashed back past cars and cows to see where we had left it. Luckily it lay exactly where we’d been and the tourist office ladies shook their heads and laughed at both our panic and our mistake.

In the short time we’ve been here the city has offered up many surprises. Little backstreet alleys have offered up delicious cups of coffee, unassuming restaurants have delivered some of the best steak meals we can remember and all round we have been met with some of the most friendly people we’ve yet to encounter on this trip.

Tomorrow morning early we catch the bus to Besisahar and begin our trek. While we’re excited to get going, our short time in Pokhara has made us a little excited to get back.

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Looking out the front of our very crowded bus on the way to Ngadi.

Day 3

To travel to our starting destination on the Annapurna Circuit, we had to ride several more hours on two more buses. Luckily the beautiful scenery kept us occupied and as we transitioned to rocky unpaved roads we got a taste of the stunning scenery that lays ahead.

While the landscape here is unparalleled, part of what is special about traveling to a foreign country is that glimpse it gives you into the lives of others. To get to the start of our trek in Ngadi, we climbed onto a bus filled to the brim with locals and whatever goods they were bringing with (including a very large heavy lamp that ended up sitting in my lap.)

This bus is a normal day to day activity for those that live in Besishahar, and I was seated next to single men, entire families and young students as we made our rocky way towards Nadi. During the ride I saw the bus driver haggle with store owners over the price of milk and pick up packages for delivery further on.

The ride was uncomfortable and crowded, but it was like that for each one of us on board. As my legs were painfully pinched by the lamp that kept falling forward, a man sitting next to me helped me to hold the box in place for the rest of the ride.

Each little interaction or observation we get with the day to day goings on of the Nepalese people, makes up a part of what it is to travel. While there isn’t necessarily a tangible reward to gaining this perspective, I think through understanding and the solidarity of shared experiences we feel more connected and develop compassion for others.

day-3-2nd

Sati, our host, tends a fire on top of which a drum of local alcohol is brewing.

Day 3

Dotted generously through the Annapurna circuit are places called ‘Tea Houses’. These are little restaurant homes which offer basic beds for the night. As you prepare for your trek you hear about them often but, as always, experiencing is understanding.

After a four hour bus from Pokhara to Besisahar, and then another slow uncomfortable one hour ride along the dirt and rock path to Ngadi, we eagerly bounced off the bus. First taking a moment to breathe air not recently recycled by 30 other people, and then another to take stock of our surroundings.

Rice paddies dominate the landscape, the bright yellow-greens are broken intermittently by bush and scrub as they rise upwards with the mountain cliffs. Whispy white clouds hold on to the higher mountains giving the illusion of snowy peaks. We set out down the dirt road with only half an idea of where to go and less of an idea of where to put our eyes.

The first woman to offer us a place to stay offered free rooms with meals, something which we’ve since learned is a standard. The rooms were super basic, another standard, but enough to make us keep looking as the woman awkwardly begged us to stay. We felt terrible but previous experiences have taught us never to go with the first option.

Next we were welcomed by a woman with a big smile and an enthusiastic demeanour. She roped us in, and while we the rooms were only slightly better, the atmosphere was immediately set. We dropped our bags and were offered tea and beers to see down the afternoon. With an ice cold spring water shower we had successful shrugged off the memories of buses and sore bums.

For dinner we chose plates of hot Dal Bhat and vegetable momo (dumplings) which were served to us on the rooftop of the guesthouse. A crisp wind ruffled our newly acquired fleeces as we ended the day with warm tea and games of cards. The wind slowly blew down our candles and eventually sent us searching for the warmth of our sleeping bags.

day-4

Lex makes his way through a stone archway on the Annapurna Circuit.

Day 4

As someone whose natural inclination is to over prepare and always worry about the “worst case scenario” (or the “wcs” syndrome as Lex has coined it), the first day of a trek is a big day. All the uncertainties and unknowns (well at least most of them) are finally revealed and at last you get a picture of what your journey will really look like.

As it turns out, our journey looks stupendous. I’m not sure any view I’ve seen before can compare to the almost oversaturated stunning-ness of our first day trekking the Annapurna Circuit. The circuit follows the course of the Marsyangdi Nadi River which creates a deep ravine between the passing mountains. Fields of rice create tiered slopes downwards, and waterfall after waterfall pours into the river below.

All my pre-planning worked in our favor as our packs held up for day one. The makeshift methods of attaching our sleeping bags, and the various other gear hooked and clipped proved successful. We’ve completed our first leg of the trek and while our muscles are a bit sore, we only look forward to the views yet in store.

day-5

Looking back down the steep valley we’d spent the last few hours climbing up.

Day 5

Some part of each day is spent with our fingers pressed against the map, calculating and estimating how far we need to go and how long it might take to do it. Today proved that when trekking a mountain, finger lengths and 2D maps might not be enough information.

We were up at seven after a reasonably comfortable night in a two story tea house in a little village called Ghermu. We set out strong, having worked out some tweaks and tricks to make our packs fit just a little more snug.

The morning hike saw us steadily winding up and round a small outcrop of mountain. We hit our first checkpoint, the village of Jagot, and celebrated with a hot Masala tea break. Undeterred by the tea house owners insistence that our previous days hike was about two hour shy of respectable, we pressed on in high spirits.

Our first obstacle came right before lunch. We asked a local shopkeeper how long it might take to Chumche, our lunch time destination, and he gestured with a worryingly vertical hand movement. Nevertheless 45 minutes later, winded but strong, we reached the top of a taxing upwards hike and enjoyed a slow lunch next to a waterfall which created a vivid rainbow with its mist.

Next up was a village called Tal, but worryingly the map had “steep climb”, “steep stone trail” and “long hot climb” marked consecutively on the map. Shrugging the notes off as exaggeration, or perhaps the scrawls of an overweight older person we pressed on optimistically.

Three very long hours, one steep climb, one steep stone trail and one long hot climb later, we sat down here at the top of the trail and took a moment to breathe. All our guesstimates and assumptions couldn’t have prepared our amateur hiking legs for a day like today. Another day for breathtaking beauty, but as we settle down in Tal for the night our legs remind us that we paid for it

4 thoughts on “19 Days through the Annapurna Circuit: Part 1

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