19 Days through the Annapurna Circuit: Part 2

This is the second part of our 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.

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Looking back towards Tal and the last of the flat land for the day.

Day 6

While I’m sure traveling alone has its advantages, being with a group of people brings an added sense of security. Be it a helping hand over a tricky path, a word of encouragement or simply someone to ask how you are, the right company is as valuable as the pack on your back.

We were late to start this morning, the previous day wasn’t to be shrugged off so easily and no one objected too loudly to an 8am breakfast. We shared stories of the previous day over apple muesli and hot ginger-lemon tea as we mentally prepared for another day of walking.

It didn’t take long to put the village of Tal behind us, and the larger than life scenery began to unfold again ahead of us. Small corn fields gave way to a milky white river, churned up as it roared its way down the valley. The cliffs ahead spilled water from their tops and the mist of the fall caught the late morning sun. We stood together for a moment transfixed, sharing the view before pushing on along the winding river path.

While the trail didn’t rise as steeply, our altitude gained steadily. Occasionally one or the other of our group fell behind, either caught in another photo moment or resting our overworked muscles. Always though we found a flat patch of grass, or outcrop of stone to rest and check up on how we were all doing.

By the time lunch rolled around our day of upwards momentum was dwindling. We ordered the same meal of fried vegetable noodles, both for the extra carbohydrate energy and to speed up the often long lunch time cooking. Everyone had a moment to share of a testing part of the day and we rallied ourselves for the last hour long trek to Danaque and the end of our day.

As the temperature begins to drop and the first of the snowy peaks begins to show, I know at least for myself, there is strength to take from the people by my side.

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View from the first bridge after the village of Tal.

Day 6

While hiking in the Annapurnas is more beautiful than I could have imagined, the daily hikes present several obstacles you need to overcome in order to access these mountains’ spectacular views.

The mountain range has more waterfalls than I can count, including some with the highest falls I’ve ever seen. Water plummets from the peaks, crashing down over whatever lies below. Unfortunately, sometimes it chooses to pour straight down on to the rocky paths, spilling over the narrow trails. Occasionally the rushing water meets a high cliff face and we must carefully step on uneven stones to cross, while peering down hundreds of meters into the ravine below.

The trail crosses repeatedly over the Marsyangdi Nadi River to reach villages on alternate banks. To cross these rivers there are wire suspension bridges with bolted metal planks. They sway with weight and wind, making you feel almost dizzy as your eyes try and register the distinction between the metal slats and the rushing river below.

Between the bridges and waterfall trails are a series of steep inclines (and the occasional landslide area) as we make our way ever higher towards the Thorang La Pass. The many obstacles on the trail add to the mental and physical challenge of the trek. Each river we cross or hill we summit makes the day more difficult, but also a great deal more rewarding.

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Looking up at the mountains to come after leaving the village of Timang.

Day 7

Yesterday we got our first real look at mountain peaks, the kind where snow piles up on the slopes and your breath mists up while you stare. For most of us it is the first time we’ve got see anything like it, and undoubtedly a highlight of the trip so far.

The trail yesterday didn’t give us much time to warm up before it abruptly turned steep and diagonal. We took a moment to pause at the base of the trail, tightening our packs and catching out breath before we pushed upwards into the forest.

At one point a tree branch cracked and splintered between Mari and myself, and Mari found a little burst of energy to clear the precariously hanging foliage. Our group split after Kyle and Savannah missed a fork in the road five minutes before us, and we found ourselves alone on a sloped muddy path.

Worryingly alone but too far along to turn back we persevered through muddy streams and fallen trees along the side of a forested mountain outcrop. An hour later, just before this photo, we came out of the mud to a wire suspension bridge with a taste of the white capped mountain views ahead. The bridge had the red and white markings synonymous with the Annapurna circuit and gave some comfort after a long lonely trek through the forest.

The path rejoined the stone laid jeep road and the village of Timang lay ahead. Our questions of whether we’d come out ahead of our Kyle and Savannah was quickly answered as they waved us down from a roadside tea house. Here we joined them for a giant flask of masala tea and a view of the imposing mountain range of Manaslu.

The rest of the day was uneventful, if any of our time in the Himalayas can really be called that. Last night we settled down in the village of Chame, just before the evening rain came pouring down. The temperature is markedly cold now and we ended the day bundled in our clothing and the warmth of our sleeping bags.

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Exiting the village of Chame.

Day 8

While we’re out here on the mountain, making plans is important. We’ve got to be back in Kathmandu in time for a flight, we’ve got to allow days to acclimatise and we’ve got to meet certain deadlines to do it. Whether these things happen as we expect, or at all, doesn’t always follow our notebooks.

We spoiled ourselves a little in Chame, the room cost a little extra and so did the wifi. But man were those blankets warm and that wifi fast enough to download a couple episodes of our favourite shows. With that in mind, it was no wonder we left an hour or two later than normal the next morning.

The plan for the day was to kick back at the local hot springs and then slowly make our way to a nearby village. We tossed the term ‘half day’ around flippantly and maybe a little guiltily. Nevertheless we felt we’d earned it after four days of hard walking.

The first set back came at the hot springs. Being typical tourists we’d failed to consider how a hot spring would be of great value to the local community. We arrived to see people washing clothes, hair and children and with no comfortable place for four dishevelled backpackers.

We didn’t let it dampen out spirits, the sun was shining and we’d only planned for a short two hour walk. The path climbed steadily. Through pine forest, apple orchard and spectacular rock formations, it moved unrelentingly upwards. Two hours later and there wasn’t a village in sight, perhaps we’d missed it, or perhaps that little apple tea shop we dismissed actually was the village.

After a gruelling four hour hike with limited supplies, sparse roadside shops and a deep burn in our legs, we hobbled into the village of Dhukur Pokhari. During lunch we forsook chit chat for carbohydrates and lemon tea. As we ate, the rain came pouring down to remind us that even though our day didn’t go as planned, it could always be a little bit worse.

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Gazing upwards as we approach a portion of mountain known as “Heaven’s Door”

Day 8

Our journey to Nepal has aligned with Nepal’s longest, biggest, and most auspicious festival, Dashain. Dashain festival lasts for 15 days and celebrates the goddess Shakti in all her different forms.

The country worships her with pujas, offerings, and animal sacrifice. In Kathmandu the streets run red with blood. Here in the mountains we’ve seen only the occasional evidence of a sacrifice and the unfortunate early morning end to one goat.

This morning, the owner of the tea house where we stayed, included us in her family’s celebration of the festival. She gave us a blessing and left us with a ‘tika’ or mark of red powder, yogurt, and rice on our foreheads.

Dashain is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil as is symbolized by Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahisasur. As we walk continually upwards, there are moments when I want to throw my own hands up in defeat, overpowered by the endless rocky rise of the mountain slopes. At the end of each day I have a moment of personal triumph. I finally get to rest my legs under swathes of warm blankets, knowing I’ve beaten the mountain for today.

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A quick pen and ink drawing of the view looking out from our tea house in Upper Pisang.

Day 9

Moving each day through the mountains means the views you can capture are endless. But sometimes you need a day to settle in somewhere and really get to know the surrounding mountain angles.

Upper Pisang is not a bad place to do just that. After six days of walking and our official ascent into ‘high altitude’ we decided to take a rest day. After only an hour of early morning walking we put down our bags and settled in. Once we completed a very necessary laundry session we spent the afternoon playing cards and sipping tea and I was able to finally sit down with enough time to finish my first sketch of the Himalayas.

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Our friend Kyle stands triumphantly on top of the ridge near Gharyu.

Day 10

Every day on the trail brings new challenges. Some might be as small as an uncharged phone, others more pressing like a developing blister. Today however the challenges were the size of mountains.

After taking a break in the village of Upper Pisang the previous day, we were feeling re-energised and ready to hit the circuit again. The path started off easy enough, a slight incline leading us out of Pisang and around a small mountain bend. Forty-five minutes later our quick morning walk came to an abrupt end.

We had come to the end of our flat path and now instead stood looking straight up at Gharyu, perched at the top of a steep mountain. A forboding dirt path snaked its way up the side, here and there marked with tiny figures inching their way to the top. We debated briefly on backtracking and taking the lower path, but the shame of flinching at a challenge carried us upwards.

We heaved and we hauled and we kept one foot in front of the other. That narrow path went on and on, each hill we climbed opened up to other steeper paths above. Little by little we pulled ourselves up that mountainside until every muscle in our legs cried out in mercy.

Eventually, an hour and a half later, we each carried ourselves over the final stone steps. We unstrapped our bags, and fell upon a small wooden bench. Looking up for the first time, the white peaks of Annapurna II and Annapurna IV dominated an unforgettable landscape. The view took all the aches from our legs, and reminded us that every challenge we overcome out here opens up to something new and incredible.

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View of Gharyu and Annapurna II in the distance.

After making it to Gharyu, tired but proud of our efforts, we thought the tough part of the day was done. Our next goal was Humde which sat considerably lower in altitude and all of our maps seemed to suggest our next direction was down. You’d think by this time we’d have realised that our maps don’t always tell the full story.

We sat for a while at the view point, enjoying tea, chocolate and a surprisingly excellent block of Yak cheese. Satisfied with our break, we set off through Gharyu looking for the markings which led the way forward. The trail broke from the village and as it curved around the cliff side it offered incredible views of the valley below.

The path didn’t remain flat for long, it took a deep dip before climbing sharply upwards round the next bend. Each time we made it to the top of a curve, it would reveal a similar trough and rise beyond. After an hour of this pattern we finally came round the corner to a tiny bakery which sat perched up high above the next village. We took a moment to enjoy freshly baked cinnamon rolls while looking down at Ngawal and Humde in the deeper valley beyond.

Lunch saw us part ways with Kyle and Savannah who opted for the high road while we moved down the valley on a tiny steep gravel path. Six hours of intense walking had put a fire in our shoes and we pushed on past our intended goal. In a turn of good luck we arrived at the village of Mugje moments after Kyle and Sav, who also had tapped into the last reserves of their energy.

Together we made a final push to round off our most challenging day of walking. We entered the village of Braga battered, bruised and perhaps a little delusional. But as we sat down that night to delicious veggie burgers next to the tea house wood fire, I know we were all proud of the 18km we’d put behind us.

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Looking down at the valley below from the village of Nawal.

Day 10

Having only seen photos of the rocky and sometimes snowy peaks of the Annapurna Circuit, I did not expect the extreme variety of landscapes that trekking through a mountain range would provide.

We started trekking at an altitude of only 800 meters. While still deeply hilly, the climate was perfect for rice cultivation and the landscape seemed almost semi-tropical as we hiked through brilliant greens and flowing streams.

By the time we reached 2,500 meters we entered into pine forests, home to brown bears and red pandas (though we failed to see either.) The hard rock roads turned to soft beds of pine needles and the air became crisp like hiking through the Rockies in the fall.

Now that we’ve climbed more then 3,000 meters the landscape has shifted once more. The mountain ridges now look more like large sandcastles or termite mounds, rather than the solid, green we had seen so far. The valleys have turned into plains, grazing land for cattle and yak.

Throughout each change, there has been one thing that remains consistent – the Marsyangdi Nadi River. The river, flowing down from the peaks, winds through these shifting landscapes and is a peaceful reminder that we are still on the right path.

4 thoughts on “19 Days through the Annapurna Circuit: Part 2

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