17 days independent trekking in Himalayas
05.11.2016 - 05.11.2016
After spending a night in a freezing-AC Shardjah airport we finally made it to Kathmandu.
First surprise was that Air Asia have lost Dovile's luggage with most of her trekking gear. We have made a report and were told to wait for the call, luggage should come on the next flight that evening, well that didn't happen. We called airport several times trying to find out what was happening and if we should wait for it at all or just get on with our trek. Finally we went back to the airport and spoke to the Air Asia rep who told us "why didn't you come to me right away?" well next time we will.
Not hoping to get Dovile's gear back we have decided to withdraw some money and buy some knock-off North Fake. In Nepal you are charged for using a foreign card in an ATM, the trick is to find out which bank rips you off less. Namib bank charges 400npr and allows to draw 35000. So we went to an ATM in Thamil and as I have keyed my PIN and pressed Withdraw, I could hear the cash being counted, and than – a power cut! ATM went dead than sometime later came back to live but no cash. I have called my bank and they said that yes transaction has been processed and I need to start a dispute. Just what we needed a day before setting off.
On a positive note, the Air Asia guy called and told us they found the luggage and Dovile won't have trek in flip flops! First thing in the morning we went to the airport, than poped into the bank to file a dispute with them (the guy was very casual about it, apparently happens all the time). And we were off to Pokhara – 8 hours on a local bus listening to the best Bollywood music.
Pokhara-Bessisahar-Bahundanda – 15 km
after 4 excruciating hours on a back seat of a bus we have arrived at the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit – Bessihsahar. Here you need to stamp your permit and TIMS card. I believe you can take a bus further to Bahundanda, but we decided to walk to Nadi Bazar. You do walk a lot along the jeep track, having to stop a few times to let the jeeps pass. There is a massive building side where Chinese build a new damp. Not the best day all in all, Nadi Bazar however has some pretty views. Here we had our first Dal Bhat!
Not the worst view out of our window
Bahundanda-Khorte - 23 km
Ok, this is a big one. On the second day we decided to push! The idea was that while we were at the lower altitude (under 3000 m) we should be covering maximum distance so we could go slower once we reach Manang. Important point - we were trekking in mid-September, which is monsoon shoulder. This means less people on the trail, more beautiful views to ourselves, but it rains... it rains to the point when trails turn into rivers... and almost forgot - leeches, leeches are everywhere, a lot of leeches!
Here Dovile is doing mandatory leech-control session.
They do piss you off and I'm not kidding. They get on your shoes and under the trousers, get on hiking poles and climb up right to your hands and higher. Basically you have to stop every hour and do a leech-control session.
It's a long but not a terribly hard day, a few hills to climb, but mostly you walk along a gorge with some beautiful waterfalls along the way. Like this one
And you cross a lot of suspension bridges
We left at about 8 am and arrived at Khorte by 6 pm. You should really plan to arrive by 5 pm, as it gets darker and way colder.
You pass a village which is guaranteed to have at least one lodge every 1,5-2 hours, so it's easy to pace yourself. Most villages are not more than a few huts and fields along the road, but there are a couple quite substantial-like Tal on this picture. Based in a very beautiful valley.
We stayed at Khorte which is not more than 2-3 houses by the gorge. The lodger made an unwise mistake by leaving a honey jar on a table when we asked for honey pancake. We put a spoon-full in our tea and than swallowed a few tea spoons. You do need your calories!
Khorte-Dhikur Pokhari - 28 km
Ok, now this was a big one. The plan was to get to Chame and have an easy day. The day was really shitty (hence no pictures), it was pissing with rain, the trails turned into streams, on a few occasions I thought I'd get a trench foot (don't trek in trainers, seriously a bad idea!). Hence we decided to keep our head down and just keep moving. We got to Chame by about 2pm. Chame is a proper village with shops, pharmacy and a hot spring. We decided why not to hike to Bratang, it was only another 1,5-2 hours and 150m altitude gain, no bigy.
On a way to Bratang we saw a massive red writing on a rock - YAKATTAK. Well sounded like a village name or a guesthouse or something, than we saw it again and again. Than a few local guys turned up and they were shouting - yak attack, yak attack. Turns out it's a stretch of a road where they run yaks, and those are not your friendly caravan yaks. You have to climb up the hill or they throw you right of the cliff.
We were walking for quite a while and uphill, I kept saying bloody 150m I know what 150m altitude feels like... Well we missed Bratang and got all the way to Dhikur at 3100m. You could feel it was over 3000, as this is where first signs of altitude kicks in, steps become harder to take, have to take rest every 10 minutes etc.
28km-not exactly an easy day. But on a plus side we got to have a hot shower free of charge! And a free room, all on condition that we would eat in place we stayed in.
Dhikur Pokhari - Manang via Upper Pisang - 22km
Quite a challenging firs half of the day, you have to climb a lot of stares all the way to Ghyaru, but the view is worth it.
This also supposed to be thre best view of the Annapurna massif, however, over the last 3 days we had low clouds covering everything above 4000m.
On the left hand side you can see Humble airport, I believe there are a couple of flights a week from Pokhara.
Manang is a local capital complete with lodges, bakeries, video bar, shop, and a map of day trips which you can do during your mandatory acclimatization day. As it gets colder the lodges get more solid, almost all of the buildings are stone made and well insulated. We quickly picked a lodge with a double room and an en-suit for $1.
Mandatory rest day in Manang. There was a plan to go for a day trip to a frozen lake (4200m), following the map in the village center. But it's been 4 days without anything going wrong, so something had to. I got knocked down with the weirdest ever stomach bug. I would feel nothing until a couple of hours after eating and than it would start hurting like hell. An easy way of avoiding this is not to eat. Easily said than done, at an altitude your body burns twice as many calories, you want to eat and lots. Well, garlic soup is good for me, and wide range antibiotics (picked up in KTM) in case it's bacterial.
A short hike to the top of the hill across Manang and the first glimpse of glacier.
Manang - Yak Kharka - 9,5 km
We paid our bill which over 2 days for two people food and room came to some 2500 npr. The best thing in this world that they are either free or really cheap.
A quick day only 3,5 hours walk, accending 500m to 4000m at Yak Kharka. The general idea is that you shouldn't pick up more than 500m a day after passing 3500m mark.
Yak Kharka - Thorung Phedi (base camp) - 7 km
Another short day, only 2,5 hours and 400m accent.
Thorung Phedi is the only place, but it's very large and fully supplied.
This is the first clear day with real views of Annapurna snow peaks!
A lot of people start the big hike to Thorung La from here, but it does make it for a very long day. We have won a lot of time by going fast at the lower stages, so we could afford to take it slow now. And this is my 3rd day on barely any food.
Thorung Phedi - High Camp (4850m)- 1km only!
Yes, but it takes one hour! It's almost vertical, 450m accent. Well judge for yourself
This is the view of Base camp from High Camp, I told you- vertical!
And this is a view of High Camp from the nearby hill.
This was the first day when we really felt the altitude. A good way to acclimatize too.
High Camp-Thorung La-Muktinath-Jhong- 17km-aka the big push.
We started really early in a morning at about 6am, put literally everything we owned and joined a line of mostly Israeli trekkers. It's only 3,8 km to Thorung La but it took us almost 3,5 hours to cover that distance.
Altitude sickness feels like nothing else. You don't feel tired, your muscles don't ache, but you simply can't go. It's like a muscle car filled up with piss-diluted petrol, have all that horsepower but still can't go uphill. Now and again you forget about it and make a couple of rapid high jumps over a rock or something, it knocks you right down with a massive headache, spin and heart pounding.
My technique was to count 100 steps, stop and count till 20, repeat. Eventually it goes to 50 steps 20 sec rest, 20 steps 20 sec rest. You walk at a very slow and steady pace, and there is absolutely 0 reserve of stamina.
And here we are, the highest we ever been!
There is a little tea shop on the pass, it's a good idea to warm yourself up and enjoy your accomplishment.
From there it's a long but easy walk down to Muktinath. You can feel getting stronger with every meter of descent. Muktinath is a city by Nepali standard, it's connected by road to Jomsom, has a bunch of 3-store buildings and a medical center where I got some more antibiotics and stomach pills. We had an apple pie in Bob Marley cafe, and used free wifi! By the way, remember the ATM that went dead on me and kept my money? I got a refund, twice! This was a welcome break of luck!
We decided to get a taste of what Upper Mustang valley is like and decided to go further to Jhong. Jhong is the furtherst place you can go without entering restricted zone, where you have to pay $50 a day for a trekking permit. Only an hour from Muktinath but it does look very different, and feels being right of the beaten track. Only one lodge in Jhong, and we had go and look for the owner around the village.
Jhong - Jhomsom (via Kagbeni) 17,5km-Tatopani (by Jeep).
This was a long day.
The first part was relatively easy, we had to walk quite level track to Kagbeni, which is right before a turn north that takes you to Upper Mustang.
Kagbeni is a lively village, full of civilization brought by proximity to a road, and one of the largest monasteries in the area.
Plus some unique fast food joints!
And here is Kagbeni from above
Oh yeh, forgot to say, today is the first day I woke up without a massive stomach ache! I guess I deserve an award for doing Annapurna Circuit while fasting through the most of it!!!
4 hours lates we arrived to Jomsom. A ward of warning - it's a very exposed pass, you walk in the sun occasionally have to cross a road and deal with all dust from jeeps and trucks.
Jomsom is a city. You have 2 bus stations - one for Muktinath and one to take towards Pokhara. There is a shop and a pharmacy, and also you can fill up with purified water for about 50 npr, that is if you are sick of drinking chlorinated water.
We got our tickets at the office (800 npr for foreigners, somewhat less for locals) and where told to wait for the buss to come. The bus leaves when full, hence it worried us that there weren't may people besides us. You have to take a bus to Ghasa where you change for another Jeep/Bus to Tatopani or wherever else they feel like taking you that day.
Eventually it did come, and it was full of people. Apparently, it's a good idea to get on a bus at the bus stand (parking lot) so you are guaranteed a seat. Needless to say we got the very back seats.
I do have to say something about the road... Well, it's not built. It's carved out of the rock, it took us about 3 excruciating hours of breezing dust, swallowing own sick and praying to Buddha not to throw us of the cliff.
The entire ride I was thinking, why didn't we just walked it....?
By the way, we were told that it's not worth it hiking beyond Jomsom, mostly because of the road. Mostly by people who haven't actually done it themselves. This is not entirely true, the trail is on the other side of the gorge, and it hardly ever crosses the road. Besides you'd be very welcomed by locals who now get hardly any trade.
This is the end of chapter 1 - Annapurna Circuit, tomorrow we will commence Chapter 2 - Base Camp or as it's also known Sanctuary!
Do I need a porter/guide?
You definitely don't need a guide unless you are planning to deviate from standard Circuit or Base camp route. The trails a wide and well market, they are used as supply lines by the villages, hence there is a lot of traffic. If you happen to wander off friendly locals will point you in the right direction.
Having a porter could make it far more enjoyable walk. We had a backpack each 5-7KG plus water. Most hotels in Pokhara will store your luggage for you.
Room normally costs from 0-200 npr. The idea is that they normally don't charge you much for the room on the basis that you have at least 2 meals in your guesthouse.
The food prices are fixed by the village and tend to rise the higher you go. In a lower areas dal bhat (ultimate mountain food that comes with a free refill) costs about 300-350, and this goes as high as 550 in the base camp. Most of our bills were 1500-2000. So I guess you can have a trip of your lifetime for $10 a person a day.
You can save a lot by purifying your water. A bottle of water can cost upwards of 100 npr, a small bottle of purifying drops is only 20 npr, and it will last you for months.
Maps – buy a good trekking map for about 300 in any bookshop in Pokhara or KTM. Don't really need it but it helps with planning your next day.
How long does it take.
Well that depends... Most of the guide books say about 14 days Bessihsahar-Jomsom. However this is based on a 5-6 hour day. We have trekked 8-10 hours and got to Jomsom in 9. My advise is to cover more distance in the first days until you reach Manang and than take it easy with a mandatory rest day in Manang.
Less common than in Everest region, mostly because of a very gradual altitude pick up. The big day is when you get over Thorong La at 5450m this will be hard and slow, just pace yourself and move slowly. We took Diamox, it must have helped too.
Available pretty much everywhere until Thorong Phedi, at a cost though. You can get a free connection in Muktinath. In other places will have to pay from 100-500 npr.
Everywhere, most places in the lower part are supplied by local mini hydro power plants, literally small waterfalls captured into a pipe. As you go up places switch to hydro. The going rate is 100 npr per hour. Bare in mind solar doesn't charge as fast as hydro-powered.
Any more questions? Just drop me a message and I will add to the post.