Day 5 – Annapurna Circuit – Muktinath to Ghasa

Departed Muktinath at 6am, having had a protein bar as a quick breakfast. This half of the trek was not as nice, since there is a road all the way from Muktinath back to Pokhara. The trick is to get on the trekking trails that run parallel, but are removed from the road. Many people catch a jeep out of Muktinath or bus out of Jomsom, rather than walk. It was much better to hike along the trails nearby the road because a) the trail is nicer to walk on than the course/gravelly road, b) in many cases the trail is more direct, especially for hilly sections, where the road tends to make an excessive number of switchbacks so that the grade is not too steep for vehicles, and c) On the trail you don’t have large construction vehicles or jeeps honking and trying to pass you with far too little room for comfort.

I was approaching Jomsom around 9:20am, when I saw a plane for the first time in a few days. It was a small, 21-person local plane that flies between Pokhara and Jomsom. This was the flight that the Germans would be taking out of Jomsom tomorrow. I watched as the plane flew over Jomsom, quite low (seemingly just after take-off or close to landing). The plane passed over Jomsom, heading in my direction. It then started to bank to the left, as if circling Jomsom prior to landing. It engaged the turn with a rather wide radius and, from my angle, it looked like its path would take it dangerously close to the valley’s side wall. I stopped walking to watch as the plane made this dangerous-looking maneuver. It continued its turn until maybe 160 degrees, when it abruptly crashed into the hills above Jomsom. A cloud of dust went up into the air and settled quietly. There was no fire or explosion.

I continued towards Jomsom, arriving at 9:30am. After a few wrong turns due to ambiguous signing, I made my way across the bridge to the town’s main road. As I walked, many soldiers were rushing towards the crash site. I thought it was rather silly for them to be carrying their big rifles or beating-sticks as they went towards the site of the plane crash. Someone needs to teach them about fast and light. When I got closer, I saw soldiers coming in the opposite direction to the flow of people. They were carrying the bodies of the dead victims, each body carried by 4 soldiers. There was a soldier struggling to lift each corner of what looked like a bedsheet, on which a dead body was tossed (though I didn’t actually realize these were dead until later). The bodies looked very roughly treated – sometimes with the victim’s legs hanging over the edge of the bedsheet. Other times the body was contorted so that all the limbs fit inside and nothing was overhanging. They were carried roughly, with the body drooping so that it looked like it was bumping across the ground as it was carried.

At one point, they seemed to have run out of bedsheets, so a body was carried by tying rope to each arm and leg, with each soldier holding on to each rope end. I was turned off as I saw the body’s left arm. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt and the rope was tied just above the elbow. The arm was severely cut near the joint, more than half way through, and through the bone. The arm segment with hand and forearm was dangling by only a small amount of flesh still keeping it connected to the rest of the arm. It looked like the flesh was about to tear completely and the soldiers would have to stop to retrieve the limb. The soldiers appeared not to have noticed.

I continued through Jomsom, passing through an intersection filled with people, that marked the turn off to the trail up the mountainside and towards the crash site. I passed through and finally left town by 10am.

There was a howling wind as I continued on towards Marpha (supposedly the apple capital of Nepal). I had intended to walk along the trail for this section, but somehow missed the turnoff and the bridge across the river. So I hiked along the road, which was no so enjoyable as walking along the trail. Arrived in Marpha at noon and had lunch of dal baht (300NPR) and milk tea (35NPR).

I was back on the road by 1pm and it was another 2.5 hours to Larjung. It was raining, so I hiked wearing my rain jacket. This was going to be my destination, but with 3 hours left of daylight, I realized that I might just make it to Ghasa (the map recommended 4 hours, but the map’s times were sometimes hard to achieve). It rained harder, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and these last hours towards Ghasa were difficult. I was quite worried about being left walking after dark. I didn not feel comfortable or safe with the idea of walking this in the dark.

I finally got off the road and on to the trekking trail and was pushing hard, jogging in parts. The trail wound through sheep and goat pastures with stone sidewalls to keep the animals in. At one point there were some 20 sheep standing on the trail in my way and hundreds more all around. I whistled at them to move as I hurried through. A man shouted at me in Nepali.

I continued to push, feeling the adrenaline pumping as it rained harder and as sunset grew closer (I had read in a newspaper that sunset was at 6:20pm in Kathmandu the day I arrived n Nepal). I finally arrived in Ghasa and a woman invited me into her well-discounted guest house (the second one in town, “the golden iin” – with type included). Bed was 50NPR and dal baht was 250NPR. Not 5 minutes after I stepped in, the rain started torrenting down.

Electricity went out. I had a cold shower, and dal baht was ready by 8pm. A Nepali guide and some porters invited me to share some cups of chang with them, an alcoholic beverage they compared to beer, made from millet, that was a bit sour. I wouldn’t order it myself, but the company was enjoyable. Later on an Israeli named Netta joined us and we all had chang by the emergency light. Bed late – 9pm

Day 4 – Annapurna Circuit – Yak Karka over Thorong La Pass to Muktinath

The original plan was to wake up at 4:30am and leave by 5am, since I new it would be a long day going up and over the pass. But I realized that this first hour of hiking would be very cold, so instead I woke up at 5am and left by 5:45am.

The door to the restaurant/kitchen part of the guest house was locked, so I was unable to find a tap to fill up with water. So I set off for the morning with no water, hoping to find a stream quickly. There was a wet, loose, cliffy type thing, and I could see a trickle of water coming down part way up. I spent 15 minutes nervously climbing up, and eventually reached the water source and filled up my bottle. I still purified my water, even though contamination was unlikely, just in case of animals or garbage upstream.

It was a slow 2.5 hours up to Thorong Phedi (confusingly, also called base camp). I arrived at 8:15am and met a couple of Canadians who had just graduated with their MA Economics from Western. I thought I had escaped from school, but clearly you can never get away from econometrics, even in the Himalayas of rural Nepal. I had milk tea (65NPR) and a “chocolate” bun (200NPR), though I detected no hint of chocolate. After a lazy 45 minute break, I was back on the trail by 9am.

Arrived at high camp at 10am and took another being-lazy break for some milk tea until 10:30am. I suppose I was feeling quite burnt out after the 3 preceding days.

It was 2.5 hours until arriving at Thorong La Pass at 1pm. It felt good to arrive after all the times I had looked up, expecting to be closing in on the pass, only to find it farther away. I was puretty burnt out, but was amazed at the lack of symptoms of having ascended to such high altitude so quickly. Only 3.5 days before, I was not far above sea level in Besi-Sahar and now I was at 18,000ft. I made sure I did not have any sort of cerebral altitude sickness by 1) saying the first 3 words I could think of beginning with a given letter, 2) doing math, 3) reciting poetry, 4) checking to see if I was stumbling while walking. I seemed to pass these tests. I then napped for half-an-hour on the pass, getting a sunburn in the process.

Departed Thorong La Pass at 1:40pm and went down the rather large elevation drop to Multinath (19,000 to 12,000 feet). This took 3 hours and I arrived in Muktinath by 3:40pm. It made a big difference taking the smaller, less obvious people paths rather than the lower grade, wider trails that allowed for donkeys/horses.

It rained for the last 15 minutes heading into Muktinath. I checked out a few places that seemed fine, but lacked any westerners. Some Germans walking down the road suggested I check out their place. It was more expensive and of lower quality than others I had seen, but I decided to stay there anyways (100NPR bed + 100NPR shower + 420NPR dal baht, compared to best price of free room + free shower + 300NPR dal baht.) It was good all the same and I ate with the group of 4 German doctors from Nuremburg doing a fully catered/planned trip that would end in Jomson with a flight back to Pokhara and then to Kathmandu. Next time I would stay at the Bob-Marley Hotel – cheap and with great reviews from other trekkers.

Day 3 – Annapurna Circuit – Chame to Yak Karka

Had a quick start to the day, again deciding to hike a few hours before having meal 1. It took 3.5 hors to go from Chame to Pisang, compared to a suggested time of 4 hours. It seems that the suggested times are much faster than would be typical for a given stretch of trail. I would think the suggested times on the local signs are much faster than those in Lonely Planet or other guidebooks written for trekkers.

I stopped at 10am for dal baht in Pisang (400NPR for dal baht + tea, negotiated from 400 dal baht + 65 tea). They got to work pretty quickly, and I was able to eat and then leave by 10:45am.

The next section was a stretch of trail to Manang – where I’d hoped to get to by the end of the day. Though from the fast time to Pisang, I secretly thought I might make it beyong Manang. I arrived and left by 2:15pm – excited to still have time to hopefully make it to Yak Karka.

I went strong from Manang to Yak Karka – it was all uphill. About 30 minutes from Yak-Karka it got quite windy and started blizzarding with snow. I felt a touch out of place. The only other people on the trail were Nepalis, bundled up for the snow, some carrying things between villages. Then there was me, in shorts and a tshirt, running past them as it snowed, trying to make it to Yak Karka quickly so I wouldn’t have to stop to put on my rain jacket or toque. I got some interesting looks.

It was about 2.5 hours to Yak Karka from Manang. I found out that they didn’t have running water, so the only way to shower was through a bucket shower. Most places were charging 200-300NPR for the night plus 125NPR for a bucket shower. I ended up finding the cheapest place, near the end of town for 50NPR + 25NPR for the room + shower. My first time bucket-showering, it was better than I expected it to be. The bucket was large and the water hot, after having been heated on the stove.

I had dinner and went to bed around 8pm. It was too cold to stay up in just my base layer, trekking pants, fleece jacket, and toque. I was warm once in my sleeping bag. People were pretty impressed with the distance covered today. Most people do it in at least 4.5 days: Chame to Pisang, Pisang to ???, ??? to Manang, rest/acclimatization day in Manang, half a day to Yak Karka.

Day 2 – Annapurna Circuit – Chyamche to Chame

Woke up and got packed quickly, ate plain rice for breakfast and left by 6:45am. The breakfast choice was just because the rice was just ready and I didn’t want to wait for something bigger to be cooked. I felt pretty stiff, especially in the hips, as I got out of bed. I was half limping as I got ready.

Snacked on a Snickers, since the rice wasn’t enough and Went until 11am or so. I stopped for lunch and it turned out it was the wedding of the brother of the restaurant/guest house owner. There were a large group of Nepali people gathered around in a circle, sitting on mats at a low table. They offered me Chang – a local beer-type beverage made from millet. It wasn’t very good – had something floating in it, some sort of fruit remnants or something – and it was thick and soury tasting. I was worried it was made from unpurified water and that I’d get sick, but drank it anyways. Dal baht for lunch.

Met up with Brian after lunch, who had caught up to me, and we walked together for the rest of the day. The ACAP checkpoint at Kodo was fast. We stopped around 2pm for some milk tea, with as much sugar as would dissolve, in order to get a quick boost. There was a Nepali man there, supposedly known as “speedy”, who we talked to. He had a fancy DSLR, had been a guide in the past, and was now doing herbal medicine work. He seemed very well off compared to other Nepalis. Brian was strong, going quickly, with a much heavier pack than I.

We reached Chame by 4pm. Stayed in an excellent guest house near the end of town with cabin-style rooms. Nice hot shower. No towel, so I used the bed sheet of the second bed. I think this was much better than having to carry a towel the whole way around the circuit. Napped for 1.5 hours.

Brian got sick, probably food poisoning though don’t know what from, so he didn’t have dinner. I met Dima, an Israeli who had worked as an officer in the army but then left and was now doing lots of traveling. I tried some momo, a traditional Nepalese dumpling, for the first time, that he ordered, which was excellent.

Manang was suggested by Speedy to be 12-13 hours from here. I will try to push for it tomorrow, but may not make it. Everyone has strongly recommended that I do not go over the pass the next day, even if I make it to Manang tomorrow, because of the altitude. People talk about the “mandatory” rest day at Manang. I would like to try to make it all the way over the pass from Manang in one day, if possible. If not, I would got from Manang to high camp, and go over the pass the next day.

The bill was 545NPR (100 for room, negotiated from 200, 375 dal baht, 70 tea)

Day 1 – Annapurna Circuit – Besi-Sahar to Chyamche

I woke up at 6am, showered, packed, and got ready for breakfast. I had ordered breakfast the night before for eating at 6:30am, but they seemed to have forgotten, so it wasn’t ready until 7am. I ate quickly and left immediately on paying the bill.

I got lots of strange looks, briskly walking down the street in athletic clothing and a small pack. More than a few times, someone would look at me, make a motion like an airplane and go “vroom!”

I almost got by without needing a TIMS card. The man said that the office was closing in 5 minutes, because of the strike. I figured it would probably be checked later on the trail, so I just paid the $20 US. (It was only checked once again – at the very end of the trek.)

Nice trail through the forest. Not too busy. Met some Canadians coming in the opposite direction who were doing their masters in geology at Queens. They were in Nepal doing field work. I didn’t want to stop for lunch, so got a packet of peanut cookies (80NPR) and 5 Snickers bars (70NPR each) for later in the trek, since I knew prices were supposed to increase lots as I got farther into the mountains.

I stopped at 2pm and almost called it a day. I had made it much farther than sounded normal and it had started to rain hard. The man was very nice and offered me a room for free. I decided I would stay unless the rain stopped. I would not have been happy with myself stopping this early. The rain did quiet down, so I headed onwards to Chyamche.

There was one trick in the trail – taking the “~traditional trekking route” that was supposedly faster than the road. I think it was. I stopped at the first guest house, which was before the actual town of Chyamche. It overlooks a waterfall and was a nice place to stay. I met Brian (a fell runner from the Lake District in England) and Bellefleure (from France), and after a shower, had dal baht, and spent the evening talking. Brian explained that the trick to getting the most bang for your buck with dal baht is eating very quickly. They come to refill your plate after 5 minutes or so, so the more you’ve eaten, the more you get refilled.

Bus from Kathmandu to Besi-Sahar

Nick and I started by checking out of the hotel and walking around. We had left around 6:30am so it took a while to find a place that was open for breakfast. It seems that things don’t tend to get started until 9am or so. We found a place at another hotel and each got the simple breakfast (2 eegs, 2 toast, and tea/coffee – 130NPR). After breakfast we met an Australian lady who had taken 27 days to do the Annapurna circuit. She thought I was crazy for wanting to do it with such a small pack and in such a short period of time.

Nick left around 8:30am and I searched the city for the Nepal Tourism Office to get my ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). Eventually I found the office, after following the scattered, hard to understand directions of a whole bunch of helpful Nepalese strangers. When I went to get the permit, I was told that I would have to walk around several more blocks to get 4 passport photos – 2 for the ACAP and 2 for the TIMS card (4 photos – 200NPR).

I had everything done by 9:45am, apart from the TIMS card, since the office didn’t open until 10am. They also said that it would cost 1700NPR for the TIMS card, while the guidebook said that it was free. Supposedly this changed 2 years ago.

Got a city bus to the “new bus station” (20 soles ~30 mins). People told me that even though it was 10:30am, the last direct bus to Besi-Sahar had left. I would have to take one bus to ??? and then transfer to a bus to Besi-Sahar. The first bus was 5 hours and very similar to the collectivos in Peru – privately run, crowded, very efficient, and there’s always one there. Periodically, at pick up spots, kids would come on board trying to sell things – watches, toys, snacks, and one of the most common, that I didn’t figure out for a while, was a long piece of cucumber with salt and chile. They cut it in half lengthwise and serve with an appropriate amount of spice. I also ate a packet of cookies I had bought for 10NPR along with 2 bottles of water for 25NPR each (though I think the seal was broken, so I purified it just in case. There are stories of people filling up empty water bottles with river water and reselling it.) I sat beside a Nepalese woman who spoke a little bit of English.

Arrived at the transfer point at 3:30pm and then transferred to a bus to Besi-Sahar. The driver seemed rather slow and stopped a lot to talk to people. The ride took 3 hours, reaching Besi-Sahar by 6:30pm. I stayed in the first hotel I came across, right opposite the bus stop. It was 600NPR (which seems quite high, in retrospect.) Had chicken curry and rice for dinner, followed by apple pie (supposedly apple pie is quite popular along the trek. I didn’t find it amazing.) While I ate, I heard protests along the main street, and there was a march of people carrying flaming torches. It felt very mob-like – but they did not appear aggressive.

Update

Last news is that the tourist busses are running despite the Nepal-wide strike. Leaving for the journey now.

Annapurna Circuit in 5.5 Days

The days were: Besi-Sahar, Chyamche, Chame, Yak-Karka, Muktinath, Ghasa, and then half a day to Tatopani, the finish line. Bussed out the 7 hours to Pokhara the same day (yesterday)

Back in Pokhara now, safe and sound. Will type up journals later on. Body tired. Maybe should have stretched before.

This happened right in front of me while entering Jomsom (valley side-wall ~5km in front).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18055140

Got to Besi-Sahar just in time because Nepal was on strike for the 3 following days. Strikes anticipated in Pokhara the next 3 days. I hope not, since I’m planning to go back to Kathmandu.

Arrive in Kathmandu

My flight was changed from Friday to Monday, so I spent the last few days in Vancouver. Got the Cipro, diamox, and imodium for the trail at the pharmacy. This means only 15 days total in Nepal, though. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to do the circuit (I hope)

Just arrived in Kathmandu at 10:10pm. It’s now 11:40pm and I’m in Hotel Khangsar in the tourist district of Thamel. $8/night. Internet deathly slow – feels like dial up.

Was a long flight. 13 hours Vancouver to Guangzhou, 2 hour layover in Guangzhou, then 5 hours to Kathmandu. Flight in Vancouver was delayed 45 minutes.

Plan to head to Besi Sahar tomorrow – the start of the Annapurna Circuit. In the morning will have to get a map, pocket knife, ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit), and TIMS card. Will try to get everything done and catch minibus at 11am. Trip takes 6-7 hours. Really want to get there tomorrow instead of spending more time in Kathmandu now. Would prefer to spend time here at end of trip, once I know the trek is done.

Everything fit into an 18L bag. My first compliment of the trip was airport security telling me I was travelling light. Off to bed now. May not have internet until the end of the trek in Pokhara.

Rumours of flooding and Russian trekkers being killed by flash floods in Pokhara. We’ll see.

Nepal trip begins

Heading to the airport in a few minutes to get this trip started. Just called a hostel (Potala) to sort out a place to stay the first night and airport pickup. Still need to throw some things into a bag and then head off for the 20h55m hour plane ride from Vancouver to Guangzhou to Kathmandu. I think I’ll spend a day in Kathmandu for logistics before heading to the start of the circuit instead of going straight to the circuit. I’ll need to get a permit, etc.

Didn’t have time to pick up medication. Would have got ciproflaxacin (antibiotic), imodium, and diamox. Maybe I’ll find some in Kathmandu?

Flight:
departs Vancouver 12:30pm – May 4, 2012
arrives Kathmandu 10:10pm – May 5, 2012