Besisahar – Syange – Tal – Timang – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – Yak Kharka – Thorong Phedi – Throng la Pass – Muktinath – Jomsom
For those of us who want to experience the wonder of the Himalayas, the Annapurna Circuit trek is still up there as one of the best treks in the world. Offering breathtaking mountain views of the Annapurna massif and a plethora of varying landscapes, this 160 km horseshoe trek takes you from tropical to sub-zero temperatures. Imagine picture perfect rice terraces, alpine forests, the raging rivers of the Marsyangdi, not to mention gushing waterfalls. It’s all here with a generous sprinkling of star filled skies just to make you gasp with pleasure!
We hired a very entertaining guide called Amrit and our porter Rajendra, who pretty much sang all the way to Throng La Pass! We had met Amrit on a previous trip to Nepal where he had accompanied us on the relatively easy Poon Hill Trek over four days. Unfortunately, a couple of rainy days and high cloud had masked the view at the top of Poon Hill leaving us just a little disappointed. After that it had felt like we had unfinished business in Nepal. It was our dream to experience the Himalayas up close so we just had to come back again! I guess it felt like we were chasing the view!
Starting the trek in Besisahar – a sleepy town in the Lamjung District some six hours from Kathmandu, we ended the trek in Jomson – a town in the Mustang region that had a wild west feel to it. From there, our attempt to catch a flight to Pokhara failed due to weather conditions – the wind merely blew the wrong way! So instead we shared a jeep with a few other trekkers and happily took the scenic and very bumpy route to Pokhara passing through Nayapul. For non-trekkers such as us, the Annapurna circuit trek was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of our lives.
Mesmerising views that get better everyday
At the beginning of the trek, we climbed and zig zagged our way up hills covered in dense greenery. This slowly gave way to cascading rice terraces that plunged into endless valleys and ravines. A couple of days later and we were surrounded by alpine forests and all I could think of was Julie Andrews singing “the hills are alive…” Well enough of that but you catch my drift! We crossed suspension bridges that creaked and swayed over thunderous gorges and tip-toed precariously over slippery rock streams and past waterfalls that towered hundreds of feet high.
The mountains tantalisingly revealed themselves to us at the beginning of the trek, then rose magnificently in all their glory each time we took a step forward. It almost felt like we weren’t quite ready to experience their presence! We saw a great deal of the Annapurna massif – Annapurna 1-1V, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna and Tilicho Peak. How spoiled we felt to be able to experience such beauty. By day under contrasting cerulean skies, the suns rays showcased the mountains. Pouring streams of reflective light into our eyes and blinding us simultaneously, we gazed wide-eyed in wonder at their sheer presence. The snow shimmered on the peaks like jewels, flawless and of such ice white crystal clarity. At night, silhouettes of mountains illuminated by moonlight dominated the star filled skies, cradling the teahouse towns where we rested our weary feet. We would stare with that full feeling in our chests of wonder, disbelief and sheer awe. I swear I could see distant galaxies in the sky. Was that a shooting star? Quick make a wish! Surely it must come true now!
Most memorable moments
Our ascent to Throng La Pass was not quite the conventional hike it was meant to be! At Throng Phedi altitude sickness had unfortunately started taking its toll on Asad. This resulted in having to resort to two drastic measures; we would either have to turn all the way back if Asad felt too unwell during the ascent or take the more creative option of getting on a mountain pony to speed us over the pass quickly and down the knee shattering 1600m towards Muktinath. Guess what we chose! The ascent in the dark early hours of the morning on two very moody ponies was both hilarious and terrifying! My pony named Nanny seemed hell-bent on taking her own shortcuts off the beaten path, sending shivers of fear in me as I would hang on for dear life whilst staring down at a sheer drop of thousands of feet. Asad just concentrated on not passing out! Still, those ponies deposited us at the top in one piece and we were grateful to them and their owners. We made it to Throng La Pass “safely”, sealing our success by madly snapping away with our cameras for that famous photo!
They say the most challenging times are the most memorable. We would say this is true if you want to fully appreciate the Annapurna Circuit. It’s as if the times when we couldn’t shower for days, suffered grim squat toilets or just shivered constantly at night because we were so cold, were the best memories. We almost want to experience that again! It made you conscious of everything you did and how it connected you to the world.
You feel connected to the earth and each other
Some of the most heartwarming memories for us were of sitting in the teahouses eating Dhal Bhat, playing cards and sharing stories with Rajendra and Amrit. Spending so much time with them meant we all grew very close. We would sit around the fire chatting with the porters and locals. Listening to their stories of where they were born and how they got to be guides or just listening to their dreams and hopes for the future. You felt you were part of something special. It was a global village of people who had a shared interest. Whether it was to achieve the goal of getting to the pass, or just enjoying the view on the way up or down – we were all happy and excited to be there. We made so many friends along the way including Sal and Federica, a couple from Philadelphia – who we first met in Chame. Six months later we’ve not only still kept in touch, but met up with these guys in Thailand and Bali! The trek brought us all together to share the elation of just being in such a visually stunning part of the world!
Just getting up extra early in the morning was wonderful. Surrounded by nature you would feel the Earth awaken with you. In the intense chill of the morning you would hear the faint sound of animals rising. That special tinkling sound of a yak bell, local herdsmen guiding their animals or the sounds of cows calling each other. It placed you in a moment, a feeling that would engrave itself as a memory forever. All this followed by the welcoming aroma of hot steaming masala chai and it was good to be alive!
The Annapurna Circuit is a living trail in every sense of word. Trekking from town to town we would come across so many different ethnicities. Some from Mongolian, Chinese or Indian descent. All had fascinating, beautiful weather-beaten faces that told a story. Some towns had a wild west feel about them. Manang in particular, had us dreaming of gunslingers and whisky drinking cowboys bursting out of saloons ready for a showdown! Jomsom, reached by walking through the deepest ravine in the world – the Kali Gandaki, had a particularly windy geography to it. Walking through it was like a dream, only you didn’t know it was a dream until you were there.! The wind kicked up dust that swirled like mini tornadoes, glistening in the late afternoon sun. It felt like you were in a western, it had that whole tumbleweed feel about it!
All this excitement and activity had inevitably taken its toll on us. You would have thought we were tired but no we had never felt so healthy! Walking for over six hours each day in fresh mountain air had rejuvenated our bodies and flushed out the polluted fume filled memories of Kathmandu from our lungs. Our fitness levels increased each day and our muscles felt reawakened. We ate endless thai’s of dhal bhat to nourish and prepare our bodies for each day of trekking, resulting in some serious weight loss. It was a low salt, low fat menu all the way and with no alcohol (except for a well deserved beer now and then), our bodies appreciated it. We felt light on our feet, refreshed on the inside and out and with a sense of well-being we had never before experienced. There was something about mountains that made you feel alive!
Now, whilst I sit here in my hotel writing this post amongst the chaos of Bangkok, Nepal feels like a different world. Coincidently we’re staying in a Nepalese hotel we stumbled across a few days before. It’s cheap, clean and homely. The owner plays “Om Mane Padme Om” everyday, sending waves of nostalgia through me and a yearning to be amongst the mountains once again. The trek left a mark on us that no other travel experience has to date, but then we are only about six weeks into our 11 month travel around south East Asia. I know there are more amazing experiences yet to come, but somehow I think Nepal’s edgy, raw and earthly experience will be hard to beat. No matter what, we will always remember how intoxicating it was to trek amongst such beauty and experience such peace amongst the silent embrace of the Himalayas. The generosity and warmth of Nepal and its people was heartbreaking to leave.
Above all we would like to thank Amrit and Rajendra who will always have a special place in our hearts. Without their humour and faith we could not have endured the acclimatisation exercises, freezing cold temperatures and endless dhal bhat. But it was all worth it just to be in the inspiring presence of the Himalayas!
The Annapurna Circuit trek was arranged through Black Diamond Expeditions in Thamel.
Contact: Rajendra Pandey
Black Diamond Expedition Private Limited
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