I didn’t go into this trek thinking it would be the hardest thing I would ever do, I was completely ignorant of the difficulty level of this trek. Thinking it would be similar to Everest, I dived in headfirst with my minimalist backpack and high hopes. Little did I know what trials lay ahead of us and how hard the coming days would be.
We chose to hire a guide and porter for our Annapurna Circuit trek. Our trekking dates were March 1st- March 14th*, Our trek was customized and much shorter than the usual trek length (15-22 days) as we also decided to include Tilicho lake and the Poon Hill trek at the end of the Circuit. We took a jeep from Besisahar-Chame, so a lot of Annapurna purists will say we “didn’t actually trek the whole circuit” but I digress.
Because of the season we chose to trek in and global warming we had more snow and fewer people on the trails than anticipated.
Day 1: Kathmandu- Besisahar (by minibus)
Today we had breakfast at the hotel and coffee with Dipendra, then we took a cab with our guide, Nara, to the minibus depot where we would start our long drive to Besisahar.
Many people skip the city of Kathmandu when they come to Nepal to trek, using it either as a starting or finishing point or to rent gear, not many people choose to spend more than 2-3 day actually exploring the city and surrounding area when they really should. They perceive it as hot, crowded, and dusty and while they aren’t wrong, they, unfortunately, miss the eclectic charm that the city possesses. I can’t quite describe in words what it’s like to be here besides “magical”. There’s something about it that will keep you coming back.
Kathmandu cast it’s a dusty charm on me the first time I was here and I’m completely hooked. This was my first time visiting a place that I had already been to before, and I was worried that I would have a completely different experience than I had the first time. I was worried it would somehow be “lesser” of an experience, but I was completely wrong. Things change slowly in Kathmandu and the charm remains ever-present. It felt like coming home after being away for a while, all the shops, hotels, and restaurants that were there two years prior were still alive and kicking (minus a ton of overhead electrical wires that were being cleaned up as a part of the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign).
I listened intently to the tambourine in the Nepali pop song that was playing over the radio as we weaved and bobbed through the mountain countryside. The road follows a slow-moving river, with water greener than the rice patties we passed on the highway. I wonder what Jack Kerouac would think of this road, filled with huge colorful trucks, that beep a musical horn when they pass you. In the village, we pass women in red sarees, and children in school uniforms attempt to cross the dusty road, narrowly escaping the motorbikes.
I think to myself, where is the circuit supposed to start? And if building this jeep road was really worth it? For those of you who aren’t aware, a road was recently built all the way to Manang, which cuts a significant portion of the original Annapurna Circuit off, saving time for deliveries and passengers, but to do this they had to sacrifice certain portions of the original trail. A lot of trekkers would say the jeep road ruins the experience, I have yet to figure out where I stand.
Day 2: Besisahar- Chame (by jeep)
Today we caught the first glimpse of the mountains from our teahouse. We hired a jeep to take us to Chame by “road”. I say road with quotations because it’s more of a glorified hiking trail. We bumped and swayed side to side as we made our way down the jeep road. Children with braids, bows, and uniforms made their way to school in the early morning light as we zoomed past. Life is just waking up in the mountains. Two young women dress an infant and toddler while a puppy stands guard. Our jeep came less than a foot away from them and they smiled at us as we cooed at the baby and puppy.
The jeep road gets tougher the close we get to Chame… whole boulders stick out of the road and we swerve with great finesse to avoid hitting them. I think to myself “id almost rather be hiking this portion” but then I see the sullen faces of some of the trekkers as we pass by and I recant that statement in my brain.
We drive through a waterfall and turned a sharp corner to get a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains and Manaslu, named by the Japanese climbers who first scaled it. It was early afternoon so the clouds had rolled in and were already hugging the mountain peaks. I felt a chilly breeze down my spine and the first shiver of many… just a taste of what was to come.
We arrived in Chame and took a chilly walk past some animals to a monastery perched in between what Nara called “old style” Nepalese houses. This building over 800 years old stood proudly like a shiny gem in the small village. After visiting the monastery we took a small hike up to a viewpoint where you could see the mountains and the village below. Nara then showed us how to get to the natural hot springs where we could relax and unwind. We met many other trekkers there and got to talking, before I knew it hours had passed so Blair and I made a mad dash, in the cold, back to the teahouse. I ended up feeling a bit sick from staying in the hot spring too long and I went to bed quite early (the first of many early nights).
Day 3: Chame-Humde (Trekking)
Today I ripped open the sleeping bag and jumped out of bed, excited for our first actual day of trekking. We packed up, had breakfast, and started off down the road. The road conditions were a bit better between Chame and Lower Pisang, which was surprising because we didn’t encounter many jeeps. Over the hills and through the woods to the next village we go. The first interesting landscape that we came across was a huge rocky cliff face, where the road became thin and long. The landscape here is extremely different from the EBC trek. We decided to cut a chunk of the road off by taking an old trail and we happened upon an abandoned teahouse where we stopped for a break, a sad casualty of the jeep road.
The trail ended up getting a bit snowy and it reminded me of going hiking in the early spring back home in Canada. I found it quite refreshing but I didn’t realize that Blair had never hiked in snow before! (little did we both know we were seriously in for it in a few days). We stopped for lunch at a lovely teahouse with a view of Annapurna ll. One of the other trekkers pointed out an avalanche that was happening on the mountain, to us it looked like a puff of smoke!
The second part of the day was extremely long, “Nepali flat: little bit up a little bit down”.
Once we got to Lower Pisang Nara asked us if we wanted to continue on to Humde ( a small village, about an hour and a half away) We hastily agreed thinking the extra time wouldn’t matter that much and boy were we wrong! Every turn and every hill seemed endless when finally we were greeted by the sight of the town gate in the distance, and a pup running up to join us on the walk.
Inside the tea house, we collapsed from exhaustion and Nara thankfully gave us some tea and cookies. The owners of the tea house were very sweet, they opened just for us and shared their local rice wine with us! It was delicious but I could feel it hitting me after just one sip, so we headed to bed early, again.
Day 4: Humde-Manang (Trekking)
Today I woke up with eyes wide. I had had horrible dreams that kept me awake all night (a funny yet tormenting side effect of the altitude). I’ve never woken up completely exhausted before but today was the day. The combination of bad dreams, no sleep, and rice wine really did me in. We had a quick breakfast, said our goodbyes and thanks for the rice wine and headed on our way.
The whole way to Manang I kept wondering why I willingly subjected myself to this. The thing is these treks bring you down mentally, physically, and emotionally. They tear you into 1000 pieces, effectively destroying your old self. Slowly you are able to put the pieces back together, but never in the way, it was before. They show you hospitality and kindness that is out of this world, views that are unparalleled to anything you will ever see and exposure to such a unique and well-preserved culture, but most importantly they give you a chance to rebuild yourself, taking only the good you’ve been given and leave the rest behind.
We made it to Manang, dropped our bags, and hung around for lunch. I wasn’t looking forward to our acclimatization hike this afternoon but I knew it must be done. We ascended up the rocky switchbacks and every step made me want to shout “I’m tired!” “I want to go back”. I decided to suck it up and see how far I could push myself when we reached a snowy part of the trail. I felt a sudden surge of energy which made me really want to go the rest of the way. We ended up going, at Blairs expense! I easily hopped from rock to rock and through the snow but I had completely forgotten that Blair hasn’t hiked on snow before and wasn’t at all comfortable or used to it, and not even to mention the height and slope of the trail! We took it slow and steady and we all made it back safely to the tea house for biscuits.
We had dinner with a few other trekkers and a group of local women and their toddlers. The kiddos made for some quality entertainment!
Stick around for part 2 next week!