When I start to plan a vacation, the first thing that I realize is I am not one to sit on a beach and relax. Most of my vacations end up with some sort of hike or trek. I thought I would just write a post about one trip that I think is worth trying to make in your lifetime, The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. The trip was 19 days, so I will break this post into a few days.
The original trek starts in the village of Besisahar and ends in Naya Pul. I will soon realize that most villages on this trek are just a single road with tea houses on either side. The hike starts at 2,700 feet, and eventually you head over the Thoroung La Pass at 17,550 before heading back down. The hike is about 154 miles and can take anywhere from 15 to 21 days.
Due to the building of a road the hike is getting shorter and shorter as the years pass. When we did the hike in March of 2011, you were able to take a car to Jagat which can take three to four days off the hike, and then once you came over the pass, you could actually take a car from Muktinath to Jomsom and then fly back to Kathmandu. Thus making it only a 9 day trek. As the road gets higher and higher, the trek could end up only being 5 days which I think is an absolute travesty because it opens this area up to the “weekend warrior” or “wealthy travelers”. The road has already had a devastating effect on some of the tea houses en route.
My husband and I decided to do the full trek, and I must say it was “life changing”. We, in many ways, are so lucky to have so much at our finger tips, but at the same time, I feel what we “have” detracts from what should truly be important in life…
Day 0: (no hiking) Travel day from Khatmandu to Besisahar
We seem to have the uncanny ability to pick destinations that are not very easy to get to. We left Kathmandu at 9am and arrived in Besisahar at 4pm. The distance isn’t that great, but it takes forever to get anywhere because of the conditions of the roads and the throngs and throngs of large trucks trying to move all of Nepal’s goods and merchandise around the country. End result? A whole lot of going nowhere fast!
As I go through our days, I will try to remember where we stayed, but I will log the distance and the elevation of each destination. Some of the days may have a small elevation increase, but just because that was the final elevation, it doesn’t take into account the massive amount of uphill and downhill in just one day. This was probably the most exhausting hike I have ever done.
Day 1: Besisahar to Bahundanda 10 miles. Start elevation: 2690, elevation at Bahundanda: 4300ft
We planned our trek up to Manang where we would have a rest/acclimatization day. Well, that is what we thought. I had been battling a sinus infection and was not at the top of my game. We had decided to do the trek without guides and porters so I was carrying about a 35lb pack, and my husband 45lb’s or so. You don’t need to carry food or a tent because every night you stay in a “tea house”. The tea houses are bare bone wood buildings with very thin walls, but at least you have a thin mattress and a roof over your head. You are lucky if you can find a guest house with an ensuite toilet. Some guest houses actually have Westernized toilets, but others just have a porcelain area of a foot print where you just squat. The price of our nightly accommodation varied between $.25 and about $3.00 per night. The guest houses really make their money off you eating where you sleep. Take this into account if you ever do the trek because we saw one angry encounter between a hiker and an inn keeper. I have to side with the inn keeper as it said read very clearly on the menu that you were expected to eat at their house. The first day we walked 8 hours, 10.7 miles with about 1600 feet of elevation gain, and I was shattered. Bahundanda is at the end of a long set of stairs. I am not sure if it was the sinus infection or if I was that out of shape, but towards the end of the day I was taking about 40 steps and then a break. If it continued like this, we were going to have to change our game plan, but we were lucky because we had a month to do the trek so had plenty of extra days built in. We ended the day walking up about 100 stairs to a guesthouse called Hotel Superb View.
The people in Nepal are absolutely amazing and tough. Here I was completely decked out with great hiking boots, jacket, and Osprey pack, and I was so tired walking up the hills. Out of nowhere comes a 60 year old woman, barefoot, about ½ my size with a log on her back that must have weighed about 70lbs. She just flies by me. This occurrence happened over and over. Sometimes with girls probably as young as 10, and other times porters that looked as if they were in their 70’s.
Day 2: Bahundanda to Ghermu (3700 feet) 3 miles
The next day we only made it to Ghermu which is just a few miles, but I was too weak to continue. My husband ended up emptying some things out of his pack and taking mine. So my pack weighed about 30 and his 50lbs. I am sure I will never hear the end of this. Ghermu is a nice little village on an elevated plateau in a river valley. We stayed at Crystal Guest House at the beginning of town, and we were the only people staying there. We must have traveled at a great time of year because we had heard over and over how packed the trail could be, yet many days, we didn’t see anyone on the trail. If you take a car, you will never see the beauty of this village with its’ steep terraced fields.
We had a traditional meal of Dal Baht. Dal means “lentils” and Baht is “rice”. This dish also comes with a vegetable curry, usually some meat, and more curries. This was the main dish for the remainder of our trek.
Day 3: Ghermu to Tal (5577 feet) 7.5 miles
The next day we decided we were going to try and make it to Tal. Apparently there was a health station there, and I was hoping to get some antibiotics. The day was long, hard and steep. We were on the road at 7:15am and walked into Tal at 3pm. We did stop for an hour to eat, but we only did 7.5 miles in 8 hours. We are not slow walkers so this gives you an idea of the drastic nature of the terrain. I am sure it has changed now, but back in 2011 the first part of the walk from Ghermo to Tal was basically walking on the new road. The road took us to Chamche where we then had to cross back over the river and the useable “road” ends. We decided to stop for a break and filter some water out of the river. We were close to being finished when a local passed and suggested that we keep moving because they were “blasting” the new road above us, and it wasn’t very safe. I am not sure how the road looks now, but from where we were, it looked very steep and very narrow.
I was quite happy to be walking. It really didn’t look safe. Maybe for one car at a time, but based on our experience with drivers in Nepal so far, I think there will be big trucks, buses and cars trying to go too fast.
We made it to Tal and had our usual Dal Bhat, had a cold shower and off to bed.
Day 4: Tal to Danaqyu (7217 feet) 6.2 miles
Up until this point, we had spectacular weather. Low 70’s and not a cloud in the sky. On our 4th day we were up at 5:30am and ready to go. We had originally planned on stopping at Dharapani for the night, but arrived there at about 10:15am so there was no point in stopping there. Onward and upward. My sinus infection was much better because we had met a British family and their son Mark, who was their guide. He was also a British captain living in Nepal recruiting Ghurka’s for the British Army. He was able to give me some different antibiotics. At about 12:15, the weather started to change, and we walked into the village of Danaqyu. We walked to the end of town and found a nice tea house call Potala Guest House. Yeah, it had a warm shower. An anomaly. Most of the tea houses advertise hot showers, but that really depends on the weather because the water is warmed by the sun. We then walked down to the water spigot by the road and did some laundry. About this time, it started sprinkling and getting cold. We were in the restaurant with our beanies and down jackets begging the locals to light a fire. Although, I must say we had an amazing experience watching the locals cut, dry and hang yak meat in the restaurant.
Okay, so the last day for this post:
Day 5: Danaqyu to Chame (8891 feet) 9.3 miles
The rain continued through the night which concerned us because we had already seen 5 trekkers coming back down the same way because there was too much snow on the pass to get over. The next day, the sky appeared blue, and we continued our trek. Although Danaqyu was fine, I must say that had I known what lay ahead, I would have pressed on the day before. About an hour outside of Danaqyu is a little hamlet of Timang. What a spectacular town. It sits in a little valley surrounded on all sides by giant snow capped mountains. Absolutely stunning.
We made it to Chame around 11:30am. This is quite the bustling town by Nepali standards. Lots of little shops with fake Northface jackets, gloves, beanies, and snacks.
The weather continued to turn for the worse and it began to snow. We decided instead of pushing through we should just spend the night. The views on this hike will blow your mind, and had we continued to walk who knows what views we would have missed. Chame is at about 8300 feet and as it was snowing there, it was not a good sign for the future. We snuggled up next to a fire and spend the day drinking beer and snacking. As you can see the fire wasn’t too hot as we all have our big down jackets on. We met Rosalyn and Terry in Tal and continued to see them through out our hike. They were from Australia and were taking a year off to travel.
Okay, so that was our first five days. More to follow….