Annapurna Circuit

March 29 – April 17, 2009

Pokhara

The bus from the border town (Sunauli) dropped us off in Pokhara early in the morning, and we were exhausted.  We caught a taxi to the Lake Side neighborhood, where most of the hotels are located.  I stayed in a small restaurant with the bags while Pnina went off with Hila and Thierry to look for a hotel.

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(Thierry, Pnina, and Hila after the long bus ride)

They were gone for hours, and when they returned they were all frustrated.  Pokhara might actually have a thousand hotels to choose from, but each of my “scouts” had her own requirements and they didn’t match: Thierry wanted an upscale quiet place, Hila wanted a cheap centrally-located place, and Pnina wanted a place with a good mattress (which turned out to be the hardest requirement of all – Nepalis like rock-hard beds).  So in the end we split up and went our own ways.  Pnina and I ended up at the Pushpa Hotel.

Our Lonely Planet describes Pokhara as a good place for people “gearing up for or recovering from a trip to India”, which we think is a good description.  It’s such a cute town and it’s so well organized for backpackers.  Everywhere you look it’s hotels, restaurants, shops with outdoor gear, bookshops, internet cafes, etc.  And all this is located next to a lake with green hills nearby and snow-capped mountains further out.  It’s one of the best backpacker towns we’ve seen.

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(Pnina at the Moondance restaurant, which became our regular hang-out because of the good food and free wi-fi)

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Gearing Up for the Annapurna Circuit

Of course the big attraction in Nepal is the Himalayan mountain range – people come here to hike or climb.  Before reaching Nepal we’d met many travelers who had already traveled here, and we took the opportunity to get advice from them about trekking.  What we gathered is that while there are countless treks to choose from, you can narrow down the choices to the three big popular treks: Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), and Everest Base Camp (EBC).  We met only a few people who did more than one of these, and those people generally recommended Annapurna Circuit over the others.  Why?  First off it’s a loop, so you don’t need to retrace your steps on the way back, which means that the views are always fresh.  And second because the views, they said, are just a little better.  That was good enough for us.

Before starting the trek we took 1-2 days to relax in Pokhara and to get organized.  We visited the Annapurna Conservation Area office to get our permits; for each permit we needed about $25 and two passport photos.  Some people hire a guide or a porter for the trek, but we heard that it’s  really not necessary – you don’t need to carry much and there are always locals who can help you find the way.  So we decided to go on our own.  We left our big backs at the hotel and just took our small daypacks.  We rented two sleeping bags for $1/day, we purchased rainproof pants for about $6 each, and we picked up rainproof gloves for about $2.50/pair.  With this gear and with our other warm clothes, our daypacks were practically bursting at the seams, but they were still pretty light – we probably carried only about 6 or 7 kg each.

Overview of the Trek

The full Annapurna Circuit is about 210 km long.  It starts in the town of Besisahar, east of Pokhara, and it proceeds counter-clockwise around the Annapurna mountain chain to the town of Naya Pul, west of Pokhara.  The high point in the trek is the mountain pass called Thorung La, at an elevation of 5416 meters.  Interestingly, this trek reaches a higher elevation than either of the base-camp treks mentioned before!  This Google Earth map shows the path we took.  The pushpins don’t exactly correspond to the places we slept (it’s someone else’s trip – I haven’t bothered to make my own map), but it gives you an idea of where we went.  The orange lines show where we took a bus or a jeep.

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We had a little map like this from our Lonely Planet, but we hardly used it.  Instead, we mostly used this handy diagram we picked up at the park office.  It shows you the sequence of villages where you can stay along the way, including distances between them and elevations.  As you can see, Annapurna is a very flexible circuit – you can choose to hike as little as 2 hours each day, if you want, because you are never too far from the next village.

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One thing that surprised us is that the trek starts at fairly low elevations.  Pokhara is at an altitude of 784 meters, and the trailhead, Besisahar, is not much higher: 820 meters.  We had this impression that all of Nepal is high country, but that’s not the case at all.  The high elevations are only found in the northern part of the country, along the border with Tibet (which, itself, is a high plateau).  But the southern chunk of Nepal is actually lowlands.  We later learned that Nepal managed to stay protected from outside forces for so long because it had high mountains to the north and Malaria-infested lowlands to the south.

By the way, technically you can do the trek in the opposite direction, but it’s not recommended.  Why?  Because it’s much easier to go over the pass heading west than heading east – you have a smaller climb to the pass from the last camp and then a huge descent, rather than a huge climb and a smaller descent.

The Trek

On the first day we took a bus from Pokhara.  After about five hours we arrived in Besisahar to find our “trailhead”…

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Not exactly what we expected.  But at the other end of town the paved road stopped and a dirt road began.  We had an option to take another bus about 9 km further along this dirt road to the town of Bhulbhule, where the road and the Annapurna trail split, but we decided to just walk.

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After about 7 km it started to rain so we ducked into the first hotel we found in the town of Khudi.

The accommodations along Annapurna are fairly basic.  The villages have anywhere from 2-12 hotels, and they don’t vary too much in quality.  You generally get twin beds with hard mattresses, shared bathrooms, hot shower (usually in the daytime only – it’s solar powered), and sometimes light (electricity is spotty).  Actually, the names of the hotels don’t vary much from one village to another – there’s almost always a Himalaya Hotel, a Peaceful Hotel, a Tibetan Hotel, and a Yak-and-Yeti Hotel.  If you ask, you can often get the room for free if you agree to eat in the hotel’s restaurant.  It’s not a huge savings because the rooms only cost about $1.50 – $3 per night, whereas each meal is something like $3-$4, but it’s something.

At this first hotel we struck up a conversation with a local guy, Shiva.  He teaches at the nearby elementary school and he gets room-and-board at this hotel in exchange for the private lessons he gives to the family’s kids after school.  We learned a few interesting things from him.  First off, I somehow assumed that Nepal is largely Buddhist, but that’s not true: about 80% of Nepalis are Hindu.  Also, the Nepali alphabet is similar to Hindi and the languages have many words in common too (e.g. “pani” is “water”, “daniavat” is “thank you”, etc.).  Shiva asked us if our marriage was “a love marriage or an arranged marriage” – most in Nepal are still arranged.  He said he has a girl he would like to marry but she is of a different cast so his parents disapprove (he is Brahmin).  Also, and this was most interesting to us, he said that he would eventually like to leave his teacher job and take up a post in the government.  OK, what kind of job?  Oh, you know, maybe filing records, something like that.  Filing records??  That just struck us as about the most boring job you could possibly imagine, but here in Nepal you get so much respect for having a government job that it really doesn’t matter what you do.  We tried to explain that in the US there’s a reputation that government jobs generally involve lots of bureaucracy, outdated technology, and often lower salaries, but I’m not sure he really believed us.  Shiva said he has written about 300 songs and he’s working to get some of them recorded.  What are they about?  Oh, all sorts of topics, but the most popular ones are about “love affairs”.  Love affairs??  We tried to explain that he might want to use the term “long song” instead, but again I’m not sure we got through.  🙂

Anyhow, the next day the weather was nice and we set off with gusto.  We quickly entered a daily routine that went like this: wake up at 6:30 AM, eat breakfast, hike a few km, eat lunch, hike a few more km, reach some village and check into a hotel, nap for a couple of hours, wake up for dinner, go back to sleep, rinse and repeat.  During the day we soaked in the views and listened to TED and other podcasts.  At night we sometimes struck up a conversation with other travelers, played dice, or read (we only brought one book), but just as often we were far too tired and went right to sleep.

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(Yup, a freshly cut goat’s head)

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(One of oh-so-many suspension bridges we crossed)

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(The terraces were beautiful)

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(Maybe a butcher’s knife is not a toy)

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(I guess Parcheesi/Ludo is a world-wide phenomenon)

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(Reaching the next village was always a thrill)

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(This little goat followed us for a while out of one village)

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(Porter carrying chicken)

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(Other porters carrying far too much – sadly this was the norm)

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(Some of the villages had decorative entry gates)

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(Some villages also had long rows of prayer wheels)

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Every so many km’s we found a park office where we were asked to register.  Some of these offices had charts with statistics on the wall and we found them really interesting.  In particular – these two.  The first chart shows the number of visitors who checked in at the Bhulbhule office over the years.  You can see that there’s a pretty fast increase and then…crash in 2000.  What happened then?  The Maoist rebels started making trouble in the country and tourism died.  It’s just now reaching the levels of 9 years ago.  The other chart shows where tourists come from.  The French are #1, and what we saw on the trail definitely confirms this – there were big groups of French people all over the place, many of them middle-aged or older.  It makes us kind of proud to see that Israel is #2, even though it’s a far smaller country, and yes you also see big groups of Israelis everywhere, most of them post-army youngsters.

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One funny thing – the restaurants along the Annapurna Circuit have the same menu.  I don’t mean “same menu” as in “they generally serve the same food”; I mean the same menu.  It’s probably mass-produced by the park office and distributed around.  But while the menu is the same, the actual food you get can be hugely different from one place to another.  If you stick to the few staple Nepali dishes then you’re safe:  mo mo’s (like Chinese pot stickers) or dal bhat (like Indian thali).  We also found that it’s pretty safe to order fried potatoes or fried rice.  But if you venture out and order exotic dishes like “pizza” or “apple pie”, be prepared for a surprise – you’ll get the local chef’s best guess at what these dishes mean.  At Thanchowk I ordered an apple pie and received essentially a big mo mo filled with apples.  Another guy at our table ordered a spring roll and his dish looked exactly the same, just filled with veggies.  Once in a while we found some truly great food – curries, baked goods, etc.  But it was always a gamble.

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(Two of the safer dishes: fried macaroni and fried potatos)

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(My “apple pie”)

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(A really decent cinnamon roll)

There was also an issue of how well our stomachs could handle this food.  We figured that after India things would get better, but we actually had more diarrhea along this trek than in our 2-3 weeks in India.  We tried to be safe.  We never drank tap water – only mineral water or the ozonated water you can purchase in a few stations along the way.  But we did order tea and soup, and I’m sure the food we ate wasn’t always handled in the best way possible.  But enough about our GI tracts.

From the town of Upper Pisang the trail split.  We had a choice of taking the low road or the high road.  The high road was tougher and slower, but it offered better views.  We took the challenge and it turned out to be a great choice.  The climb up to Ghyaru was brutal, but from the top we had incredible views of Annapurna II and Annapurna IV.  It also happened to be one of the clearest days on the trek.

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(Along the way we saw piles of rocks carved with Buddhist scripts)

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(Make-shift prayer wheels)

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(Probably the biggest row of prayer wheels we saw)

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The guide book recommends spending two nights in the town of Manang (altitude 3.5 km), to get acclimatized.  We weren’t going to do it.  From our point of view the guide book was overly cautious.  It says never to ascend more than 600 meters per day, whereas Pnina and I did just fine climbing 1 km each day on our Kilimanjaro climb just a few months before.  But when we stayed near Manang in the New Yak Hotel, we heard a lot of good things about a day-hike you can do to a place called “Ice Lake”, so we decided to spend the extra day and go there.  As a side effect we got our acclimatization, because the lake was at an altitude of 4.6 km.

The first three hours of the trek were tough, but great.  The trail climbed steeply, on and on, with no end.  But the weather was sunny and we got some wonderful views of the big mountains across the valley.  But during the last hour of the climb the weather turned.  Clouds rolled in and an icy wind started.  We eventually reached the lake to find that: 1. it’s actually two lakes, and 2. neither is frozen.  So maybe they get their name from the icy wind.  It was still a beautiful spot but it was set a little further in so there wasn’t much to see – the best views were on the way up rather than at the lakes.

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(Our first sight of a yak!)

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(The first ice lake – the smaller one)

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The way back down was equally tough.  The trail was steeper than we remembered and slippery.  We didn’t have sticks and Pnina’s running shoes gave her no traction.  We proceeded at snail’s pace and reached our hotel in the late afternoon, totally exhausted.  We went to sleep and didn’t even wake up for dinner.

By the way, this day when we climbed up to Ice Lake was April 6, which  meant two things: 1. it was my 32nd birthday, and 2. it was exactly 6 months since we started the trip.

Over the next couple of days we made or way up to High Camp – the last stop before the pass.  The temperatures dropped and we started getting snow.  I was still recovering from the tough climb to Ice Lake, but the cold temperatures gave Pnina an incredible second wind: she was too cold to walk slowly so she often ran up ahead and waited for me.

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(Weather starting to turn foul)

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In one spot there was a sign warning of rock slides, and for a good reason – when we started down this path a few rocks tumbled from above.  There were only a few, and none bigger than a fist, but still – a fist-size rock to the head is enough to make you tumble down the steep slope.  We froze and waited for the rock slide to end.  A few rocks tumbled between us, but after 1-2 minutes all was still and we ran to cross this part quickly.

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We reached High Camp on April 8, which happened to be the Jewish holiday of passover.  If it was up to Pnina and I, we would have skipped the holiday altogether.  But it happened that there were a few other Israelis up at the camp with us, and two of them came prepared.  They picked up a bottle of Tirosh wine from a Chabad house in Kathmandu, and they had a box of matzas and several copies of the Haggada (a pamphlet with the holiday’s prayers and songs).  And they were nice enough to invite us to join them.  So we spent the evening reading and singing, loudly, and the other tourists in the restaurant (who were mostly French) probably thought we were nuts, but it was a good time.  Someone later remarked about the coincidental word play: we were about to go over the pass on passover.

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During our passover service it snowed outside, and we started wondering if it was a good idea to try to cross the pass with all this snow.  But we spoke with one of the guides and he said not to worry, that it’s 100% always the same – it snows in the evening, but by morning the sun comes out and the weather is great for crossing the pass.  So we went to sleep comforted by his words.  We wore all our clothes that night into the sleeping bag.  On top of that we had an extra comforter and we even rented a “hot bag” for the night which we slipped into the sleeping bag (the hot bag was basically a whoopee cushion filled with hot water).  We managed to keep warm, but we didn’t manage to sleep much.  Someone earlier said that it’s hard to fall asleep at high elevations.  Maybe he was right, or maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Whatever the case, we decided that we’re better off leaving high camp – what could be worse than another sleepless night?

The next morning there was no sun – it kept snowing all night long and into the morning.  We couldn’t find that one guide to ask about his 100% guarantee.  We decided to go after all.  We left around 5:40 AM.  The ground was fully white, but we had a clear trail to follow from all the people who started before us.  And most of the time there were other trekkers, porters, and guides to follow.

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After about an hour we reached a small hut.  Everyone piled inside to order tea.  Pnina and I took just a short break to drink water (the water that wasn’t frozen) and then decided to proceed before we cooled off too much.  Problem: where’s the trail?  Until this point there was a clear path of footsteps to follow, but now suddenly we couldn’t find it.  We finally realized the problem – we were the first to leave the hut!  A porter came along and drew a line in the snow pointing us in the right direction and saying “just climb up the hill that way”.  Yeah right!  There was no way we were going to just “climb up the hill that way”.  We were still in the middle of a freakin’ blizzard and it was impossible to see anything – way too easy to get lost in the mountains, no thank you.  So we waited a few minutes for the first group to leave and we followed them.

Even the guides and porters had a tough time finding the path.  We discovered that the way was marked by a metal pole in the ground every 100 meters or so, but most of the time we couldn’t see the poles.  So the guides guessed the direction as best as they could remember, and after a while someone would shout “there’s the pole!” and we would correct our path.

Meanwhile the ground was very slippery.  I managed to get by with my trekking shoes, but Pnina’s running shoes were hopeless.  There were sections where she couldn’t even stand up without falling.  One nice French lady took pity on Pnina and lent her a walking stick to use during a particularly tough section, and it was a godsend.

As we neared the pass the clouds started to clear and suddenly…SUN!  So glorious!  So nice!  We finally reached the pass around 9 AM in beautiful weather.  There were still clouds on both sides of the pass so we couldn’t see much of the surrounding peaks, but the little bit of sun we got was still wonderful.

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(For about $100 you could take a horse to the top; but you still had to descend on your own)

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(Translation: “Mom, I love you, even at an altitude of 5416 meter and -7 celsius; kisses”.  Seems like it was a thing for all Israelis to bring silly signs to the top, and often to leave them in the hut at the pass)

We took our photos and sat down in the hut to relax a bit, and after about  20 minutes we decided it’s probably best to start heading down.  We had a very steep descent to Muktinath, the first village on the other side of the pass.  It was 10 km in distance, and 1.6 km in terms of elevation drop.

Very soon we left our little patch of sun and re-entered the clouds on the other side.  Pnina and I suck at downhill so we went slowly.  As time went by more and more people passed us, which caused the path to become more packed-down and slippery, which made us go even more slowly.  There were sections where there was no point in trying to walk upright: we sat down on our butts and slid down the path.

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After a while it seemed like there was nobody left to pass us.  Then a new blizzard started – snow, wind, hail.  We started to worry that the path would get covered up with snow and we would have no clue where to go and nobody left to follow.  And the descent was endless.

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We saw a few convoys of donkeys going uphill to deliver supplies and then back downhill to restock.  We have no idea why the locals would put their donkeys through the stress of trekking in a snowstorm to deliver Snickers bars to the hut at the top; why the urgency??  In one particularly steep section we saw three donkeys lose control and slip down the hill for a good 20 meters before they regained their balance.  Another couple we met said they actually saw one donkey do a summersault!  Poor things.  I’m pretty sure there’s nothing worse than being a beast of burden in the Himalayas.  That must be what you become if you accrue a lot of bad karma in this life.

Eventually we rounded a corner and saw the few restaurants in the village of Charabu.  This meant we only had another hour to reach Muktinath and that the steep descent was over.  I tripped my way to the restaurant, tears of joy in my eyes, and then I heard Pnina come up behind me saying “we’re not staying here long!”  What a buzzkill!  Pnina was worried that the snowstorm would get worse and we would have a hard time finding Muktinath.  In the end she was half-right.  The snowstorm did get worse, but the trail to Muktinath was OK.  We finally reached our destination around 3 PM, really really tired.

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We checked into the Bob Marley Hotel, which everyone agreed was the best place in town.  There was a fireplace in the lobby where Pnina and I spent 2 hours trying to dry our shoes and socks while sipping hot chocolate.

While we sat there, we spotted that one guide who promised us sunny weather and said “dude?!?”  He said that this was his 43rd time going over the pass and it’s the first time he’s seen this kind of blizzardy weather, especially on the Muktinath side.  So I guess we should consider ourselves special.  But here’s the really ironic thing.  When Pnina and I sat down to plan our round-the-world trip we quickly agreed that the place we cared about most is Nepal, so we should plan to be in Nepal during the right season.  We read that October is the best month, but that April is 2nd best, and April worked better for us.  So, we laid out our whole itinerary around being in Nepal in April so that we’ll have good weather on our trek.  And in the end we got a frikkin’ once-in-43-attemps blizzard while going over the pass.  What rotten luck!  🙂

By the way, here’s another interesting graph we saw in the Bhulbhule office.  I guess October really is the #1 month in a big way, so if you’re planning to come to Nepal we would recommend October.  You can still never be 100% sure that you’ll have good weather, but if the statistics mean anything then your odds are much better.

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Anyhow, it was nice to relax in the Bob Marley hotel.  It was one of the best places for food along the way – good pizza and curry and even Yak-meat fajitas.  And I guess it’s not surprising because according to our menu the chef was “trained by a Sydney Australia”; if an entire metropolitan city collects to train one chef, he’s bound to be good!

The next morning we woke up at 8 AM (“slept in”).  Outside it was sunny and the ground was completely white.  We wandered over to the big Muktinath temple complex – a place of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Buddhists.  The temples were beautiful and it was one of the few places in the area that still had trees (I guess all the rest were chopped down for firewood?).  It was also a great place from which to view the nearby mountains; these were the views we didn’t get the day before because of the snowstorm.

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(Green technology: using the sun to boil a kettle of water)

Back from the temple, we packed our stuff and started hiking downhill.  Since half the day was over, we figured we would only go as far as Kagbeni.  But before we left town we found a jeep stand and learned that for about $7 each we could get a ride down to Jomsom, and moreover they were waiting for exactly two more passengers to proceed.  So we decided to be lazy and ride down.  The road was muddy but otherwise reasonably comfortable.  We found one jeep that had flipped over, but our jeep had no trouble at all.

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We arrived in Jomsom and checked into the Majesty Hotel.  Since it was still early, and since we felt like cheaters for having taken the jeep this far, we figured we should at least do some kind of day-hike.  We asked around and someone recommended a place called Dhumba Lake.  It was only a couple of hours climb to reach the lake and it was a nice walk, apart from the huge gusts of wind – Jomsom is located in a very windy valley.

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We returned from our little day hike and took our first shower in 11 days.  I hope that doesn’t disturb you readers 🙂  Why did we wait so long?  First off, one consequence of our decision to trek with small daypacks was that we didn’t even have room for a towel.  We could have dried ourselves with our t-shirt or something like that, but for the majority of the trek so far the temperatures were so low that we just didn’t feel like taking a shower.  But then we arrived in Jomsom and said “enough is enough”.  We splurged on a room with a private shower that even came with towels!  (and it still cost just $4/night)  It was really nice to feel clean for a change, even though we still didn’t have clean clothes to change into.

The next day we once again climbed a jeep to head south towards Tatopani.  Yup, we cheated again.  The thing is, during the first part of our trek (before the pass), the trail was nearly always separated from the roads, so it felt like we were out in nature.  But here on the Jomsom side there are long stretches where you just need to hike along a dirt road, and that’s just not as fun.  Was it a good choice?  Not really.  The road was so bumpy that it took more than five hours to travel 43 km, and it was painful.  In retrospect we should have walked, especially since it turned out to be one of the clearest sunniest days.  Oh well.  I guess our recommendation would be either to hike out of Jomsom or to splurge the $80 on a flight from Jomsom to Pokhara (we hear the views are great).

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Anyhow, we reached Tatopani and checked into the Himalaya Hotel.  This village has a fantastic view of one snow-capped peak, as if the closer mountains were cut down to give you a clear view.

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Later that night some of our Israeli friends showed up.  The went over the pass one day after us, which surprised us: we figured that the pass would be closed after the huge dump of snow we got.  But no, the day they crossed it was sunny and beautiful.  They had some deep snow to trudge through, but otherwise the conditions were good.  The main issue they had was that a few of them didn’t bring sunglasses and they ended up with bad cases of snow blindness.  When we saw them they all had their eyes closed and their heads bent down towards the table, and if we so much as lit a candle in front of them they asked us to remove it.  Wow – they were in bad shape.  The lesson is: make sure to wear sunglasses when trekking in snowy places.

The main attraction in Tatopani is the hot springs.  There’s a place where you can see the natural hot water emerge from the ground and merge into the river, but here the water is far too hot and kind of sulfuric (smelly).  Instead, they have a couple of cement pools that they fill with fresh water that is first pumped through the hot depths of the ground.  It’s not the natural scene we were hoping to find, but still it feels wonderful to enter the hot water.

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Pnina and I had enough of the brutal jeep rides, so we decided to hike out the rest of the circuit.  From Tatopani we proceeded up towards Poon Hill.  It took us a couple of days to get there, with a stop in Sikha on the way.  The weather was once again hot and a bit muggy, and the ascent was really steep – long stretches of stone steps.  It felt like we were in a completely different hike, suddenly surrounded by lush green hills and terraces.

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On the way we ran into Hila – the Israeli gal we met at the border.  She said that she was in Pokhara over passover.  The Chabad people organized a huge passover service in a couple of tents – big enough to accomodate 250 people!  But just a few minutes into the service a big storm erupted and the wind made one of the tents collapse.  A lot of the people took off and did their own little services in various restaurants around town.  But she stuck around and with the remaining people they shuffled into the Chabad house and did their service sitting on the floor.

The attraction at Poon Hill is that it’s supposed  to be one of the best viewpoints in Nepal – from the top you get a great view over several mountains including Annapurna I (the biggest of the Annapurna mountains).  The thing to do is to climb the hill from Ghorepani early in the morning, in time to catch the sunrise at the top.  We woke up early and joined the huge procession of people, perhaps 200 people.  But the viewpoint was kind of a dud.  Or rather, the weather was.   Ever since we reached Tatopani the weather turned cloudy and hazy, so that it was impossible to see the far-off mountains.  Murphy’s Law, I guess.  The two times when we really wanted clear weather we didn’t get it.  Oh well, at least we had some nice days on the first part of the hike.

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(A diagram of the vista we should have seen if it was a clear day)

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(The clearest shot we got that morning; after this it just got more and more hazy; bum deal)

The day we climbed Poon Hill happened to be the Nepali New Year.  In Nepal the year is now 2066.  We asked some people what was the significance of year zero, and what we learned was that it was nothing special – some king decided to start counting then.  Anyhow, Ghorepani happened to be the site of the local new-year festival, so we stuck around for a few hours to see the celebrations.  It was really interesting.  First they had a commemoration to Mr Poon, the guy for which the hill is named, a guy who was a big local leader who faught for democracy.  One by one, representatives from the local villages came up to a small shrine to pay their respects.  One of these villages had their local dog tag along and like a good pet he followed them right up to the line to pay respects to Mr Poon – hillarious.

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(Setting up for the festival)

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(Waiting for introduction speeches to end)

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(Mr Poon’s small “shrine”)

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(Woman pays tribute while dog waits his turn)

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Anyhow, the core of the festival was singing and dancing.  There was an odd separation of roles between men and women; the women only sang, while the men either played drums or dressed up like women and danced.  We asked one local guy why women don’t dance and he said that it’s because the dance is very demanding and very few women can keep up with the strain.  Hm, bullshit.  I mean, we saw women hauling huge loads up steep hills – what’s the big deal about a little dance?  Well, whatever.  It was entertaining nonetheless.

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(Dude looks like a lady)

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(Dude moves like a lady)

After an hour of the dance-off we had enough, so we decided to start heading downhill.  The way from Ghorepani down to Naya Pul is really steep, especially the first part (before Tikhedhunga).  Our legs hurt just walking down the truly endless set of stone steps.  We felt bad for the people going the other direction, especially in the heat.  The thing is, people who arrive in Pokhara without much time for trekking often choose a 3-4 day hike heading up Poon Hill.  They probably figure that it should be a manageable hike considering that you never reach the kind of altitudes and low temperatures we saw in Thorung La.  And they’re right, but what they may not realize is that this climb from Naya Pul to Ghorepanni is hands-down the steepest climb we saw in the whole circuit – not fun at all.

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(A billiard-like game where you flick disks and try to hit other disks into corner slots)

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We took a couple of days to reach Naya Pul, from which it was just an hour’s ride back to Pokhara.  Back to civilization!  So nice!  Regular showers!  Clean clothes!  Good food!  Internet!!  🙂  We spent a couple of days in Pokhara just relaxing and catching up on email.  The weather now was completely different than when we left Pokhara just 16 days before.  The days were now hot and in the afternoon there was usually a big shower – I guess these are the early signs of the coming monsoon.

Around the World

The Indian car company, Tata, made news by releasing a very affordable new car – the Nano.  It costs just over 100,000 rhupees (or, as the Indians would say, “one lakh”), which is roughly $2000.

Obama joined other world leaders for the G20 meeting in London.  As with previous G-gatherings this one saw its share of protests in the street.  Some protesters stormed several local banks, breaking windows and otherwise causing havoc.  Our friend Marques describes the chaos.

There is once again unrest in Thailand.  For the second time in two months protesters caused the Bangkok airport to shut down.  I feel like a broken record here: hopefully things calm down before Pnina and I reach Thailand.

Bonus Shot

A common style of pick-up truck in Pokhara and vicinity…

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3 responses to “Annapurna Circuit

  1. kate swelstad

    did i mention i am jealous? regardless of your blizzard, which makes for a very exciting adventure story, it sounds like the annapurna circuit is just as amazing as i imagine it to be. can’t wait to get there someday. in the meantime–great photos! thanks for sharing! love the yaks! 🙂

  2. I love your food observations. Nice pictures and the apple pie was very creative.
    Thank you for sharing your journery with the world. I’ve had friends take this same trip you are doing, but they did it years ago.
    I noticed you took this trip in 2009, so you may not even receive this email, but anyway I enjoyed reading your story.

  3. keep me posted if you take another trip.

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