Annurpuna Circuit

It is supposed to take a minimum of 18 days to do the trek around the entire Annapurna massif, visiting the Tibet - like country on the northern slopes of the Himalaya and the dramatic Kali Gandaki Gorge. It is easiest and safest to cross Thorung La at 5,416m from east to west. We however had to to do the trek in 13 days and from west to east as we were meeting a friend who was doing the Jomsom part of the trek with us ... which meant that we had to make a 1,300m climb plus a 900m descent in one day.... and all with a 5 year old who sped ahead of us!

The Beginning: Kathmadhu to Pokhara – Tuesday, 17 Oct 95

We had met our friend Pete who had flown in from London to Kathmandu the previous day and enjoyed a lovely dinner and a bottle of Moet which he had brought along as Duty Free. Thoroughly enjoyed strolling around the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu – committed to shopping there once the trek was over! Went to visit the local temple where people were obsessed with our blonde hair! We stayed at the Dolpo Guest House on the outskirts of Thamel in Chetrapati and from the roof top you could see over to the Langtan range. We had apple pie for breakfast, despite Pete feeling unwell during the night. We were introduced to our Porter, Chhongba Sherpa – we would be carrying our own backpacks but had a porter just in case Trent needed to be carried – fortunately this never happened so Chhongba was more like a guide. We hopped on the bus for Pokhara which took 8 hours on some pretty bad roads. All the treks either started or ended in Pokhara, the main city in central Nepal.

Day 1: Pokhara to Ulleri (2,073m) – Wednesday, 18 Oct 95

We were up early and excited. Breakfast on the rooftop was lovely with great views as the clouds cleared. Took a bus to Chandrakot from where we started our walk. We had beautiful views of Machapuchhare, the ‘fish tail’ mountain.

We had a drink in Birethani at the tea shop and then walked on to show our trekking permits at the police checkpoint. Wonderful views across the valley of terraces. Crossed a few suspension bridges which Trent enjoyed rocking – little monkey! Stopped for lunch at Hille – poor Pete still suffering. Last leg of walk was strenuous as we had to climb a spiral staircase which was endless! We were nearly thrown off the path by a caravan of mules with Tibetan plumes and melodious tinkling of bells! They are herded by Tibetan men who shout up and down the Jomsom Trek. The stench of their urine was quite overpowering. Stopped for the day and enjoyed a beer and watching the Nepalese go about their day all around us while Trent played with the owner of the Homestay’s two children. The mo mo dinner was delicious.

Day 2: Ulleri to Deorali (2,834m) – Thursday, 19 Oct 95

Up at 6am. Clear day with fantastic views of Annapurna south and Hiunchuli. Had pancakes for breakfast. Easy walk and Pete feeling better. Arrived at Deorali (which means ‘pass’) at 2,834m. The Super View had been recommended to us but the owner was disgustingly rude – very unusual as Nepalese are usually so polite, so we gave that a miss and instead walked on to Hill Top Lodge where the rooms were slightly more expensive.(Rs50 vs Rs30). Delicious roasty and apple pie for dinner!! Chatted to girls getting recommendations for India. The cloud cleared and we got the most spectacular panoramic views of the mountains…glowed red as the sun set. Trent enjoyed playing with two boys from Denmark. Enjoyed a beer and in bed by 8.30pm. Pete shared with a kinky Korean who kept giving him massages and feeling his knee!

Day 3: Deorali to Poon Hill (3,193m) to Tatopani (1,180m) – Friday, 20 Oct 95

Up at 4.45am. Still dark when we started our walk up Poon Hill which took about an hour. I carried Trent most of the way up – tough stuff! The views were simply spectacular! We rolled of an entire film photographing the mountains which changed in variations of pale pastel hues as the sun climbed. Amazing. Had breakfast – pancakes! Chatted to lovely group of people. Great walking as all down hill. All the guest houses were full on arrival in Tatopani and the one we found did not offer food. Luckily we managed to eat at a guest house across the road and enjoyed amazing cake, popcorn, beer and soup. We put Trent to bed and our Homestay owner gave us Roxi – local wine!

Day 4: Ghasa (2,080m) – Saturday, 21 Oct 95

Up at 6.30am with toast and lemon tea for breakfast while we watched the animals being herded past us. We set off but Trent was still hungry so bought him guavas and oranges. Stopped for lunch at ch hahra – best food so far! Delicious rice dahl, veg noodles and chips. Lovely family. Passed a waterfall which powers a mill. Walk vey easy but steep and cliff hugging. Stopped at Kaligandaki which made the BEST apple pie and custard. Trent did well at school and then played with children. Harassed by water buffalo today who were quite aggressive – we hid behind Paul! Enjoyed a beer before bed at 8pm!

Day 5: Marpha (2,650m) – Sunday, 22 Oct 95

Up at 6.15am. Trent had apple crumble, I had a pancake and Paul had an omelette for breakfast. Walk easy – crossed hairy suspension bridges. Stopped for lunch where we had chips and Trent chattering to a French lady. Easy walking to Yak Hotel where we enjoyed apple juice. They had a real stuffed Yak! Walked onwards for another hour to Marpha and we stopped at Om’s Marpha Home. Everyone had said it was a 2.5hour walk to Marpha but took us an hour. Delicious potato curry and double egg and garlic soup and huge apple fritters and custard! The owners gave Trent apples. Tibetan feel with prayer flags and prayer wheels and a different look to the people. They shared a strong Mustang coffee with us. We all felt quite drunk after that, probably as we had walked over 20Kms before eating and drinking!

Day 6: Kagbeni (2,810m) – Monday, 23 Oct 95

Up at 6.30am and ordered breakfast – pancakes and omelettes – Yummy! Began walk to Jomsom walking through a lovely part of Marpha. Arrived in Jomsom and watched a plane doing a pretty hectic landing! Lots of planes do go down here. Pete booked a room and confirmed his flight back. The place was much smaller than expected and we could not find anywhere to change travellers cheques. Fortunately we bumped into the lovely Dutch travellers who needed to buy two plane tickets. We bought them on our Visa card and they gave us the cash in return – phew. Enjoyed lunch at German cafe with everyone. Found a nice hotel with good views of Thorung La. Walked around this lovely Tibetan town. The scenery here is arid and desert like. Massive dust storm blew in. We walked up a huge gorge of glacial outwash. Back for big dinner and mustang coffee! Trent playing with lovely English couple called Rob and Jo who we spent some time chatting with to before going to bed. Rob was doing his PhD whilst they travelled the world! In years to come we would become very close friends and attend their wedding on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe and become god parents to their three children!! 🙂

Day 7: Jharkot (3,500m) – Tuesday, 24 Oct 95

Beautiful views greeted us – we set off at 8am and climbed quickly. It was hard work but cool. Arrived in Jharkot and booked into a quaint hotel built from mud. We walked up to Muktinahth where we had a lovely lunch. Registered at the Police checkpoint and then headed up to the temples. Lots of prayer wheels and found the perpetual flame (natural gas). We continued up the valley so that Pete could reach 4,000m and also to aid our acclimatisation. We zoomed down, poor Trent kept falling and grazing his knees! Met the Dutch couple and enjoyed momos and spring rolls and a beer with them. Had a bit of a headache – potentially from the altitude?

Day 8: Muktinah Pedi (4,100m) – Wednesday 25 Oct 95

Slept in until 7.30am. Had breakfast with Pete before saying goodbye to him and the Dutch couple, Jose and Renee. Set off and had lunch at the roof top of the North Pole – so delicious! I ordered mixed lasagne, Trent had cheese mash and Paul was so full from his rice dahl that he could barely walk! Took one hour to get to Muktinah Pedi. Enjoyed a lemon tea and put up tent. Cute baby. Dinner in dark kitchen with a fire for light. Paul had an upset stomach which kept him up all night. Cold!

Day 9: Thorong La Pass – 1,300m ascent (5,104m) and then 900m descent to Yak Kharka – Thursday, 26 Oct 95

Up at 5am. Set off after breakfast and packing tent at 6.30am.Trent did very well for first hour, then slowed. Tough slog. Cold. Told stories as encouragement, and built on the Yellow Brick Road. Finally reached summit at midday – 5hours. Best lemon tea I have ever tasted! Trent had a new lease on life and off he went at such a rapid pace that we could barely keep up! Arrived at Thorong Pedi at 2.30pm – complete chaos and worst lunch of trip. Expensive. Disgusting toilets. Supposed to spend the night there but left at 4.15pm. Saw Yaks! Letdor also a dump, so bypassed that too. By now the sun had set and everywhere was full!! Thanks to Chhongba he found the last room at the Inn! Felt rough – sore throat. Good dinner. Met nice doctor who gave Trent sardines! I tried Tsim Tsim tea which has salt instead of sugar. Yuck. Bed. Stayed at Yak Lodge.

Day 10: Hongde, Friday 27 Oct 95

Up at 8am. After breakfast an easy walk to Manang which is in 2 parts – built on a hill with houses on top of each other. Fantastic views. Trent naughty (tired). He played with kids while I had a sub zero shower! Brrrrr…. Lovely couple from NZ but I felt rough as had coughed up blood and felt like I had a urinary tract infection. Bleugh.

Day 11: Chame (2,713m) – Saturday 28 Oct 95

Up at 6.30am and Trent was given free porridge and we ordered omelettes. Our cash reserves had depleted and the only option for Paul and I was starvation salvation. Walk to lunch stop seemed never ending but views of Mt Pisang on our left stunning. Shared lunch of dahl, sardines and chapati. Slow walking, arrived at 3.15pm. Nice lodge next to the river. Heard and then saw a massive avalanche thundering down Lamjung Himal! Stayed at New Tibetan Hotel. The family weaved the traditional cloth. Trent played with 4 year old little boy who was dressed in school uniform and family gave us their details. On the way to Chame whilst discussing our imminent trip to Chitwan, I heard a crashing sound and thought it was a tiger! It was simply the firewood gatherers! My cough was now bronchitis.

Day 12: Tal (1,675m), Sunday 29 Oct 95

The morning began with a bump – literally, as Trent fell out of bed but continued to sleep! Up at 6.20am with breakfast of lemon tea and pancakes. Chhongba only woke up at 7.30am! We left at 7.45am and walked to Bagachap for a lunch stop. Lunch was disappointing. We were running low on cash again and typically the food portions were much smaller, with no free top ups and much more expensive than the other side of the pass. We left still feeling hungry. We had to criss cross paths to avoid landslides. There are wire cages filled with rocks called gabions which stabilise the river banks and road cuttings. I had twisted my ankle and during lunch it seemed to stiffen up. Chongba gave me a branch as a crutch. It seemed that the path was never ending and I despaired. We reached Dharapani quite quickly but then things dragged. Tal is in a dramatic setting at the foot of a waterfall and is within the Manag district. Finally arrived at the Tibetan Hotel and ordered dinner. Saw a”common lanur” – monkey – sitting on a rock! Delicious and very welcome dinner – fried potato, dahl and apple pie. Yum. A young Nepalese girl combed her hair next to me at the table and proudly deposited her head lice on the table cloth!!! Yuck. All I could do was squash them. Yuck. Early night.

Day 13: Lilibhir (1,200m) – Monday 30 Oct 95

Up at 5.45am and slept in until 6.30am. Stodgy pancakes for breakfast. We said our farewells to the Spanish Group whose company we had enjoyed the previous evening and headed off. Trent was tearful as we had removed a sharp stick from his grasp which he nearly poked people with. We were also tense as we were down to our last 300Rs in cash. Chhongba must have overheard us and offered us Rs1000 until we got back to Kathmandu. We were so relieved and feeling flush we all shared a Fanta. He had really been a great porter, insisting on filtering our water for us every morning and evening. He sometimes assists on Everest as a group cook. I had got despondent with slow progress thinking that we were only at Sattare, but it transpired that we were actually at Chyamje! We bought some oranges. We passed through a section that rates as ’10’ on the vertigo scale hampered by bulls coming the other way! We then left Syange to cross the worst suspension bridge in Nepal and most probably the world. It is 1,190m long and crosses the Kalai Gandaki Gorge which is one of the deepest gorges in the world at 2,520m. I was terrified to cross it as there were slats missing and there were no sides, only two ropes and I have a fear of heights. The planks that were in place were rotting and our boots snapped them. I finally summoned up the courage and headed across trying not to look over the edge and holding tightly onto Trent’s hand. Trent’s foot became wedged in one of these holes and we had to yank it out. When we were half way across I heard some yelling and the next thing a fully laden caravan of mules came thundering past – Trent and I had to hang our bums and my backpack over the edge between the ropes as each mules’ hessian bags thumped us threatening to send us spiralling over the edge. I truly thought we were going to die there and then. Chhongba was furious with the mule driver and they had a heated exchange while I quivered in recovery for 15mins on the other side. We continued on our walk but after 45mins realised that we must have gone wrong, which is quite difficult to do on mule paths which run on either side of the gorge! It transpired that we had actually walked straight through our target lunch village so we continued a further 20mins to Lilibhur. There were only two guest houses and we had attracted quite a crowd of people staring at us. I was unphased but it bothered Paul. We ordered momos, fritters, dahl etc – of course we kept being topped up now that we had money and were full! Food was delicious. Trent was playing with locals and the little girl fell through a 6 foot drop which fortunately landed below at the kitchen and she was ok. We needed the loo before we left – well, it certainly was a loo with a view and interesting for a poo! As we approached the pigs started squealing. It was a classic toilet with an open back and a hole straight into the pig pen and gorge beyond. Remind me never to eat pork there!

Day 13: Besi Sahar, Tuesday, 31 Oct 95

Last day of the Annarpurna Circuit! Up at 6am for pancakes and began walking at 7am. Ankle stiff. Walked to Ngado where we stopped for an early lunch. Trent played with a puppy while we bought some oranges for the bus journey. Had to cross another dodgy suspension bridge. After lunch we set off at a rapid pace and arrived at Besi Sahar where we checked into Hotel S’Annarupurna and ordered copious amounts of food which we enjoyed with Chhongba. Paul gave him his trekking watch and we also promised him Paul’s walking boots and jacket plus tip when we got back to Kathmandu. He was moved to tears with delight. Someone told Chhongba that a local bus was leaving for Kathmandu so we decided to hop on that immediately – it was crowded and the road was muddy and dangerous but at least we were mobile! 20Km later the bus stopped and the driver ordered us all off saying that it had terminated! Chhongba looked embarrassed and the conductor was laughing at us. A local man had taken his dog on the bus but when we all got off he couldn’t find it and he was in despair. Chhongba flagged down another bus which we duly hopped on and paid Rs150 each. It was comfortable and empty for ten minutes until it stopped and about 1000 locals jumped on! Trent was thrown off his seat as was Chhongba – the locals paid Rs30 – when we kicked up a fuss they nearly threw us off the bus so we just accepted our fate. We eventualy arrived in Kathmadu after stopping every ten minutes to allow even more people on, at 6am! No taxis so had to walk into Thamel. Took a photo of us all and checked into a guest house with en suite and went to sleep until 10am. We then met Chhongba and went with him into town to the bank so that we could tip him. We then went for lunch and gave him him Paul’s boots and jacket. We also gave him Trent’s boots for his son, which we thought was 3years old – actually 3months – oh well, nothing like planning ahead! Chhongba very kindly took a wad of cash and went to the market and did some shopping at local rates for us: purchased prayer wheels, 5x large Gurkha knives (which all barring one, mysteriously got lost in our luggage?!). I went to the bank and exchanged money and booked a trip for the next day to Chitwan National Park. We said sad farewells to Chhongba and gave him our address. (Five years later his cousin, who spoke no English would turn up on our doorstep with the same piece of paper! We shared a meal with said cousin then and sent him on his way with sleeping bags and more jackets and boots 🙂 ). We did a bit more wandering around Katmandu as such a splendid place to lose yourself in and bumped into Rob and Jo and also the Dutch couple. Arranged to meet them at the Rum Doodle restaurant at 6pm. This is the spot that everyone who has done walking / climbing heads to for dinner. The whole place is covered with footprints which are signed and dated and hung up in an age old tradition. We duly added ours to the collection. An excellent finale to a wonderful walk in the Nepalese Himalaya.

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