Saturday, October 27, 2007

After a 7 hour bus ride I got out of the Kathmandu valley and over to Pokhara. Here is a tourist town built on the lake. We took a trip up to the World Peace Pagoda, situated high on a hill on the opposite side of the lake, with nice views across. Then a row boat back into town. However, the real reason to be here was to get the bus to Besisahar, the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit. We ended up getting cramming into the back of a jeep to follow a bumpy road down part of the way. Managed to get seven people in the back seat, okay two Nepalis were hanging on either door outside!
Finally it was time to start walking, just one hour on we reached our first village, Ngadi. Here we found some simple accommodation, and some food. Later that night a band of villagers appeared to entertain us with their music and dancing, before soliciting donations to their funds. The next days we steadily ascend. After 5 days we reached Upper Pisang at a height of 3400m. The night however would bring snow, and fall steadily throughout the day. Undeterred we set out for Manang around 4 hours away. We trudged onwards, stopping for some tea after an hour or so into the journey. The problem with this is when you stop moving you realise how could you are! So we headed on cancelling the soup, just wanted to keep moving. Eventually we arrived at Manang and hunted down a place to stay, Mavis's. Here they had an indoor heater, a luxury! The next day it was a 1 hour climb upto a stupa nearby for an acclimatization climb. At this altitude the oxygen is thinner and people can be affected by altitude sickness. This isn't determined by genetics, so it is a bit of an unknown factor, fitness plays no role in it. Yet it is still a long climb to the top. I have a rest day in Manang, while others head off on a day long walk to the ice lake. The next day we ascend another 700m to Letdar (4200m). The sky is an amazing blue, the mountains coated in fresh white snow, stretching around forming a panorama. The Annapurnas is mountain scenery on a truly epic scale, with six peaks over 7200m, and in Annapurna I, one of only 10 peaks in the world over 8000m. However they are also some of the worlds most deadly to summit, with a fatality rate of 40%, so I was happy to stick to the trek.

The next day it was onto Thorung Phedi, and then after a cup of tea. We pushed onto High Camp, up a very steep track. Almost an hour of huffing, puffing and shuffling we arrived at the final stop before the pass at Thorung La. High camp has a heated glass restaurant to view back down into the valley below. But tomorrow comes the big day, the day which has taken a week of walking to get to, the Thorung pass lies ahead. After a cold, somewhat restless sleep. It was up at 5:00 for some brekky, and off at first light. First the icy narrow path had a steep snow-covered dropoff. Don't want to fall down there! Then it was slow and steady towards the pass. The wind steadily increased, the nearer we got. One false summit was disappointing and energy sapping, but plugging away we finally made it to the pass! At 5400m is a huge evelation (17716 feet), to put it in comparison - the summit of Mount Blanc is 4808m, Ben Nevis 1344m.

Also very cold with the wind howling! Thankfully there is a little tea hut up there to celebrate with a cup of black tea for 80 rupees. And a fantastic tasting snickers, went down very nicely. But back in the wind, the trek isn't even half done, for despite ascended around 1000m, we now have to descend 1600m down the other side. I zipped down as fast as possible to escape the biting winds. After a while, they eased but still a long long way down to go till the first village of Mukinath. Still everybody arrived safely and it was time for a well earned beer in the sun! The party continued through the night, thanks to the fact the Nepalis wanted to play pool for beer :)

Another long descent brought us to Kagbeni for the much anticipated trip to YakDonalds! Rather disappointing though as the burger was tiny :( Still a nice little traditional village. We took an accidental illegal trip into Upper Mustang, only when we returned did we realise that we weren't allowed out there without paying the 700$ for 10 day permit :o

Then a long flat walk to Kalopani, where I picked up a stomach bug and spent the night clutching my stomach, which was making crazy noises. Still, surprisingly after 12 hours I recovered to walk onto Tatopani, but then my leg got sore (shinsplints?)
And I hobbled my way the final distance. Some were continuing on to do the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, but for me the trek was over. One final two hour walk with Steve, then a 2 hour jeep ride, and a 5 hour roof-top ride on the bus and I was back in civilization! Well Pokhara anyway, which has steak restaurants! I order the fillet mignon and got two steaks! I like this restaurant. So now just a bit of R&R in Pokhara, and some pigging out :) Well I did drop two belt buckle-holes, so I deserve my Pringles!

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