Long way around Annapurna, Nepal

Long way around Annapurna, Nepal

Earth is a wonderful and diverse planet. Every place has its charm, however, there are places which everyone should visit at least once in life. Himalayas – the roof of the world – as we call the highest mountain range on the Earth is definitely one of them. The mountains are monument, the nature is stunning and the landscape is unearthly and hugely differential. Join us at our trekking trip around Annapurna. In November 2015 in two people we were trekking for 6,5 days, we made over 120 kilometers and we reached Thorung La Pass, which is at 5416 meters above the sea level.

Me on the Annapurna Circuit trek

At the 25th of April 2015 a massive earthquake of magnitude 8 happened in Nepal. It was a terrible tragedy in which about 9000 people died and many more was left without a roof. The damages and life loses were huge because the government of Nepal belittle a risk of such an event. Additionally, it is one of the poorest counties in the world. The buildings and infrastructures are not prepared for the devastating force of an earthquake.

Initially, we had tickets booked for the end of May. However, due to the crisis one of our flights was cancelled and we were able to rebook our tickets for free. Finally, we decided to go in November. In November the sky used to be clear and the season dry. October and November are said to be the best time to trek around Annapurna. We had exactly two weeks for our trip. The adventure started with a lot of preparations, plan changes and excitement.

Preparations

Equipment

I had a 65 + 15 liters backpack. It was specious enough for all my equipment. On the video above you can see the things I prepared to take for the trek. Now I think, I could take less cloths and make laundry on the way and then dry them on my backpack when walking. Also, I left the sun cream at home at the last moment. It was a mistake and a life lesson. 🙂 The backpack weight about 10 kilograms plus about 4 kilograms of food for first days. The food on the airports used to be expensive, therefore we took our own.

We had plenty of time to prepare for the trip. There were a few important things on our checklist. Between others we had to check the trek, how much we will be able to walk, how to make visas, permits, how much they cost, how to get to Annapurna region from Kathmandu etc. Additionally, two months earlier Nepal announced its new constitution. Indie was not happy with it and stopped sending fuel to Nepal. In the result there was a big fuel crisis in Nepal in October and November. We feared that it would be impossible to get out of Kathmandu. Therefore, we were constantly checking the news from Nepal. Thankfully, black market is working very well there, and we had no problem to reach Annapurna and go back to Kathmandu.

https://thehimalayantimes.com/

We were 5 people. At the beginning everyone wanted to walk the Annapurna Circuit Trek (AC). However, the closer the time of our trip was the more members of the team resigned in favor of Annapurna Base Camp Trek (ABC). They were afraid it will be not possible to cross Thorung La in just 2 weeks in Nepal. I said to myself, that the worst case scenario is that I will have to buy a new return ticket… since I will rather never be back to Nepal, it wasn’t such a bad option. When we were flying to Nepal I was the last person who was going to trek AC. Thankfully, later Marcin changed his plans again and joined me. The rest of the team went to ABC and we split into two teams. This article is a report from the adventure me (Maciej) and Marcin had at AC.

Getting in

Nepal is located about 6000 kilometers form Poland in a straight line. We had low cost tickets, therefore our journey to the Annapurna Circuit start point was long and adventurous. At the 30th of October I took a train from Lublin to Dąbrowa Górnicza in Poland, then I met with the rest of the team. They were going by car from Bydgoszcz.

Meeting the team in Dąbrowa Górnicza

Our next stop was Zagreb. We left the car at a safe parking and went to the airport. First we had a flight to Dubai. Since last year polish citizens don’t need a visa in ZEA, therefore we took a taxi to Marina and watched the high buildings for a while. Then we went back to the airport and we spent the night there.

Dubai at night by Maciej Zawieja
Dubai at night by Maciej Zawieja

Finally, the second flight was straight to Kathmandu. We reached Nepal at the 1st of November in the evening. First, we made visas. The process is quite simple. First you pay money, then you fill some form or go to a visa-machine and fill the form on a screen. The machine also takes a photo of you. Then you go for a visa counter, you get your visa and you’re legally in Nepal. Next step is to find your baggage. It is somewhere between thousands of flat screen TVs and infinite numer of other cargo packages. Finding your baggage may cost you even an hour or more.

From the airport we took a taxi. We were 6 people in a small car with our backpack – that’s not a problem in Nepal. The taxi costed us a lot – 25 USD. It isn’t the normal price. The prices were going high because of the fuel crisis. At the evening we went for a walk in Kathmandu and then to sleep. Next day we had started with a goodbye to Łukasz, Marta and Piotr who were going to Pokhara early in the morning. Next me and Marcin went to make permits, we changed the hotel and then explored Kathmandu. We had tried the local food. It was very spicy and tasty. Usually, it was served in a newspaper.

Next day, we took a bus to Besisahar. The road was covered in asphalt, but anyway it was terribly bumpy. The views were amazing already. From the start to the end of the ride we were going mostly in valleys between mountains covered with beautiful green plants. From Besisahar we took a Jeep to Jagat. The ride took 3 hours. We were sitting at the back of the jeep with 3 Nepali guys and all our bags. This is how the first day of trek started.

Going to Jagat from Besisahar

Day 1: Jagat to Karte

We reached Jagat at 5 PM. We felt a bit tired after the whole day of riding all the way from Kathmandu. We stayed there in a “restaurant” and we ate a huge plate of pasta. The meal was good and cheap. It costed less than 3 USD. After dinner we decided to start the trek. The weather wasn’t the best. From time to time it was raining and it was starting to be dark. We had our head lights, therefore we decided to go by night. Every time we reached some village the people could not believe we want to continue the trek by night. Local people were always kind and polite. Their adorable children were gritting us with joy and interest. We walked fast for about 4 hours by night. The walk was very refreshing. There was a dog going with us for about half of the way. It was a Guardian Angel sent from above. The dog seemed to be tired. It was lying down every time when we stop for a break, however, it continued to go when we finished the break.

Finally we reached Karte. We made 13 kilometers in 3:45 hours. We stayed at the first lodge we found and slept deep.

A small restaurant in Jagat by Maciej Zawieja
A small restaurant in Jagat by Maciej Zawieja

Day 2: Karte to Chame

We woke up at 7 AM. I took a Tibetan bread with jam at breakfast. It was not good, very dry. Probably I just had a bad luck, because other people says it is one of the best things to eat. After breakfast we repacked and we started the 2nd day of trek.

The views were amazing. We had seen first snowy peak of a high mountain when we left the lodge. Karte is at about 1800 meters above sea level. We had about 3600 meters left to go up to Thorung La Pass. At the trek we used mostly the newly made side treks marked with ACAP red signs. The trails were much better than the road to walk on. Also, they were more challenging.

We’ve been watching people working on fields, other trekkers and jeeps going up. Jeeps go more farther than to Jagat. It’s possible to take one even to Manang. Manang is just 2 days from Thorung La. However, it is not a good option in terms of acclimatization to the high attitudes.

 Attitudes at AC by Maciej Zawieja
 Attitudes at AC by Maciej Zawieja
A Nepali women working on a field by Maciej Zawieja
A Nepali women working on a field by Maciej Zawieja

This day we reached 3000 meters. Then we went down to Chame. It’s one of the biggest villages on the trek before Thorung La. It is set on around 2670 meters. We ate Momo for dinner. It’s a kind of noodles similar to Polish Pierogi. They are served steamed and fired with vegetables, cheese and other fillings. There was WiFI for 200 NPR (2 USD) and a room for another 200 NPR. The price of a room is low when a trekker is also eating breakfast and dinner in the same place. If you would take only a room and go to eat somewhere else, then the room can cost even over 1000 NPR. The typical daily budget on the trek was around 1200-1500 NPR, so between 12-15 dollars.

There were issues with electricity in Chame, therefore most of the time we had no hot water and no Internet. In November it is quite cold at nights. Usually, it was between 5 and -5 degrees. A good, down sleeping bag is highly recommended. 

Hilltown hotel by Maciej Zawieja
Hilltown hotel by Maciej Zawieja

Day 3: Chame to Gyaru

The third day of trek was sunny. We woke up early, ate breakfast and left the lodge. I’ve eaten the kind of noodles called Momo again. This time I remembered a similar dish I had eaten in Georgia. However, the Georgian Pierogi are much better. At least in my honest opinion. The views were amazing. We were watching the beautiful peaks of Annapurna II and IV. We climbed another 1000 meters up to a village called Gyaru.

The trek was easy except of last part. We had to go up 300-500 meters on a serpentine to the village. It would be much easier at the beginning of the day than at the end, but slowly we made it.

The landscape had changed. We were in pine forests, there was a lot of snow on the surrounding mountains. Also the villages had changed. Before they were build with wood. Now, the villages (i.e Upper Pisang and Gyaru) were build with stones. 

Jeeps going to and from Manang by Maciej Zawieja
Jeeps going to and from Manang by Maciej Zawieja

Gyaru was magnificent. It was entirely made with stones and it was set up on a hill side. We felt like in a different world or like in a game, but definitely it didn’t feel like reality. Obviously, there was no heating and blackouts happens all the time, but it just made us feel and experience more of the life in high mountains in Nepal. People there seemed to be happy. They drink alcohol and spend time together. New technologies are not unknown to them. Young people own new models of smartphones. Not many trekkers reach this place as it is one of the side treks. Before the trip I read that it’s worth to visit because of two reasons: acclimatization and best views on the entire trek. And you know what!? There were the best views I’ve seen on the trek… or even in my life.

The lodge we stayed in didn’t have a restaurant. They invited us to their kitchen. We could watch how they prepare a dinner for us. We had a rally good talk with locals and exchanged our alcohol. Polish tasty Soplica for their not that tasty vodka. They seemed to be more interested in the bottle than in the Soplica itself. What was strange to us was that they wanted to take the vodka on hand and drink it form a hand. 

We went to sleep at 7 PM. This was a long night with a terrible headache. I slept at 3 AM after taking a painkiller finally. The attitude sickness was there already at about 3600 meters.

Upper Pisang - the stone village by Maciej Zawieja
Upper Pisang – the stone village by Maciej Zawieja
Reaching Gyaru

Day 4: Gyaru to Manang

This day I didn’t rest well at night. We woke up at 7:30. I went out of our cabin and… that was amazing, the view was stunning. Some snow showed up at night and the area filled with morning light was looking incredible.

Gyaru in the morning

What a day…. these views, these colors. We walked several hours in magnificence. Just look at the photos.

Gyaru in the morning by Maciej Zawieja
 Gyaru in the morning by Maciej Zawieja
 A view with selfie by Maciej Zawieja
 A view with selfie by Maciej Zawieja

We finished in Manang. The lodge wasn’t very interesting. We stayed in probably the biggest one there. There was hot water and Internet. Well, the internet was working until some moment. Then someone tried to fix it, logged into not secured router and changed a password. Since that moment no one could log into WiFi. Some British women made quite a scene because of that. She was at the end of the world in one of the poorest counties in the world and when the internet went down she got crazy. She started to scream at the guys from service and mix them with mud. Uh… such people.

The food there was expensive. I left about 1500 NPR. Most of the people who reach Manang doesn’t continue. They usually go there with guides and porters. I can understand old people going with porters, but there were plenty of young people with them. That, I can’t understand.

Day 5: Manang to Thorung Pedi

The 5th day of trek was similar to all other. We woke up around 7 AM, we were walking for about 7 hours and we stayed in some lodge for a night. What was different were the views and surrounding. We planed to get to High Camp that day, but it was too much, so finally we stayed for a night in Thorung Pedi. It is at 4500 meters above sea level. So we had made another 1000 meters up. I had a headache which I was fighting with Ibuprom. There was no road anymore, just nice paths for people and animals. We crossed a few villages and meet some horses and other trekkers on the way. It was a stepy, a bit deserted region with no trees, a lot of stones and rocks everywhere.

Yak on the way to Thorung Pedi by Maciej Zawieja
Yak on the way to Thorung Pedi by Maciej Zawieja
Almost in Thorung Pedi by Maciej Zawieja

Day 6: Thorung Pedi to Muktinath

The sun at these attitudes is terrible. I burnt my nose. We woke up at 5:45 AM and we left Thorung Pedi at 6:30 AM. We thought to start at 8 as usually, however some people were saying it’s important to go early. They left after 3 AM… crazy. We started at 6:30 and we found out that their information are all wrong. It was absolutely all right to start at 6:30 or even later.

We stayed for a tea in High Camp at 4900 meters and then we went to make the last 500 meters to Thorug La. Finally, we could walk in snow… a little bit. The attitude sickness was hitting us both and last kilometer was terribly hard. We were so happy to get to the top. At Thorung La there is a man living and serving tea. 2 dollars for a moment of heaven. 🙂 We made it! 

At Thorung La
 Me at Thorung La by Maciej Zawieja
 Me at Thorung La by Maciej Zawieja

We climbed 1000 meters, we reached 5416 meters and went down 1500 meters. One of the most amazing days of my life. I really loved it. It was hard but I felt great. I recommend everyone to at least try one time in life to reach such a place and experience what we experienced.

Day 7: Muktinath to Jomsom

Last day of trek. At the 9th of November we walked from Muktinath to Jomsom. The path was mostly going together with the road. It wasn’t very pleasant, so where possible we were using side paths or our paths. The landscape changed again. Now it was looking completely like a desert. We could feel the Mustang region. Our trek was done. Happy and tired we went to sleep in Jomsom.

We tried to make this part by mountain bikes. It was possible to rent them in Muktinath, but they were terribly expensive (40 USD per day) and all of them already booked.

Oasis in Mustang by Maciej Zawieja
Oasis in Mustang by Maciej Zawieja
Road to Jomsom by Maciej Zawieja
Road to Jomsom by Maciej Zawieja

It was the time to go back. Next day we woke up early, we ate breakfast and took a first bus to Ghasa, then next bus to Beni and 3rd bus to Pokhara. We were in Pokhara in the evening. We met there with the rest of the team. It appeared that they finished their trek at the same day as we did and they reached Pokhara in the morning same day as we did.

We had 3 days to explore both Pokhara and Kathmandu. They are nice also, through, quite boring, so if you’ll be there stay longer in the mountains. 🙂

Afterword

We made over 120 kilometers by foot and we had explored some of the most amazing places in the world. I am grateful I could experience this in my life. The landscape of Himalayas is majestic and the trip will stay in my mind until the end of life and longer.

Nepal is a poor, developing country, but it has also some of the best nature in the world. It is definitely a country I recommend to visit to everyone. Currently, it’s safe, people speak English widely and they are both kind and helpful. Also, they need you to come and leave some of your money there. Don’t stay at home! Buy a ticket and go to Nepal!

At the end I invite you to watch a full length video form the trip.

Annapurna Circuit Trek – Edventurer.net episode 1

Dates: Fri, 30 Oct 2015 – Sat, 14 Nov 2015