October 2018 I reunited with my two best mates from home to start a two month adventure around Nepal. After spending the majority of 2018 in the tropics of South East Asia working either on a tropical island or in forested national parks, it was time to pack away the swim shorts and flip flops in exchange for winter gear and hiking boots.
Harvey and Sam had packed in their jobs in the UK and flew out for us all to meet in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu. After a few days of reacquainting ourselves with the help of some Nepalese beers, collecting any additional hiking gear we needed and creating a very loose plan, there was no time to waste in the city. We jumped on a bus to begin our first adventure.
We thought we would start off relatively easy, rather than heading straight to Everest, by walking the Annapurna Circuit. This well-known trek consists of one pass and is a nice loop so you don’t have to go back on yourselves. Day by Day I kept an account of what we had done and where we had walked too. Some days were harder than others and this is reflected by how much I would write each day. So here are our daily accounts of the Annapurna circuit...
Day 1 – Kathmandu – Syange (1400m)
After starting the day early with a bus from Kathmandu to Besishahar we had to get a jeep to our chosen starting point, Syange. Some people choose to walk from Besishahar, however we heard this first bit of the trek was not so nice due to Chinese construction at the beginning of the trail. So we decided to get the jeep a little further up the trail. We arrived at our first stop just before dark and so had little time to pick a camping spot. We were shown an area we could camp, which was essential a skip-yard behind a tea-house. Not being picky we set up our tents in the skip. Despite the piles of scrap metal, the surroundings were beautiful with a gushing waterfall falling from the rock screen into a racing torrent of white water that passed near our tents.
Day 2 – Syange – Tal (1675m)
After packing up the tents we started our trekking. The walk started along the road for a few hours until we could cross to a footpath that wound alongside the river. The path eventually started climbing up from the river to a little village called Chyamje. With amazing views of the winding valley we had lunch and played our first game of chess in the mountain, civilised trekkers.
The afternoons walk had us climbing slowly up towards the next town, through an aptly named area called ‘fields of marijuana’. The climb was relatively easy going until the final kilometre which was a very steep path through the mist. After reaching the top we were treated with a nice view of our destination, a small village called Tal. Surrounded by crystal coloured torrents the town was nestled on a sand bank. To our relieve we found out that you could stay for free in tea-houses if you bought your meals there, goodbye camping!
Day 3 – Tal – Danque (2000m)
The path out of the village wound around the river with rocks overhanging from above until we reached a dirt road. We had to walk on the road for a while but this didn’t take away from the stunning scenery. The walk had started rising higher in altitude and we caught a glimpse of our first snow-capped mountain. We had lunch in a fairly strange ‘ski lodge’ village with plenty of rooftop tea-houses. We soaked in some sun whilst annoying fellow hikers with our music.
After lunch we had a fairly tough and slow climb up to a village called Danque where we stopped for the night. From our room we could look back on the alpine forests we had just walked through, but ahead we could see masses of snowy peaks, an insight to the amazing scenery to come.
Day 4 – Danque- Chame (2630m)
Coming out of Danque we had to walk along the dirt road for most of the morning. With some very steep inclines we started to feel the strain of the first few days of walking. After the steepest incline of the morning winding up in between trees we popped out of the forest into a beautiful meadow with a picturesque tea-house in the centre. We stopped here for some tea and a game of chess to regain some energy.
Thankfully following lunch there was no further climbs and our walk was fairly straightforward into Chame. We found a tea-house next to some hot springs and had a much needed wash whilst taking in the surrounding snowy mountains. The owner of the tea house treated us very well giving us extra food and letting the boys try rice wine for the first time.
Day 5 – Chame – Upper Pisang (3300m)
The walk out of Chame was a steep ascent and very tough on the ankles but it then evened out as we started to walk through a very big apple orchard. We stopped for a break to enjoy some fruit which was a rare find on the trail. We then continued along the path that followed the river until we got to a suitable place for lunch. We were treated to our first view of one of the Annapurna peaks (number 2), which was stunning.
The walk after lunch was unexpected as the valley completely opened up into a sparse pine forest with large open areas of grass. The flat open areas allowed us to take in a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscapes. It was here we also found our first heard of yak, it was great to see these hairy giants. The flat area soon came to an end and we had one last steep push up into Upper Pisang. Here we stayed in a ski lodge style tea-house with windows looking out to the snowy peaks.
Day 6 – Upper Pisang – Braka (3530m)
Leaving our nice ‘ski lodge’ we encountered the hardest ascent so far. Two hours of steep climbing really took it out of us. We then walked through a relatively flat area until we had to climb again for just 20 minutes of pain before an incredibly steep descent for one hour through the hot and dusty pine forest. We think we took an alternative route as there was not a soul in sight. Once at the bottom we had to walk a further hour and a half along a small stream through the forest. Today was the hardest so far with steep ascents, hot sun and cold wind, we were all suffering after this day.
Day 7 – ‘Rest Day’ (4600m)
After a week of walking we decided to ditch the bags and have an off day. Starting the day in our private tea-house we had some delicious Tibetan bread as we watched two huge bulls fighting on the river side. Without our bags we decided to enjoy a side trek to Ice Lake.
The rest day turned out to be our hardest day yet. Four hours of plodding like and over weighted donkey up the steep mountain, climbing 1200 meters. The altitude started to take effect as it became harder to catch a breath. We eventually reached the top, which was extremely underwhelming. Although the lake was disappointing, it was the highest we had climbed so far and was quite the achievement.
Despite the lake lacking splendour the view looking back across the valley was incredible. An array of snowy peaks spreading endlessly into the horizon. We didn’t stay long on the top as it was extremely cold and the wind was ridiculous. With vultures flying overhead we started the long descent. On the way down we noticed many areas on the opposite side of the valley where glaciers used to be, a startling reminder of how climate change is affecting every corner of our planet.
Day 8 – Actual rest day
The previous day was not a rest day, so we decided to treat ourselves to a day of nothing. We woke up late not waking up until the sun was out so we could enjoy some warmth and watch the world go by. We played cards and some Frisbee before taking a wonder to the next town where the boys treated themselves to a yak burger! Spending a couple of nights in this small tea-house bought us close to the owner so he was sad to see us leave. He got out some rice wine and cards and we stayed up chatting before his wife gave us one of the best Dahl Bahts’ we had eaten on the trail.
Day 9 – Brakar – Ledar (4250m)
On the road again, and we really felt the negatives of having a rest day. Our bags seemed heavier than ever and our feet forgot what walking was. We were on a gradual incline for around 5 hours, although not steep the length of the walk took it out of us. On our way up one of the hardest points we saw an avalanche on the opposite slope. Never before had we seen such a crazy event, the crashing sound spread across the mountains as a cloud of destruction made its way down the slope. Later that day we found out another nearby avalanche had killed 10 people the same day. Due to the altitude we could not go any further so we stayed in Ledar.
Day 10 – Ledar – High Camp (4600m)
Straight after breakfast we had a really tough climb taking 2 hours but felt a lot longer with the increasing altitude. We were really struggling to catch a breath so we took a break before we saw what was coming. To get to our next tea-house we had to climb 500m but at a crazy angle, must have been at least 45 degree angle. The altitude really came into play and we needed many breaks on the way up.
After this ridiculous climb we were told that there was no longer any rooms at the high camp. So instead we were stuffed into a communal room. We sat in this room all day watching how many people would be shown into there and told this was their room. We had to sit here for 5 hours waiting for everyone to leave before we could find a place on the floor to sleep for the night.
Day 11- Thorung La Pass (5416m)
Waking up we found that all the water sources were completely frozen over, we had to break into the ice to get some water for the day. For the first time we had to walk with our big coats and gloves. The ascent was not as hard as the day before but the altitude made it feel worse. We eventually reached the top of the pass at 5416 m, the highest we would get on this trek. To the left and the right we were surrounded by snowy peaks, we were truly immersed into this mountain top world.
Harvey was suffering with the altitude and said his vision was going blurry so we didn’t stay at the top for too long. So we started the descent to Muktinath. We had to climb 1654 meters down. Although the views were stunning, this descent was hellish. The downward angle put so much pressure on our knees and leg muscles.
After what felt like an eternity we made it to the town. It was like walking into a movie set for a wild west movie, with dusty streets and horses tied up outside shops. We found a nice place to stay with an awesome rooftop to sit and watch the sunset. To celebrate the day of the pass we got some ciders but most importantly had a hot shower!
Day 12 – Muktinath – Lupra (2800m)
We woke up late and got ourselves an Indian for breakfast as the town was a pilgrimage site for Hindus. We then started walking what we thought would be a pleasant downhill but we soon realised we were mistaken. We actually had to cross over a smaller pass called Lupra pass which was 3772 m which although was very hard had maybe the best views yet with a panoramic view at the top showing us where we had come from and areas yet to come to the west. We also could see the highest mountain we had seen so far, Dhaulagiri which is in the world’s highest 10 mountains.
Then came the decent which was hell. Slow and painfully plodding down a seemingly endless mountainside. We eventually made it to Lupra and had the afternoon to explore a little bit. We walked down a river bed which offered amazing views and incredible geology.
Day 13- Lupra – Tukuche (2590m)
Started off with an amazing breakfast before we started trekking down the river bed. We saw two musk deer browsing on the hill side before we discovered we were in musk deer valley. After walking one hour along the river we hit the road. Incredibly dusty and a stark contrast to all the other places we had walked, it was easy to see we were heading back to reality.
We headed into Jomson which is a famous town for its apple cider. The town was pretty horrible and we did not want to stay here so we found a women selling some pretty suspect looking homemade cider and headed straight out the other side of the town.
We had plenty of time so we kept walking past towns we didn’t like. However, we over shot this a little as we then had to continue another two hours before we found somewhere we could actually sleep. Part of the walk we were able to get off the path into a beautiful conifer forest but we were then back on the road which became a dust bowl in the afternoon winds. Eventually got to a small town where we could stay and clean all the dust from our bodies.
Day 14 – Tukuche – Titi Hill (2300m)
We didn’t like the Dutch guy who for some reason owned the tea-house so instead we went to a local restaurant and ordered a mini feast for breakfast. The days walking was relatively easy through a nice conifer forest. We got to our intended destination way earlier than we thought. So even though Harvey was feeling the pain a little from his ridiculous bag, we decided to climb 200 meters through the forest to visit Titi Lake. We got their and it was very cold and wet but we were treated to the biggest Dahl Bhat yet so stuffed our faces before bed.
Day 15 – Titi hill – Ghasa (2000m)
We started the day in beautiful sunshine and was enjoying walking though the alpine forest on our own. Most People leave the circuit in Jomosn but we decided to go on, this payed off as we had the trails to ourselves for most the time. However the joy soon faded as we lost the path and had to go rouge for 45 minutes until we found the trail again further down the hill. We eventually found somewhere to have some momo for breakfast in a village that seemed to have not seen many trekkers for a long time.
After breakfast we chose to take the scenic trail through a enchanting forest that seemed to be from a fairy-tale. We suddenly came across a town that seemed to be full of pretty loopy people. People were making noises at us but we thought they were just crazy. It wasn’t until 45 minutes later a young guy who could speak English and wasn’t drunk told us that the route ahead was blocked by a landslide and so we had to back track all the way back to where we had breakfast. Harvey was in a lot of pain from his back and so was not best pleased with this news. The alternate route was a relatively unpleasant muddy road, but we could see the route we wanted to take was indeed destroyed by huge landslides.
We thought we would treat ourselves as we only had one day of walking left so we grabbed some beer and went to a waterfall. After dinner we ordered some apple pie for dessert but was of course disappointed when it came out as apple mush on top of a chapatti!
Day 16 – Ghasa – Tatopani (1200m)
The last day of our first trek started with a nice trail through the forest. Unfortunately landslides had destroyed most of the trail so we had to get back on to the road. It wasn’t the dustiest road we had encountered but there were quite a few motorbikes and jeeps making their way up to Jomson. It only took a few hours to reach Tatopani and we were surprised how big the town was compared to the small villages we had become accustomed too. To celebrate our arrival we ordered some real apple pie and had some beers. We then went to some hot springs to relax our muscles.
From here I was to get a bus to Pokhara and make a plan for when three more friends arrive for a two week holiday. Harvey and Sam went on to climb Poon Hill, an extra three days onto the trek before getting into Pokhara. We would all meet again at the end of the week in Chitwan national park with the intention to find some Rhinos.
The Circuit was completed and I think we were all surprised with how smoothly the adventure was. We walked a long way but through so many different environments and beautiful scenery. It was the perfect warm up for our big trek, the three peak pass and Everest Base Camp.