Annapurna

The Annapurna circuit has it all: awesome scenery, friendly locals, western comforts (here we achieved a record 5 days of consecutive hot showers), and relatively short days and climbs. A lot of people had told us that the recently built dirt road to Manang had ruined the Annapurna Circuit, however we barely noticed it was there. We rarely had to walk on the road, and when we did we were passed by no more than one or two vehicles a day.

On day 63 we had a rest day in Dharapani washing clothes and grazing.

Peanut butter layered on chocolate cake proved a good combination:

On day 64 we spent the day walking up a dirt road towards Chame.

Two sisters made us a tasty dal bhat for lunch, and served us a bowl of apple, our first fruit in weeks:

In Chame we fed our momo addiction at a local restaurant.

Our lovely momo chef:

That evening we had a relaxing dip in the hot springs, along with a bunch of locals and porters.

Chame hot springs:

The morning of day 65 was a morning of food. Our favourite. As we walked through the village we stumbled across all kinds of delights, first some mangoes, then real coffee, then dark chocolate coated digestives, then some fresh samosas. And then after one hours easy walk we reached a western looking cafe by an apple orchard which sold apple donuts and freshly squeezed apple juice! We of course diligently scoffed all of the above.

Mangoes!

Apple donut cafe:

Further along the trail we came across an impressive curving rock face known as Swarga Dwar:

We spent the afternoon in Upper Pisang, where our lodge had a stunning view of Annapurna II towering over us:

On day 66 after a steep uphill climb we passed through Ghyaru, a beautiful old stone town on the hill top. Here we were very pleased to find a clever entrepreneurial lady waiting for us with a basket full of freshly baked chocolate scrolls and apple pie. We of course had to sample both, twice.

Ghyaru:

A man ploughing the field with his oxen in Ghyaru:

Prayer flags on top of a house in Ghyaru:

Looking back at Ghyaru:

The valley floor:

Shortly after Ghyaru we came across a tiny teahouse with an epic view, where we stopped for lunch.

View from our lunch spot:

The landscape began to look alot like Canada as we continued on towards Manang:

Just outside Manang we passed through Braga, a stunning old village with an ancient monastery perched on the hill in amongst the rock.

When we reached Manang we were greeted with all manner of western delights including cafes with baked goods and real coffee, a small cinema, and a convenience store selling an array of exciting snacks including dark chocolate and muesli bars!

That night we felt like kings as we had our fifth consecutive hot shower, and ate Yak burgers with fries for dinner.

Houses in Manang old town:

The morning of day 67 was a good one; I had a real cappuccino from an espresso machine and we both ate french toast for breakfast.

Manang was so comfortable, too comfortable. It almost felt like we were finished and back in Kathmandu, so it was hard to get going again. Before we left went to a few stores to buy supplies, and got a little carried away. Our loot included chocolate bars, biscuits, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, yak salami, yak cheese and an entire loaf of bread. We were feeling very pleased with ourselves until we put our packs on.

Leaving Manang:

The first part of the morning was a gradual uphill, following a river. Unlike the rest of the GHT where you can go steeply up and down all day only to end up a tiny bit higher than you started, the Annapurna circuit has a pleasant gradual incline which means you don’t even notice how much you’ve climbed.

At Yak Kharka (4050m) we stopped for our mouth wateringly delicious yak salami and yak cheese sandwiches.

We had to scamper under a rockfall to eventually reach Thurong Phedi that afternoon.

On day 68 we were up at 3.30am to avoid the high winds that often hit Thurong La pass at midday. With apple pie in our belly we set out with our torches at 4.30am.

The first section up steep rocky scree leaving Thurong Phedi was one of my favourites of the whole trip: it was totally still and silent apart from the jabbering of some pheasant-like birds in the distance; dark mountains stood sentry behind us lit up by the moon; Annapurna IV lay down the valley, a fluffy blanket of cloud slowly moving off it’s side as if it was waking up for the day; and up the rocky scree ahead we could see only darkness apart from what looked like two strings of lanterns weaving their way up the hill as two groups of hikers climbed the switchbacks with their head torches on.

Sunrise was beautiful.

We reached Thurong La pass (5416m) relatively easily as there wasn’t too much snow.

Thurong La:

The descent took us into a dry and arid valley:

After 3 hours we reached the intriguing town of Muktinath, a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists which housed an impressive monastery. As we walked into town we passed crowds of pilgrims making their way up the monastery, some on horseback or donkeys, and some having a nap on a stretcher carried by four men. We watched them go by enviously.

From Muktinath we walked a further half hour to Jarkhot, a medieval looking town perched on the side of a hill, full of houses made of mudbrick with tiny windows, many looking like castles.

We found a nice lodge with an upstairs balcony too good to resist.

Views from Jarkhot:

On Day 69 we sat down with our maps at breakfast, we had to make a decision on how to cross the next section. The high route looked remote and exciting, but also involved carrying enough supplies for a week of camping at high altitudes of 4000m+, and crossing a series of 5500m+ passes. Considering the amount of snow this year (many had told us it was the highest snowfall in 30 years), we decided the risk of getting snowed in was too high. We instead decided we’d head south to Beni and then northwest through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, which would still be high and remote, but less so than the high route.

Leaving Jarkhot:

As we reached the intersection of two valleys near Kagbeni we were greeted by enormous gusts of wind like we’d never experienced – there would be total calm and silence and then suddenly we’d be unable to walk (or pee) in a straight line.

Ronnie getting blown away:

The oasis that is Kagbeni:

The afternoon was spent walking along a busy dirt road towards Jomsom, with gale force winds and passing vehicles kicking up dust into our every orifice.

The bleak streets of Jomsom:

From Jomsom we continued on to Marpha, an oasis like town amidst the brown dirt, filled with green apple orchards, veggie patches, and old style Thakali houses, with a big monastery at its centre.

Green fields in Marpha:

Dirt and zinc masks after the dusty road:

Streets of Marpha:

Before dinner we went to explore. We’d heard there was a distillery here that made apple brandy and apple cider. As we walked down the charming main street we came across a guesthouse with a sign outside advertising homemade apple cider. Inside was a cozy lounge area with lanterns and plants. We were served 1L of apple cider in a recycled water bottle. We happily chatted and sipped away until an hour later it was time to return to our hotel for dinner. With no food in our belly, we had finished the cider and felt hilariously drunk. As we tottered out the owner told us the cider was 15% ! We stumbled up the main street back towards our hotel, each stubbing our toes repeatedly on the uneven paving. We were both concentrating so hard on lifting our feet and not falling into the many holes that gave way to the open sewer beneath that we managed to walk straight past our hotel to the other side of the village before realising where we were.

On day 70 we dragged our sorry selves out of bed, both with booming headaches. As we were leaving we saw a large scale which we used to weigh our bags, which were disapointingly heavy – mine at 15kg, and Ronnie’s at 17kg. Well above the 12kg base weight we’d been aiming for.

Desperate to get off the road we saw there was a trail on the other side of the river which we could take, we headed along this and found some much nicer scenery.

We reached Kalopani after about 5hours and 22km.

On day 71 we had a ‘club sandwich’ for breakfast – a curious layered sandwich with tuna, sausage, egg and coleslaw. It wasn’t totally unpleasant, but safe to say that sausage and tuna are not complementary. Of course we ate every last crumb.

We carried on along the river to Tatopani, passing cows and buffalo chowing down marijuana, which seems to grow everywhere here.

We arrived in Tatopani, a hot humid town famous for hot springs just as it started pouring. We had a chicken leg with vegetables and potatoes for dinner, which was magical.

On day 72 we had a rest day in Tatopani washing, soaking in the hot springs, and enjoying the culinary delights as it would be our last day on the tourist trail.

Day 73 was spent walking along the road to Beni which was thankfully wet and muddy from last night’s rain which meant much less dust. It was also very quiet, we understood why when we came across the first of three road blocks which were causing huge traffic jams full of jeeps and trucks. Thankfully, being on foot, we were able to walk right through them all, and they actually resulted in a much quieter road and more pleasant journey.

We arrived in steamy hot Beni around 3.30pm, where we went for a haircut. The male hairdresser fussed over Ronnie for about an hour and a half, carefully snipping and combing, and even shaving a small part down the side of his head. I on the other hand was given a quick snip on the top with nothing done to the back (future mullet here I come) followed by a ‘massage’ that consisted of a lot of finger cracking and head slapping. It was clear who he liked better.

Ronnie ended up looking so shmick he could have been a character on Peaky Blinders. Before and after:

Beni marked the end of Annapurna Circuit and the beginning of the ‘Guerilla Trek’ through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

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