An Annapurna Sanctuary Journey with Harka

Mt. Annapurna I from ABC

Annapurna Sanctuary trek (part 1) Pokhara – Ghorepani

Ghorepani Travel Blog

November 29th, 2009 – by: andycox_is_now_in

 Woke up with the early morning rooster with a really sore throat, bunged up and a hangover.  Not an ideal start to a 10 day high Himalayan trek !!  Had a last minute panic swapping bags over when failing to fit everything needed for trek in to day bag and resorted to having to take full backpack fror trip.  Harka picked me up on time and were were off to Nayapul.

Disappointing to have very cloudy day so unable to see any of mountains as we drove for 90 minutes towards Annapurna range along part tarmacced/part boulder strewn roads with taxi driver spending whole time on mobile phone and slaloming 1 handed up hairpin bends. Hartka and I dropped off at Nayapul where Harka started buying supplies for the trek.  Well I guess we are as organised as each other !!  Harka got me some free bamboo poles for trek.

Shopping done, got a great suprise to see a clear view of Machhupuchre down valley.  We set off towards the great mountain in high spirits. 1st day always planned to be pretty easy going walk up valley for 3 hours following path of pretty river framed by steep padi fields and small villages situated on impossibly steep slopes.  Chatted to a few other trekkers starting out but everyone largely going at own pace.  Most of the other trekkers only got day bags with their guides clearly picking up the excess baggage. Cheats !!!  Harka had offered, but I wanted to complete the trek carrying all my own equipment.   1st night to be at Tikhedunga at altitude of 1520m (already higher than Ben Nevis).

Passed pretty waterfall before arriving in advance of rest of trekkers.  Unwittingly used all the hot water from the shower that works on solar power leaving most other trekkers complaining about temperature of water.  Well serves them right for being slow !!  Hotel mainly taken up by a group of Germans on their last night of the Annapurna Ciurcuit (17 days).  Respect.  Party in store and had my evening meal watching them being dragged unenthusiastically on to the dance floor.  Entertaining trying to decide whether Germans or Nepalese porters had worse rhythym.  I didn’t get involved clearly not ready for my Ibiza moves :-). Harka introduced me to Nepalese wine.  Distilled from millet, was more like tequila than wine and served warm in mugs.

Struggled to stomach it and politely refused a 2nd glass.  The Napalese appear obsessed by cards and took on Harka at rummy.  Cards thrown down in a Caribbean domino fashion.  I lost badly !!  Bed at 8 and back to the trekking traditions on squat toilets and plywood walls that don’t meet ceiling or both walls. Had shocking nights sleep but feeling great for start of trek in earnest with sore throat and hangover gone.  Helped by fantastic weather with sun hitting the top of the adjacent hill.  Today is the biggest ascent of the trek starting at 1520m and finishing at 2800m.  Day started with a 3200 step, 400m climb up the opposite ridge.  Really tough going, but pain quickly helped by emergence of Annapurna South and 1st real view of Nepal’s holy and unconquered Machhupuchre (Fishtail) summit.

Even though stopped for several breaks, Harka and I managed to get past the masses (mainly a group of 30 Koreans with double porters and 14, 14-17 year old Ozzies from World Challenge).  After getting to top of hill, rest of 900m climb comparatively gentle over next 5 hours and walked through lovely forrested paths with hills towering above at all angles.  In the afternoon the clouds started to roll in (as becoming consistent in Nepal).  Temperature noticeably plummeting needing a 3rd layer when stopping for a break.  1st in to hostal, Harka managed to get me the en suite room.  Joined Harka for a ginger and lemon tea which I’m getting a taste for and watched a Nepal DVD about a bloke who had 4 daughters but really wanted a son.  The film still managed to get random fight scenes and badly choreographed dances that had a completely different cast and no bearing on film slotted in at random intervals.  After 45 minutes, the porters from the other groups had filled the room so left them to it to join the other trekkers.  However Harka soon called me back to the kitchen as he had met up with 4 others guides/porters from his village.  Due to the rarity of them being on the same point of a trek at the same time, a celebration was called for and I was invited to join the Chaliss possee with some snacks and raksi (the Nepalese wine).  90% of the conversation in Nepalese with a few random interpretations in English for my benefit, but I was quite happy taking in the atmosphere of a guides life.  Managed to get through 3 litres of raksi before I left them partying.  Bed time is early in these parts with most people to bed by 8pm.  Especially the case today as got a 5am start for Poon Hill tomorrow.  However just leaving as one of the world challenge lads brought over next to the wood burner to warm up.  He looked to me like he was suffering the early stages of hypothermia to me.  Found out the World Challenge crowd are camping their way around the Sanctuary trek.  Absolutely nuts if you ask me.  I left them to it.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek (part 2) Ghorepani – Sinuwa

Tadapani Travel Blog

November 30th, 2009 – by: andycox_is_now_in

Up at 5am to catch the sunrise at Poon Hill. Thankfully no after effects of the raksi, although Harka suffering much more. Feeling sub zero, 1st use of head torch and Dave’s down jacket. The climb to Poon Hill is the highlight of the 5 day treks with a panoramic view across the Annapurna range. To get the view another 400m ascent needed. Even without a back pack the climb before breakfast was a challenge. The steps a lot taller and hips feeling the burn most of the way up. Still made it to the top in time for sunrise and as the sun rose in the east everyone waited in anticipation for the sun to hit the mountains. Perfectly clear skies as light provided a stunning view across two lines of snow capped mountains stretching from Dhauligiri (the tallest of the Annapurna mountains and in the top 10 in the world) across to the stunning Machhupuchre with at least a dozen other giants of the Himalaya in between.

The view would be a highlight of any trip. Just with the camera could capture the whole view in 1 picture.

Returned down to the hostal very satisfied and even bought my 1st ever piece of jewellery from 1 of the many Tibetan craft stalls. Last of the big spenders negotiated down from 400 rupee to 100 ($1.50). The carved insignia supposedly meaning compassion but no idea really !

The main trek of the day was a descent from 2800m to 2600m but quickly established it wasn’t going to be that easy. There was no flat within the whole 5 hour trek and spent the day climbing hills only to go back down the hill on the other side. The walk still provided great views of the mountains which were starting to play abracadabra. Great clear views of the peaks one minute, turn away and the clouds have rolled in and mountains vanished, only for them to appear in full splendor again 5 minutes later.

Meandered through pretty rhododendron forests and Nepal pine on steep hills with white water river raging below.

Bumped in to the Boston crowd who had lost a member due to a family crisis at home. The 3 girls had downgraded from the Sanctuary trek to the 5 day Poon Hill trek. Ashley had had some fun by braking her nose falling off a bus on the day I last saw them. She was sporting two nice shiners.

Harka and I had managed to pass the other trekkers by lunch time and we had the path to ourselves for most of the afternoon. The only sounds were the distant rushing river below and the various bird song from hidden branches above. Stopped several times just to appreciate the tranquility. Got to the hostal by 3. Very impressed by the exploits of 2 families from Dubai who were trekking the 5 day Poon Hill with 5 kids aged between 4-11 (albeit sharing 2 ponies).

Hugo the eldest of the kids very chatty and taking everyone on at chess. Always one to put an upstart in his place, had to beat him. Found a new trekking buddy in Sarah from LA who was the 1st person I’d found walking the Sanctuary as an independant.

Start of day 4 and already my trekking trousers are too big for me !! Reverted to my cheap 800 rupee Thamel trousers which fit much better. Set off through similar forested hillsides on another gorgeous morning with great views. Another day of descent from 2660m to 2340m. I shouldn’t be so naive to think it was going to be easy as must have climbed 1200m to drop 1500m during 6 hour walk. Harka had recruited some porters from his village to join us today and as we stopped for 1st break of the day they walked off to collect some wild nettles for a traditional Chaliss village nettle soup for lunch.

Path no longer steps and progressed to a dusty path as descent left the hilly forest in to terraced farming fields. A new panorama looking down a long valley towards mountains that never fail to impress.

Climbing up one hillside, heard a sudden crack from above. Harka and I turned around to see a boulder the size of a medicine ball hurtling down hillside. Harka called out to a group of porters just behind us that sent them scurrying away in opposite direction as boulder crossed the path that I had walked past about 90 seconds before. Not a little unsettling and became very aware how pock marked the hills were with the effects of past landslides. Annapurna Sanctuary may be one of the most popular treks in Nepal but it still comes with dangers.
With weather getting increasingly warm, 1st use of sunscreen and sunglasses.

Made it to Chhomrong for lunch which is the split where the 5 dayers go back down and the Sanctuary trekkers carry on up. Had a long lunch waiting for Harka’s buddies to arrive and said farewells before we carried on. The nettle soup was very nice but tasted mostly of coriander.
The path on to the Sanctuary officially marked as strenuous (compared to the 5 day moderate) immediately more rugged with more clambering over boulders and across log bridges without railings. The final stage of the day a toSinuwa marked the last village on the trail and the last opportunity for a shower before the 2 days climb to ABC. I took full advantage before playing cards with Sarah and Harka. Discovered daal bhat – the staple Nepal food. Poppadom, rice, vegetable curry broth and chilli. Really quite good with the added bonus that it is always eat as much as you can. Chance to build some energy for the coming days.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek (part 3) Sinuwa – ABC

Annapurna Base Camp Travel Blog

December 3rd, 2009 – by: andycox_is_now_in

Got up to the 1st cloudy morning of the trek. After 4 days of walking, starting to feel really drained and really could do without another day like the last 2. Today the 1st of 2 days of climbing, going up from 2340m to 3200m. Leaving Sinuwa meant that the rest of the path would pass through primary forest, only interrupted by the occasional guest house. The path really only half made and much of the walk was clambering over boulders and walking up little streams. Needed to cross a number of rivers with a choice between a log bridge or stepping stones. I tried the log bridge the 1st time but more like a trampoline and without a handrail over the river 10 foot below was not my king of fun. Harka helped me across and I reverted to stepping stones from now on.

Got a little entertainment from a family of monkeys fooling around overhead but day turning in to a war of attrition. Passed through a pretty valley of natural bamboo and then through a boulder strewn valley with a petrified forest. Arrived at Deurali thoroughly knackered and the Panoramic guest house in the middle of a white out in the clouds. Collapsed needing a sugar fix. I wasn’t the only one as the other trekkers staggered in between 1 and 3 hours later. Discovered the Nepal spring roll is more like calzone and very nice. As is Masala tea hich is milk tea with cinnamon. Definitely my kind of thing. Quiet night losing to Harka again at rummy.
Woke up for day 6 feeling much better and ready for the fight. A gorgeous morning that finally justified the hostal name.

The hostal dwarfed by 500 foot granite walls either side of the valley and looking down the valley at the cloud below. One of my favourite sights to be walking above the cloud ! With no showers, it was a bucket of cold water for washing that froze over if left for 5 minutes. I wasn’t to be put off and set off for the final push to ABC at 4100m. The walk provided constantly changing views of Annapurna South and Machhupuchre. After an initial 45 minute climb, the rest of the path turned in to a very comfortable steady ascent that could easily have been rambling through the English countryside if it wasn’t for the Himalayan giants in the background. With only a half day walk planned to ABC, able to take it really steady and enjoy the spectacular views.

Stopped at Machhupuchre base camp that exposed the final walk to ABC and made it to ABC at lunch time. The weather absolutely perfect and pure blue sky and sunshine setting of a sparkle in the glaciers. Treated to view of an avalanche high up near the summit of Annapurna South within a few minutes of arriving. The Sanctuary fully justifying its name as ABC completely surrounded by wonderful mountains. No matter how much pain it took, the view was worth it !! Went for a wander. Surely the most picturesque volleyball court in the world next to the guest house and quite a sombrering memorial to the many climbers who have perished trying to climb the mountains now in front of me. An array of Buddhist prayer flags added colour to the view. Found a quiet spot to take it all in having made it to my no 1 goal for the trip.

With the mountains so high, the sun sets very early and temperature plummeted quickly after 4. With alcohol not advisable at 4100m had a sober but fun night celebrating making it to ABC. Met a few more trekking buddies for the descent including Luc (a Portuguese lad who had spent 20 of the last 24 months travelling around Africa and SE Asia), Dave (from Bristol on his 7th trip to Nepal) and Nina (a Slovenian girl now on her 2nd year out of study). Sarah (from US) was around as well. Re-learned shit-head that was so popular in South America. Lost badly again !! Got a full moon that silhouetted Machhupuchre wonderfully. ABC will always be a major highlight of my travels.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek (part 4) ABC – Jhinudanda

Bamboo Travel Blog

December 4th, 2009 – by: andycox_is_now_in

Woke up at ABC with what felt like a hangover but not having had the alcohol. Harka had said to expect this sleeping at over 13000 feet. No other effects though and went out to see the sunrise. A beautiful morning but perishing cold. The mountains were all still there and looking supreme, but sadly time to descend. Harka reckoned it was -5, but once the sun hit the camp, not feeling bad at all. Today dropping from 4100m to 2340m re-tracing our steps of most of the previous 2 days climb. Still managing to take plenty more photos – well what a digital cameras for ? Re-met the Ozzie World Challenge group just short of Machhapuchre Base Camp. They were all still in 1 piece.

Stormed past Deurali within 3 hours before having a big nose bleed that may have been a little disconcerting to subsequent trekkers following the path about what lay ahead.

I slowed down the speed of our walk. With the day still gorgeous blue skies, seeing the walk between Deurali and Bamboo for the 1st time as completely in cloud on way up. Waterfalls cascading down the 500 foot granite faces on both sides to the forest below and still great views of Fishtail and Hinchuli.

Arrived in Bamboo and dived straight in to the gas shower for the 1st hot water in 3 days. Luc and Sarah both arrived behind but decided to continue on to Sinuwa. With new buddies needed chatted to a group of English (including a vet from Rivelin Valley, Sheffield) who had booked the Sanctuary trek direct from England. They’d been absolutely fleeced with the cost and were also having to pay for all their food and hot water on top).

Had a Mustang coffee (black coffee with a surprisingly large proportion of Nepal brandy – certainly warmed the throat). to celebrate getting to ABC now at lower altitude and even beat Harka at rummy (that makes it about 7-2 to him).

Got up to a cloudy morning in Bamboo but by time breakfast had lifted the mountains were back. Today descending further from 2340m to 1600m. Still walking in shadow of Machhapuchre and sun reflecting brilliantly off Annapurna South. Took 2 hours to make it back to Sinuwa to find Luc hadn’t started for the day. Spent most of the rest of the day walking with us. Pretty walk around side of valley towards Chhomrong passing by better views of the farmers fields and up the valley towards the mountains than had on the way up.

Feeling as warm as British summer as hit the climb to Chhomrong. Must have climbed 500 metres of steps that I don’t remember going down when walking in the opposite direction but rewarded with uninterrupted views of Machhapuchre and South with Sinuwa sitting on the hill at the start of the two valleys up to each mountain.

With 2 days left of trek and having been buying boiled and filtered water, decided I could risk the tap water with some water purification tablets. The water became a urine colour and it didn’t taste much better. We’ll see what the after effects are !

Leaving Chhomrong, started on new path towards end of trek. Descended the 500 metres we’d just climbed in to Chhomrong down other side of hill that part way justified rumours that the route I had taken from Nayapul is actually easier than the route in the opposite direction from Phedi.

Arrived in pretty Jhinudanda and bought a can of beer to take to the much hyped thermal springs. Nina and Luc were already in the plunge pool and we had the 5m x 3m pool to ourselves. Lovely setting on the side of the white water river and forest hills towering above. Spent a good 2 hours becoming a prune relaxing aching muscles before the climb back up to Jhinu.

Just before bed, news spreading around the town that there had been a disturbance on the Nepal/India border where 4 homelesss people and 1 policeman had been killed. The Nepalese Maoist party were calling for a strike for the following day that included the suspension of all bus and taxi services. Went to bed apprehensive about any escalation in violence and needing a taxi for the following day.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek (part 5) Jhinudanda – Pokhara

Pothana Travel Blog

December 6th, 2009 – by: andycox_is_now_in

 Woke up to another gorgeous morning and a lovely view from the breakfast table, but just not feeling it today.  I’ve never done a trek over 5 days before and its taking its toll.  Back pack feeling like its got some new boulders hidden at the bottom, but set off at 8 for a final full day of trekking. Thankfully, the 1st couple of hours provided the 1st good length of flat path as we followed the valley through pretty fields of flowers that looked like bluebells and trees showing autumnal red colours with still plenty of waterfalls to walk by.  Views of the mountains slowly receding but still looking impressive and visible over the closer hills.

Made good progress and the bridge crossings at least have handrails to cling on to as it tries to bounce you over the side in to the rapids below.

Then we got to Landruk !  Similar to Chhomrong with a hellish number of steps to get up in to town.  I was at the point of sitting down in a sulk and moving no more. Instead bloody stubborness pushed me to climb the 300 metres in 1 go leaving Harka behind.  He recognised the score and found a tea house to have a break in Landruk.  I still took my vengeance out by demandng a 2nd lemon tea before I moved a step further. We carried on when Harka got a phone call.  Normally used to letting him be pace maker steadily walking behind him, when he sat down, I wasn’t stopping.

Carried on on my own to let him catch up when I wanted a break.  1st time set free of the guide shackles, feeling much better and really enjoyed the freedom of having the whole valley to myself.  I didn’t bump in to 1 person and happily enjoying the views of the farmers fields when  turned a corner and interrupted a family of monkeys enjoying a litle sunbathing on a bench.  Most of them scarpered but 3 adults charged me.  Bracing myself for I’ve no idea what, they had 2nd thoughts and darted in to the undergrowth 5 metres short.  5 minutes later I got to the bridge and found a local Nepalese barring my way.  He had a sign but no idea what it read so barged past him leaving him shouting in my wake.  A little disconcerted about events under my own steam and my sulk over, decided to fall back in to the safety of having a guide and waited for Harka at the top of the next hill.

I’m such a tourist and will never be a proper traveller “-( The rest of the day was supposed to be undulating, but I didn’t see any down.  The climb up to Tolka was another tough climb, but not feeling so bad knowing that the hard work was nearly done.  Made it in to a very pretty lodge for lunch that had originally been planned for that nights stop before Harka decided it would be best to get as far as possible in case the Maoist strike continued and we needed to walk back to Pokhara.  Had a long leisurely lunch before carrying on to Deurali.  This time Harka stopped again for a long chat with a local guest house.  Starting to wonder why he was stopping so much.

After a long break and after he had picked up a big stick, he explained that a tourist had had all their belongings stolen by some unknown Nepalese bandits between the new bridge and Landruk.  Feeling suddenly insecure and thinking that it was only after Landruk that I had set off on my own, happy to stay in company as Harka was on visible high alert.  We waited for a young Nepalese family to approach before Harka arranged for us all to walk together lessening the chance of attack. We made it up to Deurali to find Luc waiting for us.  He had arrived 2 hours earlier and had filled his time drinking raksi. After failing to persuade any of us to stay, he was heard settling his bill and staggering behind us and shouting after to me to sing to him.

The family trying to distance themselves from us to avoid making themselves a target but Harka and I were determined to keep up.  Still walking through jungle and now in a cloud forest, very pretty, but in no mood to stop for photos.  Made it safely to Pothana with Luc 5 minutes behind. Day 10 – Home time.  Having walked much further than originally planned on day 9 in case strike continued, we found the strike had ended leaving us just a quick 2 hours down hill trek to Phedi to complete.  Feeling sad to be leaving such a beautiful area, but ready for the comfort of a bed and en suite hot shower.  Comfortable walk although some sections of steep downhill steps that could still be dangerous, made it back to our taxi pick up point.  We were back in Pokhara by lunch time and after quickly checking back in to Yeti Guest House, went out for lunch with Harka for some fine dining Nepalese cuisine.  Introduced to buckwheat which had the consistency of dough, but very nice with a daal bhat-esque lunch.  washed down with Nepal whisky, a good celebration to end the trip before Harka left for kathmandu.  Harka insisted on paying, but I followed protocol and gave him a generous tip for being such a star putting up with my bad days.  Happy departure and commitment to meet up when I got to kathmandu,  I was on my own again.

Good to just catch up with civilisation and made contact with nearest and dearest before a pre-arranged meeting with Luc for a bit of pool.  Predicatably he was drunk again.  After a quick beer, followed him to a hidden pool hall he knew of.  En route called in at a cafe where he knew some of the clientelle.  His friends were a Spaniard who travelled to Liverpool  often to visit his Buddhist teacher about 2 hours away, and an English guy who refused to acknowledge he was from anywhere.  Quickly ready to leave, I left them to their marijuana and Luc walked me on to the pool hall.  It turned out to be 1 snooker table which was being used.  I left Luc arguing to get use of the table and walked back to the main strip and a quick beer at the Busy Bee.  It might be touristy, but I know where I stand !!

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