16 days, 225 km and 17,000 m of steep ascent and descents we are back in Pokhara, freshly showered and enjoying our Everest beer and the Italian pasta. But let me start from the beginning …
After 4.5 hours traveling in a “tourist bus” from Pokhara to Besi Sahar we finally arrived at the starting point of our trek around the Annapurna massif just before noon on Nov. 9, 2008. Tourist bus means that 30+ foreigners are jammed inside a small, old bus and about the same number of Nepalis ride on top of the bus.
Excited to get out of the bus and curious what would lie ahead of us, we put on our trekking boots. Originally we had planned to hire a porter for the entire trek. But since we could not really imagine how it would be to have a third person with us all the time, we decided to carry our stuff by ourselves and only take a porter if really necessary. Admittedly, there was also an element of national pride in our decision (at least from my part). Imagine we as Austrians would have our packs carried by a porter only to be overtaken by some lowlanders.
Although this was not a viable argument for Ursula, I could convince her to give it a shot without a porter first by promising to carry here pack whenever she could not (or did not want to). So we joined the trek with our new backpacks and approximately 25 kg of stuff (why the heck did we have to bring so many sausages and granola bars all the way from Austria?).
The trek itself was not hard to find as there is only one route and we were by no means using it alone. Every year, more than 80,000 trekkers come to the region mostly from Israel, France and Germany. The feeling of isolation as we had experienced it in other parts of the world such as Patagonia or Alaska did not arise. In Nepal, it is not possible to get away from people completely, except for short times or at extremely high elevations. The next village usually is only 1-2 (walking) hours away.
Soon we were in the typical trekking mode; rising early in the morning at around 6 am (who said that this trip would be a vacation?), having breakfast (apple pancake) and departing at 7:30 am. Depending on the goal for the day, we then usually hiked for 5-7 hours, in the beginning more and as we gained altitude, less. At 4 pm at the latest we generally arrived in our lodge for the evening.
Why we would start so early? First, we (or better I) could not sleep any longer. No, this was not a sign of our old age but when you go to bed at 8 pm it simply is enough after 10 hours. Second, the temperature in the morning was more moderate, making trekking less sweaty. And last but not least, there was a daily competition among trekkers for the best hot shower. After 4 pm chances to get a decent warm shower decreased rapidly as they were mostly solar powered and had only small water tanks that were soon depleted after the first trekkers had settled in.
Dinner (after pre-ordering it) was ready right at 6:30 pm. Warned by our friends Lisi and Martin we had expected two weeks of dal bhat (rice with lentil soup) and momos. To our surprise, the menu had greatly improved since their trip to Nepal a couple of years ago. In addition to dal bhat and momos, pizza, pasta, burgers, Mexican food and sometimes even sizzling yak steak were served.
Although the temptation was big, we stayed with the traditional dishes just as our travel doc had advised us to do. So most of the time we had veg. fried rice, veg. fried noodles or – as expected – dal bhat and momos. Who wants to have acute diarrhea at 4,000 m altitude especially when the toilet is outside and it is bitterly cold at night. Apart from a small stomach problem which Ursula experienced we thus stayed clear of any bigger issues.
Not only food but also accommodation was better than expected. Simpler though than a mountain lodge in the Alps but always clean. The really disturbing thing however was that it got cold very soon after sunset. Since fire wood is expensive, the one and only oven in the dining room was started either later in the evening or not at all. There was no need for a “last call” at the lodge. As soon as the fire went out (usually at around 9 pm) one was happy to crawl into the sleeping bag.
The dinner talks focused on the same things most of the time; where we were from, how long we had been trekking already and where we would go tomorrow. Many of the other hikers also traveled around the world or at least spent a couple of months in Asia. Since all had more or less the same trekking rhythm (or at least used the same guide book) we met over and over again and made closer friends with some.
Interestingly we spent most time with Pierre and Marie-Jeanne from the Netherlands and with Martin and Margrit from Germany. Both couples were in Nepal for a “normal vacation”, were a little older then us but at least as open minded as the mostly younger world traveling crowd. Plus they had much more experienced in their lives and thus more to tell.
From the village of Manang (3,540 m) we joined them to cross the famous Thorung La pass (5,416 m) together. Apparently Thorung La is the highest trekking pass in the world and since we had never before been at such an elevation, we had quite some respect for the task ahead of us.
Since Manang everybody focused on Thorung La. No dinner without discussing the best strategy on how to conquer the pass – either from base camp at 4,420 m or maybe better from high camp at 4,800 m. In between somebody would always ask how one would feel – trying to spot the first symptoms of altitude sickness (headache, nausea, dizziness, etc.). Fortunately, we did not get all these nasty things thanks to God or maybe thanks to the 92 year old Lama whom we had paid a visit in his solitary monastery high above Manang.
Crossing the pass itself was very exhausting but otherwise went fine. The air is already quite thin yup there and I was feeling like at km 35 at my marathon. However, this time I was not running but moving slowly and stopping frequently. It definitely was an experience I would not like to miss and the view of the snow capped Himalayan peaks compensated for all the effort.
Overall, the trek offered a lot of natural beauty. Within a couple of days we would cross sub-tropical hills with rice terraces, alpine forests, arid, desert like regions and of course high mountain terrain. Add in the many small Nepali villages and the since centuries seemingly unchanged cities such as Chame or Kagbeni as well as the very friendly people and you have a great trekking experience. Going by bus or car – which for most of the route is not possible anyways – certainly would have been less rewarding.
By the way, we ended up carrying our load by ourselves for most of the time. Only for the route between Pisang and Thorung La pass we used a porter (4 days). Other than what had been agreed, our porter (who in his regular job is a chef) however would not carry our pack down the pass. As we were told later it was also his first time to reach such an altitude so he rather turned around instead of having to cross the pass a second time from the other side. Well, needless to say we were not too happy about his decision. Anyway, getting down is easier than getting up and carrying my load down for 1,600 m also satisfied my pride.
Our last couple of days in Nepal we spent in Pokhara and Kathmandu sightseeing on a very lazy schedule. All in all, we would love to come back one day.
P.S. For pictures of our trek go the “Album” section of our blog.