Annapurna Circuit

The day that my friends from home came to visit had finally arrived. I picked them up from the airport and we were all pretty excited about the 2 week trek that we had planned – the Annapurna Circuit. After a couple of days in busy Kathmandu, getting our permits and shopping for the last few gadgets that we needed – or thought we’d need – for the trek, we were ready to get out of dusty Kathmandu and into the mountains.

Day 1:

The day that my friends from home came to visit had finally arrived. I picked them up from the airport and we were all pretty excited about the 2 week trek that we had planned – the Annapurna Circuit. After a couple of days in busy Kathmandu, getting our permits and shopping for the last few gadgets that we needed – or thought we’d need – for the trek, we were ready to get out of dusty Kathman

The day of departure was my birthday but it didn’t feel much like it. We had to get up super early and meet our great guide Narendra in front of Nature Trail at 6 o’clock in the morning. We walked to the bus station together where the 6 hour long torturous bus ride to Bhulbule would begin. Let me tell you this, public buses in Nepal are not comfortable for anyone taller than say 1.70 meters. These buses were clearly made for small people. Anyways, we survived the bus ride and just after midday I believe we arrived in Bulbhule (840m) from where our trek would start. It was really hot that day and even just the 1 hour hike to Ngadi (920m) made us sweat. The small guesthouse we stayed in was beautiful and it even had a hot shower – which we certainly did not need that day.

I loved the small vegetable garden where the owner would pick some fresh mint for our mint tea and many other ingredients for the food we ordered. Ngadi is a nice town, however, its peacefulness is disrupted by the busy road where trucks pass the guesthouses all day long carrying materials for the dam construction just up the road.

Even though the first 1.5 days of the trek was on this busy road, I do not regret starting all the way in Bulbhule instead of taking the bus further up.

Day 2:

On this trek, most of the time, we had breakfast at 7 and started walking at 7:30 which was very nice because I really don’t enjoy starting my day in the middle of the night. Today we planned on walking from Ngadi (920m) to Jagat (1300m). Luckily, once we passed the dam construction, the road became much quieter and thanks to alternative trails, we were able to avoid the road quite a lot. The landscape today did not change much, everything was still so green and the Marshyangdi River raged beneath us the entire day. It was a very hot day and while walking I wished that we could just jump in that freezing cold river… We had lunch in Ghermu and then walked on to Jagat where we checked in to a nice guesthouse. I have to say that Narendra, our guide, always picked the best guesthouses for us. We never had a reason to complain.

On our map we saw that there were supposed to be hot springs in Jagat and so we asked around how to get there. It was still early and we thought it might be nice to explore the area a bit, without the kind of heavy backpacks, and so we walked down to the river where the hot springs were supposed to be. Once we arrived, looking forward to a nice bath, we found out that the hot springs were brown and not maintained well. It was sulfur and the smell was also pretty persistent. So we just played around at the river for a while before heading back up. I do hope that they will repair and then properly maintain these hot springs because this would definitely add something to the stay at Jagat.

Day 3:

The stretch today would lead us from Jagat (1300m) all the way to Dharapani (1860m). So we’d gain 500m in altitude in just a few hours which sounded kinda scary. Particularly the first part was so hot and difficult. I was not used to the extra weight of the backpack on my back and so I was always behind because the boys were stronger and faster than me. So after a while I was pretty fed up and annoyed. Bishnu had told us that the most important thing to do in the mountains is to always think positive. Honestly, that was very hard for me. However, once we arrived in Tal where we had lunch, it was much better. What a beautiful place right by the river surrounded with green hills and waterfalls. Somehow, after lunch, it was much cooler with a nice breeze going so that walking wasn’t as difficult anymore. After 6 hours we arrived in Dharapani and it had just started to rain – luckily we had made it to the guesthouse almost completely dry. This was the first time we saw snow covered mountains and that it was actually quite cold at night. There was not hot shower, either, so no way, I’d rather be smelly ;).

Day 4:

On day 4, the goal was to get to Chame (2670m) which would be a difference of 800m in altitude. Luckily, Narendra was so nice to take my sleeping bag from this point so that my backpack would become a little lighter. That definitely helped a lot. Walking was tough in the beginning and there was lots of steep uphill climbing. Unlike many other trekking groups we took the alternative route, avoiding the road, which at the same time was the more difficult trail but very much worth it. We walked through lush forest, saw waterfalls and maybe it’s just me but walking on small trails without any cars is what I definitely prefer. Once we got back on the main road, walking was much easier; the air temperature dropped, so that it was not too hot but still warm enough to wear a t-shirt. In the afternoon, clouds were moving in again and it started to rain but again, not before we had reached our guesthouse. Now, at over 2500m altitude, I needed my fleece and long underwear for the first time and I closed my sleeping bag. Chame is a nice place, the raging Marshyangdi River is flowing through the town and again we wandered off to explore the area a bit, hoping that these hot springs were going to be in operation. Well, they were not…

Day 5:

In the morning we woke up and the sun was shining for us once again and looking out of the window we were excited to get up as we saw snow-covered mountains towering above us. This 5 hour walk would take us to Lower Pisang (3200m). Walking had become much easier as I got used to being on my feet all day and carrying the backpack. We didn’t feel the altitude yet, either. Now after Chame, the road was only passable with motorcycle so that at least no cars or buses would disturb our hike. What I loved about this stretch was the view of the river below, then green hills and behind that the tall white peaks. These views were what made me continue this strenuous journey. Once we arrived in Lower Pisang, we walked to upper Pisang (3300m) after a short break with delicious apple pie (seriously, try the apple pie!). Going to Upper Pisang and back down helps you acclimatize. It is useful to sleep lower than the highest point that you’ve been to that day. In Upper Pisang we visited a monastery, had some lemon tea up there and enjoyed the amazing views including Pisang Peak (6091m).

Day 6:

Today we’d break the magical 3500m mark in Manang (3540m) where we had planned 2 nights like most trekkers. From Pisang we had the choice to take either the upper or the lower route. As the upper route had the better views and the sun was shining, we decided to go for that one. This would be one of the longer hikes (7.5 hours). In the first 2 hours we gained 500m in altitude by walking or should I say almost crawling up that steep, steep hill. It seemed to take forever. However, what we learned before was to look back every now and then to see what we had already accomplished. This, I can tell you, does the trick and is very motivating! Especially, when you see some people still at the foot of the hill about to start climbing hehe Nevertheless, it was so hard. I felt very weak and had wobbly legs but when we reached the top all the pain was forgotten. Amazing views!!! This was truly magical and thus far one of my favorite places of the trek. The entire Annapurna range unfolded in front of us. It was breathtaking.

After a rather long break and several chocolate bars we continued our hike and from here it was much easier and it was rather “Nepali flat” – our favorite expression during the trek. The vegetation had changed dramatically as well now with hardly any trees or flowers. I also started to feel the altitude and going uphill had become much harder as breathing was more difficult. After 7.5 hours we arrived in Manang, quite a busy place with rather big and “luxurious” lodges. I had the first Yak Burger and probably also the last. It was okay but not so great that I’d have to have another one anytime soon. Plus, those yaks are super cute, don’t wanna eat them!

Too cute to eat, no?

Day 7:

Finally, a rest day! My legs and mind really needed this – oh and I’m not even gonna start talking about my feet. The boys really wanted to go to Ice Lake and I believe it would have been beautiful but I just couldn’t. I needed some time to rest. Instead we did a small side trek to a view point, also for acclimatization. It was only about 2 hours and without our backpacks so it was a rather refreshing walk. After lunch we went to the movies – yes, there are actual movie theaters in Manang. I think this is pretty remarkable and it makes so much sense because people might be bored on their rest day. So opening a movie theater is a great way to diversify the attractions in the area. We watched Into Thin Air because of course we had to keep up the theme. I’m wondering if the cinemas in Manag are the highest in the world?

Day 8:

So here we go, Tilicho Lake! We really wanted to do this side trek and luckily the conditions were good and Narendra agreed that we could easily fit it into our 14 day trek. It took us 6 hours to get to Tilicho Base Camp (4150m). I felt so much better after the rest day and I was excited to get “off the beaten path”. The views were amazing and there was only a small path leading through landslide and rock fall areas, so it was by far the most adventurous stretch of the trek. The lodge at Tilicho Base Camp is pretty basic and busy but with a nice and warm dining room and comfortable beds; no shower at all. I had a light headache when we reached TBC, because at 4000m there definitely is less oxygen. But you can basically drink these light headaches away – not with beer, silly! We drank like 4-5 liters of water and tea every day. By the way, as for water, I’d recommend taking Micropur Forte to purify the water. It worked perfectly fine and didn’t even taste so bad. We still saw many trekkers buying plastic bottles which I don’t understand…

Day 9:

We left TBC nice and early at like 4:30 or 5 without breakfast. I had read in a guidebook that the first part of walking up to the lake is really hard but that after you managed the serpentine path you are basically there. Yeah, that’s a lie. I was so excited after that serpentine stretch so that when I realized that it is still super far, I was rather frustrated. At one point after 2 false summits, I just sat down in the snow and refused to walk any further. Right, looking back that seems rather stubborn and childish but at that point I was just so done.

Once we arrived after hours of walking through the snow, I was amazed by the views! Unfortunately, though, the lake was still frozen. But the weather was perfect and it was just amazing to be in this alpine environment when just a few days ago we were walking through jungle. On the way back down, my 2 fellow trekkers, Andi and Dave, were walking quite a bit ahead of Narendra and me and after a while we saw them almost running down the mountains. Narendra and I made fun of that and I thought they just enjoyed being able to walk faster without me nagging them to wait for me. However, when Narendra and I reached TBC at 10:45 we found out that Andi had altitude sickness when descending. He suddenly couldn’t speak properly anymore and felt sick. It was very scary but after a while he luckily was feeling better and we walked on to Shree Kharka where we stopped for the day.

Day 10:

This day we would stay more or less on the same altitude which was good as we all wanted Andi to rest a bit more and acclimatize more. We walked to Ledar (4200m). The path was really nice, Nepali flat, easy in the beginning. We saw eagles, yaks, blue sheep and for the last time we could enjoy the views of the Annapurna range. We could see all the way down to Manang which was another moment of feeling content as we could really see what we had accomplished. Then we walked downhill which was very painful. I somehow feel that downhill is worse than uphill. We then went on to Yak Kharka where we had lunch and treated our blisters from the walk downhill. After lunch it was so hot and somehow walking was very difficult so that we decided to stay in Ledar although it was still very early. I think that if we had felt better, we could’ve continued to Thorung Phedi. We had to kill an entire afternoon which was kind of boring and we went to bed very early.

Day 11:

This was the day before the pass and we went from Ledar to Thorung High Camp (4800m). In the beginning it was Nepali flat and quite easy to walk. We reached Thorung Phedi at 9 already and then started the very steep ascend to High Camp an hour later. It took us 1 hour and we walked very slowly as it was really super steep. But I felt good about it and so we reached High Camp at 11 already. We were so happy that we didn’t stay in Phedi and didn’t have to walk this part in the morning. We had a good afternoon with very friendly people from all over the world, drinking Israeli coffee. The boys went off to walk up some hill but I couldn’t be bothered. It was snowing and so cold. But they said it was worth it and they had nice views.

Day 12:

So the day had come we’d walk over Thorung La Pass (5416m). This is merely amazing. Imagine, in Western Europe, the highest mountain is Mont Blanc with 4800m and here in Nepal at 5416m there is even a guy living there, making tea for the trekkers. I would not be surprised if one day, the road would even go over the pass. We left the camp at 4:45. It was dark and foggy plus very slippery in some parts which was pretty scary when next to you there was quite a drop… In the beginning I was so weak and I thought that this was even harder than Tilicho but it got better and better. When the sun came up, it kind of pushed away all the clouds and fog and this view was stunning. I had never seen anything half as beautiful as this. Well, this lasted for say 30 minutes and then he clouds moved back in and it started to snow.

I was so sure that there’d be one last very mean steep hill in order to reach the pass, but suddenly around the corner we saw a metal sign and prayer flags. I thought this was a joke, at least a false summit, but no, we had made it! Looking back I have to say that the pass was way easier than Tilicho Lake. After posing for photos, taking videos and congratulating everyone who was there with us, we started to descend to Muktinath (3800m). It was so steep and it seemed to take forever. As I said before, down seems to be much harder than up – or at least much more painful for knees and feet. We arrived the foot of the mountain at 9:45 as the first group of the day. We had a coke and then continued walking to Muktinath where we visited the temple (apparently one of the holiest Hindu temples in the world) and finally had a cold beer.

Day 13:

In the morning we walked to Jomsom from where we planned on taking the bus to Tatopani. The walk started easy but then was just dragging on, downhill again. Almost couldn’t walk anymore and it didn’t seem to end. We saw Kagbeni from the upper road which looked beautiful! Like an oasis in the middle of this stone desert. We walked next to the river and finally arrived in Jomsom. The bus was very crowded and it took 3.5 hours to reach Tatopani (1400m). It felt good to be back in the warmth surrounded by lush forest. In Tatopani (meaning: Hot Water), we enjoyed the hot springs with a cold beer, soothing our muscles.

Day 14:

Today we planned on going to Beni and then Pokhara. We left at 8am, the road was super bumpy and on the right hand side there was a steep wall and on the left a deep drop into the river. This bus driver was driving like a maniac and Andi and I exchanged a look that said more than a thousand words. But there’s nothing else to do than enjoying the rollercoaster ride. After about 20 minutes, though, the bus came to an abrupt halt.

The Nepali people on the bus started to talk loudly and people were leaving the bus. We had no idea what was going on until Narendra told us that a jeep flipped over. I immediately thought that people must have been hurt badly but luckily it was a truck that flipped over on the road and did not fall into the river. No one was hurt. However, it would take ages to clear the road. So Narendra said we’d have to walk to Beni – OH NO! But then we were really lucky and a bus on the other side of the road had to turn around and go back to Beni, so eventually we did not have to walk. It took a while to Beni from where we took a much more comfortable mini bus to Pokhara.

In Pokhara we stayed a couple of nights and enjoyed a relaxing day doing nothing but wandering around, visiting the Mountain Museum and spending some time at the lake, drinking beer and enjoying good food. For anyone going to Pokhara, I can definitely recommend having dinner and drinks at Pokhara Beach Club – such a relaxed place with a great atmosphere and very good food.

Then it was back to Kathmandu – which I was strangely looking forward to. Too much fresh air maybe? 😉


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