Trekking begins!

Currently on Day 5 of the Annapurna Circuit and having a very wet and cold “rest day” which officially began at 10.00 after having walked for two hours from our last accommodation. Good wifi, warm, and little walking to do… So, time for a blog post!

The “Road”

When we decided to do the Annapurna Circuit (a 130 mile walk around the foothills of the Annapurna mountains) we were well aware it was Nepal’s second most popular trek after the Everest Base Camp Trek, and was rumoured on the internet and beyond to be very crowded, and also quite spoiled by a busy new road which had either obliterated or ran near to the trekking trail. Consequently we were expecting hoards of people akin to the Lakes on a Bank Holiday Monday walking down a dusty Nepali style motorway.

Five days in, this has not been our experience! The “road” looks more like a typical UK Forestry Trail, and is only accessible by motorbike or jeep- we count maybe one or two an hour. Also, it is very rare you have to walk along the road as usually the path avoids it. Liam pointed out that even walking along the road was one of the most beautiful walks he had ever done!

Many people have criticised the road for spoiling the walk and bemoan the development of the area. For this reason, many people skip out the first sections of the Circuit and get a Jeep to higher sections (ironically driving on the troublesome item in question). Liam and I are completionists and wanted to have the full experience, so have chosen to walk the whole Circuit. And, we are very glad that we have done so!

Whilst the road must be very different to the original trails, it has helped develop the area to benefit a lot of Nepali people. Many Nepalese people wanted the road- others didn’t of course. We were pleased to walk through the areas many choose not to, as we wanted to face the perceived negative aspects of trekking. We didn’t want to skip out the road sections and pretend there wasn’t now a road. The road is a consequence of trekking and we wanted to acknowledge that.

Indeed, we were extremely glad of “the road” yesterday when we could avoid the path which had become a slippery death trap. We chose to walk quickly and more safely to the next town… although even on the road we had to Ford a river which was caused by a nice mountain lightening storm road waterfall. We survived though Liam took a souvenir of a boot full of water!

Roads can be exciting too.

Teahouse Life

We’ve been very much enjoying staying in teahouses on the Annapurna Circuit. Unlike walks we usually do in then UK which involve camping outside, on this walk you stay each evening in a lovely teahouse. Most are basic, you get two single beds in a small wooden room and a communal Asian style squat toilet and cold shower. Many of them so far even have a jenky gas powered communal hot shower and very slow WiFi. In the bigger towns you can have more luxury if you want- maybe homes made out of concrete and your own bathroom.

You stay in the tea-houses for a very small sum, or even for free, as long as you eat all your meals at your teahouse. The food has been delicious! We’ve been eating a lot of curry, Tibetan Bread and fried rice. Basically carbs surrounded by carbs. Essential fuel for the hills!

The rumours of the teahouses being overrun have also proved false- we have barely seen any other trekkers! It may be busier up higher as many of the trekkers start past the road now. It may also be quiet because of the bad weather and because two of the mountain passes have been closed. Either way, it’s been nice to feel like we’ve got the trek to ourselves a lot of the time!

A wander up high

Our most wonderful day so far has been when we decided to take a long seven hour route over to the next village rather than walk quickly in two hours on the road (ha!).

It was a glorious day (I can’t imagine that was even possible with the weather that is currently flexing around us) and we ascended over 1000 metres and descended nearly the same as we walked up and down the hillside to take in two villages and a spectacular view.

I’ve walked in mountains before but some of the ascents and descents were punishing. We were reminded of Frodo in Mordor as we walked up “stair cases” using our hands as well as our feet. Endless switchbacks of rock stairs with seemingly no end in the baking sunshine!

At the top, when we were beginning to doubt the end would arrive, we met a Nepalese man walking up the same staircase/ladder wearing suit trousers, a shirt and office shoes. He was a school teacher using the same path we were to get to a school in the next village to invigilate at exam at their primary school! He was very impressed with us (as we were him) and wanted to try to lift our bags, talk to us about football and take our photo. We were happy to oblige and we walked the final stairs with him and had a quick rest at his school.

After getting lost and a few painful, unnecessary but ultimately rewarding ascents later, we came back down and were stopped by a small group of locals who invited us to take some rest with them in their garden. The head of the family, a man in his 50s, provided us with some upturned metal drums and asked his wife to make us tea. He had little English but we managed to have a conversation of sorts- mainly establishing that he didn’t like Thailand and thought England was a good country. He found Liam’s beard very amusing and insisted on touching Liam to see how muscly he was. He took great delight in showing Liam that he had bigger biceps than him.

He then decorated Liam’s cap with some local fauna – we still aren’t certain why – but think maybe he was giving Liam some hair as he found baldness interesting also. Whatever he was doing, everyone found it hilarious, and we were very happy to provide entertainment in exchange for the shade, the tea and the conversation.

After a gruelling and soul destroying descent we were stopped by yet another Nepalese man near the bottom and invited to sit down, which of course we did. He wanted to know how old we were, how much our shoes cost and if we were married. After providing him with this information he offered us a bottle of coke and then told us he would never forget us! It boosted our spirits high enough to make it to the lovely village of Jagat for a good rest and sleep.

Rain

We had been so spoiled and not realised it- and we had even been cursing the heat. Our fourth day brought us rain! It started well enough, having breakfast and good conversation with a lovely American man (who worked as a Yosemite Park Ranger!!!), and walking quickly to the next town. Today was meant to be our rest day after the previous exhausting ascents and descents, but we failed miserably at resting and ended up having the longest day yet!

Half way through the day, it clouded over and started to rain. Innocent at first, it ended up being a torrential never ending downpour complete with thunder booming around the valley and frequent flashes of lightening. I kept eying the cliffs and river banks warily knowing that landslides can be common with heavy rain. We sloshed and slogged our way through, regretting not having our rest day, and ended up utterly soaked at a small town with a very basic teahouse. For the first time I longed for heating, thick fluffy duvets, a bath and warm dry clean clothes. Instead, I had to accept the reality of a dirty squat toilet, no shower, and a mouldy dusty room.

It wasn’t all bad, the mattress was comfy, the food delicious and most importantly, it kept us dry!

Ever since yesterday afternoon, it’s been raining, we have been slightly damp and unable to dry our clothes. In the mountains above us, the rain is of course, snow. This means that the high pass we aim to cross later in the walk is now under several feet of snow and has been closed! The snow line is now about 2200 metres rather than the usual 4800 for this time of year. If we get some good weather, it may melt, but the unseasonal storms may prevent us from completing the circuit! This is of course entirely usual in mountain weather- anything can happen in the Himalaya!

As Liam has just read in his book about Everest, the mountains decide! We are going to carry on walking and see what happens. We’ve checked the forecast and it looks like two good weather days. Many people try to do this walk in 10-15 days, but we have enough money and time for 40. If it means lazing in teahouses reading books and sheltering in the rain, so be it!

… the barking dogs of Kathmandu seem a long way away. Now I lay here listening to the rain on the tin roof of the teahouse, the jingle of mules making their way down the mountain and the roar of the raging waterfall behind us.

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