Saturday 30 November 2013

The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Our adventure in Nepal is unfortunately over. We had a great time hiking in the highest mountains in the world. It was one of the best things we did on our trip so far. According to our GPS, we walked 288 kilometres, climbed a cumulative 25000 metres and also went down as much. The views were breathtaking and pictures are never as impressive as witnessing the imposing scenery with your own eyes. Hopefully we will come back in this beautiful country for a future adventure. It was not easy every day, as living standards in one of the poorest country in the world is not something we are used to. It is as big of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. We definitely recommend it to anybody that likes the outdoors and hiking in the mountains.

We decided to split our story in 8 posts and below are the links :

Enjoy !

Monday 25 November 2013

Annapurna Circuit Part 8, Nepal

Day 21 to 24, from Tatopani to Pokhara

Day 21 - To Phalate

We weren't sure how Seb's knee was going to be after the long descent in Tatopani. As soon as we left we had to stop at the checkpoint. We learned that because of the strike the buses to Beni were 2200 instead of 200 rupies as they needed to have police escort. It confirmed our idea of walking all the way and not taking a bus! We finally left Tatopani and started to go up the never ending stairs. We walked up stairs all day in a beautiful valley. A few people tried to point us in the wrong direction for some reason, all saying : other way, other way!

We stopped for lunch in Shikha. After resting our legs, we climbed more stairs to the village of Phalate. Just outside the village, a guy was doing some sort of welcome dance for us so we decided to stop there for the day. We ordered Tibetan bread and Gorkha beer which came in a recycled Tuborg bottle. The lady who took our order left just after getting us our beer so we never had the bread. We enjoyed the scenery for the remaining of the afternoon but when it got cold, the owner invited us in the kitchen by the wood stove. We read and talked to the owner.  Just before the owner started cooking our food, he went running outside and came back with his goat. We went back to the room, in a building with five rooms. It could have been very cosy and noisy as the walls were not going all the way up to the roof. We could also clearly see downstairs and the goat through the cracks in the floor.

This one didn't look as safe as the others!
Nice stone seats along the ascending trail
The valley with fields,looking back towards Tatopani
Another basic lodge on the trail
Noticed the walls not going all the way up?
The kitchen
Wood burning stove
Day 22 - To Ban Thanti 

We finally left at 8:00 am, making our way slowly up more stairs to Ghorepani. We arrived there around 10 am. We were surprised to see that many big lodges, but as it is the starting point of the hike to Poon Hill, it made sense. They had decent WiFi, so we took the opportunity to book our flight out of Nepal. We kept going up stairs to a nice viewpoint of the Annapurna range. In two days, we went up 2000 meters in rock staircases. We enjoyed the view for a while and kept walking towards Deurali Pass before coming down a small village. A young mother asked us where we were going and if we could bring a note to somebody in the next village. We took the note and started our descent. We gave the message and as there were many people in the village already we decided to keep walking to the next lodge. A very loud remix of Justin Bieber welcomed us to the "Tranquility" lodge so we rapidly made our way through. Somehow, we got on a side path and had to climb to get on the correct path. That is when we heard some noise in the forest. We looked up and spotted a monkey. It had a black face surrounded by a crown of white hair, like a small lion. We spent a few minutes watching the monkeys before moving on to the Trekker's Sanctuary lodge where we decided to stop for the night.

Day 23 - To Landruk

We went down to Tadapani, were we quickly stopped to buy toilet paper (very important to carry some as it is not available in any bathrooms) before continuing on to Ghandruk. We stopped for lunch at the very beginning of the village in a small lodge where we could hear the neighbours play music. The seemingly hang over owner sat with us for a while. After eating, we followed the owner's advice and stopped a the German Bakery for chocolate doughnuts. They were big and tasty. We then started to descent the interminable steps to the bridge and then up to the village of Landruk. We stopped in the first lodge as we couldn't go further. We took a room and rushed to the 'hot' shower. It was freezing cold, so once again we washed our hair and used a towel to clean our bodies.

Yes, we do have to go all the way down to the river and all the way back up to the village of Landruk
Looking towards Annapurna Base Camp trek from Landruk
And looking the other way leaving Landruk, always following the valleys
Day 24 - To Pohkara 

We left the hotel at 7:45 and went up the stairs to the village. We walked through, trying to follow the trail, but with the new road, the trail is impracticable at best. We had just started when a young girl in a field asked us for money saying she was very hungry. We were trying to stay on the trail when a family told us to walk by their land. We did so and they asked for a photo, and then wanted money for the photo, and the girl kept asking for us to give her our clothing or shoes etc. We felt like walking ATMs. This trail is obviously more touristic because we kept getting asked for money by everyone. When we first left the village in the morning, a nice black dog started to follow us. He followed us all the way to the second village. We were starting to worry he would not turn around when he went his separate way.

We came across a sign that said : short way to Pokhara, so we decided to try it. We are not sure if it was any shorter, but it was much steeper! We climbed to the top of the mountain to the village of Pitam Deurali where we stopped for a few pictures before continuing toward Dhampus. We stopped at both Tims and permit checkpoint to get our exit stamps, and started our very long descent along the stone paved trail. We stopped for lunch in Dhampus. We were going to stop there for the night but were not completely satisfied with the hotels. The couple we had lunch with were going to catch a taxi from Phedi, so we decided to do the same. We walked down the many many stairs to Phedi, going twice in the wrong direction, adding to the already endless stairs. When we finally arrived to the bottom, a few taxis where parked there and the drivers came our way to offer their services. The first price they asked us for was 3000 rupies, about 2 times the amount of the normal tourist price. We told them we needed a coffee first. The taxi drivers came back to see if we wanted to discuss the price of the ride. We bargained it down to 1800, which was quite expensive but because of the strike, it was our only option if we didn't want to walk the extra 20 kilometres on the side of the highway. When we arrived in Lakeside Pokhara, the driver dropped us at the main corner and we were almost jumped on by hotel owners. We took a business card and told them that we wanted to see the lake first. We walked to the lake and decided to have a look at the first hotel, Lake House. For 600 rupies (about 6 CAD) a night, it was pretty good. We had a real bed and a very hot shower (we actually had to add cold water) and no cracks in the walls. After supper, we walked around, shopping for a celebratory bottle of wine to be enjoyed in our room. The next morning we changed hotel to find one with WiFi where we stayed for a week, relaxing and enjoying different types of food.

Pokhara is across the mountain over 20 kilometres away
We are back in the "civilized" world
Rooftop view of the lake from the hotel
Nepali tractor
Quite the tractor right?

Friday 15 November 2013

Annapurna Circuit Part 7, Nepal

Day 18 to 20, from Jomsom to Tatopani

Day 18 - To Chhairo, a small Tibetan refugee village

We crossed the river in Jomsom to get to the trail. We walked by a few villages, across a field of loose rocks before going up the mountain and down to Chhairo. It was very windy and parts of the trail were again on loose rocks, very slippery. We walked through a small Tibetan refugee village, and found a restaurant. We were hungry so we decided to stop for lunch. It was very good and very filling. We decided we had enough for the day as the trail was not the easiest.

Looking at Jomson from across the river 

Day 19 - To Kalapani

We woke up at 6 am, as we had ordered breakfast for 6:30. We packed our things and went in the restaurant. Nobody was there, the kitchen was still locked. We finished packing our bags while waiting to see if someone was going to wake up. At 7, we counted the money we owed, wrote a message and left. There was still nobody awake. We walked out of the village and suddenly, somebody was yelling at us. We made our way back and told them the money was on the counter. They asked if we wanted breakfast but as it was already almost 7:30, we decided to start walking and eat our granola bars. We walked across a few villages again. We were getting hungry and when coming in Sauru village, we saw a lodge. We were walking towards the lodge when a men asked us if we wanted to have tea or food. We gladly said yes to food and his wife prepared some Dhal Bat for us. We waited while watching roosters and chickens walking around. All the kids of the village walked by on their way to school and greated us with a nice Namaste before asking for sweets. At least this time they didn't try to go through our bags...

Best Dhal Bat ever in a small private Nepali home, made by the owner's wife
View from the hotel in Kalapani

Day 20 Tatopani

We left the lodge early and walked for 2 hours in a trail up the road where we could hear some birds and the river before arriving in Ghasa. We decided to stop to have cinnamon milk tea and Tibetan bread with honey. After all that sugar we almost ran down the hill. Going up was much easier that we expected and we raced to the top before coming back down again. The scenery and vegetation changed a lot during the day, even the bamboo was back. We walked through many villages that didn't seem to have any lodges open. Seb was offered some hash, again (it is a common occurrence in Nepal). We crossed the wooden bridge to Dana where Seb had trouble with his knee so we stopped for lunch. We decided to stay on the main road for the remaining hour of the walk to Tatopani as it was flat. This was the biggest day so far with 21,8 kilometres and around 1150 metres of descent, not including the ups and downs.

So many suspension bridges...

Going down towards Tatopani
Our new friends looking for candies

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Annapurna Circuit Part 6, Nepal

Day 16 and 17, from Muktinath to Jomsom

Day 16 - To Kagbeni

We woke up without an alarm at 6:40 am and went downstairs for breakfast. Seb had quite the surprise when knocking the hard-boiled egg on the table to break the shell. A brown substance came out everywhere, on the table, on his warm sweater, on the floor. Slightly disgusting and terribly stinky.

When we left the hotel. the sun was already up, warming up the path but not melting the snow yet as it was still pretty cold. We walked toward the pass, to cross on the other side of the valley. We followed the old road, not used much as we just saw one jeep and one motorcycle. We had a nice view of the pass, cleared of clouds, all covered in snow. We walked through the small villages of Jhong and Putak and made our way slowly lower to the village of Kagbeni. This village was different. It had a medieval feel with the little cobblestone streets and tunnels.

Town of Muktinath

Looking at the pass from the other side

Arriving to Kagbeni

Day 17 - To Jomsom

We walked to the village of Ekle Bhatti following the main road. We weren't sure if we wanted to do the side trek to Jomsom, but when 2 jeeps drove by us it made our decision an easy one. We did not want to walk in the dust all day having to step aside for speeding vehicles. We crossed the bridge with two motorcycles. The bridge was not quite big enough for all of us and the first motorcycle almost stayed stuck in Seb's camera. We walked across the first village, Pangling. It had the same medieval feel as Kagbeni. We kept walking, going up to Phalyak. As soon as we walked in the village, we were asked for candies or pen by children. Even a lady wanted money from us, so that sort of ruined our feeling of the place. We followed the blue arrows, but they led to another corner of the village so we had to backtrack. We walked out of the village only to realize, we could have walked just on the edge of it. It would have been much easier. Anyway, we kept going up, but we couldn't really see the track leading to the next village. We went down in the valley where the local cultivate the land, and up again on the other side to Dhargarjung. This was our favourite of the three villages as it had a picturesque feel, a real Nepali village, not filled with tourist hotels. It also felt quite Middle Age compared to what we are used to. After that village, we stopped for a snack break. 
Once rested, we climbed the mountain. It was quite steep and fairly difficult. Once we arrived on top, we realized why it was called Bhatase Bhanjyang, or Windy Pass. It couldn't have been more accurate. The descent was very difficult after the few trees because of the rolling rocks. We finally made our way down to Jomsom. We walked in the village, towards the airport as we had read the first part of the village looked abandoned. We walked by the check post and though that because of the line-up we would just find a place, drop our bags and go back, but we were called in. So we had to go through our bags to find the paperwork, give it to the first person who stamped it, the second one entered info in the computer and the third one put another stamp. Then we had to stop again across the street for the Tims check post.

The river bed towards Jomsom
Another suspension bridge

Seb at the Windy Pass