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Published: Saturday March 15, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday March 15, 2014 MYT 9:35:50 AM

Attitude for altitude: Trekking Nepal's Annapurna circuit

The writer makes it up the high Thorong La Pass (5416m) after an arduous trek.

The writer makes it up the high Thorong La Pass (5416m) after an arduous trek.

Trekking Nepal’s Annapurna circuit requires not only stamina, but a mindset that can handle anything from landslides to looking like hell in the mirror.

I love trekking, and so when I heard from a friend that someone was organising a trekking trip to Nepal to do the famous “Annapurna circuit”, I contacted the organiser without thinking twice.

A training schedule was set for us almost every Sunday. In addition, I went for Hash runs and the gym regularly. The trip was fast approaching, and I was getting anxious, especially about altitude sickness, which varies among individuals. Would I be fit enough?

To be sure, I went to the doctor for a full medical check-up. To be honest, I didn’t feel up to the challenge, and I partly wished the doctor had told me that I was medically unfit to go! But go I did, and though it was tiring, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

This signboard, along the Annapurna circuit trail, gives tips on how to handle altitude sickness - which can be fatal.
This signboard, along the Annapurna circuit trail, gives tips on how to handle altitude sickness - which can be fatal.

Lull before the storm (Days 1 to 3)

On arrival in Kathmandu, our group of trekkers found that the traffic was insane; and crossing the street without being run over by a taxi, bus, motorcycle, rickshaw, or even a cow required talent! We finally arrived at our hotel, somewhat in one piece.

We had one day of sightseeing in Kathmandu. We went to Pasupatinath to witness people bathing at the river and funeral pyres burning on the banks, sights which took me aback.

The first two days were just the lull before the storm, and on Day Three, we were driven in a 4WD from Kathmandu to Syange (1,100m in altitude) and on to Chyamche (1430m). The drive was so bumpy and uncomfortable!

To travel 45km, it took us three and a half hours. I was nauseated due to the winding, bumpy ride and we even needed to drive through waterfalls and rivers. Finally, we reached our wooden tea house. Luckily for us, the hot water heater was running that day!

The majesty of mountains and rivers grace the trail.
The majesty of mountains and rivers grace the trail.

Landslides! (Days 4 & 5)

Our first trekking day from Chyamche to Bagarchhap (2160m) was slated to take five hours. We got up at 7am and put on our gear, including our rain coats. We passed village after village, appreciating beautiful sights such as a suspension bridge, before a steep climb to the small tea houses at Sattale.

After that, the trail had several waterfalls beyond the small village of Karte (1850m). There was one huge waterfall which fell right onto the track that we had to cross. We could either walk through it, or go on a long downhill and uphill detour, hopping over some rocks with gushing water. I quickly chose the second option.

As we were trekking, our guide received a call saying there was a landslide ahead and I saw a huge pile of earth in front of me – the soil was still loose and moving! I looked down the cliff and there was a big river. 

At that point, I was alone and I thought that if I had died no one would ever find my body. Yet, there was no other way to get through except to walk over the loose soil. I ran across it for dear life and thanked God I was safe!

The next day was a six-hour trek from Bagarchhap to Chame (2670m). It was still raining, but we were told by the guide that today’s trek wouldn’t be as dangerous and steep as the day before. 

There was another landslide, but fortunately, there was an alternative route through someone’s farm. After that, we were rewarded with views of the peaks of Manaslu, Annapurna II and other magnificent snow mountains and a trek through pine forests before reaching Chame.

Rustic scene at a village.
Rustic scene at a village.

Banana village? (Days 6 & 7)

Sunshine at last! We were told that there would be no more rain as we climbed higher. Our objective for the day was Pisang (3250m) which we were told would take six hours.

We hung our wet clothes on our back-packs to dry and trekked following the Marsyandi river through pine forests to Telekhu village. After a steep climb, we reached Dhukur Pokhari, where we were surrounded by majestic Himalayan peaks. We finished off the day with an hour of pleasant trekking to Pisang, where we explored the village and its Tibetan sacred stones.

The next day, the trek from Pisang to Manang (3540m) was rated as a five-hour journey. It was a wonderful walk with panoramic views of mountains and pine forests. We reached Humde (3280m) airport in Manang district through the village of Bhraka (3480m), which was built in Tibetan style, with houses seemingly stacked one on top the other. There were also some lovely, winding streets in the village.

Anybody for yak horn ornaments?
Anybody for yak horn ornaments?

Acclimatisation (Day 8)

This was a a day for rest and acclimatisation in Manang. After breakfast, a short walk was suggested and so we hiked up to tranquil Gangapurna Lake. Manang became one of my favourite villages. We went to the local cinema and watched a movie, while sitting on wooden benches.

Mad-looking lady (Days 9 & 10)

We were told that the trek from Manang to Ledar (4200m) would take about five hours. The trail crossed a stream, went up Tenki village above Manang, and then gradually climbed up to the Gusang, offering panoramic Himalayan scenery, through meadows where horses and yaks grazed. The trail passed an ancient wall in a meadow and then we reached the small village of Yak Kharka, by crossing a suspension bridge.

After spending the night at Ledar, our next target was a four-hour hike to Trong Pedi (4450m), which is a busy settlement catering to the needs of tired trekkers. We walked through a rock-strewn meadow surrounded by cliffs I was very excited when we reached our tea house accomodation. 

For days, we hadn’t looked at ourselves in the mirror because there were none. When I finally got to look at myself, I thought, “Gosh! I look totally deranged!”. We had to go to bed early as tomorrow would be our “big day”.

Tea houses along the route offer shelter and food to weary trekkers.
Tea houses along the route offer shelter and food to weary trekkers.

Getting high! (Day 11)

The trek from Thorong Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La Pass (5416m) was slated to take a solid 12 hours. We had to wake up at 3am, and have our garlic soup, which was said to be good for altitude sickness.

However, the mood was sombre, as one of our team mates had been hit by altitude sickness and had to be carried down the mountains by horse.

By 4am, we had all donned our full gear, and were set to go. It took me 90 minutes just to reach a camp which was only about 300 meters from where we started.

I had lacked sleep for days and was now extremely tired. I told our guide, Ram, that I needed to take a half-hour nap, after which I would be okay. But he refused to allow it! Suddenly, I remembered I had some power gel. I took that, and in no time I was full of energy and alert.

In the meantime, some horse owners were following us from behind, hoping we would give up and hire their rides. Breathing was a problem, since there was a lack of oxygen due to the high altitude. But I had been practising yoga for years, and I used a yoga breathing method which was a great help.

Finally, after 6 ½ hours of hiking, we arrived at the high Thorong La Pass (5416m). We had made it!

After this, we descended to to Muktinath (3800m), past barren country with not a single blade of grass in sight.

This solar kettle reduces the need for firewood - thus saving forests.
This solar kettle reduces the need for firewood - thus saving forests.

Blown over (Day 12 - 15)

After spending the night at Muktinath, we trekked to Jomson (2720m). Today, we were told it would be easy and so we went in mentally unprepared for the next challenge: after a few hours of trekking, winds started to blow, and they were so strong that I even tumbled over! I had thought the worst was over but the mountains had other ideas ...We finally reached Jomson after six hours and all of us were filthy. But our delghtful ordeal was finally over – for real.

In our last three days, we flew from Jomsom to Pokhara (915m) and thence to Kathmandu where we finished up with some shopping.

I will never forget the stunning mountain views, the spectacular sunrises and the group camaraderie of the Annapurna circuit trek.

Spectacular: Mountain scenery, such as this, rewards those who trek Nepal's Annapurna circuit.
Spectacular: Mountain scenery, such as this, rewards those who trek Nepal's Annapurna circuit.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Trekking, Hiking, Mountain climbing, Nepal

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