This April I went for the fourth time with Himalayan Glacier for trekking in Himalaya, this time Annapurna Circuit trek where I was in the mountains for 18 days. As at the previous times I had a fantastic trek and reached Thorong La pass without problems. I went alone with a guide (Norbu) and a porter. This time I have chosen to go alone because I am 62 years old and go slower than younger people and have experience that it is the best to keep own pace at high altitude. Still I managed nearly all the daily treks but two according to the original plan. The part between Muktinath and Marpha I have chosen to make in two days instead of one, spending an afternoon and night in the wonderful village Kagbeni, and also the part Kalapani to Tatapani I made in two days staying in Ghasa. Importantly, as at my earlier treks with Himalayn Glacier, I felt very safe during the whole trek and this feeling was reinforced by the fact that my guide was getting telephone calls from Narayan at the main office who was checking how we are doing and if there are any problems.
I was prepared to not like Kathmandu. I assumed it would be a typical thirdworld polluted, overcrowded, noisy, crime riddled city with a few UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore. My assumption was mostly right, but one quickly becomes intoxicated with sensory overload in this incredible city. Three days was barely enough to scratch the surface of this endlessly fascinating cultural maze of a place. Already I long to return to Boudhnath on a pilgrimage to once again feel the prayer wheels spin under my fingers, light a butter lamp, and circumnavigate the dome on the prayer flagdecked street.
We departed Kathmandu and after a 6 hour Hail Mary bus ride, a night in picturesque Pokhara, rendezvousing with Gopal, our shy porter, we finally arrived in Naya Pul, the starting point of our Annapurna trek! Here, throngs of trekkers, guides, and porters were hurriedly packing and doublechecking gear. A short hike (just a week prior, it had been only a path; now, civilization was encroaching with a gravel road bed) and we were in Birethanti, “Check Point Charley” if you will. All people trekking within the Annapurna Conservation Area Project have to purchase a TIMS card (Trekking Information Management System) and register at the various check points. There are multiple routes and treks one can chose in the Annapurna Circuit region. Routes and treks are based on budget, time available, and fitness level. We chose the Annapurna Sanctuary route to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) as we wanted to explore the ethnic culture of the communities along the way, enjoy the flora and fauna of the sub tropical forests and alpine regions, while maintaining a constant panoramic view. Bill and I also decided that we wanted to trek by ourselves, and not join a larger group. Many people arrive in Kathmandu and trek alone, or arrange for a guide and/or porter once they arrive. Our choice was easy. Himalayan Glacier Trekking a highly rated outfitter has a US representative: Tony Monaco, a CMC member in Charlotte. Our itinerary was established according to our trekking ideas and our pre and post trek plans. One couldn’t ask for a better executed trip. People ask how to “train” for trekking in the Himalayas. In reflection, one should hop on a treadmill set at the highest tension for a couple of hours, then hike from Mount Mitchell to Deep Gap and back, double the altitude, and repeat daily for a few weeks. If one doesn’t follow this regimen, then pack some extra strength Tylenol. We were not prepared for the miles and miles of “steps”; it’s a trail building marvel, but a hiker’s pain in the quads and hamstrings.
Other treks/hikes that we have done around the globe were either wilderness camping or staying in a lodge of some sort. While trekking the Annapurnas we chose to stay in tea houses that were available in the a few villages scattered along the route. The operative word is “available.” Every day, there is a mad scramble in the afternoon to secure lodging. Lodging can only be booked “the day of”…and there may only be 3 lodges with 8 or so rooms in a given community. There may be 2, 3, or 4 hours of “extra” hiking if a room is not secured early in the day. Or, sleeping arrangements can get rather creative! Rooms are typically spartan with twin cots and a lock for the door. Toilets are Asian style and unisex. Showers, if available, are for a fee. Hot water, if available, is solar heated. The water in Nepal is highly polluted. The Modi Khola River (originating at the Annapurna Glacier) provides 95% of Nepal’s drinking water. The water supply to villages is medieval … a 1 ¼ inch PVC pipe runs from village to village, splicing home to home, and running (or not) nonstop. We observed the pipe strung through the jungle, tree to tree, lashed in place with bamboo “thread”. After several days, hygiene and water purification become tedious but necessary.
Before you dismiss considering a trek of this nature, I haven’t discussed one of the most intriguing elements: the people one meets along the way! There is of course ample opportunity to meet folks along the trail, stopping for tea, lunch, a break, or stopping to eat/sleep for the day. (People often commented on our CMC hats or AT volunteer patches on our packs.) Once your trekking is done for the day, people gather in the communal dining room. One’s personal space dissolves. We gravitated like magnets to anyone who looked remotely 60ish.
The higher theelevation, the sparser the crowd, the more likely we would meet up with people we met earlier on the trail. Rooms are very inexpensive ($3.50 a night), but require buying meals at the lodge. Thedining room tables typically had a wool blanket tacked along the sides; there was also a propane heater under the table which was lit at night. Everyone (gladly) paid 100 rupees ($1.25) to pull their boots off and stick their feet under the table, and pull the blanket over their lap. What warmth! We sat there for hours, chatting about the day’s trek, or writing in journals, eating, drinking, and playing cards. We identified people by their given name, or code names (Not AT trail names, but our personal way of identifying people). For example, “the Poles” were a hearty group that kept us honest. On our second day, Bill and I sat at the dining room table quite smug in the fact that we had trekked 14 hours in 2 days and were on our “track” timewise.
The Poles pulled in that night after trekking the same distance in ONE 12 hour day! They proceeded to each order a pint of rum, just as a “warm up” before their “real” drinking began. We were reminded of our time years ago hiking in the Bieszczady Mountains tracking Red deer with a Polish guide. We cursed him soundly under our breath, as we saw him in the distance rolling a cigarette, casually smoking, waiting for us, then striding off and leaving us again to trot to catch up to him. What a hearty lot, the Poles we were gladdened every timed we met up with them. At the same time, a young Spanish graduate student arrived. She was about to collapse, crying, gasping for breath. All the guides quickly came to her “rescue” as if they were the resident EMTs. What histrionics! We giggled at her demonstrativeness. We were not surprised that “La Princessa” never reached ABC summit. Another group, “the Taiwanese”, strode up and down the mountains; in one hand they held an IPad, in the other a bottle of water. Enough said. “California” and “Minnesota” were more or less our age. Minnesota made the summit, California did not. Mrs. California took a nasty spill at a creek crossing, ripping her knee. Meeting them at an afternoon rest stop, we decided to stay put, and they pushed on despite the weather that was quickly disintegrating. Drizzle turned to sleet with a fierce wind. (CA was sick in bed for 2 days and turned back.) Another couple we met, a bubbly Irish pair, had already made it to Everest Base Camp and now they were trekking to Annapurna Base Camp! “The Irish” were simply so thrilled to have sunshine that they would have kept trekking around the globe. A young Finnish couple smoked marijuana joints as fast as they could roll them. “The Finns” didn’t talk, just smiled. One quickly obtains the idea of “life” on the Circuit.
A guide is not requisite to trek in Annapurna. However, we found that having one enriched our experience immensely. Basu was: a walking GPS, concierge service by phoning ahead for a nightly room, our gastronomical advisor who deciphered our menus, a constant natural history/cultural educator, a musician playing his bamboo flute, our “medic”, and most importantly, a friend. It is our opinion that the Nepalese government needs to continue to strive to provide for the wellbeing of the guides and porters who make these Himalayan treks possible. The trekking season is brief, maybe a total of 34 months of every year; finding other employment for the rest of the year is difficult. The trail led us through the Modi Khola valley, filled with rice paddies, fields of quinoa, turmeric, corn, squash, and cabbages. We shared the path with trains of mules transporting goods between villages, water buffalo, goats, sheep, porters, and fellow trekkers. Passing through dense bamboo and hardwood forests, we arrived at Ghorepani. Our $3.00 a night room had a 5Star view of Machhapuchhre, Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, and the Annapurnas! At 4:30 in the morning,wearing our headlamps and woolies, we climbed another 2,000 feet to Poon Hill for one of the most spectacular sunrise viewpoint in all of the Himalayan Range.
A steep descent, a steep ascent, and we arrived in beautiful Chhomrong, located on the lap of the Annapurna massif. We laid in bed that night with the moon shining on Machhapuchhre. We cracked open the window and breathed the frosty air. I declared that it just might be as close to heaven as we will ever get. The stars were floating just a fingertip away. Little did I know that Chhomrong was a turning point, literally and figuratively, for trekkers. This was the last village that supplies and any sort of luxury items (like toilet paper) could be purchased. The rest of the journey would pass by a few tea houses only no more villages with inhabitants, livestock, mule trains etc. The trail was too steep and treacherous; conditions are too harsh to travel/ live at the higher elevations. 2/3 of trekkers exited this section of the trail to loop to the lower elevations. In two weeks we viewed more waterfalls than the year spent hiking to the 100 on the CMC Waterfall Challenge. The Nepalese don’t bother to name any of them as there are so many. Most of the peaks aren’t named either; if they aren’t snow covered year round they are not “worthy” of a name. It was difficult for our guide to believe that Bill and I lived in the oldest mountain range in the world with such “low” peaks, and yet here we were in the youngest mountain range, and it contained 8 of the globe’s highest peaks. As the vegetation disappeared, our solitude in the wilderness became more obvious. We passed makeshift shrines built to honor individuals who perished in avalanches. Twice, helicopters churned through the canyon to attempt a rescue at ABC. Our attention remained riveted on the views of majestic Machhapuchhre. It is the one virginal mountain in the Himalayan range; the Nepalese government refuses to allow climbing on it. At 13,000 feet elevation, sleeping soundly became difficult. Besides the thinner air, it was cold. I tucked my batteries in my sleeping bag at night. I would have traded Bill for a pair of yak wool slippers. Our laundered clothes wouldn’t dry. The thought of taking our clothes off, much less having a cold shower, kept us in the same apparel.
We decided against stopping at Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) for the night and trekked another 2 ½ hours to ABC. The trail between MBC and ABC is a strenuous path that leads right into the frozen heart of the Annapurna range. This is an unparalleled mountain experience with unparalleled views. We arrived at Base Camp just before the fog rolled in shrouding anything more than a foot in front of us. As luck would have it, the Poles arrived at our lodge within a half hour. We spent the evening eating bowls of garlic soup (supposedly good for altitude sickness; we didn’t experience any, so perhaps the soup works!) and eating some of the best pizza we have ever eaten.
Before dawn we trundled out for a position to watch as dawn seared the tips of the frozen peaks. I accidentally dropped my headlamp. There was a chorus of gasps as we listened to it clatter hundreds of feet down the mountain. I took a step back from edge, and firmly planted my feet. Red and gold commenced to etch across the amphitheater of rock and ice. The staggering scale of the mountains was all but overwhelming. Lost in our thoughts, we silently hung a prayer flag, and then slowly, savoring the moment, turned toward lower elevation.
First posted on CMC (CarolinaMountainClub.org) eNews March 2013 by Ann H
Again (this is my second trip with Himalayan Glacier) I had an amazing experience with Himalayan Glacier. Sundar is a great guide and I enjoyed the flexibility in my trip. Chandra was able to go ahead in the morning to find a good place to stay. The guesthouses and hotels chosen were all comfortable and the food was always fresh and good. The communication was great, and I was well taken care of. Pick ups, flights etc, where always on time. Also I was lucky to have met so many other inspiring people on the track which was a bonus. The highlight of the trip was playing volleyball at 4130m with the guides and porters. I enjoy the Himalayas a lot and feel at ease when I am in the mountains. Thank you for making my trip special, hope to see you again soon
As I indicated before, you did an exceptional job of turning our trip around. We had planned on Everest Base Camp (EBC), but planes could not land in Lukla for about 7 days. We had to make a decision whether to wait for EBC, or transfer all energy and thoughts into Annapurna. Bertie and I chose Annapurna Circuit, and the rest of the trekkers who were assigned in our group went with us. Amazingly, Naba was able to provide an extra guide (Hira, for Bertie and me) and necessary porters for Annapurna Circuit. Luckily we had booked with HGT, a substantial trekking firm, and Naba was able to turn everything around from EBC to Annapurna Circuit in a very short period of time.
Our experience in Nepal, and especially Annapurna Circuit was a wonderful success and an endearing experience.
I don’t think anything would have made this trip better than it was. Hira, our guide, was excellent and astute to our needs, and made the trek absolutely wonderful. Pasuram, our porter, was a “Rock Star Porter” who was personable and just awesome. Our route was well planned, and when we got ahead of schedule, Hira was able to call by mobile phone and adjust reservations. Just amazing.
I hope to return in 2014 and would not mind a repeat on Annapurna Circuit, adding a few things that we did not have time to do. I would want to be in a trekking group with Hira, for sure.
I have been in email contact with the 3 Brazilians who were part of our trekking group. They absolutely felt Annapurna Circuit was the best for this year. And because HGT did such a good job in rescheduling from EBC, I am sure they will plan their return to EBC in 5 years with HGT. Good PR for you. Also, Jen and Steve (from NYC) also felt that doing Annapurna Circuit was the best thing for this year, and I know they will also return to do EBC and will book again with HGT. Naba did a great job for all of us who had planned on EBC this year.
Thank you. You have all my confidence for the best experience in Nepal. Naba has suggested Tibet. I love Nepal – but Tibet would be something new. But I need the trekking; I leave Nepal feeling happy and healthy. A jeep tour just would not do that.
I did have a wonderful trip and definitely want to go back to Nepal sometime in the future and plan on using your company when I do. Please make sure my guide Rishi Bhantana is recognize for the great job he did, it wouldn’t have been as special without him.
Also, would you do me a favor and make sure he and my two porters (Chef and Spanish….Rishi will know who is who) get the pictures. If they have any trouble getting the pictures please let me know. Also, if any of the three of them are in the office anytime soon please let them know that I’d love to hear from them if they have the time.
Nepal is increasingly becoming a travel, trek and meeting hub in the South Asia region. After ending of the 10 years Civil War, Nepal has become even more popular travel destination. A recent Global Peace Index says that Nepal is the second most peaceful country in the South Asia. The Australia and US-based Institute of Economic and Peace’s ranking shows that when it comes to peace, Nepal is far more ahead than its neighbors like India, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Nepal is even ahead of her northern neighbor China.
That’s one of the reasons why Nepal received a record number of tourists last year. Not only the tourist stay but the average number of days spent by tourists has also increased to a 7-year high in 2011. The trekking route in the Everest, Annapurna, and Langtang region also received increased number of tourist arrivals. The number of mountaineers and the number of their stay also rose in that year. Read More
“We came to Himalayan Glacier with the idea that we couldn’t do a lot of walking because we weren’t fit and hadn’t have lots of exercise lately. So we choosed Poonhill to be our destination. At the start, we didn’t know that our legs strength can made it to Poonhill and back in 5 days, but we decided to try.
In these 5 days, we experienced many things. Many things that was once in a lifetime!!!! Everything we’ve seen and met was just wonderful. Breathtaking long walk mountains by mountains that we couldn’t imagine how could we did it, beautiful nature and stunning Himalayas view, nice people that we met along the way, everything was so great.
These couldn’t be happened without you “Himalayan Glacier”. Our guide and porters were so helpful and friendly. They made our first trekking experience turned into the most memorable trip we ever had.
Now, we have a look of the picture of your other trekking trips on your website and we think about to go back to have another nice trekking experience with you for sure. But we need more exercise!!!!!
Thank you for create such a nice trip for us.
The Annapurna Sanctuary trek was fantastic and I’m very satisfied with the services provided my Himalayan Glacier Trekking. The whole team was great! Sudarshan was a great guide and he was very professional. Vishnu as well as Dhon and Prakash our porters were always helpful and went out of their way to make sure that our experience on the trek was nothing less than amazing. They were attentive to even the smallest details to ensure that we had a great trek.
I would like to thank the whole team at Himalayan for their excellent customer service. From beginning to end, it was a trip that I will remember for a long time. I would recommend Himalayan to anyone who wishes to go to Nepal. Himalayan took care of all the details of the trek, as well as the pre and post-trip arrangements in Kathmandu and Pokhara and this made my experience worry-free and wonderful.