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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Around the Annapurnas in ten days, part one

The story of my most memorable trek yet.....


Saturday 12 November, 2011: New Delhi to Kathmandu
6 a.m.There are six of us flying from Delhi to Kathmandu this morning. We plan to spend the day exploring Kathmandu, and to leave for Besisahar by bus tomorrow, where the trek begins (or so we think). We meet at Terminal Three in New Delhi - Aditya and Nisha from Chennai, Abhilasha, I and Sekhar from Hyderabad and Asheesh from Delhi. Only four of us will complete the circuit, but let me not get ahead of the story.

9 p.m.The journey has begun badly for both Sekhar and me. The poor guy did not have a passport and could not board the flight. He is now travelling by road and will reach Kathmandu by tomorrow afternoon (it turns out that Indian citizens need either passport or voter's ID card when flying in to Nepal, but neither of the two if they drive in). My tragedy, thought far less tragic, is crippling. I'm down with severe diarrhea and have been pumping myself with medicines non stop. 
Thamel is a typical touristy place, but unlike any I've seen before. It is bright and colorful, and sells everything that a traveler might desire or need at the beginning or end of his journey. I especially love the Sherpa and North Face stores, although they are a bit expensive. But there are good fakes too; and if you know how bargain well, you can get great deals. I paid 4000 NR for the fake down jacket that was to save my life at subzero temperatures, when the quoted price was 6500 NR. And I'm not so hot at the fine art of price negotiation.
Sunday, 13th November 2011:Thamel, Kathmandu
11 am. My diarrhea continues unabated. Sekhar has finally reached, after 29 hours of travel by flights, taxis, rickshaws and god knows what else. I find that one of the joys of travelling is how special commonplace things become. I tied a scarf around my neck just now, and remembered how Girish had taught me to wear the scarf in this style. And this made me miss Girish so much, like I had last seen him years instead of weeks ago! Or perhaps sickness and dehydration is making me sentimental.
9pm. God knows who said it before but its true we are slaves of our stomachs. Kathmandu looks ten times more charming this evening, now that my belly cramps are gone and my appetite's back. I went for a short walk, bought a Terry Pratchett, and read it over a hot dal-rice-aaloo subzi dinner. Life is good again.

Monday, 14 Nov 2011: Kathmandu to Syange
Me and the yummy thukpa, at Besisahar
We no longer plan to begin the trek at Besisahar - one, because we have lost one day, and two, because we learn that Besisahar to Syange is now a motorable track and hence no longer fun. We left KTM at a quarter past seven in what has to be the most rickety bus being driven on this planet. The bus ride costs NR 480 per head and reaches Besisahar in about six hours. Had a bowl of delicious thukpa at Mt Kailash restaurent. Great food, but 350 bucks for a bowl of soup is a trifle worrying. Should we have budgeted for more than a thousand rupees a day?
You could start the trek at Besisahar, but it's a good idea to take the jeeps wherever they ply, because its better to be inside the jeep than outside where you would inhale the kilos of dust on the path. The trek is best started where the road, or what passes for a road in these parts, ends. Which is why I feel sad that the trekking path is getting shorter as the road keeps encroaching on what used to belong only to yaks, goats, and trekkers.


Besisahar Bus Station (no kidding!)
The jeep stand at Besisahar is next to a lovely stream. The jeep from Besisahar to Syanje costs 600 NR and the jeep ride makes the KTM-Besisahar bus ride look positively luxurious!! It is a beautiful mud track; beautiful and treacherous, because we drove over boulders and streams - and some of the latter are not gentle or meandering by any standards. We reached The New Waterfall hotel by 6.30 pm and the collective sigh of relief from all jeep passengers was hilarious. It's a comfortable hotel, and charges you 100 NR for a bed and blanket - this price will remain constant throughout the circuit. The lodges make money on the food you eat, so it's expected that you will eat at the same place that you sleep at. Since the menu is exactly the same at every teahouse in every village, and the food is universally delicious, it does not matter where you eat. I had a very satisfying egg curry and rice for 300 NR.

Day one - Tuesday, 15 Nov 2011: Syange to Dharapani. (17 km, 7.5 hours)
The first day of the climb - an ascent of over 600 metres. One of the tougher days. But also one of the most beautiful.
Syange to Jagat. 4km. 1 hour.
Route from Syange to Jagat
We left Syange at 8 am (we had planned to leave at 7, but we lingered over the pancakes and the great views). Syange to Jagat is a gentle climb, almost a walk. I wish I could describe what it feels like to walk next to a river that sings non-stop and is so clean that you can and do drink from it. It has to be experienced. Let me just say that back at sea level, I miss the background hum that was part of my life for those ten days. And it never sounds the same, the river has a different song in every village. The road from Besisahar has come upto Chamje now, so you could begin the trek in Chamje as well.
Jagat (1300m) to Chamje (1385m), 4km, 1.5 hours.
Sekhar faces a decision

There are two options to to choose from when you leave the village of Jagat. You could continue on the straight and narrow path that jeeps use, or you could follow the signboard on your left that says -"Way to Beautiful Old Trekking Route to Chamchhe and Manang". Of course, since we're suckers for lines like that, that's the route we took, but I'm told that the other is beautiful too, with a trail that continues by the river, and goes through a forest of pine trees and rhododendrons. The old trekking route will show you various abandoned guesthouses, and a waterfall with a rainbow. We stopped for tea at the predictably named Rainbow Waterfall guesthouse. It is important to remember to hydrate yourself well on this route, since you may not often feel thirsty. Ginger tea is a popular choice and is rather refreshing.
Chamje to Tal (1700m), 5 km, 2.5 hours

Tal
Chamje to Tal is a steep ascent of nearly 400 metres. It has some difficult bits, some stretches where you would feel grateful for a walking stick if you had one (I recommend one for this circuit, by the way). And the village of Tal....I'm going to try and describe it. After about two hours of climbing through a densely forested trail, you see a gate on top of small hill that says 'Welcome to Tal'. You start climbing the hill, happy for the rest your weary feet will get for a while, because you have planned to have lunch at Tal, the village that you read has been built on a former lake bed. You reach that gate, notice that the village is downhill, and then stand speechless for a while because the village has taken your breath away. There is blue lake on your left, and next to it, a villlage that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. No picture can capture what the village looked like that afternoon.

Tal
Its a fifteen minute walk downhill to the village, and it's reputation of good food is well deserved. We had corn bread with vegetables and the ubiquitous dal-bhat set at the Paradise Hotel, and it was rather good. It was a leisurely meal; we took two hours over it, and made friends with some very interesting fellow trekkers. For me, that has been one of the most exciting things about Annapurna - how you meet people who are so different, and yet so alike, how it is so effortless to strike up conversations and friendships because you share this common love for the mountains.
Tal to Karte (1870m), 4 km, 1.5 hours
This one seems easy after the Chamje-Tal stretch. Karte is a sleepy little village and rather pretty, but not too many people stop here, because the bigger, more popular Dharapani is just an hour's walk away.
Karte to Dharapani (1900m), 2km, 45 min.
This one is a comfortable walk. Dharapani is a good place to spend the night, because the view in the morning is something that you will remember for a long time. The village lies in a canyon with mountains rising so high on both sides that one feels overwhelmingly small. And to feel small is isn't such a bad thing - it's great at straightening one's perspective. (So what was I worried about again? Really?) It was rather cold in the night, so I unpacked and wore my thermals here. And slept like a baby.

Day two - Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011: Dharapani to Chame, 16 km, 6.5 hours
An 800 m ascent. One tough stretch, rest a breeze.
Dharapani (1900m) to Bagarchhap (2160 m), 2km, 1hour
Asheesh and Abhi, at Bagarchap
It continues to be a walk through pine forests - the bleak terrain of the likes of yak Kharka are still four days away. There's a very tempting detour between Dharapani and Bagarchhap, and I'd like to take it if I ever do this route again. They call it the Danfe trek - it goes to a villlage at 2300 metres height through some untouched and beautiful jungle trails. It would need about half a day's climb from Dharapani. All this I know from a yellow board that was right next to a narrow trail that seemed to disappear at the next bend.

Bagarchhap is surrounded by apple orchards. It has some great apple pie that they serve with warm custard. Yumm. Also, Bagarchap is where the Buddhist culture starts becoming noticeable. From here onwards, we will see prayer wheels in every village. Remember to always walk with the prayer wheels on your right.  
Bagarchap to Damaq (2200m), 2 km, 1 hour
Another gentle stretch. It's becoming a little too easy, I think. Ha! It's good I know so little about what the rest of the day is about to bring.
Damaq to Thanchowk (2570 m), 6 km, 2.5 hours
Sekhar and Jeremie, on the way to Thanchowk
This one HAS to be the toughest stretch so far. It's practically a 45 degrees incline for the larger part of the way. Landslides have destroyed the older trail, which is something that Asheesh and Abhilasha discovered to their utter annoyance. They took the older trail, which turned out to have a river flowing through it. Abhilasha had to walk with completely drenched shoes for the rest of this day. The older trail meets up with the new one somewhere halfway. The route continues to be beautiful and woody, and you can see the Manaslu peak in the distance. We had lunch at Thankchowk at the at the Chooyouu restaurant. It was quite nice.


Thanchok to Chame (2710 m), 6km, 2 hours
Another easy stretch, with some great views, specially near Koto, which is a quiet little village just before Chame. Koto also has a Tibetan monastery which wikitravel recommends that you visit, but we were looking forward to getting to Chame and continued ahead. There's a checkpost and some tiny shops in Koto, where you can buy warm clothes, candies, etc.


To Chame...
After walking in so much quiet beauty for hours, the bustle in Chame comes as a shock. It is the adminstrative headquarters of Manang district, and has multiple shops that sell practically everything. They have a police headquarters here, and a doctor, and the biggest shocker - Internet!! Maybe I can go home and suggest to the Deloitte leadership that we set up an office here. I would never need vacation.

We stayed at the Maryasandi Mandala, which was a very comfortable hotel, and I confess I paid for two buckets of hot water and had a lovely bath. The next bath I have will be in Muktinath, just about a week from this day. Chame also has a large school, and a Stupa next to it. When we set up office here, we could volunteer to teach at the school on weekends. There's a miniscule hot water spring too, which can be reached by crossing a bridge at the end of the village. We had to ask around for the whereabouts of the spring, it's quite well hidden, and worth the trouble.

.....to be continued....

Day three - Thursday, 17 Nov 2011: Chame to Pisang (3250 m), 16 km, 5 hours.....



7 comments:

  1. Good going Mojo on the travelogue. Brings back so many wonderful memories - unfortunately, seems like a long time back. Thanks for including my photo. Looking forward to the entire post :)

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  2. u r worlds best storyteller.... Tell me honestly, how many people have said that to you... I was smiling through the whole article oblivious of the world!!!
    P.S. : I knew you would fall in love with the place and (pardon being selfish) am so glad that you didnt decide to stay there forever( the thing i was worried about the most since you went there)...
    but hey !! it makes me think i want to see all the beautiful places too!!! and the picture of tal village, looks so beautiful... now i know what out of the world is...
    waiting for more details..

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  3. hey ...manjot..
    nice post yar..:)u guys going places hmmm!!

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  4. Doc ...,you are a true rock star .....keep it up.

    Abey Sekhar ....chacha Gaya tu to Bhai ....

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  5. The highlight of reading this post has been the unfamiliar and difficult to remember names of places. I hope this trek fulfilled your dream of going to a place which is not on wikipedia :)

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  6. i love it!!! :)) so many memories . . . good times !

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  7. Great post, as usual. Felt that we were on the trek ourselves. Post the next parts sooooon!

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