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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Around the Annapurnas in ten days, part two

Day three - Thursday, 17 Nov 2011: Chame (2710m) to Lower Pisang (3250m), 16 km, 5.5 hours
Lamjung peak, at 6:00 am in Chame  
I woke up in Chame in with Asheesh banging on the door and shouting that we had to see the view outside if we wanted to die of happiness. You can see the Manaslu and the Lamjung covered in snow and sunshine from Chame, and though we did not die of happiness, I have to admit it was something.  
We left Chame at 7.15 in the morning, and we seemed to be almost the first group to leave - something about Chame makes people comfortable enough to want to laze; but you need to shake the comfort off and leave the bustle of the village behind, because there's a lot of loveliness that lies in wait.
Chame to Bhratang (2850m), 7km, 2 hours
Bhratang to Dukhur Pokhari
This is a fairly level walk, with about 150 m of ascent over 7 km. This is the kind of path where people sing and talk as they walk. And take a lot of pictures. Bhratang is a quiet, sleepy little village, and we did not stop here at all.
Bhratang to Dukhur Pokhari (3240m), 6 km, 1.5 hours 
The surroundings change constantly on this trek, but in some places the change is really stark. The path between Bhratang and Dukhur Pokhari continues by the river, but the pine forests are less dense here. Part of the trail is cut on the side of a cliff, so although the views are great, I would not recommend looking down and walking at the same time. The path climbs steeply in some places, especially after you cross the old bridge. The air is filled with the scent of pine cones, and I cannot help but think that very soon, the road will come here too, and it will bring with it fat Punjabis, and there will be candy wrappers here on this path, next to the pine needles.
But all that is in the future. Maybe they won't come. It was beautifully bright and sunny day, perfect for walking, and no one can think morbid thoughts for too long in such a lovely place. We had lunch in Dukhur Pokhari at a teahouse where things were really slow, but they usually are, in this part of the world. But we were making good time and did not mind so much.
Dukhur Pokhari to Lower Pisang (3250m), 6 km, 1.5 hours
This is a dusty path through tall pines and rhododendrons, and does not ascend at all. You walk for about an hour and a half in complete silence and wilderness, interrupted by the occasional herd of mules, cross a couple of streams, and find yourself in the busy village of Lower Pisang. There are many good teahouses here, and the one we stayed in, the Eco hotel, was very comfortable. They lit a wood fire for us in the dining area, around which we sat, talked and dried our clothes.
Urgen Chholing Monastery, Upper Pisang
Upper Pisang lies 60 metres higher and 30 minutes away from Lower Pisang, and can be reached by crossing a bridge near the prayer wheel. This is a village built on the sides of a forested hill, and has the remnants of very medieval Tibetan culture. The monastery in this village (the Urgen Chholing Monastery) is said to be one of the most beautiful in this region, and we went to visit it. It truly is a marvel; even though it was swarming with about fifty tourists, it was still peaceful. The monks were serving ginger lemon tea, and looked so happy that I wanted to sit there, talk to them and never leave.

A lot of trekkers prefer to sleep in Upper Pisang than Lower Pisang because they want to take the upper trail to Manang on the following day. That's a decision you will have to take. There are two trails from Pisang to Manang. The lower one is shorter, and goes through the most beautiful pine forests of this circuit (not to mention the last pine forests of this circuit, because Manang onwards, the route is stark and barren). The upper trail, which starts from Upper Pisang, takes an extra two hours, but has some great mountain views, and has the additional advantage of being higher and hence recommended for acclimatization. Abhilasha and Asheesh chose the upper trail, while the rest of us decided to take the lower one. Aditya was beginning to get a steadily worsening headache and was beginning to worry.
"Want to take it easy, or want to be tough?"
Day four - Friday, 18 Nov 2011: Pisang to Manang (3600m), 12 km, 5 hours
I woke up with my left shoulder hurting so bad that I spent 20 minutes convincing myself that it wasn't angina. I have large bruises on both my shoulders, and putting my face out of the sleeping bag into the bitter cold is agony. I decide to swallow my pride and give my sleeping bag to the porter. Aditya's headache has continued through the night and he hasn't been able to sleep at all. We have our first acute mountain sickness (AMS) casualty. He decides to descend and finds a porter to accompany him down. Abhilasha and Asheesh leave for the upper trail to Manang at 7.30 a.m., and Sekhar, Nisha and I start on the lower trail at eight a.m.

The upper trail goes through Ghyaru and Ngwal and has much to recommend it - it is sunny and offers great views of the Annapurna range. But it is also the tougher one, with steep ascents through the major part. Asheesh and Abhilasha raved about the delightful sights they had seen on the way, but it did tire them out.

The lower trail, on the other hand, turned out to be a dream. It ascends so gently that it seems not to ascend at all! It passes through Humde, where the Manang airport is being built and Bhraga, where you can get some great cakes and a really memorable yak steak. We had lunch at The New Yak restaurent where you can also buy and swap books. Bhraga to Manang is another gentle half hour walk.

Manang. Doesn't the word itself say how wonderfully romantic the place would be? I fell in love with the village at first sight. It's surrounded by views that are even more screensaver like than the rest of the trek. Half of the village is the tourist hub, with every convenience money can buy. Do not miss the Manang culture museum or the projection hall, the former for a feel of the 'manangi pride' and the latter for a once in a lifetime experience of watching a movie at 3600 metres above sea level. The moviehall has a fireplace, and they serve you ginger tea and popcorn as you watch the movie.

But keep walking, Manang is more than just these bells and whistles. Without warning, the street turns a corner and you find yourself transported back in time where Manangis live like they've lived for centuries. The architecture is unlike anything you have ever seen, the alleyways look like only black and white pictures should be taken of them.

I'd like to come and stay here for a month.

Day five - Acclimatization in Manang
Abhilasha with the Praken Gompa monk
We stayed in a hotel (it's too big to be called a teahouse) called Tilicho House, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The food is great, the dining area is warm, the staff is friendly, and they have hot water. It is recommended that you stay an extra day in Manang because AMS is a reality that does not even spare the Sherpas. The air feels thinner from Manang onwards, and you find yourself taking deeper breaths often. It is also recommended that you attend the daily lectures that the Himalayan Rescue Association holds in Manang. There is a doctor who is extremely well informed. And he's rather good looking too, but that's not why you should attend his lecture. He gives some very useful tips on how to sail smoothly through the next three days to the Thorung La pass. The acclimatisation principle is to "climb high and sleep low". There are many day trips one can take from Manang to the 'climb high' part. A map of times, distances, and locations of the day trips has been placed next to the central stupa in the village. Abilasha chose the Praken Gompa. The other four of us chose the Ice Lake, and spent the day wishing we we had gone with Abhi's choice.
Acclimatisation trek to Ice lake
Ice Lake
Let me be honest. Ice lake is a damn hard climb. Now that that has been said, I don't need to dwell on how Dorota and I asked the Shyam the porter every twenty minutes - "Are we there yet?" It's four hours of straight climbing, a 1000 metre ascent, and it acclimatised us like nobody's business. It played hell with my knees because the three hour descent was as steep as the climb had been. But the view at the top was entirely worth it.

We watched "Seven years in Tibet" at the projection hall that night.
Day six - Sunday, 20 Nov 2011: Manang (3600m) Yak Kharka (4050m), 9km, 3.5 hours
.....to be continued.....

9 comments:

  1. Truth be told...the feeling I had after reading this was envy. I could almost feel I was there.

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  2. Really a treat to read!!!! Reminds me of the days I spent in Ladakh and Siachen..Honestly speaking therz nothing in this world that can make u feel so nostalgic, as the memories of those beautiful treks to far off lonely places!!!!!!!

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  3. all i can say is !!!! wow. . :))) it bring back all the beautiful memories.......

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  4. nicely crafted blog Doc...unfortunately my CD not reached but once u get it, u will have some nice pics of upper Pisang trail.waiting eagerly for next day's blog :)

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  5. Lovely narrative, Manjot. Pronil's read the entire thing twice. He says that he wants to be a travel journalist when he grows up. Waiting for the next post.

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  6. Beautiful. Gets you charged up to plan such a trip of your own.

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  7. Its like reading a book. This kind of stuff is not supposed to be freely available on the internet.

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  8. Really enjoying your writing. Brings back my memories as our dates are identical as we often crossed paths.
    Does your narrative continue past Mañang.
    Eric

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  9. Firstly, a very well written narrative.. inspires me to write one of my own. But more importantly makes me see the same journey through someone else's perspective given that the two jouneys happened just a few days apart.
    trek on
    sameer

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