Saturday, April 25, 2015

Solo Trekking around the Annapurna Circuit (March-April 2015)

I remember the first time I read about the Annapurna Circuit was back in the year 2009.

I was staying in one of those backpackers' lodge in Kota Kinabalu during my semester break in the university, and while just killing time browsing the travel magazines at the lobby, I came across one write-up on this great hiking trail. I was so engrossed by the adventure described in the article that I thought to myself: one day, I am definitely going to go there and experience it myself.

It took me six years before I could finally realize that dream, when in March 2015 I landed in Kathmandu, Nepal, to begin my solo Himalayan adventure along the Annapurna Circuit.

Below is my journal during the trek which was previously posted as Facebook postings, which is know compiled here for easy reference:

First and Second Day of Trekking the Annapurna Circuit:

The trek begins in a village of Besi Shahar, which is situated at 760 meters above the sea level, and for the first and second day, ascended through the villages of Bhulbule - Nadi Bazar - Bahundanda - Ghermu - Syange - Jagat.

The journey was tough, of course, especially since I was doing it alone -- without a guide or a porter -- and so I had to carry all my stuff, 13 kg in all by myself -- and navigate my own route, assisted only  with the map and the markings along the trail.

The people here were extremely nice and warm, though, especially the Nepalese kids who would always greet you with a 'Namaste' and asking very nicely for sweets and candies.

Second and Third Day of Trekking:

Moving on to the second and third day, the journey continued through the villages of Jagat - Chyamche - Tal - Karte - Dharapani - Odar - Bagarchap - Timang - Koto - Chame. It seems to get tougher and tougher by the day, but also with more rewarding sceneries.

Today, the third day, particularly was tough, as the whole 7 hours trekking was through drizzling rain.

Chame, where I stopped for the day, is a village at 2,710 meters above sea level. The weather was cold, but lucky that the Guest House was warm and cozy.

The charges for the rooms at the Guest Houses along the trails are very cheap. Some, like the one I stayed at, even let me stay the night for free, provided that I take dinner and breakfast there (and not else where), so they charge only for the food.

I think perhaps 50 percent of the local people I met either had been to Malaysia or have relatives who work in Malaysia. One particular guy said he worked in Malaysia for 5 years, saved enough money and returned to Nepal to start his Guest House business at the village of Jagat. While working in Malaysia, he said, he spent only 250 Nepalese Rupees per month (around RM9) for food and place! Of course by sharing with other Nepalese friends. The remaining he saved and sent home to his family.

There was a dog (in one of the picture below) that, for some reason, decided to tag along with me through out my trail from Dharapani to Odar. When I stop to rest, the dog would also stop. It'll walk ahead of me, but always looking back to check if I was still there.

Not only were the people here nice, the animals too were kind.

Day 5, 6 and 7 of Annapurna Circuit.

It is interesting to note the changes on the surroundings when trekking along a trail that starts at a lower altitude, and then slowly ascend higher.

Having went through the villages of Bhratang - Dhikur Pokhari - Pisang - Ghyaru - Nawal - Mugje - Bhraka, the village where I stopped to rest since yesterday, Manang, is situated at 3,540 meters above sea level.

Today (day 7) is actually a rest day from trekking. Having spent last night in Manang, I'm going to spend yet another night here, to help acclimatize with the high altitude. I've read that it is advisable to do so, before ascending even higher, so as to avoid altitude mountain sickness or high altitude cerebral oedema (yep, I too have no idea what that means). But basically, above 3,500 meters, oxygen is thinner and CO2 diminishes and so there is an impact to the acidity of the blood when one breathes, as well as on the cell membranes. And for these, the body needs time to adapt and acclimatize. Failure to allow the body to adapt could be fatal.

I notice that the people at the higher altitude seems to have fairer albeit rougher skins, and with smaller eyes -- more of a Tibetan look, perhaps, and lesser of an Indian look. Often times the locals mistaken me as one of them, for my fair skin and small eyes.

Eating is not difficult here. I order mainly vegetarian dishes -- baked potatoes, oat porridge, omelette, capati, etc.

Praying too, isn't much of a problem, with the rukhsah for musafir. I normally determine where Mecca is by looking at the sun and the time to know the directions. I have normal ablution for all the prayers, save for Subuh when the water is too cold, and I'm forced to perform tayammum to avoid having frost bite.

I haven't taken a bath for four days.

Day 8, 9 and 10 of Annapurna Circuit.

From Manang where I last stopped for two nights for acclimatization, the journey continued up to the villages of Ghusang (Gunsang) - Yak Kharka - Churi Ledar.

Churi Ledar is situated at 4,200 meters above sea level, and it was snowing lightly during my whole trek from Yak Kharka to Churi Ledar. Lucky that I arrived early, because a snow storm ensued in the evening.

At this stage of the trek, even if one feels like hiking further, it would be ill advised to do so, because of the altitude. One should only sleep 500 or so meters above the night before, to allow the body to adapt before ascending higher the next day.

From Churi Ledar onwards, there isn't any village any more, because it's just too high and too cold. What's left are the base camps (lower camp or known as Thorung Phedi, and the High Camp) before crossing the Thorong La Pass -- which is often referred to as the highest pass in the world that sits at 5,416 meters above sea level.

So from Churi Ledar I hiked up to the High Camp, ready to climb up the Thorong La Pass the next morning.

Truth be told though, I was a bit nervous, nay, a lot nervous actually. First, because according to one of the porters that I met along the trek, this is the first time after so many years doing the Annapurna that he sees it snows so heavily in March-April; second, the landlord of the guest house where I stayed in Churi Ledar told me that just last week two European trekkers were lost amidst a snow storm, and because they could not see the way (it was all white), they were forced to just sleep in the middle of nowhere in the snow, and when they were finally rescued by helicopter, their fingers were all frost-bitten; third, there was a Korean guy I met during dinner at the High Camp who said that he just attempted to cross the Thorong La Pass that afternoon, but was forced to return to the High Camp after he could not find his way, as all the paths were covered with thick snow, some thigh deep; and fourth, since I didn't really know the way up to the Thorong La Pass, it would only make sense for me to follow some other organized groups that are led by experienced guide -- but this also means following their schedule, and they plan to leave at 5 in the morning. I read that leaving the High Camp before 6 to head for the Thorong La Pass when it is snowing heavily, runs the risk of having frost injuries (I don't want to lose my fingers!).

Lucky, though, when I actually made my way up to the Thorong La Pass at 5 am, it was really uneventful, save for the time when I realized that my gloves were grossly insufficient for the bitter weather (it was minus 7 degrees and it was windy) and I couldn't feel my fingers, and when I bit them, it was as hard as ice and I could almost hear the crack. I quickly stopped and took out my extra socks, and used them as additional gloves, and alhamdulillah, I started to feel the blood in the fingers again.

The Thorong La Pass was basically just snow, snow and snow every where you look. And the fact that some were knee deep made it really difficult and tiring to climb.

After having crossed the Thorong La Pass, what followed was the 7 hours arduous descend to the village of Muktinath, where, finally, I could have warm shower (after, I think, 7 or 8 days without taking a bath). Needless to say, the descend was really wearing on my knees.

I'll end my travel journal here as my trek by foot ends here, although tomorrow I might be taking a bus to the village of Kagebani, a very old, medieval village, where, thousands of years ago, used to control trading between upper Mustang and Tibet as it is situated at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki River and the Jhong Rover.

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