AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Annapurna Sanctuary & Poon Hill

Day 1: Naya Pul to Ulleri
Altitude: 1,000m
Climb: 1,080m
Time: 4h45m  + 75 minute lunch

We had arranged with the company that supplied our porter guide to send a taxi at 8am and take us from the hotel to the bus station in Pokhara, this allowed us to have breakfast at a reasonable hour. It was a short taxi ride to the bus station in Pokhara, where Prem (our porter) and I bought the tickets to Naya Pul. As soon as we left Annemarie alone with the bags she was mobbed by sellers, but that’s just how things work in Asia. A single foreign woman is a prime target for anyone selling anything.

We had been dreading the local bus to Naya Pul after our last experience with a local bus (from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi). That bus had been extremely crowded, filled with diesel containers, had huge sacks of anything from cement mix to rice in the aisle and even had a woman throwing up for over an hour (filling quite a few sick bags). When the bus pulled into the station all the locals surged forward to get their bags on the roof then crush into the ancient wreck. As we stood waiting for the crush to end we had the pleasure of watching a guy open his window and spit, almost none stop for over a minute. How he had that much spit to get rid of is unknown to me, but the sight and sound is pretty unpleasant. The bus wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d been dreading. The seats were clean and almost everyone had a seat. But, within a few minutes we were stopping every few hundred metres and picking up more and more people and the bus was getting a lot more cramped. Annemarie bore the brunt of the crush this time as she had the aisle seat. A woman trying first to lean on Annemarie and then just sat on her. A few shoves and she got the message. Another guy was holding onto a handle to steady himself, but he picked a place so his arm was basically on Annemarie’s head yet had plenty of room around him. He kept his arm there for over 30 minutes. Personal space in Nepal is an unknown concept. Apart from these two issues the only remaining problem was a very strong smell of concentrated piss! From the overhead shelves we could see something dripping (onto someone’s back two rows in front of us) and the smell of piss was overwhelming. We soon discovered there was a goat on the roof (again!) and it had obviously not been toilet trained for the bus! Our worries were now twofold, firstly not letting goat wee drip on us and secondly, hoping our bag isn’t covered in goat pee.

The ride out of Pokhara to Naya Pul was quite scenic. It’s amazing that as we climbed up the mountain side there are signs of human habitation everywhere. Buildings are dotted in the most precarious places and the bus was continually stopping to drop peoole off or pick up people from these tiny hamlets. A combination of constantly stopping and the bus which looked like it had been carved from a single chunk of cast iron meant it took 90 minutes to cover only 40km.

Naya Pul is quite large, certainly larger than we were expecting and as we walked down the road (dirt track full of puddles) we passed shops selling everything imaginable. Just before the bridge our TIMS cards were stamped and our names logged. We were now officially in the Annapurna Conservation Area. After crossing the bridge our Annapurna permit was checked (we pay to be logged as trekkers then pay for access to the Annapurna area) and then the trek proper could start. From here we followed a dirt road which climbed very gently from the riverbed up the valley. The track had a few other people setting off on the trek, but nothing really busy. We made good progress on the track and easily clocked up the first few miles.

We had been aiming for Hille for lunch but we decided we were hungry and stopped earlier. As we sat waiting for our food the sky became very dark and the hills were now covered in low clouds. Then the heavens opened and it poured down! The rain was pelting down for well over 30 minutes, all the time we were sat around waiting for the world’s slowest restaurant to serve our food. The small restaurant quickly filled with people taking shelter from the rain and soon it was full, adding yet more pressure on the already struggling chef. We finally ate, I had a safe and filling meal of veg fried rice while Annemarie tried a more adventurous potato rosti. Mine was fine, but Annemarie rosti had quite a few long black hairs in it. Yummy, NOT!

Lunch

After what felt like an age (actually about 75 minutes) we had to make a decision, stay put and dry or push on in the rain. Reluctantly, we decided it was best to put on our rain coats and continue. It was still warm and the air was humid, combined with the uphill slope which was now getting steeper making this an unpleasant part of the walk. But, it wasn’t long before the rain reduced to little more than big drops falling infrequently, which was enough for us to remove the coats. I was soaking from sweat anyway.

We reached Tidekhunga around 2pm and walked past the lodges which according to our Lonely Planet guide is where day one should end. We took a short rest here before what the Lonely Planet describes as “… the endless stone staircase to Ulleri”. The sky was getting darker by the minute and we went up the steps in constant fear that it was going to pour down and we would end up drenched. This fear powered us up the steps at a reasonable rate, but there was a problem. Prem, our porter was struggling. Yes, he was carrying our bag which weighed about 12kg and we were only carrying day bags weighing about 4-5kg but we had expected him to be at least equal to us when carrying the weight, it was his job after all. But, he kept having to stop every time we reached a rest point. This continual stopping and the clouds growing ever darker was stressful, we didn’t want to leave Prem but on the other hand we didn’t want to get soaked. We tried coaxing him up, telling him about the rain, we tried telling him we didn’t mind going ahead, but he did mind and wanted us with him, constantly taking a rest stop. It eventually took us 90 minutes to get up the stone staircase which is said to have more than 3,300 steps and after a quick photo stop we started looking for a lodge to spend the night.

DSC00921

Ulleri

We picked a lodge out of the cluster in Ulleri and went in to take a look. The room we were taken to was amazing, clean, carpet between the beds, lino by the door, blankets which didn’t stink, windows overlooking the valley and an en-suite (known by the more descriptive term ‘attached bathroom’). This was perfect, we couldn’t believe our luck, and it was totally empty. The hot shower was downstairs so we immediately dived into the shower. The showers are gas powered with a little boiler so they are lovely and warm and the water reached a lovely 40°+. If the rest of the trip was going to be like this it would be heaven, possibly the perfect trek! As we sat in our comfortable room getting dried and dressed the rain started outside. It was the usual afternoon torrential downpour which we had experienced everyday since arriving in Pokhara 4 days ago.

The evening meal in the communal dining room was a very different feeling to what we’d experienced in Langtang. On the Langtang trek the lodges usually had 4-6 people, travelling in ‘pairs’ and usually had a close and communal feeling. Here groups were usually 4 or more people, sitting in isolation, playing cards and generally interacting only within the group. We did overhear a group of Americans asking a Chinese woman about Tibet, a pointless task as she repeated the official line and the Americans kept telling her Tibet was separate to China. They argued for a while with no winner. We went to bed around 8pm.

Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani
Altitude: 2,080m
Climb: 800m
Time: ~4 hours

The day started with a continuation of the steps from the day before. The sun was shining and although the view was hazy we could see down to the valley floor, from which we had climbed the day before. We climbed up the steps and entered a forest section which was almost flat ground. In the forest we could hear the streams and waterfalls but the trees were densely packed and we couldn’t see much. The path through the forest sloped up a bit, hit more steps, then sloped, then steps. It felt like the steps would never end.

DSC00934

DSC00935

DSC00937

DSC00938

DSC00939

Ghorepani Village Entrance

It was around lunch time when we reached Ghorepani. This is a huge village, filled with massive guesthouses, all of which we empty. It was like a ghost town. This is because almost everyone continues up the steps for another 10 minutes to Upper Ghorepani. In Upper Ghorepani it was just starting to rain when we registered at the local police check point (something everyone else ignored). As the other trekkers walked past us up the steps into the village I decided I should go on ahead and find the guest house listed as the best in the Lonely Planet, before it filled up. I found the place easily, The Sunny Hotel, located on the right hand side near the end of the village. The timing was perfect to, thick clouds had now covered the village and the rain was starting to get heavy. It certainly wasn’t a sunny day at the Sunny Hotel.

View from Ghorepani

DSC00948

DSC00950

The room was OK (but not as good as the previous place) with a view that was none existent due to the clouds, but would have been great looking down the valley. There were two shared toilets and a shower that required a short walk outside. The shower was a gas shower but like all the lodges the gaps around the door and roof were huge causing a freezing cold draft.

We decided we should have a large lunch and looking at other people’s plates the food looked good. The menu was huge, covering Indian, Nepali, Italian, Mexican, plus many more cuisines. Annemarie had a veg kebab followed by apple pie and custard, and I had a shikh kebab with chocolate pudding for dessert. The afternoon was spent reading, drinking tea and huddling around the tiny fire in the centre of the huge dining room trying to keep warm.

Another difference we had noticed between Langtang and Annapurna was the porters in Langtang usually disappeared into the kitchen and kept warm by the fire and talked in there, leaving the trekkers to huddle by the wood burning stoves and talk amongst themselves in the dining room, whereas in Annapurna the porters and guides would stay in the dining room. This meant the fight to stay warm was tougher with the porters crowding around the stove.

Our evening meal we had a plate of chips and very lightly toasted bread, chip butties! A very nice snack as we were still stuffed from our huge lunch. We spent the evening talking to an unlucky and somewhat crazy Aussie couple. They were travelling to Europe to work in the UK and had been in Asia for a few months. It had rained almost all the time they were in Japan; Thailand had been pretty much the same and now they were in Nepal and it was still raining. The rain god was following them and judging by the recent British weather (wettest January on record and massive flooding) the rain would probably follow them all the way to the UK. They were telling us about prices in Sydney and just how expensive it was to live there. Tales about spending $300+ on a meal, the costs of rent, beer, wine and interestingly the street price of cocaine. It sounded ridiculously expensive, or maybe this couple just had a ton of cash and knew how to spend it. Not only had that lived very expensive lifestyles but they travelled in the same fashion. What would be considered as the top end of the price range for a guide with all accommodation and food included ($50 per day) was what they were paying PER PERSON. While we were spending about $30 per day on food and accommodation plus another $17 on a porter they were spending $100, not including drinks! They admitted to not researching and arriving the day before they started the trek with no knowledge. We don’t understand how they had so much money whilst acting so stupidly…

Day 3: Ghorepani to Tadapani
Altitude: 2,870m
Climb: 550m ascent, 700m descent
Time: 4 hours

The day started at 5:20am to climb Poon Hill for the sunrise which is at about 6:15am. We woke easily enough and quickly got dressed. Outside there was a little light in the sky and we could see the clouds, thick, heavy clouds filling the sky. We debated about going back to bed and skipping it but Poon Hill is one of the most famous parts of the Annapurna area, so to get here and not even bother would be a waste.

The climb to the top is supposedly about 45 minutes and judging by the discussions the night before and the fact that the village was totally dead at 5:30am most had assumed it would take longer and had already left. We set off in our thermal long johns, thick coat and other warm clothing. It was a short climb to the ticket point, where we had to pay 100NPR ($1) each entrance fee. As we climbed two things quickly became apparent; Firstly, the air wasn’t very cold and we were feeling hot from the climbing, and secondly, as the sky got lighter we could see the whole sky was covered with thick grey clouds. Prem kept urging us on whilst I kept arguing that it was pointless and a waste of time. Either his enthusiasm knew no bounds or he didn’t understand me. We continued up a bit more, passing an American couple, two Chinese women, some Russians, Koreans, etc. They all appeared totally out of breath and knackered, we were sweating a bit. Near the top things got worse, the top of Poon Hill, which is 3,200m, was in the clouds. Not only was the view covered by clouds but so were we. At this point I’d had enough and stated that going any further was a totally pointless waste of time, but still Prem kept calling and urging us on. We stood around for a few minutes arguing whether to continue and Annemarie decided we might as well go up just to see. Fed up with this (I can be a little grumpy in the morning) I jogged the last minute or so to the top, sat around until Annemarie reached the top, took a photo then decided to leave. The top was absolutely packed with at least a hundred people, mostly taking the obligatory selfie or staring at the clouds.

Poon Hill

Back at the Sunny View (still not sunny) we had porridge for breakfast and left around 8am. Just before we left we had a quick chat to the Aussie couple we’d been talking with the night before. They’d seen the clouds at 5:30am and gone back to bed, deciding to stay another day and try again the next morning.

We set off uphill into the clouds again and it wasn’t long before we caught up with a Japanese group going extremely slowly up some steps. They were taking about one step every two seconds and were making such slow process it was unbearable. We jumped onto the mud beside the steps and with minimal slipping and sliding made it past the group of about 20. We then passed another few couples on the steep path and stopped after less than 5 minutes to remove some layers of clothing. A fleece top and a pair of gloves was enough to keep us warm, because although we were hot from the climb the air wasn’t very warm and the wind was chilly. Prem was again struggling to keep up and we kept leaving him behind.

We continued up the hill until we reached a rest point that was teaming with trekkers and porters, all sitting around having a break. We continued on through the clouds leaving Prem behind. On this section we think it was a ridge, we could see steep drops on both sides but the hillside disappeared down into mist and cloud and we had no idea how far down the slope went. Now and again the clouds would part just a little showing the tinniest glimpse of the mountains that were totally hidden from us. We continued along this ridge alone and entered a forest.

DSC00961

Walking through the forest was just like walking in the UK in winter. The trees were quite bare, the mist wove itself around the trees so the woods would gradually fade out of view, the footpath was muddy and on the side of the path there was a thin layer of snow. The path went up and down a bit but nothing steep and progress was only slowed by the thick mud and large roots covering the path. One section was covered with snow, typically it was a downhill slope. The snow had been well compacted so we had no chance to dig our shoes in and find grip, the surface was also smooth and slippery. This was where the walking poles were suddenly very useful. It only took a few minutes to get over that section then we were back in the mud. This trail, between Ghorepani and Tadopani, was busy with porters. They have baskets that are waist high and big enough for an adult to fit it, loaded with goods and then carried with a single piece of material which goes over the forehead. All the weight is transferred straight down the spine. I guess that if we were to try this technique and do it incorrectly (which is very likely) we’d snap our necks. These people are carrying probably 30kg+ on their foreheads! The porters were slower than us uphill and we’d often get stuck behind a group of 3, 4 or 5 porters, then we’d spot a wider section of the path and run past them, only to reach a downhill section where they would almost run down. On average they were walking at about the same pace, just with 30kg on their heads!

We walked down a long set of steps and entered a valley. The top of the valley had a lot of mini stone stupas stacked in the riverbed.

Steps on Path to Tadopani

Stupas

We then continued down this valley for maybe 40 minutes. Again, it was exactly like walking in the UK. If we’d been dropped here blindfolded and then asked to guess where we were the UK would be our guess. The low cloud and mist reduced visibility to no further than two or three trees deep, the valley had a steam running down three middle, it was very green and mossy and had big stones strewn around the valley. It’s was reminiscent of walks in the Yorkshire Dales and we told Prem that this was like here we were from. We ascended a short flight of steps to a group of tea houses (on this trek no matter how isolated you may feel it’s never longer than an hour to a tea house) and although it was only 11:30am we were hungry. Our body clocks were a bit out of kilter today due to the extremely early start.

Lunch consisted of a plate of chips for me and veg curry for Annemarie. It was a bit chilly outside so we sat inside in a cozy little dining room. We were joined by a German lady and a group of German trekkers and a little later by a British guy. He was only doing the short 5 day Poon Hill circuit but was considering base camp, depending on his shoes. He was wearing shoes like ours and was unsure about base camp because he’d heard there was a lot of snow up there. We assured him that our shoes were not waterproof, just ordinary trail runners and we were going to base camp. He didn’t seem convinced.

It was only about half an hour from the lunch stop to reach Tadopani. We were tired and lazy and decided that although it was only 1pm and we’d only walked for about 4 hours this was all we could be bothered to walk today. Our porter/guide wanted us to continue to a remote lodge at a place called Chuile, mainly because the views were supposed to be great. He obviously hadn’t noticed the thick clouds. Tadopani is little more than a cluster of lodges and a shop in the middle. I looked around us and none of the guest houses looked appealing. So I picked a large one close to us and went to take a look. The bedroom was stone floor, two single beds and wooden walls filled with holes. The toilet was somewhere nearby and the shower was across the yard in a metal shack. No-one else was around and it looked very basic, so I left. On top of the hill was the Panorama Hotel. It was listed in the Lonely Planet as been popular and the dining room was in a tower on stilts about 10 foot high. I went up to take a look. The German woman we’d ate lunch with had just arrived but she was less than impressed and told her guide to find somewhere else. The rooms were basic, two beds and a stone floor with the usual massive gaps in the wall but the toilet was western style and close and the shower wasn’t too far too walk. Slightly better than the last place I looked at, but worse than the night before. I took it.

The afternoon was mostly spent reading by the stove in the tower dining room and drinking tea. The room had almost 360° views of dark grey clouds. The porters sat around the stove and stared at us in silence. Often we found that porters will sit in groups in silence and just stare. We don’t know why they don’t talk between themselves, but in some places they talk and shout and in most they sit in silence.

That evening we were talking to an interesting American couple who had left everything in the US and moved to Thailand to teach. They were on a short holiday from Thailand to Nepal and just trekking the Poon Hill circuit, which is about 5 days and seems to be by far the most popular. We’d seen them that morning on the steps up Poon Hill and they had turned around. But instead of waiting another day they had continued and were going to Ghandruk the next day to hope for a clear view. We decided they were crazy. Poon Hill is one of the highlights and at 3,200m it has fantastic views of the Annapurna range. If you make the effort to come all the way to Nepal, then trek up a mountain and actually reach Poon Hill and have nothing else planned, you might add well sit it out and wait. To continue and get a worse view is a waste of time and money. Apart from that they were a nice couple and we spent the whole evening chatting and sharing their large jug of rice wine (which had a paint striper flavour).

Day 4: Tadopani to Sinuwa
Altitude: 2,710m
Climb: lots!
Time: 6 hours + 1h30m tea and food

We knew this was going to be a long day but we didn’t know just how bad it would be. The day started with breakfast of porridge and tea and we left in the bright sunshine around 8:30am. Although the sun was shining the mountains were still covered by clouds and the rest of the view was obscured by a heavy haze.

DSC00983

DSC00986

Most people were doing the Poon Hill circuit and were heading to Ghandruk, we were heading to Chomrong on the much quieter path. We immediately started heading downhill through the woods and it was only a few minutes before we were passing people. We had noticed that on this trek we were faster than almost everyone else, there were a few trekkers, such as some Germans and a few Brits, who were faster, but they were very definitely in the minority. After 30 minutes of gentle downhill the trees cleared and a little after that we reached Chuile. It sat on a flat piece of land looking directly down the valley. On the right hand side of the valley was the path to Ghandruk, on the left was the path to Chomrong. We sat for a few minutes (mainly because Prem wanted a rest) and looked around. On the left hand-side we could see a tea house, it was slightly lower than Chiule, but there was a problem, between us and it was the deep valley and the only way to get across was using a suspension bridge about 5m above the river, which was probably 400m below us!  The sides were steep and the path leads straight down one side, over the suspension bridge then straight back up the other side. This was going to be painful…

DSC00991

DSC00992

I decided that a tea house on the other side would be where we should stop for a break and a cup of tea. Going down the hill took over 30 minutes. It was pretty steep and our knees took a pounding.

DSC00997

But even here on the steep hillside we passed tea houses. I bet they do good trade on trekkers coming from Chomrong to Tadopani. We crossed the suspension bridge at the bottom and the path immediately climbed straight up the hillside.

DSC00995

A combination of steps, steep slopes and a hot sun made this a sweaty and difficult section. We were dripping and tired by the time reached the top. Prem was nowhere in sight, he’d long given up on trying to keep up with us on hills. Our preferred method is to slog on and get to the top fast (albeit sweaty and panting) because at least now it was completed, we could rest. Going slowly and dragging it out is just annoying. Now we were at the top it couldn’t be far to the tea house for a well deserved sit down and cup of tea. Sure enough the tea house was only a few minutes along the path. It was a nice one as well!

From the tea house we could see the path to Chomrong. It was pretty flat and followed the valley. We knew that we could make good progress on that section and easily make up for going so slow on the last section down into the valley and back up.

Path to Chomrong

We reached Chomrong around 12:30pm and set about looking for somewhere to eat. Chomrong was huge, far larger than anything we’d expected. It was like the village had been stretched lengthways along the path. We walked for about 5 minutes at the highest point of the village we stopped to eat lunch. It was called The Excellent View and the view was actually excellent. Even through the haze we could see down the valley towards Ghandruk, up the valley where we would be going for the next few days, and a few mountains were just visible. The rooms looked reasonable and we decided that on our way back down we’d stay here. Lunch was very tasty and we were feeling good. Progress had been good so far.

From the Excellent View we could see our destination for the day, Sinuwa. There is a Lower Sinuwa and an Upper Sinuwa. Lower Sinuwa was opposite us and slightly higher, Upper Sinuwa didn’t look much above it and both looked close enough to reach quite quickly. But, there was an obstacle! Yet another deep valley in which we would have to descend all the way to the river to cross the suspension bridge then climb all the way back up the opposite side. We were quickly learning that in Nepal distance is hard to judge accurately. Just because it looks close doesn’t mean it is! Another issue was the rain. Just as we were finishing our lunch big drops of rain started falling. It gradually got heavier until it was proper rain. Luckily the heavy rainfall only lasted about 10 minutes then it reduced to a gentle rain. Annemarie decided it was finally time to wear her poncho (which we’d been carrying for 5 months and haven’t used once). It’s huge and bright yellow and certainly not designer gear. I decided not to look like a walking carrier bag and would make do with the few big drops of rain.

From the Excellent View it was all downhill and steps. The steps looked new and were flat and evenly spaced. Little consolation when it took us over 30 minutes to reach the suspension bridge at the bottom.

DSC01004

DSC01003

DSC01005

Our knees were aching now as this was the second time in one day that we had descended more than 400m down a steep hillside. The rain had stopped but the clouds were very low and dark and it wouldn’t be long before the usual afternoon torrential downpour would be coming. We had to get to Sinuwa before that rain started. Ignoring Prem, who was far behind again, we wasted no time in getting moving and heading up the hillside. It was only 15 minutes into this climb that the rain started and we both had to get our ponchos on ASAP. From here to Sinuwa we slogged on through the heavy rain and up the steep slopes for around an hour. It was horrible and by far the lowest point of the trek. We were hot and sweating in the poncho but to uncover would result in an immediate soaking.

Upon reaching Upper Sinuwa we looked at the guest houses available. The first looked basic, I walked a little way down the path to the next guest house and it also looked basic. After 5 minutes of dithering Prem arrived and pointed us to the Hill Side Lodge. It also looked basic but had a western toilet. The wall had some gaps to the room next to ours but bigger gaps to the outside. Typical! We know that building material has to be carried up the mountain by manual labour but adding some insulation to the lodges would be such a nice improvement. I immediately dived into the shower because I was soaking wet with sweat but found the shower had huge gaps in the walls and it was freezing cold the second the water wasn’t touching skin. A reminder which I didn’t need that the air temperature up here was cold.

DSC01013

The evening was quite dull. There was a Dutch couple, then two Dutch girls who had teamed up with two Brazilian guys and were now travelling together. One of the Dutch girls had received news that her grandmother was very ill back in Holland so she spent quite some time checking whether she could get a helicopter to take her down the mountain in a hurry if she needed it. Needless to say that was a stupid plan and the helicopter wasn’t covered by the insurance and would probably cost about €6,000 to get airlifted to Pokhara. The rest of the evening was spent listening to their plans and more worryingly the fact they were heading to the same place as us the next day. The Brazilians had a guide and he confirmed there were only four lodges at Deurali and most people would stop there, making it very busy. He’d already rung ahead and booked rooms and the Dutch couple were asking questions about the lodges and could he book them a room. They looked as nervous as we felt. We went to bed early, totally shattered from the long walk and the deep valleys we’d had to cross that day.

Day 5: Sinuwa to Deurali
Attitude: 2,340m
Climb: 800m
Time: 4 hours + 1 hour lunch

This was to be a fast day. Filled with fear of reaching Deurali late and finding all the rooms booked we were up at just turned 7am. My t-shirt was hanging in the sun in the hope it would dry for the day ahead (I’d washed it in the shower the day before but it was still wet after hanging for 15 hours). Breakfast took an age to arrive and once we’d finished eating, brushed teeth, got changed and packed the bag it was 8:30am. We had also spent some time taking photos of the mountains. This was the first clear view we’d had of the mountains and we wanted some photos.

DSC01035

Machhapuchchhre

Then we had to wait for Prem. He wasn’t ready. He hadn’t brushed his teeth, put his shoes on, been to the toilet or even put the correct clothing on for the day ahead. It was as if he was determined to ensure we didn’t get a room! We had asked quite a few times about Deurali and he’d always said it would be fine. There would be rooms, which became there might be rooms, which then became there was probably rooms and if not then shared rooms and at the worst case then sleeping in the dining room was also a possibility. None of this had filled us with confidence. Now we were late by our own doing. This made us eager to get going but we had to wait for Prem, the person we were paying to make this trek easier and better, and he was delaying us… this was too much. We paced around, huffed a bit (well just me), impatient to leave. Watching him attempt to tie his bag to ours felt like an age had gone by. At 8:45am we were ready to leave.

The path wasn’t too bad, a slight slope up, a few steps, another slope. Nothing arduous. But Prem often dropped behind to stop and rest. But to us this was a race, we knew of 6 people heading to the same place as us already. We passed a European woman at the top of a slope as she took a rest and when we reached a long flight of steps we stopped to take some photos and found Prem walking and talking with her. They passed us and continued at a good pace ahead. Although Prem couldn’t keep up with us he made the effort to walk with her. Maybe it was just us…

DSC01055

DSC01059

DSC01060

We reached Bamboo, a few lodges in a bamboo forest around 10:30am but decided against stopping and passed straight through. From Bamboo to Himalaya Hotel it was another one and a half hours. We had passed through Doban about 45 minutes after Bamboo. It was a cluster of three guest houses and we decided we liked the look of them and would stop there on the way back. We hung around for almost 10 minutes before Prem caught up and left as soon as we’d told him to have a rest. Our Lonely Planet has times between places and it reckoned Doban to Himalaya Hotel would be 1:10, we did it in 50 minutes walking as fast as we could.

At Himalaya Hotel it was lunch time and sitting at one table we saw an American woman who had been staying in the same hotel as us. Her name was Annie and the day before we’d set off on the trek we’d walked with her to the Peace Pagoda and back into Pokhara, followed by lunch. That had been a good day and she was a very interesting person. She hadn’t been to Poon Hill yet so she was on her way down. We sat and chatted for a bit before she left. The woman Annie had been sat with left after a while. She was heading up the valley, same as us, and was also planning on staying at Deurali. We had also seen the European woman skip lunch and continue past us up the hill, almost certainly to Deurali. That now totalled 8 people who we knew going to Deurali. We sat around waiting for our food. The Brazilian and Dutch people had sat in the adjacent restaurant and their food had been served; we continued to wait. After an hour we were getting impatient and very fidgety. WHERE WAS OUR FOOD? This wasn’t fun. This was stressful. We’d rushed up the hillside, far faster than the times in our trekking book, pushing ourselves quite hard, only to have our time advantage eroded by this dammed restaurant! Even Prem, who’d arrived a long time after us had finished his food before ours was served. Finally, after what felt like forever, the food arrived. We ate fast.

As we left Himalaya Hotel we met a British group heading up. Two older women and a guy about my age. They seemed to be in no rush and were wearing full waterproofs in anticipation of the rain which was about to hit us. I decided we should do this next section as fast as possible. With that announcement made we set off, me leading the way at the pace of a brisk walk. Almost immediately Prem was left behind. I didn’t care. We had to get a room! The next 55 minutes are a blur. We stopped a few times to catch our breaths or allow our heart rate to slow to something near normal. There were many flights of steps but luckily the Langtang trek plus the last few days seemed to have really helped and I was feeling no pain! Annemarie wasn’t feeling as good but the impending rain and thought of what would happen if there were no rooms spurred her on. Onwards and upwards we went, stopping only when we couldn’t breath fast enough to get the required oxygen.

DSC01075

DSC01076

Seeing Deurali was a huge relief. I went to the guest house listed as the best. No rooms! Straight to the next best, again, no rooms! The last place (we only saw 3 not 4 lodges) was all shared rooms. Annemarie had checked and they had two beds available in the final room. The price was the same as we’d paid everywhere else, but for shared room (6 beds), squat toilet, shower around the corner and a dirty looking dining room. To say we weren’t happy would be an understatement. It was cold, thick clouds with a bitter wind and Prem wasn’t in sight. Annemarie went out to wait for him and tell him which lodge we were in whilst I stayed indoors mainly talking to the others in the room. They included the Dutch couple from the previous night, the European woman (who was Spanish) and the woman who Annie (and us) had been sat with at lunch. She was québécois (French first, then Canadian). Prem arrived 45 minutes after us! For most of that time I had survived in my t-shirt which was soaking with sweat from the march up the hillside. Annemarie was quite cold though and the warm coat she needed was in the bag Prem was carrying. Annemarie asked for blankets and for the first time ever the lodge owner said no. Annemarie demanded the blankets and the owner said we could have one to share. Annemarie argued and demanded two blankets and finally the owner gave in and got her two blankets. The Dutch couple weren’t so lucky and made do with one, whilst the guide for the québécois woman came back empty handed and she had to go and demand a blanket. We’ve never been to a lodge where blankets aren’t just handed out and the owner was extremely rude and unhelpful. We really didn’t like this place, which put me in an even worse mood because I’d been right about Deurali been pretty much full and our porter guide had not helped the situation.

The lodge was full that night. Along with our room the Dutch and Brazilian’s had booked here (I guess the other lodges had been pre-booked well in advance), a group of Koreans, an Aussie girl, a couple of Chinese and an Israeli guy who appeared around 7pm (I think he had to sleep in the dining room). The Israeli guy was a bit strange but had some interesting stories to tell us about Annapurna Base Camp, although the most amusing part was listening to the grilling a guide gave him for coming back down the valley alone in the dark. The next section was the most dangerous part of the trek, an avalanche area, and this guide was telling the Israeli how dangerous and foolhardy it is to do that alone, let alone in the dark. The funniest thing to happen that night was a Korean guy farting! In Korea it’s normal, but in this lodge everyone just stopped, stared, then burst out laughing. He was rather embarrassed. Maybe he was trying to warm the room? This was the second night without any heater in the dining room and it was cold!

Day 6: Deurali to Machapuchre Base Camp (MBC)
Altitude: 3,140m
Climb: 560m
Time: 1hr 40m

I had slept fine apart from the annoying trip to the toilet sometime in the early hours of the morning. Annemarie had slept on the other side of the room, near the Québécois woman. She had been snoring quite loudly and that had kept Annemarie awake some of the night. Once a few people started waking in the morning everyone woke up, so we had an early start. Breakfast was OK but we didn’t like the lodge and just wanted to get out. We finally left around 8am.

From here the scenery totally changed. The trees were gone and the sides of the valley consisted of steep rock faces. The valley felt narrower and we had real peaks above our heads. This was also the most dangerous part of the trek. Avalanches are common and trekkers have been killed on this path. We’d been told by a guide the night before that the path was OK because there are two paths, a safe path and a dangerous path. The dangerous path goes under the avalanche zone whereas the safe path crosses the river and is out of the way of all but the most extreme avalanche. After 5 minutes of walking we saw a sign warning about avalanches, then the path had tree branches over it. We could see people clambering on rocks on the other side of the river and guessed this was where the safe path and dangerous path split. But Prem continued over the tree branches and along the path. We asked if he was sure and he was, we were just as sure that he was wrong. Less than 1 minute on that path and other guides were calling and whistling and waving. Yet again we were right and Prem had been wrong, our confidence in him was now quite low. We easily found the safe path over a rickety metal bridge and along the other side of the river. Here the path had a little bit of everything, thick mud, steep sections, huge boulders, narrow sections lined with trees, snow and slush. But we were having fun on this section and we left Prem far behind.

DSC01089

DSC01097

DSC01092

DSC01101

We crossed back over the river and within few minutes the ground had a layer of snow on it. From here on, everything was covered in snow. A massive avalanche had covered the path a while ago and we could see the tracks leading over it. The slope wasn’t too bad but to slip off the path here would result in sliding a bit down towards the icy river below. After the avalanche and a few sections where the path was narrow, with a steep slope down the side, we reached a long icy hill upwards. People were almost skiing down here and the snow was very compacted and smooth, making coming up extremely difficult. Even worse because our shoes weren’t gore-tex the moisture was starting to seep in and I’d worn my shoes everyday for the past 5 months so I had even less grip. We kicked toe holes into the slope and slowly inched our way up. It took a while but we got up without slipping or falling. After that slope we had to get over another avalanche, this time with very steep slopes down the side and the path was little more than the width of two shoes. To make it more fun there were people constantly coming back down, so we were having to step aside for them or them waiting for us – which rarely happened! After that avalanche, MBC was in sight, at the top of a flight of steps. Well, actually at the top of the steps was one lodge and we had another 5 minutes wading through extremely deep snow to get to the cluster of lodges which make up MBC. Although we were at 3,800m, the sun was extremely powerful and reflecting off the snow, making it feel more like the south of France in summer. I was now down to just a t-shirt but the suncream was in the bag Prem was carrying so I had to continue without it whilst hoping that I could get out of the sun soon.

DSC01106

We saw a bright orange lodge which looked good from the outside so we went in to take a look. Clean room, western toilet, decent gas shower, OK looking dining room. It was only 9:40am and that was us done for the day. We agreed with the owner and sat down for a cup of tea to wait for Prem. The Dutch couple sat down for a tea and a break and decided to stay the night as Britta wasn’t feeling too great from the altitude. We were happy and relieved because for the last few days we had argued about this with Prem. He wanted us to go directly from Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) which is an altitude gain of about 1,000m. All our books and advice state not to sleep more than 500m higher than the night before  and 300m after 2,800m. He just wouldn’t accept it and continually re-iterated that we go from Deurali to ABC. He said about all the other people doing it and how it’s only a short walk. We argued the short walk was irrelevant and it was the altitude gain not the time spent walking which mattered. This had angered us as it was basic safety knowledge that he either didn’t know or didn’t care about. Still, we were here now and booked in, no more walking for the day. That was a good thing because Annemarie was now feeling the effects of altitude again. A headache, a little nauseous; all signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Feeling glad that we were proven right yet again and had done the correct thing we sat back to relax in the hot sun and admired the amazing view around us.

I went for a wander around MBC and up the ridge behind the lodges to get a view into the valley. The snow was incredibly deep. Behind the lodges it was the same depth as the height of single storey buildings. We could see the snow covered valley leading up to ABC, and on three sides we had mountains over 6,000m high. To top it off we had a perfect view of Machapuchre, also known as the fish tail, or the Nepali Matterhorn. The view was great and we just sat back in the sun and enjoyed it.

Andrew at Machhapuchchhre Base Camp

Down the Valley from Machhapuchchhre Base Camp

DSC01117

Machhapuchchhre

Machhapuchchhre

DSC01156

DSC01170

By 1pm the clouds had gathered, destroying the view. The temperature also plummeted. Inside the lodge was the Dutch couple, a Nepali couple now living in London and an Aussie guy. The Nepali guy was suffering really badly from the altitude and looked quite ill, he went to bed at 6pm. We spent the evening talking to the Aussie, who had been working in Japan as an English teacher and had just given it up because the costs were so high compared to his income that he was saving very little and not able to afford to travel as much as he wanted. We also had the heater turned on. The heater is a huge kerosene burner which is placed under the table. The table is wrapped around the sides by blankets, so by sitting at the table with our legs under the blanket it felt lovely and warm. We dried our socks and shoes under there. The only downside was the smell of kerosene, but it’s a small price to pay for warmth.

Day 7: Machapuchare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp
Altitude: 3,700m
Climb: 400m
Time: 1hr 10m

I had woken needing the toilet at about 5:30am and just as I was leaving the room I saw the Dutch couple setting off for the summit. They’d left their bag at MBC and were just going up for the sunrise before going down later, maybe to Himalaya Hotel. I went back to bed and slept soundly until 7am.

The walk to ABC was amazing! We walked up the valley from MBC on a tiny trail of compacted snow. The rest of the valley was covered with wind smoothed, pristine snow. To the left and right were mountains over 6,000m high and behind us was the peak of Machapuchare. The sun was shining brightly and the snow was glistening. Almost the perfect walk. But… the trail was no more than a foot wide and it was very busy. To step off the path would result in you being knee deep in snow. This made progress much slower as we had to stop and shuffle to the edge of the path to make room very frequently. On all sides we were surrounded by mountains, it is a natural amphitheatre! We constantly stopped to admire the view; a landscape painted white by snow. The mountains were not only capped by a smattering of snow but they were coated in it. It was like those picture perfect postcards you get sent in the post but this time we were not only able to capture the scene but we could experience it. This was great!

DSC01173

DSC01175

DSC01176

DSC01183

We reached the welcome sign to base camp and took the obligatory photos. At this point we thought how few people in the world had ever stepped on a point 4,130m above sea level and we were going to stay here (well, compared to the world population, noting that the path and route up felt so busy). A lot of the tours came up from MBC or Deurali early in the morning, took photos then descended. We would be staying here! Spending the whole day wandering then sleeping at 4,100m. How cool!

DSC01192

DSC01193

We got a room and it looked OK; we had a double bed for the first time on the trek. Too cold to even think about the shower and the toilet was another squat. We sorted out our stuff and sat outside in the hot sun looking down the valley, drinking tea. Nice and relaxing and a magnificent view. Behind us was Annapurna south (101st highest peak at 7,219m) and Annapurna I (10th highest peak at 8,091m), in front of us was Machapuchare (6,997m), then we had a few more 6,000m+ peaks to either side. There are only 14 mountains in the world over 8,000m and we were stood at the foot of one, looking straight up at its peak! What an experience! And Annapurna 1 has (since 1990) the second highest mortality rate for climbers, with 19.7% of climbers dying during the attempt, only Kangchenjunga is more dangerous to climb.

After our cup of tea we went for a wander a little further up the valley. But we couldn’t go far because the snow made the route too dangerous. We walked along a ridge with a sheer drop to the glacier. The snow on the top of the ridge made it difficult to know where solid ground ended and the snowy overhang began, making it treacherous to walk around. No-one was crazy enough to go any further than the prayer flags. We stood around for a while taking photos and just admiring the scenery before going back to the lodge.

DSC01196

DSC01217

DSC01225

DSC01235

DSC01250

That afternoon was an interesting time sitting around in our lodge talking with an American from Alaska and his Chinese wife (I’d briefly chatted to him days ago at Ghorepani and last seen him on the path just down from Tadopani). They spent their time travelling between their homes in Alaska and China, or just travelling around seeing the world. There was also a guy from New Zealand who had been travelling for 18 months and his friend who we think was Dutch. A British couple were also staying but they didn’t talk much and hardly spent any time in the dining room. Our lodge was almost empty. The lodge opposite ours was full to the brim. Did they know something we didn’t? The heater under the table was burning and we were warm as we chatted away through the afternoon and into the evening. The snow started falling just after lunch and didn’t stop until after dark, well over 6 hours of continuous snowfall. It was a whiteout for most of the afternoon and that added to a cozy and isolated feeling. The rumbling of thunder (which sounded like an avalanche, presuming we had heard one yesterday), just added to the overall effects. On reflection the day reminded us of Christmas, where you are tucked up inside, whilst the weather outside is frightful, catching up with relatives. We ate and drank our tea whilst talking for many hours about jobs and then democracy. The evening ended with a debate about whether democracy was indeed a linear development or just the West believing it to be the correct system of government (it’s surprising the conversations you have in these places). We went to bed looking forward to the new day.

Day 8: ABC to Doban
Altitude: 4,130m
Climb: 1,600m descent
Time: 4hrs 5m

We woke at 6am for the sunrise. To be honest this was a little underwhelming. Annapurna 1 was covered by clouds and although most of the other peaks were clear it didn’t look much different from the day before. No orange glow, or different colours refracting and reflecting off the snow as the sun rose into the sky – we had heard this happened but we were not lucky. We decided to go inside and eat an early breakfast and get ready to leave. This was to be another racing day! We knew that many people were aiming for Doban as their stopover tonight and others were seeing how far they could go, maybe Doban, maybe further… This meant we’d have to be fast to get a room. We’d heard that Himalaya Hotel had rats (the stop before Doban), Bamboo (the next set of lodges) hadn’t looked so good as we passed on the way up, we refused to stay in Sinuwa (the next place after Bamboo) because we’d hated it on the way up and we were unsure about going all the way to Chomrong because it was probably too far. We either stay at Doban or go full hog to Chomrong!

DSC01263

DSC01273

DSC01274

DSC01277

DSC01279

DSC01292

After a few more photos at the welcome sign we set off down the valley towards MBC. The snow was now even deeper and was quite slippery. We had trouble walking in our approach shoes and were slipping and sliding more than expected. People were passing us, which is a feeling we’re not accustomed to, we usually pass them, not them pass us! This heightened the sense of urgency and spurred us on. The scenery was still amazing though. Walking down a snow filled valley 2.5 miles above sea level was still a pretty awesome thing to be doing!

DSC01294

DSC01295

The section after MBC was going to be bad, but we hadn’t expected it to be as bad as it was. It started immediately after we left MBC. The previous narrow section over the avalanche now seemed slimmer and steeper and was far slipperier. Prem was in his element and leaving us far behind as we crossed with hesitation, being extra cautious. More people were passing us, a British group, a Japanese group, some Nepali tourists – all with two walking poles whereas we just had one each. They were much more confident in their passage along the thin tract of snow and ice. We couldn’t believe how slow our progress was. We caught up with Prem as he took a quick rest and continued to what looked like a fresh avalanche section. We didn’t remember this on the way up and it was hair raising! Very steep slope, near vertical on both sides and with little more than a few places big enough to place a foot to get across it, it made us even slower in our descent down the valley. We watched a few people coming towards us with trepidation. Prem seemed unfazed and with typical Nepali impatience pushed his way though and walked off down the hillside. Maybe we’d annoyed him by continually leaving him on previous days? Either way it was a little annoying that he would leave us on the most dangerous section when we were clearly slipping around plus he said to stick together. The rest of the trail was on steep snowy slopes where we slid our way down (in a rather undignified way) and over the older avalanches. As we crossed the river we passed Prem, he was sat on a rock with the bag off taking what looked like a long rest. We were in a hurry and had no time to waste hanging around. Plus we didn’t need a break (carrying only 4kg is great). From here to Deurali the snow gave way to mud then stone. We may have been going fast but we were still enjoying this.

DSC01297

DSC01298

DSC01301

DSC01305

DSC01306

We walked into Deurali and continued without stopping. From here to Himalaya Hotel it would be all downhill. The path here was nothing special. We had the mountains way above us and nice enough scenery but we were concentrating on getting there fast. The constant downhill and flights of steps was starting to take its toll on our legs and knees and as we kept on going we were actually feeling tired, surprising considering we were going downhill at about the same pace as we’d come up at. We reached Himalaya Hotel in 55 minutes, the same time as it took to go up. Either we were almost running up or we were not going as fast as we thought we were going down. Nonetheless, we reached the tea houses hot and sweaty. We splashed out and bought a bottle of coke each (for reference, the coke was 260 each, tea is about 80 each). We sat in the shade and cooled off for about 10 minutes. Prem still hadn’t arrived so we left, there’s only one path so it’s not like he wouldn’t be able to find us!

After Himalaya Hotel it was downhill again to Doban, which took us about 45 minutes. Yet again, we were rushing and but taking much interest in our surroundings. The path is pretty easy going and we enjoyed it even though we were shifting at a decent speed. This section of the trail was very busy. We had probably passed 50 porters on the trail today, most of them between Deurali and MBC but lots further down near Himalaya Hotel. We also passed a lot of groups heading up. Germans, English and Canadians, all slowly plodding their way up the valley. Standing aside for some of these groups could result in a wait of a couple of minutes! No exaggeration.

We reached Doban around 12:30pm. We had planned to eat here but weren’t sure whether to continue to Chomrong or stay here the night. We couldn’t remember the walking times for between Doban and Chomrong and Prem kept telling us it was too far. Annemarie was tired and her knees hurt so after consulting the map and the trekking book we decided we’d spend the night at Doban and rest today then the next day would be a long to Ghandruk. We checked out the lodge where an American father and son plus an English couple were staying, we’d been talking to them on and off for a few days so thought it would be good to stay there. But it was full. That at least backed up my assumption that the lodges were getting busier and that it could be dangerous to continue as we’d be late and rooms in the good lodges would be in short supply. We went down to the lodge we thought looked good, plenty of rooms available, western toilet and a decent looking shower. Prem reached Doban about 20 minutes after us so we asked him about the distance to Chomrong, too far he stated. And what about tomorrow? Can we make it to Ghandruk? Is it too far? Too far he replied. Prem wanted us to go to the hot springs at Jhinu Danda, but that route would take 2 more nights. Which would mean paying another day for him plus another day on the trail. We’d had enough and just wanted to get back to Pokhara with just one more night. Our trekking book offered the solution, getting to Ghandruk then it was an easy 3-4 hour walk from Ghandruk to Naya Pul to get the bus back to Pokhara. He was saying Ghandruk to Naya Pul was 6 hours and Ghandruk was to far for the next day. Based on the timings in the book we reckoned it would be 6 hours walking plus an hour for lunch, Prem reckoned it was closer to 8 hours. If we couldn’t go to Ghandruk where could we go so that we’d be back in Pokhara in 2 days time? Prem said we kept changing the plans! The reality was we were on a fact-findinf mission and wanted information. After about 20 minutes of arguing and trying to get answers I gave up and made an executive decision, tomorrow we go to Ghandruk and the day after to Naya Pul. No more discussion. Lunch time!

After lunch we showered and hung our clothes to dry and air then went to the dining room to drink tea and read. In there we met an Irish-Pole. She was around our age, and had married a Nepali guy and moved to Nepal to run a yoga company. We chatted with her for the rest of the day, learning more about Nepal and Nepali attitudes and customs.

Day 9: Doban to Ghandruk
Altitude: 2,500m
Climb: 1,300m descent, 900m ascent
Time: 6hrs + 2hrs food and drink breaks

This was going to be a long day. We remembered the valley between Chomrong and Sinuwa, that would be nasty and painful but we’d be able to stop for lunch in Chomrong and rest. Then after Chomrong there is another valley over 400m deep, where we had to go down to the valley floor before going straight back up the other side to a little cluster of lodges known as Kimrong Danda (which was my backup overnight stop if we were too late for Ghandruk). As we ate breakfast at 7am we watched the Americans, the British couple, plus another British family set off down the hill. Many people like to get up early and get going. Not my idea of a nice walk or a holiday. I can walk fast and not mind, but getting up at 6am every day, eugh! We left at 7:40am, still very early for us.

At a very brisk pace we set off down the hillside. The walk back to Bamboo was pretty uneventful. Lots of porters carrying huge loads back up the hillside, but the path here was good and easy to maintain speed on. After Bamboo we had a long flight of steps to contend with. Annemarie counted 280 steps, which we did without stopping (well, once we stopped for 10 seconds). We passed a large group on the steps, including a guy wearing a triathlon from Toulouse. That made us feel good, we had caught up with them, taken them on the steps, then after only a minute or so rest at the top we walked off and left them.

There were a few more steps between Bamboo and Sinuwa making this a tiring section. We reached Sinuwa around 9:15am. Far faster than we had expected. The British and Americans we’d met many times (who’d set off at 7am) were enjoying a cup of tea and biscuits. We had a short chat with them whilst we cooled off. We estimated that Chomrong was about an hour and a half away, which meant it would have been achievable the day before.

From Sinuwa we started down the steps towards Lower Sinuwa, which was as painful going down as it had been coming up. The steps here were uneven and often just large rocks. This made progress was slow, about the same speed as we’d come up at. Lower Sinuwa looked a lot better in the morning sunlight than it had in the pouring rain a few days ago. In hindsight we should have walked from ABC to Lower Sinuwa the day before. From here we could see both destinations, Chomrong was directly opposite us and Ghandruk was on the next hillside. We entertained fantasies about zip lines across the valley between the villages (400m above the valley floor and a couple of kilometres apart). We also thought about the Father Ted episode on perspective. Small… far away. Small… far away. In the Himalaya it should be, close… hours away! Just because you can see it and almost touch it doesn’t mean you’re nearly there!

DSC01307

DSC01311

The walk down to the suspension bridge at the bottom of the valley wasn’t too bad, although the sun was now strong and we were suffering from the heat. At least they built a new bridge, the old one was even further down and looked a bit rickety!

DSC01312

Coming back up was incredibly painful. Our motivation was the German bakery in Chomrong, which had a counter filled with chocolate cake and black forest gateaux. Thinking about a nice cool coke and a big slice of chocolate cake keep us going up those never ending steps.

DSC01313

DSC01314

It took us 40 minutes to reach the German bakery, a total time of 1hr 20mins from Sinuwa. This was good, if we were in Chomrong just before 11am then Ghandruk was easily achievable today and all of Prem’s timings were out. We weren’t too happy with him for telling us it was too far when we’d easily covered the distance. We had no idea where Prem was, we had last seen him on the steps just after Bamboo a few hours ago. Anyway, no time to think about him, it was chocolate cake time. The sun was hot, the steps had been steep and coming up had not been fun.

DSC01318

DSC01319

By 11:30am we’d finished the cake, paid the bill, been to the toilet, hung around a little and got bored. But still no Prem! What should we do? We don’t know where the path is from Chomrong to Ghandruk. Our book indicated that it was a fork on the Chomrong to Tadopani path, which means we’d past it the other day and not seen it. We had to wait for him. 15 minutes and still nothing, we’d been in Chomrong for 45 minutes and he hasn’t caught up with us. Finally, after an hour in Chomrong we saw him slowly coming up the steps. It was almost midday, we might as well eat a quick lunch before leaving. Been in a rush it felt like our food took an age to arrive. Prem disappeared indoors to wash and eat, he was dripping with sweat (understandably considering the heat, the bags and the effort required to climb those steps). After eating we waited a bit but Prem said he hadn’t eaten. We waited and waited getting very angry that his food wasn’t arriving. Then, after we’d been in Chomrong almost 2 hours he announced it was time to go. He had eaten, he just wanted the rest. We were livid. Ghandruk was still 4 hours away according to my book (it recommended Chomrong to Ghandruk was a day trek) and Ghandruk is a popular stopover for those on the Poon Hill circuit. We didn’t have time to waste! We marched off angrily.

We followed the path towards Tadopani for about 20 minutes before seeing the fork leading straight down the hillside to a suspension bridge at the bottom. This was going to be painful too!

DSC01323

It was a dry, dusty path with loose stones making it a bit slippery and forcing us to go as little slower. About halfway down we met an American couple, they’d left Ghandruk at 8am that morning and in 6 hours of walking had got this far. They said the path was very bad and it would probably take 3 hours to get back up the other side. We were planning on been in Ghandruk in 2 hours! They were just unimaginably slow! But, there’s so many tea houses dotted around it doesn’t matter what pace you have, you’ll always find somewhere to sleep or rest. So each to their own. We left them and continued heading downhill for the suspension bridge. We measured the altitude at river level, so we could measure the climb to the top accurately, and also the time taken.

At the bottom Prem wanted a rest. Then we started up the hillside. We met a Nepali guy from the village around the corner. He wanted to know where we were from. He was happy we were from the UK, near Bristol? Nope! It turned out his brother is in the Gurkha’s and lives in Bristol. His grandfather was a Gurkha too and he lived in London. We were in Gurkha recruiting area! We chatted a bit and after about 15 minutes Prem needed another break. We were implored to sit and rest. We’d only climbed 100m according to the phone! At this rate those Americans would be right with a 3 hour climb. After 10 minutes we set off, Prem followed. The hill was nowhere near as bad as the Americans had made out. It was loose stone and dusty but not difficult, just steep and tiring. We marched on up the hillside, dripping with sweat but determined to get up quickly. It took 1hr 40 with 20 minutes of stops in total. Not bad. My hydration sack, which holds 3L of water was empty so in Kimrung Danda (the tiny cluster of lodges on top of the ridge) we bought coke and water. As we sat and cooled off we could see Ghandruk, just a little way along the hillside. We decided it was easily achievable and would push on.

DSC01339

About 45 minutes later we were in Ghandruk. It was huge. So many lodges! And the whole town felt deserted. We spent a long time looking for the lodge which had win lodge of the year three times, but in the end we gave up and settled on a decent looking lodge called the Hotel Milan. There was nothing Italian about it, but we had a huge double bed, nice room, western toilet and good shower, along with a nice big quiet garden. There was only two other British guys staying here. We showered and changed, happy with our achievements that day. It had taken longer than expected, but that was almost all down to Prem been slower and continually needing a break. I slept very well that night!

Day 10: Ghandruk to Pokhara
Altitude: 2,000m
Climb: none
Time: 1hr walking + 90 minutes in Jeep

In the morning our legs were aching, lots! The day before had really taken its toll. For me it was the first time my legs had ached, for Annemarie her legs and knees were hurting. It was only a 3 – 4 hour walk to Naya Pul, although that was a 1,000m descent. Typically, as this was our last day we were having perfectly clear weather and we could see the mountains from here.

DSC01359

We left the lodge around 8:30am and already the sun was hot. We followed the path around the hillside, looking over to Landruk and down the valley. After about an hour the path widened into the village and opened out onto a dirt track. There was a bus and a large collection of parked 4x4s. It was now very hot and Annemarie was complaining about the pain in her legs and knees more than ever. So instead of continue for another 2 hours, mainly down steps, we decided to cheat and end the trek here in Chame. The bus was going in 2 hours, something Prem didn’t tell us until we were sat on the bus. So off we got to negotiate a price for a 4×4 back to Pokhara. Some Chinese trekkers were going to Naya Pul and has agreed to pay 1,500NPR, the same as we’d planned to pay to get all the way back to Pokhara, which is about an hour further. This meant we couldn’t get a good price in that Jeep, even though their guide tried to convince us it was a good price. It would be good for them, the Jeeps only leave when they are full and no-one else was requesting a Jeep. We walked off, a great way to bring the price down. We negotiated to 1,800NPR (£11) to take us to Pokhara from Chame, about the same as we’d expected from Naya Pul, 45 minutes down the dirt track.

DSC01385

DSC01395

DSC01417

The 4×4 ride was a little cramped but still much better than the local bus. The view as we came down the hillside was pretty good and we passed lots of trekkers and groups heading in both directions. We probably made the right decision, walking on the dirt track wasn’t that great and the scenery was the same as day one.

Conclusion

This was a very busy trek, more so than Langtang because it is the most popular and famous trek in Nepal – well Annapurna Circuit is probably more famous to trekkers but they built a road around it. Nepal gets 500,000 tourists per year and apparently 75% of those will come and do a trek in the Annapurna region, of which Poon Hill is the most popular followed by base camp (sanctuary). We combined both of those into one trek. In the lower parts which make up the Poon Hill circuit most villages ( well not exactly a village considering they were 100% guest houses, so more of a trekker stopover than a village) had between 8-20 guest houses each with anywhere between 6-20 rooms depending on the size. Loads of room for trekkers! As we went up the valley after the Poon Hill circuit though the guest house numbers dramatically decreased (so did trekker numbers) down to maybe 3-5 guest houses at each stopover. They were spaced in such a way that most people were usually heading for the same stopover. Larger groups and some guides had rung ahead (landlines to the lodges) so we were in a rush to get there before others like us, just to ensure we had a bed. It really felt like a race which took away the enjoyment of the walk.

In addition there was thick clouds for the first 6 days. That was so disheartening because the view of the mountains was supposed to be stupendous! 6,7,8 thousand metre peaks towering above us and we could only catch a glimpse of them now and again. Plus it rained, every afternoon. In Pokhara it had rained around 3pm every day so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it was still annoying. That increased the race like feeling, because we were always trying to get places before the rain hit.

The final thing which took anyway some of the enjoyment from the trek was Prem. He assured us there would be rooms at our destination, but offered no proof and just laughed when we asked for certainty. He was right, there was always rooms (a few times only just, or shared rooms) but usually at the worse guest houses, not the nicer ones. Working with such a Nepalsese person is an experience because in Asia personal space and personal time do not exist. It was also hard to communicate with Prem and he didn’t understand my wit, aka sarcasm. Sentences were short words, short statements and always over simplified, so they had little meaning and conveyed very little information. We usually had Americans, Canadians, Dutch, French, Australian, etc to talk to, either about their home country or (useful for us) about places we would be visiting on this trip. But he would interrupt. He would also almost sit on us, then lean on us, head on shoulder, arm leaning on leg, shuffling up a bit more so we were basically sitting on top of each other. It really put us out of our comfort zone when all we wanted to do was relax.

The snow however was amazing! When we were at the top (4,130m) it snowed for about 6 hours adding even more. It was deeper than any snow we’ve ever been on. It isn’t usually like that, so we were extra lucky. Obviously, all the rain at lower elevations was snow at the top, hence everyday that we cursed the rain was probably making the top a little better. Other places (treks in the Himalayas) had even more snow which closed passes and treks, so I guess this isn’t usual March weather as March is a popular time for trekkers.

Despite the weather and other issues we did enjoy the walking. The scenery is great and the sanctuary area would have been enough on its own to make this trek worthwhile.