The Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is a world famous trek in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. It starts at 760 meters (2,493 feet) in the village of Besisahar and ascends to a maximum elevation of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) at Thorong La Pass. Most of the trek is done on foot but Jeeps now allow you to skip parts if you wish. Overall its about 160 km (longer depending where you end) to do the whole thing.
I did this trek with my partner in July of 2018. Hardly any other trekkers were on the trail and most of them didn't seem eager to mingle. However, a few friendly adventurers further in, made for meaningful connections and travel companions.
We began the Annapurna Circuit with a long, loud, polluted bus ride from Kathmandu, Nepal that left at about 6 am. Endless traffic jams and choking dust clouds greeted us as we left the city behind and made our way the few hundred kilometers to start our trek.
Arriving in Besisahar we decided this was not where we wanted to start our trek and haggled with a jeep operator for passage on his soon to be over-packed 4-wheel drive. A couple hours later we arrived, a bit sore, but alive and ready to bunk in our first tea-house. Tea houses are guest houses along the Annapura Circuit that range from extra rooms in someone's home, to near hotel like structures with hot showers and comfy en suite rooms.
Our first night was spent in Syange and looking out our window the following morning I captured this moody shot. Overcast skies and slight drizzle greeted us on our first real day of the trek. The altitude is so low here, about 1,000 meters, that the ecology is more of a jungle than anything else. Those towering peaks we came to see would stay hidden in the clouds for many days to come. But this was the rainy season and we knew it wouldn't be the same.
Our first real day of trekking led us along a fairly good dirt road that hung high above a ranging river. We were trekking in July which was the beginning of the monsoon season and probably the least popular time of year to trek.
Initially we stayed on the road avoiding any trails that seemed to occasionally meander off into the jungle. Looking down below we could see what looked like a pool that perhaps during peak season was filled with hot spring water. Numerous signs indicated hot springs but all we could see were concrete squares flooded with river water. Suspension bridges dangled a hundred feet above the torrents of silty glacial water.
Eventually we reached a sign that told us to leave the road to reach our next destination and continue the Annapurna Circuit. It didn't take us long to realize that in rainy season its better to brave reckless motor bikes and jeeps on the main road than to trek through the undergrowth of the jungle. Leeches abound this time of year and will drop from leaves or spring from the ground to drinks your blood. We retraced our steps realizing that the low crowds wasn't keeping the jungle at bay enough to make the hike leech free. The road was a safer place to place our feet.
I might add at this point that both of us were trekking in hiking sandals hoping to keep our shoes dry in the rain and stay cool. It was muggy and hot at this altitude in July.
That first day in particular, we were blow away by how much a jungle we seemed to be trekking through. Tropical trees that appeared like palms dotted steep mountain slopes disappearing into thick clouds. Monkeys were seen swinging through dense rain forest growth and birds flitted through the trees.
While our feet navigated puddles and sloshed through streams, we got to watch jeeps laden with goods and people working their way up the precarious roadway. The road continues to Manang, the largest village before the pass and a popular acclimatization spot.
The foothills of the Himalayas are green and teaming with life. Occasionally small home steads and tiered crops appeared way above us. A bit father we we would come across a steep trail leading in their direction. What a life to live and survive in this incredible landscape. I can only imagine what it must look like with glimpses of the snow capped Himalayan peaks which I know must tower high above the clouds.
After stopping in a few villages along the way, we determined that none was to our liking and a very full day of muggy trekking left us wishing for cooler mountain air and the promise of a more arid climates leading to mountain views.
We passed through Chamje, Tal and reached the town of Dharapani where we caught a second Jeep which was making its way up to Chame, the second most important town on the trek.
One more shot from the first day of trekking. Here you can see just how high the road was above the river at times. You can also see some pack horses in the distance grazing. Notice the lack of shoes on our feet. Also the yellow backpack cover was not only a life saver from the rain but also made for stand out photos.
To be continued....