In Oct 2008, I was trekking to Everest Base Camp along with my group from Pune. In Kathmandu, we met another Indian group of trekkers who happened to know our group leader. They were headed for the Annapurna Circuit trek. It was back then that I had decided that I will do this trek.
A little more recently, in May 2010, the same group (Trek’di) was supposed to organize a trek to Annapurna. My participation was by default! In September, Sridharji informed me that the trek will probably not happen due to low participation. As usual, some of the supposed trekkers backed out due to leave/monetary constraints. I was in a fix. I had planned things accordingly, and I do plan extensively. I had just returned from the US a few weeks back and was looking forward to this trek. The thoughts of postponing it or trekking somewhere else or canceling it started entering my mind. It is an expensive affair to do this trek, and doing it solo would be difficult and more expensive.
More confusion was added to my mind, when my boss wanted me to pre-pone it by a couple of weeks or cancel it in lieu of another opportunity to visit the US. This, apart from being financially lucrative, was also important career wise, and now I was seriously debating the best course of action and the odds were increasingly against it happening. One fine day, or rather one fine night, I asked myself what I should do; and the next thing I did is booked non-refundable tickets to Nepal. Now I was focused. My lifestyle changed from the next day. I started training for the trek each morning and followed a strict diet plan. For those who don’t know, I underwent a knee surgery in February, and though it has been a while now, I was nowhere near what I used to be in terms of fitness. The fact that I was going to trek solo, called for me to be 101% fit.
Time passed and I could see the results of my training regime. I also booked tickets from Jomsom to Pokhara, and from Pokhara to Kathmandu through a travel agent in Nepal. I was all set to go. There was hardly a week left, and I got in touch with an experienced travel guide in Nepal, Kamal. Kamal is a very experienced trekker/guide and has done the Annapurna Circuit trek several times. I asked him to arrange for a porter for me from Kathmandu. We finalized the costs and I was very pleased that this one thing (the only thing which I couldn’t pre-arrange for) was also taken care of. Kamal would also receive me at the airport in Kathmandu and arrange for my one day stay there. The excitement was building up. My Facebook inbox and wall was full of best wishes from friends and family. I finished packing the day before I was to leave. My schedule was that I was to fly to Delhi tomorrow, meet my friend Ashish at the airport and then leave for Kathmandu in a few hours.
The day was here, September 18. I left for the airport, all geared up. As usual, I was the subject of a lot of attention at the airport, which was due to my huge haversack. I reached Delhi at about 9:30 am. Ashish was there to meet me (see picture). He also got some biscuits for me (incidentally they were from Poona!) and some dry fruits from their farms in Afghanistan. These dry fruits came in very handy during the trek. After spending some time with Ashish, we went to the swank new international terminal, T3. I bade adieu to Ashish, and spent some time exploring the new terminal. It is truly a world class terminal, and unless you look at the people around, it is difficult to guess which airport is it! After some time, I was informed that Nepal Airlines flight to Kathmandu (my flight) was cancelled. I freaked out; but was accommodated on an Air India flight which left an hour before the Nepal airlines flight. I couldn’t believe my luck, as I came in uncharacteristically early to the airport today, because Ashish had to go to office and I had nothing to do. If I would have come in as I always do, I wonder what would have happened. Anyhow, I was now on an Air India flight to Nepal. I had to inform Kamal about the change in my arrival time, which I did.
The flight was comfortable, with some scenic views on offer towards the end. I alighted, cleared immigration (which is a small formality for Indians) and Kamal was there to receive me at the Tribhuvan airport, which was a very humble place after departing from Delhi’s T3. We took a taxi to our hotel, which was located in Thamel. Thamel is a major market area of Kathmandu, which during the last few years has become the most frequented area by tourists. Most of the shops in Thamel sell trekking gear and music. There are also many restaurants, and hotels in it’s bylanes. We reached a small, but decent hotel, called Karma. I checked in and spent some time with Kamal, talking about Nepal. In some time, my porter, Leela arrived. Leela stays in a village 3 hours away from Kathmandu, so Kamal had informed him beforehand on what time he needs to get here. We discussed some details about the trek and Leela left…to go back to his village. He would return tomorrow morning by 6: 30 am.
Kamal told me that today, no buses plied to Besishahar due to a major landslide along the way. He was hopeful that by tomorrow, the road would at least be partly cleared. In the evening, I did some shopping at a nearby store. In fact, I did a lot of shopping, from a Gore-tex jacket, to gaiters, gloves, trekking pants etc. One needs to be very careful while buying stuff in Nepal. 99% of the things available are fake products. I had already experienced this when I got gloves and socks during my Everest Base Camp trek. This time I consciously searched and found the best stuff, and bought it irrespective of the price. In some time, we went to Kamal’s house for dinner. After having some nice conversations in broken English and Hindi, we had our food and I returned to my hotel.
The next morning I was ready at 6:15 and Leela was there with Kamal at the hotel at 6: 30 as promised. We exchanged pleasantries and split. Leela and I walked to the bus terminal, which was a good 30 min walk. We purchased tickets (NR 275 per head) and then had some breakfast. The bus was a small Tata 407, and just looking at it gave me a back ache. Most of the people in the bus were trekkers and porters. I made the wrong decision of sitting near the driver, as the area was empty when I boarded. After we left, typically, the driver filled the bus like a can of sardines and now I was sitting in a place where I couldn’t even move my legs, forget straightening them. Passing through Kathmandu was depressing, with the unthinkable amount of air and land pollution. I cannot stress enough on the problem of solid waste management and sewage treatment in poorer nations. The road was pathetic, and I was completely fatigued in a few hours. Soon we hit a massive traffic jam (see pic), which was due to the landslide which Kamal had mentioned. There was a huge queue of vehicles , and everyone was out of their vehicles. I walked ahead to see where the line ended, but the end wasn’t in sight. It was very warm, and uncomfortable. I found a nice place under a tree, and slept there for a couple of hours. After four hours of wait, the traffic started crawling forward. We were cheering the driver in the bus as soon as we started moving! It took nearly an hour to cross the landslide site; due to the fact that only one lane was operational. After some time, we stopped for lunch. I had the first of the many ’Daal Bhaats’ (rice and lentils) there.
I was feeling a little unwell partly due to the fried chicken that I had at Kamal’s house last evening and partly due to the diesel fumes that I was inhaling constantly. We reached Besishahar at around 7 pm, and I checked in to a hotel there (Hotel Everest). During the journey, I interacted with two Canadians and their guide and porter. Don and Stefan were from Northern Territory and British Columbia respectively. We had a lot of interesting conversations, and were hopeful of catching up during the trek from tomorrow.
After freshening up, I met a solo British trekker Nick, in the market. Nick and I had some dinner at my hotel, and since I had Indian food, he too relished on the same. He was very pleased to eat that because he had been eating only Daal Bhaat for the last 7 days that he was in Nepal. So much so, that he even told me that he would like to have breakfast here, and will eat whatever I eat! Let me now introduce you to the Annapurna Circuit trek.
This circuit was once considered one of the best treks in the world though road construction is threatening its reputation and its future as a classic trek. Yet no one disputes that the scenery is outstanding. The original trek (Pokhara to Pokhara) used to be 30 days long, during which a trekker covered more than 300 km on foot. These days, the trek is 17 to 21 days long. There is also an option to finish it in 14 days and fly out from Jomsom, which is what I was slated to do. This trek takes you through distinct regional scenery of rivers, flora, fauna and above all – mountains. There are four regions that are passed through on the trek; Lamjung, Manang, Mustang and Myagdi. Lamjung and Myagdi of the lower elevations are both predominantly Hindu and with lush green sub-tropical valleys with villages and terraced farming.
Manang and Mustang are of the higher elevations and are predominantly Tibetan Buddhist. The Manang people are Gurung (not of Tibetan descent) and are very proud of their unique cultural heritage. People of Mustang identify themselves a lot closer with Tibet and the Mustang region has actually been part of Tibet in history. Mustang also is one of the last places in the world to view the ancient Bon po Religion in action. Villages where one can witness Bon po people are Thini and Lupra near Jomsom, and Nargon near Kobang. Upper Mustang (not a part of this trek) is considered as one of the most un-spoilt Tibetan places that one can visit today.
The trek goes counter-clockwise from Besisahar to Nayapul and reaches its summit in Thorung La (pass) at the height of 5416m, or 17,769 feet. The route goes past the following mountains: Manaslu (an 8,000-plus meter peak), Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II and IV, Annapurna III and Gangapurna, and, of course, Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri — passing through the world’s deepest gorge in between those two 8,000-plus meter peaks. Poon Hill, at the end of the trek, affords views of those two mountains, as well as South Annapurna and Macchupucchre, the “Fishtail Mountain.”
The trek also goes through Buddhist villages and Hindu holy sites, most notably the village of Muktinath, a holy site for both Buddhists and Hindus, and Braga, one of the oldest monasteries in the region. The eastern portion of the trek follows the Marsyangdi River upstream, to its source near the village of Manang. Most of the river is fed by the Gangapurna glacier. To get there several days of up-hill hiking are required. Then the route goes over the Thorong La pass, a grueling day of hiking, and back down the other side, where it meets up with the Kali Gandaki River.
So, the next morning, Nick and I had ‘Parathe’ (stuffed Indian bread) and started the trek. In the morning, we could get a few clear views of Lamjung Himal. This was the first view of any snow capped peak that we got. After a few minutes, we passed the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) check post, where we registered and continued. The trail crosses through paddy fields, elegantly arranged on terraces. One also crosses a number of pretty streams and waterfalls. Our destination for the day was a place called Bahudanda, which was approximately 6 hours away on foot.
The weather was hot, and in no time we were sweating like crazy. After a couple of hours, we met a French couple and Nick decided to join them (they were much faster). I suspect it was because the woman was extremely pretty! Now it was just Leela and me, apart from some occasional trekker in sight. One key feature of the Annapurna circuit trek is that it passes through a completely inhabited route. Annapurna Circuit is actually a ‘parikrama’ (something like a pilgrimage trek) or Annapurna (Goddess of Food), which was undertaken by the locals for centuries before it became a popular trek as such. In about 3 hours, we crossed a small village called Bhule Bhule which had another ACAP post. One peculiar feature about these posts is that almost all of them were operated by women. Women have tremendous amount of freedom in Nepal and participate in all aspects of life. Also, many of Nepal’s regions have a sex ratio that is in favour of women. It was really heartening to learn this.
I bought some lozenges and a small bottle of Neosporin from a chemist in Bhule Bhule. The path, as I mentioned crossed inhabited areas, and some sections were quite unclean. Plastic is a universal killer, and mineral water is one of the biggest threats to these regions. Unfortunately, foreigners with their delicate digestive systems cannot drink water from the streams or other local supplies. Also, due to damp weather, there was a lot of slush on the trail. Trekking alongside paddy fields doesn’t help either, because all the excess water from the fields is swept across the trail. One of the initiatives that ACAP has taken is that there are ‘Safe Water Stations’ along the route, so people can refill their water bottles, and don’t need to dispose them. Being Indian has its advantages in Nepal. Not only are all permits and air tickets cheaper, but also I had absolutely no inhibitions about consuming water from the streams or eating Dal Bhaat twice a day!
While having lunch at one of the villages en route, I met three trekkers from Israel. They were a couple and another friend. I had a nice conversation with them. Their names were Orly, Udi and Maor. I have finally managed to remember them, but they had no problems remembering my name as my name is a popular Jewish name. The last one hour before Bahudanda is a steep climb. Although the weather was overcast and it wasn’t hot, the sheer incline of the climb made me sweat like crazy. This time though I had my Camelback (water pouch integrated in my backpack, so that you can just sip water whenever you want) with me, dehydration was not an issue. We reached Bahudanda at around 4 pm and checked in to a small lodge right at the entrance. I took a much needed cold shower and then had some tea sitting at an excellent view point near the entrance of the village. I had some conversations with a few people there including a couple of cloth traders who were Biharis (Indians) and two constables from Nepal police.
It is very easy for locals to make out that I am from India due to the language. So, I speak in Hindi with them, which most of them can understand and converse in, and the next question they ask is which city in India am I from. When I answer Bombay, the next thing I hear is about some relative or friend (or sometimes the person himself) who works in Bombay! Half of Nepal either works in India, or has worked there at some stage. Anyhow, I could see my Isareli friends gradually making their way up the final ascent. In about 20 mins they made it, but looked completed exhausted. They decided to stay at the same lodge where I was staying. In the evening, we had more conversations and some very interesting ones over dinner. After dinner, I tried to do some night photography but the overcast weather prevented any really good views.
The next morning, we had some oat porridge for breakfast and started towards our next waypoint, Chamje. In a few minutes I met Don and Stefan along with their guide Pema Sherpa. There was also a lady trekker from Boston, USA with whom I had some conversation along the way. The trail was now a little less of a road and more like a trek route. There were flip flop wearing school children who crossed us often and showed us the way trekking is done with their speed and agility! At one place where we were taking short break, I met a tall Spaniard, Alberto. Alberto was from Barcelona, Spain. Alberto was going to visit India after this trek, so we exchanged contact details and I continued trekking. We passed through some land slide prone areas. Due to the rains, there were many such unavoidable sections on the trail.
At one area, there was a much shorter route to join the trail on the right whereas the trail wound around the hill at least five times on the traditional route towards the left. It was nothing difficult and I chose the shorter route. Leela followed me closely. Halfway through, I told Leela to move away from me because my steps might set some stones rolling that might hit him. In about two minutes after this, I was negotiating a slightly tricky porting when some lose rocks came straight at me from above. I managed to just avoid a large one (must have been around 20 kg), but it scraped me on the way and hit my foot. As I bent to free my foot, a smaller one fell on my head. It stung, but I was too busy trying to move the large one off my foot. I reached the ‘top’, i.e. joined the traditional trail and wiped my face with my napkin. That is when I realized that my face, my shirt and now my napkin was covered with blood. I freaked out, and called for Leela who hurriedly came backwards. I asked him to wash the found thoroughly. In the meanwhile, another Japanese trekker and his guide Ajay arrived.
Ajay cleaned the wound and then I asked them to use Neosporin (which I had luckily purchased) on it and tied it with a bandage for the blood to clot. Ajay’s concern was that the wound might require stitches as it was relatively deep. Obviously that was out of question as of now as the next ‘medical center’ was 4 days away. Ajay and the Japanese trekker continued, but I needed some more time to recuperate. In the meanwhile, Alberto arrived with his folks and we spent some time chatting while I was waiting for the pain to subside. Slowly, we continued towards Chamje and reached Chamje at about 1 pm. One interesting thing that happened here (and later at many other places) is that as soon my porter Leela and I entered the village, the lodge owners would talk to Leela in Nepali and try and convince him into convincing me to stay at their lodge, while being completely oblivious to the fact that I could understand basic Nepali! Leela would laugh and reply to them by telling them that I am from India and that I can understand Nepali; and their jaws would drop.
Anyhow, we checked in at a decent lodge there owned by a Gurung family. Gurungs are one of the major ethnic groups of Nepal who are some sort of a cusp between Hindus and Buddhists. Leela himself was a Gurung. After freshening up, I had some tasty lunch followed by conversations with the host family. Their Hindi was considerably poorer, as compared to all the others I had met so far. In some time, my Isareli friends arrived and they decided to stay at the neighbouring lodge. I gave myself some rest in the afternoon, and in the evening I walked up to the other lodge and had tea with the Isarelis. There, I was talking about Manaslu when suddenly Nikolai, a Russian came to me with his map and asked me several questions about possible views of Manaslu. Nikolai was with his girlfriend, and another couple from Russia. He was an experienced trekker, and had summited peaks above 7000 meters. He had a stunning physique and an even more stunning girl friend!
The evenings are short in these regions, and one ends up having dinner at 7 pm. I delayed mine till about 7:30 and then I ate. I was in bed by 9 pm and thankfully got good sleep, which certainly helped me recover from today’s injury. The next morning I had breakfast and started for Dharapani. It was overcast and we were walking through clouds. The Israeli’s left simultaneously and we trekked for a little while with each other, after which we split due to varying speeds. Later I met Alberto and the Japanese trekker with Ajay. We had tea after a few hours. My head was still hurting but I was feeling much better and fitter today. After a while, we passed a huge, absolutely huge waterfall. Most of the trekkers had stopped at a vantage point near it. Here I met two trekkers from Western Australia. They amazingly enough had no porters with them, although they had light bags. I came across several more people along the route and had brief conversations with most of them. That included Jordan from Mexico, a group from Germany and another Spanish group. It was drizzling by the time we reached Dharapani, and the cloudy weather was preventing us from getting any glimpses of snow clad peaks.
We stopped for lunch at a place in Dharapani, where Alberto joined me. We had lunch, and in sometime the Japanese trekker and another group joined us. On probing, I figured out that the new folks were from Greenland! On probing further, I was informed that the man in the group was en Everest summiteer and had also been to the north pole. I clicked a picture with him. In Dharapani, there was a board put up by the ACAP about a village called Odar, which was a few hundred feet above Dharapani. It was supposed to be one of the more virgin villages of the area, and another 45 mins from there would take you to a view point from where Manaslu can be seen clearly. I was very keen to get a good view of Manaslu, so Leela and I decided to stay at Odar instead of Dharapani or the next village called Bagarchap. The ascent to Odar was tougher than expected, and the drizzle made it even more irritating. After a steep ascent of nearly 400 feet, we reached the Gurung village of Odar. It was a typical place, but because it was not on the main trekking route, it was very primitive.
Leela and I found a place to stay at a locals house, infact in their store room. It was a decent place keeping in mind the fact that one was in Odar! Outside my bed, there was a huge stock of maize. The room I was occupying was one Bishesh Gurung’s room, who was probably the most decorated football player in this region. The whole room was full of certificates confirming this, apart from posters of Bollywood actresses. I was hoping that the weather would clear by evening, but the rain gods had other ideas. It kept raining and raining, in fact unusually heavy rain for the region. It was quite cold in the evening. I was taking a stroll through the village and there was a flurry of curious onlookers wherever I went. Very few trekkers come to Odar, which was the reason for all the interest in me. I had wild mushrooms and rice for dinner. They tasted weird, but now that I know they weren’t poisonous, I can say that they tasted great. I slept early hoping that the morning would be clear.
I was up at 5:30 am but the weather was very cloudy. In fact the whole village was encompassed by clouds. There was no chance of getting so see Manaslu. I was pretty sad, and irritated due to the fact that I climbed an additional 1 ½ hours to get there. I had some sort of a rice based preparation for breakfast with eggs, cleared the bill and got going. Today, we were headed for Chame via Bagarchap. The weather was very cloudy for the first two hours. Post that, there was a long climb and we crossed a ridgeline to enter the Chame valley. Looking at the structure I could make out that the weather might be better once we cross the ridge because it looked like an ideal case for a rain shadow region. After crossing the ridge line, the clouds did decrease a little, but was nowhere close to being clear. At a village called Kopar, an hour before Chame, we crossed several apple plantations. The trail was strewn with apples on both side. Both Leela and I picked up as many as we could! Alberto and some other trekkers were having lunch in Kopar, but I was in no mood to stop. A key thing I forgot to mention is that Leela and I did each days trekking (between the two waypoints for the day) nonstop. So unlike others who generally stopped for tea and then for lunch, we directly had lunch at the destination for the day. We reached Chame at about 1 pm and were greeted with district offices of Nepal Congress and the Maoists facing each other. There was also a large police station there amongst other commercial establishments.
I chose to stay at a really nice place called Marsyandi Mandala, which was just by the river. It was very cold and I was barely able splash some water on my face to freshen up. I had some damp clothes in my bag, which I spread across some strings that were put up for that purpose. We hadn’t seen sunlight for 2 days now and most trekkers were becoming extremely apprehensive about the weather. Some even feared that we might not even get to see the Annapurna range if the weather stays this way. I did tell people that once you go a little higher (Pisang-Manag region), the weather is generally clear there. In the evening, I had tea and a nice conversation with Don and Stefan at their lodge. I had momos for dinner along with the Japanese gentleman and Ajay. The Japanese man, who was quite senior, was such a character. He could barely speak any English and responded to anything that you said with a loud typical laughter. I slept at around 9 pm. It was very cold, so cold that for the first time on this trek yet, I had to wear my thermals and warm socks. But that helped me sleep very well and I woke up refreshed early next morning.
As I stepped out of my room the next morning, I could see partly clear views of the Lamjung Himal towering above our heads. It was a breath taking sight and I immediately got hold of my camera to take some pictures. A few others too realized that Lamjung was visible and in the next ½ hour, a lot of trekkers were with cameras in their hands. It almost felt like that proverb ‘make hay while the sun shines’; so take pictures while you can as who knows what the weather would be like, where it actually matters. After having oat porridge and eggs topped with dry fruits that Ashish gave me for breakfast (which was virtually my staple breakfast for the remaining trek), we started towards Pisang. Before leaving for this trek, someone had suggested to take the Upper Pisang trail to Manang instead of the conventional route via Humde. I will talk more about this later. Finally, after 5 days of trekking, one could feel that we are gaining so altitude. The Annapurna Circuit trek is a very gradual climb, as compared to Everest Base Camp. I met Nikolai and his group on the way, apart from Stefan and Don and my Israeli folks. I must add here that by now, I knew almost all the trekkers on the route and had established an excellent rapport with almost all of them. It is really a great experience to have each meal with someone else, from some other country. I must also add that by this time in the trek, every one (men and women alike) knew who was Nikolai because he was the man who had the best looking girl on the trek along with him; and boy, she was virtually the motivation for half the trekkers around! I said half the trekkers…did that include me?
Around half way to Pisang, on the right, the huge slabs of the Oble Dome (Swarag Dwar/Gateway to Heaven) are seen. The Oble Dome is significant in the Buddhist and Bon Po rituals of the Gurung people of Taje village, above Bagarchap. They believe spirits of the dead are believed to ascend the Oble Dome on their final journey back to their ancestral home of Tibet. Apart from being spiritually significant, it is also visually stunning. Then we crossed a long bridge over the river and ascended sharply for around 30 minutes. A little before Pisang there was a check post specifically for porters and guides, who needed to pay some money there. Here I decided that after having lunch in Pisang, we would push further to Ghyaru, which is considered as one of the most virgin villages on this route, and lies on the Upper Pisang trail to Manag. We could have stayed in Pisang, and trekked to Ghyaru tomorrow, and then stayed in Manang only for a day as Ghyaru is higher than Manang, so the body as already acclimatized better there. But I wanted to stay in Manang for the additional day as well. So, I asked Leela to hurry ahead to Pisang and order food, because it takes at least 40 mins for it to be ready, and we didn’t have much time if we wanted to make it to Ghyaru today.
We reached Pisang at around 1 pm and had very tasty lunch at a lodge. What made the lunch tastier was the fact that the sun was shining now, and it was nice and warm after a long time. Pisang is divided into lower and upper Pisang. Lower Pisang is very commercialized where as upper Pisang is comparatively unspolit. Pisang is located in the valley between the Pisang peak and the massive Annapurna 2, which was on our left now. After lunch, we took the upper Pisang trail to Ghyaru. First, we crossed the river and then for an hour or some continued walking through bushes. On our left, we could see the traditional trail to Manang. We crossed a few prayer wheels and could see Ghyaru above us, nestled in the mountains. It appeared deceivingly close. We also met some Spanish trekkers who were also using this route but weren’t going to climb to Ghyaru. They instead were headed for Ngawal, which is further ahead on this trail, and we would cross it tomorrow, on way to Manang. The trail was winding up the mountain, and it was terribly steep. The total ascent was of about 1200 feet from Pisang, most of which was very steep. We reached in about 2 ½ hours, and were greeted by a map of Ghyaru village and the altitude (3650 m at that point). We trekked a little further up and entered the village. There was a small lodge at the beginning which offered tremendous views of Annapurna 2, and 4.
It was very cold and I had a tough time freshening up. The sun was still shining and Leela and I sat in the courtyard of the lodge, which was bang opposite Annapurna 2. The weather was a little cloudy, but they were by far the best views that we had on the trek. There were three other trekkers, two German girls and a Belgian man who were also sitting in the courtyard. In the evening, one of the girls, Josephine and I walked up a little higher in the village for some photography (see pic). We then sat at a nice vantage point and chatted about many things. She was a graphic designer and was from a small city in Germany called Freiburg. Later she wanted to ascend further, and I decided to stay back. In some time I returned to the lodge and suddenly Josephine was looking for Peter (the guy from the group) and sounded quite stressed. On inquiring she told me that Myriam, the other German girl was unwell and had thrown up. I sent Leela to look for Peter and in the meanwhile Josephine and I sat alongside Myriam trying to comfort her. She had a stomach problem, which probably got worse due to altitude. I gave her something to eat and some other tips but she was still unwell. Peter returned and in sometime Myriam was a little better, trying to rest. Myriam was a language expert. She spoke German, French, Spanish, English and some Italian too! Josephine and Myriam had travelled in India for a month before coming to Nepal to join Peter, who volunteers in Kathmandu. One thing about mentioning is that when Myriam and Josephine conversed, it was in German, when Myriam and Peter conversed it was in French; and when all there conversed it was English. The Brits would be very happy to see German and French speaking people conversing in English! In the evening, I did some low light photography and managed to capture a couple of stunning images (see pic).
At night, Myriam, the adamant girl that she was, refused to eat anything and Josephine followed suit. Peter and I had dinner together, and because Peter had been staying in Kathmandu for 5 months, he was now used to eating Daal Bhat (and he ate twice of what I did). He was a tremendous character, fit as a mountain goat. The next morning I was up at 5: 30 am and the sun was soon going to be out. Peter and I literally sprinted uphill to make it to a nice vantage point in time to see the first rays of sun kiss the peak of Annapurna 2 and Annapurna 4. The view was mind blowing. The moon was just above Annapurna two and the sky was gradually changing hues from black to blue. Then the first rays of sun were visible on Annapurna 2, followed shortly by Annapurna 4. I got some of the best pictures of my trek here. In some time we went back to the lodge and I spent some time chatting with Myriam. Though I knew her for a very brief duration, she came across as a very warm and intelligent girl.
We exchanged e-mail addresses bade them adieu, as Leela and I prepared for our long journey (painful descent) to Manang. The views were unbelievable and we could see Annapurna 2, 4, 3, Pisang Peak, Gangapurna and Tilicho around us. I about an hour from Ghyaru, we could look back and see the Oble Dom as well as Lamjung. In another hour, we reached the second village on this trail, Ngawal. After staying at Ghyaru, Ngawal didn’t look anything special and the views it offered were also inferior to those from Ghyaru. I took some pictures and we continued towards Manang. The trail was a long and lonely descent. In some time, we could see the Humde airport below us on the left. The traditional trail to Manang passes from there. It appeared that both routes would converge in sometime, but that wasn’t true. After another hour and a half, we were at the same altitude as the other route, which was just across the river. There was no bridge though. We could see other trekkers on the other side. There were also some stupendous views on offer between the Annapurna 2 and 4 . We rested for a while looking at the lovely views and then continued towards Manang. For the last 4 hours, we hadn’t crossed any trekker, and I was thoroughly enjoying that. After about 5 hours, we reached a village called Mungji. This is where both the trails converged. There were several other trekkers there including my Israeli friends, and Ajay with his Japanese trekker.
We had lunch with them. Here I also met some American trekkers including a guy from California. Apart from them we also met a senior Isareli couple, and an Iranian solo trekker. After lunch we crossed the ancient and significant village of Braga, which houses the oldest monastery in the region and reached Manag at around 2:30 pm. Manang is a ‘big’ place considering the fact that it is very far from main stream civilization and is not connected by road (as yet, it will be soon). The people of Manang are comparatively well off. There were many reasons for this. According to Ajay, a lot of people from Manang went to work in the west and according to Leela, a lot of people here trade a rare herb which is only found in this region.
Manang is situated in the lap of Annapurna 3 with Gangapurna just on its right and the Gangapurna glacier feeding the Marsyandi below. Behind Gangapurna, you can see Tilicho peak , near which lies the famous Tilicho lake, which is dubbed as the highest lake in the world at almost 5000 meters. Manang is situated at an altitude of 3600 meters which is about 11800 feet. It is a very commercialized place, and you can virtually buy anything you want at three times the price. The Japanese trekker, Ajay and us stayed at a lodge called Hotel Yak. It was a nice place and had many other trekkers staying in it too. I splurged some money too, on buying a can of Pringles for twice the normal price. Food is awfully expensive in Manang. I had the luxury of having a warm (solar powered) water bath. It was so energizing that I asked Leela to take a bath as well in my room, which was pure luxury for him. After lunch, I spent some time meeting others including my Israeli and Canadian friends and then went for a stroll uphill with Jordan, the Mexican. Annapurna 3 and 4 were competing with each other to give us the best views. It almost felt that they were posing for us, and the excellent lighting was making the ambience absolutely brilliant. Gangapurna, which was the closest to where we were, also looked stunning with the glacier melting below.
I had some lasagna for dinner (pretty good, but expensive) and slept early as I was very tired. The next morning I was up at 6 am. Today was a rest day, meant for acclimatization. I was already well acclimatized due to the Ghyaru trail that we took. After breakfast (oat porridge and eggs), we went for a acclimatizing trek towards the Gangapurna glacier. We included the Japanese trekker, Ajay, and Alberto. Before leaving Manag, I met the Spanish trekkers whom I had met on way to Ghyaru. They were going for an acclimatizing trek to the Ice lake. Even I planned to go there, but some locals told me it takes 4-5 hours one side and is at 4500 meters. I didn’t want to strain myself too much on a rest day so decided against it. Anyhow, we trekked close to the Gangapurna glacier and ascended around 800 feet before we reached a nice vantage point where we relaxed. Alberto and I did a lot of photography here. The Canadians (Don and Stefan) were also already there, though they continued to go higher up. In about another hour, we started descending for Manang. The last part is quite steep and there was a loose slope of mud on the left and the trail on the right. Ajay and Alberto’s porter (can’t recollect his name) slid down some 150 feet on that mud/gravel!
The portion just before Manang is very dirty as you virtually walk through an open air sewer. All the sewage simply goes straight into the Marsyandi river, which of course is used for water by the villages below. After returning to Manang, I went to see my Israeli friends who had just woken up! They were now planning to do the same acclimatizing hike which we did! So I had lunch by myself and then spent some time resting. In the evening, I was at Alberto’s lodge when something amazing happened. We were in the dining area and suddenly I saw someone who looked very familiar, sitting amongst a group of locals. On looking closely I realized it was Ramesh! Who Ramesh? Ramesh was one of the porters we had hired on our Everest Base Camp trek in 2008, with Trekdi! I called out to him and he recognized me. We hugged and everyone was shocked at the sudden commotion that our loud voices caused. Later I introduced him to Alberto and the others. What a coincidence that was! Later that night, I had dinner with my Isareli friends at their lodge and we took a lot of pictures (with their cam). We weren’t sure if we would meet after this because from tomorrow, the journey would become very tough and it was quite obvious that due to varying speeds, we might split.
The next morning I was ready at 7 am. Most people go to a place called Yak Kharka from Manang. We decided to go to a place called Leddar instead, which is another hour ahead of Yak Kharka. I took this decision because we would also be pushing to high camp instead of Thorong Phedi the following day and Yak Kharka to high camp would be quite strenuous. The route from Manang to Yak Kharka is one of the most picturesque sections of the trek. The weather was ideal for trekking and for photography. Alberto and I were trekking together, and our pace was more or less the same. Our porters were trekking a little ahead with each other. In about 2 hours, we reached a small lodge that was run by a French lady who stays in Nepal (stays there!). Some other trekkers were having tea these. I was content with taking some pictures instead. I continued towards Yak Kharka and now we had crossed the tree line, which is 4000 meters. So all of a sudden everything around you turns brown from green. Another typical characteristic of high altitudes is the moraine that was scattered along the trail. I hate walking on moraine, and it is very tough on the knees as well. It was quite windy and cold, but I was feeling very fit and comfortable.
We reached Yak Kharka in about 3 ½ hours, which was a really good pace. It just had two stone lodges there, but more importantly yak all around them! Alberto and I went into the one on the right. The dining area was very warm and comfortable. It was so comfortable that in no time I was lying on the seating couch and looking outside the window. In some time the older Israeli couple joined us and so did the Japanese trekker and Ajay. The norm is that the porters take the order and serve food to their respective guests. Since we had reached Yak Kharka a little earlier than expected, we took our time eating and relaxed for a little while after finishing out lunch. We left for Leddar at around 12:30 pm. Stepping out of the warmth of the lodge was very uninviting. It was windy and chilly. I was covered from head to toe. The ascent to Leddar wasn’t tough as such, but the terrain was depressing; typical of high altitudes like I explained earlier. After an hour’s grueling climb, we reached Leddar. There were two options to stay there, and we let Ajay choose, as he had been on this trek several times.
There is was no toilet or bathroom there. The sun was shining, but I have never seen the sun look so ineffective! I managed to freshen up with ice cold water and then Alberto and I trekked a small hillock behind the lodge for some photography. The views from that point were absolutely stunning, and would give the views from Ghyaru a run for their money. I was quite tired but even at this altitude, the fact that we trekked up the hill for photography after a long day of trekking was a signal that my body had acclimatized very well. We returned to the lodge and rested till evening. By evening some other trekkers had also reached Leddar, including my Mexican acquaintance Jordan. AT around 6 pm, we sat for playing card and didn’t stop till the lodge owners wanted to close the dining area! It was very cold at night, and I could see Annapurna 4 and Gangapurna on the horizon from my window, lit up by the moon. I was wearing three layers of clothing and still couldn’t find any sleep. But I don’t remember anything after that till 5:30 am, which means I probably did eventually fall asleep.
I woke up at 5 am. It was sub zero at that hour. As I walked out of my room to look at the moon lit snow clad ranges around me, Alberto was already awake and taking pictures. He said he wasn’t able to find any sleep at all. Insomnia is a common problem at altitudes, and the fact that I was able to sleep here meant my health was really good. I asked the lodge folks to give me some warm water for freshen up, as it was impossible to use the cold water for doing so here. We had breakfast (oat porridge and eggs) and geared up for the long trek to Thorong Phedi and then hopefully to high camp.
I was trekking very fast at the lower altitudes, but I tend to be one of the slowest around once I cross 3500 meters. As mentioned, Alberto also trekked at a similar pace so both of us, along with out porters set out. In about an hour, we had to descend around 200 feet, cross a makeshift wooden bridge and the again ascend 300 feet. It was very treacherous, physically and psychologically. Psychologically because one gets so frustrated at the need to descend and then ascend again. While ascending, I was feeling very warm and once we reached a little flatter surface, I removed some of my warm clothing. The problem with these areas is that, if you are stationary, you feel cold, but if you are climbing, you feel hot. I damaged my trekking pants in the process and had to change to something else. I was feeling quite worried, as I was certain I would need them tomorrow, while crossing the Thorong La. Then we trekked for another hour through a landslide prone area, and also saw a helicopter fly by us, which we later found out was for air lifting a Japanese trekker who had severe altitude sickness.
The landscape was rugged and stunning, with a small stream running in the valley on our right and typical glacial moraine spread all over. Behind us, we could still see Gangapurna and a part of Annapurna 3. Everything else was now hidden. In about 2 more hours, we could see Thorong Phedi, another ½ hour away. Slowly, breathing heavily we reached there. Boards warning of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and rescue related information greeted us. There were two lodges there, exceptionally nice considering we were at 4500 meters now. We sat in the sun for some time and relaxed. Many other trekkers started pouring in, mostly because most of the others had stayed in Yak Kharka and not in Leddar, so were reaching now. Leela managed to fix the broken zipper of my trekking pants much to my relief. It was on 10: 30 am but the Japanese trekker and Ajay had lunch there. Alberto continued without waiting for much longer to High Camp, which is another 1000 feet above Phedi. Let me briefly tell you about the next day that was in store. The trek from Thorong Phedi to Muktinath via Thorong La (17800 feet) takes around 10-11 hours during which you first climb nearly 3000 feet and then descend another 5500 feet. It is one of the most grueling
Though the ascent from Phedi to High Camp is very tiring, and sleeping at High Camp is very difficult due to the cold and the altitude, many trekkers prefer pushing till High Camp, because it makes the next day’s journey across the pass substantially shorter. In some time, the Japanese trekker and Ajay left as well. Don and Stefan arrived with Pema Sherpa and so did the senior Israeli couple, who headed straight for High Camp. In about an hour, I asked Leela to get moving, and told him that he can go directly to the High Camp as I would take very long at my pace. I started ascending, one step at a time. It was very windy, cold, and breathing was quite difficult. This was the first time during this trek that I was really feeling pushed to the limit. Even the old Israeli couple appeared to be climbing faster than me, though in sometime I caught up with them. Often, I looked at the trail ahead and mentally decided on the next waypoint where I would reach before stopping for catching some breath. This waypoint was generally 10 feet away!
Some part of the climb was quite steep and I could feel the lactic acid build up in my legs. I continued trekking up with the Israeli couple and the arduous climb continued till I could see High Camp. It looked, and probably was a few hundred feet away but took me another 20 minutes to get there. It is unbelievable as to how people have managed to construct a permanent structure at this altitude. I entered the lodge and Alberto, along with the Japanese trekker was playing cards, expecting me. The dining area was nice and warm and I just lied down on the seating couch, completely exhausted. In some time, we had lunch and I played cards with Alberto before we headed to the top of a nearby hill which seemingly offered the best views you could imagine. I didn’t want to climb any more today, but eventually we reached the top were a group of young noise Isarelis were taking pictures. We took loads of pictures and I made a video as well. Then something unimaginable happened. Someone just walked up to me and said ‘Hello’. Can you guess who it was? It was Peter! Yes, Peter (Peter, Myriam, Josephine …Ghyaru village?) was here and the others too had made it to Thorong Phedi. Peter just came to High Camp and then to the top of this hill for fun!
I told you he had the stamina of a mountain goat, but I doubt if even a mountain goat would climb to High Camp for fun! I asked him why the others didn’t come along for his fun stroll? He responded by telling me that Joesphine was not well so Myriam stayed back to keep her company. I stated my desire to meet Myriam, so Peter who barely spent fifteen minutes up there with us and was heading back to Thorong Phedi, told me that he will tell Myriam and ask her if she wants to come up in the evening once again! That was highly unlikely though. I was playing cards with the gang, bracing myself for the tough day ahead when suddenly at around 5:30 pm, Peter came inside and told me Myriam had come up as well. I was stunned! I hurriedly ran outside and met her, and then we took some photos. Then I told them that I can wait for them tomorrow at High Camp instead of leaving with the others (which is around 5 am) so that they can reach here and we can continue together. At first they weren’t really sure, but after my requests they agreed. I gave them my torch since they had only one and they might need two in the morning. It was so cold that my hands were blue. I saw them off after our brief meet (yes Peter came up to High camp twice already and would come the third time tomorrow at 6 am!) and returned to the warmth of the dining area. I had some Daal Bhaat for dinner and everyone got back to their beds to try and sleep.
Sleep evaded me all night due to several factors. The major factor was the cold. It must have been zero degrees at max inside my room and I was wearing everything I had, which also made it very uncomfortable. The excitement and low oxygen were other factors and the thought of reuniting with the Germans was the third. I distinctly remember each passing second of the night, which means I got no sleep whatsoever. I was prepared for this. Most people don’t get any sleep at such altitudes (4800 m). I was ‘up’ and outside by 4:30 am. There was already considerable amount of commotion by then, and by 4:45 I could see people leaving for Thorong La and Muktinath already. I knew that it would be at least 6:15 by the time my friends get to High Camp. It was -9 degrees, and even the thought of washing my face sent a chill down my spine. I did eventually do that, at around 5:15. By now most of the trekkers who were at the High Camp had left including Alberto and the Japanese trekker. Leela and I were the only ones there now. In a few minutes the first group of trekkers from Thorong Phedi crossed us. My Israeli friends arrived and by 6:15 am, Peter, Myriam and Josephine arrived. I had the Indian flag mounted in my backpack, which made me the subject of lot of attention, and already these folks were clicking my pictures! We greeted each other and started our long ascent for Thorong La. We were slow, and Peter is fast. In a few minutes, he disappeared and after ½ an hour’s climb, Don, Stefan, and Nick (British trekker) crossed us. Everyone clicked my photos, owing to the flag. The ascent, as expected, got tougher. I could feel the altitude and could guess that we were approximately at 17000 feet. After about 2 hours climb, we reached a small tea house where Peter was waiting for us.
We didn’t have any tea though, and after some rest continued with our journey. The views were indescribable. It hardly felt/looked like the earth’s surface. Behind us was the Chulu range and to our left, the Annapurna range was visible once again. In some time, we reached a small area which was relatively flat and it appeared, albeit incorrectly that we were almost there. Just then, we came across an Israeli girl who was really sick, and two of her male companions were virtually carrying her across. The guys weren’t feeling all that well either. Myriam tried unsuccessfully to tell them that it is a bad idea to push one’s body at such altitudes, and explained the associated risks. The guys said the girl is a tiger; and she’ll do it. I just smiled and told them that tigers fall sick too, and signaled Myriam to continue with our journey. As I mentioned, we were nowhere near the pass yet. After another hours climbed, we spent another ten minutes resting. I could see my Israeli friends approach and passed us telling me that they will wait for me at the pass to pose for a few pictures. It was around 10 am. By my estimates, Alberto and the Japanese trekker must have already begun descending to Muktinath from the Thorong La by now. We were still an hour away from the pass. We continued our journey, and Josephine spent some time tying a small flag and praying at a Buddhist prayer flag mast.
By this time, all most everyone has passed us, so we were the last trekkers of the day. Looking at the shape of the terrain ahead, I could make out that the pass wasn’t too far now, 30 minutes at the most. We reached Thorong La at around 11: 30 pm. There were a few other trekkers there, including my Isareli friends, though most of the others had already started the long descent to Muktinath. I went straight for the board that read Thorong La – 5416 meters, and kissed it Then I dismounted my backpack, and so did Leela. There was a small hill, something smaller than a hill on the left. Though completely tired, I climbed there and took a lot of photos of the whole panorama. I was at almost 18000 feet; where eagles dare. The views, as you would predict, were surreal. I was facing Chulu South and Annapurna 2,3, and 4 to the East and the South where as across the pass was the Tukche, Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri ranges. I made some videos, and took some pictures with the Indian flag. Then I took some pictures with the board of the pass, including some with Myriam, Peter, Josephine, Leela, and my Israeli friends. In some time, we were the only ones there and soon Peter, Myriam and Josephine started descending. Just looking at the descent made my knees creak! Muktinath was some 5500 feet below!
I spent some more time soaking in the location, before Leela and I too began the long descent. The views on the other side were even better than the ones while climbing Thorong La. The terrain was desert like, very similar to the one in Ladakh. The descent is much tougher than the ascent with my knees and toes aching within the first half hour itself. There were some eagles flying around us and I did manage to get some rare pictures of these magnificent birds in flight. After a while, I had to remove my cold gear as it was getting warmer, as we were losing height fast. I turned back and Thorong La was already history, at least 800 feet above us. It was very windy though. I could see Myriam and Josephine a couple of minutes ahead me, but even they were descending faster. We stopped to rest for a while and when I looked around, I could hardly comprehend the place on earth where we are. We continued downwards and passed some shepherds and then a few people with donkeys, who were carrying stuff from Muktinath to the other side via Thorong La. After another ½ hour of descent, we met a solo trekker and his porter, who looked half dead, and I wasn’t surprised why. They were attempting the Thorong La from the other side, which is Muktinath to High Camp/Phedi in one day. This is an ascent of 5500 feet and then a descent of 1500 feet, ranging between 12500 and 18000 feet. Just thinking of it gives me a scare. I wished them luck and continued with ours descent.
We caught up with Myriam and Josesphine who were taking a small break and then Peter joined us too. Myriam wasn’t feeling very well, as she had pain in her shoulders. Josephine and I continued our descent. We had descended quite a bit and we realized that Myriam and Peter were still nowhere to be seen, which obviously meant that Myriam was not feeling well. We sat at a beautiful vantage point and kept staring at the Nilgiri and Tukuche range. Josephine epitomizes art in her actions and her words, and she could have possibly sat there all day. I continued with my slow descent with Leela encouraging me along the way. I was pretty dead by now as I had been trekking for the last 7 hours, and Muktinath was at least 2 ½ hours further. After descending for another hour, I could see the magnificent peak of Dhaulagiri. If someone asks me which is my favourite mountain in the world, it would be Dhaulagiri . It was looking so majestic, true to its name which means Mountain of Ice. The best thing about Dhaulagiri is that is looks like what a mountain is supposed to; I mean it has that perfect shape to it which many high peaks like Annapurna 1 or Broadpeak lack.
I spent around 20 minutes resting, and by then these others arrived as well. I continued, but they were slower due to Myriam’s health. Now I could see Muktinath, which appeared to be close but wasn’t. Before Muktinath, I reached a village which had a couple of tea houses. I crashed in there and immediately opened my shoes to give my blistered feet some fresh air. My Israeli friends were already there, and were about to leave. I ordered food, and the others too arrived and crashed on the seats. We finished lunch and spent some time relaxing. Then we continued together during which I had a long chat with Myriam about various things. We were facing the sun, which was soon to hide behind the Dhaulagiri. To our right was the way towards the famous upper-Mustang region, which is basically Tibet in Nepal. Soon we could see the gateway to Muktinath, with its famous temple greeting us. We entered the town walking around the temple. I spotted some Tamils (people from South India) there, who had probably come there for pilgrimage. Tamils are known to be very religious, throughout Nepal, the only other Indians I saw were groups of old Tamilians visiting religious sites. One disturbing sight was the graffiti near the temple (and also in the Manang region) that read Himali Autonomous State . So thanks to the Maoists, the people of this region now want to secede from Nepal.
We found a place to stay. The other guys occupied the larger room where as I was in a smaller one. But after the last few days, it was sheer luxury. I took a hot water shower and felt much better after that. Then I went outside for a stroll. For sometime one feels like the treki is over, without realizing that we were still at 12500 odd feet. I met everyone there, including Alberto, Ajay, Don, Stefan, Nick, the Isarelis etc. Yes, by now I almost knew all the trekkers who were trekking on the same day as I was. I spent some time at the lodge where Don and Stefan were staying. I had some discussions about the English Premier League and Bob Dylan with Ben. After this I met Alberto and we decided to meet in the evening for some beer, celebrating our success. Peter was there outside my lodge and he told me that the girls were already asleep, understandably. They had trekked for 11 hours, which included crossing one of the highest passes in the world. I invited Peter to join Alberto and me in the evening, to which he readily agreed. At about 7 pm, we went to Alberto’s lodge and ordered beer with peanuts. On the table next to ours, there was a large group of trekkers (some of them looked quite old) who were raising a toast and celebrating their successful crossing of the Thorong La. Soon the Japanese gentleman joined us too in our celebrations. Having him around was a very enjoyable experience, because he would just laugh all the time, unable to understand most of the stuff told to him! Peter and I then returned to our lodge for dinner. The deal is that we must eat food at the lodge, otherwise the room rates increase. This is because the real margin for the owner is through the inflated food sales. We had daal bhat for dinner and headed to our respective rooms to sleep.
The next morning, I was up and ready to leave for the final destination of the trek, Jomsom. Most people opt to take a shared jeep to Jomsom (there is a mud and stone track between Muktinath and Jomsom). I had decided against taking it. One problem is that the route between Muktinath and Jomsom is known for its terrible winds. But then I was here to trek, and not use Jeeps! Also, I have to mention that the jeeps have some 15 people in them, virtually sitting on each other’s laps and still takes 2 hours to reach because the trail isn’t really motor able. Peter & gang decided to take the jeep and so did many others. The Canadians were also trekking on foot with me. I left at around 8:30. The terrain after crossing Muktinath was almost identical to Ladakh. After a while, one can see the large river basin of the Kali Gandaki river. The trail splits in some time, with one heading to Kagbeni while the other going directly to Jomsom. I chose the latter, which was tougher though. After about 2 ½ hours of trekking, I could see Kagbeni village on my right beyond which lies the forbidden upper Mustang valley, which till very recently was off limits for travelers. We were on a ridge, higher on the left of the river basin. I could see the trail from Kagbeni to Jomson below, and could also see a couple of Jeeps pass as well as a Enfield Bullet riders group.
Directly opposite me was the stunning Niligiri peak. The weather was clear so the views were superb. We took a small break and by this time the winds had started. I estimate that the winds were blowing at anywhere between 80-100 kmp/h, which in short means it was VERY windy. I often used to take a long step (I was descending right?) with my target in mind and eventually end up somewhere else due to the wind. It wouldn’t be a lie if I told you that a lighter trekker would actually be thrown around thanks to it. We joined the main trail near the river floor, and halted at a small village there. The Canadians and a few others stopped there to have lunch, but we continued. I was covered from head to toe to protect against the wind and the accompanying dust. There were some shepherds grazing their flocks and we also had the privilege of seeing a small airplane fly over us, and then return preparing to land at Jomsom. It was a surprise as by 10 am, the winds are so high that flights to and from Jomsom are suspended. I could see Jomsom at a distance, probably an hour and half away. Now we were walking virtually in the flood plain of the river. IT was full of stones and I was completely exhausted by now. The wind apart from being so strong was blowing towards us, which means, there was a lot of wind resistance that added to the difficulty. In another 15 minutes, a couple of jeeps passed us which had the Germans, and the Israelis in them. We waved to each other and were almost moving at the same pace for a few hundred meters, after which the jeep gradually pulled away. We were almost there and still so far. A little before the town, we crossed some policemen, and then a group of mountain bikers who were biking from Pokhara to Muktinath. The trail was extremely dusty and each passing vehicle would blow up a huge dust storm through which we had to wade our way.
We finally reached Jomsom, dead tired. We crossed a small bridge over the river and were greeted by diesel fumes from a bus. I have no doubts about man’s capabilities; his capabilities to destroy everything around. We thought we had reached Jomsom, but we were still walking and passing through the village. It was a big place and we needed to get to the area near the airport and look for a lodge. There was a police check post and then another ACAP check post where I needed to register. Peter, Myriam and Josephine were still there, so they had only reached an hour before me. They had booked flight tickets for Pokhara and Kathmandu for tomorrow morning. Then we looked for a lodge and finalized at one. The room had four beds so we decided that I will stay with them tonight, so we can take the whole room. I was very tired and rested for a bit before we had lunch in our lodge’s excellent dining area. After lunch we went for a walk through the market. I was in shorts and t-shirt, and it was so windy that I felt I wasn’t wearing anything at all. Myriam and Josephine went into every shop in town, and needless to say bought nothing. Peter and I generally waited outside and enjoyed our conversations. We walked through the whole town and ended up where I had entered town from. Then we turned and walked back! The evening passed swiftly and we were back at the lodge for dinner. We had long intense conversations over dinner. For a large part of it, it was a monologue where Myriam was speaking and everyone was listening. Peter was probably sleeping!
After dinner Peter left and I had a long conversation with Myriam and Joesphine on a host of topics, from the status of women, to their ambitions to their Indian experiences etc. Josephine’s English was not her strength and often she misplaced her words which had Myriam and me in splits. It was almost that we could have chatted the whole night, but we needed to sleep as we had to be at the airport at 6 am or so. The last night of the trek passed and before I knew it, we were at the airport at 6 15 am. Leela had come to drop me till the airport and then he went back as he would travel by local transport till Pokhara. I was sad when he left. He was such an amazing companion. My flight was supposed to be later than theirs, but mine came on time and theirs was delayed. I bade them adieu and left for Pokhara. The flight, which is supposed to be one of the most scenic, didn’t offer much due to the cloudy weather. I did get to see some good views of Annapurna 2 and south along with a small glance of the famous Macchapuchre. It was a 35 minute flight. Kamal had arranged for a friend of his to pick me up from Pokhara airport. My flight to Kathmandu was tomorrow, since I had kept a buffer day knowing that the flights from Jomsom are cancelled frequently. Mr. Sagar Thapa received me at the airport and took me to his lodge near the famous Phewa Tal (lake ). I took a shower and had some breakfast after which I set out to explore Pokhara. I hired a bicycle from one of the many roadside vendors who rent out bicycles. I rode to the Yeti airlines office near the airport, confirmed my ticket and then just roamed through the market in Pokhara buying a lot of stuff, especially books and memorabilia. I returned to the lodge for lunch, rested and in the evening cycled around the town again. Pokhara is a great place to unwind, with a superb variety of food, shopping and places to stay. On a clear day, one can see the whole Annapurna range including Macchapuchre from the Phewa Tal. Unfortunately, it was very hazy today and I could barely get that view. But I wasn’t missing it that much because I had just trekked in the heart of the Annapurna region. In the evening, Leela reached Pokhara and he came to see me one last time at the lodge. We ate some food together and he left for Kathmandu. I also visited the very well made and maintained mountaineering museum in Pokhara. I highly recommend this place to anyone who goes to Pokhara.
Later, I checked e-mails and logged in to Facebook after nearly two weeks. I was back to civilization. I had dinner at a exotic restaurant and returned the cycle to the vendor. The next morning after having breakfast, Sagar dropped me to the airport on his bike. The flight was on time and I reached Kathmandu at around 10 am. I took a taxi till the lodge where I stayed on the first day of this trip, in Thamel. Kamal came to see me and then we walked around and spent some time in his office. It’s a pity that I didn’t know that the famous Chitwan National Park is only a two day excursion from Kathmandu. Had I known this, I would have definitely included it in my itinerary somehow. In the evening, I bought some more stuff from the market in Thamel. I had dinner with Kamal at his house with his lovely family. I had a hard time packing my stuff as I had no space in my bags to accommodate all the new things that I had bought. Somehow I managed it and slept. The next morning Kamal arranged for a taxi till the airport. I gave him my Nepali sim card, which he can used and keep alive, thanked him for all his help and promised to return soon.
Unlike the flight from Delhi which got cancelled, this flight was on time. When I entered the aircraft, the chief steward greeted me and I looked at him closely. Another unimaginable thing happened. He was the same steward who was on my flight to Nepal in 2008, while doing the Everest Base Camp expedition. Incidentally, during that flight, I had a long chat with him and he remembered me to. It was such a great surprise. His name was Amrit Shreshtha. After the takeoff and some commotion caused by few Tamil ladies, who were scrambling around for window seats soon after takeoff, Amrit kindly escorted me to the business class. I had some beer and very good food, along with a nice conversation with him. I took his email address and telephone number and promised to send him our picture (that I had clicked in the aircraft in 2008) along with these pictures to him. Unfortunately today, as I write this travelogue, I have lost my phone and with it his contact details. We reached Delhi and parted ways hoping that we would see each other soon. I hope I meet him again when I travel to Nepal. At Delhi airport, my friend Tanisha had come to see me (it took a lot of convincing though). Most of Delhi was closed due to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, which was today. In the evening, I watched the opening ceremony inside the terminal along with many others. I met an Afghani student from Herat studying in Pune and immediately struck a chord with him. We chatted for a long time since we had a lot of time for our flight, spoke a little bit in Farsi (Dari), travelled together in the flight. Later we shared a rickshaw which first dropped me and then dropped him at Undri.
I was home, at 11: 30 pm, after successfully completing this historic trek, solo. I was feeling very sad as I was already missing the mountains and the lovely people whom I met during the trek. But as I always say, if it won’t end, it won’t start again. Now I have invites to visit the friends I made, in Israel, Spain, Germany, and Belgium. I hope you enjoyed reading this travelogue as much as I enjoyed writing it. My next plan will be in July and then something in October. You can check my site for up to date information on the same. Namaste and Jai hind.