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  1. 1. The Ultimate Trek - Annpurna Circuit Jayant Doshi(1st October 2010 to 17th October 2010) I met Shailesh, a keen trekker, in Pune after my Makalu trek in 2007. We exchanged our emails. It was in April 2010 that he wrote to me asking me if I would like to join them on a 17 day Annpurna Circuit trek. As I so much wanted to do this, I replied and said I would be glad to join them. However, later in the year I had some health issues and it became difficult to decide till the last few weeks if I will be able to fulfil this dream. Just ten days before leaving London, I decided that I am going as I was feeling perfectly in shape. I left London on 1st October and met Shailesh together with Vivek and Abhay (all 40 or nearby) on 2nd October in Kathmandu. We spent the next day sightseeing in Kathmandu.Right from day one it appeared that they did not seem comfortable talking either in Hindi orEnglish, they tended to talk all the time in Marathi which I do not understand. That very day theytalked about changing our original program. It was argued that after Muktinath, there is a vehicleroad, and it is no fun walking with vehicles passing by all the time. Alternative plans were made toutilise those days, including some trekking in Poon Hills. The arguments seemed logical and Iagreed with them. I shared the room with Vivek and he was quite friendly and we talked when wewere in the room, but when the three of themwere together all the talk seemed to be inMarathi. If I mentioned anything either in Hindior English, I just got a one sentence short replyand then talk reverted to Marathi.Over the two weeks I got used to it and I wouldread my book while they were talking. Othersalso noticed that while I was with these three wewere not talking to each other much. Whileplaying cards with one of the porters he gotangry and told them not to talk in Marathi whenwe were playing. But I guess they were so usedto talking in that language, and that they wereuncomfortable speaking in either Hindi orEnglish, that they could not help it and they did not notice that they were excluding me all thetime. However, as far as daily activities were concerned they gave me lot of respect, always calledme when something was happening and generally treated me well. The Trek First Day : We were supposed to travel by bus to our starting point but then opted for a taxi. It was planned that we would reach Bhulbhule (height : 820 metres 2690 ft) by lunch time and then we would start our trek to reach Bahundanda for the night. But the traffic was choker block. Everyone was trying to overtake the others, and as such blocking the lane for the oncoming traffic. Later, after we had spent hours lingering in that traffic, we came to abridge which would take only one vehicle at a time, and it took a long time to cross that bridge. Allthe way we were faced with clouds of dust, diesel fumes and stench of oil. There were hundreds of
  2. 2. trucks and buses belching out smoke. We passed through greenery, mountains and rivers, but wehad no chance to stop or view the beautiful scenery. It was 5.30 in the evening by the time wereached our destination and the plan to trek toour final destination was shelved.Our trek proper as such started on 5th Octoberat 7.45. We walked through valleys, with riverflowing along out trek and beautiful views allaround. We had to cover the trek of theprevious day and also trek planned for today.We first reached Bahudanda (height : 1310 m.or 3608 ft.). Then we continued to Chamje(height : 1560 m. 5118 ft) Our first day oftrekking turned out to be a long day. Wewalked for 10 hours with about 2 hours ofbreak in between. It was a long tiring day.When we started walking, I was in the front as is my usual pace of walking. For an hour or more Iled the way and others were far behind. But then they caught up with me, and overtook me. I wastold that they were spending lot of time photographing lovely scenery on the way which slowedthem down. Vivek and Shailesh had sophisticated cameras with lots of different lenses, and theyseemed to be perfectionist in their hobby. But once they had passed me they took a great lead, andI was almost an hour behind them. We were still at lower altitudes, and it was really hot. I must have drunk over eight litres of fluid during the day, but I was sweating by the bucket and I hardly passed any urine during the day. Walking through the valleys and mountain slopes with lots of greenery, and the gushing waters of river all the time giving us company, made it a wonderful day for trekking. The terrace farming on the mountains gave it a beauty of its own, but in reality the terrace farms were encroaching onto the natural vegetation on these beautiful mountains. With pressure of growingpopulation, and the need to develop the economy, it is natural to expect more of such farming onthese mountains.My three colleagues were much younger, fitter and experienced trekkers, and I should have realisedthat I would never be able to keep up with their pace. But doubts started occurring in my mind. Ifelt that I had taken my fitness for granted, and that I had not prepared myself for the trek. The fearcropped up that I might not be able to do the pass and just the thought scared me. I startedvisualising the scene when everyone was walking ahead, I was lagging far behind and ultimately Iam told to go back the way I had come. I feltthat I had passed the age and I should nothave even come on this trek. Walking foralmost ten hours, after a long period, seemedto have taken its toll and I felt tired when Ireached the destination. But my legs were nothurting, and once I had sat down I was fresh inno time. There was no urge to lie down or sleepto recover.Second Day : Next day was supposed to be easywalking. We started at 7.45 a.m. and walkedtill 1.00 p.m. when we stopped for lunch. Mostof the walking involved steep climbing. Afterlunch we walked for three more hours, and as such we walked as much as the day before. Itappeared that the timings given by the guide never seemed to be anywhere accurate. We passed
  3. 3. through Tal and then Dharapani (1920 m – 6298 ft) and ultimately to Bagarchhap (2160 m = 7085 ft). Today we passed a few waterfalls, and crossed the river several times. As we were going up it got cooler and walking became easier. Today also I lagged behind rest of the group though I was told that I was not that much behind them. But my confidence had been dented and I was still not sure if I will be able to cope with the uphill walks which would follow later. Due to less haemoglobin, I always had breathing problem while walking up an ascent. Unlike Everest trek, this area is much morepopulated and well served with amenities. The lodges were of better standard, hot water for showerwas available during the early days, mobile phones were working and food at meal times were ofbetter variety. However, the lodges lacked the atmosphere that existed in Everest trek. There was noheating in the dining hall, and no room for all trekkers to sit around and get to know each other. Itis nice to see lot of awareness in the country. Wood fires are almost nonexistent, use of solar panelsto heat water and for electricity is very common, andplanting trees can be seen all around.Third Day : Today we left at 7.00 a.m. and it wascomparatively a short day for walking. We reachedour destination by 2.00 and took few breaks.Walking was moderate to difficult today. Ourdestination was Chame. (2630 m – 8627 ft.) All theway during the trek we had clear viewing ofAnnpurna 2 and 4 peaks, and our trek was alongRiver Marsyangdi. My back pack caused some painon the left shoulder blade, and it was hurting mewhile walking, and after wards also. I lay in bedafter lunch. The back was paining and the thighshad become stiff. I had to empty my bowels in nature, and squatting was painful as thighs werevery stiff after walking for three days. Later we went for bathing in hot water springs. My threecolleagues were not keen on the same. The very hot water was coming out of the ground but therewere no proper facilities for bathing. I sat on the step next to the river and the porter filled the jugwith hot water, I mixed it with river water and took the bath. It felt wonderful bathing in hotsulphur waters. Little was I to know, as per my colleagues, that the same bath would transform mywalking from the next day. Today was our first evening when we had free time, and were able toplay some cards. Fourth Day : Today we were told that it would be a long walk and as such started at 6.45 in the morning. I left a few minutes before the rest. I kept ahead of everyone for most of the trek. Everyone was joking that spring waters had done a miracle. But to me I was walking at same speed as any other day. Others were either busy taking photographs, or perhaps the initial burst of energy had evaporated, and their bodies were refusing to walk at the same pace as the first three days. But for me, this was a great boost in my confidence. I realised that I was as good at walking as in the past and thatcrossing the pass should not cause any problem. The first three long days of walking had notaffected my capacity to continue walking at the same pace. Everyone was surprised to see mereaching Pisang half an hour before everyone else.
  4. 4. Pisang (3190 m – 10466 ft) has a lower sectionand upper section. Also there were two routesfrom Pisang to our next destination. Some othertrekkers suggested that upper route is muchmore scenic. Guide was discouraging us fromtaking that route. When we reached Pisang theguide also told us that there was no chance offinding a room in Upper Pisang, but we insistedthat we want to go up there and we foundrooms at the very first lodge we tried. It hadwonderful views of all the snow peaks, and theprofessional photographers in the group wereexcited by the lovely photos they were able totake of the snow peaks in the morning sunshine when the sun is rising. In the evening wewalked to a Buddhist monastery which was a very steep long climb.Our evening meals were taken around 7.00 and we would be in bed by 8.00 or soon after. Dal andrice with vegetables seemed to be the popular item though pizza, spiced boiled or fried potatoes,Mexican items and egg items were also available. We met two trekkers from Mumbai who gave uscompany for most of the days. We got a chance to intermingle with other trekkers now and then. Ifwe were early we would enjoy some card games. Showers were available for most of the early days. Fifth Day : After giving consideration to the choices, our group decided to take the easier lower route from Pisang. It had rained previous night and the morning was cloudy and misty. We walked along the river and had a long climb over a steep ridge taking us to 3400 m (11152 ft) and then a descent into the valley to 3325 m (10906 ft) where there is an air strip. We then climb up to Manang (3500 m – 11483 ft). Sixth Day : Manang is a large village and a normal stopping centre for acclimatisation. It allows trekkers to get adjusted to the thinning air and lessening pressure as we go to higheraltitudes. Most trekkers would walk to various sightseeing points around the village and rest for theardous walks to follow. We walked up a hill in the morning where we got a wonderful view of theAnnpurna range. Later we walked around the village. We rested for rest of the day.Seventh Day : The sky was clear and sun was shining the early next morning and my colleagueswoke up early to take some lovely photos of the sun rays glistening the peaks of the snow cappedmountains. While it is possible to reachThorung Phedi in one day, the trek is dividedinto two days to allow for more time to getacclimatised. We walked to Tengi which was agradual uphill walk taking us to 3620 m (11874ft) and then we continued steadily upwards toGunsang at 3930 m (12891 ft). The vegetationand the scenery now were Alpine with scrubsand alpine grasses. We got a clear view ofGangapurna peak (7454 m – 24450 ft)) andAnnpurna III (7555 m – 24780 ft). Just to seethese majestic snow-capped peaks made thetrek worth undertaking. We reached Yak Kharka|(4090m – 11341 ft) where we spent the night.The day had wonderful sunshine and clear
  5. 5. skies. For some trekking is a passion. Walking in unpolluted air, in the open in the mountains and seeing the beauty nature has created is what drives that passion. For some trekking is not only walking and seeing the natural beauty of the mountains but also a challenge – a challenge to set a target and to achieve it. For others the aim is to capture the beauty of the nature and of the snow capped peaks in their cameras, and once this is achieved they are happy about their achievement. My colleagues, who had decided not to walk along a road where vehicles are passing, but who had decided to climb Poon hills to get a view of the Annpurna range of snow capped mountains, had another change of mind.Since they had got wonderful viewing of the same range of mountains and had captured thoseviews on their professional cameras, they decided that it was not worth climbing that height (1830m - 6000 ft to Pun hill top) just to view the same range again. As usual, the decision was conveyedto me after three of them had discussed it in Marathi. I did not have a choice or a chance to expressmy opinion so I listened to their decision quietly.Eighth Day : We had some snow fall during the night. In the morning all the garden furniture in ourlodge and all the bushes were covered with snow, but there was no snow to affect our walking. Weleft at 7.45. Today it was going to be a shortwalk. The early part was treacherous downhillwalk with small stones and dry soil, and latersome muddy patches made it difficult. I slippeda few times and actually fell down once. Aftercrossing a bridge, we had steep uphill climb.The trail continued along a steep bank and wereached Thorung Phedi (4441 m – 14570 ft)which is the last stop before we cross theThorung La Pass. Phedi means foot of the hill.The guide suggested that after lunch and a littlerest we should walk up the hill as far aspossible to acclimatise and to prepare for thelong walk the next day. We four started walkingup the steep slope (which leads to the High Camp which would be our first stop for breakfast nextday). While three others stopped after a while and returned to our lodge I continued walkingprompted by the porter who accompanied us. Walking up hill causes breathing problem for me due to lack of sufficient haemoglobin in my blood, and I am huffing and puffing after every few steps. Prompted by the porter I kept walking and even though it was difficult and laborious I reached the top to the High Camp. I had no money with me so we could not buy tea but I refilled my water bottle. I was not fully prepared and the cold really hit my hands. But I had the great satisfaction that I made it to the top. I walked down to the lodge. Walking down is also not easy as the fear of slipping is always there and I am extra careful on that point. While the walk was tiring, I was not that tired that I needed to lie down. Also the difficult uphill walk did not give me any pains or aches and I feltquite fresh.
  6. 6. Ninth Day : Today was the big day. We woke up at 4.00, packed our sleeping bags and rest of our baggage, got ready, had tea and biscuits and left by 4.45. It was freezing cold – I assume at least minus ten degrees or even less. I was dressed for the cold weather and I had gloves on my hands. Walking generates heat, and putting too many clothes can also cause problem in walking, no matter how cold it is. I was originally planning to wear just wind cheater over my tee shirts but on second thought I put on my warm fleece jacket. Even with that, while walking I felt a chill on my abdomen. My face also was freezing with the cold. After that day I caught a bad cold and a sore throat which lingered for long time.Hundreds of other trekkers also were on the slope at that time. We had to use our torches to seethe trek. I was feeling the chill in my body and my hands seemed to be freezing. Because of thedark and many trekkers on the slope our progress was slow. While my thighs and calf muscles werenot aching, there seemed to be some sort of resistance in the thighs. After every few steps I had tostop because I felt as if the thighs were refusing to move. Day before, I had climbed in one hour andfifteen minutes and today it took me one hourforty five minutes. This was because ofcombination of factors but I kept wondering ifprevious day’s walk would have affected myspeed of walking.When I reached the High camp at 6.30 in themorning I went inside the lodge dining hall totake breakfast. But my hands were freezingand my fingers had gone numb. I had problemremoving my gloves and to undo the clasps onmy back pack. The numbness in the fingersleft them useless. I rubbed both the handsfrantically to bring them to life but that did nothelp. After a while, I went into the kitchen andwarmed my hands on the electric hot plate.After doing that for a while I felt life comingback into my fingers.We had some breakfast at High Camp. Many trekkers had stayed at High Camp making theircrossing of the pass much easier. But our guide advised that altitude can possibly have adverseeffect on us. Up to now it was steep uphill walk but after High Camp it became moderate uphill walk. I reached Thorung La Pass at about 10.00. Shailesh was ahead of me but others were behind. While I kept my pace of walking steady for all nine days, it seems others lost their initial speed and slowed down. I felt proud that not only I had made to the top, but that I did not struggle or was not slow in this walk. Others did not have to wait for me. The scenery around the pass was spectacular. We could see various snow capped peaks from this point. A board showing the height and name of the pass stood prominently on the site and we all took photos. We had reached height of 5416 m or 17765 ft. I was overwhelmed. Some guides, porters and other trekkers came and congratulated me. One guide requested to take photos with me. At my
  7. 7. age, this was a great achievement andthose who knew my age were impressed.Our guide and the porters had great doubtsabout my ability to cross the pass,especially after seeing me trailing behindduring the first few days. They were full ofpraise.We started our walk down to Muktinath.Muktinath is one of the most sacred Hindutemples and get many devotees comingthere. Our walk to Muktinath was down hillmost of the way but it was tricky as smallstones and dry soil made it easy to slip on those slopes. Also walking down hill can easily injure theknees and we had to be careful about that. Sometimes too much fear of slipping cause tensemuscles and that could tire the muscles even more. While we were given the impression of easythree hour walk, it did not seem to end. I was able to keep up with rest of the group but by mid dayI was feeling really tired. We stopped for lunch. I decided to take extra time before I started walkingagain. We were to cross a bridge to go across but we found the bridge path was blocked and thebridge seemed to be damaged. So we followed the trek to the bottom of the valley, crossed the river in a precarious position, and walked up a steep hill to get across on the other side. This took considerable time and our day got longer and longer. It was tricky and treacherous walk along a narrow path. It in itself provided us with an adventure walk for the already tiring day. When we reached Muktinath, the guide was waiting for us to show the famous temple so that we do not have to come again. However the temple was closed. From there to the town centre and our lodge seemed like eternity but we had no choice but to walk it. It was a long day – over twelve and half hours of walking with some breaks. But all that was soon forgotten with a hot refreshing shower. Vivek and I were bothready to go and visit the temple but no one seemed to be sure if it would be open so we turned backand decided to go the next morning.In one day we had climbed from Thorung Phedi to High Camp (692 m - 2270 ft) and then from Highcamp to Thorung La Pass (305 m – 1000 ft.). Then on the return we walked down from Thorung LaPass to Muktinath (1726m – 5660 ft). In short we climbed up 3270 ft and climbed down 5660 ft inone day. That was a great achievement particularly at my age.Return Journey : As per the original plan we were to continue our trekking but with the change ofplans it was decided we take taxi fromMuktinath and go to Jomsom and fly toPokhara. However, we could not get the airtickets. Muktinath being an importantpilgrimage centre, dirt roads that can takevehicle traffic have been built, but beingmountainous region the roads are bumpy anddriving quite difficult. Again there was changeof plans. Our plans to climb Poon Hills wasshelved as the argument went that they hadseen all the peaks and taken all the photos sowhy climb that hill. We were to proceed toPokhara and spend a few days there and thengo the Chitwan National Park where hotelbookings had been arranged.
  8. 8. In the early morning we went to see Muktinath temple. It was a long steep walk and I wondered how many devotees would cope with this walk. The temple has great significance for Hindus and it is located on vast piece of land, and fenced by wall. After breakfast, we got ready by nine to board a taxi. To make up numbers we joined another group, and as such we were totally 13 in the taxi. It was a very bumpy ride with pot holes, rocks, puddles, and sometimes deep holes where the tires of the taxi would not be able to come out. In such places driver would put stones under the wheel to let it drive through. At one place the road was blocked with rocks and we had to move the rocks to pass through. We saw lot of trekkers on the way.Number of cars passing on the road was minimal, may be one per hour at the most. I felt pangs ofregret. We cancelled this part of trekking because we did not wish to walk with cars whizzing pastbut there was nothing like it.We reached Jomsom and walked across thetown to find another taxi. We took our lunchand kept waiting for the taxi. Other groupdecided to go on their own, and we could notfind a taxi. After 3.00 p.m. we got on a bus. Itwas not a comfortable ride, with hardly anyplace to keep our legs, and the bumpy road didnot help much in the cramped bus. Seatscould hardly take two, and our heads wereknocking against the luggage rack. The buskept rollicking side to side. We reachedMarpha which is famous for its apples andapple by products. Some of our colleagues andporters were out buying apples. Vivek and Iwere in the bus when the bus took a U turnand before we knew driver was driving thesame way we came. We were told that the bus was going back to Jomsom to collect some luggage.We went through the same bumpy ride again. The top of the bus got fully loaded and rest of theluggage was put between the seats leaving no space at all. We did not have any space even to moveour legs. Some more passengers were taken in the already full bus. We picked up rest of our groupfrom Marpha and continued our journey. It was 8.00 p.m. by the time we reached Gasa. From there we arranged a private bus taking three groups to fill the bus but more people got on the bus and it took some time to sort out the outsiders. We drove on and just about 10.00 p.m. we found the road blocked. We waited for a while, police were called and some hasty negotiations took place. We were informed that some villagers had blocked the road in anger. When the villagers were told that there were only tourists on the bus they let us go. We reached out hotel at 10.45. While others went for dinner, it is not my habit to eat so late, and so I went straight to bed.In the morning when I saw the location of the hotel and its surroundings I felt that we made amistake not completing the trek. The hotel with lots of greenery, river passing by and the hills withgreenery in the back made the place look wonderful. I had good sleep. We went for hot water bath
  9. 9. in the nearby river spot and it was totallyrefreshing. On my return I was informedthat there was a change of plan. This“change of plan” had become a big jokeduring this trip. I had heard this so manytimes. Now I was told that everyone was sotired with the taxi and bus journey of theprevious day that they did not want to doany more such travelling. They had decidedto cancel all plans and go back home. At notime did they consider my views. I wasangry, I was frustrated but I felt it was bestto keep calm.We had a comfortable journey to Pokhara. Ialso learnt that my colleagues were planning to fly to Kathmandu. I stated that I will join them whatever they decide. After reaching Pokhara I had a shave and a massage. I felt rejuvenated. I made some calls to arrange for my flight to London. On return to my room Vivek told me that others were now talking of going to Chitwan National Park and suggested that I go and talk to them. I told him that I will wait till they tell me. I took every one for dinner that night, and told them that I was going to Kathmandu next day and will be flying home day after. No one made any comment. Next morning we all went to Kathmandu by taxi. Of course, plans to fly had been changed by morning time. Day after I flew to London and the others all took a flight to Pune. While the successful crossing of the high pass was a greatachievement, it was a big disappointment for me that I did not do the trek as planned. For themthere will be other opportunities – but for me this perhaps was my last opportunity. For themhaving captured all the important peaks on their cameras was the height of their achievement andsatisfaction. For me, to have walked for the projected seventeen days, would have been the height ofachievement that would have given me immense satisfaction. But I was happy for what I hadachieved. Walking for such long hours did not give me pain in my legs or thighs though I did feelpain a few times in my calf muscles in my sleep.That is to be expected after such walking. Butafter a long days walking I was not shattered,unlike many others, I did not crash into the bedat the end of the day, nor did I need to lie downto recover myself. Trekking in the mountainsgives a pleasure which cannot be expressed inwords. In spite of all the difficulties oneencounters, the ultimate satisfaction cannot bequantified.The bill board in Nepal says “Never say Good byeto the Himalayas.” Would this trek be my “Goodbye” to the Himalayas? I wonder that will be so inmy case – only time will tell.(comments to jubhai@aol.com – other reports onwww.jayantdoshi.yolasite.com ))