Ah trekking, Ben is either a glutton for punishment or the best husband in the world. Or both. Even after all his exhaustive adventures in Langtang, he was willing (& excited) to head back out onto the treks & show me around Nepal. Don’t worry, he made sure to fit in a restorative beach trip in Goa between the mighty mountain conquering, but it was still no easy feat. Not that I had been laying around eating bonbons for weeks mind you, I am pretty sure when my yoga masters advised us to take a week or two off to rest the body, a 7-day mountain trek was not what they had in mind. Nevertheless, we were off again!
We launched our journey from the lakeside town of Pokhara, a beautiful & serene area left (luckily) virtually undisturbed by the massive earthquake of 2015. Frankly, I wasn’t really sure what I was in for & I must have been suffering from a post-yoga bliss because I have never really trekked before in my life. While Patagonia was magnificent & challenging, it was day-hiking where each evening we returned to our beautiful lodge & had a hearty meal prepared by the sweet staff (& many yummy bevs!). This was “the real deal” ish. While we did not have to pack our own camping gear (more than enough “tea houses” fill the route), anything & everything we wanted, we had to carry (including our own toilet paper). I typically don’t like carrying my own luggage up stairs much less over mountain tops…. But when we first began to extend our 4-day trek to 5, then 6 then “well maybe 6 nights & 7 ish days?” I just kept saying “sure why not, let’s do it!”. Doh.
Well thank goodness for fate or divine intervention, whichever you prefer, but it turned out that, though we set off as just two we wouldn’t be alone for long. Our very first night on the trek we meet Thomas & Jessica, a French couple who oddly enough had the exact same route planned (we chose a slightly modified route not as typical for the area…go figure). The routes are small enough that you often do run into people, especially in the beginning, but are certainly large enough that it’s no guarantee you will see anyone again. Especially with the vast amount of lodging available you would have no idea which tea house another person was in if you didn’t coordinate. Therefore, we were surprised when, on day 2 after about 2-3 hours of hiking, we came upon them at a random spot for lunch. This was one of the more “abandoned” looking areas on the trek so go figure. Here they had met Simon & Ariane, a couple from Quebec, Canada, who were planning to tackle Annapurna Base Camp (A.B.C.). We took them up on an offer to join their table for lunch & they say the rest is history, our little party of 6 became our own “Lord of the Rings” style group that would trudge up & over mountains, down into riverbanks & tackle more stairs than I ever want to again. Ever.
I don’t know what it is about meeting random strangers in beautiful places - maybe it’s the magic & mystery of Nepal, or just the forced interaction over 5-6 days but here again we were amazed at how, people we would surely have never met otherwise, began to feel like friends we had always known & couldn’t imagine not hanging out with. Together we shared the ups & downs of travel (injuries, your standard local food issues…), light hearted jokes & card games, as well as deeper discussions on work/life balance, desire or pressures to have kids & of course, as it is inevitable these days, politics - the pros & cons of our respective countries policies (tax, education, health) & our thoughts on what the future may bring. It was a bonding experience, seeing these beautiful mountains, meeting amazing people & learning from each other. Everything happens for a reason we decided, the evidence for us was to clear to ignore.
Our little trekking band of misfits ended up following a “modified” A.B.C. route through the Annapurnas, taking us through both highly travelled areas & a few more off the beaten path so to speak…There were so many moments I was glad we were not alone, once when a (very large sounding) tree fell not all that far away…. another time when we had to push past a horse & hop a wire/stone fence to reach our lodge due to a rustling noise up one of the banks…we cannot confirm nor deny a presence of a bear, but if we had been in the U.S. Ben & I agree that’s exactly what that would have been. We’d walk for hours on end, hoping we were headed in the right direction, figuring it was better to be lost as a group than alone…
“Annapurna Sanctuary Trek”
Tips & thoughts on our 6 night, 7 day Annapurna Trek!
Pro-tip: Maps.Me is a MUST in these mountains if not using a guide – no, Google Maps is not going to help you here. Critical packing suggestions: Sleeping bag liner (or a full sleeping bag but we didn’t use one as lodges provided blankets), ear plugs, bug spray, pack towel, laundry soap, headlamp & plenty of hand sanitizer & toilet paper!
Nyapul: Typical start and/or end to many of the trekking routes. Small town/village where you initially check in with the local park authorities. Saw one sign for an “ATM” …. not sure how often it ever works so bring plenty of cash with you! There are 0 cash places out in the mountains – 5000-6000 NPR per day for two people is plenty.
Ulleri: Our first overnight stop. While many treks (often guided ones) will have you stay in “Tikhedhunga” we decided to push on a while longer & tackle the “unrelenting stairs”, aka at least 3,200 stairs of almost straight vertical. Hell, itself has less punishing stairs then these in the Nepali sun & humidity…never again. Unassuming village with several places to stay, “Mira Tea House” was fine, nice family but nothing overly exciting about the place itself. Except the sleeping grandfather who batted bees away from us at breakfast & of course this is where we met Thomas & Jessica! It is worth taking the extra time on day 1 to go to Ulleri as day 2 would be miserable otherwise.
Ghorepani: Shout out to the best mountain weather website around, these guys were spot on with their prediction of a total washout. Thanks to them we had planned accordingly to spend two nights there & optimize our chances of a “Poon Hill” sunrise.
Day 1 we awoke to pouring rain at 4am & swiftly decided it wasn’t worth it, deciding to nestle back into bed. It rained most of the day so we sat around the warm heater reading & hanging out with the lodge owners & their sweet little newborn. Day 2 was a success, a beautiful sunrise shown through the dispersing clouds & lit up the mountain peaks of Dhaulagiri, Annapurnas & Machapuchare. If possible, grab a room at the “Hotel Hill Top”, the last one before the Poon Hill Trek & a wonderful place to stay!
Chuile: While it was amazing we had the luxury of waiting for a good day to hike Poon Hill, it made for a very long day to make our way to Chuile. You descend for what feels like forever (beautiful river shots though) & through some lush forest (here was the tree & “bear” incident). If you think you are lost & can’t imagine you have to push past a horse & walk through a guy’s yard with his dogs barking at you, then don’t worry you have almost reached “Mountain Discovery Lodge”. Not much father & you can rest! It is basically in the middle of nowhere, all on its own so you can get some peaceful R&R. Also, the best “dal bhat” we found while trekking for dinner!
Chomrong: By now, we were a bit over the “Nepali flat” of the treks…aka up a mountain, down a mountain, back up another mountain maybe down one last mountain….so many flipping stairs. Chomrong though was by far our favorite village. Situated in the valley of the beautiful “Annapurna Sanctuary” we were rewarded with an almost 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. A tranquil valley with picturesque views. The village also boasts a “German Bakery” café where we gorged on too many pastries & drank masala teas all afternoon. “Lucky” lodge right across from the bakery is our top recommended spot of the trip. It looked new, was probably the cleanest & had fantastic food (Thomas recommends the garlic spaghetti!); plus, the grandmother had a beautifully infections laugh & we got to play with an 11-month-old German Shepard named Dyson! Not that we are bias or anything but any place with a German Shepard is obviously perfect.
Ghandruk: Eh, frankly we found it a bit lackluster for our last stop on the trek. Maybe it was the (again) 5-6 hour hike up & down & up & down, over rivers & across previous landslide areas… We arrived exhausted & in our haste to relax picked “Hungry Eye” Lodge, not somewhere I would recommend if you have a choice. It was fine, but the promise of a hot (or even warm…) shower didn’t materialize & it offered the smallest menu options of all the places we had been despite it being in the largest town of the trek. Oh well, we slept & remained healthy so that was all that mattered!
However, if you want a jeep taxi from here to Pokhara like we did, be prepared to deal with a taxi driver “Mafia Boss” who apparently controlled all taxi activity & refused any negotiations with non-local people. Rude!
I could write for hours & never be able to capture all the scenery. How can you explain how beautiful one green valley is to another? How each enormous, towering rock and competing river are any more beautiful than another? Dry arid riverbeds turned into lush green jungles, towns gave way to isolated paths, for miles our only companions were our own thoughts & conversations, occasionally a cow or water buffalo would appear to say hello! In almost every village, children would come running up, eagerly pressing their heads together saying “Namaste!” to the newcomers, often asking for chocolate though this is a no no to give!
Pro-tip: The T.A.A.N. request you do not hand out candy to children for their health sakes nor take pictures of locals without their permission. We played with the kids in our photos under the careful eyes of their parents & left small donations at their local schools to be respectful. Don’t be one of “those” people!
Nepal has a magic around it; it’s easy to feel but hard to describe. The mountains feel like one of the people, a parental figure keeping a watchful eye on you as you make your way through its rugged terrain. They appear so close you’d think you could reach out & touch their peaks. It’s one place we hope to see again & pray it remains as safe & serene as we find it now.