Around the Annapurna
Nepal is famous for trekking in the Himalayas. The most popular trek is that one around the Annapurna mountain range. My plan was actually to do it by bike, but many people advised me against it, this time of the year the roads would be too muddy and too many passages would require it to carry the bike. I decided to walk the trek, together with Svenja, a girl from Germany. In Pokhara I changed my bike for a backpack, and Svenja got herself a Porter, who should carry her backpack.
The next morning we took a bus that would take us to Bhulbhule (840 m) from where we wanted to start the next day by foot. In the bus I asked one of the locals, how high the fare would be. “50 Rupees!” was the reply. As in India, you pay here during the drive or when exiting the bus, but when the boy, who collected the money, came to me, he did not ask for 50 rupees, but almost three times that amount. My mood was not the best, because I was already 6 hours in the packed bus that drove over bumpy roads, and stopped every few minutes to collect or drop off passengers; also I had had no breakfast. So I was a little bit annoyed, why should I pay more than the others? Just because I am a foreigner? This is simply not fair, and I got angry. The “two-price policy” had apparently been normal here, because the boy had no understanding of my complain, and didn´t want to receive my money, which I had already in the exact amount. He also didn´t dare to look me in the eyes, what made me even more angry. Instead he shouted something to the bus driver and the bus stopped, apparently he wanted to throw me out. The other passengers had obviously noticed what was going on, looked at me, and began to discuss. I did not understand a word, but it soon became clear, they were on my side. Now the boy had no other choice, he had to accept the regular fare, me and the 3 other tourists on the bus had not to pay anything extra.
The next morning we started early, because during the day it was quite hot, and the rain increased throughout the day.Trekking in the mountains is associated by many people with untouched nature, secluded mountain trails and absence of civilization. At least on the Annapurna Trek it is all a little bit different. Every two hours we passed through a village, mostly a collection of so-called “tea houses”, simple accommodation with restaurant. There you get the Nepalese dal bhat (rice with lentil soup and vegetables), apple pie, steak and chips; everything what hungry trekkers need to survive. Even the small shops in the villages sell exclusively for the tourist demand. Over the whole length of the trek you can find Snickers, Toblerone, batteries, toilet paper, sun lotion, outdoor gear and clothing, everything, but expensive.
In each village the same food prices apply for all restaurants, increasing with the altitude. Because it was low season, we didn´t need to pay anything for accommodation, just for the food, which was often a multiple of that what I had paid elsewhere in Nepal for the same dish. Of course all goods have to be transported into these remote areas, because what people can grow here, is often not enough to feed their own families. But the days where everything has to be brought up on the backs of people or with a pony caravan are over: On both sides of the pass, there is now almost an all year motorable track, almost up to the pass, which should reduce transportation costs a lot.
Sure, those people who arrive from Europe by plane and then take a bus to Pokhara and hire a guide and a porter via a travel agency, they will not complain about the prices, because of course they are still below the European level. Also many tourists don´t know what things actually cost in Nepal.
So the locals in the villages didn’t understand us and we got surprised looks when Svenja and me had oats with milk powder and water for lunch, rather than to eat in one of the many restaurants, or when I tried to negotiate in a store to pay the same price as the locals.
The locals are friendly, but not so interested. Here you are only the paying guest, one of many thousands each year. Very few people still live by farming or trade, just on the other side of the river, where no tourist trails are, you can still see people plowing rice fields with their water buffalos.
All that sounds maybe very negative, but I could clearly see the difference on the other Nepal I was before – this was a big tourist business.
But trekking is about the mountains, nature, and for many people also about covering a long distance on their own muscle power. Although, of course, the possibility to take a jeep or a motorcycle or even to ride on the back of a pony all the way up to the pass exists on the Annapurna Trek.
I enjoyed the walking, a change to my normal way of transportation, and endured the pains trough the unusual backpack carrying. It did not rain as often as some people had promised, and the by many hikers dreaded leeches were hardly a problem. Now and then the clouds allowed a short look at the gigantic snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna region.
After 6 days Svenjas porter disappeared, he left a note that he had to go back to his family, caused by an emergency (Later we learned that he actually went along with two Americans who paid him probably more). From there on Svenja had to carry her backpack herself, as she did not find a porter in the village, which was happy with her price expectations.
It went up higher and higher. We had to be careful not to ascend too quickly, so that the body could adjust to the altitude and the lower oxygen content of the air. One day we took a detour for acclimatization to the Ice Lake at 4600 meters altitude, and back down to Manang at 3540 m.
The highlight and hardest part was the crossing of the Thorung La Pass (5416m). We slept at High Camp (4850 m), and the next day we went up to the pass, where the high altitude was very noticeable. You could see the hostility of nature at that altitude, breathing was difficult, every step was exhausting, every stone invited to rest. But we were warned to make a rest. Some people find it hard to continue after a rest, hypothermia comes quickly, but it can take hours until help comes.
Arrived at the pass, just a short stop, a photo for the memories. The small house where you can get tea and food was closed this time of the year, and it was windy and cold.The descent to the next village took 5 hours. A steep, stony path; the joints ached when we finally reached Muktinath (3800m) in the afternoon. The pass was done, and now it was all downhill. Another day to Jomsom (2720 m), from there the lazy ones can take a plane or a bus. We continued by foot and met a few other trekkers.
Downhill it went well, and the scenery changed quickly, just three days after the barren rocky landscape around the pass, we walked back through dense jungle, and had to cross raging rivers on rickety bridges. After 15 days of walking we reached the tar road in Nayapul (1070m), from where we took a bus back to Pokhara.
Would I do it again? Yes, but then definitely by bicycle.
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