Annapurna Circuit in 7 Days
Rested from our stay in Chitwan, we headed for the last adventure of the trip – a fast walk around Annapurna. I had first walked this famous trail in 1980, when it was a bit longer and much less developed. Having since run most of New Zealand’s Great Walks and organised a one day run of the Inca Trail I had a hankering to come back and jog the Annapurna circuit in five days. As we sorted out plans for this trip, voices of moderation prevailed and we agreed on a seven day target – with a spare day if needed. We would travel as lightly as possible, but with a sleeping bag and down jacket each our “day packs” would be bulging, but there wasn’t much choice as the pace would be too fast for porters and we figured we would like a rest from expedition level activities.
Two of our guides from the earlier part of the trip had agreed to accompany us and so we climbed off the bus in Besi Sahar (760m) and walked up the road to Khudi where we met up again with Tshering and Nim. Another hour’s walking brought us to Ngadi where we spent the first night. Over the next two days we walked steadily up the Marsyangdi valley to Braga (3,360) a sort of suburb of Manang. This was six “American days” of travel in two (we called them American because the Americans have small pints and small gallons) and for those suffering from a mild flu or upset gut, it was quite tough. However we had time to stop in tea houses and to drink in the fantastic views that make this such a great walk.
From Braga to Thorung Phedi (4,500m) at the base of the pass looked an easy day and we relaxed in Manang finding time to dispatch a few emails and test the quality of the bakeries (excellent). There was a new sick list with those who had suffered earlier a little better, but others dragging their feet. The greyhounds of the group were in the hostel by 1pm, but it was after 4pm, when the last of us walked in. In the last 30 minutes the sun had left the valley and the temperatures had plummeted to well below freezing. We’d had plenty of time to appreciate the mountain vistas, which was great as this is one of the most spectacular parts of the trip with the Annapurna peaks towering above us.
Thorung La at 5,400m is the highest tourist pass in the Himalayas and we showed due deference by starting out climb by torch light at 5am. The last of the group were on the pass by 8:30 but we were a bit horrified to find a hundred people there before us. Some had stayed at a higher tea house, some had started earlier and many more were behind us. This was a sharp contrast to 28 years before when our party of four had been the sole occupants of the pass as we had sat and made a brew. The route down begins with 1,200m of steep moraines that almost work like scree slopes, so we had a mad running race to the tea house at the bottom for an early lunch. Muktinath is the normal stop after the pass, but we breezed through before twelve, our days work only half done. As we had climbed to Manang we had gradually entered the Himalayan rain shadow with conditions getting drier and drier, but beyond Muktinath we were in a desert, with vegetation increasingly confined to irrigated areas on the valley floor. Rounding the corner into the Kali Gandaki valley we were hit by the gale force dust storms blowing up the valley and had a hard, unpleasant slog into Jomson, arriving just before dark. No doubt about it – this was a hard day.
Progress of sorts has arrived in Jomson and there is a 4wd track carved out of the valley walls, almost all the way from Pokhara. It’s not quite continuous as landslides regularly destroy the least stable parts, but there is a regular “bus” service over many sections (with donkeys carrying fuel and supplies around the slips). Some of the group elected to rest weary
bones and chance a ride while the remainder set out on a fast walk down the valley. It was only my second chance to really stretch out, having been a conscientious tail end Charlie until then) and we seemed to fly down the valley getting to Tatopani mid afternoon, having convinced many of those that we passed that we were totally mad. A long swim in the hot pools and an evening of street entertainment and dancing as part of the Dasian festival rounded off another great day.
Our last official goal was to see the dawn from Poon Hill so the next morning we climbed 1800m to Ghorepani and rewarded ourselves with the afternoon off and a stay in one of the better tea houses. The next morning we were up well before dawn to climb the 300m to Poon Hill. The trail was quite narrow and clogged with people shuffling upwards in single file at a pace we found frustrating after the pace of the last week. As for the views, they were good, and got better when we left the crowds and moved to the next hillock, but not a patch on some of the previous days. After a leisurely breakfast we strolled down the 2,000m descent to Birethanti for a late lunch and a ride into Pokhara. Mission complete.
Well almost complete, there was time the next morning for a Paraglide flight over Pokhara and definitely time to purchase maps for a whole pile of new areas that are just crying out to be visited next time.