Coming off a lazy few months in SE Asia, I moaned and griped about the beast on my back that would accompany me for weeks up and down mountains, along trails and roads, through forests and near deserts. The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is not a remote wilderness hike. Especially not since the road was put in a few years back. Tea houses (guesthouses) line the route and serve up tasty food. My pack didn’t need provisions or even a sleeping bag. Perhaps all the weight was from the Snickers bars I packed in as snacks (treats! rewards!). Josh and I met back up for this hike and decided to go without a guide or porter. Many people utilize these services – you’re supporting the local community after all– but with our research and map in hand, we opted to go alone and never regretted it.
We started hiking from Buhlebuhle on day one after a long bus ride from Kathmandu. One hour of relatively flat terrain and my head was even more full of doubts. It would surely take over a month with how I felt that day. But the body is amazingly adaptable and usually I’m mentally tougher than previously conceived. Miles and days rolled by – ups and down, rivers and waterfalls. By the time we’d hooked a left up the north side of the Annapurna range, I was sold on however long this journey would take.
The views were breathtaking.
One particular day in Upper Pisang we awoke to snow covered mountains extending into a never-ending horizon. We hiked up over a thousand feet of steep switchbacks to the beautiful town of Gyaru, where a wrinkly old lady offered us tea and a perfectly situated bench to enjoy the view. I dropped my bag and trekking poles, plopped myself down, looked up and burst into tears. It’s a rare occasion that I’m reduced to tears while traveling. It was just one of those perfect moments that is now locked into my memory vault. The little old lady, the wooden bench, the 25k ft mountains in front of me at 12k ft, the smell of pine needles burning amongst a crop of trees, the bells ringing on the necks of yaks pulling a plow through fields as villagers prepared to plant barley.
This was the Nepal of my dreams.
On day ten we made it over the Thorung Pass, nearly 18,000ft. Higher than any summit I’ve ever reached, getting up and over this pass was a pat-myself-on-the-back moment as it challenged me to push my boundaries. Most people seem to end their trek shortly thereafter from Jomson or Tatopani via plane or jeep, but not us. We explored Tibetan towns; the area’s apple capital; towns that once thrived from Tibetan salt trade.
I met a guy from the US who declared it was inevitable to get sick in some fashion the longer you were in Nepal and I proved his theory correct. Hiking up to high camp before the pass, a stomach bug hit that eventually required antibiotics. Shortly after going through the pass, my immune system had enough and slammed me with a terrible cold. For 3 days I hiked 6-8 hour days with a fever and head cold before throwing in the towel in Tatopani and laying in bed for 16 hours, eating soup and refusing to hike. After the day of rest we hit the homestretch, up another 6,000ft in one day and then back down to fresh baked cinnamon rolls, a massage, and happy hour beer & pizza deals waiting for us in Pohkara!
It’s now over a month later and I look back on this 3 week trek as one of the happiest times on this RTW trip. Life was so very simple. I had a goal of walking each day from point A to point B. That was it. The mornings were filled with reflecting and thinking about life post-travel, the sounds of nature and my boots striking the trail…and sometimes even a Snickers bar. Or there were times when the views were enough to clear my head of thoughts all together and I’d simply take in the scenery. In the early evening I read and then slept soundly each night, exhausted from the earlier activity. Beyond the simplicity of it all, though, there is something about Nepal that is hard not to get wrapped up in. The people, the culture, the history. With that combination and the epic mountains, it seems inevitable that I would fall in love with Nepal!
*Stay tuned for a few additional Annapurna posts including more pictures and logistics.*