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Annapurna Days 1-3: Wet Himalayas

Over the past three days I’ve walked 40km through the Himalayas, trekking up a river valley from 1100m to 2700m.  I’ve walked through pouring rain, climbed up sheer rock, done cartwheels across suspension bridges, ran naked through the forest, and generally had a fantastic time.  I highly recommend it.

Day 1:  Pokhara to Syanje (~130km by taxi, ~25km by jeep)

P1090755 (2) Leaving Pokhara started with a hearty breakfast then some quick last minute packing.  Somehow, the stuff I had bought ended up being more than I thought and I felt it was a bit excessive, so I left a fleece at the hotel – otherwise, I was set to go.  Got my TIMS card then took a taxi to Besisahar ($50, very pricey, but it was fast and convenient, luxury is worth it at times) where the Annapurna Circuit used to start, but these days there is a horrible “road” out of town that isn’t fun to trek.  Instead of whining like many internet posters seem to do, I just got a jump start on the circuit by finding a jeep to take me as far as the road goes.

This turned out to be Syanje, a somewhat dirty little town that in retrospect I wish I had not stayed at that night, as the next morning I stumbled across beautiful Jagat within minutes.  Alas.  Highlights of the day included:

  • Walking around Besisahar randomly asking people where I could find a jeep to Ngadi (which I thought was the end of the road) and being directed in circles for a couple hours
  • P1090756 (2) Having a random guy ask me what I was looking for and it turning out he was a jeep driver!  Excellent.
  • Getting the special “first seat” in the jeep, allowing me to ride shotgun and get some great shots and video while crammed in with my gear
  • Watching guys load racks of chickens onto the top of the jeep…  poor chickens
  • Driving past two trekkers on the road and spraying them with mud and water.  Suckers!
  • Breaking down at the top of a hill and waiting for 20min while our driver fixed things
  • Being made fun of by a group of Nepali women when I tried to figure out which person was the right person to talk to at the guest house I decided to stop at (it turned out none of them, the right person was inside)

Day 2:  Syanje to Dhanapari (~25km trekking)

I should mention before we go much further that I’m lazily typing some of these town names from memory and they are probably wrong.  Alas.

P1090761 (2) I had a hard time sleeping the night before and was generally not feeling really excited to start the day – quite surprising.  I think the jeep ride had been mentally exhausting and maybe the reality of the situation was catching up to me.  In any case I got a small pot of coffee to drink, a small pot of tea to put into one of my bottles, then threw on my pack and headed up the road.

Within about five minutes two very different and very important things happened.  First, I realized I was walking up rocky paths in the Himalayas with a pack strapped to my back and, oddly, this was quite physically taxing.  Who knew?  Within about ten minutes I was ready to stop, dealing with physical stress that always builds up during the first few moments of any exercise before the body realizes that yes, it really is going to have to keep doing this.

P1090800 (2) The second thing that spread through me was the amazing beauty of the mountainsides around me.  I was walking up a wide path next to a huge raging torrent of a river with incredibly high mountain walls covered in greenery on both sides.  The sun speared through a slight mist from the east and bathed half the hillside in golden light, contrasting beautifully with the darkness around it.

Maybe I could put up with a little walking after all…  And I did.  I walked and walked and walked.  I quickly came to hate downhill sections of the trail because it meant I would soon have to go uphill.  The intense rockiness of parts of the trail were a major hassle as well, shod as I was in simple sandals – thankfully I had brought trekking poles.  A few times there were major landslides that required clambering around and over rocks and bits of dirt with a nice drop into the valley beside you to keep you focused.

P1090848 (2) As the day went on I found a rhythm of walking for awhile, resting for a few minutes, drinking, and generally getting on with things without too much discomfort.  After the first few minutes the exertion started to feel great and I really got into it.  At one point I noticed that the ever-present smell of pony dung seemed to be replaced by something quite delicious…  I couldn’t place the scent at first, but then I actually looked at the beautiful green plants on the side of the hill and realized I was walking through wild marijuana growing all over the mountainside.  A pleasant diversion that lasted for some hours…

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Soon enough it was back to the pony dung.  Allow me to clearly state this – in two days of trekking, there is one thing that makes me never ever want to come back to Nepal and do another “tea-house” trek, and that thing is pony dung.  All commerce between villages in these mountains is done on the backs of ponies and while they are furry, adorable, and don’t really smell bad as they pass you on the trail, they leave their excrement everywhere.  The trails are covered with it.  It is so bad that you cannot get lost because you only have to smell or find the pony dung to realize you are on the right trail.  At times this helped me navigate more than anything else.  It’s horrible.

P1090874 (2) Eventually, pony dung aside, just after noon I arrived at what was originally my destination for the day, the town of Tal.  Since I had such a hard time getting to sleep the night before, I didn’t really want to spend the entire afternoon and evening sitting around in this little village, so I had an excellent lunch of dahl bat intending to head onwards shortly afterwards.  At approximately 1:30PM as I was finishing my pot of tea, the gathering clouds finally released their payload and down came glorious water from heaven – I amused the townspeople by continuing to sit outside and enjoy my tea and a much needed drenching, as I could smell myself quite well by this time.

P1090878 (2) After I finished my tea, I packed up and headed north, undeterred by the water pouring down around me.  It was quite refreshing and very beautiful, though I quickly encountered a small trail with slippery rocks and impending doom – all was well, as I’m here to type this (we’ll skip over details of the near-death-experiences)…  Soon after leaving town the trail forked over the river and I happened to catch someone passing and got directions to take the crazy riverside path up the river then over it.  Wicked.

Within a few minutes of crossing that bridge and climbing up the mountain I noticed something odd – there was no fresh pony dung on this trail!  An hour later I discovered why, as I ran into a work crew scattered across the mountainside carving a new trail from the remnant they had blasted out of the wall.  There was, at this point, no trail at all.  Encouraged by the workers throwing rocks over the multi-hundred-foot sheer drop, I clambered up about fifteen foot of vertical rock face (thankfully with good hand/footholds, this is harder than you think with a backpack), carefully walked around fifty foot of ledge that was usually less than a foot wide, climbed another ten feet, then made it back onto what was the trail.  Eep.

I would do that every kilometer if it meant no pony dung.  Seriously.

Eventually the day ended in Dhanapari around 6PM with a wonderful set of momos, apple pie, and another pot of tea.  A fine beginning to the trek.

P1090872 (2) P1090960 (2)

Day 3: Dhanapari to Chame (~15km trekking, end at 2700m)

P1090980 (2) Today was brutal.  Much of the route was uphill and a large portion of it was dodgy, only a few feet wide with a lot of dirt and sand.  The ponies started up again and I spent most of the day trying very hard to not lose my temper at the sand flies constantly circling my head combined with the epic amounts of pony dung everywhere on the trail.  Have I mentioned the excessive amount of pony dung?  Ugh.

There were some great moments to the day that I will try to concentrate on rather than the pony dung.  To start with I had this amazing idea of using my hard-shell as a sweat absorber between my back and my backpack.  Sheer genius.  Within an hour I realized that this was in fact channeling all of the sweat from my back directly down the back of my shorts, which makes perfect sense when you think about it – a hard-shell is designed to push off liquid, not absorb it. I am an idiot sometimes.

P1090982 (2) After another hour of hiking with wet underwear and being a little miserable, I finally decided to stop for a rest and change.  Now, one of the major advantages of synthetics is that they don’t get all nasty and rubby and stuff when they’re wet, but it was still uncomfortable.  I stopped for a snack and dug in my pack for a fresh pair at a spot when the trail was running over the side of a mountain through a forest, wide open and green.  I walked about thirty feet from the trail (no one had been around for awhile) and stripped naked to change my underwear and t-shirt.  As I stood there about to put my clean pair of underwear on, I realized I was standing naked in a forest in the Himalayas.  Neat.

Cartwheels and random darting around may have ensued.  If it did, it was not captured on photo or video (alas, all the girls sigh).  In any case, I was soon dressed properly and heading back up the mountain.  Up through the dust, sand, and flies, and dung.

P1090983 (2) Much later in the afternoon I was getting close to Chame, enjoying the amazing views of the surrounding mountains at altitude.  I had decided to listen to some music so that I couldn’t hear the flies buzzing around my head anymore and was off in my own world walking the broad dirt trail (in the afternoon rain) when I felt motion behind me.  I turned around just in time to see about a thousand goats running at me full speed – a GOAT STAMPEDE!  Wtf.

I really wish I had captured this on video, but I had just enough time to snap a picture with my digital camera before diving to the side of the trail to avoid a death so horrible that I never would have imagined it possible before.  Many times I had contemplated a pony contemptuously bumping me off a sheer cliff as I stood by letting it pass, but a goat stampede?  Ridiculous.

P1090986 (2)

I pondered this horrific end as I strolled up to Chame, greeted by a spray-painted rock that said “Internet now in Chame!”  I suppose that really says it all – modern technology advertised by spray paint on a giant rock on the side of the trail.  Welcome to Nepal.

It was nice to come to a halt though, sore and cold.  For the last couple hours I had been dealing with cold rain and temperatures in the upper 40’s while wearing shorts and sandles.  Soon I was warm, dry, drinking tea, and chatting with hot Israeli girls.  No, really, welcome to Nepal…  ;)


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