Sunday, 9 October 2011

Annapurna Panorama

The Annapurna mountain range lies in the Nepali Himalayas. Annapurna 1 (8091m) was first conquered by a small French expedition, led by Maurice Herzog, in 1950 (he wrote a famous book).  The summit of Everest (8850m) was not reached until 1953, in a British led expedition.  Today many people enjoy the trekking around Annapurna and/or Everest ranges in a variety of different forms and lengths.

I had intended to complete the 10 day Annapurna Sanctuary trek (up to Annapurna Base Camp – 4130m) but I was slightly mislead by the trekking company I had chosen.  In the end, I made the decision to shorten my trek to the Annapurna Panorama trip – a five day trek which provides a view of the Himalayan mountain range from Poon Hill (3210m).  My fellow trekkers were Melissa and Anil (from Shepherd’s Bush!) and a Finn called Bakka.  Our small group was accompanied by our Nepali guide, Fatta, and two young porters.

We set off on a Monday morning on our “teahouse” trek – a two hour drive from Pokhara to Naya Pul and then a leisurely 3 ½ hour walk to our first overnight stop at Hile.  Teahouses are small guesthouses in villages up in the hills which provide simple accommodation (think plywood walls!) and food. You will always be guaranteed a dal baht (plate of rice, dal, curry, pickles & vegetables) with as many refills as you need to fill up those hollow legs.  Moving away from dal baht can result in some very interesting dishes – you might find that your spaghetti arrives sizzling!

Day two of the trek was by far the hardest in terms of height gained and “up”.  We started at 1430m and slept up at 2860m.  The day started with four hours continual uphill.  You are generally walking on man-made steps but they are of varying heights and so this can end up being quite a strain, particularly if one suffers from short legs J.  However, after heavy monsoon rain overnight, we had a beautiful clear morning and had discovered the healing qualities of the “hot lemon” tea stop.

As we were trekking the week before the Dasain festival, many goats were being brought down the trail.  Every family sacrifices a goat for Dasain and so this is big business.  The goats are brought from Tibet or China and many herders bring the goats overland to increase their margins (trucks are expensive).  They buy the goats for $100 and sell them at market for $200.  Four or five men will be herding a couple of hundred goats for 7/8 days and it can get somewhat chaotic!  Goats are pesky creatures who quite like to dart off as well as stop for frequent grass feeds.  For us, they provided the perfect excuse to have regular breaks to let them pass – you don’t want to get caught up in the middle of a hundred goats coming down a narrow mountain pass!  There is a distinct smell of goats’ cheese each time they pass – not necessarily in a good way, even for an aficionado like me.

On the morning of 3rd day, we enjoyed a clear view of the Himalayas from our base at Ghorapani (2860m), including Annapurna South, Himchuli and Fish Tail.  On day 4, we covered a lot of distance, up and down with the some very enjoyable “undulating” stretches.  Each time we looked back, we couldn’t believe how far we had come.  All day we ploughed on in the knowledge that we would be ending the day at the hot springs at Jhinu.  We soothed our aching bones in the gloriously hot water as the river raced past on the other side of the wall – the only thing lacking was a nice cold beer!

As my legs felt like lead by the end of the trek (hardcore downhill on the last day), I think the 10 day trek may have been a step too far.  It took a couple of leg massages before I could stand up without wincing!  Far better to relax in Pokhara and then come up to Sadhana Yoga for a 10 day retreat.  Sadly, with only a vegetarian menu, there was no goat on the menu for Dasain!

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