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Monday, November 7, 2011

Annpurna Trek 2011 - Photo Essay

I returned to Annapunra region again. This time to go all way to ABC. What chronicles below is a trek of 9 days I did last October.

(Click on Pic for a larger view)

Day1 - Pokhara – Naya Pool - Tikhe Dhunga
The Annapurnas had been on my mind for quite some time - and it was one crystal clear morning back in 2009 while visiting Pokhara,  seeing the entire mountain range in its grand glory, I made up my mind that I needed to be among the high clouds. I needed to do those trails leading up to the pristine peaks like no one had done it before. My previous trip to the region had only been up to Ghandruk in monsoon season usually when the mountain views are just not there. This time I wanted to go all the way to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). But in reality it took me another two full years to finally get around to it. So last October, back in my apartment in Bangkok, tired of admiring that glossy coffee-table book picturing snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna Range under bright blue skies, decided to take some time off from my ever demanding expat assignment, boarded a three hour flight to KTM, spent a few days with family and friends there, and then headed to Pokhara to embark on this trek. In no time I found myself in a tiny motel called “Lake Side Resort” drinking beer and staring at the mighty Annapurna range as if I had never left.  Downed what I thought would be my last ceremonial pint at a bar and then went looking for a guide who would put up with me on this long trek for next 10 days. After some phone calls, the manager at the motel I was staying at found me a guide named Deepak Tamang - a 20 year old native of eastern Nepal who had already been on these trails for almost three years. His father, the manager dude told me, was a veteran trekking guide himself and who had showed the young pop the ropes.

Early next morning left Pokhara with my new guide drove through beautiful Hemja Valley and arrived at Naya Pool (means "New Bridge" in Nepali) an hour and a half later. This was the starting point of our trek . 

Lots of other trekkers also make Naya Pool starting point of their trek. Some old, some young, some "granola types" (as my hippy friend from Colorado once put it) and lots of urban yuppie types; you know the ones with overkill on fancy gears and gadgets. Lots of Chinese too (and they are one hardy stock group of people let me tell you -as I came to learn later on the trail). We crossed the new bridge passing trekkers, porters, donkeys....you name it - a fast flowing river raged down below cascading through the giant rocks.  I could see that some were ending their treks - exhausted but with a look of fulfillment and while others like me were just starting - with all the eagerness and excitement. The mid-morning sun was already very bright and hot and there was not a cloud in the sky. We were barely at 3000 ft but in these narrow trapped deep river gorges with no wind flow it can be pretty hot even in mid-Oct.

Right across the bridge lay the touristy town of “Bhire Thanti” – a little village on the foothills where the landscape opened up as if some one unfolded crumbled sheet of paper; with lots of eateries, shops and lodges dotted in nooks and crannies of the landscape. Cute set ups – of shops and restaurants that is! But not sure why would people stay here though since it is at the starting (or end point depending on your journey) point of the trek.

The stone paved trekking trail through Bhire Thanti ends on a dirt road (yes a road!!) at the edge of town going uphill towards Hile/Tikhedhunga  - which by the way lies some 4 to 5 hours away. They are trying to build a road to there it seems. The sun was still pretty hot but legs were fresh and spirit were high - so we marched on boldly passed through shops and restaurants with fresh smell of chai tea and mid morning li9ght breeze.

And after hour and a half of climb after leaving Bhire Thanti the trail slopped downhill to a valley where I saw the first glimpse of beautiful Bhurungdi Khola (River) - it seemed to run along the trail. Stopped at a point and took a few shots. The view was spectacular and I knew that it was only going to get better. Couldn't wait – as the scenery would slowly unfold  like a movie right before my eyes for the next 9 days. 

ABC here I come. 9 days of trek lies ahead of me. 1 hr into the trek and this is what you come across. It reminded me why I wanted to come back.

And as the trail started to go uphill again, I came across a native Gurung looking girl about 50 yards or so away from the trail on a ridge nearby. Very cute little girl just standing there all quiet and looking towards me – as if she was trying to say something. I stopped and reached for the camera to take her photograph – but before I could press the shutter she yelled – “Eh Dai photo ta khichnu – tara pahila yo bander haru lai pahila dhapaidinus la?” (Hey mister you can take my pictures but can you please chase these monkeys away for me first?). I didn’t know what she was talking about at first but as I took my eyes off of my viewfinder and looked up I saw a dense forest and on the trees where she was standing there were a whole bunch of monkeys - making noise and partying there!! I then learned that she had come there to collect firewood – typical in these villages where youngsters help out with family chores after finishing their school during the day. I tried in vain swinging a few stones at them moneys but they didn’t budge. They seem to have figured out that we were grossly out numbered. I told her that she needed to go back to the house and find and bring back someone bigger in the family to watch her as she collected the firewood. I could not chase her monkeys away - I had a long way to go and chase my own inner monkeys…..I regretted how useless I was  on these trails- all I could do was just be awed by the beauty of the people and paths alike and nothing else.

Native Gurung Gril - Standing on a ridge. Could not chase her monkeys away. 

Then the trail dropped again – still hugging Bhurungdi Khola. Pristine water flowed down through the hills among lush green rice paddy fields! These amazing scenery reminded me why this place was such a draw among people around the world to go trekking for.

First part of the trail follows this pristine Bhurungdi Khola. 

Deepak, the guide dude, kept a brisk pace all morning. Ever so briefly stopping and looking back to see if I was still chugging along! Very quiet of a guy – he let his steady yet determined walk do all the talking - which suited me just fine.

There is Deepak my porter/guide dude - keeping a brisk pace. We would exchange a total of 10 mins of conversation in the next 10 days..... which suited me just fine

The trek so far had been sweaty and hot – a far cry from what you would expect trekking in the Himalayas – but I knew that the temperature would drop rapidly as we gained altitude. About two and a half hours into the trek we left Bhurungdi Khola behind and the trail turned North East – and it was much cooler already. We were probably at 5000 feet.

Left Bhrungdi Khola behind - trail winds northeast gently going uphill right along these rice paddy fields. Took this pic with an iPhone.

Within three hours of trekking we reached the town of Hile. Out first designated night stop for day 1. My guide-book as well as the info given at the agency at KTM had this town at a 4 hour mark from Naya Pool. We must have been on a blazing pace then – since it seemed like we were just getting warmed up. But deep down though I knew this is not the place where you want to speed it up – gaining altitude too soon can have serious consequences.

Passed a lot of trekkers coming back down from either ABC or the Poon Hill trek. From young Singaporean students to Belgians, to Americans, to Australians to name a few. Hile was cute with a few lodges, but Deepak suggested that if I was up for it we could go to Tikhe Dhunga which supposedly was a much bigger village and we could find very good lodges there – besides, he addeed, it would shorten our trek for the next day - as it was supposed to be a very long one.

Pristine Bhurungdi Khola and Lush Green Rice Fields. Another iPhone Shot

Reached Tikhe Dhunga in another half hour or so - found a lodge named Indra Guest House with running hot showers, internet, and electricity. What else you could you have asked for in the name of comfort besides those - I thought. The room was NRs 100 I was told – at first I didn’t even believe it. That is like $1.50/night – but that is how much it was Deepak confirmed. The lodge dude handed me the key to my room which was on the top most floor of this three story building.

Reached Tikhe Dhunga before we knew it - spent the night here in Indra Guest House. Quaint little village with several lodges along the trail. 

I unpacked, took a shower and went downstairs to the patio next to the kitchen overlooking the rice terraces. Saw two guys sitting there. Went and said hello. One was “Henry”, from Korea and stationed in BKK (imagine that – such a small world!!!) . And the other one was Jack – a professor from St. Louis who had come to KTM for a lecture series and had decided to do a light trek through Poon Hill and Ghorepani. Henry had an expensive bottle of Scotch that he had just opened and as I sat and talked he wanted to share it. I thanked him for such generosity but declined - as he had brought it this far probably to enjoy it thoroughly - me joining it would cut it way short ha ha.... so I ordered a bottle of Carlsberg instead. Had a great time chatting with both of them. Henry talked about how in his youth in Korea one had to pour beer in bosses shoes and ashtray and drink out of it to show camaraderie and loyalty. Jack was a ultra liberal and atheist – hmmmm….I think I would get along with him fine then I thought. Had dinner by 7 and was in my room by 8 – such is the daily ritual of trekking by the way – so you can get up early next morning and hit the trails early. The food was ok. Pramila (my brother’s wife) had called from KTM and told me that I had forgotten my charger for both of CDMA phone and iPhone I was carrying at the hotel back in Pokhara, Bummer!!!! As I climbed the stairs to get to the room my leg muscle tightened  –  I had barely walked for 4 hours. Hope this wont repeat tomorrow, I thought. The bed was doable and I didn’t need to pull out the sleeping bag – we were well below 6000 ft. Deepak slept in a big common hall where the rest of the porters slept.

Day 2 – Tikhe Dhunga – Ghorepani
Slept fairly well. Woke up at 8 – went down to the kitchen and had a toast. Met a Canadian couple there – we chatted about trekking and photography in general - the guy said he had done lots of time-lapse photography in the Himalayas. He was trekking with his girlfriend to ABC and it was her first time. Also met an Israeli couple. Learned that after KTM they were stopping in Thailand for a vacation before heading home. Gave them some advice on how to get to Phuket and where to stay. As I was chatting with them Deepak showed up and urged me to leave soon because we had to climb some 4500 feet today and had nearly 6 hours of trek ahead of us. Settled the bill (the room was indeed Rs 100 a night!!! The money they make is on food and beverages as it turns out). Right after exiting the lodge and passing a few others we went over a suspension bridge hanging high over a fast flowing river then after that you hit the uphill trail of Ulleri. The village of Ulleri sat on the opposite side of the river on this giant hill. (Disclaimer – when I say “Hill” for most people these are “mountains” – in Nepal only rocky white peaks count as “mountains”. Anything below that and with any vegetation – are basically “hills” – like separating  “boys" from "men”). Someone had told me that there were 3000 steps on initial climb to Ulleri. Being an engineer I did a quick calculation that if each step were your usual 9 inches (which they were) this initial climb alone would be 2300 ft.

Left Tikhe Dhunga after breakfast and started the 3000 or so steep step climb to Ulleri. Passed some lodges along the way. If we dad we pushed for a,couple hours on the first day this is where we would have ended up. Some people do that to save a day on their trek. But I was not in a hurry.

After leaving Tikhe Dhunga and climbing 2 hrs straight uphill to Ulleri - reached this place for a tea stop. Simply breathtaking. One can see Annapurna South peeking through the clouds. Its snow looked fresh and inviting but I know it is a different world up there.

Passed lost of people along the way since mu guide Deepak kept a lightening pace on the steps. But didn’t run into Jack or Henry – they must have left at least couple hours ahead of me. One hour into this “nose bumping” uphill climb saw a little girl may be 10 or 11 carrying her little brother and going uphill - and epitome of things – she was keeping a brisk pace like us. Moments like these make me humble. Here she was on sandals and carrying her little brother – while I looked like an urban yuppie with my fancy “Columbia” boots and North Face parka. After trekking for two and a half hours came to a beautiful tea stop at Ulleri from where I could get the first glimpse of Annapurna South and Himchuli. They looked brilliant – and seemed to add a sparkle to the landscape. Stopped there for a while and I had water and some snack. Not much of tea drinker.

A pretty "Porter-ess" coming down from Ulleri - only in Nepal...

Once we got going again it was continuous uphill to Ulleri. On the way I ran into an interesting guide dude. He asked where I was from – told him I was from Nepal and was currently living in the US. He said he used to work for the USAid office in KTM a long time ago. One of his American bosses once pissed him off so bad he threw a rock and dented boss’s vehicle and that pretty much ended his career working for the USAid. Eventually he took on this trekking gig! Quite a lively guy with lots of stories to tell – must have been in his mid 50s and yet had a very lean and mean persona about him. Deepak dude had hit the after burner passing everyone and I had to keep up the pace so I said so long to this one_who-threw-a rock-at-US Aid-Jeep-guy and hit the throttle to catch up with Deepak - who was already some 300 yards ahead of me. Somehow I had a feeling that it would not be the last time I was going to run to into this giude on these trails. 

I got to go higher than this hill before the day ends. Been walking for 3 hours already

After three and a half hours of climb the trail leveled out somewhat and soon we were passing through a very thick forest. Trees were covered with moss which told me that we were on a snow line now – may be close to 7500 ft already. Saw a Chinese couple pass us at a warp speed. These were the only people who had passed us ever since we started the trek. Saw two mountain dogs (seemed like Tibetan Mastiff) running down the trail on their own with no master, as if they were on a mission – they passed us ignoring us completely. They had bells on them and later I learned from a guide up the trail that these were guard dogs and were coming from the highlands tending to a sheep herd.

                       A guest house by the trail in upper Ulleri. Will not stop here. Still got another 3 hours to go.

Almost four hours after leaving Tikhe Dhunga we finally reached a village called Nange Thanti where we decided to have lunch. Ghorepani – our rest stop for the day would still be another hour and half away. The restaurant was big – lots of trekkers who were ahead of us had stopped here for lunch. Sat next to a Belgian couple and chatted for a while. They were on their way down from Poon Hill.

Deepak had gone to the “Staff Kitchen” where all the porters and guides eat at a discounted price. When you pay a daily pre-fixed wages to the guides and porters they pay for their own food. Deepak was making about $20 per day for coming with me (which is more than three times his daily wages and still $5 higher than the other porters) - but still having him pay for the meal out of his little daily earning didn’t sit right with me. So I told him that I would take care of his food bill along the trek. As it turned out  in the lower elevation the food was free for them – for bringing the paying client like us who would usually order more than usual “Dal Bhaat” (rice and lentils – the fuel of the porters on these trails). If they sell a beer here and few snack there - the bill would rack up easily to Rs 700 to 1000 ($10-$15), which is a good sale for them. Keep in mind that in all the lodges here – whatever they have for sale – beer, potato chips, whisky, rum, coke, fanta etc. everything has to be ported on mules, yaks or human backs.

Trail flattened somewhat. Passing through this dense forest with trees covered with moss.

After another hour or so we finally reached Ghorepani. It was a beautiful little town with a bakery, library, and an internet café all in main junction with narrow cobble stoned pathways winding through town leading to different lodges. My lodge was the second last one on the trail to Poon Hill that split right at the junction. I think it was called Nice View Lodge. Checked in with the lodge lady and got the room key. She seemed very friendly. Unpacked, took a shower and went into town. Ran into the Canadians as well as Jack and Henry – all my acquaintances from Tikhe Dhunga stop. Jack and Henry were staying at a different lodge. Both asked me to join them for a drink at their lodge. Since all the trekking for the day was behind me and it was barely 4 o’ clock – I thought what the heck – plus I really enjoyed their company the night earlier. I went to their kitchen dining hall and started drinking. Today I didn’t resist the temptation when Henry offered his of single Malt Glen Levit. Jack broke the cork while opening the whiskey bottle so we got an empty wine bottle to keep this valuable asset safe. During the course of the evening I told Jack that I ran into the Canadian couple at the square before seeing him and Henry and that they were staying at the same lodge in Tikhe Dhunga. To that Jack said he too had met the couple and that the guy had actually climbed Mt. Everest in his previous trip. And Jack went on to say that it was the first mountain he had ever climbed. I was very intrigued and surprised to hear it because when I had spoken to the Canadian in the morning he sounded like he was just a average trekker like us. I thought of asking about the Everest summit if I saw the guy again. Left Jack and Henry’s lodge little tipsy – when will I learn!!!  I had to rush to my lodge for dinner – that’s the rule you see – you have to eat where you are staying, so that they have a chance to make money off of you - otherwise Rs 100 per room per night is all they would make. They stopped taking dinner order after 8, so I rushed uphill to my lodge. Unlike Tikhe Dhunga, Ghorepani was cold – probably around 5 Deg C. We had gained close to 4500 ft in one day and were at an altitude of about 9500 ft.

 Last stretch on the trail before reaching Ghorepani.

Met a British couple at the dinner table in the kitchen. They were on their trip to Dhaulagiri – trail for which splits at Ghorepani. If you continued north from the town intersection you would reach Jomsom and Dhaulagiri and if you went easterly from there you would reach Tadapani our next stop on our way to ABC.

After dinner everyone gathered around the fireplace to warm up. Above the fireplace they had a big iron drum and around it they had hung strings where you could dry your clothes. Ingenious I thought – how else would you get your clothes dry at this altitude? Had packed very lightly and didn’t want to waste this opportunity – so went and quickly washed a few t-shirts and under garments and left it above the hearth to be dried.

Came to my room around 10 PM. My room was next to the bathroom and it kind of smelled - even after closing the door. I was hoping for a good nights sleep after a grueling 5-6 hours of hike but for some reason I had hard time falling asleep.

Agenda for the next day was to do the Poon Hill trek before dawn so that I could see the sunrise over the Himalayas – then come back to the lodge, pick up my stuff and continue east towards Tadapani. 

Day 3 – Ghorepani – Poon Hill - Tadapani
Holy Himalayas!!! Couldn’t sleep much at all last night – I was hurting a bit so took a pill that had para-cetamol and ibuprofen. Was twisting and turning all night and my heartbeat was a bit irregular. Every couple of minutes or so the beat would suddenly speed up then would be normal again. On a hindsight it could be nothing more than altitude that my body needed adjusting to.

I must have fallen asleep finally around 3 AM or so but got woken up by the loud slamming of the bathroom doors around 430 AM. These idiots I suppose were getting ready to go to Poon Hill before the Sunrise

As far as getting up early goes, you see I have never been a morning person, and never will be. Sunrise itself does not hold any spiritual meaning for me. Plus the sun was going to rise from behind some hill - not behind the white peaks because peaks are more to the north – and the sun always rose from east -  last time I checked. And I would rather see the whole range with enough light. I had told exactly that to a guy over a fireplace the night before - Poor guy -  I seem to have deflated all his spirit with my “spirit” (you know the one that I had a little earlier with Jack and Henry) – sometimes I just need to shut up. But just to beat this to death further - I should add that I simply don’t do or follow what everybody else is doing mind you. Just find it too boring – I have to march it to my own beats.

                                                                      All the green moss on the rock - it must snow here. 

I looked out the window - it was still dark but I could make out that there was lots of clouds on the horizon. May be there will be no mountain view from Poon Hill after all – these suckers ....ha ha..– hike for hour and a half for nothing while I cozy up in warm blanket I thought!!!

                                           Passed through many river streams like these cascading down the mountains

I tried to sleep but couldn’t really – finally around 6 o’ clock when it was all quiet in the hallway and in the kitchen I went to pick up my laundry. I looked out the dinning hall window and it was still cloudy. The Lodge Lady was already busy with her morning chores in the Kitchen – She saw me and asked “Aabeee Vai – timi chai Poon Hill najaanu vako??” in her typical lovely mid-western Nepalese accent. Stretching my arms up in the air and yawning I replied – “ naaahhh…..besides, it look likes there would be no mountain view today anyway”. She slid a cup of milk tea over the counter for me and said “hoina ni vai – yo ta khulla huncha ekchin ma – chadai janus”. When she said it with a such an imposing voice  – I had no choice – I had to take her suggestion - more like an order actually - she knows her land better than I do for sure.

 Walking stick anyone?? Next to the trail for sale.

Woke up Deepak who was sleeping like a baby in the common room downstairs with all the other porters. Started the ninty minutes of trek uphill to Poon Hill. Thirty minutes into the walk - the lodge lady was right - the clouds and fog had started to lift and in front of us this huge white wall . This was Dhaulagiri – the world's sixth highest mountain. It was very grand and seem to hug all the horizon that there was. Wow!!!

Woke up and hiked to Poon Hill for a scenic view - This is Dhaulagiri from Poon Hill. This picture does not do any justification as to how magnificent the view was.

Saw a few people already descending. I thought -  what did they see – it seems like time to be hiking up to Poon Hill is now. Reached Poon hill in about an hour. It is at about 10500 feet. Saw about 500 people on the hill taking pictures like maniacs. I could see the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Fishtail range all clear. I could not have timed this any better. Plus I didn't have to share the trail in the dark with 500 of these slow pokes. Found Jack and Henry there as well taking pictures and sipping milk tea. I also went for a cup in the spirit of things - from nearby only tea stall there. I finally saw why the charm of Poon Hill was so great among trekkers. The view was magnificent. Jack and Henry told me that trail was so packed at one point that some trekkers fell down 10 feet from the ledge trying make the room for people coming down.Ha ha….

Took a few shots of the mountain as well as with Jack and Henry. Spent about 20 minutes in total there and decided to head back to the lodge. As I was coming down I could see that planes, coming back from Jomsom, were flying lower than us. Crazy!! 

Part of Annapurna range as seen from Poon Hill to the northeast horizon.

I was in the lodge by 8 AM don’t ask me how – downhill I run like a mountain goat someone once told me. Since I was running at least an hour and a half shorter than schedule – and since the trek to Tadapani was only 4 hrs (5 hrs in the book) I decided to sleep for a couple of hours. But again – I could not fall asleep for some reason. Just because you are tired does not necessarily mean that you will fall asleep at this altitude as it turns out. So woke up at 10, packed, settled the bill and hit the trail. 

The trail slopes uphill right away after the town intersection and past a few lodges – the trail was very similar to climbing to Poon Hill but in the opposite direction. And turns out altitude is about the same as Poon Hill as well. We reached the highest point called Ban Thanti ( 3180m) from where the view of the Annapurna range was equally nice. At this point there was a tea shop just like the one in Poon Hill. Had I know this I would have skipped Poon Hill altogether. There at the tea shop I ran into 5 American ladies – who were from various parts of the US. Later on the trail I would learn that these ladies all met in Peru a few years earlier and had been travelling together ever since on their worldly ventures. 

                                                 Not sure what these flowers are - seem to be native to this region.

15 minutes into the hike along the top ridge of this hill sure enough I ran into the one_who-threw-rock-at-US Aid-Jeep Guy. He was walking at a slow pace with folks from either Spain or Israel – not sure which but  I approached him slowly from behind  and tapped gently on his shoulders and said hello – he turns around sees me and his eyes lit up as if I am his long lost cousin.  He said he was going to Ghorepani. And as I picked up pace to pass him – he decided to leave his clients behind and follow me instead. Soon he started telling me his stories. He went on to say that he did not like Americans much since that incident at USAid office. He said 9/11 was an inside job and that Bin Ladin was not really dead. I said to him it was silly to think like that - but he was having none of it. He must be one these guys that believed on all these conspiracy theories – you know the ones that think that Elvis is still alive and that the moon landing was a hoax.  Just to make conversation and to rile him up a little I asked if he thought king Gyanendra killed the royal family (there are people in Nepal who think that the late King Birendra was murdered by his brother Gyanendra and not the crown prince – even though all the eye witness who were there attending the party during the massacre saw that the crown prince do it – and later kill himself).   Sure enough he thought Gyanendra squarely at fault. And in the heat of all these arguments he had managed to leave all his clients long behind and kept the lightening pace with me and Deepak. A half hour or so later once he realized the situation he said “Hetterika” and decided to stop and wait for his clients. Quite a funny guy – if his English was fluent he would entertain his clients fully on the trek.  

A rest spot on the trail.

After walking across the ridge for an hour the trail went steep downhill. On this trek, you see, the pattern is – you climb one hill all the way to the top and then go all the way down to the gorge to cross some river or creek and then climb the next one all the way to the top again – and  then repeat for the rest of the day. Usually you can see the next village on the otherside of the hill a stone throw away but  it takes half a day to get there. Too bad you can’t zip line there - the whole trekking would be cut in half let me tell you. An engineer can trek but the damn trek can’t be engineered….

I cruised for one hour straight down at warp speed with Deepak. At one point we ran into a young Spanish girl and a woman old enough to be her grand mother - both of them very slowly climbing up. They seemed very tired and she asked if the uphill climbing was going to be over soon. I did not want to tell her that Ghorepani now lay probably 3 hrs of uphill and another 45 minutes of downhill at their speed. I told her just to keep it slow and steady and that she would be there eventually with no problem. …hope they didn’t curse at me knowing what lay ahead in front of them. Saw few white Langurs on the cliffs just as my trekking map had pointed out – this was the only wildlife encounter I had had so far not counting the one who-threw-the-rock-at-USAID-jeep.

Stopped at a small village for lunch.  Met a couple from Hong Kong at the table who seemed really nice and friendly. Also saw the Canadian dude there with his girl friend. His name was Elia – I would catch up with them later in Chomrong. After lunch there was a half hour down hill – needed to cross a river and then one hour of uphill to reach Tadapani. Ran into Jack and Henry at the bottom of the hill by the river where they were resting. There were quite a few other people resting there too – all of them must have left at least an hour before me from Ghorepani. The clouds had rolled in and it was about to rain anytime it seemed. Quite unusual for mid-Oct but then there are no guarantees on weather at this altitude. A convoy of about 50 people or so all started the long climb to Tadapani at the same time. I was already in the front of the pack of this “nose bumping” steep uphill. A rumor was passed from the back of the convoy that Tadapani was booked solid and chances of finding room was very low. With the commotion of soon impending rain and no guarantee of the lodges I saw lot of people with agitated face as well as pace. 

In my case I should have had a lodge booked in Tadapani by Prem Tamang a guide who was ahead on these trails by a couple of days with a Russian couple. This is how it was arranged back in KTM by my trekking agency. Then I saw Jack and Henry’s guide  go past us without carrying any load on him – he was rushing to get to Tadapani before the convoy so that he could get a room for Jack and Henry.

The rules of the game as far booking hotels/lodges in these trails are as follows – you see, most of the lodges don’t take advance booking. They would if someone paid in advance. This is because the guides can not guarantee that they will reach the lodge on designated paid date and because the lodge people do not have any method to accept such a payment in advance even if they wanted to since most of them don’t have an office in KTM or PKR. At best, guides will call a day or two in advance and inform that they will arrive with so many guests on such and such dates. But since there is no guarantee that they will arrive on a specified day – all these so called bookings are loose verbal commitments from the lodge owners - which can change if they see an opportunity to make more money. I don’t blame them since this is as best of a rule as it can be established and played out here. So the best way to ensure a room is to get there early and preferably in a large group, than showing up alone and showing up late.

With that thought in mind Deepak and I hit the after burners and reached Tadapani in just 45 minutes ahead of everyone else in the pack including Jack and Henry’s guide. We had left the “Peloton” a good 15 minutes behind us. (I came to realize I had been doing this Tour De France’isque like trek since day one  – which needed to stop if I wanted to come back in one piece). The rain started just as we were reaching the first lodge at Tadapani.

Another pristine day - another pristine stream!!

When we reached Tadapani at 2 “o” clock there was pandemonium. Turns out there were some people that had already gotten there around 12 AM well ahead of us (these people must have left at midnight - I kid you not!!!) And there were quite also a few people coming from the Ghandruik side on their way to Poon Hill. Tadapani like other village stops has a main trail that tears right through the middle of the town - with handful of lodges dotted across it. People were running from one lodge to another in heavy rain looking for a room. Some had already given up and pitched their tents on whatever flat land they could find next to the trails and lodge courtyards.  

I went to straight to the  "Tourist Resort Lodge" – which is the one that was supposed to have been reserved by Prem Tamang who must have had to pass through here  acouple of days ago. Asked the lodge lady in the dining hall if she had a room for me. First she said she didn’t but after my insistence she said while she didn’t remember anybody named Prem Tamang but added that there was a guy who came by these trails around the same time and had reserved a room for guy from US. Boy that's me - technically speaking - Ceasing the opportunity I told here I was that guy. Not sure if I was the intended recipient or there was some other dude from US. Reluctantly she handed me the key and I was home free. As I came out of the Kitchen I ran into Jack and Henry’s guide. He told me – he was able to secure a room for them. Relieved I went upstairs and unpacked and came down to the village main junction. There were literally 60-80 trekkers looking for rooms but there were none. Then I ran into Jack and learned that there was a mis-communication and that the room he thought he had was no longer available. I felt bad for both Jack and Henry.  I readily offered to share my room with one of them since I had two twin beds in my room.  Henry took the offer while Jack dropped his stuff in our room and said he would make one more rounds of the lodges and if he could not find any he would continue on to Ghandruk - which was another 2 hours hike from there.

Henry and I waited on our balcony and hoping for the best. Ten minutes later Jack showed up and told us that he managed to find a tiny room in a basement of a lodge not far from ours  – he was not real happy with it but decided to stay here instead of continuing on to Ghandruk. It was almost 4 “o” clock and the rain had stopped but there were clouds so there was no view of the mountains. Actually except for Ulleri, Poon Hill and Ban Thanti we had not seen any mountains so far on the trail but people had told us that from Tadapani onwards the views would be fantastic. With both Jack, Henry and me all finding the rooms and all settled in there was only one thing left to do – go down to the dining hall and enjoy the rest of the day. Today we thoroughly enjoyed Henry’s remaining super expensive single malt scotch. I shared Yak Cheese and Buff Jerky I had brought along with me. They really enjoyed it.

Saw the American ladies that I had ran into the day earlier in the lodge as well. I borrowed an iPhone charger from one of the gals to charge my phone. I saw 5 young Thais sitting across the table there as well. They could have been Chinese – how did I know that they were Thais? Well… they had brought Mama Cup Noodles all the way from BKK  that you commonly find it there. And later as they started talking in Thai and it was indeed confirmed. This trek must be quite the deal for them – because in Thailand the tempreture all year round is mostly in the mid 90s and very humid. But they all seemed to be in good spirits. The toilet in the lodge, I remember, was quite something. Instead of a latch they had a rope from inside that you hung on to while you did your thing. At one time I saw a tug of war going on between a gal inside and unsuspecting guy outside -  the guy would try to pull the door handle from outside - manage to pull 5 to 6 inches but then door is yanked back from inside and would slam shut loud – he had the most puzzled look in his face - unitl he later saw a very angry lady walk out of the stall pointing him the rope she had to hang on to with her dear life.

By 8 pm the sky had completely cleared and when I looked up looking for mountains I saw the Milky-way galaxy for the first time in my life. Now I know what they mean by the disk of Milky-way galaxy – it is a white band light hastily painted across the sky. Saw Jupiter - which was the brightest. I had never seen so many stars. The absence of city lights, no dust and pollution and literally being higher up were all the factors that led to this amazing spectacle.

Had a brief call with Dad. Around 9 I wanted to call it a day. After all the drinking hope Henry doesn’t snore. I had brought ear plugs just in case.

Day 4 – Tadapani - Chomrong
Woke up to the most beautiful panorama of Annapurna South and Fish Tail Mountain. It was magical. With the morning sun across the snowy slopes it looked liked as if they have painted the horizon with water color. Henry was already up sipping tea and enjoying the view of the mountains from the balcony in fornt of our room. I slept well. Didn’t hear Henry snore at all. Took photos of the mountains ooohin’ and aahin’ like the rest of the folks. Saw Jack come up the trail towards our lodge  – Henry and I went downstairs to chat with him for a while and said good bye to him and that we would keep in touch. He was continuing on to Ghandruk, stay there for a day then on to PKR, then to KTM and finally back to St Louis; back to his teaching job there. 

Woke up to this water color canvas on the horizon in Tadapani. Yes - that is Fishtail Mountain.

It was getting close to 8 AM and it was time for me to leave too - Henry decided to stay an extra day in Tadapani. He would then follow Jacks footsteps to Ghandruk- spend a few days in PKR then to KTM and eventually back to BKK. Unlike Jack I would for sure cross paths with Henry back in BKK soon – and promised as such before departing. Paid for the room – the lodge lady asked me to come back again – real nice woman I have to say.The agenda was to reach Chomrong today – which was just a four hour hike.

Annapurna South and Fishtail view from Tadapani.

It was very steep downhill and at times it was very irritating hiking down I have to say. After you are well conditioned on these trails after three days of hike – instead of downhill you rather looked forward to going uphill – which is easier on your knees and the walk more rhythmic and controlled. Going downhill passed everybody that had left before us until there was no one left. Crossed a suspension bridge over a muddy creek (probably due to a landslide near by) then the trail stretched gently upwards passing through Jhumrung village. I could see the Fishtail (Machhapuchhre) view clearly now. There were three French whom I tiptoed for an hour or so but left them behind eventually. 

Hiked steadily down for 2 hours along this creek on the way to Chomrong - our rest stop after day 4

In about three and a half hours, at around noon we reached the beautiful town of Chomrong that lies at an altitude of  2170m. The village stretches from the top of a hill all the way down to a river gorge junction – one gorge carved to the north and another one to the east. Hills to the north would pretty much make the base Himchuli mountains – which would be the southern most peak of the Annapurna range. And the gorge in the east direction stretched all the way to MBC and ABC that we needed to trek for another three days.  

Reaching Chomrong - last few remaining steps.

I was supposed to stay at a place called Kalpana Lodge per my agency’s recommendation and Prem Tamang dude was supposed to have informed people.  The lodge was about 100 feet below the trail with its name brightly painted on the tin roof as we entered the village. But I a saw a nicer lodge above the trail called View Point Lodge.  Since I was fairly certain that there would be a room reserved in Kalpana Lodge (unlike Tadapani there were plenty of lodges here) – with nothing to loose I went to check out View Point Lodge to see if they had any room. To my surprise the Lodge Lad (no lodge lady here!!) gave me a key for a room on the 1st floor upstairs for me to check it out.  Found the nicest room with a large double size bed and checked in without any delay  - and sent the word out with Deepak to Kalpana Lodge down below that I would not be staying there - so that they could free up the room for other trekkers. Took a shower and came down to the patio to enjoy the view of Fishtail still clear. Had lunch and met a polish girl named Natalia sitting there at the patio. Chatted with her for about an hour. Like me she was an engineer by trade and had just finished her college. She was an avid photographer as well but her camera broke down while she was travelling through India and was bummed that she was missing all the opportunity here to take amazing shots of all the panoramas.  Also saw a Dutch couple upstairs in the balcony sitting all quiet and enjoying the view

View of Machhapuchhre from Chomrong

Also met a guy named Alex that had swung by from a near by lodge where he was staying. He was from San Francisco and was a lawyer. He had met Natalia earlier and had come for a chat. Went down to town for a walk and came back up soon. Alex, Natasha and me sat in front of the lodge at the patio and decided to have few beers – it had started to rain little bit which added to the melancholy of the moment. Sat there and drank for a while without a care in the world. Downing of more ceremonial beers and chatting away I found Alex to be a swell of a guy – he wanted to trek to Bamboo together the next day. Later, arriving to the lodge, I saw those five American ladies that I had passed earlier yesterday and had shared the lodge in Tadapani.

The rain was making me a bit cold so I went upstairs to bundle up. I saw the Dutch lady still sting there but not the dude. Later I learned that he went looking for a different lodge since this place was noisy for his standards - which came to me as complete surprise because there was pin drop silence here as far as I was concerned. I guess some people can’t just get far enough away even at these remote locations.

Himchuli From Chomrong - Behind lies Annapurna

In the evening the Canadian Guy Elia who I had wanted to ask about his Everest summit arrived at our same lodge looking all tired. He was lost on the trail for 1.5 hours somewhere so he had arrived late. I chatted up with him in the evening and learned that he had indeed climbed Everest. He showed me his video of the climb on his iPad of his entire climb that he had managed to shoot. It was stunning, and of professional quality. How can a guy climb and shoot at the same time. His time-lapse photography that he had mentioned to me when we first met at Tikhe Dhunga was amazing as well. Wow!!! Turns out Everest was the first mountain he had ever climbed. He was not supposed to be the part of the expedition but someone got sick or bailed out at last munute and he was added to the expedition. He had gone to the Everest region to commemorate one of his friends who had perished there few years ago. Elia went on to say that he was like a bodybuilding champion or something in Canada when he was 19. Now he writes for Huffington post (indeed he did - I read his articles). Helped build a school in Nepal and on this trip alone he had already bagged Manalsu (as in “another 8 thousander mountain”) and was coming back to this  trek with his girlfriend ...and the list goes on and on.  And to top it all off as we were talking he was doing time-lapse photography of the Machhapuchhre range with stars in the background from the balcony of our room. What a guy - I was truly humbled and mesmerized to hear all his accomplishments. Now he was trying to pitch in his expedition video to big name networks like Discovery or NBC. Had dinner with Elia and his girlfriend Amanda (I think that was her name). I really connected with the guy and decided to keep in touch later on for common projects and expeditions in and around Nepal. Went to bed by 930.

Day 5 – Chomrong - Himalaya
Woke up at 7. Didn’t sleep all that well – kept waking up. Went down to the kitchen and had breakfast - most had already started their trek. Took a picture with Natalia.  Alex and American ladies group left at 7:20 as I was having breakfast. I settled the bill and left at 8 - It was steep downhill and as usual Deepak and I literally ran down to the river. 

Dropped down from Chomrong to cross this little bridge. Not sure how there is a  pink hue in this photo. Nex stop - Lower Sinwa lies 2 hrs of uphill ahead.

The weather was beautiful. Passed the ladies before the bridge – then the Thai group – they looked tired already – specially one gal that barely looked like 15. The view of Machhapuchhre loomed high up above. The next stop was a town on lower Sinwa then on to upper Sinwa.

Heading to Sinwa from Chomrong. Fishtail looms high up above.

Sinwa is where the gorge makes a gentle left.  From here you can’t see Chomrong anymore but can see the village of Ghandruk way down below in a southerly direction with tiny tin roofs glistening in the mid-day sun across the vast green hill sides. It seemed like I had passed every one everyone except Alex by the time I reached upper Sinwa. From a rest stop standpoint upper Sinwa really takes the cake. It’s in a beautiful location in this river gorge – Fishtail mountain looms high up above – this is where Michael Palin had stopped for tea – in his Journey to the Himalayas Video.

Left lower Sinwa  and as we were approaching Upper Sinwa - the trail turned gently to North east. Got to follow the trail along this gorge to ABC. Another 2 days of trek to get there.

Left upper Sinwa after a brief stop. Ran into a Chinese dude who was all alone and who I tiptoed the whole way today. He was another of  hardy stock. No sign of Alex though. I know I was not going to catch up to this tall/lanky athletic dude from SFO.  I reached Dovan a couple of hours later and there I saw him coolly relaxing. His trekking was done for the day and he had found a room to share with someone. This place looked pleasant and I inquired but could not get a room there – and did not get a good vibe from the lodge owner there. Besides my stop was another two hours up in Himalaya anyway. Met a tall couple coming down the mountain, Sounded American – she gave me pointers on distance and lodges – “holy hiking” – what an attractive woman!! The trail was all uphill from here gaining altitude rapidly. The river gorge ahead looks dark and mysterious and the mountains are closing in (and yes we can say we are in the mountains now). Several tall waterfalls plunged across the gorge – the water seemed to be falling almost in slow motion and filling the air with thin mist.

Got to reach rest stop aptly named "Himalaya" before the evening. Left Upper Sinwa - misty, tall, dark mountains are closing in..... 

After 2 hours of a hard push from Dovan finally reached Himalaya. There were only two lodges there literally “lodged” between two tall mountains. Both were named Himalaya.  I went to the one where there were lots of tourists sitting by the patio and having lunch. Told the owner dude that I had a booking there (again a verbal booking that was supposedly done by Prem Tamang a couple of days earlier) – the owner dude said he didn’t have it. I was thinking may be he was trying to give the rooms to a larger group who were already there coming down from ABC. By now I was aware of their little game – with a larger group they would have a chance to make more money on food and beverages. I went to the other lodge and the owner there said I could share the room with six other people in a common room. The clouds had rolled in heavily and it was getting dark and cold. With no choices left I decided to take the offer. I chose a bed in the corner. One of the guys in the room was from LA – a cellist named Kim – also met a Finish guy named Dumian. Exchanged a few words with Dumian after I had unpacked and shared some of my Khukuri Rum – he really enjoyed the swift swigs and my talks I am sure – he was on his way down already and told me what an amazing view he had had at ABC. Later at the dining hall chatted with Kim and his wonderful fluent-in-English-guide Pemba-dai, two Germans, three English and a Dutch. The Dutch dude was getting married to a Nepali girl in the coming months – how wonderful!!! Should not have had so much rum at this altitude – when will I ever learn!!!! The Dutch guy gave me lots of pointers on EBC trip that I was already planning to do next year. Talked to a very enigmatic Korean woman outside the dinning hall after dinner for a while – it was 9 PM already. Went to bed. Had a hard time sleeping at first but eventually fell asleep. Next day was MBC.

Waterfall one of many that seem to stir the air with mist.

Day 6 – Himalaya - MBC
I was worried about sleeping in the room with 5 other people, with their hustle & bustle and snoring but managed to sleep ok. The ear plugs came in handy. Had breakfast with Kim and then left. Started early from Himalaya. Alex dude down from Dovan caught up with me half way up the trail to MBC. Man….he is making me look like a Tyler Hamilton - always the distant second lieutenant to Armstrong) I told him that I had a booking at Paradise lodge at MBC and would not mind sharing the room with him if he didn’t find any. He cruised on while I chugged along. Reached Deurali and had coffee there. Now we are treading on the foothills of Machhapuchhre and The Annapurnas. 

After climbing uphill throughout the morning - the trail levels off through this valley before the final push to MBC.

After continuing for two hours, the trail leveled out somewhat and we passed through a beautiful river valley – this reminded me of the Michael Palin video – as he too had walked through these trails with similar enthusiasm. I heard a chopper hovering above us. A news came from back of the trail from one of the porter that 3 Koreans were missing climbing Annapurna. It's one of the most dangerous mountains that there is - in terms of fatalities.

A rescue chopper flies above - they were looking for 3 Korean climbers that went missing doing Annapurna I learned.

While resting at Deurali rest stop before MBC - saw these intresting rock formations. These mountains lie pretty much at the base of Annapurna South.

Briefly rested at a place called Hinku Cave as Michael Palin had done. Latitude wise you are almost shoulder to shoulder here with the Fishtail that no longer looks anything like it. Can only see a peak – it appears so close is as if it is in your attic.

Fishtail is hiding behind these green peeks. Part of the tail is visible. Pic taken from Hinku Cave.

Once I climbed down from Hinku cave and continued on for a while I finally ran into Pasang Tamang,  near Deurali. Until I met him he was more like a figment of my imagination – a ghostly figure who was supposedly ahead of me by two days – and none of the lodge people who he should have met and told him about my reservations had remembered him. But there he was all flesh and bones with a Russian couple - and exactly 2 days ahead of me – coming back from ABC. He wished me luck. I also learned  from him that Paradise lodge that they had (verbally!!) booked for me was in ABC not in MBC. Daaaaang…..that would mean 2 more hours of hike after I reach MBC. The trails were much steeper now. Had been well above the tree for few hours already. Only shrubs in the name of vegetation at this elevation. 

Another hour or so and I will be at MBC. Fishtail does not look like one anymore.

Rocks the size of houses. Can see the Annapurna range. Trekkers are coming down the trail.

I now catch the first glimpse of MBC up ahead. I saw a radio tower and a stone stairs leading up to it. The sky was party clear and straight ahead in the horizon you could see the top of the mighty Annapurna range. To the left of me was Fishtail (Machhapuchhre) and on the right is a rocky cliff that was the base of Annapurna south. It took another 45 minutes from me to arrive at the first lodge at MBC that I would see from down below. And up ahead  I could see that there were 10 other lodges nestled in this little valley surrounded by giant peaks.

First sight of MBC

When I reached MBC I saw Alex coming down from one of the lodges. He had booked a room (forgot the name of the lodge). He said I could share the room with him and handed me the key. I was really thankful for that because this meant that I didn’t need to make another 2 hours journey to ABC (the final leg). Dropped my backpack and came down to the dining hall. Saw Alex back from his short hike when he told me that for some reason the owner now wanted the key back for the room. When I inquired  the owner dude said that he would put Alex and me in a different room with three beds – where we could share it with a third person – he would give our room to an old Japanese couple that I saw were eagerly waiting at the counter. I would have been fine either way – but since Alex booked the room it was his call.  Alex declined  saying that  the Japanese couple could stay in the other room instead -  lodge owner didn't look happy with Alex’s response and I think the Japanese couple ended up sharing the other room

These are just the foothills. This gives you an idea of why this is the region of highest mountains on earth.

Had lunch and afterwards went hiking around the MBC camp. The terrain behind the lodge was hilly rising some 300 ft or so and forming a ridge. When I reached the top, the other side was a sudden drop down to a deep glacier river canyon.

Strolled after lunch at MBC - View of  MBC from a ridge nearby.

After a light hike came back to the dining hall and there I met 3 Aussies and one Kiwi dude  – they were drinking rum and playing a card game called “President” – one of my favorite games. Said hello to them and decided to join in. These were a really funny group of “blokes” - as they say. I had a really fun time paying cards with them.  They were on their way back from ABC but were in no hurry to get beck to PKR (or back to their home country for that matter). As it turns out they had managed to snatch some of the weed (Ganja!!) along the way (it grows everywhere in that region by the way) – what more could you have asked for. They were in heaven. They were plumbers and electricians by profession back in Australia – the job situation in Australia was apparently very good at the moment – that they were pulling in 70-80K as a starting salary – not bad for a 4 years of  vocational education I thought - they said they were getting a month off of paid time every year. Card game and drinking pretty much continued until 8 PM.

Later the dinning room was filled up with trekkers and their guides. Had dinner with all the people in the dining hall. Came back to room around 10. Alex was already in bed. I was bit cold – so I went to kitchen and filled my aluminum bottle with hot water. That gave me plenty of warmth. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Agenda was to wake up at dawn, do a two hour trek to ABC preferably by sunrise as I was told (here we go again!!) have a breakfast there oohin’ and aaahin’; look at the 360 degree of panoramic view and then head back down to MBC - pick up the bags and then head down as far as possible may be all the way to Bamboo. 

Day 7 – MBC – ABC - Bamboo
Had a pretty tough night. Not sure why – but I simply couldn’t sleep. Similar to my incident in Ghorepani – where my heart would skip a beat every minute or so and then I would gasp for air – but this time it was a little worse. I am sure this was due to altitude. It could also be due to a super strong medication I took for pain killer for the sore muscles (which I really didn’t really need to - come to think of it now).  I discovered the next morning that one pill had 400 mg of Ibuprofen and 500 mg for para-citamol combined. Holy hallucination!!!! That is like taking 9 tablets of medicine at once. Not sure how it is even legal to sell such strong medication.

Alex was asleep but I kept waking him up due to my restlessness. At one point at night I got out of the room went to the balcony and sat on a chair for a while. There I was exposed to icy cold howling wind and fog and the ghostly noise of either a thunder storm or an avalanche nearby. I grabbed on to chair arm as strong as I could and tried to inhale and exhale with long and deep breaths. Five minutes of that and I felt a little better and came back to the room - I couldn’t stay outside much longer due to the cold even if I wanted to – tried reading a book to keep my mind off  the restlessness due to breathing and lack of sleep. Would read a few words here and there randomly, would doze off for 15-30 secs and wake up with an irregular heart beat and gasping for air again. How could this be I mean – I was doing fine the evening earlier. Drinking rum I am sure didn’t help the situation either. If I can’t even take the altitude of merely 14 thousand feet how am I going to be at Everest Base Camp next year – I was thinking. The night was long and a little bit painful. I was thinking of packing the bags at 5 AM and heading down by skipping ABC altogether. But wait - how can I let go of my 7 days worth of investment – or for that matter - dream of two years? I’ve got to make it to the base camp - I am already committed to these trails and it is too late to turn around I thought. All my moving around had woken Alex up. I told him that I was having hard time sleeping. He suggested that I take Diamox – which I did. Even he was having a hard time falling asleep he said. But I knew he was in much better shape than I was – but those words almost sounded comforting – thinking I was not the only one who was suffering – I know it’s almost sadistic. It’s weird how mind works sometimes.  Not sure when but probably around 300 AM I finally must have fallen asleep because I was awoken by the brightness in the room and it was Alex’s head flashlight that he had put on. I looked at my clock on iPhone and it was 4:30. He was ready to go the ABC – the final 2 hr push – but I wasn’t. It seemed like every bone of my body was aching. Alex asked if I was coming along – I asked him to continue and would catch up with him somewhere further down on the trails. Arjun – Alex’s guide was waiting for him outside the room at 430 AM in fog. They hit the trail without much delay. From the window of my room I could see their headlights bobbing up and down in the  pitch dark for few minutes in the horizon along the trail until they disappeared into the darkness. 

6 AM - On my Way to ABC. Annpurna South is right in front of me.

I lay in bed for another half  an hour or so. Then, all determined I dragged myself out the bed, got dressed - packed all that I could. (The owner dude had wanted us to check out by 5 am – he had told us the night earlier – which was ridiculous – may be he was trying to get back at us for not being accommodating to the Japanese Couple – but he gave us a story that there were a few people arriving early in the morning and we had to vacate it for them.) I got ready and got out of the room - there was no point waking Deepak up since there was not anything that needed to be carried, and the trail seemed straight forward, from what I remembered from my light hike the day before. Besides he had come on this trek just in pair of sandals and from the looks of weather that morning it seemed like it would snow pretty soon. So I decided to let him sleep and carry-on on my own.

I can almost touch these mountains now

And snow, it did!!! As soon as hit the trail. It was still dark. I could see some flashlights flickering ahead of  me up the trail. It started to snow heavily – it didn't bother me much about the slippery trail – 15 years of snow in MN has trained me on how to tackle a snowy trail. What did bother me was that I may not be able get a good view of the Annapurnas from base camp. One hour into the trek the day light started to spill into the valley and could see the trail better. I could see the sunshine at the top Annapurna II. And surprisingly I started to get some strength and felt rejuvenated as the trail leveled off. I turned back and could no longer see MBC.
Annapurna I. Above 24 thousand feet and one of the deadliest mountain on earth.

Soon I came across a huge rock on the trail which had a marking that said ABC was an hour away. I looked up I saw a few huts on a plateau – that must be ABC I thought - but that looked merely  10 minutes away not 1 hour as the marking suggested – how could this be. The trail was literally on the lap of these 24-25K giant peaks and it seemed we were at their mercy. What a sight I thought - ABC lay ahead and MBC was on my back. Passed a few trekkers along the way but my pace was much slower today. A half hour after passing the rock I looked up again and saw that those huts still looked as if they had not inched up any closer. It was indeed ABC – because I saw a radio antenna there similar to MBC. By this time clouds had rolled in and there was no view. I could barely see the trail. It seemed like the show would be over at ABC by the time I got there.

Finally reached ABC after another half an hour. The time was 7:30 AM. There were about 6 or 7 stone built huts/lodges – all huddled together with a small courtyard in the middle. Despite the quiet and desolate look from the outside – as soon as I entered one of the lodge’s there – I saw a dining hall packed with people – mostly Chinese. People were busy having morning breakfast chatting, laughing etc. It was almost surreal. Everyone looked carefree and giggly at this thin air of 15K - as if they were attending a jewelry convention in Vegas. And where did all these Chinese come from – remember running into only a few of them on the trails.

Soon the clouds started to roll in and trail turned snowy. In front of me lies Annapurna South.

Then it started to snow heavily and the visibility was getting worse by the minute. The show at ABC was over – without much of any show at all, actually. I heard if I had gotten there by 6 AM I could have had a glimpse of the Annapurna range. With no forecast of when the snow would taper off there was no sense to stay here any longer. The journey was complete. The last 7 days worth of investment in hard trekking had come to a bitter sweet end. Ordered a cup of coffee at one of the lodges. 3 days of grueling trek lies ahead of me -  I thought  – as I sipped this thick milk coffee. And as I got out of the kitchen into the courtyard saw the Chinese I had been tiptoeing since upper Sinwa. Also saw an old Thai lady there. She asked me take her picture which I did and asked her to do the same for me. Had I not taken this picture there would probably be no proof that I had indeed made it to ABC.

As it turns out that was the last view of Annapurna I would see (previous photo). When I reached ABC at 730 AM the show was over. The fog and snow had moved in.

I decided to cruise down the trail. Right outside I saw Natalia – gave her a gentle tap from behind and told her I may see her further down on the trail. With the energy from the coffee and the fact that I had made it to ABC I found another burst of renewed energy. Yet again I found myself literally running down the trail, to reach MBC. It was snowing heavily now. My goal was to get to MBC collect my stuff and hike down as far as possible. Reached MBC in about 30-35 minutes at warp speed. Saw Deepak waiting right outside of my room. He asked why didn’t I wake him up for the trek to ABC – I just smiled. Packed the stuff paid for the room including Alex’s share - I owed him for booking the room as well as for putting up with me all night.

Left a note for Alex that I would meet him further down the trail and left MBC around 8:30 AM. The snow had turned into rain at the lower altitudes. And by the time I was in Deurali around 9:30 AM it was raining heavily. Decided to take a brief break there. A few minutes later Alex showed up. He had been one "Speedy Gonzalez" I have to say. He cruised on and promised me that there would be a room waiting for us in Bamboo. Despite of last night’s fiasco, Alex decided to share a room with me and for that I remain very thankful.

After Deurali and before Hinku cave as I was descending at a brisk pace, I came across a raging river cascading down the mountains. There was little wooden bridge (more like a wide wooden plank really) for crossing the river for which one had to descend about 50 yards downstream - cross the bridge and walk back up to meet trail. Deepak was behind me but there was another porter walking in front of me. He decided to cross the river upstream instead of going all the way down and taking the bridge. I foolishly follow him. The idea I guess was to find a narrow section on the river, jump to the other side by skipping through giant rocks with the raging river below. At one spot we saw that the width of stream was only about 4 feet or so between two big rocks. I decided to make a run for it while the porter hesitated and waited. But as I was jumping with my right foot in mid air and the left foot still on the “take-off” posture I lost my footing – not allowing me to quite get the leap I was aiming for and landed awkwardly with the right foot well short of the “landing-rock” on the other side and fell plunging in the water and twisting my right ankle in the process. I was completely submerged in the pool of from water top to bottom with may back pack and all. In a matter of seconds I was thoroughly soaked, in pain and had managed to make a complete idiot out of myself. As I got pulled from the river by this guide there was quite a lot of pain in my right ankle.

Seeing this Deepak ran back up and asked if I was ok. I said I was but there was this excruciating pain on my right ankle. I had done it – I had sprained my ankle here in high Himalayas and there was still three days of trek left in front of me. Needless to say I was shivering  frantically as well due to the icy cold glacial water. I tried standing and luckily I could and walk gently – but with some pain. 

I sat on a rock and took off my boots –  changed my socks and wringed the trousers as best as I could . The damage was done and now I had to deal with consequences.

After changing into dry clothes, but still with very wet boots, I descended slowly down to the bridge, crossed looking up where I fell, then continued on towards Bamboo.

It had to have happened though....... if it was not falling into the river it could have been tripping over some ledge or ridge – because of  the way I had been boldly marching since day one. My walking had slowed down to crawl. I could walk on the level surface but as soon as I had to either climb up or down my ankle would be in pain. I had no choice but to tough it out and continue on. People were passing me now as if I was standing still. At least the rain had stopped but there was still no sun in sight. The only thing positive in all of this was that I had learned my lesson to slow down and smell the roses.  I could actually enjoy the scenery a little better – even though the pain was persistent. What would have taken me one and a half hours o reach Bamboo took me three hours. Again there Alex was sitting there sippin’ Rum and reading a book. He handed me the room key without even taking his eyes off the book. I told him what had happened. He first laughed hysterically and then asked if I was ok. I unpacked – and took off them damn cold boots. Went to the dinning hall and pampered my sprained ankle with a warm patch. Soon the Aussies entered. They too were staying at the same lodge. When they saw me and learned what had happened another round of laughter echoed through the lodge. I sat with them and played cards the rest of the day. It was gloomy and cold day. I was not having any of that rum today – besides with a painful ankle and lack of sleep I was not feeling all that well. The evening was uneventful. Had some garlic soup and bread. And went to bed by 930. Alex was fast asleep while I was twisting and turning.  I asked him not to wait for me in the morning since I did not know how slow I would walk and how long would it take for me to finish the trek now. But the plan was to meet up in Jhinudanda – the next stop – they supposedly had a natural hot springs there. That sounded super nice.

Day 8 - Bamboo – Chomrong
One long day ahead. Did not sleep well at all. The hearbeat was still skipping at times in the night. Had a porridge for breakfast. Alex had already left. The walking was slow but steady – and the pain was a bit less. At least it was bright and sunny. Several people had passed me – but I didn’t care – I was relieved that I could still walk . After two hours of trek reached Upper Sinwa and stopped for a beverage. Then continued on and kept pushing for Chomrong – my goal was to reach Jhinudanda before the night fall – but I was unsure because of the climb back to Chomrong - it would be another “nose bumping” one.

Looking back at Fishtail after hiking for a day and a half downhill. Need to reach Chomrong.

Had read somewhere that there is a restaurant in Chomrong that apparently had the best chocolate cake in this region. Heck - some Belgian lady thought that it was the best chocolate cake anywhere  – funny what 10 days of hiking through remote regions with not an ounce of luxury makes you go for. What will they say next – Chomrong is the best luxury destination for your honeymoon?? I was planning to stop there for a coffee and the mighty cake but somehow I missed it. One guy at the start of climb at Chomrong said it was little bit further up. I didn’t see anything for anlther half an hour of climb almost reaching lower Chomrong. And there I learned that I had already passed it. Oh well – luck has not been on my side ever since I reached MBC. 

Fishtail back to its iconic post card view. Reaching Upper Sinwa

Reached Chomrong 5 hours after I left Bamboo. Had lunch in one of the Gurung Lodges there. Had a really good chicken curry and rice – may be it tasted better because I was hungry – like the chocolate cake to that Belgian woman. The plan was to get to Jhinudanda – which was still a couple of hours away.

Stairs back to Chomrong.

I was heading out of Chomrong leaving the last set of lodges behind and about to start a long descend to Jhinudanda when I heard a familiar voice coming from above the trail from one of the lodges. It was Kim from LA that I had met in Himalaya and his guide Pemba-Dai. Went up and said hello. Kim nicely offered to share his room and asked to stay. This would really make for a long stretch to Naya Pool tomorrow – which was my plan. But decided to stay. My sprained ankle required a much needed rest anyway. Also had not slept all that good in the last few days. Went upstairs by our room and hung all my wet clothes on the balcony – as the sun was still bright. The lodge faced southwards and eventually saw a very nice sunset. Deepak helped me wash some of my wet clothes. I went for a nap after unpacking and taking a shower. Woke up around 5:30. It was nearly dark. Got dressed and headed towards the View Point Lodge where I had stayed a few days earlier on my way to ABC. Kim had told me that the American ladies were staying there. He too had made friends with them along the trail and had gone there to say hello.  As I reached the View Point Lodge I saw Kim and Pasang-Dai leaving – but they turned around as they saw me coming. Went and said hello to the ladies. Again I told them about my episode.  They were shocked at first – and later one of them jokingly said “no more passing people for you”.

A lodge at Chormong. Will not stay here.

Headed back to our lodge (I forgot the name) – a real nice lodge lady with two young daughters. A Japanese guy with a Nepali guide name Pasang Lama was also staying there. Japanese dude was also a guide back in Japan. A guide with a guide!!! After dinner the lodge lady arranged for a cultural show outside the lodge with the locals. Twenty or so village ladies and young girls and guys had gathered there to entertain us. We were truly humbled by this gesture. Kim, me and Pasang joined in the song and dance. Too bad my flash on the camera had stopped working. Singing and dancing with the locals we continued for an hour or so. Went to bed around 10 pm. So far so good. I think I will make it back to Pokhara in one piece after all.

Day 9 - Chomrong – Naya Pool
Had hard time sleeping again. Kim was snoring a bit so I had to put ear plugs in. Now I am only at about 7000 ft - so I should not have any problem. Woke up at 2 AM gasping for air. Unlike the night before my heartbeat was ok. Very restless though – played 25th game of Ludo on my iPhone just to divert my mind a little - yet not wanting to play at all. Must have dozed off around 4 am Woken up at 7. Kim had already gotten up and gone downstairs. Packed everything and I too wnet downstairs to the dining hall. Deepak was up as well. Had roti and beans (Kim helped pick the green beans from the lodge lady’s garden a day earlier – he enjoyed it) for breakfast. Said good bye to Kim and Pemba-dai for the last time with hope to cross paths again with Pemba in KTM and may be with Kim somewhere back in US. Really enjoyed the company of these guys. Kim and the Japanese dude were cruising straight down to Jhinudanda – while I was limping along slowly. I was still in pain. I reached Namaste Lodge around 9:30 (an hour and a half later), the place I would have stayed had I gotten there a day earlier.  

Sunrise over Fishtail seen from Chomrong.

What a change in a pace after a minor incident. I would have been blazing down the trail in 20 minutes for what took most people 40 minutes. Chomrong looks like it is above the clouds from down here. Took last glimpse of Machhapuchhre. From here on out the trail now follows another deep river gorge (Modi Khola) with thick lush vegetation and not much of mountains in sight. I kept pushing slowly with Deepak to get to Naya Pool before the evening. Stopped at a place called Kyum for a beverage two hours into the trek. People there told us that it would take another 5-6 hrs to reach Naya Pool. It was around 10 AM already. It would mean I would reach Naya Pool at 4 pm at best. I pushed on hard with my sprained ankle. I looked at the map and my goal was to reach the village of Syauli Bazar by 2:00 PM. Passed through the trail head to Ghandruk and Landrung village along the way. Landrung village loomed high above on a hill side to the left while Ghandruk village was on the right at about an equal height - with this never ending river gorge in the middle of it. 

Got 6 hours of trek through this gorge between the hills to New Bridge. Got to to reach Pokhara tonight.

Barely passed a few trekkers along the way. Reached Kilyu (sounds like Kill You)  near Syauli Bazar around 1:15 and had lunch there. Ran into 13 or so trekkers from Colorado – they were just starting their trek. The traill after Syauli Bazar  turns into a dirt road. It looks like they will build a road here eventually. Wonder what will happen to these innocent trails. 

Rocks from a landslide near Jhinu Danda.

Bhirethantni/Nayapul now looked more like 430 PM at the speed I was going. Passed through several villages along the way. Donated Rs 500 at a check post where I saw a bunch of school children collecting money for something. I was still pushing really hard and all of sudden around 330 PM the trail suddenly ended and before me was the bridge at Naya Pool that I had crossed 8 days ago –   which now seemed like an eternity ago.

Trail to New Bridge will hog this muddy river for the most part.

I saw a bunch of taxis waiting for tourists right after the bridge. Could have hiked another 15 minutes to get to the main road – but there was nothing left to prove or to see. And my ankle needed rest so took one of the taxis standing there instead. A very old Toyota! Driver asked Rs 2000 and I said ok – I was beyond tired and for an hour worth of driving that was a fair price I thought. The road form the Naya Pool to PKR again reminded me that it was more like a freshly dug open mine - not a road. Yet this driver drove that little car like a tank through giant pot holes and edge of the road.

As I was finishing my trekking I saw this girl show up from no where on the trail and stop in front of me with this finger gesture. Not sure if this means "V" for victory or "give me two rupees". I think she meant the former. At least we were was not chasing any monkeys here. Those, we left all back on the trail.

Got to Pokhara around 530 and cheeked back in at the Lake View Lodge. Gave Deepak his well earned wages – and asked if he was ok with the compensation. He asked if he could have the walking poles that I had gotten in Chomrong – which I happily did. Took a long hot shower at the hotel and went looking for a barber shop. I had forgotten how nice it is to have someone shave for you. Then went for a foot message. As I was coming back to the hotel – who do I see?? Alex!!! Loitering on the lake side. Sat down and had a beer with him. He was heading back to KTM the next day like me but on a different flight – & then back to the US. As for me - I had a few days in KTM then back to the madness of BKK. 


  1. Nice one..... U should have added few with yaself too.Your shooting skills have better quality brother !!

  2. Good blog, some great photos with interesting anecdotes

  3. Absolutely wonderful to read and look at. The pictures are stunning. I have never been trekking before but it seems to be tiring, beautiful, and rewarding. If I had to choose my favorite photos, I'd need to go back too many times to describe them. In other words, they were all outstanding! Well, I really loved the first photo of the young Nepali girl. Your blog really deserves more views and comments; thorough, appreciative comments to be more specific.

    I learn a little more about Nepal as I grow older. This was another look into the country that I have not yet seen. Thank you for that. It surprises me so much every time I take time to observe Nepal online. It reminds me how beautiful a place it is compared to this city I live in now. All the natural and cultural beauty that I couldn't find here.

    Please let me know when you blog again from Nepal. This is such a gift.


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