Annapurna massif is the home of some of the world’s most dangerous mountains. The reputation contrasted with its strikingly amazing landscape. Unlike Everest which is divided between Nepal and China, Annapurna –literally means “plenty of food”– is located entirely inside Nepal, and that makes the mountains special to Nepalese.
There are three main trekking routes on the Annapurna Conservation Area, I chose the Annapurna Sanctuary trek to Annapurna Basecamp (ABC) by the end of winter last February. The other two: Jomsom and Annapurna Circuit are still on my bucket list and I’d like to complete them some other time.
My Himalayan adventure starts when the plane landed at Kathmandu, a crowded capital city with traffic mayhem, remind me of my hometown Jakarta. From the Tribhuvan Airport, I ride a cab to a hotel in Chaksibar Marg, Thamel, a special district in downtown Kathmandu, a backpackers’ safe haven, crowded with tourists coming from every corner of the world.
Here, the streets are alive. Pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws are flooding the streets until late night. Colorful lamps from street vendors, shops, night clubs, and restaurants transform Thamel into a light festival.
Thamel is just a temporary resting place for a night before leaving for Pokhara, where the real journey begins. I manage to get permits for ABC trekking (ACAP and TIMS) at Nepal Tourism Board office with the help from the hotel manager because some of my friends would arrive late at night when the office is already closed, and we certainly don’t have time to get permits in Pokhara. Each permit requires two passport-sized photos, a copy of passport and costs NPR 2000.
The following morning when most of the shops are still closed and the streets are vacant, I walk for 15 minutes toward the tourist bus station with my trekking buddies. It takes approximately 8 hours of bumpy ride to Pokhara up and down through hills and valleys. The town looks humble with a calm atmosphere. Lake Side district, the centre for tourist industry, where most hotels, shops, and restaurants are located has wide road and sidewalks. There’s no traffic here so it’s perfect for a calm getaway.
At night, I stroll around to buy some snacks, medicine, and a guide map while others are searching for trekking equipments at some rental shops. The temperature is moderate 150-250 C unlike Kathmandu that could reach 90C at night, making it easier to sleep without extra layer of clothing or thick blanket.
Day #1: Pokhara-Nayapul-Ulleri
It’s D-Day, time to rumble! We get a morning call from the receptionist and soon start preparing our packs. A few minutes later, one by one, seven of us are marching down the stairs to the lobby. While us guys carry our own stuffs, the girls share their load into a 68-liter backpack that’d be carried by a porter, a guy with a big smile named Ang Chirri that arrived right before we’re having breakfast.
The jeep that’d take us to Nayapul is already parked in front of the hotel. It’s a white 9-seater jeep and judging from its look and battle scars, it’s definitely a hardworking heavy-duty vehicle. The driver puts our backpacks on the roof rack and covers them with a tarp while we finish checking-out process with the receptionist.
9:15 AM we ride to Nayapul. It’s an uphill ride all the way as we enter the outskirts of Pokhara, dirt road and dust keep us company until we reach our destination at 10:40 AM. The driver unload all the packs from the roof rack while we wait at the kiosk nearby.
15 minutes later under clear blue sky, the ABC trekking officially begins. I walk through town toward Birethanti (1025 m), where the first checkpoint at ACAP office (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) is located. I enter the office, give our permits, then the guy in charge writes down our names, nationality, and destination on a large book and stamps the permits.
Twenty minutes later after passing through Birethanti, the landscape suddenly changes to mountains and valleys. Even if it’s still far away from our destination, the view is already exceptional. We stop for lunch in Ramchai (1191 m) at 1:15 PM. I order a vegetable fried rice then waiting outside under the sunlight to keep my body temperature steady.
The food takes 20-45 minutes to serve, the fried rice’s portion is twice the size I used to eat, but walking on a hot sunny day with a pack on my back makes me starving, I eat the fried rice until nothing left.
At 2:15 PM everybody’s full and ready to walk again, the trail changes from dirt road to stone steps trail at Sudame (1160 m). This is the first test of one’s endurance, the steps seem endless and making my legs working extra hard to climb them. Two hours later the painful ascend is finally over for awhile when there’s a trail down the valley in Tikhedungga (1540 m), leading to a suspension bridge.
The curse of the stone steps trail starts all over again as I pass the bridge. It takes two more hours to Ulleri (1960 m) when it’s almost dark. I sit down for awhile, catching my breath as soon as I arrive at the lodge, then asking for a hot tea right away.
I change my wet clothes, wear my down jacket then walking to the dining room to eat. There’s a metal furnace inside the room as a heater, and by the name of Zeus.. it feels so good sitting around the heater and wiggling my cold toes. There’s so much happiness when people are gathering while eating hot meals and talking to each other. It’s such a warm night that we’re definitely having a good time.
Day #2: Ulleri-Nangethanti-Ghorepani
It’s a glorious morning at Ulleri, I have a banana pancake for breakfast and a hot tea. We begin our walk at 8:49 AM when the sun is high and so does the temperature, making me soaking wet not too long after leaving the lodge. I encounter a few group of ponies, hauling goods to lodges along the trail. Approaching Banthanti (2210 m), there’s a wide opening between hills, I finally see a snow-covered peak, Hiunchuli (6441 m), standing tall in the distance.
We arrive at the next village, Nangethanti (1035 m), for lunch break at 12:22 PM. It’s noon and bright but feels cold when I’m standing in the shade, so I choose a seat exposed to the sunlight, browsing through the menu and order vegetarian fried rice, again.
After Nangethanti, It’s a long arduous hike up and down the hills until I finally see the gate of Ghorepani (2820 m) at 2:57 PM. This is the second ACAP checkpoint, I give the permits to the man in charge then continue walking for 400 meters to upper Ghorepani (2860 m). We decide to spend the night at one of the unoccupied lodges: Kamala Lodge. Nobody except us stays here, good… that means the lodge and its wi-fi belong to us *evil laugh
Ghorepani is colder than Ulleri, but I had no trouble sleeping last night wearing only thin baselayer inside my -60C-rated sleeping bag, unzipped halfway so I wasn’t overheated. The others were using sub 1-kg sleeping bag combined by a thick blanket provided by the lodge, but not me, I’m an amateur gear reviewer and this sleeping bag hasn’t been tested yet.
The alarm wakes us up at 5:00 AM, it’s so hard to crawl out of the bed, considering the temperature is ball-shrinking cold. But fifty minutes later, finally everybody’s up and ready, gathering in the dining room, we have a sunrise to catch. The trail to Poon Hill is a constantly uphill walk for 30 to 45 minutes.
There’s a ticket counter outside the main area of Poon Hill visitor park, it costs NPR 50/person. As soon as I arrive on top of the famous hill, I understand why it’s such a popular short trek. Poon Hill offers a breathtaking unobstructed view of Himalayas massif. Even after two hours taking pictures in every possible angle performed by a human being, I find it’s quite hard to leave this place.
However, we finally suppress the temptation to hang out much longer and start walking down the hill at 8:15 AM, arrive at the lodge 30 minutes later, having breakfast then start packing our stuffs. We say goodbye to the nice old lady who managed the lodge and walk away into the forest outside the village. There’s ice on the ground, some parts still solid, some parts that exposed to the sunlight melted into the ground and created a muddy trail.
Thirty minutes before midday, I arrive at Deurali pass (3090 m) on top of the hill, this is definitely the best 360-degree viewpoint after Poon Hill. There’s a small kiosk and an open shelter. Spending time for half an hour at this place isn’t enough but we’re on a tight schedule, so I begin to walk at 10 past 12, it’s a slippery descend walking on ice-covered trail.
At 12:45 PM, I arrive at Deurali (3106 m) for a lunch break, the others arrive 10-15 minutes later. Grey cloud covered the sky and temperature is falling, makes me shivering. The lodge owner lit the furnace in the dining room and everybody’s start to circling the heater.
One hour later, after lunch, we continue walking. The trek to Tadapani is definitely more challenging, especially after Ban Thanti village (3180 m) where I have to descend steep trail to the valley then make a final tough ascend. But all that pain and suffering are gone when I finally arrive at Tadapani (2630 m). Panoramic view of Annapurna south, Hiunchuli, and Machhapuchhre peak makes this is the village with the best view so far. I book 2 rooms at Himalaya Guest House then change into fresh clothes to stay warm.
To be continued…
Tips in Kathmandu:
- Most of the hotels provide money changer service with better exchange rates but only available in NPR 1000, the rates for smaller changes (NPR 500 or less) is just the same or even lower.
- You can book a bus ticket via hotel’s receptionist either in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
- Arrive late night at Kathmandu and don’t have time to make trekking permits? Just ask the hotel manager, usually he knows a guy who knows a guy who can rush things.
- The food in Thamel’s small alleys are cheaper
- Tourist bus always leaves on time so it’s important to manage your punctuality.
Tips in Pokhara:
- If you travel in a group of 5-8 people, it’s better to rent a jeep to Nayapul and back to Pokhara. It’d save your traveling time.
- Ask a storage room in a hotel to deposit your unnecesary items while trekking
- Buy snacks, trail mix, or other provisions in Pokhara because the price rises up as you enter Nayapul.
- You can rent almost all your trekking equipments in Pokhara but I recommend to bring your own shoes, pack, down and waterproof jacket because not only those items are personal but also crucial, and most rented items are sometimes unreliable.
Tips on the trail:
- The cost for one day trekking is aproximately NPR 1500 to NPR 2000 (3X meals and a room), but that depends on how much you wanna spend on certain luxuries (hot shower, wi-fi, additional meals and snacks)
- Don’t rely too much on the wi-fi, but if you want to use it anyway, choose less crowded lodge so you’ve the privilege to wi-fi all by yourself
- Altitude gain means price gain, especially the food
- Use a pair of trekking poles to assist climbing the stone steps or helping you maneuver on the icy trail, you’d thank me later