Annapurna Circuit Trek | A First Person Account – 2016 was coming to an end and I was hoping to close the year on a high. YouTube videos on mountaineering left a craving to trek in the Himalayas and I set out to fulfill my dreams. My childhood friend had recently quit from his start-up & decided to follow his passion: mountains. He did six consecutive treks in Uttarakhand! A couple of calls and web digging later, both of us decided to do the Annapurna circuit in Nepal. I didn’t know much about the circuit except that it was considered to the most beautiful trek in Nepal and that turned out to be right in the end! As we were short on budget, we decided not to go through a trekking agency & had to plan everything on our own – permits, tickets, bookings, schedule etc. VC funded discount websites helped us get cheap tickets to Kathmandu, the starting point of my trip. However, the itinerary was crunched and we had to finish the schedule on time every day to go over the pass on the final day.
Annapurna circuit is a tea house trek & horse shoe shaped route around the Annapurna range of mountains & is like a three-course meal. You start in Lamjung valley with its lush green villages and terraced farms. The next part is the Manang valley with its mesmerizing Buddhist Gompas & huge barren mountains. It is a cold dessert with nothing but mountains on all sides. You pass Manang valley to the highest point in the circuit, Throng-La pass, at 17000ft. The last part of the journey through the Mustang Valley feels more like Spiti valley and its wonderful Kali Gandaki river valley giving you company. I reached Kathmandu on 12th November & spent the rest of day making last minute purchases. Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu and it was filled with either trekking shops or food/accommodation for trekkers.
I didn’t realize how similar Nepal was to India until the first day of the trek. We were welcomed by an empty bus stand & full-scale bandh across Nepal and our plans went for a toss on the very first day. Applying Jugaad innovation, we were able to book tickets to reach the trek starting point after multiple bus changes. The strike turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I could visit the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and get Lord Shiva’s divine sanction before the start of the trek. The strike cleared up in the evening and we were on our way. Altitude sickness medicine as a precautionary measure & strong breakfast helped us finally start the trek. Living in concrete jungles for so long, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of being surrounded by mountains and lush green fields on all sides. It was a panoramic view of green fields, flora, and mountains all round. The Marshyangdi river gave us company on the first part of the trek & never made me feel alone.
Trekking would typically be for 4 to 6 hours every day & nights would be spent in villages. Dinner was typically Dal Bhat (Dal Rice – 24 Hour Power!). Hindi is pretty popular in Nepal. All the ladies are up-to-date on the latest Hindi serials & Bollywood masala flicks. Few of them even asked me why kattappa killed bahubali! :D. Thanks to set max, I could meet fans of Telugu & Tamil stars as well. I have never felt at home anywhere else outside India. Nights were spent discussing on movies, politics & Nepali economy. 40% of the revenue is through Tourism and lot of villagers survive only through Tourist income. The evenings in the dining room was light hearted interaction with people from different countries and fascinating discussion on a variety of topics. The highlight was to meet a Sherpa who had scaled Mt. Everest Three times!
Disaster struck in the first week itself and a shoe bite expanded to a big ankle injury & I was not in a position to walk. I had to short circuit the trip and go to Manang for treatment and take rest for two complete days to give time for my injury to heal. Even small steps in the shoe were causing me a lot of discomforts and I felt dejected on not being able to complete the trek. I had more or less given up and would be forever grateful to my father for encouraging me not to give up and fight. Medicines and sleep and more sleep, I felt a lot better after two days. I realized trekking is not about physical strength and more about mental strength to not give up when everything is against you.
Two-day break later, I did a small side trek to the top of a small mountain and felt a lot better. We also planned to do a side trek along the way to Tilicho Lake. Tilicho Lake is the highest altitude lake in the world at close to 5000m. On the way to the lake, we slept at the foot of the mountain with stars shining brightly in the sky at Tilicho Base Camp (13000 ft.) The final part of the trek to Tilicho was very difficult. I could feel the altitude now and was struggling to cover even 100 meters in the final stretch. All my pain was gone the moment I had seen the lake. I have never seen anything else this beautiful in my life.
The altitude gave me a huge migraine and I had to descend immediately. Back on the Annapurna circuit path, we reached the final destination – high camp before crossing over the Throng-La pass next day. We woke up early in the morning at 4.30 AM and had winter gear with headlights ready to cross over the pass. It was really difficult walking up to the pass and altitude literally slows you down. A three-hour walk to reach the pass and all my tiredness went away when I reached the pass.
This was followed by a strong 1200m descent to reach Muktinath. I had darshan at the Muktinath temple (Lord Vishnu) & didn’t have time to cover the rest of the trip on foot and had to take a bus to come back down.
A stop over at Pokhara and then we were back to Kathmandu to catch the flight back home. It’s been an unbelievable 2 weeks with a lot of twists but fortunately worked out well in the end.
“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but you can see the world”