“The mountains had bestowed on us their beauties, and we adored them with a child’s simplicity and revered them with a monk’s veneration of the divine. “ — Maurice Herzog, Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak
After over 2.5 months of Hiking in Uttarakhand, I had a short window to pay a visit to the mecca of Himalayan Kingdom — Nepal, before the snow gods blocked all passages into this divine territory. Read Photo Story from my Perspective, Hiking the Annapurna Circuit
There are two road accesses into Western Nepal from the Indian state of Uttarakhand. One via
Banbasa (India) — Mahendranagar (Nepal) border and other via Dharchula border, with a namesake town on Nepal side as well. Dharchula is hidden much deeper in the Indian border district of Pitthoragarh and therefore more inaccessible compared to Banbasa. Even locals had a word or two to utter regarding safety issues involved in entering Nepal from there. Therefore, I decided to cross over from Banbasa.
All this was happening within 2 days of the Demonetization announcement by the Indian Prime Minster Modi (85% of all Indian currency was deemed invalid by an executive order meaning severe cash crunch in India). It also meant I had close to no money while crossing into a foreign country! I had barely enough to reach Kathmandu where I would meet a friend flying in from India and who was carrying USD to be able to travel further. Or if he didn’t make it, take a bus from Kathmandu back to India the same day ..( And may be squeeze a couple of meals and a beer in between! )
So, I set off from Kathgodam (an important town in southern Uttarakhand) towards the Banbasa border in a cheap Uttarakhand state transport bus. The journey wasn’t that exciting and the roads dusty.. While sitting in a cramped bus amidst myriad thoughts, I wondered if I could name this trip
Kathgodam to Kathmandu ?
[ All photos shot with a GoPro Hero4 or MotoX Play ]
Sharda River — Indo-Nepal border (Banbasa)
The Indo-Nepal border at Banbasa (from Banbasa bus stand to border, one can get a bike taxi )
Got a Cheap Ticket for Kathmandu in one of these Delux buses after a struggle. There were very few tickets available, as apparently everyone from this town in Nepal was returning to Kathmandu after 10 days of Diwali Vacation spent at home.
My bus was supposed to depart at 3:30 pm Nepal Standard Time. So I decided to eat something in one of the local shops at the bus station. Met this man, who spent half his life in Hissar (Haryana, India) learning the tricks of Freestyle wrestling. He hated studying, was almost my age, but had now given up everything to run this small eatery! He was Nepali and his wife was Indian just across the border. He wanted to pursue wrestling especially after the recent medals India has won in wrestling at the Olympics, but he was now trying for a place in Nepalese Wrestling team but couldn’t get through trials because of politics and mismanagement of sports in Nepal.
In this not so comfortable bus, I spent close to 21 hours in one position from Mahendranagar to Kathmandu. I’d expected the ride to be much shorter. The Roads weren’t that bad, but I could never decipher why it took them so much time. A similar distance in India wouldn’t be more than 10 hours.
My Friend had already booked a place in Kathmandu’s Thamel area (Sort of the equivalent of Changspa in Leh). So after getting down in a rather dusty part of Kathmandu, I had to walk another 3kms to reach the hotel (Zen bread and breakfast) The room wasn’t bad at all for 500 INR.
A clean place to stay finally after 2 days of passing through dusty border towns of India and Nepal.
One of the streets in Thamel with it’s various shops selling Yak Shawls, Trekking equipment and a lot of overpriced eateries! After a quick shower at the hotel, I took a walk around exploring Thamel and also exchanged my 50 dollar bill for 5200 NPR. No wonder the Americans have a ball in Nepal with such crazy exchange rate of 1:105 .. Indians only enjoy 1:1.6 . I strolled around Thamel, waiting for my friend who was due to arrive here from the airport.
After my friend arrived, We took a walk to the office of Nepal Tourism board office for getting our ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit) and TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management System). To our pleasant surprise, The ACAP was only 200 NPR for SAARC country citizens (Indians and other south Asians) but never understood the logic of paying 600 NPR for TIMS. They never checked TIMS anywhere on the circuit barring Muktinath. (The ACAP permit was 2000 NPR for foreigners)
Filling out Forms at the Nepal Tourism board office for the permits. While many people prefer to do Annapurna circuit via trekking agencies who manage permits, guides etc., it’s always more fun to get the shit done yourself! — In Nepal there are no Solo hikers, in the Local Lexicon, you are known as Independent hiker!
A Main City Road in Kathmandu — During the 2015 earthquake, watching Mainstream Media, I was under the impression that Kathmandu was finished.. However, no such destruction was visible here. What most locals said, it was the older city which was affected!
A busy market in Kathmandu
We had plans to reach Besisahar the next day but Nepal is a strange country, Out of Blue a Bandh (Strike) was called by a fringe Communist group and even Locals did not know why? but the Funny thing was, we had checked out of the hotel and were waiting at the bus station with absolutely no transport running. We were clueless as to what to do ? So we instead decided to pay a visit to the revered Pasupatinath temple in Kathmandu and also meet one of Sriram’s (my friend’s) uncles who took us out for Lunch. It is appalling to see the state of Bagmati river which flows behind Pasupatinath. although the temple and it’s complex were beautiful. This man-made structure was re-built in 15th century by Lichhavi King after the earlier building was consumed by termites 🙂 There Are various legends surrounding the deity (Shiva) who is worshiped in the sanctum-santorum of this temple complex.
The Nepal Bandh got called off by evening, post which we hopped onto a Pokhara bound bus at 8pm which dropped us at Dumre around 4am. After a wait of couple of hours, we got a bus bound for Besisahar (Lamjung district) from where one starts the Annapurna trek officially. We finally reached there around 9am and after a quick breakfast and freshening up, we started hiking the ACT (Annapurna Circuit Trek)
The turquoise colored waters of Marsyangdi river which originates near Khangsar Kang (west of Annapurna Massif) eventually discharging into the Trishuli river in Mugling in Lower Nepal.
First of the many suspended bridges one encounters on the Annapurna Circuit Trek. This one leading to Bhulbule, the first village I encountered when Hiking from Besisahar.
Catching the First glimpse of the Lamjung peak
The clean Village of Bhulbule
Marsyangdi river turns into an Artificial Lake at this dam being operated by a Chinese Company (Near Bahundanda)
My First host at Bahundanda | The crazy thing on AC Trek is availability of free accommodation almost everywhere, if you spend for food (dinner, Breakfast etc) at the home-stay. This man was from Nepal but his father gave his life serving for the elite Gurkha Regiment of the Indian Army. I met many young men in Nepal who worked for the Gurkha Regiment of the Indian Army. Fighting a foreign army’s enemy, for pride? or for work to feed their families?
A nondescript yet peaceful village on the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Football is a favorite sport for these Mountain dwellers..
The beautiful fields in the mountain village of Ghermu
Met this guide leading a few German clients… He thought I was a Nepali and started a conversation with me in the Nepali Language.. I had to tell him I was Indian although and maybe secretly whimper that I also didn’t look Mongloid? Did I… ? Anyways, he knew Hindi and not to my major surprise Loved the South Indian Movies… I have observed hill people across northern India, Nepal love Southern Indian Movies courtesy the larger than life portrayal of heroes who can singlehandedly finish the Ku Klux Klan Army, send enemies flying into air with a punch, jump out of airplanes without parachute and stop a French TGV by mere look at it! He Loved Ram Charan, Pawan Kalyan, Rajnikanth, Mahesh babu and had only despise for Salman, Shahrukh and Aamir didn’t even count!
The good thing about hiking the Annapurna is the availability of Trail signs on major intersections ensuring the hikers don’t get lost and therefore promotes independent trekkers!
Trail leading to yet another Suspended bridge to cross over to the other side. Somewhere in between Chyamche and Tal. The Lower Altitudes in the ACT are mostly trails passing through villages and occasional forests.. It’s only after you cross Pisang is when you breach the TreeLine and enter the cold mountain deserts of Manang and Mustang
The Beautiful Marsyangdi river with Tal seen far-off in the left
There is no more beautiful sign than spotting a furry Himalayan Shepherd Dog (Bhutia dog) . These Dogs are renowned for protecting the sheep and Livestock from dangerous wild cats and occasionally bears in the sometimes unsparing Himalayan Wild.
Crossing some dangerous trail sections. This was around 3:30pm in the afternoon, the sun was had gone hiding behind the gigantic rise of the hills. I had left my friend in Syange earlier this morning and he was to meet me at Manang in 3 days. I was on my own, hungry and exhausted courtesy having walked over 23 kms in 7 hours with a 20kg rucksack. Dharapani was the destination for the day and it was still about 5kms from here! Giving up was not an option, Walking was!!
One of the Few ACA checkposts where one has to show the permit and also get registered. It is useful if the authorities were to track you, should one go missing
Village of Timang | Porter bags lying with the mighty Manaslu in the background. Manaslu is the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 metres. On the ACT one can spot 3 of world’s 14 eight thousanders.. Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu
Stopping by for some Black Tea at Thanchowk and catching a view of Manaslu with maybe humming a few tunes of La La Land
Walking amidst alpine forest catching the first glimpse of Annapurna II
Beautiful Village of Chame and a major halt station on the trail
Finally met two Indian People and they were from Hyderabad too 🙂 | The crazy thing about hiking in Nepal is finding only White Tourists from the West… I found many of them outright racist and it was difficult to find anyone to talk to… Finding people from your land, who speak your language is always a good thing!
Almost every Village on the Annapurna Circuit has these beautiful carved gates | This one when leaving Chame enroute Upper Pisang/Ghyaru
The Beautiful walk along the magical Marsyandgi River (before Bhratang)
And How many times in our lives it’s all about crossing those bridges… To make those decisions and to get on to the other side?
The walk towards Upper Pisang amidst the naturally curved & polished rock face..
Another beautiful trail overlooking the Annapurna II enroute Pisang
Another Bridge on Marsyangdi River
“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving”
Lower Pisang as seen from Upper Pisang
Annapurna II as seen from ground-up while ascending to the high mud-village of Ghyaru
Annapurna II as seen from Ghyaru.. Ghyaru is one of those beautiful Stone age Villages one can imagine.. Perched at an Altitude of 3730m above sea level, it’s at an situated at an height higher than Manang and probably the same as Muktinath on the Annapurna Circuit.. Ghyaru not just provides majestic views of Annapurna II and III, but it’s a great acclimatization point on the circuit due to it’s altitude.. I was in Ghyaru by 2:30 pm after a grilling 21kms hike from Chame (where I started about 8:30pm) So I pushed for the next village Ngawal which made my job of reaching Manang the next day much easier..
Small eatery near Ngawal
Met some Locals heading to Humde
Goats of Ngawal | Annapurna III as seen in the background with the moon still shining early morning
There is nothing better than the smell of Juniper on a Himalayan Morning. As per botanist, between 50 and 67 species of juniper are widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic, south to tropical Africa, to eastern Tibet in the Old World, and in the mountains of Central America. The highest-known Juniper forest occurs at an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) in south-eastern Tibet and the northern Himalayas, creating one of the highest tree-lines on earth.
Annapurna III and Surrounding ridges forming the inner boundary of the Annapurna Sanctuary
Almost reaching Manang | One of the Major pit stops on the Annapurna Circuit. It also has other facilities like Telephone, an ACAP office and some good restaurants for food!
Cute Himalayan Kids stopping by for a photo on their way to school (Manang)
Kicho Tal or Ice Lake is a strenuous but excellent hike from Braga (near Manang). Situated at a height of 4600m and over 1000m of climb above Manang, it’s a good acclimatization / practice hike for those intending to hike upto Tilicho lake or even attempting the Thorong La Pass(5416m). On the way to the top one can spot Annapurna III, Gangapurna, Tilicho and Khangsar Kang Peaks. Far Away, one can also see the Gangapurna Lake formed by the discharge of glacial stream from Gangapurna mountain.
An evening in Manang
Marsyangdi River on the way to Tilicho Lake
Rock Overhangs and Landslide areas enroute Tilicho base camp
Majestic Views of Gangapurna glacier, Khangsar Kang and Tilicho peaks enroute the Tilicho Lake. Annapurna I lies right behind this massive ice wall which forced the legendary French climber Maurice Herzog to find another route to summit the Annapurna I in 1950
Hiker on the Annapurna Trail
Manaslu in the background, with Sun Shining over Gangapurna Glacier
At a height of over 4949m, Tilicho is known as the highest lake in the world (Although disputable)
Panaromic View of the Khangsar Kang and the Tilicho Peaks
View of Manaslu and Chulu West
Karma Chong Sherpa | Everest Summit 3 Times, Lhotse — 1 Time, still humble | He was leading a client because the Everest climbing season (March-May) was over
Chulu West 6419m(Left) and Manaslu visible from this high point… Below one can see the Thorong-phedi which acts as a base to traverse to Thorong La .. Although Thorong High camp is preferred over Phedi due to easier access for final push to ThorongLa.
Thorong high camp which is used as the final night halt for crossing over to Thorong La
Trekkers and Guides enjoying a game of cards at Thorong High Camp
Met this Gentleman named Yam Gurung.. Learnt a lot about Gurungs, Bon People, Influx of Hinduism-Buddhism on Nepali Culture, Madheshi problem in Nepal and so on.. He was based out of Kathmandu and had worked earlier for Tiger Tops (an adventure company). He was currently working as an adventure consultant with National geographic and had led NatGeo’s groups in Karakoram, Trans-Himalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal and Tibet.
Myself at Thorong La pass | -10c at 7 in the morning
Met some Cool people at Thorong High camp who were sanguine enough at this inhospitable pass for a smiling picture.
The descent from ThorongLa to Muktinath is excruciatingly steep and one loses about 1600 meters in altitude. While I took about 2 hours, others I met took upwards of 5 hours from ThorongLa. Greeted by this excellent view on entering Muktinath, A Monastery and the majestic view of Dhaulagiri Himal
Buddha & Dhaulagiri at Muktinath
The beautiful temple of Muktinath
The beautiful town of Muktinath in the evening
The Rockstar of Tibetan Buddhism.. Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche as he is locally known.. Responsible for single-handedly converting Tibet from Bon Religon to Buddhism.. Slayed Dragons, chased away demons and what else? Few know he was born in the Chitral / Swat Valley of Modern day Pakistan
Worst tasting beer in Nepal..
Frozen Ice and Water beyond Muktinath, enroute Kagbeni/Jomsom
Beautiful Village of Lower Mustang Valley
The silent and lonely roads of Mustang (Leading to Jomsom and Pokhara)
Kagbeni and the Kali Gandaki River Valley | The route to Restricted area of Upper Mustang and it’s walled capital (Lo Mantang) starts from here
Annapurna III on the left and The Kali Gandaki Gorge or Andha Galchi. This gorge of the Kali Gandaki (or Gandaki River) in the Himalayas by some measures is the deepest canyon in the world, being 5,571 m or 18,278 ft lower than Annapurna I on east which bounds it at one point and Dhaulagiri on it’s west
Hanging Bridge on the Kali Gandaki river
The beautiful and narrow alleys of Jomsom.. Jomsom means the new fort in Local Tibetian dialect and it’s one of the most windiest place on this planet
Finally Indian Food (Vegetable Biryani) in Jomsom.. After being tired of eating Dal bhat on the Annapurna circuit.. Food on ACT trail is largely customized for goras/Firangis (Foreigners)
Jomsom, is where I exited the Annapurna Trail. One can get a bus till Beni and then a bus to Pokhara from Beni.. I’d like to come back and do the upper Mustang Trek some day and maybe spend a few days in the village of Marpha (Famed for it’s apple orchards) which is 6kms downstream from Jomsom towards Beni…
Pleasant Lakeside Boulevards at Pokhara (Fewa Lake)
Shanti Stupa in Pokhara
Exiting Nepal by taking a bus to Indian Border town of Sunauli | Tourist bus station with Machapucchare and Annapurna ranges bleakly visible in the mist filled sky.
Welcome To India 🙂