Annapurna Circuit: photos

I spent two days over the Christmas break getting photos from the second half of my Annapurna Circuit trip onto Flickr. Hazel’s (390) photos are on Flickr too. So, here are my edited highlights, and a link to each day’s photos, from the fantastic Mountain Kingdoms Annapurna Circuit trip:

Friday 02 October 2009/Saturday 03 October 2009: London – Delhi – Kathmandu: Technical failure meant that Jet Airways had to substitute in a smaller plane for the flight from London to Delhi, which resulted in much delayed departure – eventually taking off just after midnight. A lot of our fellow passengers, including the Khumbu Challenge 2009 team, were also flying on to Kathmandu. Luckily we made up time en route, were ushered through Delhi security and on to the connecting flight. Phew. Good views on the DEL-KTM flight, and we just followed the signs to get our tourist visas on arrival. Mountain Kingdoms’ local agent met us (Circuit and Everest treks) at the airport and we minibussed it through late afternoon KTM to the Hotel Shangri-La. The evening was taken up with check in, group briefings and for Hazel and me, a leg stretch/nibbles&water purchase stroll and repacking our rucksacks into the MK kitbags. Knackered.

Sunday 04 October 2009: Trek day 1 – Kathmandu to Khudi: Most of the day was spent on the drive from KTM to Besisahar, with a tea stop at Gol Ghar. After a late lunch, we has our first taste of the trek, walking on to Khudi where we stayed in the aptly named River View Side guest house.

Monday 05 October 2009: Trek day 2 – Khudi to Bahundanda: A hot morning’s walk through rice fields and up to Bahundanda’s ridge top location. A monsoon downpour in the afternoon, but we were snugly getting a taste for ginger tea in the restaurant of the aptly named Hotel Superb View.

Tuesday 06 October 2009: Trek day 3 – Bahundanda to Chamje: An overcast morning turned into a rainy afternoon after lunch at Jagat and a bouncy suspension bridge at Syange. We dried off at Chamje’s Tibet Lhasa Hotel.

Wednesday 07 October 2009: Trek day 4 – Chamje to Tal: The unseasonal rain forced a change of plan after lunch at Tal. Having passed under waterfalls and crossed mudslides and engorged streams we turned back to spend an unscheduled night in Tal. The river was in spate, and new waterfalls had appeared on the mountainsides. The occasional loud crack signalled a landslide or rockfall. All rather unnerving.

Thursday 08 October 2009: Trek day 5 – Tal to Timang: Having lost half a day’s trekking yesterday, Durga and co replanned days 5 and 6 to make up for it. Thankfully the rain stopped in the night and we were able to make it to Timang. Our guides were fabulous, helping us (and other, unguided trekkers) across landslides and the flooding streams whose bridges had washed away. A damp, grey afternoon, and a long climb up into clouds to reach Timang.

Friday 09 October 2009: Trek day 6 – Timang to Pisang: A beautiful morning – clear skies and our first sight of snow capped Annapurna peaks – made up for the uncertainty of the past couple of days. Morning tea at the New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant, Chame, came with a stunning view of Annapurna II and hot on the heels of fantastic views of Lamjung Himal together with Annapurna II. Amazing geology surrounded us on the final stretch to Pisang, where a Tibetan courtyard lodge and prime restaurant room location awaited at the Hotel Utse.

Saturday 10 October 2009: Trek day 7 – Pisang to Manang: We opted for the lower route today, after two relatively long days. More stunning mountain scenery made for a relaxed pace, and an awful lot of photos. We took morning tea (and cinnamon rolls) at Hongde/Humde with amazing views of Annapurna III, which were surpassed soon after by the Annapurna Amphitheatre. It clouded over in the afternoon, but lunch at Braga was combined with a visit to the (Bhutanese-esque) monastery and old village before carrying on to the (relative) metropolis of Manang and the Himalayan Singi Hotel.

Sunday 11 October 2009: Trek day 8 – Acclimatisation / rest day in Manang: Durga lead us up to the Chongkor view point which provided fab views of the Gangapurna glacier, Annapurna II and IV and Gangapurna peaks and our route past, present and future. The afternoon was occupied with shopping, coffee and cake.

Monday 12 October 2009: Trek day 9 – Manang to Yak Kharka: … which took us closer to the snow level, and saw us trekking as more snow fell. Our fabulous guides brought us hot lemon “Tang” from Yak Kharka, to encourage us through the final stretch. Getting high now – cold and thinner air. Hotel Gangapurna provided a crazy yak lantern, a cosy restaurant and not-so-cosy-but-definitely-picturesque-chalets.

Tuesday 13 October 2009: Trek day 10 – Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi: More marvellous snow capped mountain scenery, brand new and en suite rooms at the Thorong Base Camp Hotel, and an acclimatisation climb up to Thorong High Camp View hotel (4,800m) in the afternoon.

Wednesday 14 October 2009: Trek day 11 – Thorong Phedi to Muktinath: By far the hardest day of the trek, but ultimately successful and hugely rewarding. A cold, clear starlit night at 3.30am when we got our wake up call. A really, really hard climb back up to Thorong High Camp and on through the snow to the Thorong La. Beautifully serene up there, and as we climbed the dawn caught up with us, back lighting the mountain ridges and then turning the snow blue and pink before the sun rose and we were caught between the blue of the vast skies above and the blinding white of the snow covered mountains. Beautiful. After crossing the Thorong La (5,416 m / 17,769 ft), it was a really hard steep slog of a descent to Muktinath / Ranipauwa (3,700 m / 12 139 ft) – but the fabulous views of new mountain ranges, including Dhaulagiri (8,167 m / 26,794 ft/), Tukuche (6,920 m / 22,703 ft) and Nilgiri (6940 m / 22,769 ft) kept us going. Goodbye to Manang; hello Mustang. We were at the Hotel North Pole just after 1pm.

Thursday 15 October 2009: Trek day 12 – Muktinath to Kagbeni: A splendid day, retracing our steps to take in the temples of Muktinath and then strolling along a basic road through unspoilt villages before crossing the barren uplands bordering Upper Mustang and dropping down into Kagbeni and the wild winds of the Kali Gandaki valley. A fine corner room and smart en suite at the New Asia Trekkers Guest House, Kagbeni.

Friday 16 October 2009: Trek day 13 – Kagbeni to Marpha: The morning’s route (Kagbeni – Eklaibhatti – Jomsom) was mainly on/along the Kali Gandaki river bed, and Jomsom provided a bank, post office and German bakery-cum-Magic Bean Coffee Shop, in addition to the Mustang Eco-museum. My main memory of the afternoon walk to Marpha was the famous incessant-and-strong winds that blast up the Kali Gandaki valley. Marpha offered Tibetan handicrafts/souvenirs, another Bhutanese-esque gompa and apple brandy. It was also the point at which I abandoned the Mary&Hazel “No booze ’til Pokhara” pact. Well, it was Adrian’s 60th birthday….Happy Birthday Adrian!

Saturday 17 October 2009: Trek day 14 – Marpha to Kalopani: More villages (good), more Kali Gandaki gales (bad). Great views of the Nilgiris and Dhaulagiri. A tasty lunch at the Larjung Lodge & Roof Top Restaurant but the afternoon’s additional side loop via Titi Lake made for a very long day, and I’m not sure the lake or the villages were worth it, particularly as the Kalopani Guest House was the best accommodation we stayed in on the trek… coming with a beautifully tiled bathroom and hot water, plus magic mountain views of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri.

Sunday 18 October 2009: Trek day 15 – Kalopani to Tatopani: Lots of Dīpāvali festival flowers decorated today’s route, including Ghasa’s Eagle Nest Guest House & Garden Restaurant where we had morning tea. We reentered the tropical zone too – lush green vegetation replacing the more barren uplands around Kalopani. Lunch at Rupse Chhahara teahouse provided great food and a great view of the waterfall plus lots of sun and huge marijuana plants…. The afternoon route was almost entirely on jeep track. Not nice. I got to Tatopani in a grumpy frame of mind where my “no booze ’til Pokhara” pledge was well and truly abandoned in the shape of pre dinner beers at the Dhaulagiri Lodge. Good food (if not quite what was ordered), but a disappointingly scruffy garden room, and leaky loo.

Monday 19 October 2009: Trek day 16 – Tatopani to Chitre: A lot of uphill today, mainly through rice fields and stone built villages in the morning (from Tatopani to lunch at Sikha) but the early stretch was on the newly carved jeep road. Brutal. We arrived at the New Dhaulagiri Lodge, Chitre, in the mid afternoon. Plenty of time for tea, reading, and rainbows… no hot shower though, eh boys?

Tuesday 20 October 2009: Trek day 17 – Chitre to Ghorepani: After a leisurely rise and shine we had plenty of time to admire the fantastic clear views back to Dhaulagiri (8,167 m / 26,794 ft), and over to the north east Annapurna South (7,220 m / 23,688 ft). We swiftly covered the two hour trek from Chitre to Ghorepani, arriving well before lunch at the aptly named Sunny Hotel. We whiled away the rest of the morning and afternoon exploring the town (a 10 min job!), taking hot showers, doing washing, napping, reading, playing cards and eating. Oh and listening to cheesy tunes on the hi fi, and as the evening progressed, joining in the Spanish group’s DIY disco and limbo party. But I don’t think there are any photos of that….

Wednesday 21 October 2009: Trek day 18 – Ghorepani to Tirkhedhunga: Beautiful panorma from Poon Hill (3,190 m / 10,495ft) featuring peaks galore. As the trip notes say, “To the east across the Kali Gandaki is towering Dhaulagiri [(8,167 m / 26,794 ft)], while Annapurna South [(7,220 m / 23,688 ft)] and Hiunchuli [(6,441 m / 21,132 ft)] are directly in front of you, with Machhapuchare [(6,993 m / 22,943 ft)] and others looking less distinguished a little further to the East.” …. Lots of people too …. which made the walk up rather frustrating, especially as we missed the rich rainbow of pre dawn colours. There was still frost on the ground as we returned to Ghorepani, and breakfast back at The Sunny Hotel. The morning trek took us downhill through rice terraces and lush green farmland and sun dappled wooded glades took us from Ghorepani to our tea stop with a fantastic view of Machhapuchare (Fish Tail Peak). After morning tea, we descended the 3000+ steps and 800 m from Banthanti to Tikka Dungha, via the Magar village of Ulleri. The total descent for the day was c. 1,200 m / 4,000 ft. Hard on the toes, knees and back. It was also our last evening as a full group of trekkers, leaders and porters, and so featured final farewell at the Indra Guest House and Restaurant, tip envelopes were presented and dal bhat, several beers and another cake consumed!

Thursday 22 October 2009: Trek day 19 – Tirkhedhunga to Pokhara: Our final trek day 🙁 It took about 3 hours to complete the final section of the trek, from Tikka Durgha to Nya Phul. The route was through farmland, until the final suspension bridge over the Modi Khola at Birethanti, when we suddenly found ourselves out of Annapurna paradise and back in “civilisation”. Shellshocked doesn’t really describe it…. As our disco bus drove into Pokhara, we paused periodically to let our porters off. A sudden and sad set of farewells, particularly once we were at the Hotel Barahi. After checking we were all checked in, Durga took us to have lunch in the gardens of the Boomerang Hotel, which provided not only a lovely lakeside location, but also Hazel’s first booze of the trip – hurrah! An Everest beer, naturally. And then it was farewell Durga 🙁 After exploring the shopping mecca of Lakeside Pokhara we regrouped for more beers in the hotel bar then dinner at Punjabi Restaurant, followed by a mini pub crawl featuring cocktails at the Maya Bar and, finally, the Love Shack. In bed c 11pm – a very very late night by trek standards!

Friday 23 October 2009: Pokhara and Kathmandu: There were lovely early morning views from the roof top of Hotel Barahi. Our flight back to Kathmandu left at 4.30pm, so we had a long morning in Pokhara to mooch around the town and the lake, sample the coffee shop offerings and the flick through magazines by the hotel pool. We left Richard to a couple more days of chilling in Pokhara and once at the airport, we found our flight was delayed so we got to watch the small planes from Yeti Airlines, Buddha Air, Agni Air and Sita Air taking off and landing against Pokhara’s mountainous backdrop. Our Yeti Airlines flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu provided amazing views of the Himalaya, for those sitting on the left hand side of the plane. Back in Kathmandu, we returned to the Hotel Shangri-La, where we had a much better room than we’d had on our arrival. Definitely 4 star…. and we took the lazy dinner option, beers in the bar and eating in at the hotel’s main restaurant.

Saturday 24 October 2009: Kathmandu: For our one day in Kathmandu, Hazel and I went exploring on foot, using the Lonely Planet maps and walking tours. We walked from the Hotel Shangri-La down to Durbar Square, then back via the tourist shops and eateries of Thamel. Mark, Sean, Sophie, Adrian, Dick, Sue, Hazel and I went our for our final dinner at Kilroy’s of Kathmandu.

Sunday 25 October 2009: Kathmandu – Delhi – London: Unbelievably strict/repetitious/time consuming security checks at KTM airport, first at Nepalese “emigration”, and then courtesy of Jet Airways at the bottom of the steps up to their plane. And then there was a “shout out” system for distributing boarding passes at DEL, but – thankfully – a proper size plane for the main flight home. Back at LHR, joy oh joy, there were planned engineering works on the Piccadilly line so the final leg of my journey home comprised the painful Heathrow Connect / Hammersmith & City combo.

I’m not 100% sure I’ve named all my peaks correctly, and you’ll find occasional moments of frustration seeping through into my Flickr notes. I was much helped by the following accounts by people who’ve done the trek before me:

On the subject of identifying mountains, I do like the look of this iPhone app: SwissPeaks & WorldPeaks – identify mountains with your mobile phone. Charlie mentioned it at James’ party on Saturday – it may be the thing that finally tempts me to get an iPhone.

Even with WorldPeaks’ assistance I’m not feeling particularly inspired to try and add any more to the Flickr map; it’s a bit like pinning a tail onto a woolly mammoth covered in snow.

And last, but by no means least, if you fancy trekking in Nepal, I would highly recommend Mountain Kingdoms. Hazel and I are going to visit their stand at the 2010 Destinations Travel Show to ask them for recommendations as to Where To Trek Next……

PS Two things I wasn’t sure about before we went:

  1. Question: Will I be able to recharge the batteries for my digital camera, or should I get a solar recharger?Answer: Yes, No. In almost all the lodges we stayed in there were either plug points in the bedroom (and electricity!) which you could use, or they would offer a “recharge anything” service for 100 rupee/hour.
  2. Question: What is appropriate attire when bathing in hot springs?Answer: Still no idea as we didn’t indulge. Anything goes when it comes to hotel pools though.

PPS My “with hindsight” kit list would have included:

  • Annapurna: A Trekker’s Guide (Cicerone Mountain Walking) by Kev Reynolds – plenty of detail, which is useful en route but invaluable once back home! We all benefitted from borrowing Sue’s copy.
  • Better sunglasses – I wouldn’t want to go snow blind, now would I?
  • Another Sigg-esque water bottle – My one small Sigg-esque freebie was fine, but a big Sigg would have been better than the plastic water bottles – particularly when it came to the super heated water. I’d personalise it too for ease of identification, as everyone has the same kit.
  • Trekking poles – solely for the descent from the Thorong La.
  • Panasonic Lumix GF1, purely based on Craigmod’s travelogue/camera review: Panasonic Lumix GF1 Field Test – 16 Days in the Himalayas.

11 February 2010 Update: Phil pointed out @craigmod’s Annapurna Moonrise – night photography at Annapurna base camp, and a travelogue on reaching the sanctuary. Breathtakingly beautiful.