Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Annapurna Mountains, Nepal

Day 1: Kathmandu to Rafting to Pohkara
As soon as we landed in Kathmandu, we popped in to several trekking agencies to make arrangements to head into the mountains.  We decided to head for Annapurna Base Camp, which will require eight days of mountain hiking about six hours each day, and will take us up to about 3500 meters in elevation.  On the way, we’ll stop today for some white water rafting.

Since it hasn’t rained much yet this season, the rapids were probably Class 3 to 3+, definitely not the 4 to 4+ we were hoping for, but lots of fun nonetheless.  We stopped for lunch at a bend in the river with a sandy beach.  At we sat eating our hard boiled eggs and bananas, a gaggle of boys came running down to the riverbank, just out of school for the afternoon.

They all stripped down to their underwear and gleefully hopped into the water, using our empty boat as a diving board and our lifejackets as floats.  After we reclaimed our stuff and just before we pushed off again into the river, our guide led the boys in an energetic rendition of the Nepalese national anthem.

Day 2: Pokhara to Nyapul to Tikedhunga
We stayed last night in Pokhara, in a room with a dribble of cold water for a shower.  We woke early, ate a hearty breakfast, then met up with our mustachioed trekking guide, Dambar and our skinny porter, Dipak.  We all loaded into a taxi with our backpacks for an hour ride to the base of the mountains at Nyapul.  The whole way up, our taxi driver played American 80’s easy listening: Belinda Carlisle, Bruce Springsteen, Heart.  It was a bumpy ride on hairpin turn roads that alternated from patchy asphalt to rocky, rutted dirt road, a game of chicken with the passing trucks and buses all the way up.

We hiked for four hours today, through tiny villages and past primitive stone farmhouses clinging to the side of the mountain.  In the afternoon, an enormous Golden Eagle soared over our heads, his broad wings longer from tip to tip than my outstretched arms.  His rust-brown body was immense, such a majestic and intimidating bird.  Dambar says the eagles sometimes snatch chickens from the villages.
Finally, arrival at the tiny mountain village of Tikenhunga- we made it!  That wasn’t so bad…only seven more days of hiking to go.  The lodge is more comfortable than we expected- and yet still spartan.  The walls are made of stacked stone from the mountains, and the rooms are separated by paper-thin plywood walls.  The floor is covered with a sheet of plastic and the room contains two narrow wood-frame beds, each with a thin foam mattress draped in a single white sheet (we‘ll stay warm in our rented sub-zero sleeping bags).  There is a shared squat toilet and a dripping cold water faucet.  There’s a bare light bulb in the wall above the window, but no electricity…

Day 3: Tikedhunga to Ulleri
We were supposed to trek for six hours today, climbing 1500 meters to Ghorepani.  But Mohit was awake all night with stomach cramps, and we think he’s sick from drinking purified water last night.  Up in the mountains, plastic bottles of water are scarce, since each one has to be lugged up by man or pony, and the waste plastic is a curse that can’t be buried or burned, so it will only accumulate. So we did the environmentally-friendly thing, like many other trekkers, and purified the mountain tap water with iodine drops.  I hadn’t finished my bottle of mineral water that we’d bought before leaving Pokhara, so I didn’t drink any purified water, but Mohit did, right before bedtime.

This morning we started up the mountain, since Mohit was optimistic that his discomfort would pass.  But as we started up the steep, endless rock steps, Mohit’s pain grew worse and we knew we couldn’t make it to Ghorepani.  We barely made it to a guesthouse in Ulleri, where Dambar secured us a rare lodge guestroom with an attached private squat toilet, and Mohit collapsed for a fitful nap.

While Mohit slept, I settled in on the sunny stone patio for an afternoon of reading, writing, and solitaire card games with a view over the mountains.  I’m sitting in a wooden chair painted bright blue and there’s a fluffy black puppy at my feet.  Five weeks old, he spends all day either sleeping or biting.  He bit my shoes and played tug-of-war with my shoelaces.

Day 4: Ulleri

Mohit woke up today, bitterly nauseous, with severe stomach cramps and more…poor guy.   We decided to stay put for the day, to give him time to rest and get better, and Mohit started a course of the antibiotics we brought with us.

While Mohit slept (or tried to) most of the day, I quietly observed a day in mountain village life.  Cobs of corn hung to dry from the rafters of a wooden porch.  A handful of dried corn scattered in the dirt for the chickens to peck at. A man crouches in his front yard splashing water from an aluminum bowl to wash his face.  Clanging bells hung from the necks of ponies trodding up the stone steps of the mountain, loaded with burlap sacks of supplies.

A woman wearing a scarf wrapped around her hair chases a herd of goats down the mountain.  The giggles of the guesthouse girls, free to sit and gossip now that the breakfast crowd has left and the lunchtime trekkers have yet to arrive.  The air is hazy with wood smoke.

I met a Tibetan seller of handicrafts.  Born in Pokhara to Tibetan parents, he now lives with his family in the mountains.  He says that making and selling beaded bracelets to the trekkers is a good job, better than the salary of about 1,050 rupees (about $15) per month that he’d make working for someone else.

At night, dozens of moths flap around the fluorescent lights in the dining room.  An old Nepalese man comes in with a plastic powdered milk bag tied to a stick, waving at the moths.  I see him and smile at his inability to catch any.  He meets my eyes and laughs and laughs, a huge toothy grin, deep sun-weathered wrinkles around his eyes.

Day 5: Ulleri to Ghorepani

Mohit felt marginally better and managed to eat some solid food this morning, so we decided to push ahead to Ghorepani.  Five straight hours of nothing but uphill all the way, I give Mohit tons of credit for sticking it out in his condition!

Today we walked through shady forests of pine and massive rhododendron trees.  The trees are all covered in moss and ghost-white orchids grow on some.  During the middle of the day it’s sunny and warm, but at 2800 meters in the afternoon, the air is crisp and windy.  The thermometer hanging on Mohit’s bag reads zero degrees Celsius just before the sun sets.
At night we warmed our fingers and toes in front of a makeshift woodstove, a 55-gallon metal drum vented through the roof and sitting on a block of concrete in the middle of the lodge.  We shared our dinner table with a Chinese-American man who lives in New York City, works for Major League Baseball, and who just completed two months of culinary school in China.  He’s traveling with his friend, a bushy-bearded father of three from Ohio who runs an organic farm.  They’ve just completed a week-long Habitat for Humanity build in Pokhara.  Outside, the weather grew colder and windier, and we all listened to huge chunks of hail pelt the metal roof over our heads.

Day 6: Ghorepani to Poon Hill to Tadapani
We started up the mountain in the pre-dawn darkness this morning, our flashlights illuminating white piles of hail from last night.  We stumbled over tree roots and rocks, and my heart beat so rapidly to compensate for the high altitude that I could hear the blood roar in my ears.

At 3210 meters, we topped Poon Hill just as the sun started to brighten the clouds, and the view was stunning.  For as long as we could stand the cold in our rented down jackets, we took in the panorama of the Annapurna mountain range, dominated by the peaks of Annapurna I (the 10th highest mountain in the world at more than 8000 meters tall) and Annapurna South.  The equally beautiful razor-sharp peak of Machapuchre (known locally as Fishtail) is a holy mountain to the Nepalese, and climbing to its peak is forbidden.

We headed back down to the Ghorepani lodge for a warm breakfast.  By 8 a.m. the sun was warming the air above freezing, and we struck back out towards Tadapani.  It was the toughest day of trekking by far, both because of the thinning air at this elevation, and also because the Nepalese seem to be firm believers in the adage that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  The trail took us straight up steep peaks, then straight back down.  Three times in a row, we climbed hundreds of meters and then back down.

Luckily, we were partially distracted from our wheezing breath and burning muscles by the riot of pinks and reds blooming in the rhododendron trees and the backdrop of snow-capped peaks against the sunny blue sky.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures, it was all so beautiful.

After five days and many courses of antibiotics and ameobicides, Mohit’s still feeling pretty awful, so we decided tonight to head down out of the mountains tomorrow.  Annapurna Base Camp will have to wait for next time.

Day 7: Tadapani to Nyapul to Pokhara
Ironically, Mohit woke FINALLY feeling much better, with a big appetite and barely any stomach pain.  It seems the medicines have finally kicked in.  No matter, we’d already made the decision to head down (and we’re being cautious in case he gets worse again).

We headed consistently downhill for seven solid hours today, through mossy rhodendron forests, over rickety bridges crossing streams heavy with the rain we’ve had the past few nights, and then through terraced farm fields at the lower elevations.  It turns out that going downhill, and not stumbling face-first onto the rocks, takes much more muscle power than climbing up, or so it seems when we finally reach the last check post at the bottom and collapse with exhaustion.

Along the way, we followed a man chasing a herd of donkeys down the mountain, their empty backs ready to be loaded up with provisions in Nyapul.  As he ran after them, he dropped his wallet and cigarettes.  We caught up with him along the way and it was nice to see his face relax with relief when we returned his wallet full of cash.

Day 8: Recovery in Pokhara
As I look through our photos today, I’m struck again by the beauty of the mountains and the simplicity of the villages we passed through.  Our pictures can’t do it all justice.  Go!  If you’ve ever considered trekking in Nepal- do it!  We already want to come back…

And if you do, you should contact our wonderful, patient, and experienced trekking guide Dambar Khadkar (guide_nepal  You’ll get a much better deal making arrangements with him directly than through a travel agency in Kathmandu.  Please tell him we recommended him, and help him put his two sons through college!  Jobs are scarce in Nepal.

And good news- Mohit’s finally better!  We’re both ready for more adventures back in Kathmandu and beyond…

1 comment:

  1. My boyfriend and I also used this guide whilst we were out in Nepal - we were recommended by a friend who used him when she did Everest Base Camp. We decided to do the Annapurna Circuit plus base camp.

    We met with Sanjib in Kathmandu when we arrived in Nepal and we told him what we wanted to do and how much time we had etc. He told us about a few trips that were possible and we eventually came up with this one.

    It was the most amazing trip and wouldn't have been the same without him and Ram our porter (

    We spent 20 days trekking in November 2011 and Sanjib was able to answer all of our questions from the birds to the trees to the mountains and religion. It was a very cultural trek with so much history.

    Some people say that it is possible to do the trek without a guide, which may be true but you miss so much when you are on your own and we learnt such a lot from Sanjib which meant that we understood so much more of Nepal when we visited different areas.

    We paid all of our money to him up front, which we were dubious about at the start as we didn't know him but I wouldn't say that this was a problem at all.

    He made sure we were happy and safe and had full bellies at all times and made sure that we knew everything about altitude sickness which we didn't get in the end thanks to his slower pace higher up and aclimatisation walks. We also took Diamox, under his recommendation and we were both fine and only suffered a bit of tingling in our faces (a side effect of the drug)!

    I would recommend Sanjib to ANYONE that was thinking about going trekking in Nepal, I would love to go back and visit him and do another trek with him when I have the time! There are so many guides out there that claim to do everything that he does but I wouldn't choose anyone without a recommendation because you hear so many stories about dodgy guides and it would be so sad to lose your money and have a bad experience.

    Feel free to email me if you have any questions and enjoy your trek!

    Email to him-:sanjib-adhikari@hotmail.c​om

    Silvana Pagani from Italy wrote in 2011 about my experience in Nepal and recommends as guide, Sanjib Adhikari.
    This year at the end of february i went in Nepal for 18 days for the second time and i did a small trekking in the Annapurna region, I went to visit Pokhara, Kathmandu, Bakthapur and Nagarkot and I saw the National Park of Chitwan and in this trip I had the pleasure to meet Sanjib Adhikari.
    He is an independent trekking guide and tour operator in Nepal and he has already obtained trekking guide license from the ministry of tourism, government of Nepal.
    In his work Sanjib is a person very responsible and serious, very helpful and attentive to his customers, he knows very well the mountain because he has many years of experience and is also an excellent guide for visiting the cities.
    He is someone very competent in his work and always ready to find the best solution, if necessary and speaks English very well.During the trekking and the tours he will tell you many interesting things about culture, about life in the villages, mountains, history and traditions in Nepal.
    The best thing is that Sanjib loves his country very much and loves his work and always manages to convey all his enthusiasm with simple ways and always with the smile. He is a very nice person and is always attentive to the needs of his customers. Sanjib is also very funny and after this experience we became a very good friend. Next year at the end of January I will return for the third time in Nepal and Sanjib will be again my guide. 
    For these reasons I am very glad to report all references of Sanjib
    He Is cantact adress