Originally posted on On The Way (a bit more pictures there … )
Before I begin to unfold the story, I would like to point out this is not intended as one of the detailed itinerary-type blog posts. There are quite many of them already, some very informative and accurate. So, in case you came to find out specifics, kindly refer to one of those or drop me an email for detailed information I would gladly provide. Then, of course, I would be even more happy if you read on and enjoy the few tips I will throw in ;).
A lot has been written on how to NOT get the high altitude sickness. There are countless blogs, forums, professional medical advices and procedures to follow, pills to take. Even Lonely Planet of Nepal has a separate section on how to avoid the sworn enemy of mountaineers. Almost all I have read – despite what you might deduct from the title, I did read a substantial amount of them – have one statement in common. It says something about the sickness affecting everyone, regardless the age, sex, fitness, or whatever condition you might think of. With that in mind, I ventured forth to Annapurna circuit well prepared in knowledge, less in medical supplies though. I thought if I follow some basic instructions, no need to take pills. Moreover, the checkpoints which are supposed to be scattered all along the trail would have them, should there be the need.
Annapurna circuit is supposed to be the most beautiful trek of the world, at least that is what wikipedia says. I would rather not talk in absolutes. However, I have to admit, the name by itself sounds amazing. What else could a trekker choose on his (sorry girl-trekkers, I know you exist, but I choose to use male pronoun anyway) first journey to Nepal. With the promise of more than eight 8-thousands (the mountains) along the way the choice is obvious.
Most visitors begin the couple-of-weeks-long journey at the small town of Besisahar, an easy-to-get place from the capital city Kathmandu. From there one has two options – either change the bus and endure two more butt-exhaustive hours of bumpy ride, or follow the route on foot. Walking is the choice I would recommend. There is much to see from the very beginning, and the road is so bad you only have to walk one or two hours more than the bus needs tocrawl. It has a few more advantages at hand, though. You will pass by a few small villages with accommodation you might want to check, and a short pre-trek serves the sleepy office muscles well.
They say the eastern half of the trek is more picturesque. I tend to agree, even though I did not get to see the western one. First few days the trail passes through lush-green subtropical forests, terraced villages, crosses waterfalls, rivers and canons. So far, it does not really seem as Himalayas, safe the porters you meet along the way carrying a load highly exceeding the set norm of 30Kg. The only thing preventing you to fully enjoy the trek is the road construction dusting up the way. Too many trucks, busses and 4W drives pass by while you try to enjoy a clean fresh air and profuse vegetation – an unfortunate effect of development. It is well worth a while to keep your eyes open for directions. The one side-path I have missed probably makes the biggest difference, sightseeing and quality-trekking-wise. If you happen to be going there, remember to watch for a sign pointing towards Bahundanda, a village following the one named Ngadi. After crossing a river the trail leads head on steep up a hill, but it is really a treat compared to the newly built road for vehicles. I kept this in mind on my way back.
Along with the change in vegetation and overall character of the country, as you climb higher, you realize an increase in prices of accommodation and food, another unfortunate effect of the development. There is not much to choose from when it comes to dining, and the little variety you have compensates on price which is often ten times higher comparing to the one you would pay in Kathmandu. Now I am talking in Nepalese rates, still significantly lower than the European ones. There is a little trick I have found useful to try when looking for a place to stay – often they offer free accommodation for a promise of eating at the chosen place, a welcome treat for a backpacker on budget. Another way to get by cheaper, and on top of that avoid the crowds and meet some genuinely local people, is to eat outside the main villages. It is difficult to plan, though – obviously you would not know where exactly is the next eatery.
The circuit is also referred to as a “tea-house trek”. There are no tea-houses; it merely suggests there are many places to stop for a meal or overnight sleep. Local people have adapted to the new source of income, and they have certainly taken advantage of it. Passing by restaurants full of trekkers taking a break, shops charging almost European prices for a local brand of cookies, construction sites of new hotels, it does not resemble the Himalayan trekking adventure I had had in mind before setting forth. There are, again, a few tricks to allow yourself a more rewarding experience – begin the trek as early as you are able to wake up, and avoid coming during the season months of November and December.
Getting back to the topic of the article, the higher you get the more difficult it is to walk. I thought it would be a continuous process, but again I was not exactly right. The realization comes in an instant, while from that point on the head pain and leg-stiffness lingers on until, eventually, it either gets better or worse. For me it got worse – read on about it in part two …