Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nepal - Trekking the Annapurna Circuit

After an exhausting 220-km hike through the Annapurna Circuit, I'm currently resting in Pokhara. I expected the trail to take 18-20 days, as suggested by Lonely Planet and other apparently conservative sources, but happily hustled through the route in 10. The trip was gorgeous and tiring, given the pace I chose. Some highlights:

-Hiked about 80% of the trek with a 28-year old Israeli named Shlomi. He'd been on the road for nearly 7 months, seeing just about every part of Asia (including an Auggie-esque bike trip through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan Province). Shlomi's "everpresent frugality" helped keep costs low: the guy's one helluva bargainer. An example of one day's costs on the trek (1 USD = 75 Nepali Rupees):

Breakfast (Black tea, chocolate biscuits): 40 rupees
Lunch (Instant Noodles, hot water): 30 rupees
Dinner (Fried rice with veggies): 150 rupees
Room at guesthouse (split with Shlomi): 50 rupees

So I spent about 4 - 6 USD per day. Pretty awesome. Then again, all I was doing was eating, walking, eating, walking, eating, and sleeping. Like Michael Phelps with shoes.

-One uncomfortable night of sleep. On day 6, we stayed in Upped Letdar at 4200m. The weather was particularly bad, though we didn't pay much attention. After a delicious potato-curry dinner next to the kitchen fire, we retired to our rustic room, oblivious to the light rain dancing off the mud-and-wood roof. After fifteen minutes, we noticed a pair of leaks dripping onto the bedroom floor. No problem, we said. We just put our packs on top of our beds and went back to sleep. After fifteen more minutes, more leaks. Though these were positioned above our beds, striking the thick blankets provided by the guesthouse. No problem, we said, and repositioned our beds diagonally to avoid the water. After fifteen more minutes, we heard a plopping sound striking the floor. Using a candle and my handphone to survey the situation, we discovered that the rain had softened the mud-roof, and our room was essentially collapsing (the "mud" was probably mixed with yak manure, meaning that it was quite literally "raining shit"). Our patience tested to the brink, we finally gathered our things, woke up the owners, and piled into the dining room with the rest of the 8-person family for our sleep.

Sadly, we did a poor job of reciprocating this hospitable act, as neither Shlomi nor I remembered to shut the door of the failing bedroom. Come morning, the bedroom's second guests, a pair of cows, had left two large piles of excrement on the floor. Only in Letdar.

-Visited the World's Highest Lake: Took the time to make a two-day side trip to Lake Tilicho, the world's highest at 4919m. The sight was beautiful: half the lake remained frozen from the relentless Nepalese winter, while the other half shone a deep blue. A truly awesome experience, well worth the brutal hike (and shivering night of sleep).

-Thorung La Pass: The pinnacle of the Annapurna circuit was the 5416m high Thorung La Pass, a torrid wind-tunnel through the Thorung mountain-range. Due to bad weather, the visibility was quite poor but it still felt like a great sense of accomplishment to reach an altitude of nearly 18,000 feet. Breathing was akin to inhaling through a crazy-straw.

All in all, the trail was relatively deserted, given that this is the start of "low season," which pretty much means that a monsoon blankets all of Nepal from 5PM until 5AM. Pros: more privacy, more negotiable room costs, less touts. Cons: incredibly wet, stinky socks. Shlomi's were worse: he wore the same pair 8 days straight.

Currently chilling in Pokhara, a touristy lakeside town with plenty of cheap food, odd massages (I paid 80 rupees for a 20 minutes "eyebrow" kneading at a barbershop: no joke) and independent travelers happy to share their experiences and views (legalize marijuana, free Tibet, ban razors and haircuts, etc). Though traveling alone has been exciting, I do miss the four-person globetrotting dynamic: it takes more than just one to Do The Earth.


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