Exploring Annapurna Travelogue of Round Annapurna Trek, Nepal

"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why" - Mark Twain

It was 28th of November, 2016 when after 3 months of planning and preparation, I started my journey to Nepal. I was skeptical at first, because it was my first ever trip to outside India, let alone a solo one. With dilemmas in brain and curiosity in my heart, I leaped.

A high altitude trek comes with its own preparations. And the checklist gets lengthened being the circuit in Nepal. Here I will try my best to note down all minor and major problems I had faced throughout my journey. Hope this will help you in future.

Some golden resources

  • New Annapurna Trekking Trail guide book by Andrées de Ruiter and Prem Rai.
  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project(ACAP) map. Note: this map doesn't have clear route towards Tilicho Lake. I will try to upload a scanned copy of the newer one I purchased in Nepal.
  • Approximate distances between villages in Manang district. This board is put up just before Tal, the first viallage of Manang along the trail. Check this too.

Day -1: Nov 29, 2016

I was travelling to Pokhara by road via Gorakhpur-Sonauli-Bhairahawa route. Grabbed a UP roadways bus near Nana saheb chowk. It costed INR 99 and 3 hours to reach Sonauli.

TIP

Try to reach Sonauli by 10-11am. And if you want, exchange INR to NPR at either side of the border. Conversion rate is 1 INR = 1.6 NPR. They shouldn't charge any commission, however the reverse conversion is chargeable.

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Believe it or not, I crossed the border in a ricksaw! Though later I realized it wasn't even required, the border was so close to Sonauli bus stand.

There are numerous bus counters just beside the border. I was charged NPR 500 for a bus to Pokhara. But unfortunately it took the longest possible route to Pokhara via Butwal-Narayangarh-Mugling, with a completely broken road between Narayangarh and Mugling. I boarded at 10:15am and reached Pokhara around 8.30pm! 10 long hours, phew!

TIP

Bhairahawa bus stand is actually 3.5 kilometers away from border check-post. Don't go to any travel counter, take a ricksaw to actual bus stand. Look for the counter of "Nepal Bus Sanchalan Samity". It's a union of bus-owners and drivers. Pay correct amount of NPR 450. The ticket will mention bus and seat number, boarding time etc. These buses will go via Siddharth highway, and take around 7.5 hours.

Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Pokhara is a beautiful hill station at an elevation of 820 meters. If you have traveled to Nainital in India, Pokhara will be familiar for you, but with a western touch. Lakeside is the most popular place to stay for tourists, having lots of restaurants, bars and shopping places. I had a reservation at Puskar Guest House, which charged NPR 400/night for a bed in 8 occupancy mixed dorm. Got two Scottish and a Brazilian girl as my roomie, who were travelling to Nepal to see the beauty of mighty Himalayas.

Day 0: Nov 30, 2016

Today's agenda was simple:

  • Get trekking permit.
  • Exchange currency.
  • Buy essentials like trekking map and some medicines.

For trekking in Annapurna, you need a ACAP permit and a Trekkers' Information Management System(TIMS) card. Go to Tourist Permit Office at Damside. Took me around 30 mins by walking to go there. It stays open from 10 am to 5 pm round the year except on public holidays. I got my ACAP permit for NPR 200 and TIMS card (for Free Individual Trekker) for 600. Non-SAARC nationals need to pay more. It's better to have 2 passport size photos with you. (They have facility to click photos though, so don't panic)

On my way back to guest house, I bought a map of round Annapurna trail (1:100,000) for NPR 230. Any book shop on Lakeside road has a collection of maps. Grabbed some band-aids and Acetazolamide tablets (aka Diamox) from a medicine shop for NPR 120. Don't forget to buy a lip balm of any kind. I didn't consider this on this first time and had to pay the price later :(

Now money exchange. Frankly speaking, forex rates in Pokhara is not good at all. The day I arrived, 1 Euro was equal to NPR 116.59. But to my surprise all the exchangers on Lakeside was giving NPR 112.4 only! Amrit, the owner of Puskar Guest House gave me a better rate of 113.5 and I bought NPR from him. You may go to Nepal Rashtra Bank directly. They might give you the best rate at a cost of boring paperwork.

Shops in Lakeside

Now I had to find a way to go to Besisahar from Pokhara early morning on the next day. Amrit helped me out providing a ticket to a "Tourist Bus" for NPR 500. Later I found out, it nothing sort of special bus meant for tourists only. They stopped here and there to pick passengers on the way. The only advantages were it started early from Pokhara and I had a seat reserved for me.

Sunset in Phewa Lake, Pokhara
TIP

Go to Prithvi Chowk early morning. It's a 40 mins walk from lakeside. Pick a bus that has a seat, and board. Pay correct amount, not more.

Bahundanda Village, Lamjung

Day 1: Dec 1, 2016:

Pokhara (820m) - Besisahar - Ngadi - Ghermu (1110m)

While the whole city was sleeping under a blanket of fog, I started for tourist bus stand. It was 5:30 in the morning and the bus was scheduled for 6:30. I met groups coming from all over the globe, going for the trek. Some of them were accompanied by their guides and porters. And then there were this two, who were packing their mountain bikes on the roof of the bus. Their plan was to do the trek by cycling. Cool, isn't? When we were about to start for Besisahar, Pokhara greeted us a safe journey with this:

Annapurna III and II from bus stand

It takes 4 hours to reach Besisahar. Don't forget to check-in the tourist check post there. Now it's up to you, from where you want to start the trek. Choices are

  • Start from Besisahar itself.
  • Grab a bus to Ngadi.
  • Take a jeep, and go to a place of your choice till Manang.

The third option takes you to the upper elevation in smallest possible time, but it's not worthy. You won't get a chance to see the greenery of Lamjung and lower Manang district and sudden rise in elevation won't help you to get acclimatize later. Moreover the jeep ride is bumpy as hell.

I took a bus at 11 am in front of check post at Besisahar and reached Ngadi (spelled as Na-di) around 12:30. It costs NPR 200, don't pay extra even if they force you to. Take the route on the right of Marsiyangdi Khola for Bahundanda. For the rest of the trek, walking trail will normally go on the right whereas motor road will stay on the left of river bank.

Village of Bahundanda

Reached Bahundanda at 2 pm, checked-in at ACAP check post and started walking towards Syange. The trail goes down a bit after crossing the village, offering a nice view of Marsiyangdi river. When I entered Ghermu Phant(1130m) it was 3:30 pm. You can see the village of Syange from here, and the beautiful waterfall. So I decided to stop here for the day.

Village of Ghermu and Syange waterfall

Got a room at Fishtail Guest House for NPR 100. As they had hot water facility, I took a nice warm bath. Any room on Annapurna trail is be pretty basic, with cot, mattress and blankets. During high season, some lodges at higher elevation might not be able to provide blankets for all. But as I went in December, I didn't have to use sleeping bag anywhere. And yes, they do allocate room per person basis. Solo travelers, rejoice!

TIP

Ask the owner whether you have to pay anything extra for room if you have dinner and breakfast in their home. If you are at least two in a team, 99% chances are it will be free! Almost everyone in here knows enough Hindi to have a conversation, thanks to Indian films, songs and television series. So if you know Hindi, feel free to have a chat with the family. It will not only create a bond, but also help you to know so much about them, the mountains and the lifestyle.

Tal(1700m), Manang

Day 2: Ghermu - Syange - Chamje - Tal - Karte (1850m)

Schedule for the rest of the days will be simple:

  • Start within 9 o'clock.
  • Make a target for the day by consulting map.
  • Walk for 7/8 hours each day till 4-4:30 pm.
  • Reach there, find lodge, and slip under blanket.
  • Go for dinner around 6 pm, have a long conversation with the family.
  • Go to bed around 8.

So I started from Ghermu at 8:30 am after having a little breakfast. Today's goal was to reach Dharapani via Jagat, Chamje, and Tal. You have to cross Marsiyangdi at Syange, where the trekking trail meets with motor road, and walk on the road till next village of Jagat and Ghatte Khola. This was the first time I walked on a suspension bridge! And it was exciting :)

The family who runs Fishtail Guest House. The man on the left came from Germany. He hiked up to Manang and returned back to make time for his second part of vacation to Thailand.
Suspension bridge near Syange
People playing Ludo. Oh yes, it's very famous in Nepal!

Just after Ghatte Khola there is a signboard where trail leaves motor road. Follow that path, you'll find a waterfall on your right and just after that the village of Chamje. I reached there at 11 o'clock and stopped for a small break. The trail to Tal goes steep down to cross the river on suspension bridge, leaving motor road on left. Now, any guidebook or map will tell you that this distance is of 2 hours, but it took almost 3:30 hours for me! I nearly fainted on the way for all those ups and downs. I was so exhausted that I threw away some stuffs from my backpack to make it lighter. Frankly speaking, this was the hardest part of the entire trail for me, even harder than Tilicho or Thorong La.

TIP

Stay hydrated. Later I realized, I chocked at Tal just because of dehydration. Always carry some water. You'll find plenty of water sources beside the trail in Lamjung and Lower Manang. Water from springs are pretty much safe. Still if you want, add one chlorine tablet per litre.

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When I was about to give up, I saw a gate which says, "Welcome to Manang District". And just after crossing the gate, I finally saw Tal. It is perhaps the most beautiful village of Lower Manang, sitting beside Marsiyangdi Khola. All the hard work got paid off!

That's Tal.
The amazingly beautiful Marsiyangdi Khola on the way to Tal.

I bought a litre of ozonated water from Safe drinking water station for NPR 40. ACAP committee have installed these stations in selected villages on the trail. They provide clean water at a nominal cost. After having some water, I got my energy back ( can you believe that? just water!) and started again towards Dharapani. It was already 3 pm.

On my way to Khotro

Just after Tal, the trail crosses river again and meets with motor road. After 45 mins I reached the small village of Khotro (Karte). It was getting darker due to clouds, so I called it a day and took a room at Merina Guest House (NPR 50 for room), the second one on the trail. The family was very nice. In the evening, two relatives of them came from nearby village, and we all had a long discussion over a mug of beer.

Annapurna II from Koto

Day 3: Karte - Dharapani - Danaqyu - Thanchowk - Koto (2600m)

I started fresh after a long 10 hours sleep. You'll wonder how can you sleep for so long in these treks. Today's target was Chame via Dharapani, Danaqyu (Da-na-kyu) and Thanchowk. After having a good breakfast, I hit the road at 8:45 am.

Faces of Khotro

The village of Dharapani is just half an hour away from Khorto. I checked in ACAP check post at 9:15 am. Trekking trail to Manaslu (8,163m) circuit diverts from here towards Karche. There is a micro hydro-power house just after Dharapani, near the village of Bagarcchap. Most of the hilly regions of Nepal are equipped with this type of power sources.

Danaqyu(2190m) is another half an hour from Bagarchhap. It's a wonderful little hamlet with a Buddhist monastery and many colorful prayer flags.

After Danaqyu, the road climbs up to the tiny village of Timang(2750m). It's a moderate ascent. There were two waterfalls on the way and the stream was flowing over the motor road. On the way you'll start seeing this peak:

This is none other than Mt. Manaslu(8,156m), the 8th highest mountain in the world!

Thanchowk(2400m) is a little descent from Timang. The trail gets separated from motor road just before entering. You have to go a steep descent along the trail to cross a long suspension bridge, and finally ascent again to reach the village. Manaslu will be watching you here!

As you move further towards west, Manaslu will fall behind you and you'll start seeing glimpses of another one in front of the road. Just near the next village, the name of which I forgot, the obstacle in front got cleared and I saw her for the first time in the shades of sunset.

Annapurna II(7,937m) with all her glory

I finally reached Koto(2600m) around 3 pm. Koto is a beautiful little village full of pine forests. And the reward is Annapurna II, Lamjung and Koto himal all are visible on the western side, and Manaslu on the east. So. I decided to stay here for the night. Got a room for NPR 100 in Petunia Guest House, the last one beside the police check post where the trail to Nar-Phu valley gets diverted. Nepal govt recently declared Nar-Phu as Restricted Area, and you need a different permit to go there, that too with a team. There is a gompa just beside the check post, but it was closed at that time.

Staying in Petunia was one of the memorable nights for me. Initially I was very quiet when I went down to dinning before dinner time. Didi (Hindi term of elder sister) invited me to the kitchen as it was very cold outside. I didn't realize when I became so fluent with them. Her two daughters were so charming! We had a long conversation regarding so many things, be it Atif Aslam, Arijit Singh or their love about dancing, even about their Buddhist culture. I found a home away from home.

Inside kitchen. Dry yak meat are hanging from the ceiling. They store it for winter. I tasted it too in dinner.
Sunset behind Annapurna II, Upper Pisang

Day 4: Koto - Chame - Dhikur Pokhari - Upper Pisang (3300m)

Planned to start early today but Didi managed to call the old person who had the key of the gompa. He took me there and gave a nice tour of the ancient books, collections and Llama rituals. Don't forget to donate when you visit a monastery, it contributes to their major financial source.

Inside Koto monastery

When I finally started walking, it was 9:30 in the morning. Chame(2670m) is just 30 mins away from Koto. Here trekking trail crosses Marsiyangdi through a beautiful suspension bridge full with prayer flags. But unfortunately, motor goes with it too. So whenever a jeep comes in, you'll have free "Nepalese powder" (the road dust!)

Colorful Chame

The village of Bhratang(2850m) is 2 hours walk from Chame. The greenery rapidly changes here as we enter the rain shadow region of Annapurna massif. Bhratang is full of apple orchards and has only a couple of lodges to stay.

The road starts ascending after Bhratang through big rocky hills. It won't be so comfortable to walk on this part because of big pile of rocks. When I crossed it finally, I was completely out of breath. As I was nearing towards Dhikur Pokhari, the slope of Swargadwari Danda (Swargadwari means "Gateway to heaven") was getting clearer.

Swargadwari Danda

It was created due to heavy winds along Marsiyangdi river gorge. You can fell its power when you'll cross the little bridge to go to left bank. I finally reached Dhikur Pokhari(3060m) around 1:30 pm. It's the first three-thousander village of this trail.

Dhikur Pokhari village and the mighty Annapurna II from there

From Dhikur Pokhari, trail gets forked towards Upper and Lower Pisang. Both of these village are on the lap of Annapurna II, but Upper one is 100 meters higher, giving splendid views of himals. So, I choose to go to Upper Pisang.

View of Swargadwari Danda and Annapurna II on the way to Upper Pisang
Upper Pisang(3300m)

Pisang is so close to Annapurna II that you'll think you can almost touch it. But because of the peak, sun goes down around 3:30, leaves to to shiver in chilly winds. I reached there at 3 o'clock and managed to get a room in Annapurna Guest House. There is a monastery at the top of the village (and this is true for all Thakali villages on the trail). If you have enough time left on that day, go there definitely. I and a couple from Australia went there in the middle of evening prayer, and got a chance to see their rituals. Later, I had a long talk with the llama, and voila! He was from Arunachal Pradesh, India. He was only 22 years old, 2 years younger than me! He enlightened me about their life, spiritual education and stuffs!

Annapurna III from Ngwal

Day 5: Upper Pisang - Ghyaru - Ngwal - Braga - Manang (3540)

There are two ways to Manang from Pisang

  • Via Ghyaru(3670m) and Ngwal(3660m)
  • Via Humde(3280m) and Mungi(3467m)

As you probably know, the upper route via Ghyaru ascends steeply but offers an outstanding view of Annapurna. And as both of theses villages are already higher than Manang, this route offers better acclimatization too. So I headed towards Ghyaru at 8:30 in the morning, after having Tsampa (sam-pa) porridge as breakfast.

After reaching a suspension bridge, I saw a chorten at the very top of the nearby hill, with all of its colorful flags flying high in wind. The first thought came into my mind, "Why would someone build a chorten up there? These guys are crazy". Then I spotted a trekker, who just crossed me before, heading towards the top. At that time I realized, that's Ghyaru! It's damn high, and the trail goes steeply upwards with numerous zigzag turns!

Spending enough sweat for 2:15 hours I finally made to the top and nature rewarded with this:

Annapurna II and III as a reward
Village of Ghyaru
Old lady who gave me an apple pie. It's a local recipe made with green apples.

The route from Ghyaru to Ngwal (Na-wal) goes through the hill without considerable altitude difference. However after Ngwal, it goes steep down again to Braga(3439m).

TIP: There are at least 3 possible alternative trails to Braga from Ngwal. Two of them descends to Mungi whereas one goes straight to Braga. Consult map.

Braga(3439m) is 2 hours away from Ngwal. But I lost the trail in between and reached here around 4 pm. There was a beautiful guest house with bakery named Pie in the sky. Unfortunately, I didn't find anybody there and so decided to continue to Manang(3540m). It takes half an hour more to reach there.

Reached Manang (3540m) around 4:30 pm, when sun almost went behind Annapurna III. Being the district headquarter, Manang is comparatively bigger than other villages and houses over 15 lodges. In fact there's a film projection hall too. Lots of travelers and wildlife enthusiasts come to this place just to spot Musk Deer and Snow Leopards! Annapurna III (7,555m) and Gangapurna (7,455m) will be right in front of your eyes. I took a room at Hotel Mountain Lake for NPR 100. Dal-bhat costed here NPR 500.

Here I met a group of seven people coming from Bangladesh. Unfortunately, two of them were having severe headache, probably because of high altitude. So they decided to go back to Besisahar by jeep on the next day. I didn't met a single Indian on the trail, but suddenly got a group of people speaking my mother tongue!

TIP

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can happen to anyone, irrespective of personal fitness level. Headache, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite are the common symptoms. Normally it happens after 3,500m. It's ok to have AMS but it's not ok to die from it.

Golden rule: Do not spend night higher than 500-600 meters from previous day. Try to do the trek from the very beginning. If you were on this elevation before without any problem, chances are there won't be any issue this time. Still if you feel symptoms, have Acetazolamide 250mg in night and sleep. You should feel better on next day. If you are in the middle of hike and matter gets worsen, try Dexamethasone. It suppresses any AMS symptoms rapidly. Descent immediately, at least for 600 meters. Remember Dexamethasone only buys you short time to recover yourself. It doesn't help you to get acclimatize like Acetazolamide.

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Khangsar Kang and the Grand Barrier from Sri Kharka

Day 6: Manang - Khangsar - Sri Kharka - Tilicho Base Camp (4150m)

The traditional schedule says to stay at Manang for one more day for better acclimatization. There are three things to explore if you take a rest day at Manang:

  • Kicho Tal, also known as Ice lake (4600m)
  • Milarepa's Cave
  • Gangapurna Tal

Trail to Kicho Tal and Milarepa's cave gets separated from Braga itself. Milarepa's Cave will fall on left and Ice lake will be on right on the way to Manang from Braga. There will be markers along the trail, so don't worry. Trail to Gangapurna Tal goes from Manang. In fact you can see the glacier which formed the lake from Manang.

But I had plans to make it to Tilicho Lake if possible. The lodge owner informed me that Tilicho Base Camp is open. So, I headed towards Khangsar without a second thought. As I already had an experience before of this altitude, it didn't seem logical to me to spend an extra day here.

TIP

If you are traveling in off season, ask somebody in Manang or Khangsar about Tilicho Base Camp, route towards base camp and the return trail from Sri Kharka to Yak Kharka. If they give green signal in all three, go ahead. Normally after 3rd week of December, base camp gets closed. It depends on snowfall, so better to inquire it beforehand.

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My plan was to stay at Sri Kharka today and then head towards base camp on day 7. Khangsar (3734m) is 1:45 hours away from Manang. The main Annapurna circuit trail gets separated from Tilicho trail just after the village, where Thorong Khola is meeting with Khangsar Khola to make Marsiyangdi river. ACAP marked all side trails with Blue-white signs, so it's not trivial to get lost. The trail crosses Thorong khola on a suspension bridge and heads towards far west.

As you move towards Khangsar, the greenery around you changes rapidly
Khangsar with the Grand Barrier

I reached Khangsar at 10:30 am and took a small break. My main concern was the availability of blankets in Tilicho base camp as I was't carrying a sleeping bag! So I asked a villager, and he ensured that they will provide it. He also referred me a lodge at base camp. Referral works here too!

The trail to Sree Kharka (4020m) goes flat till Thare gompa, from where it takes a sharp zigzag ascent to the village. Sree Kharka is the first four thousander village on the trail, equipped with 3 beautiful lodges. The Grand Barrier is standing like a wall in front with Khangsar Kang (aka Roc Noir, 7485m) peak. When I reached here, it was only 12:30 at noon. Tilicho Base camp is another 2:30 hours walk from here, with only 100 meters more ascent. So instead of halting, I decided to give it a shot.

Trail to the base camp is a little bit tricky. As we already moved into the rain shadow zone, there were less trees, and as a result rocks and soil are too loose to fall. There are two routes to base camp according to map. The higher one is a bit longer but safer. But when I reached there, the signboard said no trail via the higher route. So I had to embrace the scary lower one.

The lower trail to Tilicho Base Camp

Most of the trail is pretty flat with some U loops. Just go steadily one step at a time, and you'll reach there eventually.

Tilicho Base Camp (4150m). The trail that's going up towards the hill top on the left of this picture is the one to go to Tilicho Lake. But that's a day's journey. Let's stay for the night here.

When I reached TBC, it was 3 o'clock. There were three lodges. I boarded the first one, New Tilicho Base Camp Lodge. Most lodges in higher altitude starting from Upper Pisang has fireplace in dinning. So after getting fresh, I headed straight there. Met a Aussie group who were heading towards the same schedule as mine.

Way to Tilicho Lake

Day 7: Tilicho B.C. - Lake Tilicho (5014m) - Tilicho B.C.

The big day. After months of planning finally I'm just 3 hours away from my goal. I started early around 6 o'clock to Tilicho (4920m). It's the second highest lake of Nepal (after Panch Pokhri in Khumbu region), highest and biggest in Annapurna region. Oh yes, if somebody (specially a guide) claims it the highest lake of the world, do make the correction. Base camp is at 4150 m and the viewpoint is at 5014m. Pretty high altitude gain for a day, huh?

The trail gradually ascents having Grand Barrier on the left. It normally takes around 3 to 4 hours to reach. After crossing a couple of landslide regions suddenly it climbs steeply with 7-8 zigzag turns! Once you are done with the climb, you will find yourself standing right in front of the Grand Barrier. You'll realize why it is called so!

On the way to Tilicho. Can you spot the trekkers?
Really grand, isn't it?
TIP

Most guides suggest to start early because of strong winds at Tilicho after 11 o'clock. I didn't face any problem till 11 am there. In fact I met a Finnish traveler, Jussi, who stayed there till 3 and had a swim too! Moreover it was very chilly before dawn. So ask the locals about weather and enjoy at your ease. It will be one of the best memory of your trek.

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After fighting for almost 3 and half hours, I finally reached there around 9:30. Words can't describe the beauty of the lake. So lets see it.

Frozen Lake Tilicho with Tilicho peak (7134m) on the left

The frozen crust started melting as sun went high. If you sit quietly, you can hear the ice breaking. I took countless photos here, still felt like not able to capture the greatness.

Can you spot the trekker? Yes, we were so small in front of it.

I finally started descending around 11 am with a broken heart and a promise to come back again during snow. The return journey was pretty easy and took around 2 hours to reach base camp. I had enough time to make it to Sri Kharka after having lunch. But decided to stay back for the night.

Is it musk deer? I think so

Day 8: Tilicho B.C. - Sri Kharka - Old Khangsar - Yak Kharka (4050m)

Today's plan is to meet the main trail at Yak Kharka. I started at 8:20 am from base camp. You have to cross again the rockfall areas to Sri Kharka. It took 2 hours for me. Now fortunately, you don't have to go all the way to Manang where we split from the main trail. There's an alternative trail to Yak Kharka that goes uphill through the old village of Khangsar. It's a seasonal trail, so ask somebody at Sri Kharka whether it's accessible. There will be a sign board just before Thare gompa, from where the trail to Khangsar goes steep down, and the alternative one moves forward at the same level. Continue on that route, and you'll find the ruins of Old Khangsar in one hour. It was looking haunted even in broad daylight.

The ruins of Old Khangsar

After Old Khangsar, the trail climbs a bit to go to the northern face of the hill. At the end of ascent, there's a beautiful view point, from where you can see Annapurna III and Gangapurna on your right along with Manang and tiny village of Gunsang at a distance.

Cover story: Annapurna III is on the right and Manang is on the center

Now comes the weirdest part. You can see the main trail going through Gunsang at the same elevation at you are but it's on a different hill than this, and these two are separated by Thorong Khola. So the trail goes steep down all the way to cross the river at Karche, and then climbs up again to join the main route! Life would have been a lot better with a higher suspension bridge!

Karche doesn't have anything except one small tea shop, that too was closed. I was breathing like a dog when I finally met the main trail. The guidebook says about 3 to 4 hours to make this journey, whereas I took nearly 5 and reached Yak Kharka (4050m) around 3 pm. This is the first four thousander village in main Annapurna trail.

I was having Dal-bhat in dinner, almost everyday. But here I tried a local Manangi dish named Khoo. It was a cocktail of semi-liquid boiled rice with smashed potato along with Yak meat! What's the point spending night in Yak Kharka without having Yak?

Khoo: boiled rice with smashed potato, along with Yak meat
View from Thorong High Camp

Day 9: Yak Kharka - Ledar - Thorong Phedi - High Camp (4925m)

I hit the road at 9 am after having an apple pancake in breakfast. Today's plan was to reach Thorong Phedi (4525m), the base camp of Thorong La. This part of the trail goes in parallel with Thorong khola without any steep climbs. The next village of Ledar (4200m) is one hour apart from Yak Kharka. On the way you'll see yaks grazing here and there. Ledar has a few guest houses, and most of them were closed at that time.

Flora and fauna of Ledar (sometime written as Letdar)

After Ledar, the trail crosses Thorong river on a long suspension bridge to its left bank (in the picture). From there it's a 1:30 hours walk to Thorong Phedi. The trail will look similar to the one to Tilicho base camp, full with rock fall zones and utterly dry. When I finally reached phedi, it was 12 and I stopped there for a while.

Thorong Phedi

Now the High Camp is almost 400 meters higher than Phedi and it takes 1 hour to reach there. Though I had ample time but as I was ascending from Yak Kharka which was only 4050m, gaining almost 900 meters in a day wouldn't seem go to me. Still I took a chance as I already went to Tilicho which was even higher than this .

The walking distance from Phedi to high camp is only 1 kilometer, with 400 meters ascent! This is by far the steepest gradient of the entire trail.

TIP

I got this tip from a guide there, so I'm sharing with you too. Don't ever look to the top. Just go slowly counting every step of yours. The more you look up, the more it appear to be far from you. It won't help in any way except demotivate. Apply this mantra at any trek, and the trail will appear as a cakewalk.

The never ending ascent to high camp. Can you see it on right image?

Considering the elevation, High Camp (4915m) is a descent enough place to stay. It has a capacity of nearly 200 persons, with proper beds and blankets. Yes, the loos are not good, but what more can you expect from a five-thousander camp than a enclosed area by stones! There's a hill top nearby. It takes around 15 mins to go up. From there, you can see Annapurna III with Gangapurna on south, Thorong (6144m) and Yakwakang (6482m) peak on north. These two are the one which makes Thorong La.

South face view. Two big peaks on the right are Annapurna III and Gangapurna. Shall we count the peaks? One, two, three, ... nevermind.

Here I met Jussi Vanska. I told about him earlier. The Finnish guy who took a swim in Tilicho, remember? He was an outstanding person, having so many experiences to share. We talked a lot over dinner. And yes, the bill must be paid after dinner itself as most trekkers start very early in morning.

As I already said before, it doesn't make any sense to start at dawn just to make summit before 10. It was not windy but cold like hell. So me and Jussi decided to start around 7 am from high camp. It was just a night between me and my target!

Village of Muktinath

Day 10: High Camp - Thorong La (5416m) - Muktinath (3800m)

I couldn't sleep well at night. Not just because I was excited, but also for lower oxygen level. It's perfectly normal. If you ever face this situation, leave the window slightly open.

Just before getting started around 7, I met two members of the Bangladeshi team, whom I met back at Manang. Earlier, they fell behind by a day, but managed to make it to Phedi on yesterday. So armed with all the warm clothes that I had, we all started towards the Thorong La (5416m).

From high camp, it takes around 2:30 hours to reach Thorong La. The trail is not as steep as Tilicho, but full with false summits! I got fooled at least 4 times and every time it demotivated me twice badly as before. Finally I saw some red-green-yellow flags on the next turn. And that was it! It was indeed Throng La.

The best way to get high is to climb a mountain.
Jussi trying yoga on 5416 meters!

Coming out with flying colors

From left to right: Refai Arafat Rossi, Riyad Chowdhury, Raju (their porter) and me.

Yes it was one hell of an experience. After clicking countless number of photos for almost an hour, I finally decided to go down.

The downhill trail descends very steeply to Chambar Bhu (the phedi on the opposite side, 4180m) within just 8 kilometers! It has campsites on the way for the trekkers doing Annapurna circuit clockwise. A walking pole or two will save your knees here for sure. And as you go down, you'll feel noticeable change in temperature. So after a long boring hike we finally reached Chambar Bhu at 1 pm. The village of Muktinath (3800m) can be seen from here. After having lunch, we started again at 2 pm and reached Muktinath around 3:15.

The Aussie team descending to Muktinath. See the peak peeking on the left? Remember him!
Momos for lunch.

Muktinath is a small village famous for its temple. It is well connected by jeep with Jomsom. There are lots of lodges to stay. The most famous one is Hotel Bob Marley for its delicious food. The room was charged more than NPR 100 (NPR 300 actually) for the first time.

After getting refreshed, I came out to have a quick look at Muktinath temple. It's a big premises that not just contains temples of Hindu gods, but also Buddhist gompa and statues.

Inside Muktinath temple premises

The main temple of Muktinath premises

The sunset from Muktinath temple. The mountain on the left which is standing high like a tent, is the same one I showed you while descending from Throng La.

He is none other than Mt. Dhaulagiri (8,167m), world's 7th highest, ultra-prominent eight thousander peak.

Village of Jhong with Dhaulagiri on the back

Day 11: Muktinath - Jhong - Putak - Kagbeni (2810m)

Today's stop is Kagbeni. There two ways that leads to Kagbeni from Muktinath.

  • Via Jharkot and Khingar
  • Via Jhong and Putak

The first route is mainly the jeep road to Jomsom. This is shorter and takes around 2 hours only to reach Kagbeni. The second trail, which is also known as the northern road takes around 4:30 hours to reach, but goes through the barren lands of Mustang, offering an outstanding view of Dhaulagiri. But remember, you'll hardly find someone on this road except from the villages. I freaked out a bit when found myself walking as a lone ranger in middle of a dessert. Yes, it was literally a dessert.

I took the second trail. It crosses a small river to go to opposite side of Muktinath, and then continues straight towards west. Dhaulagiri is so high that you can see it from almost anywhere on this route.

The peak on the left is Nilgiri (7061m). Dhaulagiri is on right.

This trail is well marked till Putak. After crossing Putak, it enters into a no man's land. It's not only just dry, but also very windy.

Desserts of Mustang valley

Spending almost 3:30 hours with numerous turns and zigzags, I finally saw the river bed of Kali-gandaki at a distance. But to my surprise the village I spotted on the bank was not Kagbeni!

Any place or village beside Kali-gandaki river above Kagbeni is forbidden as it comes under restricted zone of Upper Mustang. And the way I was headed was clearly going down to the village which is neither Kagbeni, nor lower than it. Thankfully where the road started descending to river gorge, I suddenly saw red-white marks of Annapurna trail. After descending via a cave like structure, I finally saw the village of Kagbeni (2810m).

Kagbeni at a distance
Kali-gandaki river bed is the world's deepest gorge created by Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I on both sides. Tiri village at a distance.

Kagbeni is a beautiful Thakali village just beside Kali-gandaki river. Because of the river, it gets too windy after noon. There are lots of lodges available as well as cafes! I took a room at The Green Kitchen for NPR 200. It was only 3 o'clock, so I decided to roam a little in village.

Vegans beware! Presenting Yac Donalds of Kagbeni.

As it was getting too windy, I came back around 4. That night, I had an excellent time with the family over dinner.

The summit of Mt. Dhaulagiri

Day 12: Kagbeni - Jomsom - Marpha - Kokhethanti - Tatopani - Beni

The rest of the trail was completed very fast because I took buses most of the time. At first I decided to go to Marpha by walking. But it was very windy, so I changed my mind and took a bus to Jomsom.

The way to grab local buses are same from Muktinath to Beni. Find the official ticket counter in the village, have a ticket and board the bus on time. They have different ticket prices for locals, SAARC, and non-SAARC nationals. The ticket counter of Kagbeni is located near the bridge that goes to Tiri. I got a ticket for NPR 300. The bus came around 10 am and took half an hour to reach there. The trail I saw from bus was well marked as well as avoiding dusty road as much as possible. I know I should have done this by walking.

Jomsom is the headquarter of Mustang district and as a result it's comparatively big and well connected via road with Beni and Muktinath. There's an air-strip too that operates flights to Pokhara. Marpha is another 1:30 hour walk from here. But I got a bus which was headed to the same direction and so I boarded.

Jomsom bus stand. Dhaulagiri can be seen on the back.

Marpha (2670m) is the apple capital of Mustang. If you go there, definitely try at least three types of apple pies, dry apples and their special Marpha apple brandy! The entire village is on the right side of the river bed using the river bed itself for harvesting apples. The best season to have fresh ones is November. When I went, there were almost nothing on trees. I bought a bottle of apple brandy as a souvenir and some packets of dry apple.

The village of Marpha
Apple Orchard

As the bus was going to Ghasa (2010m) I didn't stop at Marpha. If you have time, do spend a night here. After Marpha comes Tukuche (2590m). It is also famous for apple products. And three summits of Nilgiri can be seen very closely. The trail coming from Dhaulagiri base camp meets with this road just before entering Tukuche.

The next village of Kobang (or Kowang, 2560m) needs a special mention. It is situated just underneath Dhaulagiri. From here the summit looks like a massive tent, which went high from the basin of Kali-gandaki to an impressive elevation of 8,167 meters. It's called an ultra-prominent peak for a reason!

Village of Kowang with Dhaulagiri on top

As the bus moved forward to Kokhethanti (2545m), the giant peak of Annapurna I (8,091m) was seen for the first time. Not everyday you can travel with two eight thousanders on your side. I wish I had walked on that trail!

When I reached Ghasa (2010m), it was 2:30 pm. All of us, the passengers, boarded a second bus to Beni. We reached Tatopani ('Tato' means hot and 'pani' means water. There's a hot water spring just beside the Kali-gandaki river. It has a nice facility for taking a hot bath) around 4:30 pm, and halted for a break. Many trekkers went towards Ghorepani route via Sikha. When we finally hit Beni, it was 6 o'clock in the evening. I decided to stay here for a night and then continue towards Pokhara.

I wish

Now I am regretting for not walking all the way down to Tatopani. It's not just that I had some constraints to meet, but also the bus ride was bumpy as hell. It takes only 3 nights extra to reach Tatopani from Marpha. If you have ample time, do walk on this trail. It is as beautiful as the Marsiyangdi river basin, if not more so. I will go again in near future and complete the whole trail for sure.

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The next day, I grabbed a bus from Beni to Pokhara. It costed NPR 210 and took almost 4 hours to reach. I checked in again at Puskar Guest House, and rested for the day. The day 14 (Dec 14, 2016) was reserved for sight seeing in Pokhara.

Sunset from World Peace Pagoda, Pokhara

Day 14 & 15: Dec 14-15, 2016: Pokhara

The main attractions of Pokhara are World Peace Pagoda and International Mountain Museum. There are other places like Davi's falls, Tal Barahi temple, Bindhyabasini temple etc. Visit as per your likeness.

If you have interest in mountains and mountaineers, do visit International Mountain Museum. Its vast collection of exhibit demonstrates everything about mountains, be it the tribal lifestyle, geographical information or impact of climate change in Himalayas.

World Peacce Pagoda on the other hand, is a Japanese style pagoda on the top of nearby hill. It's not only just serene but also scenic. The entire range of Annapurna along with the entire city are visible from here. Do make necessary plan to be here at sunset.

Left: International Mountain Museum. Right: Davi's falls
Left to right: Dhaulagiri I (8167m, 7th), Annapurna south (7219m), Annapurna I (8091m, 10th), Machapuchre (6993m), Annapurna III (7555m), Annpurna IV (7525m), Annapurna II (7937m) and Lamjung himal (6983m). The three peaks on the far right are Manaslu (8156m, 8th), Ngadi Chuli (7871m) and Himalchuli (7893m). Panaromic view from World Peace Pagoda, Pokhara.
The city of Pokhara glowing like stars. I call it Vegas in the Himalayas.

After spending evening at Peace Pagoda, I headed back towards city. Pokhara offers a different vibe at night. The lakeside road is full of pubs and shopping stops. I shopped a little for my home and friends and ended the perfect trip with a fine dine at Tibetan restaurant with authentic dumplings, Gyathuk and a Everest beer!

It's not an end

I couldn't have thought that I'm capable enough to go for a solo high-altitude trek for a couple of weeks, without any expert's help. Being a 24 years old solo Indian traveler, I surprised a lot of people on the trail. Frankly speaking, when I was waiting for my train back at Lucknow station on the very first day, I was in dilemma. I almost made up my mind to go for any small trek if something goes wrong in Nepal. But now when I look back, I smile at the old me. In those two weeks, I learned a lot, I came to know a lot of people, their culture. I saw their strength, their enthusiasm for travel. It not only made me experienced, but also inspired my inner soul to roam.

I know everyone is busy in their daily schedule. We hardly get time for traveling, let alone an unbounded vacation. But the beauty is out there, right in front of our eyes. We just have to make the effort to see it, to maintain it. It took a great effort to make time from a student's schedule and write this down. But if anybody gets inspired by this, and hits the road to see the world out there, I will consider myself successful.

" See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask for no guarantees, ask for no security." - Ray Bradbury

If you have any queries regarding the trek, feel free to mail me at write2bera@gmail.com

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