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The Annapurna Circuit: Trip report (Part II)
Read Part I for logistical information.
Links to spreadsheets and photos:
1) Gear List
2) Cost breakdown
3) Elevation and Distance
BESI SAHAR: 760m (2490 ft)
We arrived in the small town of Besi Sahar around 3pm and were eager to be on our way. There didn't appear to be other trekkers or tourists here. We got our first permit stamp at a checkpoint near the edge of town. We then overpaid for a crowded jeep to take us further up the road. We initially had no idea we were agreeing to ride with eleven other people and ultimately paying for the entire jeep ride with our “tourist price” (the owner explained it all to us when we asked). The jeep was going up the road with or without us so whatever we paid was just extra. In the future I would request the jeep be less crowded, or that we pay the same as everyone else in it.
Since this rainy season was just beginning, we decided that skipping some of the lower elevated parts of the trek would be beneficial. We had been told of a rain shadow higher up that would potentially provide us with fairer weather.
Besi Sahar seemed to have a reasonable amount to offer including shops and decent hotels (some of which you can even book online). I’m sure it gets quite busy during peak season. Our cramped jeep soon had us bouncing and wincing our way up the rough road. Two hours later we had covered 22km and climbed 340m in elevation. Rain clouds hid our views but we did make out occasional quiet villages. There was one check point along the way where we had to show our passports and permits. I imagine walking this section could be quite beautiful when the weather isn’t so dreary.
SYANGE: 1100m (3610 ft)
This was our first village on the Annapurna Circuit. Our jeep driver offered us to stay in the guest house of someone he knew. Not being yet “seasoned trekkers” we took his advice before checking out the rest of the options. Ultimately, it was a perfect spot with beautiful views looking down the river. One small mishap occurred when the owners locked the place at night which resulted in guests being locked inside until the owners woke up. I would imagine during the busy season, with so many people wanting an early start, this would not be a problem. However, we were up well before they were and found ourselves wandering the quiet halls trying to find a way out and then knocking on several closed doors before finally finding our hosts.
Many people stop in Ghermu instead of Syange, across the river and up the hill. Since we’d have to backtrack to reach this town, we skipped it. Breakfast included what soon became one of our favorites, Tibetan bread with honey.
The weather at this point was warm and humid, around 80 during the day. The clouds hid the heat of the direct sun but also covered up the mountains and hillsides in moody swirls. Fresh rain drizzled down on us as we started our hike that first morning in the Himalayas. A few kilometers up the trail we came across some monkeys calling out in the rainforest. The foliage was thick and dense. Trees that appeared like palms dotted the steep slopes. A raging milky brown river tore into its banks often hundreds of feet below us.
At the village of Chamje we came across a sign indicating the Annapurna Circuit continued down a trail to the right of the road. Within ten minutes we were in thick foliage and picking multiple leeches off our legs so opted to turn around. If you go trekking during the rainy season, I would recommend using the road till at least Tal where the leeches begin to dissipate.
Much of the road is under construction or washed out due to the frequent mudslides. However, the limited summer traffic made it pleasant to walk on. Due to its higher elevation, it had better views than the actual trail had. Occasionally we ran into horses grazing on the grassy sides of the road. Waterfalls frequently fell cascading across the roadway. A surprising number of motor bikes were making their way up the challenging terrain.
TAL: 1700 m (5580 ft)
This is a small town in a valley with over ten guest houses. The town is off the main road, although not off the main trekking route. Some of the tea houses appeared quite nice and a few welcomed us to stay and eat. Cleanliness seemed lacking. We saw more flies here than anywhere else on the trek. However we were able to eat a good lunch at an outdoor cafe before continuing on our way.
From here, we stuck to the trail for a while rather than the road. It was wide open and mostly leech free. After noting a steep climb ahead, we took a suspension bridge across the flooded river to the main road again and continued winding our way up. Not once during this first day did any mountains peak out of the clouds, but the rain was not enough to be bothersome.
DHARAPANI: 1860 m (6100 ft)
Dharapani was quiet and didn’t feel welcoming when we showed up at about four in the afternoon. It actually has many nice looking guest houses but most appeared closed. One reason to perhaps stay here during peak season, is the possibility of day hikes and optional side treks. There is a police station and a check point where you must show your permits. By the time we arrived, we were done hiking in heat and humidity and so took a jeep from Dharapani to Chame where we hoped for better weather.
This jeep ride was about as exciting as it gets. Three people were in the front and four of us packed into the back row. A bed containing all sorts of goods in the back also had five adventurous Nepali trekkers riding on top of the luggage. This part of the road is perhaps the worst with frequent sheer drop-offs and slick deep mud. We crossed more than one cascade which stopped dropping just wide enough for a jeep to cross. During one river crossing nearly covering the jeep’s tires, I thought we might actually get stuck or be swept downstream over the cliffs. Luckily, our calm young driver was excellent at managing the vehicles and got us safely to Chame in about an hour and a half.
CHAME: 2670 m (8760 ft)
Chame was the first village that actually felt alive during the off season. Further up, Manang would feel similar but larger. Many people start trekking in Chame. With ten or more lodges to choose from, we wandered the entire village before picking Potala Lodge (we had eaten lunch in Tal at a lodge by the same name, incidentally owned by the kind host’s sister). This place was free with purchase of dinner and breakfast and even included a free gas shower, free wifi, charging outlets available in the room. The bathroom was shared but I think we were the only ones using it. The rooms had a rustic wooden cabin feel. Our host served the best tea on the trek and excellent food.
Here we met some other trekkers, though none at our lodge. There is a large well staffed police station in the middle of town which seems odd for a mountain village. There is also a local hot spring. During the afternoon the men use it for bathing. Our host told us that the women use it in the morning but that tourists could go any time.
I would recommend staying here at least one night and possibly two if you ride a jeep up from Besisahar. This was the first village that really gave me that feeling trekking through a mountain village in the Himalaya. While many people had great things to say about previous villages, it seemed they didn’t offer that warm mountain welcome that I was expecting or hoping to find. Here we were greeted by a smiling woman at the gate to her lodge who invited us to stay, which we gladly did after making a round through the entire town. This habit, which we cultivated after our first night, may seem a bit tiring after a long day's trek, but it really helps you get a feel for the village and what places and people are the most welcoming to you. Like so many other travelers suggest, don’t stay at the first tea house you come to. Check out a few and find one that you can really enjoy and relax in. This also helps spread the business especially during the off season when there are so few trekkers.
The next morning, upon leaving Chame, the road was noticeably quieter. Many jeeps and bikes continue up farther, but the volume is much less at this point. We eventually came to Brahtang which contains apple orchards and cider (when in season) and a beautiful but closed lodge called Farmhouse. Apparently it is quite expensive during trekking season, but looked absolutely lovely with exposed wood beams and a large gathering area. The lodge looked like something from a mountain resort town.
LOWER PISANG: 3200m (10,500 ft)
This is a quiet little town along the river with quite a few guest houses some of which were quite nice and modern with attached bathrooms. There are at least ten options here but many were closed for the season. We ended up staying at Eco Lodge and would definitely recommend it. Our clean room with a private bath was free with food purchases and included internet and charging. We paid for a much needed hot shower. The food was excellent and filling. We ran into a couple of other trekkers but otherwise the town was quiet.
UPPER PISANG: 3300m (10,830 ft)
Set about 100 meters in elevation uphill and across the river from Lower Pisang, this town appears to have three or four modern looking tea houses and several more traditional looking ones. We only found one that was open. They were charging 400 rupee per night plus dinner and additional charges for everything else (showers, power, wifi). We initially walked through Lower Pisang before coming up the hill to check out the Upper village. While Upper Pisang certainly has better views, during the off season we felt the Lower village offered more value and a warmer welcome. Most trekkers prefer the upper village for the mountain views which were still hidden for us.
Speaking of mountain views the next morning we awoke to parting clouds. I ran outside with my camera to capture the top of Pisang Peak coming out from behind the clouds. Turning around I could make out Annapurna II and possibly IV as well. This was the first view we had of the snowy glaciated peaks towering above us. It was incredible just how high they were. Hills that had previously appeared like small mountains disappearing in the clouds, now seem like minor foothills compared to what towered above them.
As we started trekking the clouds rolled back in and we didn’t manage too many more views that day. However, seeing the mountains so moody and the hills still so green was an unusual gift that most trekkers don’t get to enjoy. Since leaving Chame, the terrain had become more rugged and less like a jungle. By the time we left Pisang, the trees were shorter and appeared alpine in nature. Pines were more common and open meadows spread out in the valley.
During trekking season I would highly recommend taking the high route from Upper Pisang through Ghyaru and Ngawal and then either dropping down to Humde or continuing on the high route to Braka. At a guide’s recommendation and since there were still many clouds, we followed the road. Later we met another trekker who extolled the experience of visiting these remote areas as one of his favorites on the entire trek.
HUMDE: 3280 m (10760 ft)
This village appears to have multiple guest houses some of which appear quite nice. We did not stop here but did notice that it has an airport. There was a wedding celebration happening and the town was filled with joyful wedding guests rather than trekkers. I could see this being a charming stop on the way up during a busier season when everything is open.
A note about the distances. What I’ve found online indicates that from Upper Pisang to Humde going the upper route is about 12 km. From Lower Pisang to Humde by road is about 7 km. Thus depending on which route is taken, your total distance for the trek may vary.
Just outside of Humde we came across an alternative trail that left the road and wandered along an arid cliff side above a river. It crossed a long beautiful suspension bridge and passed a picturesque Tibetan school. Eventually the trail crossed back to the road near a town called Munchi that had a few closed guest houses. We continued on to the Tibetan town of Braka.
BRAKA: 3440 m (11280 ft)
This is another small village with a beautiful Tibetan Monastery on a hill overlooking the valley where a few tea houses stood, closed for the season. The town was interesting to explore and marks the trailhead to the Ice Lake day hike. The few stores advertising yak cheese and apple pie, were closed. The three or four tea houses looked relatively nice from the outside. Like Gunsang, Braka would probably be a great place to stay close to Manang while escaping the crowds during peak season.
We continued on to Manang knowing we could easily come back for a day trip since the two villages are barely 2 km apart. We ended up coming back twice, once to visit the Monastery and once on our way up to Ice Lake.
MANANG: 3540 m (11610 ft)
This important village is the most developed and largest on the Eastern side of the trek after leaving Besi Sahar. In fact, some people use this as their starting place for the trek. This was the first place we started seeing a fair number of other trekkers.
The town has many lodges (maybe 20, though not all were open) and quite a few had attached bathrooms with flushing toilets. Off season prices ranged from free to 300 rupee per night all with the assumption of meal purchases. Peak season prices were advertised as high as 600 per night. I would recommend eating your lunches in the town instead of the tea house. Local restaurants sold food at less than half the price of hotels and often had more character and personality to them.
Manang has many stores with packaged snacks. Outdoor stores offered trekking poles, warm coats, and other winter gear as well. There are a couple of “movie theaters” showing old climbing movies though all were closed this time of year. The town residents were busy building new lodges and cultivating crops. Lots of construction was going on.
The first part of Manang is full of tourist hotels, tea houses, and shops. In contrast the second part appears more like a Tibetan Village. The construction of this section appears like a medieval village or wood and stone. Stretching up the hills behind the village were terraced layers of cultivated land.
We spent much of our time at a local restaurant called Gyalzen Lodge & Restaurant . The food was incredibly delicious and there were nearly always other trekkers here. The prices were incredibly cheap, similar to those in Kathmandu. The people who owned the place were very friendly and hospitable. They have a couple of guest rooms up above for visitors. This seemed to be a true tea house in the way I imagine they were before these larger guest houses began popping up. One night we even joined in watching their favorite local tv show. We couldn’t understand the words, but the expressions on the actors' faces and everyone’s reactions told us enough to laugh along.
One of the nice things about Manang is that there are numerous day hikes nearby and even some mini side treks. Manang is the perfect village to spend a few days acclimatizing and resting. The altitude is high enough to help prepare for the summit, but not too high to significantly impair sleep.
Unfortunately for us during the off season it can be hard to meet other trekkers even here. We never had more than four other trekkers in our hotel at once. Many appeared to wish to be alone and some were quite busy with scheduled day hikes. We stayed at the Yeti Hotel which has nice private rooms with private flushing toilets. They had hot solar powered showers but without much sun the water was cold. Electric and internet were spotty at best. We found our hotel to be without either more often than not. Some other hotels did appear to use battery or generator backup in the evenings.
GANGAPURNA TAL, BRAKA MONASTERY 3800m (12470 ft)
Our first full day in Manang we decided to take a day hike to the Gangapurna Tal at the base of the Gangapurna Glacier. We descended from the hill on which Manang sits, across a glacial stream and up the moraine. The water braided its way down the slopes from the huge glacier into a milky blue lake which overflowed into the main river.
From here the trail continued up to a Stupa (Buddhist holy site) surrounded by prayer flags and a sweeping view of Manang village. One can purchase tea up here during peak season. Beyond there are more trails leading up the mountain slopes. Grazing high above us we could see yaks peppering the vibrant green hills. Below us were hoodoos eroded out of the soft dirt and below them the lush valley surrounding Manang.
After returning to Manang for a delicious lunch at Gyalzen, we decided to trek back to the traditional Tibetan monastery near Braka. There was significant construction going on here as the place appeared to be expanding. We also had one of our only run ins with an unfriendly dog expecting tourists to feed him.
KICHO TAL or ICE LAKE 4620m (15160 ft)
Our second day in Manang we decided to try a more ambitious acclimatization hike. Kicho Tal is a sacred lake surrounded by stupas and mountains. It rests over 1000m above Manang and would be our first time climbing above our previous highest hike, Mt. Whitney at 14,505 ft.
The trail starts at Braka, behind the monastery and quickly begins its steep ascent up the mountain. As we climbed, mountains peaked in and out of the clouds all around us. Finally exhausted and drenched with sweat we reached a grassy plateau with three yaks grazing and two men who appeared to be churning butter. Beyond them was the lake.
We walked around the entire green blue body of water which was ice free this time of year. If the clouds weren’t quite so heavy we would have climbed one of the surrounding hills for an even better view. Nearly a dozen different types of wild flowers were blooming in the high alpine grassland. This was probably one of the most exhausting days of the trek but much needed for acclimatization. We slept well on our last night in Manang.
The next day we were ready to resume our trek and push for the finish. Leaving Manang early that morning, the mountains were trying their best to peak out of the clouds. A bit of sun warmed our backs. This high up there is less atmosphere to protect from sunburn. Even though the outside temperature wasn’t incredibly hot, the sun felt intense. Climbing was slow. We were well above any trees and were now making our way through a long valley that spurred off the side of the main one in which Manang and most of the other villages sit.
GUNSANG: 3950 m (12960 ft)
Gunsang, the first significant sign of civilization since Manang, has a few guest houses perched on a cliff. While they were definitely not open in July, they did appear nicely kept. This wayside is used as an overflow for Manang and appears would be a good place to escape crowds during peak season. The views from here were lovely.
Beyond that we passed by several small huts and a few small herds of cows. The valley was getting narrower and towering above us were moody green peaks. Behind us the Annapurna Himal was increasingly showing its face above the clouds as we walked away from it.
YAK KHARKA: 4050 m (13290 ft)
Yak Kharka was the next village we came to and probably has the most lodging in any one place between Manang and Muktinath. This village is small and spread out in three distinct clusters. The landscape makes it feel quite charming, almost like the Alps, with incredible views.
Many of the lodges have beautiful blue roofs and white trim that stand out in the rocky landscape. In my opinion the second collection of lodges seemed the most appealing. This is the last place before crossing the pass that appears to have any new construction. We noted several trekkers stopping for lunch. Because we had such an early start, we opted not to stay here and continued to Ledar only a kilometer away. The terrain was quickly becoming more barren as we continued upward.
LEDAR: 4200 m (13780 ft)
Ledar made us wish we had listened to reviews we had read stating the Yak Kharka was nicer. We looked at all four open guest houses and none seemed to have much charm. Most of the rooms were dark and dirty with few amenities. The staff who greeted us did not appear as if they wanted guests. The views are not as good as the previous village either. I’m sure this place can be quite nice when it's busy. Perhaps the hosts were hoping for some time off to take care of other needs and prepare for the busy season.
At this point we could either turn around and lose the one kilometer back to Yak Kharka. Or we could just stay here and spend most of the afternoon in Ledar. Or since it was still early, we could hike the remaining 5 km up to Thorong Phedi. We opted for the latter and continued on our way up the hill after a good lunch by the side of the trail.
In retrospect we probably shouldn’t have continued as the total altitude gain for the day ended up being about 1000 meters (3200 feet). The rest of the climb crosses fairly sketchy boulder fields that look like it could start sliding down on top of you at any time. We weren’t feeling the most energetic at this moment and running didn’t seem like a good option to us here. Luckily we made it through the last five torturous kilometers.
THORONG PHEDI: 4530 m (14860 ft)
The Thorong Base Camp Lodge is rustic but friendly and welcoming. The staff were quite sociable, hanging out and playing guitar in the common area. This was one of three lodges in the village of Thorong Phedi, two of which were open. We ran into twelve other trekkers here which wasn’t as high as Manang but not bad for the off season. Most people seemed to be on a mission, ready to conquer the summit the next morning. Room prices of 200 with food purchase were not bad considering the altitude. They also offered clean water refills which we hadn’t seen elsewhere (we had seen signs but most stations are closed in the summer). Not quite the happening "village" that people make it out to be in reports that I’ve read but I could see it quickly becoming quite crowded during the fall. They do have the apple pie (only in season) and bakery people rave about, but the village itself lacks many of the comforts of lower villages.
After good food but restless sleep due to the altitude, we decided to stay in camp for the day and possibly stay another night. We didn’t feel like we had acclimatized to this altitude properly yet and wanted to wait it out. However, there really isn't much to do at Thorong Phedi during the slow season. The few people who ran the place were busy working all morning and we tried exploring side trails but eventually lost interest.
There is this strange feeling when you get to Thorong Phedi, especially during the slow season. Gone are the lively streets of Manang and what few trekkers are left are only focused on crossing the pass and leaving early. It's almost eerily quiet and still. You don’t want the trek to be coming to a close so soon and yet you feel it coming.
Half way through the day we decided to continue to the final camp. It's a big climb in just 1 km but would cut the altitude we had to gain during summit day. The trail switchbacked straight up the mountain side with long strands of Buddhist prayer flags stretched between rocks high above.
HIGH CAMP: 4925 m (16160 ft)
High Camp is aptly named. It is the highest place I have ever slept so far in my life. Much higher than the highest mountain in the lower 48 states in the US. The place is a camp, not a village. I doubt anyone would live here full time if not for trekkers. Many people skip high camp from Thorong Phedi and head straight over in one long day.
The camp itself has many rooms with thick blankets and comfortable cots. There is a shared outhouse outside which I can see being quite busy during peak seasons. I’ve read other blogs that complained of long lines. We were happy to meet about a dozen other trekkers here and settled in the common room for warm drinks and hot food. While more expensive than below, the food was surprisingly good tasting and they even had a generator to power the lights and a television for us to watch the World Cup. The building was old and sloped with the slope of the earth but overall cozy.
We met a trekking family that had formed along the way and ended up spending an enjoyable evening with them swapping tails of adventures and travels. This was truly what I had hoped to find along the trek, and while it had happened sporadically, it was not as frequent as one might hope. The comradery that you get from fellow travelers is a great boost to the moral.
The next morning, before the sun peaked its way through the intermittent clouds, we set out after a hearty breakfast in the last manned outpost before the crest. If it hadn’t been painfully clear the whole way up, this final push really hammered home how much we regretted our heavy packs. Our trekking partner for the day was the guy with only 7kg and we envied him.
The trail up to the top of the pass is well marked and easy to follow, but not easy. The terrain is a lot of moraine left over from ancient glaciers. The foreground is not that beautiful. The grassy slopes soon disappear and all that's left are occasional wild flowers appearing between rocks and a few hardy birds flying about. The backdrop is amazing. Huge mountains as high as the sky, glaciers pouring down their slopes, more peaks than you can count. Looking down you can see the grassy slopes that yak feed on far below.
THORONG LA PASS: 5416m (17769 ft)
Reaching the pass is exhilarating to say the least. After working so hard for the previous eight days, sweating and toiling our way up, it was such a relief to finally be on the top. We dropped our packs by a little cafe shelter that serves tea during peak season, and feeling light and free, explored this high alpine landscape. Many people probably miss the beautiful blue glacial lake just to the left of the main trail. Its deep blue waters glisten in the sun about 100 meters away. A trail leads to an overlook where you can see the valley that you just climbed up and the new valley you are about to jarringly stumble down. Manang to the East and Mustang to the West.
The glacier pouring off a nearby peak into the deep blue waters of this small lake was one of the most beautiful sites. I had never seen a photo of it before, so I wonder how many people explore the area after summiting. I wanted to climb around some more but we knew we had a long hike down so after about a half hour we picked up our packs and began the descent.
The trail drops into a much dryer and strikingly different world. The mountains have less snow and fewer glaciers, the rocks transition from grey to brown, distant valleys no longer beckon with greenery. And it's a long rough descent. Your joints, so used to the strain of ascending, are now suddenly carrying your weight downward over a mile in elevation loss. It's a long hike and in many ways harder than the climb up. The sun came out and the temperature increased. Along the way a small village tantalized with the promise of a tea house and a break, but nothing was open.
MUKTINATH: 3760 m (12340 ft)
Muktinath is the first real town after crossing the pass. It's a grueling mile of vertical descent down rocky rough terrain to get here. Here is where we began to wish we had trailrunners and trekking poles for better grip and support on the way down. Being sheltered from much of the rain and clouds due to the rain shadow, this area is much drier and sunnier. The landscape and atmosphere feels like a totally different world. Gone are the feelings of an idyllic alpine world of yaks and hidden villages. Muktinath feels strangely commercial and developed.
Muktinath is a holy site for both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions attracting many visitors who are not trekkers. Peddlers attempt to sell tourist trinkets and horse rides and “high rise” hotels at least five stories tall are popping up all around town.
Despite the commercialism, we found a wonderful hotel called Hotel the Paths of Dream which included hot showers and was free with purchases from the restaurant. We sat in their dining area most of the afternoon resting, drinking Everest beer and watching the World Cup. Our large private room was one of the nicest on the trek. After resting up we were eager to be on our way and left early the next morning. One of the trekkers we had met at High Camp opted to join us and our party grew to three for the next several days.
The journey presented us with two options. One was the slightly longer route following the new Annapurna Circuit Trail just to the north of town. The other followed a surprisingly well paved road down to Kagbeni. In retrospect we should have taken the trail. However, the road seemed more direct and we were beginning to tire of walking. One thing that stands out to me is the reduced sense of grandeur on this side. I think if one were to take it at face value, the western side of the trek has a lot of beauty. However, having just come over the pass and through some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, this side just seemed ok in comparison.
This odd paved road was just being finished and ended abruptly at Kagbeni about 10 km away. From there the road turns back to dirt for many km to come. It's hard to grasp the logic of paving this one section so far out. We turned right and headed down a steep hill to the quiet town of Kagbeni for the night.
Kagbeni: 2810 m (9220 ft)
Kagbeni is generally highly rated. Trekkers liken it to a medieval town and talk about its charm. We found it to indeed have narrow stone walled streets and multi layered homes with animals running freely about (several goat herds passed us) that may be reminiscent of what we picture a medieval village to be like. However, not much about the town was actually charming. There was one picturesque scene of a woman drying fruit in her loft which comes to mind.
For some reason many of the hotels were completely full despite the town seeming quiet. Others were dark and uninviting. We ended up staying at the comically named Yak Donalds Hotel with signs that mimicked those of McDonalds, offering Yak burgers and comfy accommodations. This was the first lodge that did not bundle food with room prices. The room prices were set as was the food and independent of one another. The rooms were clean and the beds comfortable with hot solar powered showers that in this sunny climate were warm. What we loved about this place was all the public space for guests to mingle. There was a garden library, a cushioned sitting room, a large dining area, and a sunny rooftop terrace. All in all I think this would be a wonderful place to stay if there were more trekkers to mingle with.
We wandered about town and found a cheap little hole in the wall called Show Boat. It had great local food at local prices and also offers lodging. Several other restaurants in town looked appealing including a bakery but were closed. Very few trekkers came through this town other than a couple in our hotel preparing for the Upper Mustang trek.
The next morning we climbed out of the valley the village sits in and headed back to the gravel road to continue to the next town, Jomsom. The walk was uninspiring and dusty with increasing bus and jeep traffic. Eventually we hailed a jeep and finished the journey quite quickly, arriving well before noon.
Jomsom: 2720 m (8920 ft)
Jomsom is a very touristy town with shops, bakeries, cheese, dried fruit, and real hotels. There are flights from this town to Pokhara for $100-150 (some say they are dangerous). Buses leave from here to Pokhara and towns in between for $5-10. After milling about and eating some delicious dried apples and some stale baked goods, we opted for a bus. The town was not appealing to us and the road wasn’t desirable for walking on.
We passed through the apple town of Marpha a few km down in our rattling bouncing bus. Many people love stopping here due to the orchards that line the river in this area. As you head south from Jomsom the landscape becomes increasingly green again and slowly trees begin appearing around the road and the steep mountain foothills. During apple season, if there is a trail to avoid road walking, I would stay a day in Marpha.
Eventually, after the bus blew a tire and kept going as if nothing happened, we grew wary of this dangerous bus ride. Some of the seats were not even bolted down and our knees were pressed tight against the seats in front of us. The landscape was becoming more appealing and we asked the driver to let us out to walk. We had noticed a few trekkers making their way along the river and figured it was a good time to get back to what we had come here for.
We crossed a hanging suspension bridge and were soon leaving the dirty road behind and walking on a quiet green woodsy trail. Marijuana plants grew in abundance on the slopes around peoples homes. Beautiful trees stood tall above us. Towering waterfalls thundered from distance cliffs fed by glaciers hidden in the clouds. It was a quick change from the arid landscape we had woken up in that morning. The trek led us along the East side of the river while the road followed the West side. We left the river following signs for a lake called Titi Tal. This lake sits next to a tiny village that didn’t appear to see many visitors. It's green water was surrounded by a rain forest of trees.
From here we continued deeper into the forest, eventually taking a “shortcut” which got us lost on cow trails along steep banks before dropping down to a riverbed with a dirt road next to it. A few km farther and we were back to the New Annapurna Circuit again. We decided to stop in a small town called Ghasa which had quite a few guest houses and a checkpoint to show our passes. However, it didn’t appear that many people actually stopped in this town during the rainy season.
Ghasa: 2010 m (6590 ft)
The guest house we settled on ended up being quite dirty, mostly because it probably hadn’t been used (or cleaned) for quite some time. Our kind host made us apples pies which appeared much like an apple turn over and were so delicious we ordered more to go the next morning. We were excited to finally get something with apples in it. All along the trek, guest houses and restaurants advertised apple products. Other than the dried apples in Jomsom none of these places actually had any.
From here we followed the New Annapurna Circuit on the East side of the river for most of the next day only crossing back to the road when we grew tired of the many ups and downs that this trail seemed to have. Our next destination was Tatopani which we were hoping would have a hot spring. Here we would decide whether to head to Pokhara or back into the mountains to the popular view point Poon Hill.
Tatopani: 1190 m (3900 ft)
Tatopani was a nice little village but the hot springs were closed due to the high waters of flood season. We could see the pools which appeared man made but would have still been welcome for sore muscles. We found the hotels here to be a bit more expensive but not necessarily more inviting or luxurious. However, a great little restaurant called Bob Marley's was the perfect spot for some delicious afternoon lunch. The town is terraced as it climbs the steep hills alongside the river. We ended up meeting several other trekkers here and shared stories over hot meals.
Our trekking buddy parted ways with us the next morning for Poon Hill. Feeling tired and noting cloudy skies, we opted to keep heading out, ready to not be trekking anymore. After being promised a tourist bus, we were told that the bus couldn’t make it and crammed into a dinky little accident waiting to happen with everyone else in town. No designated seats here, as some people were literally laying on the floor. When we met a large landslide needing to be cleared, we opted once again to walk. Eventually the landslide was cleared and many kilometers down the road the bus finally caught back up to us, but we kept walking, arriving at the next major town of Beni that evening.
Beni: 830 m (2720 ft)
Beni is by far the largest town we had seen since leaving Kathmandu. Bustling with buses and shops and local life with several decent sized hotels and nicer restaurants to choose from. We inquired of the best way to head back from here and after assessing our mental state, decided on an overnight bus all the way back to Kathmandu. It was promised to have air conditioning and after seeing it we felt it would be nicer than our previous options.
While we waited for it to leave we explored the town. It's bustling market was a great place to stock up on snacks for the overnight journey. A restaurant high up on the hill was the perfect place to wind down and enjoy some delicious food. Our bus left on time, we had our own seats, and our luggage was safely stowed underneath.
At first this overnight bus journey seemed perfect. However, things begin spiraling down rather quickly. First of all, the bus driver stopped frequently to pick up more passengers despite it being a “nonstop” tourist bus. The driver's assistant insisted on playing on repeat the most awful music videos over a terrible sound system on a small TV cranked to maximum volume. Even as the sun set and we felt ready for some sleep, the bus did not show any signs of quieting down. Perhaps this was to keep the driver awake, or perhaps this is just how people travel in Nepal. For weary western travelers there is nothing welcoming about this on an overnight bus.
The rain came down hard on the winding road from Beni to Pokhara. Eventually we hit a landslide blocking the entire road. Unsure if it could be cleared the buses backed down the winding hillside in the torrential rain and waited out the night at a roadside rest stop. This “rest stop” was no more than a three walled metal lean-to with candles for light. Not once during the entire night did the occupants of the bus quiet completely down. Heated conversations and loud music continued throughout the night and the air conditioning was cut periodically to save fuel since we weren’t moving. Thus the temperature alternated from frigid to tropical over and over throughout the night. The next morning a couple of young guys with backhoes and bulldozers showed up to clear the rock slide while everyone looked on.
The journey was finally on it's way again and the bus made it to Pokhara by sometime around noon, stopping to drop off a few passengers before continuing to Kathmandu. The same bus driver drove the entire way amazingly getting us safely but exhausted to the city at about 6 pm. This overnight bus ride ended up being nearly 24 hours long. We couldn’t wait to settle into our air conditioned hotel with a comfy bed for some peace to unwind, recuperate, and plot our next adventure.
See my final thoughts on the trip in the first comment below. Thanks for reading :)