Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Asian Adventure: Day 6 and 7 Hitting the Trail

Annapurna Circuit Day 1
Bhulebule (860 m) to Ngadi (930 m)

We got up before dawn to start our journey towards the Annapurna region. We made our way to the local bus stand where we managed to locate a mini-bus (essentially a 15 passenger van) headed towards Bhulebule - the start of the Annapurna Circuit trek.  Mini-buses in Nepal do not operate on a schedule but only leave once they are full so we had to wait over an hour while they crammed the van full with other passengers and all of their trekking gear.

The bus finally left the bus depot around 7:30 AM, taking almost an hour just to clear the heavy traffic of the main ring road and leave the Kathmandu city limits. Immediately outside of Kathmandu the highway turned into a narrow two-lane road perilously perched over a raging river as it wound up and down the hillside. Traffic was surprisingly heavy and we had several near misses with our driver trying to pass on blind corners.  After several hours and a lunch break, we left the main highway in Dumre where we started up an even smaller, even windier, dirt road.

Fully loaded bus

Since we were travelling during the Diwali festival, we were constantly stopped by blockades where the local community groups would form a human-chain across the road and would sing, dance and beg for donations to support their community projects.  In some towns there would be as many as three roads blocks which made for extremely slow travelling!

Road block

We managed to complete the 150 km to Besisahar by 2:30 PM, 7 hours after we left Kathmandu or an average of 20 kilometers per hour! From Besisahar we hired a jeep to complete the final stretch to Bhulebule. Dave was quite excited to get the opportunity to ride in a Mahindra Bolero Camper, the Indian version of the Land Cruiser, but unfortunately had developed too bad of a migraine from the long bus ride to really enjoy it.

Mahindra Bolero Camper 

In Bhulebule (840 m), we registered at the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) office and set out on the trail. The first steps in our twenty-day trek!

Setting off across the suspension bridge in Bhulebule

We walked about an hour through the tropical valley bottom. On each side of us were tall hills covered in lush green rain forest, towering waterfalls and endless yellow rice paddy terraces.

Rice paddies
Drying corn for winter
Rice crop
Bamboo swing

We stopped for the night in the town of Ngadi (930 m) at the Hotel Superview – were we did in fact get our first glimpses of the Himalayan mountains beyond before the sun set.  We also enjoyed our first (cold) solar-heated showers and our first taste of dal bhat – the Nepali staple of rice with lentils and vegetables.

Hotel Superview

The evening entrainment was provided by a group of local kids performing folk songs and dances in honour of the Diwali festival. Once they exhausted their repetiore of folk songs they began to show off their break dancing skills – complete with handsprings! – to pop songs off of one of the guides cellphones.

Local children practicing folk dances

Annapurna Circuit Day 2
Ngadi (930 m) to Chamje (1410 m)

The next morning, despite Dave’s best attempts to sleep in and have a leisurly morning, we were wide awake by 5:30 AM and on the trail by 8:00 AM.

We had ended up sharing the bus ride from Kathmandu with Alberto, an Italian chef currently living in Vietnam. Alberto's guide happened to be friends with our guide so we inevitably ended up hiking together.

The trail continued along the valley bottom, criss-crossing the river and alternating between glowing yellow rice crops and tiny stone villages painted with bright blue and red. Soon the trail climbed out of the valley bottom up the terraced hillside.

Colour homes

Bamboo bridge
Terraced hillside
Storing corn for winter
Baby goat
Water buffalo
Canna lilies

We stopped for a mid-morning rest in Lili Bhir, where we were able to treat ourselves to fresh squeezed orange juice, and then for lunch in Ghermu where we enjoyed potato curry.

Fresh squeezed orange juice

Unfortunately shortly after Ghermu the trail crossed the valley to join the road. Walking along the steep gravel road in the 30 C heat was not enjoyable but thankfully the only “traffic” was trains of mules loaded with grains, salt, fuel, and trekking supplies. Quickly we learnt one of the important life lessons in Nepal - always pass the mules and horses on the inside of the trail or risk being pushed over the edge of the cliff!


After Syange (1080 m) the road entered a narrow gorge and climbed passed the town of Jagat where we were finally able to leave the road and follow the “old trail” through the heavily jungled hillside on to Chamje.

Vertical valley walls near Jagat
Jungle trail

In Chamje (1410 m) we stopped for the night at the Natural View Guesthouse with its stunning view of a towering waterfall and steep rock face on the Marsyangi gorge. This tea house was quite a luxurious with a boiling hot gas shower.

Natural View Guesthouse
Chatting with Alberto

For dinner, we again had dal bhat but Dave was quite excited to be able to get chicken with his dal bhat after watching the tea house owners butcher a fresh bird. Once again the evening entertainment was provided by local children performing folk songs and dances.

Folk singers

With sun set before 6:00 PM and no electricity, we were learning that "night life" is pretty much non-existent in the remote regions of Nepal and we were sound asleep by 8:00 PM.

Cosy accommodation

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