Sunday, January 8, 2012

Asian Adventure: Day 10 and 11 Tibetan Tea and Apple Pie

Annapurna Circuit Day 5
Chame (2710 m) to Upper Pisang (3350 m)

The trail meandered through thick pine forests, jumping back and forth between the road and narrow foot paths covered in fallen pine needles. The trails were very reminiscent of home. Periodically the forest would clear to reveal small fields where the farmers were busy planting their winter wheat crops. The breaks in the forest also offered us some of our first views of the Annapurna range.

Plowing the fields
Planting seeds
Annapurna II

After about two hours of walking we stopped for a rest in Bhratang where our guides treated us to a big bag of local apples. From Bhratang (2950 m) the trail began to climb once again passing towering rock walls and Paungda Danda - a impressive rock face swooping up 1500 m from the river bottom.

Marsyandi river
Paungda Danda

For lunch we stopped at the New Ghorkali Hotel in Dhukur where Dave once again was able to find potatoes and yak cheese and I had one of the best vegetables curry of the trip so far.

Lunch break

Just past Dhukur we left the main trail heading towards the larger village of Pisang and took the small footpath steeply climbing towards Upper Pisang. The landscape started to change drastically as the forests thinned to reveal wide arid pastures which reminded me of the prairie foothills of home. The architecture also changed drastically, from brightly painted rows of houses   framing a single main street to stacked stone houses lining tight winding alleyways, where one persons roof is the persons above backyard. 

Upper Pisang
Lower Pisang below
Sorting lentils by hand... yes that is a satellite dish

The village of Upper Pisang is perched high above the valley bottom and the village of Pisang below. Above the village is a colourful Buddhist monastery. Once we settled ourselves into the Annapurna Hotel, we headed up to the monastery to enjoy the views and the lemon tea served by the monks. 

Prayer flags
Alberto teaching Dave about Buddhism

The elevation was starting to be noticeable - it was freezing at night and we were forced to break out our warm layers for the first time. Between the dark and the cold, we were now cuddled up in our sleeping bags by 7:00 PM!

Sunset view of Annapurna II from tea house dining room

Annapurna Circuit Day 6
Upper Pisang (3350 m) to Manang (3540 m)

Going to bed early had its rewards as we were able to wake at 5:30 AM and head back to the monastery to listen to the monks perform their morning puja. The puja ceremony consisted of six monks chanting their morning prayers - one who lead, two with drums, two with horns, one who took care of the tea and incense and one young monk who kept fiddling and checking his watch.  

Dawn over Annapurna II and IV

After breakfast we once again hit the trail. We followed the path along arid terraced pastures and scrub pine forests until we reached a large mani wall decorated with wooden Buddha icons at the base of a steep hill.

Traffic jam in front of our tea house
Prayer wheels
Mani wall

From the mani wall we began a steep climb up 250 m of switch backs (it felt like double or triple that) to the village of Ghyaru (3650 m). Ghyaru is a small village with a stunning gompa perched on the side of Pisang Peak high over the valley bottom. We spent well over an hour sitting on the edge of the gompa taking in the views of the mountains stretching endlessly each direction.

Entrance gate to Ghyaru with Annapurna II behind
Dave enjoying the view of Annapurna III, Gangapurna and Tilicho
Annapurna II

We continued high along the high ridge until the trail dropped down towards the village of Ngawal (3570 m). We stopped for lunch at the Tibetan Tea House just outside of the village. The tea house was run by a family of Tibetan origin (of course) and there were four generations of the family living together in the small tea house. Great-grandma and Grandma took care of the young baby while the mother cooked and served the food. Our guides were all served Tibetan tea by the tea shop owners so we took the opportunity to give the fabled drink a try. Tibetan tea is made from hot water, yak butter and salt and tastes more like chicken broth than tea. Dave really enjoyed it but that is not surprising since our one guidebook described it as "liquid stilton cheese".

Tibetan tea
Grandma and Granddaughter
From Ngawal, the trail plunged back down to the valley bottom and the landscaped turned even more arid with towering hoodoos on each side of the valley and nothing but scattered junipers and seabuckthorn bushes for vegetation. The terraced fields disappeared and were replaced by dry, flat animal pastures.

In Mungji we encountered our first of the "German bakeries" the Annapurna Circuit is famous for. Even though we had just finished lunch, Dave could not resist stopping for a slice of apple pie and a chocolate roll. It was nice to be able to indulge after a week of dal bhat and vegetable curry.

Enjoying a treat
Grazing yaks

From Mungji, the trail followed the river to Braga and then Manang. Manang is a virtual metropolis compared to the rest of the Annapurna region despite its small population of 300. The large influx of trekkers has lead to the development of huge hotels, a medical centre specializing in altitude sickness research, numerous bakeries, bars and even two cinemas. Of course all of these are still a remote Nepali version with the cinema being nothing more than a room with a projector that offers daily screenings of Seven Years in Tibet, K2, 27 Hours, and The Fine Line.

Main street
Walk, don't ride, your horse with in town limits

We checked into the Thorong La Hotel where we were lucky enough to get a room with an ensuite bathroom complete with a pit toilet and shower - although you practically had to stand on the toilet to take a shower and the water was only luke warm at best.

Thorong La Hotel

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