Walking the walk – Annapurna Section
10 March 2012 Besisahar (810 m)-Ghalegaun (2078 m) 6 hrs
This was a beautiful day! We climbed up till a pass of 1600 m, and from there onwards we had amazing views on the Himalayas, which were suddenly very close. I haven’t seen them so close walking on the GHT yet. Most of the walk went over small trails through forests, passing charming villages like Rapasingh and Khapurgaon, We arrived relatively early, about 3.30 pm in Ghalegaun. Ghaulegaun is a very beautiful Gurung village. There is no hotel, but they established a homestay programme, in which 32 houses participate. The homestays are very nice, mostly in a small separate house, which is nicely decorated and with beds with quite good mattresses, soft pillows and clean sheets. It is a model tourist village, as they call it, and probably because of that it is also surprisingly clean. No waste lingering around, like you see so many times. Besides of all this, Ghalegaun offers beautiful views to the Himalayas. You can see a large range: in the far west Machapuchhre, Annapurna II, and further to the east Lamjung Himal, Namuna Pass, Manaslu, Himal Chuli, Nadi Chuli (also called Doctor Harko Himal) and Buddha Himal. We went up a small hill to enjoy the view and the sunset. Simply stunning!
11 March 2012 Ghalegaun (2078 m)-Pasgaun (1650 m) 6 hrs
Another day with beautiful mountain views and nice Gurung villages.
The day started with easy walking through the forest on a dirt road. After ½ hr the road turned into a trail, which I was glad about. But they are working on it. On one hand a shame, on the other hand good for the villages. We saw an old sick lady, being carried on the back of a young man. At present that is the way you have to be brought to the clinic if you are ill….
During the way we had a beautiful view over a “sea of hills”, the green hills were stretching out in front of us like waves of a sea. We had lunch in Bhujung (1641 m), another Gurung village, and part of the homestay trek we are currently walking on. They were giving a cooking training for the homestay owners (all women), so they can make a bit more than dahl bath.
In the afternoon we had to climb a pass of 2082 m. From the pass we had an amazing view to the Himalaya, among which the Manaslu, Himal Chuli and Nadi Chuli.
We are staying in the Gurung village of Pasgaun, as well in a homestay. The lady who runs it, is very friendly, but to be honest, our room is a bit dirty. They can use some training here!
There is a nice Buddhist monastery in Pasgaun, Karma Thugje Chhyoling Buddha Gompa.
12 March 2012 Pasgaun (1650 m)-Yangjakot (1450 m) 9 hrs
Today and tomorrow we are walking a different route than the GHT trail indicated on the map of Himalaya Maphouse. On that route there are no villages along the way, so this is only possible with a fully organized camping trek. And although we do carry tents, we are not a fully organized camping trek, as we don’t carry cooking stove, etc. So for those who want to stay and eat in a guesthouse, our route is a good alternative. It is possible to get to Siklis in 2 days. The first is a long day however, with a total distance of over 22 km and a total ascend of 2339 m. A good old fashioned GHT Climate Smart trekking day!
This was a day of many rivers to cross, implying many climbs and descends. Along the way, we passed many Gurung villages. We started with a steep descend towards the Rudi Khola (river) which we could already see far below us. Again we had a beautiful view over a “sea of green hills”, stretching out in front of us one after another. After crossing the bridge (822 m), we climbed up to the Gurung village of Nagighar (1232 m), where we had a tasty dahl bath.
From Nagighar we went down to the river again (964 m) and then up to the 2 Gurung villages of Bhachok (1314 m) and Warchok (1363 m). And again we went down, through a beautiful tropical forest, to another river, the Bhujung Khola (1029 m). After crossing you have to climb, so we climbed again, this time to the Gurung village of Yangjakot (1450 m), where we arrived just before 7 pm. It has been a long day indeed!
Meanwhile my legs are full of bug bites! And they itch terribly… But I have to control myself, as these bites have a small scab. So I scratch them open, they might be infected. And there is nothing I want to do more than scratching! But, here is a tip, if you have itchy legs full of bug bites: tiger balm helps!
13 March 2012 Yangjakot (1450 m)-Sikles (1945 m) 6 hrs
After a lovely western style breakfast with pancake, cornflakes and muesli, we set off for Sikles. Again we had another river to cross first, so we went down to the Madi Nadi River (870 m). Shortly after we arrived at the ACAP check post, where Elizabeth and me had to show our ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) permits (and strangely enough fill in new application forms; may be because we already entered and exited ACAP before?). It was interesting to get a bit information about tourist arrivals here. Although Sikles is a well known trekking destination, it is still off the beaten trek, and gets only about 700 tourists a year (ACAP gets over 80,000 in total). Most of them are British (366 in 2011). I would have expected to meet some today, but haven’t so far!
We followed the Madi Nadi River upstream, all the way up to Sikles, with after lunch a steep climb of about 900 m. Sikles (1945 m) is a beautiful Gurung village, and one of the biggest, with a population of about 2500. From Sikles you have a beautiful view of Lamjung Himal (6983 m) and Annapurna II (7937 m).
We got a very warm welcome by some Gurung ladies who welcomed us with garlands and tikhas (blessings) on our forehead made from curd and rice or red vermillion powder. That is a nice aspect of the Gurung culture, everywhere we come we get blessings at arrival or upon leaving from the owners of the place where we stay. And so today we had an even bigger welcome from a group of local women.
We were just in time in the lodge, as shortly after our arrival it started to pour down heavily. On the hills around us it even snowed! The temperature dropped considerably as well, I’m typing under my sleeping bag, with stiff cold fingers, a bit difficult to type!
14 March 2012Sikles (1945 m)- Ghalekharka (1674 m) 6 hrs
Today we woke up with a sunny day and a beautiful view on the Lamjung Himal and the white “hills” around us. After a noodle soup breakfast, Elizabeth and me started the day with a visit to the doctor. She is still suffering from many blisters. In Gorkha a nurse had pinched them, and the one on her little toe got infected. He cut some skin off (ouch!) and disinfected and taped them all. Besides he gave her antibiotics. Total fee, 450 rupees, or4,50 euro. He told her not to walk with shoes, but that is a bit difficult when you are trekking!
Today was one of the most beautiful days so far. We walked all the way through beautiful forests, mostly rhododendron forests, which are in full bloom at the moment. Beautiful pink and red flowers. The rhododendron trees are huge here, and fully covered with moss, which gave the forest a fairytale look. You would expect a hobbit appearing any moment!
As there were no villages along the way we had a lunch pack this time. Quite time saving, as normally the lunch break takes about 2 hours. And also nice for a change, to have eggs and roti instead of 2 times per day dahl bath.
We started walking at 8.30 and till 1.30 we hadn’t met anybody. Suddenly we heard some women voices and we saw 3 women from Ghalekharka, who had spread out some mars, kitkat, toblerone and soft drinks. A small shop in the middle of the nature! This was at 2650 m, and Ghalekharka is at 1674 m. It took us 2 hours from their little shop to Ghalekharka. They told us that there were days without any tourist passing by. So then they are there, waiting all day long in the cold, and no business at all. All this to earn a few extra rupees. Life is not easy for the average Nepali! We bought some snacks, and they told us that the group who passed by before had bought some things as well. So they had a good day!
After the shop, it went steep down on stone stairs to Ghalekharka. We are staying in the only hotel in town, Samjana Cottage. They are doing a nice job here, with local style clean rooms, a cozy dining and a small shop.
It is raining again, we heard it is also raining in Kathmandu. A bit early for a pre-monsoon…. Luckily again the rain only started when we already arrived!
15 March 2011 Ghalekharka (1674 m)- Lwang (1440 m) 5 hrs
Although Ghalekharka is a Tamang village, we got the same official goodbye as in the Gurung villages we stayed. This time we even got a speech, after which we were all blessed with thika’s and garlands made of rhododendron. Our dog Setuk was not forgotten and got a nice red thika and a garland as well.
Again we are diverting a bit from the GHT indicated on the map. As mentioned before, there is not yet one official GHT (lower) route, so we don’t see it as a problem to create our own route now and then. From Lahachok we went northwards, and where the GHT on the map went to the west, we continued going north, up till Lwang, close to Ghalel. From here we will go to Landruk and Ghandruk tomorrow and then continue to Ghorepani next day. We think this is a more interesting route than the indicated route on the map, as both Landruk and Ghandruk are very nice villages.
It was easy walking most of the day, through the fields and passing several small towns, so we could restock our snacks. During our lunch in Lahachok the sky was getting dangerously grey…. It looked like this time the rain was coming during walking hours. And so it did, quite heavily! We even had hail! Even though I wore a raincoat, raintrousers and a poncho, my clothes were quite wet when we arrived. I don’t know if that is all from sweat, or the rain went through both layers….
The walk ended with a climb through the forest to the Gurung village of Lwang. Lwang is a very nice village with a beautiful view over the Mardi Khola. We are staying in homestays again, so the whole group is spread out over the village. Our homestay is quite nice, we have a separate small home, next to the buffalo shed and with a small vegetable field in front of us. And with a great view over the Mardi Khola!
16 March 2012 Lwang (1440 m)-Ghandruk (2040 m) 7 hrs
This was a day of contrasts! We woke up in the small village of Lwang, with a beautiful sunny morning sun, which was already a contrast with the rain and hail of the day before.
I was surprised to see the Machhapuchhre (Fishtail; 6997 m) rising up behind the village! This makes Lwang even more beautiful! After having a nice breakfast of pancake with omelet on the courtyard of our hosts we set of, of course not after having being blessed with red vermillion powder and a beautiful garland with flowers from the forest.
The walk went into the jungle, on a trail which is not often used, and the jungle was sometimes closing in a bit. We passed 2 viewpoints which offered amazing views over the Annapurna range. You can see the Annapurna South (7219 m), Annapurna I (8091 m), Hiunchuli (6441 m), Machhapuchhre (Fishtail; 6997 m), Annapurna IV (7525 m), Annapurna II (7937 m) and Lamjung Himal (6983 m) and all from quite close. The only reason this trail is not popular, is because it is not known, that’s for sure! I hope that our walk and the media attention it gets will start to change this!
Along the way we met a few villagers who warned us for the bears. Better not to walk alone….Better in a group and even better if you make noise, for example sing a song. Mmmmm…I just walked alone quite a big part of the closed jungle trail….Anyway I don’t think the chance is very big that we meet a bear, but of course, you can never know. So we decided to stay together a bit, we didn’t sing though.
After a couple of hours we arrived in Pitam Deurali (2106 m) and there we suddenly arrived on the tourist trail! Talking about contrasts! For the last couple of weeks, in fact during the whole GHT, I have hardly met any tourist. And suddenly there are many! And suddenly there are lodges about every 15 minutes, well stocked with snacks, cold drinks and all kind of things a trekker might need.
It was still rather quiet though, and we had a beautiful walk through the forest, with the Annapurna South and Hiunchuli almost constantly in sight.
After a very steep descend to the Mardi Khola (1320 m) we had an even steeper climb to Ghandruk (1874-2050 m). We are staying in a very nice guesthouse and enjoyed apple fritter, pizza, spring roll, momo’s and French fries. And that is the last contrast, all the choice of food after all these months of dahl bath twice a day!
17 March 2012 Ghandruk (2040 m)-Ghorepani (2885 m) 6 ½ hrs
We started the day with a beautiful sunrise over the Annapurna’s. However, unfortunately clouds where coming in quickly, implying rain or hail later during the day…
At the beginning of the day, something quite tragic happened….We lost our dog Setuk! She found a boyfriend, a huge dog, and both had been playing all evening and morning already. And she just decided to stay! We all became quite attached to her, it’s really a shame she is not with us any more…But hopefully she is happy in love. May be I have to come back to Ghandruk to get myself a small Setuk after the trek .
The walk was beautiful, going through rhododendron forests most of the day. Many of the trees where in full bloom with bright pink flowers, a beautiful sight!
Walking up I suddenly got an idea: since we are on the tourist trail, why should I eat dahl bath twice a day….Egg veggie noodles, that is what I want! That sounded good to Elizabeth and Shylie as well. But our crew was ahead and no telephone connection. So I decided to run up to tell them. I was really on a mission, racing up the mountain to get hold of our crew. And I managed! And it tasted great ! But I have to say, in the afternoon, both Elizabeth and me couldn’t stop yarning, so it seems we did miss our energizing dahl bath!
There was lots of snow from about 2600 m onwards. I have been here many times, also around this time, as I used to be tour leader and I guided the Annapurna Base Camp trek many times. But never did I have snow before on this part and at this altitude! Climate change in reverse!
As we already suspected in the morning, it rained and hailed all afternoon and we were walking in the fog. Really a shame, as we were passing Gurung Hill, from which you have a stunning view on the Annapurna’s and Dhaulagiri I with good weather. What to do!
In the evening we celebrated Paribesh’s birthday who turned 30 today. Our cook Raj Kumar made a delicious birthday cake and the “core team” joined us to celebrate. We couldn’t party too long however, as tomorrow wake up time is 5 am, to see the sunrise from Poon Hill.
18 March 2012 Ghorepani (2885 m)-Poon Hill (3193)- Tikot (2278 m) 1 ½ + 3 hrs
Watching the sunrise over the Annapurna and Dhaulaghiri range from Poon Hill (3193 m) is the attraction of Ghorepani. In season time, each early morning around 5 am hundreds of trekkers walk up the hill to admire the eight, seven and six-thousanders, and how the first rays of the sun are shining on them.
So we went as well, with good hope that the weather had cleared up, as we could see stars. However, already when we were going up, it was clear that it was still quite clouded. A bit a shame, but fortunately the sky opened up a bit some times, providing dramatic images as well.
Back in the lodge we had the best banana pancakes on the whole GHT! I can tell now already that they won’t get better than this. That is the advantage of being on the tourist trail .
At about 9 am we left for… yes for what? That was not quite clear yet. We have to arrive in Beni tomorrow, but the trail to Beni pointed out on the map according to the locals doesn’t exist. There is another trail, but you have to know the way. Fortunately Asian Treks has good relations with one of the lodge owners who knows, and he offered to join us to show us the way.
We went down northwards and entered the rhododendron forest. It was a beautiful walk over small trails through the forest. Many rhododendrons were blooming, so many flowers, both pink and dark red, absolutely stunning. We even saw a few orchids! There were also many small bushes with small white or pink flowers. This is the loktha plant, and from the branches Nepali paper is made. We passed a few open fields, which with good weather would have provided excellent views to the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range, but unfortunately today they were hiding behind the clouds.
Once and a while we saw a signpost for Tikot (2278 m), our first destination. We arrived around 12, and were received with beautiful flower garlands. And in the end the villagers convinced us to stay! It is only 4 hours from here to Beni and Beni and the surrounding places are not very attractive places. And here we were in a beautiful village, with, when the weather is clear, a great view over the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range. So why wouldn’t we stay?
Tikot (2278 m) is a very charming village, inhabited by Magar people, who are Hindu’s with lots of animistic touches. All special features in nature (as the spring of a river) are holy to them and most of the times you will see a small temple here.
Tikot has a homestay programme as well (9 houses, 20 beds), so we are all spread out over the village. The homestays are very good, with nice rooms with good mattresses, clean bed linen, and clean toilets (and even toilet paper in the toilets!). This time we don’t eat in the house of the host family, but all together in the hostel of the school of the village. The proceeds of the food go to the women group and the school, and the room charge to the family. Nice arrangement!
The homestay programme is part of a 5-8 day itinerary where you stay in homestays and community lodges. More info you can find on www.himanchal.org or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or Pradeeb Pun, the coordinator of the programme in Tikot, email@example.com .
Around 5 pm, Tarcha knocked on our door: the villagers had organized a cultural program with sing and dance. Nice how they can organize these events on such short notice, as we were not intending to stay here! It was a nice programme, the ladies danced quite nice! They ended with a marooni dance, where men are dressed up as women, which I wouldn’t have noticed, expect for their sneakers. In the evening in bed we still heard them singing, seems like they continued !
19 March 2012 Tikot (2278 m)-Beni (850 m) 4 hrs
We woke up with an amazing view and sunrise over the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range. From our bedroom window! Why to climb all the way to Poon Hill as you can see it from your bed !!
Today we had to go down, down, down….and down. There is a dirt road going to Tikot, but fortunately the old trail hadn’t been used to build the road upon (it was probably too steep), so the trail was still there. After 2 hours of steps we reached the Kali Kandaki River. From here it was another 2 hours of almost flat walking on the dirt road, following the Kali Kandaki. Kali means black, and the river is black indeed, or at least dark brown. A special sight. Kali Kandaki is a first class river for rafting and kayaking, but for the courageous as the rapids are quite difficult!
In Beni we are staying in a nice comfortable hotel, with attached bathroom and hot shower. What a luxury! The restaurant of the hotel however is not so well organized: when we ordered milk tea, we got 2 glasses of hot milk, when we ordered a small pot of masala (spiced) milk tea, we got a small pot of hot milk with spices, they brought the banana pancake which we ordered as a dessert together with the main dish, etc. Quite hilarious!
At 5 pm there was a function with again an important guest, the Minister of Environment. Let’s hope that all the interest we get during this trail will be converted into concrete action to help develop and promote the trail!
20 March 2012 Beni (850 m)
Today we are staying in Beni for a day. Finally time to do all the things that I don’t have time for on a regular walking day. For example selecting pictures to upload to flickr. Fortunately the hotel has good internet access, so I can upload them using wireless, as with the internet mobile device I have it would probably take 6 hours (and be expensive). Not that it is that quick here, after an hour I am at 32 %. So it still takes 3 hours in total as well!
1 ½ hour later: 48 % ….
Annapurna Section – Flickr Photos