Friday, June 4, 2010

Annapurna Circuit in 7 days (Part2)

So starting with this post I will go over in detail the actual hike itself on the Annapurna Circuit. This section will deal with getting to the trail head in Besi Sahar and the first two days which got me all the way up the east side of the trail to the village of Chame.

When I left off a few posts ago, I was traveling to Pokhara because I had arrived at the Kathmandu office too late to get my ACAP permit. The thought here was that the gateway of Besi Sahar was in fact close to Pokhara. After a seven hour bus ride to Pokhara I bumped into some friends, had some good food and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere at lakeside. Because the office that issues the ACAP permit didn't open until 10AM I had a relaxing morning, had a good breakfast and meandered down to the tourist office at dam side around 9AM. While waiting outside this office I read that the bus to Besi Sahar would take five long hours from Pokhara. Good grief. 

Luckily everything went smooth, I got my permits, cought a taxi and then got on a bus, and arrived in Besi Sahar around 4pm. Most normal people might conclude that this would be a good place to end the day, but I was itching to get trekking, and a quick look at my GPS unit informed me I still had three hours before the sun set. A quick look at the guide and it said it should take just under three hours to reach the trail head at Bhulbul. That math seemed favorable to me, and I figured worse case scenario I could stop in one of the villages along the way.

Bridge at Khudi, Quite Sketchy

The way to Bhulbul is along the new "road" and there was also the option of taking a 4WD jeep or a small bus. I opted for neither as I had spent 12 hours in the last two days on a bus. I was quite glad at this decision once I got walking, as the road was as bad as any I had seen in Nepal, and the vehicles were hardly going any faster than I was. Leaving the road briefly to take a short cut to the village of Khudi I crossed what may have been the sketchiest bridge I have crossed in Nepal. The wooden boards were rotted in multiple places from the spray of the river below, and where holes had formed another piece of wood had just been nailed over it. This did not inspire confidence.  With a few leaps of faith in rotten wood and rusty nails I made it over the bridge and a little further on down the road I made it to the trail head at Bhulbul, got my second stamp on my ACAP permit and was the only trekker in town as far as I could tell. I stayed at the friendly and comfortable Hotel Arjun and enjoyed the fading views of Mansalu perfectly framed in the valley as the sun went down.

The next morning I got up with the sun around 5:30AM and after breakfast and repacking my bag I was on my way by about 6:45AM. From Bhulbul the trail stayed on the east side of the river, away from the road on the opposite bank. You wander through rice and corn fields and small villages like Ngadi. The weather was clear with a slight breeze, but it was still warm in the sun, and I was definitely going to need all four liters of water that I had packed. By the time the trail hit the village of Bummarily it was starting to gain some elevation, and heading up the hill that Bahundanda sat on was maybe the larger climb of the day. 

The Middle Hills

Descending from that village you got some stunning views of the terraced landscapes of the middle hills. the trail continued through this rural landscape into the village of Ghermu. This was the end of the middle hills it seemed for beyond this village you could see that the wide valley turned into more of a gorge as the mountains steep sides constrained the area around the river. At the end of this village was a bridge across the river to the village of Syange, and this also marked the first part of the trail where it and the road were one in the same. I had lunch by the river in Syange and was accompanied by a really interesting Dutch guy that had spent the last year travelling to south Asia overland from Europe.

The Valley North of Syange Became a Canyon

Although the furthest you could travel by 4WD up this side of the valley was Syange, it did not mark the end of the road. The road from here forward existed, it was just still rubble strewn, littered with used blasting caps and a bit too thin in places to accommodate traffic, even by Nepali standards.The canyon walls were so verticle and tall through this section that I lost GPS location with any accuracy until I reached the somewhat wider part of the valley at the village of Tal. The waterfalls through this section of the trail were plentiful and quite amazing. My cammera failed to capture any of them in a way that showed their real beauty, but they were the best part of this lower section of the trail. 

After the small village of Jagat I got stuck behind a mule train for a while as I navigated a very thin path that ran over the scree slope of a rock slide. After finally getting around the donkeys a bridge brought me back over to the east side of the river and away from the "road". Still the road on the west bank was under construction in sections, and large swaths of ridge had been blown to hell with dynamite. As I got close to my final destination of the day, the small river side town of Tal, I was confronted with a mix of Nepali's, trekkers, and a mule train all hanging out in the same part of the trail. As I went to walk by some of the Australian trekkers explained to me that the army had closed off part of the trail until some blasting was completed on the far ridge. This held us up for about 20 minutes until there was one small puff of smoke followed by a large echoing boom that made a few people jump. Thinking that this was the dynamite we were waiting for we all looked to the army guy and started walking, only to be informed there would be another blast in five minutes. After about ten minutes the far ridge looked like the fourth of July as multiple charges blew rock into the air and sent some good size chunks of rock tumbling down into the cascades below. After a few more minutes (they weren't sure if all the dynamite went off) we were all finally able to continue on to Tal, and trekkers, porters and donkeys all jockeyed for position on the trail.

Morning in Tal

I arrived at the Father & Son Guest House in Tal just before 4PM, and looking at the map I figured I had put in a good days hike. Tal felt like a little wild west outpost, with donkey trains and people riding horses out by the river. Having left the middle hills the trees on the steep mountain slopes here had already turned to pines. I spent the night chatting with the Dutch guy who wandered into the same guest house and a pair of guys from the UK who had taken 4WD transport into Syange that morning. I don't remember what I had for dinner, but I remember having chocolate pudding for desert, and it was really good after a long days walk.

Leaving Tal, Donkey caravan takes the trail cut in the cliff

I slept like a rock that night, and awoke with the sun again just after five and after another good breakfast and getting my stuff in order I set out on the trail just before 7AM. From Tal the trail followed the river bed for a bit before heading up a trail that was cut into the east cliff face along the river. Eventually the trail descended a bit and cut across the river and joined up with the "road". This was maybe the most intrusive part on this whole eastern side of the trail, as there was a lot of work being done in this section. I had to climb around some guys drilling holes for blasting charges, and not long after that I had my run in with the boulder that missed my face by about four inches that I described in the last post. Soon I was just south of Dharapani and the construction let up and you were back on regular trail again, entering some really scenic areas.

Aproaching Dharapani- Manaslu Trail Branches to the Right

From Dharapani you stop heading north and swing a left heading west toward the north side of the Annapurna range.  This section of the trail looked remarkably like back home to me, exposed granite cliff and pine trees dominated the landscape. from here the trail also started gaining some good elevation and there were a couple of good climbs, especially around the little village of Timang. 
Morning View in Chame

I reached the police checkpoint in Koto at about half past noon, and after waiting for a few other trekkers to register as well I headed on to my destination for the day at Chame, stopping at the internet enabled Hotel Manaslu View. As I was trekking on my own it was nice to be able to E-mail my wife in Kathmandu and let people know I was still safe and sound. I had lunch and then feeling really tired from the days walk I took a nap for a bit. After that I strolled around the village, visited a nearby gompa, and ended up back at the guest house chatting with the Australians I had spent some time waiting for the dynamite with the previous day. That night I got to bed early to get some extra rest, as I thought there was a good chance I could make it to Manang the next day.

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