Twelve years ago during my post-army Southeast Asia trip, I regarded climbing the Himalayas, the hilltop of the world, as a challenge to be taken. Due to bad planning and worse weather I never made it. Today I'm better at planning and more serious about challenges.
Three weeks ago we crossed the arduous way from India into Nepal on a dirt road in a trip that took almost double the original 6 hours estimation in a cloud of dust and potholed dirt road to fit a small car.
Ultimately Pokhara welcomed us with a friendliness that we were not even expecting: The Nepalese new year celebrations were at its peak in this lively city by the lake. Young Nepalese (boys AND girls) dancing, cheering and having fun in the most "common" way we could think of. Far from the conservative ways we experienced in India.
What was supposed to be a short pit-stop for the Annapurna Circuit trek in Pokhara, extended into five days of slow gear shopping, permits, packing, too much eating and leisure.
Only five hours (140km believe it or not) from the relaxed atmosphere of Pokhara the begins the Annapurna Reserve Area, a huge national park in the middle of the Himalayas where the famous Annapurna Circuit was crafted. Known as one of the most challenging and popular trekking trails in the world, it stretches for 250 km and rises from 800m height at its beginning in Besishar up to 5416m at the Thorung La, the highest pass in the world.
Over 100.000 people from all over the world come to this lengths to try themselves against nature and rejoice from the ever changing scenery of the Annapurna Circuit (AC). Ages ranging from teenagers with their parents to elders looking for one more challenge. The circuit is designed to suit almost everyone with enough time and tenacity to go through it. Also, the part takers are assorted: Mostly young professional Westerners, but also some Latin Americans, Asians, lost hippies and hundreds of loud fresh-out-of-the-army Israelis.
Tourism is the main income of land-locked-earthquake-hit Nepal, and therefore the range of services offered to the tourists is great: french-speaking guides, porters, jeeps, horse rides and even baby carrying Sherpas. Each visitor can choose the setup of its trek: length, budget, load and duration. There are options for everyone.
We chose to go Solo, Tal's experience in navigating the Holy Land and my reluctance to follow a guide, together with the uneasiness of a guy carrying your personal belongings while you stroll with a tiny man-purse on the steep climbs was unthinkable.
Supported a topographic map, a guide book, a GPS app, two 7kg backpacks (See packing for the AC), 4 liters of water, snacks and lots of energy we set our feet on the trail.
The first step is the hardest
On out first day we were resolved to make the most unique experience out of this. Following a suggestion in the "Trekking in Nepal" app, we chose for a homestay sleep on out first night in an off-the-beaten-path town on top of a hill.
The result was less than promising, after more than 4 hours trekking between paddy fields and crisscrossing the Marsyangdi river (which we were to follow for the next week) we started the ascend to the town. Two hours later, soaked in our own sweat, exhausted and hopeless in front of a map that made this huge hills look like mere folds in the landscape, we assessed that we wouldn't make it to the town before dusk and decided to turn around to return to the main trail. Devoided of self-confidence and beaten, we were starting to learn the task ahead, and the meaning of each altitude line drawn on the map. One line = 100 meters = 30 floors, and there were many lines ahead.
Back on the main trail, we found a small guesthouse that did not surpass our expectations of luxury accommodations, or have glass to cover the window.
Exhausted after 27km of ups and downs we went to sleep to begin the real adventure. See next post once published