Annapurna Basecamp Trek, Nepal

At the youthful age of 14 I was introduced to Dartmoor National Park through schemes including Ten Tors and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. Having accumulated over 500 miles of trekking across the moors and discovered a passion for international travelling, I decided that my 21st birthday present would be a flight to Nepal. Of course, walking 50 miles across undulating terrain doesn’t exactly sing “happy birthday!” to everyone.

Having been scheduled to volunteer in Nepal during the Summer of 2015 just two weeks after the earthquake struck, I was disheartened to learn that I would be placed elsewhere due to the severity of the destruction. So when faced with obstacles of a cancelled flight, 3 hour delay on the following flight and postponed baggage in Qatar, I contemplated whether I was ever meant to visit Nepal. I was later to learn that I was.

Arriving in the capital, Kathmandu, I questioned opinions of people who had sworn of the most beautiful landscapes they had ever seen. Whilst in the city and tourist streets of Thamel you will be engulfed with clouds of dust and the ear-aching warning of car and motorcycle horns. Not forgetting the sight of flies lingering over freshly skinned raw chicken bodies perched on a wooden counter beside the road.

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The best of Nepal starts to be unveiled in Pokhara, an eight hour bus journey from Kathmandu. Featured is a panoramic view of the World Peace Temple, better known as the Shanti Stupa.

Once you’ve accepted the privilege of being born in an MEDC, you start to realise that what you may think you are lacking are replaceable materialistic items that will be attainable on your return home. It is in part the reason why I find so much happiness and joy in connecting with local and international people when travelling; both parties benefit from the new friends they have made and you learn just how wonderful and selfless even the most deprived people in this world are. On speaking to a Nepalese man in a bar, he explained how tourists are treated with the upmost respect, even more so than Nepalese citizens, essentially because their economy and local incomes are heavily dependent on tourism. You can only begin to imagine the potential long-term impact the April 2015 earthquake could have on Nepal and its people. But make no mistake, the condition of the country is more than okay to visit, just see for yourself.

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The primary trekking months in Nepal are October/ November and April/ May, during such time it allows to avoid extreme cold temperatures and the monsoon Summers. When I realised I had booked the flight for January, I pondered whether the trek would be achievable. There were and still remain very few blogs on the internet about Annapurna Basecamp because clearly Everest is the bigger and bolder option and fewer people travel in the off-peak month of January, yet I was staggered at just how many people were trekking. If anything January appears to be the best time to go: the weather is warm below 2,500 metres allowing to spend the day trekking in a base-layer and guest houses aren’t over-crowded, nor absent of friends.

On Thursday 12th January 2017, a friend and I started our 4 and a half day summit to Annapurna Basecamp. Our journey was as follows:

Day 1: 12th January
Altitude: 1,025m to 1,940m
Weather: Clear and sunny skies, 11°c average
Route: Birethanti to Ghandruk

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First checkpoint for TIMS card and trekking permit is at Birethanti (each cost 20 USD).

After catching a 1.5 hour taxi from Pokhara to Birethanti, we walked along a road to Kilyu (try asking the locals “does this track go to kill you?”) 

Make no mistake, the definition of ‘road’ in this country is a dusty and particularly bumpy track used by vehicles.

Trekked for 6 hours to Ghandruk with 15kg backpacks, taking the West path from Kimche heading North.

6 days until university deadline…
Day 2: 13th January
Altitude: 1,940m to 2,344 (Kot Danda) to 1,780m
Weather: Clear and sunny skies, 9°c average
Route: Ghandruk to Jhinu

It was on the evening of the 12th January that I tried my first Nepalese dish, the infamous dal bhat, which consists of rice, lentils, vegetables, curry potatoes, naan and a ‘special sauce’. It certainly was a special sauce in my case and one of which I ended up vomiting back up throughout the night and following morning. After a delayed start I trekked on with a  case of food poisoning. Having spoken to the locals and followed their advice, we diverted up even more hills to Little Paradise in Kot Danda, where I would be treated medically by an ex British Army Gurkha doctor. The day was shorter in distance, but one of the furthest in measurement of time as we rest in Jhinu for the night.

Day 3: 14th January
Altitude: 1,780m to 2,600m
Weather: Clear and sunny skies, 6°c average
Route: Jhinu to Dobhan

Conscious of the lack of progress we had made the day before, we trekked on to Dobhan allowing us to catch up with our originally planned destination to sleep. Make no mistake, the contours on this map don’t even begin to shape the reality out on the ground and the countless steps we marched up and down, day in day out. Not even when you consider that each contour represents 40 metres… not the usual 10m.

Day 4: 15th January
Altitude: 2,600m to 3,700m
Weather: Cloud and the occasional appearance of the sun in high altitude, -2°c average
Route: Dobhan to MBC

Morale was pretty low on the morning of the 4th, which wasn’t helped by nauseous signs of altitude sickness at 3,000m and a lack of trail talk. But low and behold we were later accompanied by an Australian couple, Sam and Olly, who not only boosted morale when it was needed most, but generously shared their crampons. All four of us trekked on with a crampon on one foot and rope tied around the other walking boot. As a best friend once rightly said:

“It’s not how far we walked, it’s how good we looked doing it.”

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Day 5: 16th January
Altitude: 3,700m to 4,130m (ABC) to 2,310m (Bamboo)
Weather: Snow cloud and bitter snow at high altitude, -10°c average
Route: MBC to ABC to Bamboo
2 days until university deadline…

Reaching the summit of ABC was awesome. I knew what I wanted to do, I set out to do it and I had finally complete it. Seeing all the people we had met along the trek either at the top of ABC or on own descent made everything all the better. We would wish everyone a safe trek, as we descended to Bamboo and even trekking into the darkness.

abc

Day 6: 17th January
Altitude: 2,310m to 1,565m
Weather: Clear and sunny skies, 9°c average
Route: Bamboo to Jhinu Hot Spring

Once you’ve trekked ABC you really appreciate the saying, “what goes up must come down” and even the opposite. The terrain really is undulating and unforgiving at times. I recall how delighted I was to walk down several hundred steps at a time and I most certainly remember the same several hundred steps I had to walk back up. The end of the trek was in sight and we rested well with a deserved trip to the local hot springs, all for a mere cost of £0.75! Who needed a trip to the spa for £40 anyway? On second thoughts…

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Day 7: 18th January
Altitude: 1,565m to 1,640m
Weather: Clear and sunny skies, 11°c average
Route: Jhinu Hot Spring to Kimche to Pokhara
Deadline day!

D-day had arrived… but fortunately because Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of UK time, I had until 21:45 to complete my assignment! Yes, when I graduate I will remember that time when I was in the mountains multitasking between vomiting dal baat and typing my essay. Would I have my life any other way? Absolutely not!
After four final hours of trekking I bought a well-deserved Everest beer for the bus trip back to Pokhara and spent the rest of the evening getting royally drunk with the company of international friends!

Nepal is a beautiful country, but I truly believe you have to be willing to make the effort of trekking (or a helicopter ride if you have the dollar) to see the very best of nature. The overbearing impression of the Himalayan mountains is a reminder that although we as humans consider ourselves dominant beings of the world, nature remains the ultimate ruler.

I would like to thank each and every person, Nepalese and international, that made me smile, laugh and realise just how much I love my life. I am forever grateful for your kindness, advice and good wit.

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