The Annapurnas: And So It Begins…

Day 1: Pokhara – Kande – Australian Camp

It’s time to go trekking, and after three weeks sitting still in Pokhara I’m ready to get moving. We head out to our favourite breakfast spot, Cafe 17, and fill up for the day ahead. At 8:30am our ride appears and we pile into the minivan that will drive us to Kande where we’ll walk up to Australian Camp. The day is surprisingly clear for once. I peer from the back seat out of the front windscreen see an amazing view of the mountains in front of us. Excitement fills me as I hope that the clear weather is a good omen for the days ahead.

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At Kande we meet one of the Tibetans who sold us jewellery the last time we were there. He recognises the keychains hanging from Ben’s bag and makes no attempts to sell us anything, simply giving us a smile and wishing us well on our way.

So, once again we walk upwards to Australian Camp. It somehow feels easier this time. Probably because I’m not carrying a large rucksack. Funny how 12kg less weight makes all the difference, right? Our porter, Bel, is friendly and seems very knowledgeable about the area, as well as being flexible about how far we go with the kids.  We make a plan to go as far as Australian Camp, after that we’ll decide if we’ll go further. We could easily press on another 40 mins to the village of Pothana, but Bel tells us that the sunrise views from Australian Camp are lovely, so that’s worth considering.

We reach Australian Camp around midday. Bel chooses our lunch spot and he picks a good ’un. Gurans Hotel & Restaurant sits overlooking a splendid view of Machapucchare. A huge wooden & bamboo swing sits upon a large grassy area where a group of adults are relaxing in the sun while their kids play noisily around them. We drop our bags, choose a table outside and place our order. Spicy Masala tea, popcorn for the kids, and a fruit salad for the pretence of healthiness. We relax in the sun staring at the mountains while Ben and Chloe play with the other kids. They are having a blast. We clearly aren’t going anywhere else today. We’ve not covered much distance but we feel happy to break the kids into this trekking thing gently.

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The kids play in the sunshine, Alex reads and sketches. I’ve developed a splitting headache so I’m chilling in our room, lying on the bed and listening to the voices drifting up from the field below. It’s nice to rest and not feel like I have anything else I need to be doing. It’s a luxury I don’t often feel.

As the evening cools we head inside the dining hall for dinner.  A fire is lit in the wood stove in the centre of the room. Everyone huddles around it and we chat flows easily. A TV is turned on and one of the Harry Potter movies is playing. The kids couldn’t be happier. Soon it is 8pm and time for bed. We wrangle the kids into brushing their teeth and getting on their PJs. Settling them down is a task and a half, life is just too exciting these days. Still, tomorrow will be a longer day and my alarm is set for 6:30am. I’m optimistically hoping for clear weather to catch a beautiful sunrise. Fingers crossed.

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Distance covered: 2.6km

Hotel: Gurans Hotel & Restaurant

Room Charge: $9.50 for triple room with attached bathroom.

Additional Info: WiFi & charging free. Charging points in rooms & dining hall.

Day 2: Australian Camp – Tolka

I awake to tiredness right through me. I slept so badly, tossing and turning all night and my headache is still very much with me. When my alarm goes off I feel exhausted. I quietly stumble into my clothes, grab my camera and head outside for sunrise. It’s a little cloudy but Machhapuchhare is standing tall amidst it all. I climb onto the roof and watch the sun rising in the East, an orange glow spreading through the clouds. As the sun rises above, a beam of orange light streaks through the sky towards the mountains. It’s an amazing sight.

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Chloe wakes and comes out to join me on the roof and we watch the sky lighten together in the chill morning air.

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We put a warm breakfast in our bellies, I pack up our rucksacks and then it’s time to move on. We leave Australian Camp and walk along rocky trails, up and down. We reach the village of Pothana and check in at the TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) checkpoint and hand over our ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) passes. We are officially in the Annapurnas now!

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Bel strides ahead and I bring up the rear

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After an hour or so we reach Pitam Deurali and sit down for a short rest. Butter biscuits are greedily consumed, local dogs are stroked. The kids are doing well, there’s always some urging along required uphill but as long as snacks are plentiful, things keep moving.

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Approaching Pitam Deurali

We stop for lunch at a little restaurant with a terrace in the sun overlooking the mountains and discover that instant noodles in soup with some homemade chapatis is pretty tasty. After lunch our trail soon turns onto the Jeep track, and while this is easier walking in some ways – flatter, less up and down – it poses new challenges : Caterpillars. Little furry caterpillars are crossing the road in abundance and Chloe does not want anyone to step on a single one of them. Needless to say, this is no easy task. Chloe is in tears with the stress of avoiding all those tiny bodies inching along. The going is slow. She’d make a good Buddhist. Eventually the caterpillars thin out and we can get moving again, until the next patch. Bel marches on ahead as we navigate our way through the insect bodies.

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On the far side there be caterpillars!

We reach the outskirts of Tolka early afternoon and Bel suggests we stop at Hotel Namasta, which turns out to be a very good idea. The kids are tired and the hotel, with its large grassy garden looks inviting.

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We choose a room, drop our bags and Alex gets straight down to washing some clothes and hanging them out in the sun. I treat myself to a hot shower and the kids run rampant in the garden. Luckily we are the only guests so we let the kids play as loudly as they like! Rocks are gathered, Chloe has found a “tool” and starts using it as a chisel to shape rocks into fish and give them eyes. Quite the stonemason. Alex and I drink tea while looking out over the valley. The wind blows over the grassy terrace but the sun is warm on our backs. In the distance clouds mass and it looks like rain might be coming our way.

Alex chats with Bel and it turns out that of the $13/day we are paying the trekking company for his portering services, Bel gets $10. But he has to pay $5 each day for food – $2 each for breakfast and dinner and $1 for lunch. I thought perhaps the restaurants would give him food for free if we eat there, but it seems not. He gets a place to sleep for free, but in return helps out at the teahouse with serving food, etc. So for a full day of lugging our gear over the mountains he takes home $5. It doesn’t seem like much. 

It’s 8pm and time for bed. The night sky is clear and full of stars shining brightly. Across the valley the hills are black and lonely lights twinkle from single huts and in larger clusters from villages perched on the hilltops. Earth echoing the sky. I stand and stare at the brilliance of the dark and listen to the sounds of bells and music carried on the wind that ruffles my hair.

 

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Distance covered: 7km

Hotel: Hotel Namasta

Room Charge: $4 for quadruple room with shared bathroom.

Additional Info: $1 for hot shower. WiFi free.

 

Day 3: Tolka – Kyumi

7am and I open the curtain to see a mountain towering in front of us.  Annapurna South rears up at the head of the valley and its presence takes me by surprise. When we arrived yesterday it had been completely obscured by low cloud and I’d had no idea it was hiding there. It’s so hard to capture the immensity and volume the mountains have when they tower above you in real life.  In photos they always look so much further away than they feel in person. In a picture it looks like this:

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In real life they look like they are right in front of you, like this:

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It’s another day along the Jeep track but only a couple of Jeeps pass by so we aren’t consumed in clouds of dust. I hear that’s a problem on busier parts of the circuit. Alex recites the story of Hansel & Gretel to the kids as Bel walks on ahead and I stride along in between.

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Leaving Tolka
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Bel up in front

A local girl comes out of her house as we pass by and she and the kids say hi.  Chloe has her binoculars around her neck. The girl follows along for a while, holding Chloe’s hand as they take turns looking through the binoculars. Stunning views follow us as we walk.

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Annapurna South is on the left, Himchuli is the smaller peak on the right.

We arrive at Landruck. Across the valley, a few hundred metres higher than our current altitude we can see Ghandruck sitting atop the hillside. It’s tomorrow’s destination but unfortunately before we get there, we need to head down, making tomorrow’s climb a substantial one. Steep stone steps lead us down the hillside, snaking back and forth in the sunlight.

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The kids meet a friendly goat in Landruk
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Heading down but looking up.

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We meet sweaty, out-of-breath trekkers heading upwards as we descend. Tomorrow, that’ll be us. After an hour or so we reach a bridge spanning roiling turquoise waters below.

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Across the bridge the small settlement of Kyumi is nestled into the bottom of the valley. Just two teahouses and lots of nature. We walk to the second teahouse through bright green fields and past towering wood stacks. We arrive at Bright Hotel and it’s a beautiful spot. True to its name, bright orange flowers cascade from the roof and flowerpots full of pinks and reds line the stone terrace.

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Our stop for the day.

The kids play with a fluffy puppy, Alex and I sit in the sun chatting with other trekkers and drink Masala tea. It’s a popular lunch spot, being at the junction of several trails, but once the lunch crowd disperses a peaceful quiet descends. I sit looking out over the valley and listen to the background rumble of the river as it flows past, and I suck it all in. The kids run along the path between the two teahouses playing with the puppy, and I feel happiness as I watch their exuberance and freedom.

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A path leading down to a small flour mill by a stream where corn is being ground.

A fruit and vegetable seller comes through, two heavy baskets of produce balanced over his shoulder. I buy the kids some grapes while Bell explains that this guy buys fruit & veg back in Pokhara, then walks from there along the trail to Annapurna Base Camp, at 4100m, selling his wares along the way. When he sells out he turns around, walks back to Pokhara to refill and then repeats it all over again. Along the way he barters labour for lodging from teahouses. Not an easy way to make a living, but I’m learning that’s not unusual in Nepal.

Distance covered: 4km

Hotel: Bright Guest House

Room Charge: Normally $8 for triple room with shared bathroom, but gave it to us for $6 for some reason.

Additional Info: $2 for hot shower. WiFi free.

3 thoughts on “The Annapurnas: And So It Begins…

  1. Leigh, what a fantastic journey you are on. I just want the writing to go on and on. and your photos are truly illustrative and beautiful. Wonderful, I am eating it up! xoxo

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  2. Another array of stunning photographs accompanying your engaging blog. I was transported with each descriptive leg of the journey; avoiding caterpillars, devouring the homemade chapatis, welcoming that spicy masala tea, offering up hand washing to the solar dryer 👏, holding my breath in the face of the Annapurna, – truly a Stendhal moment for you; feeling that pang of sympathy for a guide’s récompense when we ‘need’ so much more here in our comfortable first world. Thank you for sharing the countless gems of your quotidien life.

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  3. More stunning photos, Bear, especially of the mountains. So happy that you’ve seen some sunny days, and the kids seem to be really enjoying this adventure. Loving reading your blog! Hugs to you all. 🤗 😘

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