Category Archives: Annapurna Circuit Trek

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 5 : Upper Pisang – Ngawal

I went to see how Lila was feeling. He said that he was getting better, but his voice was still a bit hoarse. I had a chat with Yuva and we both agreed that if Lila doesn’t get better by Manang, then we will ask him to descend and return to Pokhara. He could hitch a jeep ride from Chame, and get to Pokhara within a couple of days. We would get a porter in Manang to help take us over the Thorung La until Muktinath, and the porter could possibly return to Manang within couple of days. Yuva and I would be able to manage from Muktinath on our own.

 

With that settled, breakfast was Tibetian bread and tarkari (a vegetable dish) and coffee. I chatted with the owner a bit. He was a cheerful guy and he said that he much prefers to live in Upper Pisang, and stays for extended periods running the lodge, while his wife goes and spends time in Lower Pisang. He said that he enjoys the longer sunshine that Upper Pisang experiences.

 

We set off at a leisurely pace after I paid my bill and said my goodbyes to the lodge owner.

 

From Upper Pisang, the route hugs the hill side, as we make our way down, down, down, and then a gradual ascent on the hill opposite. From the crest, you get a nice view of the villages of Upper Pisang. Too bad that in Dec, everything was dry and brown – the houses and the terraced fields.

 

We spotted Pasang and Qixing in the distance. Lila and I yelled at them, and upon hearing our screams, they paused and tried to spot us in the distance. This is how it happens on the trails. You meet other trekkers and you end up stopping at the same lodges for lunches and dinners, if they would be keeping a similar pace as you. In this case, Pasang and Qixing seemed to be more or less trekking at my pace.

 

We soon reached a line of chortens, from where Ghyaru could be spotted high up through an ascent via switchbacks. Just the sight of the switchbacks wanted me to take a break, which we did. Hydrated ourselves, passed around a Snickers bar each to everyone and we started the arduous climb. A third of the way, we stopped for a breather. The views of Annapurna II and III were spectacular, and so was the wind eroded cliff sides and the views of the river flowing down below.

 

We continued and next stop was at a small tea shop before Ghyaru. I usually stop at these solitary teashops even if I don’t need a break. I usually have a chat with the owner, have a drink, thank them, bless them, and then move on. It doesn’t cost much, maybe a dollar at most, and is a good way to recharge as well as contribute directly to the person running the teashop. Its hard work for them, and the least I can do is to offer them a bit of help, in return for their services.

 

As we reached Ghyaru at 3670m, Yuva had forged ahead, and was met with calls from Pasang, who had gone to some lodge (think it was Annapurna view lodge or something like that). Lila and I followed suit. The view was nice, and we sat in the courtyard, while Lila decided that its best if we had lunch here. We ordered a Thukpa, which took forever to be prepared. We chilled out in the meantime. It was getting too warm outside, so we went inside and watched some videos on my phone.

 

Thukpa came and it was quite ordinary. We rested for a while, paid up, and then took off for our post-lunch trek to Ngawal. We were taking it slow and easy and the idea was to enjoy the trek. I am not often treated to such views and altitude, so I would be making the most of it. The weather was perfect, clear blue skies and nice n warm. The ffive of us trekked together. As always, I would bring up the rear. We went downhill from Ghyaru, and then up hill again. As we reached the crest after passing some chortens and some kinda entrance, followed by a mani wall, I saw the other four waiting for me.

 

Decided to take a break and indulged in some cheesy photo taking.

 

From there, it was a comfortable 30-45 minutes walk to Ngawal. I loved the village, it had a good feel to it. The Japanese guy and his guide had decided to stay at the very first lodge that was open (it’s a few minutes before the main village, just before the long wall with the Tibetian prayer wheels). Think it was Himalaya view or something like that. There were a few other lodges and houses being built before that, even as we trudge downhill from the crest, to the plateau where the rest of the village is situated. I think that that lodge would be better suited for night photography, as you can set your tripods outside the lodge and also request the lodge owner to switch off the light at the entrance. (From where we stayed, as I shot from the rooftop of our lodge, this Himalaya view something lodge would be to my east, and I had to be mindful of stray light from the Himalaya view something lodge in my compositions)

 

We walked past that lodge, past the long wall with the Tibetian prayer wheels. I suppose everyone knows by now that be it prayer wheels or mani walls, when we walk past them, we should keep the prayer wheels or mani walls to our right (so, walk to their left).

 

Once we reached the village proper, we settled into the lodge called Peaceful Hotel. Lila knows the “didi” who runs the place. What it means is that he gets special treatment (*wink* *wink* Rakshi)

 

We got our rooms and went up to the terrace. Most of the terraces are made of mud and a wood frame, so don’t expect a great deal of stability and everytime you walk on the roof, there will be mild vibrations. When shooting at night, please be mindful of this, so that you don’t just ruin your own composition, but also the composition of other fellow photographers (if any). My other gripe is to do with headlamps. If you know someone is photographing at night, please do them a favour, and don’t shine your headlamps at full power onto their face and blind them and/or ruin their composition with the stray light. Rant ended.

 

I went back to my room to change into my clothes for the night, open up my sleeping bag, put the batteries to charge – everyday chores while on the trail. After sufficiently protecting myself from the cold and the wind, I took my cameras and went up to the roof to catch the last light of the day and make a few images in the blue hour. It was spectacular. The moon had already risen, even while I was in the room, and I had made some images with my 7D & 70-200mm lens then.

 

I was feeling good, no signs of AMS, and other than the minor aches and pains and general tiredness as part of the trek, I was doing quite fine. We ordered dal bhat, and sat in the kitchen warming ourselves up with the fire that was burning. After dinner in the dining room, I went up and put my cameras to work. Satisfied that everything was functioning the way it was, I decided to catch some shuteye.

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 4 : Chame – Upper Pisang

The trek from Chame to Upper Pisang was special. It really felt as I was finally on the trek.

 

The route was mostly level for an hour and a half or so, when we reached a tiny settlement of Bhratang. There were already two big groups at the tea shops there, so Lila and I decided that we should press on and not waste time there.

 

The trail then turns dramatic as a path has been blasted out of the side of the cliff. Lila and Yuva were too far ahead of me to use them as a human element in my composition, that would give an idea of the scale. But I stopped to make some images nevertheless. I was feeling quite pleased with the trail since I had it almost to myself.

 

I referred to my notes and when I saw the first views of the dramatic rock face which the locals call Paungda Danda, I was thrilled. It is indeed hard to describe the feeling. One needs to experience it. Lila and Yuva had surged ahead as always. When I reached the cluster of lodges at Dukhur Pokhari, I saw Lila and Yuva happily settled at one of the regular lodges where Lila stays when on the circuit. Lunch was declared, which I gladly accepted.

 

From here, there were two options – either to Lower Pisang or Upper Pisang. Didn’t make much sense for me to stay in Lower Pisang as it would be in the shadown or Annapurna 2. Upper Pisang gets much more sunlight and until later during the day. The views are much more spectacular too. So, it was decided that after a brief rest after lunch, that we would go to Upper Pisang. Lila told me to not branch off from the main trail and keep heading west. I know on a trek, I should be walking much faster, but I like to set my own pace and for me, the journey is more important than the destination. How often do I get a chance to be amidst these majestic mountains?

 

There are a cluster of lodges in Upper Pisang. I wanted to go further higher, but found that the Tip Top Lodge with ensuite bathrooms (the lodge with its long verandas and painted in a bright pink colour) was a good option that suited my requirement. There was the option to charge batteries in the room, which is the most important requirement, next only to having a terrace J The other thing I am finicky about is stray light. When I am shooting at night, I obviously don’t want any stray light from other rooms or from other trekkers who use their headlamps indiscriminately. I chose the corner most room on the ground floor, from where I could reach out to my cameras and tripods and place them at the small ledge outside. With that settled, I ordered a hot cup of coffee and went about to charge my camera batteries, and got ready to shoot the sunset and the long night ahead.

 

There was the option of a solar shower, but once I got inside the bathroom, I realized there was only cold water. I proceeded with the cold water shower that really woke me up J

 

The good thing about trekking during the off-season or at least during the shoulder months before/after the main trekking season is that the lodges are relatively empty, that cuts down on the external noise a bit (I don’t understand why people can’t be in silence and have to constantly indulge in mindless chatter), and don’t have to wait too long for food. I always order my meals in advance –send Yuva ahead and ask him to order lunch (while I trek slowly behind), dinner a few hours in advance or in case of breakfast, I order the night before. This is something I learnt from Lila over the treks that I did in the past with him. Anyway, I don’t like to choose and there aren’t too many choices when on the trail.

 

The moon had already lit up the landscape by the time I finished my dinner. Over the course of the night, I made multiple images with the 6D with the 17-40mm lens and the 7D with the 24-105mm lens, in different directions, carefully avoiding the moon (or its flare) in my compositions.

 

I was busy all night long, walking in and out of my room, checking if the cameras were working fine, if clouds had rolled in etc. In between, I heard the ringing of bells – probably a goat that had lost its way OR maybe some herders returning home late.

 

I took a break from photography about an hour before sunrise. Replaced the used batteries with fully charged fresh batteries to be used for the morning shoot, and put the used ones to charge.

 

The sun rose and I got busy again, to capture that magical alpenglow over Annapurna 2. I shot several frames over the Annapurna range that I would assemble into a timelapse.

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 3 : Timang – Chame

After copious amounts of coffee, and having had my share of making images and shooting to make a timelapse, I packed up and gorged down a bowl of oatmeal porride.

 

Food on the trail gets repetitive. Breakfast is either oatmeal or Tibetian bread (a cross between the indian version of chapatti and poori) with some vegetable. There is an option of eggs, but being a vegetarian, that option is ruled out for me. Lila forbade me from coffee, but I told him that I would quit after Manang. I think Lila was worried after my close encounters with AMS, both during the ABC trek and the Langtang trek.

 

We set off around 9ish, by then everyone had left ahead of us. I played with the little girl at the lodge, gave her a couple of sweets and said my goodbyes. If you ever stop at Timang, and are interested in photography, Prasanna Lodge is a good option –offers the best location on its rooftop and the food and service is top notch.

 

The section to Chame was quite uneventful. We passed by Thanchowk, and then at Koto, there was a police checkpost where I had to show my ACAP permit and register at the police checkpost. Had a chat with the guys there, gave them couple of sweets, took some photos and we set off once again…

 

 

I wondered if I should have taken the jeep, but Lila insisted that we should trek in order to acclimatize well.

 

At the outskirts of Chame, we bumped into the Japanese guy and his guide and porter. They had gone till the town of Chame, and decided to head back to this lodge. It was only 1PM or so, and this location was already in the shadow of the mountain. Later I would realize why the Japanese guy chose this lodge, after going all the way to the town centre. It definitely had the best view in Chame and it would be relatively quiet. But it had no terrace !!! To me, that is probably the single most deciding factor when choosing a lodge on the trail J

 

Lonely Planet recommends New Tibet Hotel, and I decided to go with that recommendation. Now I realize, how biased these guidebooks can be. It had the crappiest view and was the most unfriendly lodge that I encountered during the trek.

 

We had passed by a lodge (I think it was called Mona Lisa, but maybe I am mixing it up with the one I stayed in Tal OR maybe it was the Shangri-La, I can’t be sure now) where I saw Qi Xing Bo perched on the terrace. I didn’t see much of a view from street level and decided to press on to New Tibet Hotel. I would find out later, the following day, that they were treated to a spectacular sunrise the next day. Such are the ironies of life.

 

As we reached New Tibet Hotel, we were greeted with grumpy and unfriendly faces. I was determined to stay there, since I didn’t want to walk back into the town centre, which was such a foolish thing to do. Chame is the most important town in that district. The headquarters of Manang district are based there.

 

Due to the indulgences from the previous night, Lila had developed a cough and sore throat. We went looking for some medicines for him, but the pharmacy was closed. So, we walked further to the only hospital in town. Lila didn’t get the medicines that he wanted, and I offered him the use of antibiotics. He refused initially. By evening, he had developed a bit of fever and we started to wonder if he should abort the trek and return to Pokhara, and we could ask Sher or someone else to meet us in Manang. Yuva and I could proceed to Manang, where we had an extra day to acclimatize. Lila made some calls to Shiva and Sher, but couldn’t find anyone at that moment who could leave from Pokhara. I didn’t have a very good feeling at that time. I wondered what would be the options if Lila fell sick. The farther we would go, it would be that much difficult for him to return. I insisted that he return to Pokhara and get himself treated, but he refused.

 

Finally, we agreed that we would go till Manang and then decide the best course of action. We could probably find a porter in Manang who would take us past the Thorung La and until Muktinath, and the porter would return to Manang. That would be our last resort. I forced the antibiotics that I was carrying with me, down Lila’s throat. I would ensure that he completed the course, and forbade him from any more rakshi.

 

I managed to find wifi in the evening, and upgrade my iPhone to iOS8. With that settled and out of the way, I would have an additional option to shoot timelapses.

 

Chame was boring. Yuva and I played cards in the evening under candlelight, even as Lila rested. The next morning, we set off early., but the Japanese guy was even ahead of us. “Man, he is an early riser”, I thought…

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 2 : Tal – Timang

Woke up the next morning, went up to the terrace. The sky was just starting to brighten up. Being low in the valley, the sunlight reached Tal quite late. Our plan was to set off early and stay overnight at Timang. Lila said that Timang would offer a good view of Manaslu, which wouldn’t be seen elsewhere. So, Timang it would be. I don’t have much memories of this day, dunno why.

 

We walked on the riverbed after leaving Tal, and up the rocky trail as we hugged the cliff to our right. We then crossed over a suspension bridge across the Marsyangdi. After a while, we passed a few tea shops at Karte. Being on the trail, set me free. Initially, I was singing to myself, then the music started playing from my phone. Old Hindi classics.

 

I do remember getting my ACAP permit checked at Dharapani. I glanced at the list of trekkers who went ahead of me and saw someone from China had just passed earlier. There were a few trekkers that we saw in that area and Lila told me that people doing the Manaslu circuit end up at this place, with an option to either complete the trek and return to Kathmandu OR to continue with Annapurna Circuit.

 

After Dharapani came Bagarchhap, where I bumped into a little kid who wanted to speak to me in English. After talking for a few minutes, I gave him couple of sweets and bid my goodbye to him.

 

Lila and Yuva had surged ahead and were waiting at a lodge at Danaque, where lunch was declared. The weather was excellent, clear blue sky and I was feeling reasonably ok with the walk, even though I hadn’t had much exercise before embarking on this adventure. There was a good view of Manaslu from there.

 

Beyond Danaque, the trail started to climb steeply, we would cross the dirt road at a few places and I wondered why was I not taking a jeep ride… But it was good exercise and we reached Timang almost around 430-5PM. The sun would set soon, but then out of nowhere clouds came and the sky turned white. WTF !!! All day, the sun was beating down on us and just when it came for witnessing a good sunset and last light over Manaslu, the clouds came and spoilt the party.

 

The first lodge that we encountered was called Prasanna Hotel and the moment I saw that it had a rooftop, I declared that this is where we would stay. Lila went and found out that they had a room available, probably the last (as its quite a small lodge with limited rooms) I asked for a cup of coffee, even as I got ready to setup shop on the rooftop, just in case the clouds would clear and we would get a glimpse of Manaslu in the last light.

 

It was a good decision. I had the best coffee of the entire trip at Timang. After I setup one tripod with the 6D and 17-40mm combination to shoot timelapse and the other tripod with the 7D and 24-105mm to get close up views of Manaslu, the clouds went into a frenzy. The last few minutes before the last light hit Manaslu, the clouds settled down to rest, and I was treated to a spectacular sight.

 

I bumped into Pisang Lama and his Chinese client (whose name I had seen at the ACAP checkpoint at Dharapani). They were a very friendly bunch and I learnt from them that iOS 8 had come up with a timelapse feature with the inbuilt camera app. I had been fairly ignorant about such things and I wondered if I would get a chance of free wifi, so that I could upgrade the iOS to the latest version. So much for coincidence…

 

I think I ordered dal bhat for dinner, and afterwards, went up to the rooftop to shoot the beautiful night sky. There was a Japanese guy who was trekking with a guide and porter. He too came to the rooftop, mumbled something and went back to his room. I set my alarm to coincide with moonrise, and even while the cameras were doing their work, I drifted off to sleep.

 

Lila was having a good time drinking Rakshi. It would be a frequent affair, I thought J

 

When my alarm rang, I got out, stopped the cameras, put in freshly charged batteries and set the cameras to work again. After being in solitude, I decided that I should get some sleep or else the next day would be a torture. So, off I went to sleep after setting the alarm for 2 hours later. When I went up 2 hours later, I found there was a thick mist and there was condensation on my lenses. WTF !!! Anyways, lesson learnt. I decided that in future, when shooting at night, I would attach the heatpacks that I had carried with me, to the lens barrel.

 

I woke up an hour before sunrise, and got ready for another round of shoot. It was a wonderful feeling to be amidst the mountains and the first light hitting the peaks. Pisang Lama and Qi Xing Bo came to the rooftop too, to shoot the sunrise. The Japanese guy came over too. It was a party that morning, as Lila joined in the show.

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 1 : Kathmandu – Besisahar – Tal

We took off early in the morning, probably left the hotel around 645AM. This time around there was no customary photo taking before the trek.

We had a car that would take us all the way to Besisahar from where we would find a jeep/local transport that would take us as far in as possible that day.

The drive out of Kathmandu was pretty uneventful. We reached Dhumre around 11ish, took an “exit” from the hightway, and then the road tapered to a typical mountain road in Nepal. Just one lane, and sometimes I wondered how two buses would pass each other. We might have reached Besisahar around 1230PM. Lila and Yuva grabbed a full lunch of Dal Bhat and I settled for half a plate of fried rice. I am not too comfortable with travelling on dirt roads and I didn’t want to risk vomiting a full plate of dal bhat – not a pleasant thought at all…

 

The prices are irrelevant (they are different for locals and foreigners), but Lila went an negotiated a deal where we would block one row in the jeep for the three of us. Uusually, 4 people would be crammed into that space, but we paid for one “extra” seat, so that we would have our day packs and my camera bag etc in that space, so that we wouldn’t be too uncomfortable. It turned out later that the jeep was quite empty after we passed Chamje.

 

We had agreed that even though the dirt road extends all the way to Chame, we would start our trek from Tal. We did some calculations and figured out that we might reach Taal just about 530-6PM, around the time the sun would set.

 

I can’t remember the exact settlements that we passed enroute, but the distinct ones were Jagat and Chamje. The latter would have been a worthy stop because of the thundering waterfalls opposite, that offers a fantastic view.

 

As it got dark, we started the descent to Tal, the lights of which we saw down in the valley. We were dropped off at the entrance of the village. We gathered our bags and looked at the accommodation options available. Being down in the valley, there wasn’t a great view to boast of. I would have stayed anywhere, but then I chanced upon the Hotel Mona Lisa which had a roof top, as well as a pretty decent garden downstairs. Lila hadn’t stayed here in the past, he told me that he usually stays at a small guesthouse closer to the waterfall further down the village.

 

I decided on Hotel Mona Lisa and that was it. We went and dumped our bags in our rooms, it was getting quite cold, so that jackets came out first, and the we proceeded to the dining hall to order lunch and start the first of several Dhumbal games. We were the only folks staying in the hotel, so dinner was served quite fast.

 

Dinner came and was devoured. Nothing really exciting to write about. We had covered 3 days worth of trekking in that one single day. With that glum feeling, I went to sleep.

Annapurna Circuit Trek : Day 0 : Arrival in Kathmandu

I flew Malaysia airlines from Singapore to Kathmandu via KL. It was the cheapest option available since SilkAir has a virtual monopoly over the Singapore Kathmandu sector and easily charges double the price of what Malaysian Airlines had on offer. However, in terms of flight timings, it was really inconvenient for me to take the Malaysian Airlines flight from Singapore as well as the transit in KL… Nevertheless, I managed to save around 500 odd bucks that would almost cover my food and lodging costs during the trek.

 

I bumped into Mariann at the KL airport in the unlikeliest of circumstances. We chatted for a while before boarding the aircraft, and continued it all the way to Kathmandu on the flight when the seat next to me was empty. We talked about a whole lot of things, and it was nice to see someone so excited about life.

 

Arrival in Kathmandu was quite uncharacteristic. “Where were the long queues at the immigration?” I had prepared Mariann for the worst, including asking her to make a mad dash to the immigration area, once we disembarked from the plane J

 

We cleared immigration quite smoothly, even though we had filled out the wrong form in a hurry… The baggage arrival took ages. Mariann’s brother and her boyfriend Ian would be waiting for her at Kathmandu airport. And the plan was to meet them, before I would go to the Sacred Valley Inn in a pre-paid taxi that I would get at the airport. However, in the melee that ensued after I got my bags and I was paying for the pre-paid taxi, we got separated and I couldn’t find her in the crowd.

 

I reached Sacred Valley Inn, met Bishnu for the first time in all these years, and went to dump my bags in my room. Shortly thereafter, Lila and Yuva arrived from Pokhara. It was so nice to see them. I informed Prasanna that I was in Kathmandu and we made plans to meet later that evening. In the meantime, Mariann contacted me and it became a slightly complicated affair to coordinate with everyone and make plans for dinner.

 

I gave Lila and Yuva, the gifts that I had taken for them. And then proceeded to change USD to Nepali Rupees for the trek. I told Lila that I had plans for dinner and that I would meet them later that night after dinner to work out our plan for the next day and for the trek.

 

Prasanna came shortly thereafter and we had a chat, then went to buy the crampons at Shona’s. I met Shanu and we had a little chat as he showed me how to fix the crampons to my boots. That was settled so quickly. I love Shona’s. I wouldn’t go anywhere else in Kathmandu to buy any trekking equipment.

 

Prasanna and I went to Pilgrim’s bookshop to show them the Langtang Gosaikunda book that I had made. There were a few things to be settled there.

We then went to OR2K for dinner. I wanted to ask Mariann if she and Ian would like to join us for dinner there or we should go somewhere else… As I was telling her the name of the place (OR2K), she replied “Wait, I can see the sign right here where I am…” She was right below the OR2K place on the street. Was it mere coincidence or what ?

 

After that, Ian, Mariann, Prasanna and I had a wonderful time over dinner. I was getting tired as I hadn’t slept even a wink, the previous night. I bade my goodbyes to Mariann and Ian. Prasanna and I went to top-up the local SIM in Nepal that he had got for me, and then I bade my goodbyes to him too…

 

Met up with Lila and Yuva when I got back to Sacred Valley and we decided that we would have an early start the next morning. With the alarm clock set for an early rise, I slept like a log….

Annapurna Circuit Trek – Planning and Preparation

Other than packing my camera gear, tripods, few clothes and the down jacket and a few thermals, my trekking boots, a pair of crocs, and some toiletries, not much went in preparation for the Annapurna Circuit Trek. By now, I have a fair idea of what I would need for a trek in Nepal. I didn’t even have time to read the Lonely Planet guide which details out the trek. So, I photocopied the relevant pages and decided to go with the flow.

In terms of planning, the plan was to meet Lila and Yuva in Kathmandu on my day of arrival and leave for Besisahar the next day. From there, we would set targets as we progressed on the trek.