Despite living in Kathmandu in the past, I’d never been trekking in the Annapurnas (living with a toddler in Kathmandu meant I tended towards less adventurous activities). As such, I really had little idea of the reality or the experience. Getting up into the Annapurna Sanctuary to Chomrong has been quite different to what I’d expected. It’s strange when your imaginings are challenged, but at least this was in a good way. I’d imagined wandering up along a ridge that would just go up up up all day. In reality, the trekking in the Annapurnas is a mix of undulating terrain which dives down and up all day long but eventually ends up elevated. The valley itself is a very steeply sided V shape. As you move up, you’re surrounded by giant hills and mountains. The steepness and height can be overwhelming. The distances covered are quite short but the times are long due to the gradients. And of course, breathing up here is a little harder because of the altitude.
Pokhara to Tolka
My brother Chris had flown in from London a few days previously and after a long and exhausting bus ride to Pokhara we found a sleepy little hotel for the night. Next morning, it was so exciting to wake up and see a glimpse of the famous Machhepurche Fishtail mountain. I had no concept of how much closer I’d end up getting to that beautiful mountain range or the sunrises I had coming over the next few days trekking in the Annapurnas. After finding a patient taxi driver, we left the hotel and went to the TIMS office to purchase tourist and sanctuary passes. This is really important as passes are checked along the way and you will be charged double if you do not buy a pass before entering the Sanctuary. After an interesting drive, where the taxi ended up in a river bed due to road damage we ended up at a tiny village where there was a cutting on the side of the road – that’s where we entered the Sanctuary. We started at a place called Kande and went up through a village called Australia Camp. We have no idea why it’s called Australia Camp, there were no Australians to be found anywhere! The start of the trail was eerily quiet, and it stayed that way, all day. We didn’t see another trekker, guide or porter all day – the low season had come quickly, along with the monsoon. Our passes were checked at Pothana and our intentions noted. Excitedly we carried on, aiming to get to Tolka. The heat was fairly exhausting and the terrain started up. We passed through one more village and a guesthouse, before rounding a corner where a beautiful Nepalese Aama jumped out and convinced us to stay the night. As it was raining and we’d just walked down a steeply sided forest, we jumped at the chance for a place to rent. Sunshine Lodge in Tolka was very basic, and a hot shower was a one minute affair in a concrete cell! When trekking in the Annapurnas, you may only need to book ahead in the high season. During the side seasons and monsoon, you’ll be approached by locals as you enter villages and will always find somewhere to sleep. Aama cooked us a traditional Dahl baht over an open fire and the rain came in heavily throughout the evening. It was a beautiful site seeing the pockets of little villages light up along the sanctuary once night had fallen. The stars came out also so we had high hopes for spectacular mountain views the next day.
We slept well and paid 1100 rupees for accommodation, a huge meal, black tea twice, mineral water and a shower. That’s $14 nz dollars for us both. Our aim the next day was to get to Chomrong, which has great views of the high peaks. To budget while trekking in the Annapurnas, I’d recommend putting aside $20 US per day , which will include a beer or two every night.
Tolka to Chomrong
We started out from our plywood clad room and headed towards the village of Landruk. Immediately the view revealed itself. Spellbinding doesn’t really describe it.
We stopped for an omelette at someone’s house, and ate it from their back ‘room’. We interupted a small childs writing lesson for the day and sat staring at a recently cleared Annapurna South. It was pretty surreal to be honest, such simple surroundings with such grandeur!
After an easy trek to Landruk we ordered a small pot of milk coffee which took us forever to drink as it contained 12 cups! I could have stayed in Landruk for quite a while, as it was very pleasant surrounded by cultivated vege gardens and teahouses. Brother Chris had different ideas and off we headed to the next village. From Landruk there is a 30 minute descent down stone steps before you reach a tropical wonderland. For 60 mins or so wandered alongside the Modi Khola river. The river is a massive torrent of glacial water running over boulders the size of houses. The wildlife around this part of the trek was abundant. We encountered leeches, butterflies, lizards, frogs, snakes, birds and wildflowers. The flora and fauna was something to behold. A while later I realised I was incredibly hot. We realised why the trekking season slows down so much at this time. The monsoon brings rain, and stifling heat at the lower elevations. I’ve honestly not been as hot and sweaty as walking up to New Bridge. We found a spout poking out the side of a hill and washed our arms, filled out hats with water and put them back on. After another stint uphill in stifling heat we made it to the very small village of New Bridge. At this stage I wondered how I would make it to Chomrong.
Even after a plate of chips and a deep fried Apple pie with a Coke, I was still feeling quite weak with the heat. The universe intervened however as a guided group entered teahouse. I asked if they knew if there were any porters available in the area, and after a ten minute conversation I couldn’t understand, they explained that there were none as we were in middle of nowhere! But a tiny guy called Dinesh would carry my bag to Chomrong for the outrageous sum of $20 US. Well, this was clearly a classic supply and demand situation and given how I felt, I paid up. I’m so glad l did. It was probably the best twenty bucks I’ve ever spent! The following four hours were a gruelling uphill climb consisting of thousands and thousands of steps. We passed over the Modi Khola and up into the village of Jhinu. Jhinu was a lovely place perched on a hillside way above the river but hundreds of metres underneath Chomrong. The next section up to Chomrong was a series of stone steps that zigzagged forever! Lovely local dogs accompanied us at this point along with the odd herd of goats. The only bonus was that it was getting slightly cooler as we climbed. My poor porter was way behind, as mine was one of two bags he was carrying. I felt quite guilty but then again, he had been well paid. When he finally arrived at the guest house sometime after me, he gave me my bag and I asked him how he was ‘I’m fine thank you’ was the reply, and I’m thinking ‘how can you be fine after carrying that load for me up that steep steep steep incline?’. A few minutes later though and he was dashing around delivering meals and washing his clothes. He looked like he’s just woken from a refreshing nap, not ascended 1000 m with a load on!
Not so for me. By now the rain had come in, the mercury had dropped and I was cool as my singlet was soaking wet with sweat. A ‘hot shower’ for 100 rupees was in order and I stepped in fully clothed. Bucket washing is the order of the day here so I washed my clothes in a bucket and even used the laundry soap in my hair. In the Himalayas, one stops caring about ones general appearance.
The menus at the guesthouses throughout the sanctuary are all the same, as are the prices, although the liquids become more expensive as you ascend (there is no bottled water available after 1700m, always carry a bottle and purification tabs).
We ordered dinner, which consisted of pizza (divine), pakodas, chips and Dahl baht. All very me tho! Delicious!
We both had a tremendous sleep after the riguors of the day before, and arose early to watch the sunrise over Annapurna South and Fishtail. Absolutely stunning goes some way to describing it. It truly is something, sitting on a rooftop – instagramming your experiences to the wider world, while you watch the sunrise over some of the highest peaks in the world. Sounds sounds of bells were ringing as ponies grazed nearly, but apart from that it was a silently mediatative. An intoxicating combination of exotic culture and earths grandeur. Magic.
After a mediocre breakfast we decided to switch guesthouse, best move we made as we discovered Chomrong Cottage and we’re immediately adopted by Ama as her Kiwi sister and brother. One just wanders along until you find a bed around here, although I’m sure in peak season it would pay to book ahead. Chomrong Cottage has renowned hospitality and was featured in Time Magazine for outstanding chocolate pudding. It is a modest quaint place with basic amenities but when you come to the Sanctuary, it’s the culture and mountains you come for, not stylish accommodation.
We rested for a while day in Chomrong enjoying the absolute peace and quiet. There are no vehicles or motors in the sanctuary, just the plodding of ponies with their bells ringing, roosters, birdsong and the Modi Kkola roaring away. We went for a walk and observed the local small hydro projects which feed generators for power and flooding terraced rice fields. Each way you walk from Chomrong is either up or down, there is no flat. Anywhere. After our walk we sat on a wall watching people and animals wander past the guesthouse, chatted to Ama while she weeded the steps, and, as you do, came across some Kiwis and shared our two degree stories. Dinner that night was the most delicious vegetable curry using veg straight from the garden. We washed down our meals with Ghorka Beer and black tea. Up in Chomrong, there are no vehicles, no planes, no generators, no TV’s or music or busy streets. The night descends silently, the quiet is lovely, there is only the sound of the odd person moving about. The stars come out, contrasted against the dark mountains The various teahouses twinkle across the valley – it is a beautiful sight.
Sleep comes quickly and deeply in this area, maybe because you’ve walked hard all day, maybe because of the deep silence, but it is refreshing. At dawn every morning, I found myself ready to leap up and wait with baited breath for a glimpse of Machupurache or Annapurna at sunrise. It is a sight to behold.
Breakfast while trekking in the Annapurnas can be absolutely delicious, especially if you order the Gurung Bread! I opted for deep fried Gurung Bread most mornings – with lashings of wild honey. Washed down with black tea of course! It has to be said though, that the tea on the trails is not the refined loose leaf I’m used to, but after a hard day trekking, I could stand the teabags they served up. Not for too long though……
Walking Back to Landruk
After our day in Chomrong together, Chris headed straight up the Valley to ABC, while I wandered back out towards Pokhara. We had always intended to go our separate ways as Chris was determined to do Base Camp, and I had always intended to head back to Kathmandu and visit my fantastic tea suppliers, and complete some charity work with Chora Chori. By now though, I was thoroughly hooked on the whole trekking in Nepal business and knew without doubt that I’d be back to tackle Base Camp. The Sanctuary is a wonderful place for a non-mountaineer to explore mountains, as you are safely tucked away with Teahouses along the route, people coming and going and relatively conservative distances and heights compared to many other parts of Nepal. Base camp itself is only 4300m, which is considerably lower than Everest Base camp or the Annapurna Circuit. The effects of altitude can be felt but the risks are overall much lower. I suddenly had the yearning to return, kids in tow. It was easy for me to walk out of Chomrong knowing I was coming back, and I started off all alone. This is where the trek changed for me. I pondered as I walked along that ‘Here I am, a woman, alone in the Himalayas, not entirely sure where I’m going (I hadn’t decided where part of the Sanctary to pop out of, and yet, I did not feel at risk or unsafe in any way. The track itself is relatively safe and well maintained, the villages are close enough together to be reassuring and the local people seemed so tolerant and welcoming of trekkers.
I descended down through Jhinu and back towards New Bridge, which is near a new bridge! The area is jungle with a river flowing at the bottom of the steeply sided valley. All very dramatic and beautiful. I was all alone along this part of the trail but soon heard Kiwi voices and ended up sharing lunch with some fellow trekkers from Whanganui of all places. We really do live in a small world. I decided to head to the village of Landruk for my last night in the Sanctuary. It was really really hot within the jungle area but before long I started the ascent to Landruk village. Landruk is the first village to have the real full frontal views while trekking in the Annapurnas.
Landruk is perched on a mountain side and consists of terraced gardens growing produce such as beans, corn and tomatoes, along with teahouse after teahouse. It is a picturesque spot worth stopping at. I took a room at the Panaramic View and was the only guest that night. The facilities were basic and the shower was not the nicest of affairs, but, I’d stopped caring for western niceties by this time. I surprised myself at my acceptance of half star accomodation – to the point where I simply did not care – I was just so happy and content to be out doing something so special on my own.
After charging my phone, I just sat. Then I ordered a beer and slowly sipped it while watching the sunset over the range. I then waited with a ponie, while a delicious aloo curry was made for me. Not much else to do by this stage so I was in bed by 8 and awaiting the sunrise with anticipation. The night passed quickly and sunrise came after a rooster woke me. I rolled over and looked out the window. Wow.
No words can convery the pride I had in myself at trekking in the Annapurnas, feeling safe and well, feeling totally content and at ease. After a gorgeous breakfast of Gurung bread, I very reluctantly made my way along a steep track towards the river. Once up the other side I wandered along a road until a bus went past. Three hundred rupees took me back to Pokhara. My short time in the Sanctuary rewarded me with a deep sense of achievement and contentment. I found a place blessed with spirit and peace. A place that has touched a bit of my heart. A place that I will return to. Trekking in the Annapurnas was a highlight of my time in Nepal something I will be able to reflect on for the rest of my life.