Annapurna Adventure - Part 3

The day after the gruelling pass, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. We couldn't help but think "if only..." since if we had waited an extra day, we would have stood atop the Annapurna range with spectacular views. Nevertheless, the warming sunshine was very welcome.

We spent the first part of the day taking a look at the Muktinath temple after which the township was named. This temple is unique as the only combined Buddhist and Hindu temple in the world. Pilgrims come from many places and many modes of transport to visit the temple. We met an Indian man who had walked for weeks to get here, and we also saw many more well-off pilgrims arrive at the helipad directly next to the temple!

After visiting the temple we started walking in the glorious sun towards Jomsom. The terrain on this side of the pass was quite different and resembled a rocky desert. Winds were extremely strong here and often kept plant life to sparse low shrubs. We finally got the mountain range views we were yearning for.

Jomsom is a large mountain town that looks like it was pulled straight out of a western. It has a tiny but busy airport that services many trekkers who want to see the area without crossing the pass (pffft!). Here we had a luxurious room with a private bathroom and hot water, our first shower for nine days!

A few days later we reached Kalopani and had our first views of Annapurna I, the tallest peak in the Annapurna range, and Annapurna South.

Leaving Kalopani we came across a huge herd of mountain goats, which were holding up traffic in the main street. Being a Capricorn (and devout Astrologist), Marty felt a strong kinship with these agile creatures.

That night we stayed in Dana, where we had a very entertaining evening with our trekking friends. Over the night we ordered litres of fresh orange juice and kept the cooks busy and amused with our order for American Muffins (mmmmm). A couple of times when the power went out we finally got magnificent views of the stars in the Northern Hemisphere that Marty had been longing for since the start of the trip. The Milky Way clearly stood out and each star dazzled in the thin clear air.

The next day we reached Tatopani, home of the famed natural hot springs, after our shortest day of walking (just two hours). This was the most touristy of all the towns on the trek. We stayed in a hotel rather than a tea house (so the walls weren't made of wood and the showers stayed hot all day). It had a beautiful leafy courtyard and an excellent chef. We ate wonderful chicken tikka butter masala, our first meat since the memorable steak house in Kathmandu. We also managed to do our first clothes washing since the rain started almost two weeks earlier.

We soaked our tired bodies in the very hot springs later that evening. We stayed until the stars came out and headed home in the dark.

After about a week of gradually descending from Thorong La, we climbed 1300 metres over the next few days to Ghorepani and the famous Poon Hill. Suddenly we found ourselves in very hot and sweaty weather again and the climb was short (4 hours each day) but steep and tiring.

During this time Marty got an infected ingrown toenail which became very painful and caused him to limp rather heavily. He visited a doctor in Ghorepani who performed some quick and very painful minor surgery which immediately relieved the problem.

After missing the views of Thorong La we were very hopeful for the panaromic views for which Poon Hill has become famous. We rose at 4 a.m. and saw that the sky was almost completely obscured by clouds. After much deliberation we decided to make the 300 metre climb to the summit of the hill for sunrise anyway and hoped for the best. The climb was steep and longer than we expected but we finally reached the top just as the first rays of sunlight were poking over the horizon.

Unfortunately the views were not as clear as we had hoped and we couldn't see the Dhaulagiri mountain range at all. However, we did get some good views of Annapurna South and the Fish Tail mountain and we also saw a gorgeous double rainbow which spread for more than 180 degrees.

After Poon Hill we parted company with many of our trekking buddies as they were taking a longer route for the final few days. We then descended 1800 metres in a day as we approached the end of the trek. This included a single staircase which had over 3000 steps and was more than 500 metres high. The stone staircase is set into an extremely landslide prone cliff face where we saw the remnants of a lanslide which killed about 20 people last year. The plant life in this part of the trail resembled a jungle and we received the heaviest downpour of our trip, which only lasted two hours but probably dropped as much rain as we got in the entire week of rain before the pass. Luckily we were in our guest house at this time. Ganesh taught Marty the game of Carom (a table-top game using discs that is similar to pool) and Marty was soon schooling him!

The last day we descended out of the Annapurna Conservation Area and reached Naya Pul, the end of the trail. We were suddenly confronted by the alien sight of a bitchumen road and vehicles. Here we caught a taxi to Pokhara, very sad to leave the majestic and beautiful Annapurnas behind.

In Pokhara we stayed in a very nice hotel and we treated our guide and porter to a lovely meal - on the condition that they couldn't order dhal baht! We were very grateful to our porter who constantly smiled during the trek whilst carrying our massive bag. We gave him a generous tip, which he clearly appreciated.

We also caught up with our fellow trekkers for a meal at Pokhara Steak House, which did not live up to its Kathmandu namesake. The next day we took a bus with three of the gang to the Indian border, ready for our first overland border crossing.

The trek was an incredible journey that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, especially the intense day of the pass. Aside from the weather obscuring many of the views, everything was magnificent. The terrain and people here are truly unique and always fascinating. We want to come back again to this magical part of the world and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is considering doing a trek in the Himalayas.

No comments: