The problem with catching the overnight Indian sleeper buses is if you don’t manage to get to sleep on them due to either the bouncing around in your little cabin area, the horribly repetitive music blaring through the speakers, the constant breakdowns, the smell or just the random people hopping on and off the bus screaming for what seems like no reason… Then by the time you get to your destination at somewhere between 5 and 8 in the morning, you end up crashing out at your hotel and not waking up till 1 in the afternoon HENCE screwing up your entire sleep cycle in which case you will find yourself in your room at 2am full of beans and getting a little hungry.
But what better time to start writing my next post on the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, let’s talk about the trek itself shall we.
The Annapurna Sanctuary takes you into the very heart of the Annapurna Mountain Range, ultimately leading to Annapurna Base Camp or ABC. It is generally a 9-11 day trek but can be completed sooner or later depending on how far/fast you trek each day. It is a set path trek and as long as you have had practice walking on sidewalks, corridors, stair cases or anything else in general that leads from one point to another then you should have no trouble finding your way.
That’s not to say that it is easy, you battle obstacles such as climbing up rocky paths for hours on end, walking your way through extreme heats to extreme colds, effects of increased altitude and other factors that any good trek will throw your way both physically and mentally. The reward however is very much worth anything that the trek might try to break you with.
The logistics are simple you start at a town about an hour out of Pokhara, trek for a certain distance each day to a village of your choosing, check into a guesthouse, wake up the next morning and repeat until you have made your way to base camp and back down to your finishing point. My trek started in Nyapul and finished in Syauli Bazar, it took 10 days and was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. This post will be a rundown of my route, and what to expect from day to day plus a few tips along the way.
Day 1 – Pokhara to Nyapul to Hilli
Pokhara is the base for the Annapurna and many other Himilayan treks. Here you can buy or hire gear for the trek and get everything you need sorted. It is an 8 hour bus trip from Kathmandu or alternatively you can fly from Kathmandu which takes around 50mins and costs around $100. From Pokhara you take a taxi to Nyapul which takes around 1.5 hours.
The first day of trekking is relatively easy, you pass through some beautiful little waterside villages, make time to sit by the river and enjoy the waterfalls along the way. There is car access all the way to Hilli so you are generally just trekking on dirt road. Hilly is a small simple town with all your standard guesthouses available.
Day 2 – Hilli to Ghorepani
Today is a hard day, some might argue the hardest. It contains a section called the 3500 steps which is ridiculous because there is hundreds of steps before and after it, I’m not sure why they chose to just count the one particular section. By the end of the day it feels more like 35000 steps.
It is a great day of trekking still, you start making your way up the mountains and get great views of all the villages and farming landscape scattered about on the neighboring mountains. You also get the first view of the tip of Annapurna 1, it’s quite exciting but nothing compared to what’s in store by the end of the trek.
You also enter the great Rododandran Forest on this day, Rododandrans are a type of flower deep red in colour and in full bloomage the entire forest is speckled with these bright flowers glowing amongst the dense green of the forest. We were there in the beginning of bloomage so it wasn’t as populated as it could be but still quite beautiful to see. The forest is quite amazing and resembles something of that which you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie.
After about 7 hours of trekking you arrive in Ghorepani, the views from all around Ghorepani are spectacular and you should try to find a guesthouse close to the edge of the village in order to get a room with a view, it’s worth it.
Day 3 – Ghorepani to Poon Hill to Tadapani
4:30am wake up this morning to make your way up an hour and a half climb for Sunrise from the Poon Hill lookout. You watch the sun rise up from behind Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Mountains, as the sun breaks through it lights up the snowy peaks a fiery red, it’s at this point you here a loud gasp in unison from everyone watching the show.
Tip: Be sure to rug up here, Poon Hill is your first taste of the serious cold and it is cold.
Head back down for breakfast and onward march through more forest, mountain streams and high mountain passes with what appears to be an almost lunar landscape. It reminded me of pictures I have seen of the landscape in Iceland, a baron shrub pass over the mountain. You get your first taste of walking over snow today although only brief and in the hotter periods I doubt the snow will be around, that’s okay though, there is plenty more to come. March on to Tadapani!
Tadapani is quite a big village as far as they go around these parts, there are a few worthwhile side treks if you are keen to stay a day or two.
Day 4 – Tadapani to Chomrong
Head down into the forest, then through some small villages and then down and down, all the while realizing that by going this far down, you are just going to have to hike all the way back up by the end of the day. You really start to get some amazing views of the Himilayas this day.
Don’t forget to take a step back and spend some time admiring where you are and what you have achieved so far and put the camera down, just admire the natural beauty.
The final stretch is a long up hill climb to Chomrong, but once again the views from the town of Chomrong are mind blowing. Chomrong is a great little village with some very cool little restaurants and Guesthouses all sporting views of the adjacent mountain ranges. Meet up with some fellow trekkers and share a beer and sheesha in one of the cafes about town. The food here is also a refreshing change, they do a range of chicken dishes and other bites unique to Chomrong.
Day 5 – Chomrong to Himilaya
Today is a fairly easy walk, although quite long. It is very much in the open compared to the previous couple of days and as you get further in you realize that you are getting deeper and deeper into the mountains.
The cold becomes more apparent here and by the time you arrive in Himilaya all you want to do is curl up in your sleeping bag next to a fire. Unfortunately there is no fire. However there is a gas burning heater under the table in the main dining area of whichever guesthouse you choose to stay at but the staff there will do anything they can to not have to turn it on. Eventually a group of about 8 of us paid 100rupees each and had it switched on.
Be sure to grab any cold, damp clothes as you can hang them under the table and have something dry to change into the next morning.
Day 6 – Himilaya to Annapurna Base Camp
The big day has arrived, the march to Base Camp. Today is when you really hit the high altitudes and sometimes people don’t make it all the way to Base Camp this day. This was by far my favourite day, you follow a long river stream, scaling up boulders and then headed through bamboo populated trekking paths. The ground is covered in snow and keep to the path or you will find yourself knee deep in white powder. It is quite hazardous around this area as there is a lot of snow turned to ice and it can be very slippery.
Follow the path into the canyon leading to Machapuchre Base Camp, this part is truly a sight to behold. It is here were having a guide can come in handy as he can show you were the certain avalanche zones are, it’s in these areas that you do not dawdle. A good way to cross these areas is to strap you’re backpack in tight, put your trekking poles away and incorporate your hands to scale up and down the uneven snow.
Try to get to this area before around 10am, after this is when the ice starts to melt increasing the risk of avalanche.
I went through this part late in the afternoon after a bit of a sleep in and by the time we were headed through there were constant sounds of breaking snow and ice echoing through the canyon. Everytime I would look up and see patches of snow breaking down from the top of the mountains above. It was really quite intense but a serious adrenalin rush none the less. Remember however that the chances of being caught in an avalanche are slim and they generally happen at night time, I just happened to be there during a fairly active period.
After the canyon you rise up to Machuppuchre Base Camp, its only a 1 hour trek to ABC so if you want you can spend the night here and head to ABC in the morning for breakfast and then back down, or just keep heading to ABC and spend the night there. It all depends on how you are coping with the altitude really.
Try to get your hand on some Coca Leaf in Kathmandu or Pokhara, its not easy to find but I know a few people where able to get some so ask around. It is great for helping with altitude sickness, simply chew on a leaf and leave it in the back of your mouth sucking on it gradually to extract the nutrients.
Either way MBC and ABC are both spectacular, picture yourself being surrounded by snow covered mountains stretching up to over 8000m high. It really puts life in perspective and makes you realize how we truly are nothing but a small speck on this ever changing world.
Machapuchre Base Camp sits at 3700m High and ABC sits at 4130m High.
Day 7 – Annapurna Base Camp to Himilaya
Today you do everything you did yesterday only in reverse, it makes it a lot easier and use today to relax a bit more and take time for photos and general ponderings, nothing much further to write that wasn’t covered earlier.
Day 8 – Himalaya to Jhinu (Hot Springs)
Ahhh yes, Jhinu and the hot springs. This mountain side village feels like pure heaven and compared to what you have just been through it almost is. The village itself is very beautiful and you will probably end up buying lots of souvenirs from the small markets set up. The best thing about Jhinu is the hot springs, a 45 min walk from the village.
They are a group of 3 pools made up of hot water coming up from the core of the earth. It is pure relaxation and after spending the past few days in minus zero temperatures there is nothing better. Have a wash under one of the showers and then lie in one of the pools for hours on end, then make your way up to town for dinner. Like Chomrong the menu in Jhinu offers a lot more then the standard set menu the other villages have to offer.
If you’re up for it head down to the Springs early the next morning for a more peaceful atmosphere, the sun also shines through at these hours so you can try to get a bit of colour on your now pasty white skin.
Day 9 – Jhinu to Sinauli Bazar – Jeep back to Pokhara
Congratulations, you made it, you conquered the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek! Today is a short simple walk along the mountains and down the long winding stairs to Sinauli Bazar. From here you can catch a bus or jeep back to Pokhara and bask in the glory of completing the Annapurna Sanctuary.
If you are feeling adventurous tell the jeep driver you will be happy to sit on the roof on top of the bags, this allows them to fit more people in the jeep, hence more money. Me and 3 others got up there and it was an experience and a half, bouncing around with only the straps holding the bags on to hold onto, looking out over the never ending drop off the cliff as the jeep hugs the side of the mountain. What a rush.
Back in Pokhara:
Myself, I got into town, dumped my bags at my hotel, headed down the road to the lake view resort, ordered the Australian import Beef steak, a plate of chicken wings, a piece of chocolate mudcake with ice cream and an ice cold beer. I then told them to just bring it all out at once as I was ready to devour it without taking a moment to breathe and that’s exactly what I did.