Sunday, December 15, 2013

Annapurna circuit trek, Day 10: Thorung Phedi to Muktinath via Thorung La

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The D-day of the trek had finally arrived. The last day of our trek involved the climb of mighty Thorung La at 17,769 feet. The weather in the pass goes bad during the course of the day prompting most trekkers to cross the pass during early morning. Most of the people decided to leave at 4AM but we felt that 5AM should be good enough to start. The hotel bills were settled and breakfast was ordered on the previous night.

Though I ordered some Tibetan bread, I could not eat anything. It may be because 4:30AM was too early for me to eat anything. Nutrition bars would be taking care of me during the day.

Sunrise at high camp
At 5AM, we started our climb from Thorung Phedi. It was still dark and we used our headlamps to our aid. The initial stretch involved steep climb of 1300 feet to high camp. All we could see was the moving lights in front of us. As we climbed up, Thorung Phedi and its lodges receded from the view. The advantage of walking in the dark is that one would not feel the height or the depth of the surroundings. I feel that it makes the walk easy.

After about an hour’s climb, we reached high camp coinciding with sunrise. After few minutes of rest enjoying the surroundings and we back on the track.  Post high camp, the trail was less steeper but the high altitude slowed our progress.

45 minutes from high camp brought us to a tea stall. I was taken aback when I went to replenish my water bottle. A litre of tap water costs 40 rupees!! A better option was to fill in a small stream that we crossed before the tea stall.

The walk after tea stall seemed to be a long time mainly due to several false summits. Surprisingly, I was going at a good rate in spite of high altitude.

And then I reached top of the pass!! It was 8:30AM and we had taken about 3.5 hours to climb. A very good speed indeed. Few minutes later Subbu joins me and it was time for celebration!! Like every other trekkers, we were elated and overjoyed.

We spent some minutes in photographing and enjoying our success and the scenery.

On one end we could see the Annapurna range, the great barrier ridge and on the other side the Mustang valley stretching to Tibet and Dhaulagiri (Seventh highest peak) beaconed us.

Dhaulagiri (on the left side)
The climb down was painful for me and my knees. It was a steep and long descent of more than 5000 feet towards Muktinath.

We saw a person crossing the pass on a bike!! Very adventurous I must say. But the Swizz guy was biking with relative ease!!

After about two hours of descent we reached Chababru, village consisting of few lodges. This is the only place where one can eat or rest between the pass and Muktinath. We rested for a long time here.

Very few people perform circuit from reverse direction. The main reason is the steep climb from Muktinath making acclimatization a difficult task.

Muktinath is a major religious place for Hindus. The Temple attracts thousands of people from various parts of India. Almost all of them take flight from Pokhara to Jomsom and cover the remaining distance by Jeep.

We spend some time at the Temple complex. Contrary to the expectations, the Temple was peaceful with very people around.

Our trek was officially over. All that remained was the journey to Kathmandu which would take two days. Eight years ago it would have been a different story. The trek to Muktinath was only the first part of the trek. One would have to walk for 7-8 days to reach the motorable road from Muktinath. A road has now been constructed all along the length of Kali Gandaki valley making the second part of Annapurna circuit trek a history. Not many people walk this route now.

The bigger idea behind the road is to connect to Mustang valley and further into Tibet. Else, why would Government spend enormous amount of money building road into this remotest area?

Our day’s halt was at Jomsom. We took a shared Jeep to cover the distance. The painful journey on the dusty road lasted for 90 minutes passing though the village of Kagbeni. We travelled along the banks of Kali Gandaki River.

The Kali Gandaki valley is between the massive peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. This creates strong winds between 11AM and 4PM.

We stayed at a lodge near Jomsom airport. We were so fed up with Dal bhaat that we ordered some Mexican Burritos and burgers. They looked completely different but yummy!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Annapurna circuit trek, Day 9: Letdar to Thorung Phedi

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The start from Letdar was delayed as our porter did not get up on time!! He was drunk on the previous night. The hangover was still present. We reprimanded him for his irresponsible behavior. With big one coming next day, we warned him not to be adventurous any more!!  

A small lake near Letdar
The walk from Letdar was simple with little gain in altitude. After an hour’s walk, we crossed the stream by crossing a small bridge. We had to walk down to reach the bridge built across the river and then climb up. The steep climb reminded of the things to expect further. Few people were completely worn out by this climb. It was not difficult but I feel that the altitude was making a difference.

Here we had to cross a landslide area which was the only section in the entire trek that was exposed but not really dangerous.

What looked like an end of the valley was Thorung Phedi, a desolate place surrounded by cliff. This was our halting place. The altitude was 14,895 feet.

We had walked for only two hours on that day and gained 800 feet.  It seemed ludicrous to stop the walk at 10AM in the morning and call it a day!! But the altitude has to be respected.

Our porter wanted to climb further for an hour to reach the high camp, still 1300 feet up. The advantage was that the climb to Thorung La would be easy. But the altitude gain to be more than the safe limit which we did not want to breach. We decided to stick to our plan.

Thorung Phedi
Thorung Phedi had only two lodges. Being one of first to reach, we were awarded with good rooms that even had an attached toilet. A first one in our trek!! People were pouring in throughout the day. Latecomers had to settle for dorms. If it gets even crowded, one would have to sleep in kitchen or dining area!!

The lodge had a nice restaurant. Evening seemed to be a big party as almost all trekkers had gathered in Thorung Phedi. Most of us would be climbing Thorung La next day. Why not have some good time before that?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Annapurna circuit trek, Day 8: Manang to Letdar

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We now start the ascent to Thorunga La. Due to the large elevation gain; we would have to take at least three days to cross Thorung La. Today, we will be halting at Letdar which is at an altitude of 13,878 feet. It would take about 5 hours to reach Letdar from Manang.

We started from Manang with high spirits. As the trail climbs from Manang town, the valley is seen clearly. The Manaslu peak makes its appearance at the far end of the valley. It would be last time we will be seeing Manaslu in this trek.

The trail goes towards right leaving behind Marsyandi River which was our companion for last seven days. We now enter the valley of Jarsang Khola, a tributary of Marsyandi River. The Manang valley fades behind as we climb the valley. The climb is gradual and we enjoy the walk to the fullest. The great weather combined with acclimatization boosts our energy.

Marsyandi valley towards Tilicho lake
After about 90 minutes of climb we reach the village of Gunsang. It is the last permanently inhabited village in the valley. The villages we see further are all temporary camps targeted for trekkers.  We take a long break of 30 minutes enjoying the beauty of Annapurna Massif.

Annapurna IV, III and Gangapurna

Solar power is extensively used in these areas. Here is the solar powered water heater!!

The route after Gunang levels and enters into pastures and small forests. It is strange to see the trees at such high altitude.

We reach Yak Kharka, a village filled with lodges. We contemplate whether to stay at there or move to Letdar. After short discussion, we decide to keep up with our plan and continue to Letdar.

But we had to wait for our porter who seems to be a laggard that day. I and Subbu were little concerned whether he was suffering from AMS. But Suman just seems to be lethargic that day.

We see blue sheep for the first time here peacefully grazing on the hills above.

The climb to Letdar took some energy out of us. The heat and the hunger made the task little difficult.

Letdar was nothing but a collection of two lodges!! We settled at Churi Ledar lodge. For the first time in the trek, the toilets did not have running water. The luxury of hot water showers was also gone!!

It gets very cold after sunset forcing us to spend most of our time in restaurant or under the blankets in the room.

I braved the cold in the night to take some pictures of Milky Way. Not every day we get to see such a great sky!!