POSTED: 11 February 2017
Namaste from Pokhara! I'm back from my Annapurna trekking adventure and what a great experience it was! I arrived back yesterday afternoon which was my 19th day so I'm a couple of days ahead of what I scheduled. That means I can relax here for a couple of days before leaving again for India. My laundry, backpack and boots are all drying in the warm breeze and I'm feeling great because for the first time in nearly three weeks I don't have to hike for most of the day. Right now there's a cow looking at me through the front door of this little internet cafe. Nepal...you gotta love it!
It seems a very long time ago now that I started my trek with another one of those lovely bus rides to Beisahar. The scenery in the first few days was quite different to later in the trek. It was very green and lush from the recent monsoon rain and many hills have terraces cut into them to grow rice and corn. It took until about the third day to see anything with snow on top of it.
Marsyandi Khola Valley
What took my attention initially was not so much the scenery as the people. Trekking in Nepal is a wonderful insight into the life and culture of its people. It's almost like stepping into a time warp because life for some of them has continued largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Watching them harvesting, weaving, cooking, playing games and just passing the time sitting in the sun was all very interesting as I progressed up the Marsyandi Khola valley.
Of all the people I observed, the porters held the most fascination for me. Put quite simply, these are amazing men. Everything that is required in the Annapurna villages is delivered either by porters or trains of mules. Nepalese men are not big in stature at all but some of the weights they manage to carry over some difficult terrain is just extraordinary. During a break one day I tried to lift one of their consignments and could barely get it off the ground! It must have been about 50kg!
Nepalese mountain porter
There are two things that make their efforts even more remarkable. Firstly, in the lowlands (it was a little different at higher altitudes) all they seem to wear is what we would take to the beach. Relatively few had anything resembling hiking boots and I even saw a few with bare feet! The second thing is the way they carry their loads. While I had the comfort of a backpack with shoulder and abdominal straps their method is quite different. They tie a rope in a loop that goes under the load and up around their forehead. They walk leaning forward so essentially the weight is supported by their back and neck. Their work never ceased to amaze me…
It was on the third night that I noticed the change in temperature. Up till then I'd been sweating in t-shirt and shorts. Suddenly, that evening I could see my breath in front of me and I was diving into the bottom of my pack and pulling out warmer clothing. That particular night was in a village called Temang which didn't have any electricity or solar energy so I had to have a 'bucket bath'. They gave me a bucket of warm water and then shown to a little stone outhouse. Let me tell you - splashing yourself in warm water and having a cold breeze coming through the gaps in the walls really makes you feel alive!
Scenery near Pisang village
On the fourth day the scenery began to change. The lush green flora was replaced by pine trees and an increasingly drier landscape. I was entering the watershed area cut off from rain by the mountain range. The vegetation gradually became even sparser as I got up to the Tibetan plateau because the only precipitation there is snow. And of course as the altitude increased the temperature continued to drop. It was getting distinctly cold in some places and I was starting to wear nearly everything I could find!
With the ascent, came the thinner mountain air and risk of Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. I had some problems with this. In fact, I had a bizarre introduction to it in a village called Pisang (3,200m). Through that day I'd noticed a slight shortness of breath but nothing that particularly concerned me. That evening though as I was having my fried rice I very suddenly felt dizzy and then nauseous. I quickly excused myself and went outside for some fresh air. My bedroom and the toilet were both upstairs so I staggered up the steps towards them like I'd had six pints.
When I got to the door of my room I paused and fumbled around for my key. It was then that my world really started to spin and I lost consciousness. When I awoke I thought I was on my bed but couldn't understand why it was so hard. It was dark and cold and I had a frightening moment when I didn't know where I was. I then realised I was lying flat on my back in the hall outside my room. My finger was bleeding after instinctively grabbing at the door handle as I fainted but I did feel much better and returned downstairs for the rest of my dinner.
At Manang village
Further up in Manang I experienced a few of the other symptoms such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and a slight headache. It wasn't anything too bad though and I stayed the recommended second night there to help with the acclimatisation process. It's a nice little place with several good short walks. In the village itself there is a cultural museum and even a little cinema showing three movies a day. They also had a daily Mountain Sickness talk which I went to. The information was great but I was left feeling slightly daunted. The pass was still over 2,000m up so I just wanted to get over the damn thing and down the other side!
I walked through snow for part of the day going up to Thorung Phedi. 'Phedi' means foot of the hill and is the last village (4420m) before going over the pass. It's a bitterly cold place and I wondered as I huddled under my covers that night how people could live comfortably up there. I concluded that they are simply very hardy people and for some it's all they've ever really known. I didn't sleep a lot that night as I considered what lay ahead the following day...