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  • Writer's pictureBen Church

Annapurna Circuit

I’ve made it safely to Manang as of this past Sunday (March 25)! Finding reliable WiFi to post updates is slightly difficult at 11,500ft in the Himalayas…who would have thought?! Sooo this is why my posts have been delayed. But alas, we have WiFi now!

The trek out here was really tough but also incredibly beautiful. We hiked a total of 5 days and about 50 miles before getting to the clinic and were super lucky to get perfect weather for almost the entire hike.

Day 1:

We left Kathmandu and boarded a large van with all our gear and supplies. It was about a 7hr drive to Besisahar with a quick stop for lunch at a road side stop. Lunch was curried fish. The fish were caught fresh straight from the river. The meal was errrhhhmmmm less than appetizing as the fish was super bony and the head and eyes were all included in the dish, but hey, when in Rome. We arrived in Besisahar and transferred all the gear to a 4x4 jeep that would bring us up to Syange where we would stay for the night. The road up was a long, slow, bumpy 2hr slog up the mountain. For all my Maine friends reading this, the road was akin to the Happy Valley road or Monkey Lane. We got to Synge finally and ate some veggie MoMos (dumplings) and settled in for the night.

(Hotel New Waterfall where we stayed the first night in Syange)

Day 2:

Gobi and Indira left early in the morning and took the jeep with all our supplies with plans to arrive in Manang that night. Jenny, Liz, and I headed out walking shortly after. The slow walk up is the best way to prevent any altitude illness. This day was probably the hardest for me. I hadn’t done anything too strenuous for weeks or even months so this 10 mile up and down day was super tough. The views were few as the trail mainly was contained within a canyon surrounded by steep walls to either side. Eventually things opened up and we stopped for lunch to get in some much needed energy. The vegetable soup I had that day was probably one of the best things I ate on the trail. Super simple with veggies grown right there on the mountain side. All made by this lovely woman inside her basic Nepali kitchen (see pic below). We headed back on the trail and arrived in Tal and settled in to the Tilicho Hotel which was recommended by Gobi. There we met Casi and her family who run the hotel. Casi used to be a midwife in Manang for many years before getting married and starting a family in Tal where she now lives permanently. We ate a local pumpkin and potato curry dish and called it an early night.

(Nepali woman who made the delicious soup inside her small, typical Nepali kitchen)

(Dharwa our porter with view overlooking descent into Tal)

(Main street of Tal)

Day 3:

Rain in the morning but only for a brief moment while we ate a breakfast of muesli and hot milk. Perfect energy for the walk ahead. We took some pictures with Casi and her son and then headed off on the trail. We had all our rain gear on and ready but quickly shed layers as the sun came out for good. The views on this day gave us glimpses of the snow capped peaks. We stopped for morning tea in Karte which I soon came to understand is a necessity when hiking with UK and NZ counterparts. A quick stop for lunch in Dharapani after a check in with the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) checkpoint and we arrived in Danakyu for the night. We had nice views of some snow capped mountains, ate the BEST mushroom pizza, and climbed into our warm sleeping bags as the nights were getting progressively colder. The hotel dog slept all day but decided his life mission was to bark ALL night long which kept me up periodically throughout the night. At least he kept all those dangerous cows away…

(The lazy dog who slept all day and barked all night)

(The Tibetan hotel we stayed in Danakyu with a safe drinking water station)

Day 4:

All sun and all fun. We filled up our water bottles at one of the many safe water drinking stations along the circuit that were put in place by a New Zealand engineer many years ago and then headed out to Chame. The valley opened up and the views got more and more jaw dropping. We climbed to Tamang, stopped for morning tea, continued to Tanchouk for lunch, took so many pictures, and then arrived in Chame and settled in to the New Tibet hotel (also recommended by Gobi). It was great arriving to all the places Gobi suggested because on his way up to Manang he stopped at all the hotels and told the owners “The HRA doctors will be staying here on such and such night”. As soon as the owners knew who we were they ushered us in and treated us like mini celebrities. We got half off all the accommodation (200 rupees instead of 400 rupees, so like $2 instead of $4 a night) and were really welcomed in to the area. I got a HOT shower this day, which I really needed, then checked out the hot spring nearby. “Hot Springs” were a bit of a misnomer as they were really just “Not Cold Springs”. Oh well. In the afternoon we tried to visit the local clinic but it had closed by the time we got there. The hospital looked overall pretty barebones but I guess they can do blood work, X-rays, and ultrasounds. We spent the night chatting with a paramedic who lives in Moab about the Thorong La Pass as he had just come down from there. Liz and Jenny had a beer but I was too chicken as I didn’t want to risk anything that might increase my chances of getting altitude sickness. Quick talk with Deeps (I still got cell reception!) and it was off to bed

(The bridge crossing the Marshyangdi river to our hotel)

(Typical shop throughout the towns along the trail)

Day 5:

We left Chame with plans to arrive at Upper Pisang, about a 600m elevation gain. Upper Pisang has much better views than Lower Pisang but does take a little more effort to get to. We stopped half way for, you guessed it, tea, and then continued on to Dhikur Pokhari for lunch before heading up to Upper Pisang. We were kind of wiped after getting there so Liz and Jenny rested while I climbed a little higher to spend some time at the monastery near the top of the town. It was really wonderful to spend an hour or two up there taking pictures and taking it all in. A small Nepali woman saw me and opened the monastery which was really beautiful with an infinite amount of intricate details all over the walls. I did make a small prayer to Buddha to please keep me safe and free from altitude sickness. Dinner that night was pretty good as we all shared a bunch of dishes like veggie momo’s, mushroom pizza, and some dal bhat. More layers on this night and I got my sleeping bag liner out as night time temps approached freezing.

(Mountains above Upper Pisang)

(Inside Monastery)

Day 6:

Woke up so excited this day, we would finally be reaching Manang! Liz had decided the night before to take the shorter, lower route so she could get to the clinic sooner and help out with things. Also this is her third season at Manang so she has sort of “been there done that”. Jenny and I wanted to catch the views of the high route which meant a 400-500 meter climb up to a high pass and then descend back down to Manang for a total sleeping altitude gain of only about 250 meters. The start of the hike was all well and good but once we started on those switchbacks, ohhh my godddd. By the time I got to the time I thought for sure I was gonna pass out. Oh well, part of hiking involves some masochistic tendencies. The rest of the hike was great, a gentle grade along the ridge that has the best views of the Annapurna range I had seen thus far. We stopped in Ngawal for some quick lunch and then descended down a dusty road to arrive in Manang just in time for Liz to give the daily 3pm altitude lecture with a snow storm to follow shortly after. Perfect timing. Now it’s time to live life at 12,000 feet.

(Views of the Annapurna Range between Gheryu and Ngawal)

(Views of the Annapurna Range between Gheryu and Ngawal)

(Entrance to HRA)

Read on to the next post as I’ll be talking about arriving to Manang and daily life during the first week of practicing medicine in Manang!

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