Nepal

Trekking in Nepal: Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal

From Siliguri in India, Ollie and I travelled to the Nepali border where we crossed into Kakarbhitta. It was a hot, dusty border town that offered very little, apart from our first Nepali dal bhat meals and some fantastic tea.

That afternoon we took a direct night bus to Pokhara, arriving at about 6am the next morning. Pokhara is a beautiful, relaxing place to spend a few days, or even weeks, before or after a Himalayan trek.

You can read our Insider’s Guide to Pokhara in Ollie’s post.

I am now going to tell you about the 10 day trek we did in May this year to Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal, which was a fantastic way to end our latest six month travel trip. Having trekked in Nepal before, we decided to go with the same guide as last time, our good friend Krishna, of L.N Treks.

Click to read about our first trek in Nepal to Poon Hill!

Day 1: Pokhara – Ghandruk; Trek to Chomrong Village (2170m)

Our trek began on 12th May 2017; we first took a local bus to pretty Ghandruk village, where we started trekking from. The hike up to Chomrong village was hard going; it was up all the way, often via steep flights of steps. We passed through Jhinu Danda, but, although we were both exhausted, had to keep going so as to keep on track.

It was a huge relief when we did finally make it to Chomrong, the last inhabited village on the trail; as we climbed higher we would be staying at trekking lodges whose sole purpose is to cater to people like us. Our room that first night was warm and cosy and the views out over the village were pretty awesome.

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Starting the Trek

Day 2: Chomrong – Himalaya (2930m)

The second day started easy enough as it was a rapid downhill hike from Chomrong to the fast flowing river in the valley; having crossed this, however, the way was all up again. We stopped at Bamboo for lunch and eventually arrived at Himalaya in the early evening.

At each stop there are a couple of lodges for trekkers to stay, all are about the same in terms of quality and price. As Krishna does this route all the time, he always stays at the same places; this way he builds up relationships with the lodge owners and can sometimes strike a deal to help his trekkers out.

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On the Trail

Day 3: Himalaya – Annapurna Base Camp (4130m)

On day three we reached our first destination and the highlight of the trek – Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). The scenery on this day changed dramatically as we climbed higher and higher. We had to cross patches of snow and ice until, on the stretch from Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC), where we had lunch, to ABC, it was only ice and snow that we were hiking through.

After lunch the weather turned bitterly cold, misty and windy, making the final push hard going. The increasing altitude only added to our tiredness and difficulty breathing. We took things steadily though and made it to ABC by about 4pm.

As could be expected at over 4000m above sea level, it was cold at ABC. Our room offered virtually no warmth but the dining area was marginally better, so we, along with other trekkers and their guides, hung out there for much of the evening, snuggled under blankets and wearing hats, scarves and coats!

Just before dinner the weather cleared, so we all went outside to see our first glimpse of the fabulous mountain panorama that surrounded us. The view was stunning; we were all so happy! But little did we know then what awaited us the next morning…

Below Photos:  At Annapurna Base Camp 

Day 4: Annapurna Base Camp – Bamboo (2310m)

The next morning we rose early and were outside by 4:45am, before the sun had risen. It was bitterly cold and getting out of bed was a struggle but it was more than worth it! The view at ABC on that morning was simply sublime; it was without doubt the most amazing mountain panorama we had ever seen.

We were literally surrounded by a 360-degree Himalayan panorama; all around us were the mesmerising mountains that we had dreamed of seeing for so long, so close it was almost unreal. It was one of those moments when you just had to be there to understand and appreciate the sheer beauty of it all.

We watched the sun rise from behind Machapuchare and then returned to our room to warm up. After breakfast we went back outside to enjoy the views when the sun had risen higher into the sky and the Annapurna massif was bathed in golden light.

At about 8:30am we began the descent to Bamboo, where we would spend the night. Ahead of us, as we left ABC behind, was the huge Machapuchare, a truly amazing sight to be walking towards.

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Hiking down from Annapurna Base Camp

We had been incredibly lucky with the weather, blessed with perfect clear skies and then bright sunshine. Looking back towards ABC, we saw that the clouds were already coming in, a reminder of how fleeting nature can be.

Hiking down, the views and the weather were so much more enjoyable than they had been the day before, when we had barely been able to see a few metres in front of us. Our feet felt light that day, our hearts happy and content.

We stopped at Himalaya for lunch, as the heavens opened and the monsoon rains began, and reached Bamboo by late afternoon.

Day 5: Bamboo – Jhinu Danda (1800m)

Day four had been all downhill; day five was a mixture of both, a little bit up, a little bit down. The worst part was the trek up to Chomrong, up all those steps, which was pretty exhausting. When we reached Chomrong, however, we knew that it wasn’t far to go. The route on to Jhinu Danda was down a steep hillside of steps; we were very glad of our homemade bamboo trekking poles that made the descent that bit easier.

We reached Jhinu Danda in time for lunch, where we sat outside in the warm sunshine and enjoyed plates of momos. It felt amazing to be at lower altitude again; we knew we were really back in civilisation when a cat appeared at our feet!

The highlight of a stay at Jhinu Danda, and a real treat after days on the trail, are the hot springs, a 20 minute walk from where the tea-houses are. Relaxing in these natural hot pools, situated beside the fast flowing river, was definitely a high point for us. Even when it started to rain we could not be put off from enjoying the pools; our aching muscles certainly needed the relief!

The food at our lodge in Jhinu was some of the best on the trek, especially the banana pancakes for breakfast!

Day 6: Jhinu Danda – Forest Camp (2600m)

From Jhinu Danda onward it was all new territory for us; the first part of the trek had been one way up and the same way back down. We walked for about an hour on the route in which we had come from Ghandruk; when we met a fork in the path we took the way to Landruk village, over the gushing river.

The vegetation on the second half of the trek was much denser and the paths much narrower. The forest route was also very slippery and prime leech territory. We had lunch at Landruk, the last rest point until Forest Camp. From there it was a four hour uphill slog, a hike so tiring and tough that Ollie and I were not in the best of spirits when we finally made it to the camp.

Forest Camp was, however, very beautiful; if we hadn’t known better we might have believed we were in the New Forest in the south of England! The three simple tea-houses were in a sunny glade amidst the forest; there was even a pony grazing.

Finally, after days of having to have powdered milk in our tea, we were able to enjoy a proper cup again, but with buffalo milk! Tea with buffalo milk was amazing, slightly creamier than cow milk perhaps!

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Peaceful Forest Camp

Day 7: Forest Camp – High Camp (3550m)

Day 7 was another tough day of uphill trekking; the route went from Forest Camp to High Camp via Low Camp and Badal Danda. We almost didn’t make it to High Camp that night due to heavy rain, which started up before we reached Badal Danda.

About 20 minutes before we reached Badal Danda, we were forced to take shelter in a make-shift tent with some local boys, who were living out in the open whilst constructing a tea-house. They were very kind and made us some steaming black tea over a fire.

When we finally reached Badal Danda, cold and damp, we had lunch and hoped the weather would pass. But it didn’t. We sat snuggled up under blankets, watching the grey world outside through misted up windows, feeling quite anxious. We wanted to make it to High Camp that day.

By 3pm, we knew we had to leave if we were going to make it before nightfall. So we woke up Krishna, who had fallen asleep, donned our raincoats and set off in the pouring rain. We hadn’t gone far when Krishna motioned for us to stop; we headed over to a nomadic yak herder’s tent, where we were welcomed into his humble, warm abode.

Inside the simple tarpaulin shelter were about 10 baby yaks and their owner, who was sitting stirring steaming yak milk over a roaring flame. He smiled at us kindly and invited us to sit; we were more grateful than ever to have Krishna with us, who was able to converse with the yak herder in Nepali. We then tried hot yak milk and yak milk chai! Wow! It was delicious, so different from cow milk, much thicker and creamier and so much more filling.

It is unique experiences like this that make travelling so special; they come at you so unexpected and yet often turn out to be what you remember most about a certain place. We always feel privileged when we are honoured to experience such things.

We did make it to High Camp that day, though all three of us were soaked through by the time we got there, as were our bags and much of their contents. Luckily the lodge at High Camp had a wood burner, which kept us warm that evening and helped our clothes to dry off.

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Incredible Views near High Camp

Day 8: High Camp – Siding Village (1900m)

Our trek was meant to be for 11 days, not 10. On day 8 we were meant to hike from High Camp up to Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4500m then trek back down and stay another night at High Camp. But, for multiple reasons, we did not make it up to base camp and instead descended on day 8 to Siding village.

One of the reasons that we didn’t make it up was because the path was extremely bad; in fact it was more of a climb than a path. A very steep arduous climb at that. Another reason was because, on starting the hike up, we struggled with the effects of high altitude. We were both breathless and couldn’t move very fast at all.

The third reason why we didn’t make it to Mardi Himal Base Camp was because, in recent days, three trekkers had needed to be airlifted down from the mountain because they had slipped and broken limbs. The manager of L.N Treks had heard the news and phoned the lodge at High Camp; the news had been relayed to Krishna who had been instructed, by the manager, not to take us up for our own safety.

That morning we rose early to see the beautiful view and sunrise from High Camp. From that vantage point we could see right over to the Pokhara Valley; we could even make out the Peace Pagoda on the hill overlooking Phewa Lake. The snowy white peaks were also extremely close to us and we took some lovely photos with them as the backdrop.

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View to the Pokhara Valley

We also walked a little way on the route up to base camp, so that we had a view over the lodges and could see the mountains from a higher point. As I mentioned though, we did not have to go very far for us to feel the effects of hiking at over 3500m.

When we turned back to High Camp it was not without some relief. Of course, it would have been amazing to have made it to the top but, with the very real dangers of the route laid out to us, it wasn’t a risk that we were willing to take.

That day we trekked down from High Camp to Siding village via Low Camp and Badal Danda. It was steeply downhill all the way, less taxing for the lungs but a challenge for the knees!

At Siding we stayed in the nicest lodge of the whole trek; it was more a guesthouse than a trekking lodge and Ollie and I had our own bathroom with a lovely hot shower. The views out over the surrounding countryside were very pretty too.

Day 9: Siding village – Lawang Village (1550m)

From Siding it was a half day’s walk to Lawang village. Now that we were back down in the valley, the daytime temperatures were a lot hotter, making trekking tiring for a different reason.

We left Siding at about 7:30am and reached Lawang at lunchtime. Here we stayed in a home-stay run by a local Nepali family. The dal bhat lunch and dinner were the best of the trek, so simple but so tasty and everything was cooked over a small open fire.

The simplicity of village life in this part of the world and the amazing food the people make never fails to astound us. We were also able to enjoy unlimited tea, grown just outside the village, which certainly had its own unique flavour.

Ollie and I spent the afternoon wandering around and exploring Lawang village, which though small was full of interesting back-lanes and traditional houses.

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Trekking to Lawang Village

Day 10: Lawang Village – Pokhara

Our final day of the trek was very simple; after breakfast at the home stay we walked down to the village entrance where, at 8am, we took the daily shared jeep back to Pokhara.

We had mixed feelings about finishing the trek; on one hand we were elated to have completed it. It had been an incredible 10 days out in the Himalayan mountains and beautiful Nepali countryside.

But on the other hand we were a little sad that it was over; we had become accustomed to the routine of getting up and trekking all day, breaking for lunch and then enjoying a hearty dal bhat at a lodge in the evening. It was a simple routine that we had quickly got used to.

Needless to say, trekking to Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal is the best trek that we have ever done. There is nowhere else in the world quite like Nepal and if you love trekking, the magical Himalayas have to be the best place for it. We will never forget that morning at Annapurna Base Camp, being surrounded by those soaring peaks. The energy there is something else.

Eating on the Trail

Throughout the Annapurna sanctuary, the menu at all the lodges is almost identical; the only real variation is in the price. Because everything has to be brought up the mountains by either mule or man, food prices are quite expensive in comparison to Pokhara and the higher up you go, the higher the prices. But eating enough is very important when you are burning so much energy trekking every day.

Ollie and I had pretty much the same things each day; a pancake or Gurung bread for breakfast, fried rice or noodles for lunch and dal bhat for dinner. Dal bhat (rice, dal, vegetable curry, papad, pickle and sometimes yoghurt or salad) really is the best value for money and the best thing to fill you up because it always comes with unlimited refills. The portion sizes in general are pretty large in order to keep hungry trekkers going.

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Nepal in a Nutshell #dalbhat #nepalfood

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We also drank copious amounts of tea, sometimes milk, sometimes black, sometimes ginger or lemon. The only problem with milk tea is that in the mountains, the only milk that is available is in powdered form, which doesn’t ‘t taste all that nice. Having the buffalo milk tea and then tasting the yak milk tea were real treats for us!

Permits

To trek in the Annapurna region you’ll need two pieces of paperwork:

  • Trekkers Information Management Systems (TIMS) card – NRs 2000 for independent trekkers or NRs 1000 if you’re part of a group
  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit – NRs 3000

If you hire the services of a trekking agency, they will arrange these for you. If you’re planning to trek independently, you can easily obtain them yourself in Kathmandu or Pokhara before you start.

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Amazing Himalayan Scenery near ABC

We plan to return to Nepal at some point to do a trek in Langtang Valley, a region that was devastated by the 2015 earthquake. Things are slowly recovering and the local people are keen for trekking numbers to go back up so that their livelihoods can be restored.

The great thing about Nepal is that there are so many treks to do; with multiple regions and many possible treks in each one, Nepal is a place that is sure to pull you back time and time again. Nepal truly is a place like no other.

UPDATE! In October 2018 we finally trekked in the Langtang region! Read all about it in Your Ultimate Guide to the Langtang Valley and Gosainkunda Trek!

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