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, where we arrived at about 6am the next morning. This was our second time in Nepal together and as Ollie described in a previous blog, 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 HERE 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 was 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.
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 quality and price. As Krishna does this route all the time, he always stays at the same places; that way he builds up relationships with the lodge owners and can sometimes strike a deal to help his trekkers out.
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 outside 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…
Day 4: ABC- 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 feast; all around us were the mesmerising mountains that we had dreamed of seeing for so long, so close it was unbelievable. 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 returned 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. 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. It was great to finally enjoy a hot shower there after a few days of having to go without!
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 was not 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, enjoying plates of momo’s. 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 teahouses 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 also some of the best on the trek- especially the banana pancakes for breakfast.
Day 6: Jhinu Danda- Forest Camp (2600m)
From Jhinu Danda onwards 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 UK! The three simple teahouses 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!
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 teahouse. They were very kind and made us some steaming black tea over their 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 the 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 in to 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 at this time, who was able to converse with the yak herder in Nepali. We then tried hot yak milk and yak milk chai! Wow! It was amazing, 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 to us; they come at you so unexpected and yet often turn out to be what you remember most about a certain place. We always feel priviledged when we are honoured to experience such things. We did make it to High Camp that day, happily, 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.
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 the base camp and instead descended on day 8 to Siding village.
One of the reasons we did not 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 really felt the effects of the high altitude. We were both breathless and struggled to move very fast at all. The third reason we did not make it to 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 LN treks, Deepak, had heard the news and phoned the lodge at High Camp; the news had been relayed to Krishna who had been instructed, by Deepak, not to take us up for our own safety.
So 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 white snowy peaks were also extremely close to us and we took some lovely photos with them as the backdrop. 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
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 another reason. We left Siding at about 7:30am and reached Lawang at lunchtime. Here we stayed in a homestay 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 was only small but was full of interesting back-lanes and traditional houses.
Day 10: Lawang village- Pokhara
Our final day of the trek was very simple; after breakfast at the homestay 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 the lodge in the evening. It was a simple routine that we had quickly got used to. Needless to say, trekking to ABC and Mardi Himal was 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.
Throughout the Annapurna sanctuary the menu at all of 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 noodle for lunch and dal bhat for dinner. Dal bhat (rice, dal, vegetable curry, papad, pickle and sometimes yoghurt or salad) really was the best value for money and the best thing to fill us up because it always came with unlimited refills. So we always went to bed with full tummies! The portion sizes in general were pretty large though in order to keep hungry trekkers going. We also drank copious amounts of tea, sometimes milk, sometimes black, sometimes ginger or lemon. The only problem with milk tea was that in the mountains the only milk that was available was in powdered form, which didn’t taste all that nice. Having the buffalo milk tea and then tasting the yak milk tea were real treats for us!
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 there 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!