Annapurna Trek (part 4)

The diary and selected pictures of our trek in Nepal to Annapurna base camp as part of our family world trip in 1989. Told via edited extracts from Dad’s diary and starting in Kathmandu as we make final preparations for the trek. Where necessary, I have also added explanation to provide context.

This is Part 4 of the overall trek (links other parts below):

Friday 24th March (Trek Day 10: Baga – Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

We are going for ABC today so had a very early start to avoid too much soft snow soaking into our boots and socks. A fresh fall of snow during the night had obliterated the trail so we hired a guide for 100R to show us the way to the Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC).

The early stages of the walk were surprisingly easy, though at times we needed to struggle through quite deep snow drifts and the thin air at this altitude caused some breathing difficulty. The scenery, monochrome in its stark blacks and whites, was fantastic though, and the fresh fall of snow completed the illusion that we were the first humans to have set foot here. Again, we needed to cross several avalanches that appeared to be several days old, but we continued our vigilance for fresh falls.

Val and Mark heading towards MBC

It took one and a half hours to reach MBC where we breakfasted having Baga without. Great porridge! We paid off our porter and began to make our own way up the final ascent. This should have taken two hours but in reality took three hours as all of us, except Tim, needed to travel very slowly. This was not only because of the altitude, which we all felt was taking its toll, but the opening up of the views as we neared our destination were breath-taking – literally!

Again, the steepness of the final ascent was less than expected but the thin air did make the going quite tough. Mark in particular had some difficulty breathing but the spur to be the first one to the top had both boys quickly scrambling to be to cover the last two hundred yards.

Reaching ABC, where our first sight was of a small group of nestled cabins, was almost an anti-climax. Ten days walking just to get this far and a ramshackle collection of primitive huts, buried in the snow almost up to their roofline, to mark the spot. But then, as our we recovered our breath, our heads lifted and we were able to slowly appreciate the magnificent mountain panorama completely surrounding us in this natural amphitheater. Annapurna South, the Hiunchuli Range and, of course, our old friend Fishtail completely surrounded us in a 360-degree arc. The mandatory photo session, with particular care for one intended designed the school magazine, before again the clouds closed in early and the temperature began to fall.

Tenny, Val, Mark, me, Paul and Tim at Annapurna Base Camp
Paul in front of Annapurna I

By 3pm, the temperature was well below freezing and we all quickly retreated to our lodge. Our ‘family’ room consisted of four beds and was primitive in the extreme- in fact, we were informed that it had only recently been emptied of snow that had completely filled it during the winter months. Thankfully, each bed was covered by a thick, if slightly damp, blanket which we knew would need.

Apart from ourselves, four others are staying in the lodge a German and Israeli couple, a complete idiot from England and Dave from America. We made each other’s acquaintance huddling and trying to keep warm around an oil lamp on the table. An array of wet socks hanging from overhead wooden rafters lent their own peculiarly atmospheric touch to the gathering. Our order for dinner, from the elaborately prepared menu, was quickly prepared, however, the lodge specialities of cream of soup, vegetable spring rolls and chocolate pudding was left largely uneaten because it was so bad.

More games of chess followed and a communal game of Arsehole, after which we made a quick exit to bed only to find the foot of each one was wringing wet and beginning to ice over where the door had sprung open during the evening. Again, our plastic bags came in useful. Also, took to bed two hot water bottles in an attempt to get the feet warm. Despite all these heating aids, we had found it difficult to sleep and eventually gave up at 6am when the call of the nature and the cold limbs forced us to confront the freezing morning air.

Mark, Paul and Mum trying to stay warm at ABC
Early morning views from Annapurna base camp
Saturday 25th March (Trek Day 11: ABC To Doban)

Our original plan to stay at ABC another night was quickly amended owing to the cold conditions and the uneatable food but no regrets as we had definitely seen the best of the views at 6am. Soon after this, the views had become almost completely obscured by the cloud that must collect in this gigantic bowl. Having packed, we made do with just a cup of tea before leaving and planning to breakfast lower down at MBC. Mark threw a surprising wobbly when he discovered his literally frozen boots and socks. It took him little while to compose himself before the final photo sessions took place.

Morning views of Annapurna I

Then, plastic bags to the fore (especially carried for just this occasion), we set off to polybag our way down the slope to MBC. Unfortunately, although the boys managed to find a couple of runs to make the carrying worthwhile, the snow was just ‘not right’ to really get going.

Porridge was as good as, before and set us up for a really fast downhill walk, intending reach the Himalaya Lodge to enjoy a lunch of fried potatoes. In this cold, it is surprising how food becomes such an obsession. The advantage, of course, of returning along the same track is that we can plan our destination and menus in advance.

Tenny and Val descending back towards Himalaya
Paul and Tim taking a breather

Mark was really pleased to be passing the few trekkers coming up looking absolutely fagged and looking with some incredulity and the two youngsters returning. For a few, we were able to dispels any doubts about the possibility of their reaching ABC, rumours of which they had heard lower down. Returning was certainly much easier now. Even the avalanches, that had proved such a challenge on the way up, were now crossed with slightly more abandon.

Rain started again about 3pm and we decided to stay at the Doban Lodge for the night. between the two beds in Tim’s room, we placed a table and settled down for a party evening. Today is Easter Saturday, and on being told, the boys immediately began to wonder how the Easter Bunny would be able to find them here. Bought four very expensive bars of chocolate for them as a token gesture.
Over dinner, Val reminded us of the occasion when Mark plundered St Mary’s church yard for the chocolate Easter eggs during a school fete and came home with a carrier bag full of them. Tim made us laugh all evening by teasing Mark over this. All of us feeling good to be back on our way home to Kathmandu.

Paul on a less formal bridge across the Modi Khola

The boys are also really pleased with themselves, and deservedly so, for doing so well. It certainly has been a wonderful experience for them. Fifteen days trekking carrying heavy packs, and then reaching an altitude of 14000 feet which is four thousand feet higher than we expected to, is an achievement they can be proud of and will remember for the rest of their lives.
Played cards all evening and retired at 8pm.

Sunday 26th March (Trek Day 12: Doban – Chomrong)

Easter Sunday and the boys pleased that the Easter Bunny had taken time out of her busy schedule to find them here. Another chilly morning, so dressed quickly, had our regular breakfast of porridge and eggs, and set off for another brisk pace downhill. The occasional uphill stretch reminded us of the hard work coming up. Crossed several new avalanche trails on the way but we are now much more confident and we crossed them with relative ease.

Stopped at Bamboo Lodge for tea and before a final couple of hours walk to Chomrong for a lunch of noodle soup. Fortunately Val’s knee problem from the previous day seems to have cleared up and she is setting as fast a pace as anyone. The hot showers and pizza at the Chomrong Guest House I believe are providing an incentive for everyone to get there as quickly as possible.

Had long stretch alone with Paul at one stage and we chatted about the trek and what we might do next. He already seems much more grown up and ‘wiser’ and I am sure he is benefiting greatly from the experience. Mark also appears to be enjoying himself enormously. Constantly surprises me how observant he is. He has the capacity to notice the smallest things and has quite a remarkable memory for past events, things and places that we have encountered on our travels. Tim explained that a by-product of his own dyslexia has been s similar phenomenal memory, which he constantly demonstrates to us. He has the ability to recall, almost word for word, dialogue from films and stories that he has seen or read.

The final ascent to Chomrong was steep, very steep. I was determined to be the first one up and in the ‘shower’ and drove hard all the way closely pursued by Paul and Mark. This was a good move as I was luckily able to secure the last six beds in our chosen lodge. Knackered when we got there but a coke, a hot shower and a much-needed shave soon revived the spirits and had me going again. Needed to wash out a few things though as socks and t-shirts that had been constantly worn for the past few days were smelling awful.

Our host at Chomrong
Bathroom fun at Chomrong

Dinner was ordered potato soup, pizzas all round, roasty, rum, beer, etc so we all celebrated Easter Sunday in some style and then spent the remainder of the evening planning our return route back to Pokhara. Calculated that we have another three days and need to go via Ghandrung and Damphus.

Our room is the best so far. Four comfortable beds with red check, gingham covers and a beautiful view out of the window overlooking Machhapuchhare and the valley we have recently travelled.

Tim making friends
Monday 27th March (Trek Day 13: Chomrong – Landruk)

Slept late (to 7am) and woke to a beautiful warm morning. Breakfast of our best porridge yet, and we’ve had some good ones, followed by two fried eggs and Tibetan bread. Paid the bill and lengthy goodbyes to our Nepalese host who is bound to make a million with this wonderful oasis.

Mark near Chomrong

Half an hour after leaving we met up again with Tenny who had coupled up with Dave (Robin Hood) and were on their way to Tadapani. We said our au-revoirs but suggesting we might meet up again in Kat on the 3rd. Long downhill stretch then followed the river, crossed the bridge and then lovely walk alongside the river through a pine forest to Landruk. Had a nasty moment as we entered the village when Tim and the boys, slightly mistaking the trail, got attacked by a couple of dogs. Tim stood his ground in front of the boys and very nearly got bitten, but a well-aimed rock drove them off. One of the dogs was particularly evil looking and will be ever known as ‘Acid Face’ in the recounting that is bound to follow.

Val crossing one of the bridges near Landruk

Landruk, on first sighting was disappointing. The lodges looked dirty and uninviting and it is clearly apparent that we are approaching ‘civilisation’ again. During the trek, we have found that the further we have got from Pokhara, the better the accommodation and the more friendly the people. We climbed to the very top of the village, however, and found a fairly decent place to stay. The boys wanting another story, I started to tell them the story of Stephen King’s IT. This kept them entertained for the most part of the evening.

At one stage during the evening, Val left to visit the outside loo. She returned in a complete state of disarray explaining how in her effort to avoid putting her foot in the hole she had inadvertently fallen down the other. Her track suit bottom was quickly removed, washed as best as possible, and consigned to a plastic bag in the bottom of her rucksack. I predict it will stay there until better cleaning arrangements can be found. She was not a happy bunny!

Welcome to Landruk
Tuesday 28th March (Trek Day 14: Landruk – Pokhara)

Val was awake and needing some company at 6am, she vehemently complained about a dog that had kept her awake barking all night long. Not getting much sympathy in response she disappeared to the loo but on returning refused to us stay in bed any longer. The owner of the lodge advised us that we could probably make Pokhara in just under seven hours so that became our objective for the day. The one hour on the flat; one and a half hours up; and fours hours down; he described seemed achievable.

Immediately on starting our walk we became aware and commented to each other on a very different atmosphere in the villages, and amongst the people we were meeting. The trail itself is more littered and much dustier, and the villages far more unkempt and neglected. But also the trekkers we are meeting, who are generally on short excursions from Kat, appear to be more wealthier (a lot of Japanese) and definitely more unfriendly. In turn, the villagers are hostile, sleazier and obviously only interested in parting us tourists from our rupees as quickly as possible. The guidebook does suggest, in fact, that Damphus is the crime centre of the region and is best avoided. The walk was enjoyable, however, and feeling fit and confident as we did the changed conditions were of little concern.

The first hour we stretched out and moved very fast and are now well accustomed to the weight of the rucksacks. At the beginning of one steep stretch, we stopped for tea in a very sleazy joint and got knowingly ripped off by paying twice the rate for three teas and a bottle of mineral water. Tim more so by paying 40R for a bottle of mineral water and, suspecting its contents, he proceeded to filter the water into his mug.

It was slightly irritating as we climbed to encounter an English party who took delight in telling us how difficult and hard work the slope ahead was. Couldn’t they tell that we had almost conquered Annapurna give or take 15000feet! In response we ‘flew’ up the slope and took pleasure in the respectful glances of others still coming down. As far as fitness is concerned, I think we have all now turned the corner.

From the top, it was all downhill and plain sailing apart from me nearly losing my money belt when we stopped for a hot chocolate on route. Considering Damphus for lunch we decided not to stop when a spaced-out old crone completely refused to acknowledge us when we stopped at her lodge. We continued on our way quickly passing through Sukhet and then further downhill to the flat riverbed which led directly to Phedi.

A shrine along the trail

We knew we were back to civilisation again when we had to join in the predictable haggle to agree a return fare by jeep but were pleased that we had not lost our touch when the driver eventually came down from 50R to 25R. We had been quite prepared to walk the three miles if they had not. Once at Pokhara, however, we did choose to walk for one and a half hours back to the hotel where we had left our belongings. This had been for the sake for 5R when a shifty eyed taxi driver had refused to budge from 45R. As far as I was concerned, I was quite keen to continue walking and rather regretted the enthusiasm everyone seemed to be showing for a lift over the final stretch.

The walk did give us experience the back streets of Pokhara which are well insulated from the main trekking hotels. The living conditions are really quite appalling with the streets running sewers, fly blown meat sold on open stalls, filthy children playing in the gutters, manky animals and everywhere overrun with wild dogs, often quite vicious, to which we gave a very wide berth.
Getting lost, we did eventually give in and hitched a ride in an old rusty tractor which helped us find our Alpine Lodge. We were pleased to find our old rooms were available at the same price of 6R each. Tim was absolutely beat and bought a double room just for himself and went straight to bed. Strangely I continued to feel full of energy and was made to understand that I had been alone in having enjoyed the final walk through Pokhara.

Hitching a ride back to Pokhara

After a brief respite, Val and I walked to the lake and booked the bus back to Kat. We also tried to find the original hotel that Tim had stayed at to see if Jeff may have left his return ticket that he walked off with, but no joy. Booked bus for next day at 3pm and then met up with the rest for a slap up meal at the Hungry Eye restaurant. Three bottles of rum, spaghetti, pizza, chocolate cake had us all declaring that the trek had been a marvellous success.

Would you believe that on the way back to the hotel from the restaurant, I developed my first small blister but was pleased to get back to a hot shower, clean sheets, a comfortable bed and the promise of a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday 29th March (Pokhara)

Despite looking forward to a lay-in, the habits of the past few weeks die hard and we were awake at 6.30am and ready to go. Compensated by ordering muesli and tea in our bedrooms and for the first time in ages we are feeling that we are actually on holiday. The previous evening, we booked the bus for the 30th so we now have a full day of planned relaxation ahead.

Once the boys got up and had breakfasted, we took a walk to the lakeside and Tim hired a bike to try and find the elusive Hotel California (nee Florida) for himself. Despite his amazing memory for such potentially useless things like film dialogue, we have found his shorter-term memory for place names and people to be severely limited.

Strolling around the various stalls and small shops by Pokhara lakeside we spent a small fortune on books, cakes, comics, etc and spent most of the rest of the morning writing cards and letters home to family and friends. For lunch we treated ourselves again to a nice lunch at the Hungry Eye and drifted back to the hotel where we found Tim asleep again. The afternoon came over quite cloudy and we spent the time in the boy’s room reading and playing chess.

In the evening we found another place to dine and found someone to change another $50 bill as we are beginning to run a bit short. Getting money changed in these places is always a cloak and dagger affair, and not without a little apprehension considering the characters one has to deal with in dark alleys.

Apart from Mark deciding to have a sulk for some reason, it was another pleasant evening – not quite as drunken as the previous night’s binge. Val has also developed one hell of a cold sore which she is not too happy about. Packed bags ready for the morning, set alarm and went to bed.

Thursday 30th March (Pokhara – Kathmandu)

Woken by hotel manager at 5.15am and stayed in bed until the alarm went off. We had paid the bill the previous evening so we were able to get quickly on our way. Had a wonderful breakfast of muesli, cinnamon roll and coffee at the bus stand while we were waiting. Bus arrived on time at 7am and we just managed to obtain some oranges and rolls from a nearby stall while the boys watchfully supervised the loading of our rucksacks into the rear baggage compartment. We have learnt that this is a vulnerable time for luggage and passengers to get parted.

The return journey seemed to pass quickly sitting next to Tim playing chess, of course, and just chatting over our adventures. Since he has agreed to take some lessons in the game, his game has improved enormously. I needed to work quite hard to win the last game.

Reached Kat at 4.15pm and took the short walk back to the hotel which, as we are a few days early, is almost fully booked. Still, we are all friends now, and the five of us managed to squeeze into room 401 for three and we will sort things out tomorrow. First priority was to get all the clothes needing washing sorted out and then our own bodies which needed similar treatment. Now we’re back, it seems such a short time since we left.

Tim is looking forward now to getting back home after his 9 months of travels and continues to insist that we come and see him in Toronto. Spent some time discussing his passion for windsurfing which might be the answer to the ‘sport thing’ that Val and feel we need to do. We then got around to parties and Tim had some interesting theme ideas Prostitutes, Teddy Bear Picnic, Sewer Party, Pimps and packages, P-Party (everything beginning with P – penguin, puke, etc..), Casino Night, Angel party, Small, Small Room Party – whatever that was – I’ve forgotten!

For dinner, looked for restaurant that Tenny had recommended called The Two Faces. It provided an excellent meal of Ginger Garlic Steak and the boys had enormous hamburger steaks – definitely the best meal yet. Back to the hotel via a few shops and need to decide what trinkets, if any, to buy before we leave. Carrying them is a problem – decided the best bet is to post them from Bangkok when we arrive.

Friday 31st March (Kathmandu)

This morning we are sorting out our gear and reminding ourselves of the junk we had been carrying but had/behind in the hotel. Val had a good laugh, and quite justifiably so, at all the insect repellent I have brought with me. Paranoid as I am about mosquitoes, even I must admit to having gone over the top on the ointments. My lame excuses about the millions of bugs I thought we would encounter only reduced Val to even more helpless hysterics.

A busy schedule ahead of us today which includes posting cards, phoning home, confirming flight reservations, looking for some souvenirs and maybe having to change rooms as well. As I look around our room, I continue to be amazed at how much stuff (even including the tubs of repellent) that we are carrying between us. And that’s discounting Tim living in his very own self-declared cesspool in the corner of the room. Despite that most of it seems to be going back into the rucksacks.

Needing to get away from the packing, we decided to try out Didico’s yoghurt for breakfast. Again a recommendation from Tenny, we all agreed that it was the best we had tasted and fully justified the fact the place took a little while to find. The service was appalling though and we had to send three of the coffee cups back because they were too disgusting to drink out of. Did have a nice garden so I suggested we might give them a second chance to earn our considerable custom. Tim disagreed and confessed that his growing spikiness might have something to do with getting increasingly demob happy.

A rendezvous with the Royal Nepalese Airlines office next to receive the bad news that no seats were available on any flight before the 10th April which will mean us hanging around here for an extra 10 days. This is unacceptable and we will have to start exploring alternative options. Post Office next to despatch the cards then a slow amble back to the hotel where we had a light lunch as all our tummies were feeling a bit dicky.

After lunch Tim took the two boys to buy some badges while Val and I did some jumper hunting. Eventually Val bought a nice one and we discovered that even very cheap prices do little to blunt her instincts for obtaining a good bargain. Dinner in La Dolce Vita, Vittorio’s favourite haunt from last time. It met my recollection being expensive, bland and completely lacking in atmosphere, but it was a nostalgic visit. Tim also had to leave early with an upset tummy – something we had yesterday must have gotten to us.

After dinner we then took a tuk-tuk to the Post Office to phone Dad. Little news except to understand that Tunde had just left on a two-week holiday, but he seemed to be in quite good spirits. Got lost on the way home and asked a couple of motorbike riders for a lift to the Tamil district. Ended up being taken back to their home and being treated like visiting royalty. Insisted we join them again for dinner the following evening. Strange experience – their hospitality was almost sinister in its enthusiasm but that could just be our wretched western reserve again asserting itself. Their invitation for tomorrow might might be fun, but we didn’t feel easy about it.

April Fool’s Day tomorrow – must think up some ideas… !

Saturday April 1st (Kathmandu)

First thing, Val was easy April Fool prey to the old ‘spider in the hair’ routine. Mark next with the ‘drawing under the bed’. What they lacked in originality was compensated by Tim’s great amusement at seeing such quaint Anglo-Saxon rituals enacted first-hand. Skipping breakfast, obtained reluctant agreement from everyone to get to the RNAC office as early as possible in an attempt to sort out the flight arrangements. Our idea to get an early flight would need a full cast.
Walked to the office, arriving at 9.15am where we then had a long wait to see some silly bitch who was on her first day back at work and seemed in a complete daze. However, our theatrical ‘Paul as a sickly child’ number worked a treat and we eventually emerged two hours later with our Delhi flight re-routed to Bangkok instead. We resisted wishing her the obvious compliment of the day feeling slightly guilty that we had to resort to such devious means – but we were desperate – and Paul’s reaction to the fume laden atmosphere of Kat lent the performance some credence!

This change of plan means we will unfortunately have to by-pass our intended tour of Northern India but as we save almost three weeks, this will allow us a little more time to explore Malaysia and Indonesia. All in all, at an extra cost of $168, it seems a pretty good outcome to what easily could have become a very boring and extended stay in Kat.

Breakfast next at Didico’s and this time we were treated to excellent service after our complaints of yesterday. Then the rest of the day spent bargain hunting as this will be our last day in Nepal. Got the boys a couple of t-shirts each, Val bought some scarfs and while Val sewed some badges that Tim bought the boys on the therma-fleece jackets, Paul played Tim at chess winning the best game I have seen him play to date.

One other casualty of our early departure will be the dinner arranged with our bike riding acquaintances. In truth we are not too sorry about this. We phoned to make our apologies, re-packed our bags to make room for our new purchases and then to a last dinner with Tim at the Rum Doodle. Quite the best meal we have had so far. Val’s chicken Kiev was wonderful, the boys loved their kebabs, and my pepper steak was delicious. The rum and raisin cheesecake to follow was also perfect. During the meal, Mark had to leave to collect a larger t-shirt which had to be redone with an embroidered pattern which had been put on off-centre he confidently set off by himself to do the necessary trading.

Back at the hotel, the boys finished off ‘ thank you’ pictures for the hotel and again we made some more finishing touches to the packing. The weight we are carrying and how it is distributed really does come an obsession. I sometimes wish we could just start again. Discussed lots of ideas with Tim on how we might explore Thailand – it certainly seems strange to reflect that at this time tomorrow we might all be bedded down in some joint on the Koh San Road Bangkok Chinese Quarter, highly recommended for back-packers travelling on a tight budget. Must remember, no more than 150 Baht for taxi anywhere…!

All in all, an excellent day and very pleased that we have found a way of continuing our journey without hanging around and wasting precious time. I’m sure we will put the extra two weeks we have created to good use. A last rum and coke with Tim to wish him well on his return home and then to bed excited to be on our way to our next phase and completely satisfied that our all hopes and expectations for coming to Nepal have been more than met.

Back in Kathmandu

Overall Route:

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