ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT: DAY 2 - DAY 5
Day 2: BhulBhule to Ghermu – 840m – 1130m – 5hrs
Day 3: Ghermu to Tal – 1130m to 1700m – 5.5hrs
Day 4: Tal to Chame – 1700m – 2700m - 6.5 hrs approxDay 5: Chame to Upper Pisang - 2710M – 3310M - 5.5 hrs approx
And so the hike had begun in earnest with no going back. The first two days were actually quite difficult. The trail wasn’t really a path, instead there was a fair bit of scrambling over rocks, stepping on slippery stones across gushing streams and sliding down dusty hill sides which is hard enough on its own, let alone with a pack I wasn’t used to. Steve, Helene and Caro had far more hiking experience than I did and seemed to find it much easier. I had to grow some serious hiking chops during my first two days: I found that actually I could navigate steep tracks quite well and was fairly quick – kind of like a bouncy miniature mountain goat - whereas I was slow going down, wary of where I could put my feet in case I rolled my ankle.
Gradually the landscape changed, and our eye was constantly on the tree-line, knowing we had to eventually get above it. We walked through evergreen forests, avoiding mule trains which would come thundering past. This is dangerous when climbing steep tracks (which, as Sod’s Law would have it is where we always seemed to encounter them) as they carried wide loads, and if you were on the wrong side of a mountain track you were in danger of getting shoved off. I eventually learned to climb in between them on the paths – they are clever animals and will stop to let you go past, using their sure-footedness as a guide and watching where they put their feet. It actually made climbing a little easier although sometimes I would run smack bang into mule butt if they stopped for a nibble on a tree!
As our path climbed steadily upwards we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the Annapurnas. A normal day would consist of a breakfast of coffee and muesli, strapping on the packs around 7am. We averaged 4-6 hours a day, stopping for lunch along the way or planning to arrive for lunch at our next destination. The towns had enchanting names: Tal, Chame, Menang, Yak Ka Ka, Let Da, each one at higher altitude than the last. The journey was peppered with prayer wheels, stupas (Buddhist shrines) and suspension bridges. Prayer wheels are metal cylinders about a foot high and half a foot in diameter, each with a prayer written on them. They are housed in long structures which can contain anything between 10-40 wheels. You walk clockwise round them, turning the wheels as you go by running your hand along them. Stupas were perched on mountainsides in the middle of nowhere, mystical and eerie. Each town had a gate-like structure often containing 3 or 4 prayer wheels, the sight of which would herald a sign of relief as they signal the end of a day’s hike. We walked past gushing rivers and waterfalls of glacier green. The weather was boiling, and with a pack on it was like being enveloped in a constant bear hug, so I was consistently soaked in sweat.
We did luck out with the weather, it wasn’t until we started to get to altitude that we would get the occasional snow storm blowing in at night, leaving the morning crystal clear with fabulous views. The wind would pick up by midday and as we got to Menang (3400m) the weather started to really cool, prompting thermal-wear during the day.
Guest houses were hit and miss. Generally the beds were hard as nails and you could have replaced the pillows with bricks and not known the difference. Sloughing off the dust and sweat of the day became all we could think about in the last hour of a day's hike, willing the town we were staying in to appear behind a bend, and heaving a huge sigh of relief as we saw clusters of buildings in the distance, clinging precariously to the mountainsides. Showers varied in heat, strength and cleanliness. It wasn't until Upper Pisang that taking a shower really became an issue - after that you were offered a bucket of hot water to throw over yourself in freezing conditions (bear in mind this is still considered a 'hot shower' by Nepalese). After that 'showering' became less of a priority to staying warm.