Tips to help survive your Nepal trek include training before you travel, wearing-in your hiking boots well and being prepared to rough it. Thor Harrison actually won his Annapurna Base Camps trip in an Intrepid Express competition and loved his Nepal experience, even though his adventure took an unexpected turn…
“The best way to describe the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp trek – epic! From scenery, to culture, to people on the trail, and of course the physical challenge. After being spoilt in a grand old refurbished hotel in Bandipur, by the third day we were into the real trekking.
We stayed in tea houses, of which there are many on the trails. A few strangely have “not recommended by Lonely Planet” on their signs, while others advertised ISD/STD phones. Though most of us trekkers chose to stay disconnected from the outside world for a while, we made an exception for the readily available Mars Bars that were our link with the west.
The tea houses provide a two-person room with simple bed and a blanket. The dining rooms have set “approved” menus, with the same things to eat all along the trail (get used to vegetarian fried rice). The only thing that changes are the prices, which go up steeply in correlation with the altitude increase. Servings are massive and much needed after a big trek. Also their own chai, called masalla, it is good for a warm up; spiced and laced with lots of sugar it was great to get you back on your feet!
Wake up was around 6am and walks were around five to six hours, with tea and lunch stops in between. Local guides have a thing called “Nepali-flat”, which describes the up and down nature of the trekking day ahead… we extended this term to other things like “Nepali-hot” to describe the showers! Since this trip I’m now a skilled quick dresser after showers; the water temperature starts at lukewarm and goes down from there – if lucky to be warm at all!
It’s a little cliched, but it is breathtaking scenery, and especially when we first spotted Annapurna II. It’s a tall one, with the snow being blown off the top just like the pictures and videos of Nepal you see – awesome!
After a few days of the nice scenery, including locals growing a lot of rice and all the vegetables for our meals, it started becoming more barren as vegetation struggled to survive at the higher altitudes.
On the acclimatisation day we walked up to a local hill and saw more of what we had now become accustomed to, but still took a stack of photographs each time!…. Annapurnas, Chulu, Manarsolu, Thorong Peak etc. Also at this point I had a good old heave at the top and felt bad at the other end; rescued by my travel doctor’s gastro kit. Having recovered well overnight, I then tempted fate with a cheese pizza the next night!
One of the highlights, if not the pinnacle achievement of Annapurna Circuit, is Thorong-La Pass. Setting off from Thorong Pedi (4450m/14,600 feet) at 4am, we scaled the pass at 5416m (17,770 feet) and were back down the other side to 3700m (12,140 feet) by 4pm – what a day!
Killer on the legs; not the way up but down mainly. Incredibly steep loose rock surface. Most said the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Well not quite hardest for me, but definitely tough even without a hint of altitude sickness – loved the challenge!
Back down we were on the windy side of the circuit and after a few days of some really mentally tough walks (long and plain moon-scapeish landscape) we reached the oasis of Tatopani (tato=hot, pani=water), yes, hot springs! Amazingly good, and an Everest beer was necessary to celebrate. At this point we hit the 200km (125 miles) mark too!
Launching from there, was seven to eight hours of steps rising 1600m (5250 feet) into the hills through some very nice valleys of villages and farms. All this before a really massive walk to a town, from which the next day was a 4am wake-up to visit famed Poon Hill. Poon Hill was packed with people and cameras – more cameras than people actually, as some people were there with three cameras and bundles of tripods to get the best shots! The sunrise over the mountains here was glorious and more than worth the cold, dark start (another insane amount of pics taken here, haha).
The plan was to be on our way to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), the last hurrah of the trip. But on our night at a Tadapani guest house (basically the turn-off to ABC) I experienced incredible shivering and couldn’t get warm. What ensued was probably the worst night of my life. Hot/cold and there was an immense pain down the right side of my chest – lying on my right side it got crushed and hurt, on my back it got stretched out and hurt, on my left side it was crushed and hurt again… I couldn’t win!
Woke up (or reluctantly got up – I was shivering like nothing else) feeling like DEATH, so at that point my trip to ABC was over…
One of the guides walked me down to Ghandruk and by the next afternoon I was in Pokhara at the tour company’s office – desperate to see a doctor and know what was going on. The doc was a legend. Except for having to tell me that the symptoms of pain in my right chest and dark flem equalled a good chance of pneumonia.
By time he found a place that had a working x-ray to confirm his diagnosis it was close to power-out time at 5pm, plus it was Sunday. When we arrived at the x-ray place with minutes to spare the doctor insisted “I don’t normally drive like this!”
So the diagnosis was moderate pneumonia, which meant 5-10 days in hospital on a drip, with a treatment of tablets and cough syrup. I dreaded this as my next tour started in a week and who could imagine what a third world hospital was like! Well it was like the doctor’s house, which was big with lots of single rooms, but it was just me. Plus the doctor was the nurse, so I got 24-hour special treatment and there was a menu for food, cable TV, a hot shower and a western toilet. Let’s just say I was in good care and much less worried!
As the rest of our group straggled back at their own pace, I made a good recovery and we all got to head back to Kathmandu together. One serious adventure and twenty-eight days later, we went our separate ways – me to join my Intrepid ‘Kathmandu to Delhi’ group, which was a truly awesome trip as well!”
* photo of Thor Harrison, reaching Thorong Pass!