Walking the Annapurna, doing our best

For some reason, we thought it would be a great idea to book a short trek whilst in Pokhara. Surely it can’t be that bad, it’s only 5 days and they always exaggerate how fit you need to be – how naive we were. Maybe our enthusiasm would make up for our complete lack of preparation. We were lucky enough to be the only two people on our trek, something we would later come to appreciate – A LOT!

Intrepid Tour - Walking Annapurna
Our trekking route with Intrepid

Day 1: Kalikasthan to Yangjakot (1440m)

With a spring in our step and full of confidence, we set off on our trek, descending through a shaded forest down a winding dirt track toward the Modi river. A couple hours later we made it to the bottom, where we ate lunch on the roof of a half finished house surrounded by rice paddy fields. Things were looking good so far, almost easy. Little did we know that the downhill stroll had lulled us into a false sense of security.

Cable bridge over Modi river
Our very first cable bridge over the Modi river

After lunch, a short walk saw us arrive at our very first suspension bridge. My legs turned to jelly as it started to sway with every step. I suddenly felt very exposed, high above the river below. I looked ahead to see my wife completely unfazed, skipping along in front of me. Then it hit us, hard. A wall of steps with no end in sight. We spent the next 3 solid hours literally dragging ourselves up them and through the dense Sal forest. I’m surprised neither of us passed out from exhaustion and I certainly didn’t know the human body was capable of sweating that much. The heat was almost unbearable.

Eventually we made it to our accommodation – basic would be an understatement, it was a couple brick walls with a tin roof and a permanent hole for a widow, but it was a bed and we so desperately needed it. We spent the evening playing cards and getting to know our porter and guide, which was lovely. My wife even had her first Dal Bhat. We had a laugh that evening when I almost slipped flat on my backside in the outhouse toilet. At this point I was really missing western toilets.

A traditional Dal Bhat
A traditional Dal Bhat, with endless refills

Day 2: Yangjakot to Tanting (1580m)

It rained heavily for most of the night and the locals all seemed to wake up early – not much past 5am, which meant we weren’t far behind. Our guide promised today was one of the easiest hiking days. We shall see about that, we thought. Dismissing his warning of leeches, we set off shortly after breakfast. It wasn’t long before we noticed our first leech, doing acrobats to edge its way up our shoes. Disgusted, we flicked them off, time and time again. Yet they still kept coming.

One of many pit stops with a view

Then without warning my foot slipped from under me and I fell flat on my back. My elbow slammed into one of the rocks, leaving me with three piercing holes. Mixed with my sweat, it seemed like a stream of blood was pouring out my arm. We quickly got it cleaned and bandaged up and went on our way. Further along the trail we were distracted by our first mountain crab, which was a strange sight so far away from any beaches.

To finish the hike that day there was supposed to be 30 minutes of steep steps, but there was a rock slide that meant we would have to take the long winding road instead. This was bitter sweet for us, as it meant another hour and half had been added onto an already long day. All this was worth it for the incredible hospitality we received that evening – warm popcorn and sweet tea were given to us on arrival, along with a handful of beautiful flowers. I also heard someone mention a Western toilet – music to my ears. We slept like babies that night.

Day 3: Tanting to Siklis (1980m)

It had been quite cloudy when we arrived at our guest house the night before, so it was a nice surprise to wake up to the incredible views of the Annapurna range just on our doorstep. After being gifted more flowers by our host, we set off with a little more energy and enthusiasm. Today was a little different as we could see our end point, a large village on the other side of the valley. Making our way downhill, we crossed another suspension bridge that had monkeys playing on it. Thankfully they scattered before we got close – they looked a bit big for my liking.

View of the Annapurna range
Our first glimpse of the Annapurna range

The rest of the day saw us hiking up more steps and crossing beautiful paddy fields. Somehow it felt easier, maybe we were actually getting fitter? As we all know, good things don’t always last. The last hour of steps were completed under torrential downpours. It was a slow slog, putting one foot in front of the other, but we made it – our legs burning from almost 3 hours of steps.

After having some lunch and giving our legs a well deserved rest, our guide gave us a quick tour of the village. We took in the incredible landscape from the nearby viewing platform and we visited a little museum dedicated to the Gurkas and village life, which was a nice way to spend the afternoon. We finished the evening off with probably the best Dal Bhat we’ve had so far, it was delicious. We also had the only hot shower of the trip, it was heavenly.

Viewing tower in Siklis
The beautiful mountain village of Siklis

Day 4: Siklis to Ghale Gaun (1620m)

The local dogs barked for what felt like hours last night, waking us up around 1am and stopping us falling back to sleep for ages. Not the best way to start the longest and hardest day of our entire trek, but we would have to make do. There were was no turning back, once we set off today we had no option but to finish as there were no settlements between our start and end points. This meant carrying all the food and water we’d need for the whole day.

It turned out to be the hardest day by far. We spent most of the day hiking through a dense forest, mostly shrouded in cloud and with plenty of river crossings and precarious footpaths. After about 5 hours we made it to Tara Top to find the panoramic views of the Annapurna ranges blocked by thick clouds. It didn’t matter though, we’d done it. We made it further than either of us thought we could. I was immensely proud of my wife, who pushed through everything to make it to this point. We dug into lunch and next thing we knew it started to hail. This was becoming a bit of a recurring theme.

It rained the entire time we were making our descent. Having fallen the other day, and with legs of jelly following the uphill battle, made for slow progress. 3 solid hours of wet rocks was by no means fun and coupled with the never ending onslaught of leeches made it incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally.

View from Ghale Gaun
The view from Ghale Gaun, our final stopover

It was a massive relief to make it to our final accommodation, exhausted and bleeding from leech bites. After changing into warm, clean clothes we stuck our heads into the families kitchen looking for our guide and were invited in. It was such an amazing experience to sit with the locals as they prepared a feast for everyone. It was their daughters third birthday and felt like the whole village was there in the end. There are no chimneys in traditional homes, which meant the ceiling was covered in what looked like black tar, but it was probably our favourite evening of the whole trek (once my eyes stopped watering from the smoke).

Day 5: Ghale Gaun to Bhurjung Khola

The final day of our trek was a nice and easy downhill. Thankfully there were hardly any steps and it only took us an hour and a half. We took in the last views of the mountains whilst we could and arrived back at our guest house in Pokhara with plenty of time to wash our clothes and rest our aching feet. It was strange saying goodbye to our guide and porter, as we had spent so much time with them over the last five days.

View of Annapurna range
Our final glimpse before returning to Pokhara

It was definitely the toughest thing we’ve ever done and I am so proud of what we achieved. We were so incredibly unfit and unquestionably unprepared for it. Sure it would have been easier if we were fit, but where is the fun in that?

Until next time.

P.S. It’s no surprise that after 5 days of almost nothing but Dal Bhat the first thing my wife ate on our return was sausage and mash.

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