Annapurna Circuit continued

Photos are of our group finishing the trek (relieved to be done!), me crossing a bridge, photographers at the Poon Hill sunrise and me showing some pictures I had taken of them to some local children.

Day 11: We woke up for what I think was our longest day of hiking – 15 miles! Poor Dean got sick overnight – stomach issues and Mat wasn’t feeling great either. In spire of that, both continued on like champs! Today, we walked through desert a bit more, then into a river valley gorge. We walked for what seemed like hours across loose rocks into a headwind that just wouldn’t quit. I found it to be exhausting just because we seemed to be making little to no progress. Eventually, however, we strolled into the town of Marpha, which was adorable with it’s narrow alleys and white painted buildings. Large quantities of wood sat on the roofs of homes and stores – a family’s wealth could be determined by how much wood they had on their roof.

Day 12: We walked from Marpha to Kalopani, which was another long day through river valleys. Today we went through evergreen forests that made me think of the American northwest. We ended the night in Kalopani, which was possibly our most scenic night as the mountains surrounded us on all sides and the sunset was incredible. We also stayed at our nicest guest house and ate the best food that we’ve had along the trail.

Day 13: This trail is incredible – in the past five days, we went from snow to desert to evergreen forest to jungle. Today, we mostly waked on a road (they’ve built a road on the west side of the trail nearly all the way to the pass and are now starting to do it on the east side of the trail, one of the reasons you want to hike this trail before it becomes one big road!). As we walked into the jungle, the sounds were noticeably different – up high, in the snow, it was dead quiet, but down here, you’re reminded of life again as all the animals and insects of the jungle announce their presence. We ended the day in Tatopani, which was super relaxing as they’ve got natural hot springs here. So, we all excitedly ran down to the hot springs and soaked our weary bones and muscles for a few hours.

Day 14: Today was straight uphill to Poon Hill. We gained 1600m, or 1 mile in elevation today. We stayed at our worst place along the trail – I think the walls were made of cardboard and the guy running the place wanted me to place food orders for Erica and Niki before they even arrived! And then, he asked for a tip, which just rubs me the wrong way. First of all, tipping isn’t customary in these countries and secondly, you never ASK for one. It’s like my white water rafting guide in Bali tried telling me that often Americans tip him – and I just responded with, “Oh, that must be nice.”

Day 15: The last day of the trek and the one that made my legs shake the most…. We descended 1900m (and the crazy part is that there were people going the other way). We actually started today at about 4 in the morning so we could make the 45 minute hike uphill to Poon Hill, which supposedly had some of the best views of the hike. The sunrise was, of course, beautiful. At one point, the round bulb of the sun peaked out through the clouds and the crowd went wild – seriously, it made me laugh… But then again, there were many more Japanese on this part of the trail, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Dean got cold and went back to our hotel and I think he said it best when he said that he got back to our hotel, looked to where some Germans were snapping photos and saw the same damn view as at Poon Hill. He couldn’t have been more right, but we didn’t know that beforehand. So, we hiked down three thousand something steep, stone stairs which is just brutal on the knees and toes. Lunch was a welcomed respite, and even more so, was completing the trail! I’m proud that we finished the trail in 15 days and walking the whole thing and carrying all of our stuff the entire way! Definitely a big accomplishment (if I do say so myself)!

Half of us took a taxi back to Pokhara and the cheapies (Niki, Erica and me) opted for the bus. We settled into our awesome hotel, showered and made it to dinner. We decided upon a nice, large steak dinner to celebrate our finishing the trek with some friends we met along the trail (Rob from Canada, his local friend, Gocool, Andreus and Florence from Switzerland and Mat from NYC).

One other side note I forgot to mention is some goals that we set out for ourselves from the beginning. Initially, Niki and I wanted to eat only dal bhat for dinner (I think we ate it 3 times in total – oops); we wanted to completely eschew alcohol (when we got to Marpha – the apple capital, we broke down and tried some apple cider and apple brandy – and changed our goal to no beer – check!); we wanted to go the entire trail without showering (the longest I’d ever gone before was a week and her a few days – we then decided that we could shower once we got over the pass – which we happily did in Muktinath… so we made it 10 days instead of 15 days – much to Erica and Dean’s chagrin). So basically, we failed on every goal that we set out to do, but I’m ok with it J

We spent the next day relaxing in Pokhara – we all kind of did our own thing. Much of my day was spent on the internet catching up on a couple of weeks of emails. I also decided to have some fresh squeezed juice, which was amazingly delicious (pomegranate, orange and apple juice), however I wanted it to go, so the guy emptied out an old water bottled and poured my juice in that. I think that was a bad idea, as a few hours later, I started not feeling well. I lost my appetite and to put it politely, ended up having stomach issues. We left Pokhara the next day and took a 6 hour bus ride back to Kathmandu, which isn’t the most pleasant thing to do when you’re nauseous. Fortunately, my bug passed within 24 hours and before I knew it, I was right as rain again.

Dean, Erica, Niki and I headed to Bhaktapur with Gocool, who we met along the trail. We did a walking tour through the medieval city and the best part was just seeing the daily life and the rituals at a couple of shrines. We then went out for a delicious dinner of water buffalo momos (Tibetan dumplings) which is maybe one of the best things I’ve eaten in Nepal. For desert, we had the local specialty – King Curd, which is a thick, yummy, yogurt cooked in an earthen bowl. Again, one of the best things I ate in Nepal. In general, the food in Nepal wasn’t amazing (India takes the prize on good food), but this meal was fantastic.

The next day, Niki, Erica and I accompanied Gocool to his village while Dean stayed behind to do some thanka shopping. We took a bus ride to Nagarkot, and then walked an hour and a half downhill to his house. It was fantastic! His parents were so sweet and his mother seemed so happy to have us in her home. She made dal bhat for us – traditional Nepalese food (rice, lentil soup and potato curry). After a couple of hours, we began our walk back uphill and took a few buses back to Kathmandu. We met Dean at a local pizza place, where we had our Thanksgiving meal and all went around the table saying what we were thankful for. It wasn’t turkey, or a big feast with family, but it was nice to spend the meal in good company and with some comforting western food J

The next day, Erica and Dean went to see some more local sights, while Niki and I met up with Heather and Maika for lunch and shopping. We bought some pashmina scarves and it was so nice having a local who speaks the language as it helped eliminate some of the hassle of negotiating and now I’m sure that we got real pashminas. It’s hard to tell, as some of the knock-offs feel really nice. But, the man seemed honest, so I was happy with my purchases.

Then, we went out for our final together as a foursome. Dean treated us to a nice 6-course dinner at one of Kathmandu’s nicer hotels. The setting was superb and it was really nice to escape from the madness that is Thamel and the rest of Kathmandu. The meal was good, the wine better and it was the perfect way to end this portion of the trip.

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