I’m breaking out a little with this entry, and for those who think you can only have fun with spandex shorts and 24 speeds, I apologize. It’s not cycling, but at least it is ‘self propelled’.
In 1995, while traveling around Asia, I did a long trek in Nepal – the Annapurna Circuit. Firstly, I have to say that trekking in Nepal (or traveling there for that matter) is an incredible experience. There are many treks that take you up to, and over, 5000 meters, and you usually still have mountains towering over you at that elevation. It’s an experience being that high – something you need to do to know. Here are some pre-digital-camera shots of Kathmandu, before and after the trek.
The cows of Kathmandu have slowly been moved out of the city, but in 1995 these holy beasts ruled the streets. Cars waited patiently for them to move along, people touched them reverently, and even fed them from time to time (although they really didn’t need it with all the garbage lying around the city!).
Sadhus sitting around. These are ‘holy men’ who have left the material world behind (along with wives and kids on occasion), wandering through India and Nepal, smoking up, contorting themselves into pretzels, and apparently…sunbathing.
And now onto the trek. The Annapurna Circuit is deservedly one of the most well-known (and well trodden…) treks in the world. Ask anyone who has been to Nepal and chances are they did part, or all, of it. Its fame is justified, in my opinion at least. The trek is a 3-week odyssey that takes you from around 600 meters above sea level to over 5400 in a week or so, then all the way back down again…unless you wimp out and take the plane of course!
It’s a circle of sorts, but it doesn’t start and finish in the same place. You pretty much hike up one giant Himalayan valley, cross an awesomely high pass (Thorong la) and walk back down the deepest valley on Earth (Kali Kandaki), after traversing a dry moonscape that defies description.
All this plus the cultural diversity. You start in Hindu banana groves and a few days later you are in the middle of chanting Buddhist monks that are, for all intents and purposes, Tibetan, at least from a layman’s eye. Here’s the entrance to one of the first villages on the trail.
A porter on the way up towards Thorong la. These guys carrying incredible weights up and down thousands and thousands of meters, often in bare feet, and definitely without the aid of those gay walking sticks that are all the rage these days!
Illiteracy is pretty high in Nepal, especially in the hills. No matter, as long as political parties have symbols they’ve got a chance!
Other ‘porters’ a bit higher up. Yaks basically can’t function under 3500 meters, but are excellent high-altitude workers.
This is part of the convoy that crossed Thorong la with us. There was a giant backlog of hikers waiting at the foot of the pass because it had been snowing for days. Ours was the first day of clear weather, but due to the snow the trip over the pass took 12 hours – something normally done in 4 or 5 I think. A very hard slog.
This is looking back from near the top of the pass. It’s also where I suddenly had an ’emergency’ and frantically tried to find a place to squat in peace. I found a boulder a couple hundreds away from the main trail and sprinted over, nearly killing myself in the process. Don’t sprint over 5000 meters up. Your lungs will explode…
And what would a blog about trekking in Nepal be without snotty-nosed kids (a rhetorical question, btw)?
For more information on trekking in Nepal try Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (Lonely Planet Walking Guide)
2010 Update: I have just read a disturbing (for trekkers at least) article in the New York Times, stating that there is a road all the way up the Kali Kandaki valley now, with another being constructed on the other side as I type this. I suppose this spells the end to one of the most incredible treks in the world.