Thursday 26 Oct
Annapurna Trek, Nepal
A day on the Annapurna Circuit
18 days trekking inevitably brings routine, to the point where near the end it felt like our lives had little more meaning than plodding up and down trails and paths thinking only of where to place the next step.
The day would start early with a bowl of apple porridge, a pot of milk tea and a quick look at the map and time estimates in our guidebook. Then we'd be off, hastily trying to beat the large and noisy groups of French and Spanish to the trail. The footpaths were always obvious and generally followed wide rivers up or down the valleys leading from the mighty Annapurna massif - a bowl shaped group of mountains perfectly suited to a circular traverse around. The days were far from uneventful however. The most frequent and dangerous obstacle were long trains of pack donkeys which paid little regard to your presence. On precarious switch-backs we would have to quickly find cover or risk being barged off the hillside. The greatest fear was meeting them on the long thin suspension bridges hung high above the storming rivers. Thankfully they wore bells which, on hearing, would make us groan and start looking about for a bush or tree to hide behind.
A less threatening hazard were local children who from the age of 2 were able to shout 'sweet!', balloon!' or 'school pen!' Refusing on one occasion Sara got a clouting from a young girl who then started trying to unzip my coat pockets.
The highlight of any day was coming across a bakery. The higher we climbed the more frequent and delicious they became. At one particularly fine establishment I had cheesecake followed by one of the best chocolates cakes I've eaten. On the way out I could not resist a chocolate twist and was not disappointed. By far the most reliable was apple crumble with custard and I did not miss the opportunity of having this for breakfast wherever available.
Whenever anybody thinks of Nepal one of the first things that comes to mind is the threat of the Maoists. They are frequently encountered on the popular hiking routes. I had expected bands of guerrillas with bandoleers and AK-47s slung over their shoulders to jump out of the bushes demanding money. In reality it was far less exciting. Typically they sat behind trestle tables and were pleasant and very official. The charge was 200 Nepali rupees per day and we received a receipt to show at the next checkpoint. Some trekkers felt obliged to protest and harped on about democracy and Western ideals which I found absurd. Only Kornelia, a German woman we had teamed up with, said anything pertinent when at one post she asked that whilst we were bringing enormous income and jobs to the area what exactly were they doing for the local communities? The Maoist had no answer and seemed more interested in trying to talk to me about football.
After lunch we had often reached our destination as, to acclimatise well, it was not recommended to ascend more than 500 metres per day. This meant many afternoons relaxing in the sun reading or chatting to the other independent trekkers we had met along the way. As in the mornings we had to try and avoid the large groups who did their best to disturb the tranquility of the hills by tactically choosing our accommodation and hoping that a big band of them would not turn up. The groups would be accompanied by just as many porters who would be carrying up to 30 kilos of wheelie suitcases and stuff bags with little more than a pair of flip flops on their feet. Whilst I had no problem enjoying the luxuries of guest houses and not having to cook your own food I felt it removed the challenge to employ someone to carry all of your equipment when you were perfectly capable of doing so yourself.
As the light faded the temperature quickly dropped. Our heads would start bobbing and the prospect of a warm bed and early start meant that we were often tucked up by 8 or 9 and would fall into a deep slumber dreaming of donkeys, snowy peaks and gushing rivers.