The Annapurna Circuit Trek — Skylight to Another Dimension - Part II
Updated: May 5, 2019
This is a continuation of my account of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Do check it out if you missed Part I.
Jumping right back in, I'll get back to the layout of the day:
Once afternoon lounging came to a close, it was time for dinner. Even though I spent the afternoon hours not doing much of anything, I was still very hungry. I attribute this to the altitude or strong Himalayan winds or just being a gluttonous Westerner. For dinner, usually around 7:30, for 13 days straight, I would eat the Nepali delicacy called dhal bat.
If you ever want to establish a connection with a Nepali person, just express your love and gratitude for dhal bat. It is a simple dish — rice, dhal (soupy lentils cooked with onions and garlic), and other vegetables like potatoes, greens, or cauliflower. This is presented to you on a sturdy metal plate with a high lip to avoid spillage. You mix everything together, and then dig in furiously, in silence, finishing the plate in about 5 minutes.
But the best part about dal bhat is that you literally get unlimited helpings. This is true for any restaurant around Nepal, from the swankiest place to the smallest family spot. Just when you are finished with your first plate, the proprietor of the restaurant comes by with impeccable timing, and asks if you would like more.
I would always say yes during these 13 nights, and they would dish out a whole new plateful for me. I usually received more than a reasonable portion, and I would finish the meal very very full, but also satisfied. Then I would sit around digesting for 20 minutes and try unsuccessfully to use the dinosaur slow WiFi of the tea house. And then I would waddle off to bed, and repeat the process all over again the next day.
To end this account though, I can’t leave out the most harrowing and downright scary 24-48 hours of the trek. We had just reached the second highest town of our trip, the town of Yak Tharka at 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet). I had settled into the guest house and started playing guitar, a little lightheaded from the altitude and sun exposure. And then it started precipitating. This was the kind of precipitation that is a mixture between snow and rain, that feels solid when it hits your skin but immediately melts.
And then it kept falling. And falling. And falling. And it didn’t stop for 12 hours. The drops soon turned to full blown snow, and began sticking on the ground. We watched it with a growing sense of dread, knowing that for the next 2 days we would be ascending to higher altitude and going over the highest point of the trek at 5416 meters, where the snow surely was deeper on the path. This was especially worrisome as we weren´t equipped at all for the snow travel. I had hiking sneakers and Bikram had All-Star type low riders, while other groups we saw had big hiking boots, trekking poles, and crampons. Despite a peaceful and quiet night, we were all living in dread for the morning to come. In the village street young boys were happily playing on their mountain bikes, doing wheelies and jumping off ledges, screaming joyfully in the snow.
The next morning we waited for a few hours, seriously debating turning around and going down the mountain. But thankfully the snow let up and we were able to make it to our next resting point, a guest house at Thorung Phedi (means the foot of the mountain, at 4450 meters). Thorung Pedí was perpetually cold and snowing, and I spent the whole afternoon and evening huddled around a wood stove with other trekkers thinking about our departure over the big pass the next morning.
We started at 4:30 am, following another group that was breaking a trail through the snow. We had put plastic bags inside our shoes to keep out the snow that inevitably seeped in. For 2 hours we walked straight uphill, switchback after switchback, up the sheer face of the mountain to reach another small settlement called High Camp. This walk to High Camp was the most exhilarating but terrifying time of the whole trek. In the pre-dawn, the Himalayas were illuminated by moonlight and surrounding us on all sides. If we had slipped on the path, we would have slid down hundreds of meters of snow into the depths of the mountain. But after trudging and not trying to look down, we all made it up the path to High Camp. We rested for a while, and put on sunscreen, as the sun was rising and shining brightly on the snow.
After High Camp we walked for 2 more hours through the path broken in the snow, stopping every 5 minutes or so to catch our breath. You can really feel the altitude at the top — add to that the struggle of climbing through snow in sneakers, and it became a pretty tiring ascent. But finally, after what seemed liked countless false summits, we reached Thorung La Pass.
There is a small hut up there where they serve overpriced yet well-deserved tea. We had a cup of steaming sugary black tea and marveled at the fact that we actually made it. Other trekkers soon joined us, and it was a party of endorphins and relief and celebration.
Then we descended. This became the most torturous and trying time for me, as it turns out going downhill in sneakers in the snow is a lot more difficult than going up. We had to descend 1600 meters (that’s almost one vertical mile), and the majority of this was in snow covered switchbacks. The way down I slipped a dozen times, soon adopting the technique of postholing my legs in the snow for support instead of trying to walk on the icy slushy path. This was again another one of those paths where if you fell the wrong way, you would plummet a thousand meters down into the valley below.
But after another 3 hours of walking, we finally made it out of the difficult zone and into solid and snow-free ground. I had macaroni for lunch at a well placed restaurant along the trail, and dried my feet in the HImalayan sun. We then kept descending until we reached out guesthouse, happy to be alive but exhausted after a 12 hour day. And for the next three days, we went down and down, returning back to our original altitude and seeing the varied landscapes we had passed days before go by in reverse, from high treeless desert, to mountain scrub plants, finally to lush forests filled with rhododendrons and waterfalls streaming on all sides.
I am sitting in guest house in a Himalayan town right now. This is one of those times when I can’t even believe where I am or what I’m doing. This is just astounding every single day, and it's all i can do to just be grateful for where I am and how I’m living.