Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part Three

For previous installments of this Annapurna Circuit trekking guide, see Part One and Part Two.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

We woke up early in Chame to get a head start on all of the other trekkers staying there that night because Chame is a popular sleeping point on the trail. It's not that we do not enjoy meeting other trekkers -- in fact, one of the great joys of the trail was meeting people from all over the world as we made our way along the route, especially when we had evening hours to pass fireside in chilly teahouses. We talked to people from Australia, the Netherlands, Canada (eh!), India, Kenya, the UK, Nepal, Ireland, Czech Republic, Spain, South Korea, Argentina, Germany, Japan, Hungary, Israel, France, Malaysia, and, of course, the US. The trail was like an outdoorsy UN summit or an athletic Epcot Center of nationalities.

When walking on the trail, though, Claudine and I found we preferred a bit of solitude to playing cat and mouse with other groups. We felt fortunate to be trekking in mid-May at nearly an "off-season" time, so the crowds were very thin (and still we met people from all of those countries!). Many nights we were the only people staying in our teahouse, and some nights we were the only people staying in our particular town. From what we have heard of high season, however, such isolation and privacy are rare. During the busiest months on the trail (March, April, and -- the busiest by far -- October) we have heard that certainly teahouses and even entire towns get booked up by late afternoon. Thus, early risers may be rewarded with first pick of evening lodgings. They are also rewarded with the clearest views, as morning tends to be when the sun and mountains are out in full glory before any potential afternoon clouds roll in. It turns out our excitement awoke us before our masochistic 5 AM alarm, but any morning groans were worth it for what we saw along this stretch of the trail as we departed Chame at 6 AM.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Fellow night owls take note: the sunrise over the trees and mountains was enough to convert me into a grateful early bird, stat. But it was nice to stop for a caffeine fix and a stationary view in Bhratang about an hour and a half after departing Chame.

Continuing on, we turned a corner and confronted a massive, sheer, glacier-scraped rock face.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

We also saw a helipad not unlike many we would see during the rest of the trek. If I needed a reminder to watch my step and avoid a clumsy accident that might necessitate medical evacuation, this was it.


There was no shortage of great views as we made our way to our day's stopping point.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang

We had a bit of confusion about our stopping destination for the night, so we will do our best to set things straight for any future trekkers reading along. At this point in the trek, the trail splits into two route options that eventually meet back up at the end of one day's hike: the Lower Pisang route and the Upper Pisang Route. We knew that the next day we wanted to trek the Upper Pisang Route (more on that and our decision tomorrow). We weren't quite sure, then, whether to stay in the town of Upper Pisang or the town of Lower Pisang, also known as Pisang in some guides (confused yet?). The answer is that you can choose to stay in either Upper or Lower Pisang no matter which route you plan to follow in the morning. As you follow the trek, you will arrive first in Lower Pisang and walk through it. It feels a bit more newly developed than Upper Pisang, which you can see just across the river from Lower Pisang and a steep walk uphill.

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang
A view of Upper Pisang (foreground) from Lower Pisang

The trail splits when you come to the end of Lower Pisang. At that point you can stay on that side of the river and continue on the Lower Pisang route or you can cross the river and begin following it on the opposite side as you embark on the Upper Pisang route (this is also where you cross the river to then walk uphill to the town of Upper Pisang if you wish to stay there or see the view from its monastery).

Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang
The bridge at the end of Lower Pisang. Cross and continue straight to ascend to the town of Upper Pisang or cross and hang a left to follow the Upper Pisang route.

That means if you stay in the town of Lower Pisang, you will walk to this point at the end of town in the morning and make your decision on which route to follow (it's fairly well-marked by signs and a map. If you stay in the town of Upper Pisang, you have already crossed the river at the end of Lower Pisang and walked uphill. Your morning will consist of walking back downhill to that bridge and continuing on the route of your choice.

Upper Pisang offers great views, but we were pretty happy with what surrounded us in Lower Pisang and did not feel the need to add extra hill work to our afternoon (or descending hill work to our next morning). Plus, we were enticed by this teahouse in Lower Pisang that looked brand spanking new.

Brand spanking new teahouse in Lower Pisang

The Tilicho Hotel did not disappoint. As a fierce wind whipped through Lower Pisang, we staked out a table in the dining area cheerily lit by skylights above and feasted on sweeping views of the valley. We spent a number of happy hours here reading and meeting interesting trekkers like the friendly fellow Americans taking the long way home after spending a number of years teaching in South Korea. We would lose them the next morning only to be reunited through chance run-ins at the end of our trek in Pokhara and even again in our own neighborhood in Kathmandu. We didn't speak much to the young German guys who holed up in their room for most of the day. We forgave their anti-social behavior when we discovered that one was suffering from an unpleasant bout of food poisoning. Thankful for good luck and strong stomachs, we rested and prepared for the next day's Upper Pisang route, which we had heard would be one of the most difficult but gorgeous days of our trek.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part Two

For the previous installment of this Annapurna Circuit trekking guide, see Part One.

A Note on Porters and Guides

Although Brian's ill-fitting backpack straps had him wishing for a porter the first day of our trek, by the second day he had corrected his straps, and the pack, weighing in at about 30 pounds, seemed barely noticeable for the remainder of the trek. We both had no difficulty carrying our own gear even on the most challenging days, but that said, there are valid reasons to consider hiring a porter and/or guide.

First, hiring a porter to carry your large backpack literally removes a large burden of trekking, leaving you to carry a small daypack with a Camelbak, camera, and little else. This system provides the obvious benefit of making your walk a little easier, but it also allows you to bring things that you might otherwise not be able to fit or carry if you carry all of your gear yourself. If, for example, you want to haul your digital SLR camera on the trek, you might find this system to be very helpful. We did not have room in our packs for our digital SLR camera and relied on our small point-and-shoot instead.

Second, porters and guides can also make the trek a little easier psychologically, removing any guesswork on your part. They will plan your day for you, lead you to good guesthouses, and suggest the best menu options. We have heard that at the peak high season beds at guesthouses can be at a premium, and while everyone seems to settle into some kind of lodging for the night, a guide may have the ability to pre-reserve your room and save you from the hassle of having to worry about this. Of course, guides will also ensure that you stick to the correct trail.

Third, by hiring porters and guides you are injecting money in Nepal's economy, and we cannot quibble with that.

All of these benefits mean that hiring porters and guides is probably never a bad idea, both for you and the people you employ. That said, we do not think porters and guides are at all necessary for this particular trek. If you are reasonably fit, you can carry your own gear with no problem. If you like to keep your schedule somewhat flexible and choose where you want to stay each night, then set out on your own. We found that we appreciated the ability to control our itinerary, choosing not only our teahouses but also the towns where we stayed. And the trail was mostly so well marked that we never found ourselves wishing for a guide to show us the way.

So, give some thought to the porter and guide issue, but know that you likely cannot go wrong with whatever option you choose. If you end up desperate for a porter by Day 4, you can surely hire someone mid-trek.

Day 2: Bhulbhule to Ghermu

As I mentioned above, we relished in the ability to design our own itinerary for the first several days of the trek, and it is important to note here that you should not worry about sticking to a rigid schedule for Days 1-6, before acclimatization at higher altitudes necessitates a more specific ascension plan. For the first several days, however, you can adjust the standard itineraries published in Lonely Plant and other guides as much as you like. Your own schedule will depend largely on when you arrive in Besi Sahar or Bhulbhule. We will share with you our own itinerary, which sometimes departed from the standard schedule popularized in guide books, and we will also offer tips on how we would improve our itinerary.

We woke up early to clear skies in Bhulbhule and had our first trail breakfast that became our standard. Breakfast included:

Boiled eggs to share:

Our daily trekkers' breakfast: boiled eggs to share,

Porridge for me (though we quickly lost bananas as we gained altitude):

Porridge for Claudine,

Muesli with hot milk for Brian:

Muesli with hot milk for Brian,

And a strong cup of instant black Nescafe coffee for us both:

And strong Nescafe coffee for us both!

Riding our Nescafe caffeine highs, we set out for our first full day of trekking on a beautiful, grassy trail that gave us views of a snowy mountain previously shrouded by rain clouds the day before.

Day 2: Bhulbhule to Ghermu

The trail led us through lush, terraced hillsides along a rushing river below, which we would follow (and crisscross) for much of the trek.

Day 2: Bhulbhule to Ghermu

And it was mostly flat until a steep but short climb to Bahundanda, the lunch destination we reached after about three hours of hiking. We ate dal bhat, the traditional Nepali meal of lentils, rice, and curried vegetables, and thus began a daily tradition of eating dal bhat for both lunch and dinner every day.

We ate the Nepali traditional meal of dal bhat (lentils, rice, and curried vegetable) twice a day, every day

We already eat dal bhat regularly at home in Kathmandu, and we happen to really like it. We also think that it is perhaps the most nutritious meal on the trail menus, offering a combination of protein and fiber from the lentils and vegetables. For people who say they tire of the trail's repetitive menus, we also recommend dal bhat for its variety -- at each teahouse you will always get a different type of dal and a different mix of fresh vegetables (we sometimes saw cooks pausing preparation to run to their gardens and pick extra provisions for us). And for any voracious eaters out there, you will be happy to know that you will be offered seconds on dal bhat. What's not to love?

From Bahundanda the trail descended again, and we walked for just under two hours to eventually reach Ghermu, our stopping point for the day. We stayed here according to the Lonely Planet schedule, and although we enjoyed the Alpine Hotel, which had the cleanest bathroom and shower of our trip, we suggest continuing past Ghermu. If you walk just fifteen more minutes, you will reach Syange, which has better views of this stunning waterfall.

Day 2: Bhulbhule to Ghermu

Even better, we think, would be to push past Syange and walk an additional 1.5 hours to reach Jagat, which has plenty of accommodations and sets you up for a good schedule the following day.

Day 3: Ghermu to Karte

Day 3 brought arguably the least inspiring views of the trip. That said, when this view counts as "uninspiring," life is pretty good.

Day 3: Ghermu to Kharte

For the first part of the day we walked a little under five hours from Ghermu to Tal, and this hike involved a lot of scrambling up and down a steep trail that hugged the river. There were some moments when the trail became confusing, and at one point we started following a donkey caravan down the wrong path.

Fashionable donkey

(Side note: when encountering donkeys, stick to the mountain side of the trail in case a wayward kick knocks you off balance! Also, while you should keep your eyes on the trail to avoid stepping in fresh donkey dung, know that it is going to happen at some point since it is everywhere).

Just before we reached Tal, a relatively large town and a standard stopping point, it started to rain. We quickly put on our pack covers and rain jackets, but we fortunately made it inside a teahouse for lunch before it started pouring. It rained hard for about an hour but cleared up soon after we finished our dal bhat. We had already planned to continue past Tal, so we were grateful that the weather cleared up again.

We hiked for an additional 1.5 hours until we reached Kharte, which is a small town with very few accommodations. Instead of staying in Kharte, we recommend continuing another 40 minutes and staying the night in Dharapani, which is bigger and nicer than Kharte. If you start out in the morning from Jagat, as we advise, you will be well positioned to reach Dharapani in good time. There are also some Tibetan teahouses along the route to Dharapani not too far beyond Karte that looked nice in case you aren't feeling Karte yet don't want to truck all the way to Dharapani that night.

It was a long day, but we were glad to have pushed beyond the standard stopping point of Tal because it set us up for a more reasonable distance the following day.

Day 4: Kharte to Chame

When planning our schedule each day, we heeded the advice of a friend who recently hiked the Circuit: walk more than 50% of your route before lunch, because once you sit down for an hour to enjoy a lunch break, tiredness is apt to set in. This advice was excellent, but it was also easy to follow because we always woke early and began hiking sometime between 6 and 7 am. Therefore, we sometimes waited for lunch until we had reached our stopping point for the day. In general, we only took real breaks after we had walked for a three hour stretch or so, at which point we might stop to drink a tea or eat an energy bar. Because our Camelbaks allowed us to drink water on the move, we found that we did not need to stop frequently on the trail.

On Day 4 we started our morning by walking about two hours from Kharte to Danaque. From Danaque we prepared ourselves for a rigorous one-hour climb up to Timang, where we stopped to have a cup of tea and take in the stunning view.

Day 4: Kharte to Chame

Sights on the trail were amazing in their own right. We continually encountered porters who haul heavy loads up and down the mountain trails. Even with their bare feet and cumbersome loads, though, they usually kept a faster pace than we did.

Porters carried heavy and unwieldy loads up and down the mountains -- and usually kept up a faster pace than we

From Timang we continued hiking for about two more hours until we reached Koto, where we stopped for lunch. After lunch in Koto, we walked for only about thirty minutes until we arrived in Chame, our destination for the night.

Chame is one of the most developed towns along the Annapurna Circuit. It was the first place along the trek to advertise internet, although it was not working when we were there because there was no electricity anywhere in the town -- for a week and counting.

We stayed at the Marsyandi Mandala Hotel, which is clearly a reputable spot because it was booked full that night with trekkers. We would definitely recommend it -- the rooms are simple as always but a bit more spacious, as many occupy separate bungalows. The hotel is located next to the rushing river, and it offers excellent views of Annapurna II.

In Chame we tested our luck again with a menu item that we tried and loved in Kharte -- cornbread. In Kharte the cornbread was reminiscent of a skillet-style cornbread, just very flat. In Chame, and elsewhere on the trail, the cornbread had a soft, pancake-like texture. It's not your typical American-style cornbread, but it is good. So is the buckwheat bread. We suggest you try both!

We attempted to visit the hot springs in Chame (Brian was quite excited) but were disappointed to find that 1) they consisted of a concrete tub of sorts and 2) at least at this point in the season, mid-May, the tub was filled with about 6 inches of fetid water. A friend had warned that the springs were disappointing. Indeed.

But that didn't get us down. We cozied into our cabin in the only double bed we had along the trail for Brian's first chilly "two-blanket" night (I had a lightweight sleeping bag) and rested for the day ahead.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part One

At 150-miles and filled with stunning views of the Himalayas, the Annapurna Circuit trek has become one of the world's legendary treks. A controversial road being built along the route has caused great lamenting about the Circuit's ruin, but the truth of the trail is complicated and ever-evolving. The road has been completed along what was traditionally the second half of the Circuit, and over the last handful of years this road and its traffic have effectively halved the traditional route for most trekkers. A road is currently under construction along the first half of the Circuit, creating fears that this remaining section of the trail will also be spoiled once the road is complete around 2012.

As the road brings development along the trail, the experience of the trek evolves. This is why we thought an accounting of our experiences might be helpful to others currently considering the trek and searching for the most up-to-date information.

But the trek is so much more than the road, at least for now. We'll certainly cover the road in more detail later in this guide, but for now suffice it to say that we found large sections of the trek totally unspoiled and amazing (while others, in our opinion, may in fact be skipped).

Arrival in Kathmandu

It is likely that you will begin your adventure in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu. We suggest you stay in Thamel, the main tourist hub of the city. From there you will be in easy walking distance of everything you need before taking off for the mountains, including access to just about any last-minute provision or piece of equipment a trekker could desire. More on this later when we post separately and in detail about preparing for the trek.

Thamel has hundreds of options for lodging. If you're looking for an affordable sure bet, try the Kathmandu Guest House. It has a range of room types and prices and acts as one of the major landmarks for giving directions in Thamel (since there are basically no street names or addresses).

One thing you must do in Kathmandu before leaving for the trek is to get the requisite permits, a TIMS card that registers you as a trekker as well as an Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit. You can do this when on the trail, but expect to pay twice as much. There are a handful of places in Kathmandu where you can get these documents, but we went to Bhrikuti Mandap (Tourist Service Center), which is about a 20-minute walk or a short cab ride from Thamel. This location allows for a "one stop shop" trip where you can get both your TIMS and ACAP permit, and as an official tourist center it feels pleasant and legit. If you're getting your documents in Thamel, beware scams and rip-offs. It will take a number of passport photos (three, I believe, but have more on hand to be safe) and photocopies of your passport to receive these documents. The TIMS costs 1450 NPR (although we've heard it is unnecessary if you have a valid non-tourist visa in Nepal) and the ACAP permit costs 2000 NPR. The process took us less than 20 minutes because there were no crowds or lines when we went (but I can imagine these lines could triple the length of your trip in high season). I can't promise that you similarly won't encounter any lines, but I can give you these tips to speed the process: bring sufficient Nepali rupees in cash and bring both your passport photos and photocopies of your passport. You can get both photos and copies at booths and shops around Kathmandu, but it might be wise to come to Nepal with a stash of both to save yourself the time and hassle (and maybe money). For any traveler, it is a good idea to have a stockpile of passport-size photos since they seem to be frequently necessary in other countries, whether applying for visas, permits, or a cell phone number.

Before leaving Kathmandu, choose your meals wisely since you will be at the mercy of teahouse menus for the duration of your trek; this is your last chance for more variety beyond the traditional Nepali meal of dal bhat (cooked lentils, rice, curried vegetable, and pickle), chowmein, and other noodle and potato dishes. We like OR2K for excellent and authentic Mediterranean food. Don't miss their pita bread, better than most I've had in the US. Northfield Cafe is a good if inauthentic place for Mexican if you're in the mood. Gaia Cafe has an excellent and very inexpensive veggie burger. There are a couple of (surprising) places for real, decent coffee (like Lavazza) on the trail, but if you're a fan of the joe you'll likely be drinking Nescafe powder mixed with hot water for the duration of your trek. Given that fate, load up on authentic coffee and your complicated caffeine concoctions at one of two local Himalayan Java locations in Thamel. One location is on the second floor at the intersection just south of Kathmandu Guest House and the main location is on the second floor on Tridevi Marg, just across from the place for Nepal's best pizza, the famous Fire and Ice Pizzeria. Perhaps better is Cafe Kaldi in Thamel's pedestrian-only Sagarmatha Complex/Mandala Street. This Japan-based international chain serves superb coffee, bubble tea, and smoothie drinks and provides free Wi-Fi (Himalayan Java, are you listening?).

Annapurna Circuit trek map, courtesy of nepalguidetreks.com

Day One: Kathmandu to Bhulbhule

This is not going to be the best day of your trip. At least, it wasn't our favorite. You'll be taking a bus from Kathmandu to either Besi Sahar or Bhulbhule to begin your trek. Depending on your timing and choices, you may get some trekking in and consider this "Day One" or you might just consider this a transport day that gets you to the starting line.

There are a number of ways to get to Besi Sahar that we know of. Pick your poison.

1) Local Bus. Go to Kathmandu's "New Bus Park," also known as Gogonbo Bus Park, which is to the north of downtown (the wrong bus park is more in the thick of things, not too far from the Tourist Service Center). Get to the bus park early, as your ride will be around 8-10 hours and the ride is less scenic and generally less enjoyable and safe after dark. Buses to Bhulbhule depart the bus park about every two to three hours. This option is not for the faint of heart. Especially for those new to Nepal, trying to sort out getting on the proper bus could be a chore. The New Bus Park is not a very tourist-friendly location, and I hate to imagine spending hours there waiting in uncertainty for a bus with no reliable schedule. Then again, I schedule casual meetups with friends with Swiss precision, so perhaps I am biased on this point.
2) Tourist/Direct Bus. We were told there is no tourist bus to Bhulbhule. Our bad experience just may have proven this statement true: a local travel agent in Thamel sold us tickets, $12 each, for a "tourist bus" to Bhulbhule departing from Sorhakhutte, very near Thamel, at 7:30 AM. Everything started fine enough with our bus taking off on time and partially filled with eager trekkers like ourselves. But instead of hitting the road, we headed to the New Bus Park. We stopped there for a long while for some apparent repairs but also to pick up locals. After that annoying delay, we took a spin down the street adjoining the bus park and picked up more locals. We proceeded to wander around Kathmandu, repeatedly stopping and trying to pick up enough locals to fill the bus. I have nothing against locals or sharing a bus with them, but I did not enjoy spending time picking them up when I had paid for a supposedly direct bus ticket. We were delayed two hours departing the Valley and delayed numerous times along the trip (especially near the end) as we stopped to let people on and off the bus in a frustrating door-to-door service of sorts for any Nepali within two hours of Bhulbhule (more than you'd think). All of that said, we think getting a tourist bus would be the best option, if you could ensure that it is in fact a direct tourist bus for which you've signed on. And, while we ended up on essentially a local bus, I preferred doing so by this method (having a secure ticket and departure point and time) to my showing up at the New Bus Park hoping to get on whatever bus happened to be leaving for Besi Sahar that morning (says the control freak).
3) Tourist/Local Bus Hybrid. Greenline is an excellent, reliable tourist bus company that operates routes between Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, and Lumbini in Nepal. You can arrange with them to take their bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara but to let you out at the town of Dumre, about two-thirds of the way through the trip. At Dumre you can supposedly catch a local bus up to Besi Sahar. Just when that bus will arrive and what shape it will be in and whether there will be room for you is unclear, however, and this is why we did not choose this option.
4) Private Hire. There is always someone willing to drive you anywhere from Kathmandu if you ask around. It will come at a pretty steep price, though. If you have some mates willing to split the cost and are willing to splurge, this may be the easiest and most pleasant option.

Upon arriving in Besi Sahar you can start your trek and walk the approximately two-and-a-half hours to Bhulbhule, take a jeep to Bhulbhule, or stay in Besi Sahar for the night and begin your trek (by foot or jeep) the next day. We don't suggest planning to stay in Besi Sahar if you can avoid it -- this is one reason to leave Kathmandu and arrive to Besi Sahar as early in the day as possible.

We left Kathmandu at 7:30 AM (well, we probably exited the Valley finally around 9:30 due to our local bus adventures) and arrived a kilometer outside of Besi Sahar around 2:30 PM. It was about an hour before our bus driver finally informed us that instead of continuing to Bhulbhule (as we had planned) or even Besi Sahar a stone's throw away, the bus would be going nowhere due to a Nepali bandh (political strike). So, we strapped on our packs and began the trek. It took a bit to find the trail head after walking through the (unimpressive) city because we were not dropped at the typical trek origination point. Due to the bandh, jeeps were not an option for us, but once on the trail in earnest around 4 PM, we didn't mind. The scenery was already a welcome break from our urban jungle in Kathmandu, and we were quite relieved to be off a hot, crowded, bumpy bus with a driver we had learned to loathe.

In retrospect, though, the scenery was completely mediocre compared to the vistas we would be treated to in the coming days. This coupled with the thought of having to trek on a dusty road competing with jeeps shuttling back and forth to Bhulbhule makes us think that a jeep might be a good idea for getting to Bhulbhule (especially if you arrive a bit late to Besi Sahar and don't want to stay there for the evening). Thanks to the complications of Nepal's fledgling democracy and a countdown to a new constitution, we didn't have the jeep option and didn't have to deal with jeeps as we walked. A blessing in disguise?

After about two hours, we hit what we thought was Bhulbhule, but was instead Khudi.

Day 1: Besi Sahar to Bhulbule

I was getting grumpy at this point. It was a long, hot, frustrating day on the bus, and I wasn't thrilled that my trek began about a three-hour walk earlier than anticipated. Plus, as a total novice to backpacking, I hadn't properly adjusted my pack, which now felt more like a sack of bowling balls than a couple of week's worth of trekking supplies. If this pack felt excruciating already, how would I ever make it to the Pass days hence? Maybe I could lighten my load by digging into the Snickers I had packed...? Like any amazing wife, Claudine seemed to intuit my struggle (or was my groaning becoming audible?) and, no stranger to trekking with heavy packs, gave me some strap adjustment tips. To all of you new trekkers out there: tighten your pack's waist straps!! I neglected to do so and was carrying all the pack's weight on my shoulders instead of distributing it to my hips and legs. For the remainder of the trek, I found that minor aches and strains on my body could often be cured with a bit of strap adjustment. After proper adjustment, my pack was completely comfortable. A few days into the trek, I ceased to notice it on my body.

Finally, just as dark was setting, we arrived in Bhulbhule, which straddles a river. We completed the obligatory registration with our permits at the first ACAP check post and decided to cross to check out the teahouse accommodations across the river. Sleeping accommodations along the trek are called teahouses because they originated as teahouses that housed the original trekkers who braved the Circuit when it was first developing. Compared to camping, the teahouses are plush, providing beds, shelter, a toilet, shower (usually), and a restaurant. Compared to a typical motel or hotel, though, they can be a bit frightening -- no one warned me just how rustic they would be. Like with altitude, I quickly acclimated to the scene, but if the thought of a common squat toilet (aka "squatty potty") really freaks you out, you're in for a trip. Speaking of trips, this was the bridge we crossed in Bhulbhule, clearly a stand-in of sorts since another nearby bridge site appeared to be either in a state of construction or recent destruction, and we had to scramble down a steep unmarked path to reach it.

Day 1: Besi Sahar to Bhulbule

After a long, exhausting day of travel, we had reached our first destination. Welcome showers and dinner were all we could manage before passing out at our first teahouse of many, dreaming of the mountain peaks that awaited us now that we were on our way.

Continue Reading: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, and Tips of the Trail.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Bridges of Annapurna

It goes without saying that if you have a crippling fear of heights, bridges, or both, then the Annapurna Circuit trek is probably not for you. I never thought that I would have much trouble with heights, but I learned on this trek that I am not too fond of them -- at least when crossing a long suspension bridge swinging high above a rushing river below. I did grow more comfortable with them as the days wore on, but I maintained one rule throughout our trek: don't look down.

We crossed multiple bridges every day, and we documented the most stunning and terrifying. Here, the Bridges of Annapurna.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We're Back!

We have returned to Kathmandu after an amazing trek on the Annapurna Circuit. We are in the process of sorting through our photos and notes to give you a detailed recap of our trip as well as develop an Annapurna Circuit guide for the novice trekker. Stay tuned in the coming days.

We are also preparing to move to our own flat by the end of the month, so we are doing lots of running around -- that is, when we can run around. The country is currently beset by bandhs (strikes) as the May 28 deadline for the new constitution nears, so on any given day we do not know whether there will be transportation or if businesses will be open. This makes errands in Nepal even more delightful.

Add in the heat, sun, and not enough fluids, and you have a recipe for dehydration. Brian ended up at CIWEC today for an IV -- and a gentle reminder to drink more water.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Hey, we never claimed that we are not accident prone (exhibits A, B, and C), but at least this tendency did not follow us to the trail -- no major mishaps there. We look forward to giving you a full report on everything soon.