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Annapurna Round
Fifteen Days

In autumn of 2010 I ventured out into the Nepali Himalayas, accompanied by my trusty porter-cum-guide Dhan, to attempt one of the classic treks in Nepal - the Annapurna Circuit AKA Annapurna Round.

I opted for a package with Alliance Trek & Expedition costing $650, which included my aforementioned porter-cum-guide; all accommodation and three meals a day whilst trekking; three nights bed and breakfast at Pokhara on completing the trek; permits; plus transport along the way. I'd been advised to just pay for the porter/guide, and pay for everything else as I go . . . but I know what I'm like. I'd be constantly worrying about money along the way and skipping meals to save a few rupees. I did a few sums and didn't think I'd save much that way either, and at least I wouldn't have the stress of worrying I'll run out of cash.

You can read how I got on by clicking the links below.

Getting There, 25th September - Kathmandu to Bhulbhule

25/09/10 19:45 Bhulbhule, overnight stop - 840 metres

I didn't get to sleep until gone two last night. I was reading up about the trek - the first real research into it I've done. I was googling until midnight, and started to get a little perturbed over what I discovered online regarding snow and blizzards on the pass in October in some years. I turned the computer and light off just after twelve and lay with my eyes open, worrying for about ten minutes. The light went back on and out came the map I'd been given by the trekking agency, along with their itinerary and my Rough Guide, and I began tracing the route. I was glad I'd done it, and I got my laptop and camera batteries charged and packed, and still managed to get up on time, so no harm done.

Dhan arrived slightly early to collect me, at a couple of minutes to six, which was a promising sign. He is to be my porter-cum-guide for the next fifteen days. That means he carries my big pack (minus about six kilos of stuff that I stored at the hotel - thought I'd give the guy a break), speaks some English, and holds the purse-strings; he'll book me into lodges, ensure my food's ordered and arrives, and generally smooth the way so I can relax and enjoy the 5000m ascent to Thorung La, and subsequent descent the other side. I'd met him the previous day, when I had been struck by how slowly he walked - there was me thinking I'd have trouble keeping up with him!

We got a taxi to the bus stand and he bought me some food and a tea while we waited for the bus - which was a bonus, as I'd been told I wasn't being provided with breakfast that first morning. The local bus readied itself to leave, and Dhan ensured our bags were securely tied onto the roof. The bus's ignition didn't work, but the driver managed a rolling bump-start. I couldn't believe how long it took for us to get out of Kathmandu; well over an hour - and it's not that big a city. Local buses suck, what with the overcrowding and all the stopping and starting. We stalled going uphill in nose-to-tail traffic, and the conductor had to get all of the cars behind to either go round or back up, so the driver could do a reverse bump-start . . . which actually quite impressed me.

The bus was having some gearbox trouble, so the driver pulled over and to have a look. A number of us jumped out for a stretch of the legs and a breath of fresh air. Dhan told me that this was the first time he'd travelled to a trek by local bus; normally he takes either a taxi or a tourist bus with his guests - I guess his normal clientele have more cash to splash than me. I think the company owner, Kul, realised I was on a tight budget when I blanched at the suggestion of a $30/$40 hotel at Pokhara at the end of the trek, and cut a few costs accordingly.

We reboarded the bus, which had very padded seats - too much so, as the headrest pushed my head forward uncomfortably, so my chin almost touched my chest. Dhan had opted to sit up front alongside the driver, and the lady who sat next to me was as well upholstered as the seats. Nepali bus seats have barely enough room for the neatest of buttocks, and her ample backside spilled over onto my seat. She squashed the breath from me every time we went around a left-hand bend. There is no concept of leaning into the curves in this part of the world; I noticed that first on the windy Spiti roads. I try my hardest not to land on my neighbour when we corner, but they just go with the flow.

A couple of hours after we'd stopped for dinner, the gearbox gave up completely, and we had to switch to another bus for the remainder of the journey to Besisahar. I later realised that my purse had fallen out of my pocket as we bumped along in the first bus, with about NR1,500 (about £12) in it. Hopefully the person who found it needed the money. We arrived at Besisahar two hours later than planned, around four o'clock. We had to switch to a smaller bus here to get to our destination for the night of Bhulbhule. The bus stand was about a kilometre away from where we were dropped, and I carried Dhan's bag along with my daypack, already feeling guilty about him having to lug my bag around. I caught myself thinking what a pain it was that we had to walk so far to catch the other bus . . . then remembered what I'd be doing for the next fifteen days!

While we were waiting for the bus, a very strange Swiss girl came over and asked Dhan how much a bottle of water cost, and then started kicking off about the two-tier system - where foreigners are charged more than locals for everything from food to buses. Dhan poured each of us a glass of water from the bottle he had just bought (at Nepali price), and offered her the rest. She drank it all, whilst bleating on about how horrible Nepalis are, and how they treat her like an animal because she is foreign. Then she said "thank you" to Dhan and walked away, without offering to pay for the half bottle of water she had just drunk. "How rude!" I thought.

After an incredibly bumpy ride - the roads here really are atrocious; I can see why walking's so popular - we arrived as darkness fell in Bhulbhule, where I got a basic but bearable room. Dhan kept me company while I ate supper - guides and porters are not allowed to eat until all the tourists have had their food - and I got another couple of cups of tea. I was most impressed with this, as I'd been told that I would get a single cup of tea with each meal, and that anything else I would have to pay for myself. Dhan also persuaded me that the local water was fine to drink outside of the city (I sure hope he's right!), so it looks like I'll spend less than I thought, which is always nice!

Day One, 26th September - Bhulbhule to Jagat
Day Two, 27th September - Jagat to Dharapani
Day Three, 28th September - Dharapani to Chame
Day Four, 29th September - Chame to Pisang
Day Five, 30th September - Pisang to Manang
Day Six, 1st October - Free Day Manang
Day Seven, 2nd October - Manang to Yak Kharka
Day Eight, 3rd October - Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi
Day Nine, 4th October - Thorung Phedi to Mukinath - Crossing Thorung La
Day Ten, 5th October - Mukinath to Marpha
Day Eleven, 6th October - Marpha to Ghasa
Day Twelve, 7th October - Ghasa to Tatopani
Day Thirteen, 8th October - Tatopani to Ghorepani
Day Fourteen, 9th October - Poon Hill Sunrise then Ghorepani to Hile
Day Fifteen, 10th October - Hile to Nayapul then Pokhara by Bus
Annapurna . . . Finiss! 11th October - Reflecting on the Trip from Pokhara

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