Conquering the Annapurna Circuit’s First Hill

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series The Annapurna Circuit Trek

After our pathetic first two days on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, we were fully expecting to see some of the people from our bus ride again, as they lapped us on their second go around 230 kilometer loop. To avoid that, we set the town of Ghermu as our goal for the day. It was only 9 kilometers down the trail, but that was 7 kilometers more than we covered on either of our previous days. It was still far less distance than most people cover in a day, but for us, it was a very lofty goal. Besides, there was another problem to deal with.

On the way to Ghermu we would have to pass through the town of Bahundanda, which lies on a saddle at an elevation of 1310 meters. We were currently at 890 meters and our destination Ghermu lies at 1130. I know none of you want to deal with the complicated math, so I’ll summarize the results: we were in for some climbing.

Village Annapurna Nepal

Bahundanda Village on its saddle, with valleys dropping off on both sides.

Now obviously, we knew in the backs of our minds that a trek that begins and ends around 800 meters above sea level and crosses a pass at 5400 meters will likely involve some climbing. But that was all theory. On this day we would be hit by the hot, sweaty, exhausting and thigh destroying reality of taking a walk in the Himalayas: we would have to walk up a little hillside.

Lush Valley Annapurna

In Bahundanda, looking back down the little hill we were about to struggle up.

But first, we needed to eat. If we were going to burn a bunch of calories, we obviously had to make sure we had more than enough to burn. A big breakfast helped, but a rainstorm an hour or two into our day helped even more. It gave us an excuse to take shelter in a little tea house that just happened to serve a pretty amazing apple pie.

We didn’t know that at first and were just planning on having a cup of tea while waiting out the rain, but once we saw the pie on other people’s plates, we had to have some. We also had to have a chocolate pancake and a cheese quesadilla made with chapatti instead of whatever they’re usually made with. By the time the rain let up and we gathered our bags to head out, we were pretty stuffed and not at all happy about our impending ascent. If that tea house had had available rooms, I’m pretty sure we would have crashed there for the night.

Instead, we kept going and soon hit the dreaded climb. It turned out to be a beautiful hillside of terraced rice fields dotted with little farmhouses and crisscrossed by stone fences. At the top of the hillside we could see Bahundanda sitting on the ridge. Looking up at the village from the bottom of the valley, we knew we had a torturous hour or two ahead of us.

Farms Nepal Annapurna

The bottom of the hillside and the beginning of our first real ascent of the trek.

By now, the rain clouds had disappeared completely and the hot sun had us sweating before we even took the first step. In the end, the climb was just as hot, dusty, tiring and miserable as we expected; but, to tell the truth, it was also quite enjoyable.

Rural Village Nepal

One of the many farmhouses we passed on the way up.

That was mostly due to the beautiful scenery, but also helped by the fact that we stopped every 50 meters to dump our backpacks on the ground and rest our aching shoulders and legs. Whenever we rested, we were passed by local farmers casually flying up the hillside carrying giant baskets of wood, rocks and various other things that looked like they weighed more than our three bags combined. It was not good for the ego.

Terraced Rice Paddies

We were surrounded by these terraced rice paddies.

Luckily, I had my camera, so I could pretend I was just stopping to take pictures of whatever happened to be in front of me.  That didn’t explain why I had to drop my backpack every time I snapped a photo, but I’m just going to assume no one noticed that.

Laundry Annapurna Nepal

One of those photos. I’m sure the farmers were wondering why I found their laundry so fascinating.

Eventually we made it to Bahundanda at the top and pretty much collapsed in a heap in the town square.  As we lay there, mangy dogs came up to sniff us and local kids prodded us with sticks to see if we were alive. After ten minutes or so, we managed to stand back up on wobbly legs, just in time to see another trekker enter the square after the long climb.

Except this one had a huge smile on her face and wasn’t even out of breath. She started asking us questions about the town, since, having seen us reach the top ten minutes earlier, she assumed we had taken a look around or done anything other than lie motionless in the dirt. She turned out to be American and had begun her trek that morning, setting out from the same town we had left two days prior. She was looking to buy a phone card in town, before setting off for the next one where she would spend the night.

It should come as no surprise that we hate this girl. If you’re reading this, screw you with your muscles and your functioning lungs…. On a positive note, talking to her had given us the motivation we needed to press on to Ghermu, as she was heading there herself.

Rice Terrace Nepal

The valley on the other side of Bahundanda, heading toward Ghermu.

Did anyone buy that? Didn’t think so. In reality, we didn’t for a second consider even discussing whether to continue walking. That little rainstorm had given us the perfect excuse to cut short our day (after all, it could rain again at any time, despite the clear blue skies…) and we weren’t about to let it go to waste, so we simply looked at each other and wordlessly split up to check out guesthouses and find a comfortable bed for the night. And to lay motionless on for the rest of the afternoon.

However, in an incredible display of stamina and sheer willpower, we actually spent the next few hours sitting upright and playing cards while eating more food and drinking a bunch of tea. That’s right, even after a day of climbing through a little farming community a near-vertical cliff, we still had the drive and energy to sit.

Series continued in part 4: Trek to Jagat and a Rant Against Guides on the Annapurna Circuit


    • says

      It sounds like you’re trying to challenge our record as the most pathetic trekkers ever to hit the trail. Bring it on! Now that over a year has passed, I’m completely out of shape again and could easily take twice as long as I did last time.

      In all seriousness though, this trek was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and I would do it again in a second, despite knowing exactly how torturous it (especially the first few days) can be. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend trying it.

      Actually, since you’re in China, if you head to Yunnan Province, give the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek a try. It’s only two days and not too hard (I say that now, but I did feel like throwing myself into the gorge during the initial ascent) with some spectacular views most of the way.
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..How to Waste a Good TyphoonMy Profile

  1. says

    I absolutely love your photos. I did AC but went to Chame via Jeep in 2012 and missed the initial stage of the trek. But now I regret missing the initial trail.

    • says

      Thank you! Ironically, I kept wishing I was on a jeep as we were plodding along, but now that it’s over, I’m glad we walked the whole way. The first stages actually helped us get into shape for the more difficult later ones; without them, there’s a good chance I’d still be lying in a Nepalese hospital somewhere today, almost two years later.
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Forget Vang Vieng—Go Tubing in the Mekong at Si Phan DonMy Profile

  2. Francisca says

    Oh boy, you make me laugh. Surely many people will have red your juicy story without leaving a comment.
    I learned from you that the altitude does wear a person completely out.
    In a month or so I will do only a part of the Gurung heritage trail. Going up and down the same way. Being 61 :)) gives me a mindset to just enjoy the scenery. Although I think you share that same mindset.
    My backpack will also weigh around 8 kilo, but seeing how you cope with yours, I will probably find me a porter. The luxury of being old :)))
    Now I quickly continue reading your hilarious story.

    • says

      A porter would have been pretty welcome on the first few days of the trek. My backpack felt like it weighed 20 kg then, but after I got used to it, I barely noticed in anymore. Still, hiring a porter is not a bad idea as it would probably make the trek more enjoyable. Enjoy your time in Nepal and I hope you end up getting some good weather!
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..If You Can’t Take The Heat, Get Out Of The OnsenMy Profile

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