A Well-Deserved Day Off in Upper Pisang

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series The Annapurna Circuit Trek

When we arrived in Pisang, we had the option of staying in Lower Pisang at the base of the valley or hiking a hundred to two hundred meters up the valley wall to Upper Pisang. The choice was easy. The higher location means better views and the absence of modern structures makes it more atmospheric. On the other hand, it’s much smaller and we knew there were only three guesthouses in town and were not confident we would find a room. Sure enough, the first place we checked out near the bottom of the village was full, even though we had arrived fairly early in the afternoon. The rooms were decent, the mattresses thicker than a finger, the guy who greeted us friendly and the ancient man sitting quietly by a window overlooking the valley below flashed us a toothless but welcoming grin. We were disappointed we had to move on.

Traditional Tibetan homes in Upper Pisang Nepal

That building with the white and blue windows is the first guesthouse we checked.

Part of that disappointment stemmed from having to climb another fifty meters or so to get to the next guesthouse. The rooms were slightly more expensive, but nicer and at least one was free, so it looked like we’d be staying there. Nevertheless, we decided to hike up another fifty meters to the top of the village and check out the last guesthouse.

Main street of Upper Pisang in Nepal

The town’s main street.

A friendly old woman runs the place, but the rooms were dark, tiny and cold and the beds little more than a wooden platform covered by a thin piece of foam. On the other hand, she had a free room and it was cheap. Despite that, we decided to pay a bit more for comfort and headed back down to the second guest house. I felt bad for the woman running the cheap place, but figured she probably filled all her rooms every day anyway, considering the lack of options in town.

Tibetan guesthouse owner in Upper Pisang

The woman who runs the guest house near the top of Upper Pisang.

We informed the guy at the middle guest house we’d like to book the room he had showed us and he promptly tripled the price. Obviously he had seen us go up to the third guesthouse and when we came back down he must have assumed they were full and he was our only option. I suppose you have to admire the ruthless business sense and if he had simply stated the new price, it wouldn’t have bothered us so much, but the incredibly rude attitude he suddenly adopted annoyed us. I suppose he may have felt slighted when we left to check out the final guesthouse, but I’m sure others have done the same. Either way, we wanted nothing further to do with him and headed back up to stay with the friendly old woman.

We spent the rest of the evening in her living room/kitchen/dining room crowded around a beat-up old wood-burning stove. Any time we leaned back from the stove, we immediately felt the freezing cold. We played cards while waiting for dinner and a bit more afterwards, before retiring to the thinly padded slabs of wood in our dark and freezing cell.

Inside a guesthouse in Pisang on the Annapurna Circuit

We spent the evening playing cards here.

A tea house in Upper Pisang, Annapurna, Nepal

This hunk of scrap metal saved us from frostbite.

The next morning, we headed down to the first guest house we visited to reserve our rooms for that night. We liked Upper Pisang and had decided to take a break from trekking and spend the day there, figuring we could use some rest after all the days spent walking 30% as far as everyone else. Plus, we had yet to visit the Buddhist monastery perched atop a small cliff above town, affording beautiful views of the valley below and several of the Annapurna peaks on the other side.

viewpoint at Upper Pisang monastery in Nepal

The viewpoint at the monastery at the top of Upper Pisang.

Lower Pisang and Upper Pisang from monastery viewpoint

Looking down on both Pisangs from the monastery.

During the day, we hiked up to that monastery to take some photos and headed down to Lower Pisang to get some lunch. After our meal, the two people I was trekking with wanted to catch up on some laundry. While they were doing this, I took one of the trails leaving town and followed it up the mountain behind us. I passed a few locals carrying heavy loads on their backs on my way out of town, but once I had climbed a hundred meters or so, I was completely alone.

Nepalese woman carrying sack in Pisang, Annapurna

An old woman carrying a sack that was probably far heavier than my backpack.

The trail was steep and I moved slowly—the lack of oxygen in the high altitude gave me no choice. Despite that, I climbed several hundred meters above town. It was hard work, but well worth it. Walking along the narrow path among the sparse red, green and yellow vegetation with no people in sight, but incredible views of the valley below and the warm sun above was one of my favorite moments on the trek.

A cliff on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

Looking up the valley where we would be heading the next day.

Lower Pisang on Annaurna trek in Nepal

Looking down on Lower Pisang from far above

For most of the day we were alone at our new guest house, but in the afternoon, other trekkers started showing up, among them a large group of Israelis and a Portuguese guy. I would become very familiar with this group over the coming week. They were a bit loud as a whole, but were nice enough for the most part. There were two notable exceptions.

One was the Portuguese guy and the other an Israeli who was actually trekking on his own but occasionally hung with the rest of the group—usually when it came time to stay somewhere for the night so he could mooch food off them. We will encounter him again later in this series.

Upper Pisang in Annapurna Nepal

A view of Upper Pisang from Lower Pisang.

On this night, he wandered in a few hours after the others and immediately started borrowing various things from different people, before sitting down to a meal of everyone else’s food. Along the Annapurna Circuit, the tea houses charge very little for a room with the assumption (sometimes explicitly stated) that you order dinner and breakfast from their kitchen.

This guy always prepared his own meals using muesli he carried with him, supplemented by things others gave him. This meant he was not only mooching off fellow trekkers, but taking money from the locals, who have very little to begin with and could never themselves afford the muesli he was eating to save money at their expense.

Tibetan houses in Pisang, Annapurna, Nepal

Tibetan homes in Upper Pisang.

The Portuguese guy was a different story. While the Israeli was an asshole, to put it bluntly, the Portuguese was simply annoying. He seemed to only enjoy trekking for the opportunities it created to inform those around him just how far he had walked that day; and you can be sure the number of kilometers he gave would always be higher than anyone else’s, even if it had to grow mid-conversation.

He will feature much more later in this series, but for now we got to spend an evening listening to him explain to everyone in turn how incredibly far he had journeyed that day and how many land-speed records he had broken in the process. He never mentioned a single thing he saw along the way, probably because he never bothered to stop and take a look.

Series continued in part 9: Pisang to Ngawal: A Hard Climb to Beautiful Views


  1. mick says

    thanks for the interesting posts. i agree that israelis seem to usually be annoying, ive trekked there many times and they always spoil the peaceful surroundings. nevertheless, it is a beautiful place and cant wait to go again in april. thank you.

    • says

      They can be annoying when in large groups, but the same goes for every other nationality, too. In this case, most of them were actually pretty friendly, despite being a large group. Of course the one asshole more than made up for that…
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..An Elephant Gets RevengeMy Profile

  2. Rich says

    I have so many questions on the MO of this Israeli guy. How did he ask for food? Did the owner of the guesthouse see and warn him? would people hand him after they were done or midway during the meal? How long would it take for him to harvest his meal? Was he asking only from Israelis? Did people roll their eyes while he was on the prowl? This scene you describe is so atypical — I think you can easily turn his MO into a amusing blog post with you sense of humor. If you do, thanks much in advance for your time!

    That Portuguese guy reminded me of this:
    When we did JMT (John Muir Trail – 220 mile trail), we met this dude who only gave us his trail name “wolf” and he proclaimed that he would not consider anything shorter than 500 miles as a long-distance trail. He was one of these ultra-lightweight backpackers that carry almost nothing – his backpack and clothing was so little, and it seemed like he was on a short day hike and dressed like going for run on a summer day. We (wife and I) are slow but we usually walk long hours. We met him in the afternoon and we listened to him being full of himself for half-hour and then he took off, and since he did not have proper clothing I could see his bad sunburns, and we had still 2/3rd distance to complete (Like other trails in the USA, there are no hotels along the way unless you exit the trail and walk a few miles). We camped late that night and next day when we were walking early in the morning, we spotted him crouching against a rock next to the trail, with emergency blanket wrapped around and shivering, and he awoke with our footsteps was SURPRISED to see us, as we had caught him red-handed in his ultra-lightweight backpacking ways, which he was not willing to reveal the previous day! After an hour or so, we had stopped for breakfast near a lake and he showed up, and he talked with a bit more humility that time. Strange thing was, the previous day I was very interested in talking to him on how he could do JMT with such little gear and he was not really willing to open up except to revert back to boasting on his conquests. But that morning I had zero interest in talking to him, but he seemed eager to talk but when we did not show interest he got ready to leave. Before leaving he asked us if it was OK for him to take a swim at the nearby lake NUDE. I said OK, and I was not sure what he wanted to prove and starting to wonder if had a decency at all (my wife seemed uncomfortable). May be he wanted to us to know how tough he was in jumping into an alpine lake early morning . JMT has a lake a mile. He disappeared soon after and we never saw him again, however it felt great to beat him (we were not even competing with him). We even contemplated walking all night and landing at a camp site just ahead of him to just drive him up the wall, but since that involved too much work we dropped the idea quickly.

    • says

      He would basically just take things people were sharing anyway, like fries. Then when people were done, but had food left on their plates, he’d ask if he could have the rest and finish whatever they left.

      The other Israelis didn’t seem to mind because they were done anyway and the guesthouse owner didn’t complain because the group was buying a lot of food. I’m not even sure he, or anyone but me for that matter, noticed. I’ve just come across a lot of guys like this in my travels and have developed a strong dislike for them, mainly because they never just mooch and always feel the need to also brag about how cheaply they travel.

      Sounds like you’ve got some pretty good blog post material yourself. At least the Portuguese guy kept his clothes on, although I’m pretty sure that was mostly due to the cold and not a sense of decency. I can definitely picture him in place of the guy you encountered.
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Inle’s Floating Gardens and some Buddhist HypocrisyMy Profile

  3. Jamie McVicar says

    Love your blog. I just finished the Circuit. Got through Thorung six days before the shit hit the fan. It’s funny to see the exact places I was at two weeks ago half way around the world. Has to chuckle about your mattress search. I always has my own room so doubled up the mattresses. Didn’t always work because sometimes it was just two pieces of plywood instead of one!

    • says

      Thanks! I know, I felt the same way reading about and seeing photos of places along the trek I have been to myself. And you were there much more recently than I, so I can only imagine how much more immediate it must feel. You definitely got lucky with your timing.
      Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..I Love Chinese Repairmen!My Profile

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