- 1 - Besisahar to Khudi: Most People Walk Further to Work
- 2 - Who Says Trekking in Nepal Has to Involve Lots of Walking?
- 3 - Conquering the Annapurna Circuit’s First Hill
- 4 - Trek to Jagat and a Rant Against Guides on the Annapurna Circuit
- 5 - Jagat to Tal: Our First Real Day of Trekking
- 6 - Tal to Chame: Falling into a Trekking Routine
- 7 - Chame to Pisang: Just Takin’ the Goat for a Walk
- 8 - A Well-Deserved Day Off in Upper Pisang
- 9 - Pisang to Ngawal: A Hard Climb to Beautiful Views
- 10 - Drinking Yak Sewage in Ngawal
- 11 - Arriving In Manang…Two Weeks Later Than Most
- 12 - Trekking On Our Day Off From Trekking in Manang
- 13 - Annoying Trekker Abuses Friendly Guesthouse Owner
We woke up the next morning dreading the day ahead. Trekkers have two options on the Pisang to Manang section of the Annapurna circuit: the lower route along the valley floor or the upper route 400 or so meters above. We knew the lower trail would be faster and easier, but we’d heard multiple times that the upper has some of the best views of the whole trek. The promise of incredible scenery was all it took; we chose the hard route and we did so knowing we would have a steep 400 meter ascent ahead of us. This is what we were dreading.
By this point in the trek, we had already suffered through a few steep climbs, but none of them came close to this one. When morning arrived, we just wanted to get going and put the whole thing behind us, but we couldn’t. We expected the climb to come directly after leaving Upper Pisang. In fact, I figured we would follow the trail I had the day before, when I climbed above the town to take some photos. Instead, we were kept in anticipation as we walked along a mostly level path for an hour or two, before finally reaching the bottom of our obstacle.
Red and orange shrubs and the occasional green tree dotted the mountainside in front of us. Switchbacks climbed up among the shrubs and disappeared from view in the distance. We could not see the top. Steep dirt trails ran straight up the mountain, connecting the switchbacks. It would take a lot more effort, but we could quickly cut out big chunks of the climb using those trails.
As much is I was dreading the next hour or two and as difficult as even walking on flat ground becomes in the thin air at 3500 meters, getting up that mountainside proved much easier than expected. I can thank my strategy for that.
Basically, I made sure to always stay ahead of my two trekking companions. This was not difficult, since they were carrying a lot more weight than I and one of them was sick on top of that. I would trek ahead, occasionally even scrambling up one or two of the shortcut trails to put considerable ground between myself and the other two. Constantly stopping to take photos slowed me down, but I knew they were doing the same.
Once I had a good bit of vertical distance between us, I would find the next bench or rock and have a seat. Sometimes I would have a snack. Eventually the other two would catch up. Naturally, they also wanted a rest and a quick snack; this meant I got twice the break time. When we set out again, I built up another lead and we repeated the process. We did this over and over until we reached the top.
Well, we thought we had reached the top. When the trail leveled off and entered the shade below a clump of trees after we had been climbing for a long time, we assumed we had made it.
An old woman was sitting in the shade behind a flat piece of wood supported by two large rocks. Assorted candy bars, drinks and several baskets of apples covered her makeshift table. Two horses stood nearby, keeping an eye on the woman and her convenience store. I’m guessing they were also responsible for hauling her inventory and the tabletop up the mountainside every morning and back down in the evening.
I had no interest in the candy bars or the drinks, but couldn’t resist the locally grown apples. We bought a bunch of them. At some point while we were enjoying our apples in the shade and recovering from the climb, one of us noticed that we weren’t at the top of the hill. We still had a steep section of stairs ahead of us.
Re-energized after the long break and several apples, we flew up those stairs and emerged on a stone patio attached to a temple at the entrance to the town of Ghyaru.
We snapped a few quick photos of the valley spread out below the temple, but our eyes were immediately drawn to another patio, one belonging to a guesthouse. A guesthouse with tables and chairs to sit on and a kitchen that could make us lunch.
We spent much longer than necessary at that guesthouse, sipping tea and enjoying our meal. We were in no hurry. We knew the next town, Ngawal, wasn’t far and we could just as easily stay in Ghyaru, if it got too late in the day to tackle the next section. It’s a good thing we were in no hurry, because this was our server:
He was also the owner and the chef and the holder of every other job title at that guesthouse and he was neglecting every one of those jobs. Neither he, nor we, cared much.
After lunch, we took our time walking through town, snapping countless photos. Already, the climb to the upper trail was proving worth the effort; it was clear the views from below were nowhere near as good as the ones we were enjoying. And this was only the beginning.
The quick walk to Ngawal ended up stretching out several hours longer than it needed to, mainly because we couldn’t make it five meters down the trail without pulling out our cameras. Not only did this section of the trek provide the best views, it also gave us the best weather so far and that combination was just begging to be photographed—over and over again, apparently.
This was probably our best day of the whole trek and it came because we chose the much harder route. Most don’t, opting instead to follow the river at the bottom of the valley, but they don’t make this choice because that route is easier; they make it out of time constraints. I’ve mentioned it before, but most people seem to race around the Annapurna Circuit in the shortest amount of time possible. That’s a shame.
I would cut some other part of my trip short and do whatever it took to make sure I could take my time on the trek. When you hurry, you not only miss out on the best section and some great side-trips, you also enjoy the parts you do cover far less, especially once you reach the higher altitudes and end up with altitude sickness, because you gained elevation too quickly.
All that said, if you look at this photo, you can see the lower trail to the left of the river:
Obviously, the views from there are not too bad either and far better than anything most of us see on a daily basis. Even hurrying around the Annapurna Circuit makes for a great experience, but taking your time makes for a better one. If you’re going to go to all the trouble necessary to do this trek, it makes sense to do everything you can to make it as memorable as possible.
Series continued in part 10: Drinking Yak Sewage in Ngawal