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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n March 2017 I returned to Nepal. Because, as they say, once is not enough. Not for Nepal. Just like 9 months ago I came to this Himalayan country to go on a hike in the mountains. And this time again I was planning to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a picturesque trail going around the Annapurna massif. If the last time we did it all on our own with Una, then now I had agreed to help few a others, who hadn’t been to Asia before and who were less experienced than I am.
If you want to do this trek on your own, below you will find my articles about the practical side of the trek. However, here I’m going to share with you some short notes, that I wrote during the trek.
Practical information about Annapurna Circuit trek – Nepal:
- Annapurna Circuit Trek Without a Guide. Everything you may want to know. Permits. Insurance. Route. Information on getting to the starting point of the trek and back. Possible conditions of the trail in different seasons. Budget for Annapurna circuit and examples of prices.
- Complete Annapurna Packing List + Packing tips. For all seasons.
4 Hungry Latvians
Day 1. It’s 5:50 AM, when we are already packed and ready to leave, we go down to the restaurant of our hotel for a quick breakfast. Yesterday we had told them, that we will leave this place early and asked if they could prepare a breakfast for us. 20 minutes later we are already outside, heading to the bus station. Shortly before 7 AM our bus starts its journey to Bhulbule, a small town and a starting point of our trek.
A distance from Kathmandu to Bhulbhule is less than 200 kilometers. However, bus ride, which goes pretty smoothly as there are no problems on the roads, is almost 9 hours long. Oh, these mountain roads in Nepal!
An hour before reaching our destination we have started to chat with a local man. He is an owner of one hotel. This hotel is a 20-minute walk from Bhulbhule. I know the area. He offers us 2 rooms for free, if we would like to stay with him. You only will pay for food, he says. It’s a common practice on Annapurna Circuit. I have a hot shower,… fast cooking, dinner will be ready very fast, he adds. OK, we don’t have any other place on mind and so we agree, that we will come to him.
But before that, if possible, we want to get a WiFi for some 20 minutes. Getting off the bus, I ask him, if we could get WiFi somewhere in Bhulbhule? He says: “No.” He asks other man something in Nepalese, and says one more time: “No. There is no WiFi in Bhulbhule.”
It’s only the very beginning of the trail, and so I don’t want to believe, that they don’t have internet there. Unless, there is some technical problem right now. I know one hotel – restaurant (in Bhulbhule), which we will pass on the way, where we, as I remember, used WiFi last year. So we decide to try and ask there. We cross the bridge, walk into that restaurant. And, yes, they have WiFi. We buy a cup of tea each and sit down on the terrace.
I go and check out also their rooms, because we aren’t 100% sure anymore, if we should go to that man, who lied to us.
At the end we end up going to his place. But we aren’t returning there, that’s for sure.
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As soon as we are showed in our rooms, we order dinner. Then we take a shower. There is only one. And there is only cold water. OK! After the shower we are ready to eat. As sun hasn’t set yet, we decide to eat outside. We sit at the table and start to wait for our dinner. An hour passes. No one is coming. Another hour passes, and only then we get our food. Fast cooking… OK!
We all have ordered the same dish, but, as we learned later, other 4 trekkers who are staying here tonight had decided to try 6 different dishes. I understand that, but someone could come and say, that it will take that long.
Lesson learned – we should eat before them. At what time are these people having breakfast tomorrow, is what we want to know before ordering ours. OK, we will have a breakfast at 7 AM, half an hour before them.
At 7 AM we are at the same table. Our breakfast comes half an hour later…
Why Are You All Walking Back?
Preparing to hike Annapurna Circuit in early spring we were ready, that it can be cold here. We knew that at nights for at least half of the trek we will have sub zero temperatures (or close to that). What we weren’t really ready for was deep snow. Usually there isn’t that much of snow on this trek, even in winter. But then, already in Kathmandu, I got to know, that it’s snowing heavily at the higher altitudes. And at the day, when we started to hike, it had been snowing for more than a week already.
Look at that picture above, taken on the second day of our hike – doesn’t look like we could be close to the place where it’s -10 C (and even colder) during the day, and it’s a lot of snow there, huh? But then and there we knew that’s how it is. During that day we met quite a few people walking back from the direction we were heading to.
Weather in Himalayas can change very quickly. Couple of weeks ago there was no snow at all, now everyone was saying that it’s 3 meters of snow less than a week walk away…
OK, we thought, let’s continue and see how far our Team Latvia will get!
Hot Bath in the Morning & Cold Shower in the Evening
In the evening of the second day it was raining. But we knew, if it’s raining here, at lower altitudes, it’s probably snowing higher in the mountains… However, internet was working (actually, you can get it almost at any of the villages on Annapurna Circuit) and we could check the weather forecast. It’s going to rain for all the following day, but then it will stop for at least a week and the weather will change dramatically (from -15 C to +15 C at some parts of the trek), is what it said.
While we didn’t really want to walk during the rain, the other part made us very happy. And we agreed – if it won’t rain tomorrow in the morning, we will go to these hot springs, a short walk away from our hotel.
Morning is cold. It’s not raining. But we aren’t that sure anymore, if we should go to these springs or not. Looks like it’s going to rain soon, as forecasted. We can’t decide. And so we just walk. In 30 minutes we are at the trail leading down to the hot springs. It’s a 10 minute walk down and at least 10 minute walk up. I know it, because a guy from our hotel told me about it yesterday. He was also the one, who recommended us to go to these springs. To go or not? Yes or no?
OK – let’s go down! We will not escape from the rain anyway. And who knows, if we will be so close to nice natural hot springs anytime soon. The nearest ones I have tried before are more than a week walk away, in Tatopani. There are others, but I don’t know anything about them.
There are 2 more people already in that small, natural pool.
“Oh, it’s so nice, I could sit here for a few days,” I tell others when we enter the pool. And then a guy, who was already sitting there, when we came, tells us, that it’s already 4th day for them. They just go to the hotel to sleep and eat, rest of their time spending in this natural pool. While others turned around because of the snow and cold, these guys came up with a plan like this. Not a bad plan, huh?
After about an hour of relaxing and few short swims in the ice cold river we leave. Just at the time, when other people arrive. As soon as we get back to the road, it starts to rain.
From that moment on it’s raining for the most of the day and evening. Temperature drops under +10 C. In the evening it feels really cold already.
Petroleum water… Yuck!
Day 6. We are in Upper Pisang. In the evening, after a hearty dinner, we with Janis go to the kitchen of our hotel. We want to ask, where we could fill up our bottles with water. Hiking season is only starting. And so there is only one man now in this hotel. And he, as it looks, is taking care of everything. He is busy at the moment, when we ask about the water, so he just points to the gasoline canister.
We smile at each other. As soon as he turns away Janis squats down to smell this water in the canister.
Why? During our lunch break today we stopped at one restaurant, where at one point we also asked them where we could get water. And then we were given a gasoline canister. We filled up our bottles with this water to find out, that it smells like petroleum, too. Shortly later I tried this water, and it tasted like gasoline as well. Yuck!
And so now this situation looks like an anecdote to us. But the best part, as we will see in a moment, is only about to happen.
A man, seeing that we aren’t taking this water, explains, that it’s good and that he has brought it from the public water tap down the hill. Water not running, problem with water, frozen,… he adds in broken English. Then he opens a cupboard, where he have some 20 more, smaller canisters. And another cupboard – full with smaller, oil canisters.
We trust him. But we can’t help ourselves and at the moment, when he is showing us what he has in the second cupboard, we start laughing uncontrollably.
We apologize to him (as good as we can at that moment), saying, that it’s not a problem, that we will go to the public tap ourselves. And still laughing we go down to that public tap.
Prince on a White Horse (Yak)
We wake up at 4:40 AM. About an hour later, as soon as it will be light enough to see without a torch, we will start to walk.
I open the doors of our room, to check if it hasn’t snowed at night. When we went to sleep at about 7 PM, it started to snow. Luckily for us, weather looks good. Sky is clear. And there is only a very little bit of fresh snow on the ground. We have our breakfast and head out. It’s a long day ahead of us.
And the first part is a tough one – it’s about an hour long hike on a steep, rocky terrain with an elevation gain of about 340 meters. There, at 4,880 meters (16,010 ft) above sea level, is the last camp. The place is called High Camp. Then, a few hour walk later, is Thorung La pass, which at 5,416 meters (17,769 ft) above sea level is the highest point of Annapurna Circuit. There during the season it’s possible to buy tea. But the next hotel – restaurant is a steep climb and another 3-4 hours of walking later, on the other side of the pass.
We reach the High Camp and stop at the restaurant for a cup of hot tea. And that’s when Janis understands, that he can’t continue. He has cold and now he is shivering. We drink tea and talk about possible options.
20 minutes and 170$ later he is already on a white yak, heading to the pass. We have agreed to meet in the next town. One man is carrying his backpack. Another man is following with another yak. And the three of us are following in their footsteps, ascending slowly through the snow. Luckily there is a trail, snow is very hard. And we can walk on snow.
Otherwise hardly anyone would be able to do it. Because mostly snow is at least knee deep.
What was supposed to be the toughest day turns out to be the funniest as well (at least for me, haha, who hadn’t seen that much snow for a few years already). Running down the hill through knee deep snow is as fun as it sounds. Why I was running through the snow? Because it was very hot afternoon, snow was melting and everything was very slippery. Soon, however, I found out, that it’s also fun. And, yeah, others were also sliding down the mountain on their butts.
We were extremely lucky with the weather. Yes, it was quite cold in the morning on this one day (about -10, -12 C) but there was no wind and later it was very warm. Yes, there was a lot of snow. But it wasn’t a problem to walk with an ordinary hiking shoes and boots. And all this snow made the mountains look SO BEAUTIFUL! Check out our photo story.
Ok, but what happened afterwards?
Have You Seen a Tall Guy With a Hat Like This?
We see yaks going down not too long before we reach the pass. And that makes us think, that Janis shouldn’t be too far ahead of us. Descent goes very well, we overtake several groups of hikers. But where is Janis?
We take an hour and a half long lunch break at the nearest settlement with 3 hotels – restaurants.
And reaching today’s destination, Muktinath, we start to ask around, if someone has seen our friend. At the first hotel, a local guy says, that he has seen him. About an hour ago, he says. He asked how to get to Jomsom by jeep, and he went there. Hmm, sounds like Janis. He knew, what is the next town as well. And we had talked, that after the pass he might go there by bus or jeep, if he will feel the same as ill.
We stop at another hotel. An hour later someone is knocking at the door of our room. Anna opens the doors. Is he your friend? Oh, yes! Hey, Janis!
What had happened? Janis reached the Thorong La pass. Had a cup of tea there. Then took a few photos and headed down. At the first settlement after the pass, the same “3 hotel – restaurant village”, he, a bit confused by the size of the town, which I had described as a pretty big town, checked into the first hotel. Ordered a big pot of tea. Drank it. Took medicine. And went to sleep.
At first, as he later told us, he was also thinking about booking another room for us. Because “the village seemed to small, to accommodate all the hikers”. But he forgot about it, because he wanted to sleep.
Few hours later he woke up in a completely empty hotel. There was no one outside.
Is this Muktinath, he asked the owner of the place. And this is how he found out, that Muktinath is another hour walk away. He just paid for the room, and hurried down. Because he was thinking, that on the next day we will start walking as usually, at about 7:30 AM.
In the town he did same way like we did – just asked around. Until he found us.
And the last story.
Next day was the very last day of hiking. And in the evening girls wanted to celebrate it with a glass of wine and yak cheese. They didn’t have yak cheese in Jomsom. So we just got some cheap (and the only ones which were available) cookies from the store next door. And then a woman from our guesthouse brought us the local wine girls had ordered. A wine, that tasted like a very bad quality vodka, haha.
Have you hiked Annapurna Circuit? When did you go and what was your experience?