Back to Nepal: Annapurna 2011

A very, very belated post I’m sorry! An early impetus for this blog was to catalogue my travels… this is now slightly out of date, such that if I have any hope of resurrecting it I’d better start now. I’m also just back from yet another long trip so, yes, it’s definitely now or never.

Once upon a time (2010), I fulfilled a life-long dream and went trekking in Nepal. It was, happily since “life-long dreams” are frequently let-downs, amazing. It was so good that I knew I had to go back, and it was only going to be a matter of time… in fact, less than a year later I started planning with another travel-junkie friend.

This time, we did the Annapurna circuit. You will find this loop listed in many “World’s top treks” lists, but the reality is that it is rapidly losing its lustre as they build a road in parallel to the path. While this benefits many villages along the route, for whom tourism is positive but not their main source of income, its appeal to tourists is declining. Our guide’s tip as the “next big trekking circuit” was the Manaslu circuit.

Yes, our guide. In 2010 the three of us arrived with very little plan and assuming we’d find our own way. We were talked into hiring a guide by our hotel, which turned out in a stroke of luck to be a fine decision as we wound up with a fantastic guide, Shyam. So, as we were planning this trip I contacted him again, got a quote, and we paid our deposit.

Not long after, my new travel companion had friends telling her we’d been ripped off, that you can get a guide for half that in Kathmandhu, and so on. I felt bad for not even questioning it, but we were committed at this point. We surreptitiously asked fellow trekkers along the way and indeed most were paying significantly less.

However! There are definitely times when you get what you pay for. Without going into details (the stories aren’t mine to tell, for the most part), at the end of the trek every single other group was asking for Shyam’s business card. His experience and knowledge, English language ability, easy-going manner and generosity with his knowledge even for those who weren’t paying him was, shall we say, in contrast to the other guides we met along the way1. I would recommend him to anyone.

I won’t go into much detail on the trek itself; check out some photos below. We didn’t have the best weather, probably because we were too early and on the tail of the monsoon season, and unfortunately had a complete white-out at the top of the pass.

It is a completely different experience to trekking around Everest. The Khumbu region is stark, and most tea houses are solely for tourism and close in the off seasons. You rapidly gain altitude, and stay there for most of your trip. In contrast, the Annapurna circuit is a constant gradual climb, starting much lower (and hence hotter). You stay in actual villages, which is a different experience (and you certainly eat better—not many vegetables grow in the Khumbu!).

It was a great trip, despite the weather, and won’t be my last.

  1. Not only that, but we did not discover along the way that he was recently a Maoist rebel. It’s a long story, and as I said not mine to tell. ↩︎

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