When we got off the bus in Besi Sahar, the starting point for the Annapurna Circuit, we were completely unaware of what lay ahead. Sure, we had done ample research and planning but in the end, you can’t be prepared for a journey so epic. We checked in to a nice little hotel, planned our route for the next day and went to sleep.
When we awoke the next morning at 6:30am and officially began the trek, the sky was hazy, the thermometer read 15 degrees celsius, butterflies danced in our peripheral and the sub-tropical climate sustained all sorts of jungle flora and fauna around us. This was all to change dramatically as we gained altitude over the course of the next 13 days. We screwed together our hiking poles, strapped on our small backpacks, tied up our shoes and headed off into the great unknown.
Although we mostly followed a “road” for the first three days, it was more like a dirt path with the odd jeep on it and actually boasted some beautiful views. Many people skip the first couple days of the trek and take a jeep right up to the village of Bhulbule, but we were glad we didn’t. The slow, meandering path followed the river at the bottom of the valley and foreshadowed the beauty of what lay ahead.
Every once in a while we would get a glimpse of the massive 8000 meter plus peaks of the Himalayas jutting out above the jungle clad hilltops. It didn’t take long for us to realise that this was going to end up on our list of all time best travel experiences. The low lying valleys were like a shangri-la of mountain scenery. The fog made it hard to see the distant Himalayas, but everywhere we looked there were mesmerizing waterfalls cascading off of cliffs hundreds of meters above us. Tiny mountain villages, cut off from the outside world until recent road construction, clung to the hillsides like hornets nests.
We transversed some extremely rickety bridges that spanned 50 meters high over the rushing river below; a powerful gush which cut its way through the landscape forming watery capillaries through an otherwise impenetrable fortress of rocky cliffs and dense jungle overgrowth. At one point we came over a hill to see a gigantic make-shift bamboo swing at the foot of a massive waterfall. We stopped for a snack and a few swings before carrying on to our first village of Ngadi. Ngadi was a peaceful place, green and lush with a nice warm year round climate. Our first room was as basic as they come but after hiking for 6 hours we were happy to just relax and enjoy a dal bhat (typical Nepali all-you-can-eat lentil dish).
For the first few days a thick fog enveloped the valley but no amount of moisture in the air could take away from the spectacular scenery. Our bodies showed some signs of shock and fatigue, punishing us with sore legs and minor blisters on our feet. But our feet carried us forward. We walked through so many different terrains: dirt paths, jungle, rivers, rocks, bridges and dirt roads. Eventually we entered some of the most picturesque villages we’ve seen, each one fringed by a jaw dropping amphitheatre of rice terraces that stretched for kilometers in every direction. Farmers harvested their grain, stopping the arduous work only to offer us a joyful smile and a friendly “Namaste” as we walked by (peaceful Nepali greeting).
The third day was my birthday and the great God Surya (Hindu Sun God) wished me a happy one with clear blue skies and views of the distant snow-capped peaks. It was also a very difficult day, our first really hard day of the trek. We climbed 600 meters upward passing by some of the most impressive waterfalls we’ve ever seen. We finally left the drivable road behind and any jeeps we may have seen on the first 2 days were replaced by donkeys, who sauntered up and down the paths carrying anything from building supplies to weary (and lazy) trekkers.
We were huffing and puffing up the final stretch of rock cut stairs, really feeling the burn in our legs, when 6 Nepali porters passed us carrying a cell phone tower weighing nearly 500 lbs! They had the massive machine strapped to bamboo and strung over their shoulders. Only 4 could carry it at the same time so the other 2 were on a break carrying the cables.
Most of them were shoeless, yet they climbed down the treacherously steep cliffside with the agility of mountain goats. Our sighs and complaints relinquished themselves as the group of 5 foot tall smiling men passed us by. We were to see hundreds of these porters on the trek. These men, with the hardest job in the world, transverse Nepal’s most treacherous landscapes to deliver precious goods to a world otherwise cut off from the outside world. Most porters we saw were carrying an astonishing number of backpacks or boxes, but none were carrying such a heavy load as these 6 men.
When we finally made it to the top of the steep hill, the sight of Tal Village made it all worthwhile. The tiny collection of Tibetan style homes and guesthouses occupies a huge plain at the foot of some of the highest mountains on Earth. Such a vast, flat, wide open space almost seemed out of place amongst the formidable behemoths of the Annapurna range that towered above us. The mountains of Manaslu, Annapurna 2 and Lamjung Himal imposed themselves aggressively on the backdrop of an impossibly blue sky. Our guesthouse here was at the foot of one of the hundreds of waterfalls that we had seen thus far and we fell asleep to the sound of water crashing into the rocks at the foot of our beds.