Are you planning a trek around the Annapurnas?

After our trek we thought of writing a few tips and recommendations based on our experience. We hope they can be helpful for any of you who plans to go for a trek around the Annapurnas!

Getting ready

These are some of the things to have in mind before you start your trek:

  • Choose the route and get a map. There are many possible trekking routes within the Annapurnas. Select the one that you like the most and that better suits your needs and fitness level. Even though the routes are marked quite well, try to get a map of the area.
  • Permits and Registration card for trekkers. Nepali authorities require you get:
  • ACA Permit, which is a permit to allow you entering the Annapurnas conservation area
  • TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) registration card for individual trekkers

Both are obtainable at ACAP office in Phokara and cost 2000 NPR & 1600 NPR respectively. You will need to bring 4 passport size pictures and provide information about your route and the length (days).

  • What to bring really depends on the length of your trek, the route and your own judgment. This is what we brought for our trek:
  • Basics: Good trekking shoes and shocks, long & short comfortable trousers, a couple of breathable & fast drying t-shirts, thermal pants and t-shirt and fleece, hat & gloves.
  • Jackets. We both had waterproof and windproof jackets and we wondered if would need any wormer jackets. Thanks to the recommendations of a Spanish guide we meet in Phokara we decided to rent a couple of down jackets. While we really only ended up using them on the day we crossed Thorong La, I don’t regret our decision!!!
  • Walking Sticks. While it’s not a must, I would strongly recommend bringing a couple of walking sticks, specially for when you have to go down the strenuous hills. We rented and while Isma didn’t really use his one, I ended up using the two all the way!
  • Sleeping Bags. While it is possible to get blankets in the most of the guest houses & lodges, I would suggest you bring one (prepared for -5 or -10) as you will most likely need it when going higher than 4500m (we only used it 2 nights).
  • 1st Aid Kit: A must bring. Remember to include Diamox.
  • Water. Safe Drinking Stations are available in a good few villages around the Annapurnas, but not in all so I would recommend you bring some kind of water purifying tablets with you.

  • Mobile phone: except for the pass, there is only coverage with NTC all the way around the Annapurnas, so you can get a prepaid NTC sim card before the trek.
  • Others: Cards, books, head lamp or torch.
  • Porter vs Guide. While neither of them are really required for the treks in the area, we chose to hire a porter, Bishal, who also did as a guide at times for mainly two reasons:
  • To carry the extra trekking gear we rented in Phokara.
  • Because we thought we could help at least one porter by giving him a job for a couple of weeks.
  • Altitude sickness. It is really important that you familiarize yourself with what is Altitude sickness, hot to prevent it, which are the symptoms and what are the possible consequences.

In addition, we were recommended to bring Diamox with us. Not to take them as a prevention but only in case of starting to develop the symptoms.

  • Shape / training. This is just a quick note to say that it would be better to be in a decent shape before starting a trek… but even myself, who used to get tired after going up the stairs one floor was able to complete it, so you can also do it!

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Bye bye Nepal

Dijimos adios a Nepal justo un mes después de empezar nuestro viaje, y con más pena que alegría volvimos a entrar en la caótica India. Estuvimos en Kathmandu, Pokhara y los Annapurnas, y lo cierto es que Nepal nos enamoró! A pesar de la pobreza y lo dura que es la vida, el calor y la amabilidad de sus gentes nos hizo disfrutar día a día del mes que pasamos entre ellos.

Nepal tiene dos caras totalmente distintas, una es la de la vida en las ciudades, y la otra es la de la vida en las montañas. La vida en las urbes no deja de ser un caos de tráfico y gente similar a las ciudades indias, aunque algo más relajada, donde todo el mundo trata de hacerse su hueco. Por el contrario la vida en las montañas carece de infraestructuras, por lo que en muchos pueblos no llegan caminos aptos para vehículos, y los únicos medios de transporte de los que disponen son animales y porteadores. Al ser una zona totalmente rural y remota viven del campo y de los animales, pero son mucho más acogedores que la gente de las ciudades. Todo el mundo nos solía saludar con el habitual Namaste y una sonrisa en la cara, y en muchas ocasiones disfrutábamos de conversaciones con ellos a lo largo del camino de las que cada día aprendíamos algo nuevo de su cultura o costumbres.

Durante el tiempo que pasamos en los Annapurnas leímos dos libros muy interesantes: Into Thin Air, que cuenta la historia real de la tragedia que ocurrió en el Everest en 1996 donde murieron más de diez personas, y Seven Years in Tibet, que cuenta la aventura de un Austriaco en Tibet durante los años previos a la invasión china. Estos libros nos ayudaron a entender un poco más la dura vida de los montañeros, y la cultura tibetana que ahora está en el exilio en Nepal e India.

Por otro lado, para que os hagais una idea esto es lo que costaba más o menos la vida en Nepal:

  • Cambio: 1 EUR = 100 NPR (aprox.)
  • Botella de agua: 20 NPR
  • Cerveza de 650ml: 250 NPR
  • Comida
    • En restaurante local: 100-300 NPR / persona
    • En la calle: 50 NPR / persona
  • Alojamiento: 800-1500 NPR / habitación doble (100 NPR en los Annapurnas)
  • Transporte
    • Bus Kathmandu – Pokhara: 400 NPR
    • Bus Pokhara – Besisahar: 190 NPR
    • Bus Nayapul – Pokhara: 100 NPR
    • Bus Pokhara – Sonauli: 500 NPR
  • Porteador / guía: 11 USD / día (incluyendo su alojamiento y comidas)
  • Gasto medio por día: 20 € / persona (incluye alojamiento, comidas, transporte, visados, etc.)

Como despedida de Nepal os dejamos una de las canciones tradicionales nepalies que ha sido la sintonía de nuestro trek por los Annapurnas.

Our pilgrimage to holy Varanasi

After doing a little bit of research we thought that going from Pokhara to Varanasi would be relatively straight forward, but of course the trip had a few “surprises” for us.

The trip commences with us leaving Pokhara. We take the “tourist bus”, which in reality was a local bus stopping at the tourist bus stand, that will take us from Pokhara to Sonauli (7 hours). Leaving aside the state of the roads, the crazy overtakes (they don’t care if there is another car coming, they just push the horn and hope for the best) and the precipices, the journey was more or less pleasant. We were lucky enough not to have any accidents or punctures but on the way we were forced to stop for more than 20 mins by a bus crash that happened between the bus ahead of us and another bus driving in opposite direction. I should probably better say touch rather than crash, as apart from a minor scratch there was no other sign of the collision between the two buses. Everybody from the two buses involved, from our bus and people from several other cars went close to try to see what happened while the two drivers argued about the “crash”. Crazy that given how old and bumped the bus was they could argue for minutes about the tinny little scratch.

Finally we reached Sonauli, the town where the India – Nepal crossing is. As we preferred to continue our journey to Varanasi by day, we decided to sleep there. Our last night in Nepal eating momos.

Early in the morning we got ready to enter India again. Half Sonauli is Nepal and the other half is India and the crossing between the two it is just a long street that you can cross from one side to the other without having to show your passport or any kind of documentation to anybody. While nobody will tell you anything if you don’t do the required diligences then and there, we could be traveling without an India visa now, you could get into trouble if you don’t get the exit stamp in Nepal’s immigration stand and the entry stamp in India’s one (both are just about 500m apart).

In Sonauli India we looked for the bus to Gorakhpur. First we passed by all the taxi drivers who will take you if you pay a small fortune, but we just said no thanks with a smile. We found our bus and took our sits. The 3 hours that takes going from Sonauli to Gorakhpur went fast thanks to the entertaining Bollywood movies!

We arrived in Gorakhpur around midday. We were back in deep India, the chaos, the traffic, the thousands of people… Now we just had to complete the last leg of our journey, get a train from Gorakhpur to Varanasi. One will think that this was the easy part, it’s just a matter of going to one of the desks in the train station and get a ticket from Gorakhpur to Varanasi, ha! First we learned that reserved seats tickets can not be bought at the train station and that we had to go to the Computerized Reservation Office. Luckily it was only 5 mins away, but walking 5 mins with our heavy backpacks, between the cows, the rickshaws and tuk-tuks, the heat and the Indians I tell you it is not easy!

In the Computerized Reservation Office we were shocked by the amount of people queuing for a ticket at the different desks. As we had no idea of the train schedules, we were advised to buy a book which has information of the main train routes in India. Once we found which trains could take us to Varanasi and queuing for over 45 mins we learned that trains in India have to be booked well in advanced! They were all sold out! But fortunately and after lots of questions we found out there was another train leaving that night, not in the book, that had still beds available in First Class. 2h after we finally had our tickets.

The 6h wait in Gorakhpur went quite fast reading and talking to a little boy in the train station. The train arrived and after a few minutes looking for our coach we realized that there was no First Class coach as we were told… in the middle of the confusion and disbelieve we were told that they were going to attach an FC coach in a few minutes. One hour later, our coach was there and we could finally relax and sleep for a few hours. Night night Gorakhpur, by the morning we will be in Varanasi!

Diario de un trek por los Annapurnas

 Dia 1 – Pokhara – Besisahar – Ngadi

Quedamos a las 7:00 en la puerta de la tienda donde alquilamos el material con nuestro porteador Bishal, al que conocimos por primera vez. Es un nepalí cristiano (lo cual es muy raro en Nepal) de 20 años un poco tímido, pero que nos demostró con el paso del tiempo ser muy majete.

Salimos de Pokhara hacia Besisahar en un autobus local repleto de nepalies hasta en el techo, con gallinas por el pasillo del autobus, con música típica nepali (logdori) y una pareja de catalanes, Irene y David, que llevan ya 10 meses de viaje desde China a Barcelona. Las 5 horas de viaje fueron muy entretenidas aunque las rodillas sufriendo de lo lindo por no tener nada de espacio entre asientos (debe ser porque los nepalis son muy pequeños). Afortunadamente no sufrimos ninguna avería, lo cual parece bastante común en los autobuses locales.

En Besisahar decidimos volver a montarnos en otro autobus local hasta Bhulbhule para evitar el primer tramo del trek que no es nada agradable a pie por el tráfico y los pasos de agua, y además estaba lloviendo. Esta vez la carretera era un camino de cabras por barrancos, y el autobus era un cuatro latas donde casi no cabía ni un alfiler, y nos tocó ir de de pie. Creo que nunca he pasado tanto miedo dentro de un bus en mi vida, aunque después de una hora y media llegamos sanos y salvos a nuestro destino! Por el camino numerosos grupos de mujeres y niños fueron parando al autobus en mitad de la carretera cantando “villancicos” de Diwali a cambio de dinero.

Una vez en Bhulbhule caminamos alrededor de una hora para llegar a nuestro destino del día que era Ngadi. Allí coincidimos con los catalanes del autobus y unas chicas israelitas con las que compartimos la cena, nuestro primer Dal Bhat, y la sobremesa. El alojamiento en Ngadi resultó ser el más campestre de toda la ruta ya que dormimos en unas chozas de barro con una araña gigante en la habitación… hasta llegué a tener pesadillas esa noche con la araña!

Día 2 – Ngadi – Jagat

En nuestro segundo día probamos por primera vez el pan tibetano con miel en el desayuno, y desde entonces somos adictos a él. Nada más salir de Ngadi, unos cuantos grupos de niños nos cortaban el paso cantando canciones típicas de Diwali a cambio de dinero para dejarnos pasar. Nos dejaron sin cambio pero Marta disfrutó mucho bailando con ellos. Ese día a nuestro porteador se le rompió la suela de una de sus botas, y acabó el día en chanclas. Por la noche en Jagat pudo comprarse calzado nuevo, una zapatillas New Balance super molongas! Las botas viejas se quedaron en Jagat hasta la siguiente vez que Bishal volviera a pasar por allí. La etapa tuvo unas cuantas cuestas y al final se nos hizo algo dura, pero en Jagat nos estaba esperando una ducha de agua caliente para recuperarnos. Para cenar pedimos momos, Marta aprendió como hacerlos, y probamos el Raksi, que es el vino local que más que vino es aguardiente. Justo antes de irnos a dormir, vimos como grupos de adolescentes iban de puerta en puerta cantando “villancicos” de Diwali pidiendo dinero. Por lo que hemos visto, las celebraciones del Diwali son muy parecidas a las de nuestra Navidad.

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Nepali beverages

As well as local dishes we also wanted to give it a go to the different local beverages, here are some of the ones we tried during our stay in Nepal.

None Alcoholic Beverages

Chiya

The Nepali tea, which I can keep drinking for hours! Chiya, which is commonly known as milk tea is made by boiling tea with hot milk & water and adding to it sugar, a bit of ginger, cardamom or pepper.

Tibetan Tea

Tibetan Tea = Butter tea. Milk tea to which they add rancid butter.Tried once it is enough… I think I still have the taste of that rancid butter after two weeks…

Lassi

Lassi is a drink of curd mixed with water that can be drunk plain or with fruit. It is a very tasty and refreshing kind of milkshake, the banana lassi is lovely.

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Eating in Nepal

During our stay in Nepal we have been trying different types of local dishes from the different regions (Newari, Thakali, Tibetan, common Nepali). Throughout the history, Nepali food has been influenced by the cuisines of their neighbor countries: India, Tibet, China

These are some of the dishes we have tasted!!

Dal Bhat
The National Nepali dish which they usually eat day and night. It consists of plain rice, dal soup (lentils soup), potatoes, vegetables and pickles. All the ingredients are served on a plate separated and Nepalis mix them all before eating.

The good thing about Dal Bhat is that one can repeat as many times as wanted! But believe us when we say that repeating one or two times it is more than enough. It’s definitely a solid meal, as they say it gives you 24 hours power!

Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of Dal Bhat, every time we ordered one we were so hungry that we forgot to take one!

Momos
Momos are the Nepali Dumplings. Stuffed with vegetables, meat and/or cheese they can be eaten steamed, fried or in a soup. This is the dish that we have liked the most.
We even tried them stuffed with apple and covered with warm custard… yummy!!

Tibetan Bread
Tibetan Bread is made of wheat flour and water. After making the dough they shape it as a round pancake and they normally make 3 cuts in the middle before frying it in soy bean oil. It can be eaten plain, with honey, butter or jam. This was definitely our favorite breakfast when served with honey! It’s like a fresh made giant flat donut!

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Annapurnas allá vamos!

Ya estamos en Pokhara y tenemos todo listo para empezar mañana el trekking por los Annapurnas. Al final nos hemos decidido a hacer el circuito de los Annapurnas, que dura aproximadamente entre 17 y 21 días, con un porteador local que nos va a hacer también de guía. Estaremos desconectados del mundo durante las próximas 3 semanas. A la vuelta os contaremos como nos ha ido. De momento os dejamos un link para que os hagais una idea del recorrido:

http://wikitravel.org/en/Annapurna_Circuit

Happy Diwali y hasta la vuelta!

Annapurnas there we go!

We are now in Pokhara and we have everything ready to start the trek around the Annapurnas tomorrow. We decided to go for the Annapurna’s Circuit, which is 17 to 21 days long. We are going with a local porter who is also going to be our guide. We will be disconnected from the rest of the world for about 3 weeks. On our way back we will be sharing our experience! So far here is a link so you can find out more about the route.

http://wikitravel.org/en/Annapurna_Circuit

Happy Diwali and see you soon!