The Annapurna Circuit - Nepal
This is the story of my hike through the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. I hiked amongst some of the largest mountains in the world and along side some of the best people in the world. This hike is roughly 150 miles and we climbed up to about 18000 feet. I will start off with a disclaimer that there is no way this will come close to capturing the age, size and depth of this place. Mostly this is a mostly visual taste of what it was. This trek blew my mind wide open and I am still learning from experiences on this trip. I attempted to write down some of the bigger thoughts I had on this experience. Mostly for me to remember but if you get some enjoyment out of it then all the better. The really amazing thing about this hike is, it gets better every day. I feel like thats a great metaphor for life. There is a rough road that follows along the hiking path for a while and you are able to take a jeep up as far along as you would like. We however made the choice to hike from the very beginning to not only see the full diversity of landscape as well as watch it change but to earn what we were about to experience. My companions were a group of friends I met in Thailand. We decided to do the hike after Ivan (our Italian friend) opened a travel guide to Nepal and saw the circuit listed as something cool to do. We were all kind of like "okay" and bought our tickets to Nepal. However, for the first part of it I hiked by myself as well as another group of people who were on a permaculture/ hiking program. I jumped on with them for about a week and hiked up counterclockwise to a town called Marpha. Along the way we talked permaculture, drank apple brandy and tea, visited different farms and schools and took several hikes to sacred caves and different villages and towns. So lets start.
This trip was inspired heavily by the desire to understand permaculture. If you are unaware of what permaculture is then I highly recommend you look into it. I will touch on it here and there but at its core it is about the development of sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystems. The fundamentals of this field I am finding to be the most important and applicable information that everyone needs in this day of age. Before leaving on this hike I spent a month in Nepal working at different farms and studying permaculture. So this was a perfect time to let it soak in and be able to find better understanding in some of the bigger concepts.
One of the aspects that kept coming to me was patterns. Patterns in natures systems mirroring patterns in our own systems. This hike took on a deeper meaning due to the lessons I learned in permaculture.
After I said goodbye to this group of folks I caught a ride with a Nepalese family back to the beginning of the trail to meet up with my friends from Thailand. We were going to hike the trail starting from the other opposite side that I just hiked. The first few days were mellow, smaller mountains and relatively warm. There were lots of amenities as all the spots could still be accessed relatively easily by jeep and bus. But like I said before we wanted to earn seeing what were going to be hiking in and as you can see it was still beautiful. We were hiking amongst a few other hikers (although very few) but also with people who live here. Who's lives are built along this path winding up through the mountains. A life of simplicity allowing focus to be on more meaningful complexities.
Once we made it here we took the day off to let people catch up to us. A few of us decided to try and make it up to that extremely high bridge (in the picture above.) Turns out it was about three hundred meters up. Along the way we walked through a small village where the locals were having a ceremony to promote harvest. They invited us to sit down and be apart as they filled our glasses with warm wine and would not allow it to be empty. It was amazingly beautiful up there and such a special experience to be apart of something so real. The wine was delicious too and we ended up getting quite drunk before getting onto the bridge. I strive to be apart of something so rich in depth and connected with the earth.
So when we got back everyone had caught up and we drank tea and had a very solid nights rest. Now, just to give you an idea of the kinds of places we were staying in each night. They were tea houses that were all along the trail. Usually they had lots of different rooms with different numbers of beds in them. Almost always we were sharing rooms. The decor consisted of a communal dining area and sitting area with very interesting posters and paintings (a kind of blend of cultures) We were limited on electricity and internet, although you would be surprised at some of the places we had it. They had kitchens and would make you food and tea and serve beer, cider, and locally made whiskey and brandy. The popular dish for the duration of the hike was called Dahl Baht which we made many jokes about. It differed from place to place but was delicious and usually consisted of a lentil soup, curried vegetables, a mound of white rice and some greens. The beauty of this dish was they would refill your plate as many as you wanted. "Dahl Baht power 24 hour" was the saying. These houses were all along the way and were usually quite comfortable although not as warm as you would hope, better then sleeping outside. The tea and whiskey is what kept you warm.
The hike took about two weeks. And a lot of the time I didn't have my camera out. I was trying to be as present as possible and allow myself to get lost in my thoughts whenever it happened. When you're hiking for such a long time and develop a routine of walking, stopping, eating, sleeping, eating, walking, stopping, eating, sleeping, it becomes very much a meditation. Everything slows down with your speed and simplicity washes over you with the simplicity of your routine. You become very aware of your surroundings and you fall into a very peaceful clear state of mind. With the climbing of altitude you start to become more focused on your step and your breath. Not only that but at this point in the hike we started becoming surrounded by some of the oldest and largest mountains in the world. It was an indescribable feeling hiking in amongst such beauty. The farther we walked the higher we got. With elevation came weather and a drop in temperature.
The sound of thunder rolling through the mountains is something I will never forget.
Time becomes a funny thing when you're on a long hike. It certainly looses a lot of its importance. You become less driven by it, besides the occasional wake up call to get going and future flights you have to catch, you don't really even think about it. The hours ahead were used as more to keep track of where we could make it each day and as far as the days of the week, I just forgot about completely. It's not as of big a concern as your state of mind. We were climbing in elevation more and more every day and began to feel the effects of it. Physically we were pushing ourselves to our limits (if not beyond) almost everyday. On top of all that being deep into the trek and mountains you really just had to breath and put one foot in front of the other. It always amazes me how much distance you can cover with bipedal transportation, if you just keep walking. Some days were harder than others, the following days were the hardest of the entire hike. We decided on doing a side trail, which cut straight into the mountains and up to Tilicho Lake which was at a height of 16,138 ft. We did this in two days and as rough as it was to do the long hike in through the biggest landslide area I have ever seen, barely get any sleep and have to hike a thousand feet of elevation (at least) to the highest point we have been yet (starting at 330am), hike back down and then make it all the way back to the main trail, it was well worth it for what we saw.
I was sitting staring at a Nepalese boy. I couldn't breath and I was in quite a lot of pain. I asked him if it was over yet and to please let me breath. His face turned into a hundred different masks and he told me is a loud booming voice that it wasnt over yet then all the masks began to swirl around me as they laughed.
This was the dream I had a base camp the night before we were to climb over the Thorong La pass (17,769') You sleep for maybe a couple of hours. It is a very cold night and your breaths are labored. You wake up before the sun put on every article of clothing you have and start walking. It is very desert like at this elevation and very quiet. You focus on your step and your breath and try not to rush. I fell into a very relaxed state of mind where I was not thinking about when I was going to get there or if the top was over the nest pass. I would say to myself "Im just walking." It was actually very peaceful in a painful sort of way. I was keeping pace with Jovanna and and we knew we had reached the top when we heard Jordon howling. We too howled and pushed it the last bit to the top. Dropped our bags and took in the view. The first picture below was to the left of us and the last picture was to the right. There was a feeling of accomplishment but mostly we were ready to drop in elevation.
So beyond this was down hiking. Some very hard days followed mostly because we were hiking on a road with cars and busses passing us and throwing dust everywhere. We took some days off along the way to get our energy back and made it to our final destination. Tatopani which in english means Hot Water was a bit of a paradise. It was lush and almost kind of tropical with several natural hot springs to soak in. We ate well and did a few side hikes up and and around the surrounding areas. This was a beautiful place to stop hiking and catch a bus back to Pokhara a bigger city where we all spent time resting, cleaning up and eating lots of different foods and drinking beer. After such a long time on the trail it was really tough to get used to the city again. But the cheap delicious home cooked breakfasts certainly helped.
There is no way I could ever capture the depth of this trip and what it meant for me personally. Briefly, it brought me back into my own self. It brought me peace and made me reevaluate what is important and necessary in my life. It reminded me how important it is to get deep with nature to find deeper meaning and connectedness. It really opened my eyes to how overly privileged we are here in the States. Life is about connection and love.
The people I met along the way have inspired me to my core. I cant thank the friends I hiked with enough. You all were the best crew. The locals who showed us so much hospitality. You deserve the world.
Beauty and love does not come easy at first. But give it time and make it a habit.
The harder you work for it, the bigger it is. Even if you don't know what you are looking for.
Wander. You will find others wandering too.
Life is infinite. Get lost in it.