In late Autumn 2014 I took time out to trek the Annapurna Circuit. This walk, that takes you over the Thorong Pass – the highest mountain pass in the world at a little under 18,000 ft. and takes around 21 days to complete.
We had expected something super arduous and I had spent a fair amount of time getting myself fit. As it happens the guides take you at a leisurely pace, typically around 10 miles a day, and the rate of ascent is generally gradual with only short sections of death-defying staircases hewn out of the rock. You need a head for heights at times as sections through gorges are often exposed and the paths not much more than narrow ledges.
As a walk you would struggle to match the variety. The walker passes through what the Nepalese term ‘jungle’, through magnificent terraced paddy fields, high altitude and barren plateaus to the spectacular foothills of the Annapurna itself.
The hospitality of the Nepalese was outstanding and anyone worried about carrying supplies should have no fear. Even in the wild there are tea houses every few hundred metres.
This year, however, everyone was caught out by a cyclone that started in the Bay of Bengal and ended up dumping a vast amount of snow on the Himalayas. Many guides and porters and indeed not a few porters are poorly equipped. Summer had suddenly turned to winter and sadly around 40 people lost there lives with many more injured. We chose not to brave the worst and turned back at Menang (12,000 ft.). Others who carried on found themselves stuck (it became impossible to go forwards or back along the route for several days) and many paid for helicopter rescue at $500 a pop.
We still managed managed most of the work by walking day and night back the way we had come ( I can recommend walking through those immense gorges in the dark for that true ‘Lord of the Rings’ experience) and attacking the Annapurna circuit from the other side of the range.
Nepal is distinctively Buddhist, drawing its spiritual roots from Tibet, a stone’s throw across the high Himalayas. This accounts for the distinctively generous culture where, certainly in the villages, people are open and welcoming. This is a tough environment to live in, however. Going for fuel, picking up supplies,going to school often involve walks of several miles and ascents or descents of thousands of feet. Living here as an ordinary villager requires huge amounts of resilience, stamina and patience. Humans remain the main mode of transport for goods – because they are cheaper to hire than mules and can go where they can’t! It is sad that such a brave and noble people have to put up with such poor infrastructure and mismanaged governance at the national level.
And if you are thinking of making the trek with a UK based company ask them a simple question – what is the maximum weight their porters are allowed to carry. Our Nepalese based company set a maximum of 25 kilos. We came across two UK based companies doing camping treks that had their porters loaded up to 40 kilos. Ask the question and embarrass them. And if you have your own porter remember that their pain threshold is the same as yours. We were embarassed by the ‘colonial’ attitudes of some of our fellow trekkers.