Writing this (6th April) from a teahouse at 4200m – the first time it has been open this year! We are the first guests! They are still making repairs on the windows which were very recently under a lot of snow, and cracked. It is now Day 16… and we are not on the Annapurna Circuit, but a side trek to Tilicho Lake. But let me start from the beginning! Last time I posted Liam was recovering from his injury and we were resting in Manang.
Manang is a town on the midway point of the Annapurna Circuit and the last point of road and “civilisation” before passing Thorong La Pass. Liam and I had heard it was big and developed, so initially avoided it. However, we found it a very lovely place to pass three days! It really was still very small, guest houses and trekking shops scattered along one road. We were able to buy supplies, pay someone to do our laundry, post postcards, go to the cinema twice, have a latte (!) and lounge with good WiFi and a comfortable lodge.
It still wasn’t exactly a busy modern town however. The “post office” was located by walking through a dingy shed filled with unwell cows recuperating, and then climbing a ladder to a room where a man with a tin box reassured you the card would be delivered. The “cinema” was in a cold outbuilding in the hosts yard space, with a projector screen and a selection of DVDs. You had to choose one between the people who turned up. You had to press play on the player yourself, sort out any technical issues and sit on plastic chairs. However, you did get free tea and popcorn!! It was the best cinema experience I’ve ever had!
I was looking forward to some luxury and ordered a latte made on a proper coffee machine! However, as soon as I ordered it, I regretted it. I noticed a flurry in the kitchen and it took 3 people to work out the machine, and over 40 minutes for it to arrive. Amazingly, when it did arrive, it was complete with frothy milk and foam art work!
After a day of rest in Manang, Liam’s ankle felt better so we decided to do a “small” test walk up to a Gompa (Buddhist Temple/Monastery) at 3950m. We took a small bag between us and made it up there with no problems. It was amazing to think that a week before we had been gasping for breath at the same altitude- it seems we are acclimatising!
When we reached the temple, we were greeted by a lama or a Buddhist monk, who invited us in for a blessing. The monk wished us luck for Thorang La Pass, and told us she had been at the Gompa for 36 years! She also made a joke that I was the strong one because I carried the bag.
After we finished with the blessing, we burnt a plant that a man in Mathilo Chilpo, a town we visited two weeks before, told us to take to Manang. This plant seems to be something that is burnt at all the religious sites. Liam used the embers of the monks recent fire to burn the plant that we had carried all this way.
The Ice Lake
Seeing as Liam’s ankle had held up well, we decided to test it out by doing one of the toughest walks in the area, a walk to an ice lake at 4600m. This involved a gruelling 1100m ascent and then descent from Braka, the town we had stayed previously…. just gently easing Liam back in…
We knew from watching the trains of people trudging up the path at Braka that this walk is very popular- it is a perfect acclimatisation day for Thorong La Pass. Always wanting to avoid the crowds, we decided to set off super early at 5.30am. However, this meant getting out of bed to freezing cold -3 temperatures. I slept in the clothes I wanted to walk in to avoid having to get changed in the morning.
As we walked out of a freezing cold Manang, we collected three dogs who followed us all the way to the Ice Lake! They enjoyed the views as much as us and ran ten times as far as they played in the hills and snow. At one point, they ran up a mountainside to chase a pack of what we think were deer.
The walk up to the Ice lake was a brutal and enormous ascent up switch backs and steep gravel slopes that tested my fear of slipping. The views were absolutely ridiculous and kept us going. At about 4200metres, we were clambering up snow, and gasping for breath. We made it to 4500metres before we reached a point in the path where the sun had melted the footprints from the trekkers of yesterday. We took one look at the slippery snow/ice slope and decided that we would not try to carve the path.
So, it turns out there are advantages and disadvantages of leaving early and arriving first. We spent the whole time ascending completely on our own, not a sound to be heard. However, we could not reach the Ice lake because we weren’t confident of the path and no one had cut steps in it yet. We both agreed the serenity and calm was worth it – we nearly made it and the views were stunning! Even more appreciated in the silence.
We descended from the Ice lake after a moment of me panicking that we were lost, and bumped into hoards of people trudging up in the baking midday sun. One even had a mini rig and was blasting out music. Each to their own, but we were very glad of our quiet walk!
so… that was our lovely three days in Manang. Next stop we are going on a four day expedition to Tilicho Lake at 4800m and back! It is supposed to be very beautiful, but the path has only recently been opened after heavy snow. So, we will see how far we can get!