It is nearly time for us to end our time on the Annapurna Circuit and after 37 days of trekking life, I have to say I am nearly ready. It turns out, there are only so many Dahl Baht and Tibetan Breads you can eat before the menu becomes an item of horror rather than joy. Nepali food being 90% carbohydrates and 10% egg, I’ve begun to crave more variety! I feel like Rice, Potatoes and Bread and I need to take a short break to reassess our relationship. It’s been beautiful, but it’s been intense, and we need our own time, hobbies and interests. Fortunately, I don’t feel like this about Liam!
Joking aside, the last four days of the walk have been, as always, spectacular and also spectacularly different!
Jungle times and disappearing paths
As we descended ( via, of course, down up downs) into the hot springs town of Tatopani, the walk became a dense forest lively with the sounds of life. The insects, birds and animals which had been scarce at high altitudes in unforgiving territories made a come back! We were treated to a feast of every shade of green imaginable, giving Ireland a run for its money. Bamboo, palm trees, shrubs, clover, and being no botanist, I wished I had my friend Lizzie with me who would have no doubt taken even more joy and interest than I, and been able to identify the plants.
Walking through forests breathing with new life made me think of home, as I reflected how this was one of the most beautiful parts of the walk so far, and how much my perception of this was influenced by being surrounded by the familiar. Always when I travel do I end up feeling lucky to live in the United Kingdom, and having so much beauty in the thriving hedgerows, lakes, forests, baby mountains, rivers and streams.
One thing we don’t get in the United Kingdom so much is the disappearing adventure paths of Nepali trails. There are two prime (but also linked) culprits behind the Bermuda Triangle of paths; the construction industry and nature (though bulldozing your landscape, particularly messing with river flow, also causes shifts which causes landslides). I will now relate a few disappearing path tales.
On on occasion we had descended over 250m down a steep forest trail to exit the path onto a road… only to discover a gang of carefree construction workers merrily bulldozing the cliff at the side of the road, which included our path. Suddenly, the path dropped off 10-15m below, a gaping mud hole where the path once was. Torn between retracing our steps (a three hour walk up and down 250m) and delicately climbing down the mud ridge the bulldozer had recently created, we assessed the risk to our bones vs psychological harm of re-ascending, and chose the latter option. Liam heroically took my bag because I’m a lot less balanced (in both feet and mind but that’s another story), and we managed to make it down, much to the entertainment of the local construction workers and their children who watched my terror from below with great amusement and interest. One Nepali man even stopped by on his motorbike to offer us the usual advice ‘slowly, slowly’, which it seems is transferable from ascending giant Himalayan mountains to descending bulldozed trekking trails… and who knows what else?
Another favourite missing trail was when we were walking along a beautiful section of dry river bed along a forest, only to discover a bulldozer merrily digging up the path, seemingly with no reason. We can sort of understand the roadside path hungry bulldozers as locals are always trying to fortify their roads and construction is continual. Bulldozers make sense here! However, there seemed no identifiable reason to bulldoze this part of the dry river bed, never mind the poor unsuspecting way-marked conservation area approved trekking trail, in particular! We deduced that the Nepali people are planning on building another road up this valley which is sad for trekkers as the valley had been used as a detour away from the road. We joked a few days later that the people who divert the trails away from the roads and forge new paths are actually providing inspiration for new roads. Nepali people must see what a lovely path it is and think – what a lovely path, a nice dusty road would be better! Joking aside, we’ve had many conversations about development, and the obvious tensions that exist between different types of development and the trekking industry. We have no answers, but a lot of questions. Almost makes me wish I had time for another PhD!
There is also another reason for paths disappearing and that is nature. One of the sections we walked had a path cut into a cliff face and along the way we discovered several parts where the path had fallen into the river and been rebuilt. Rebuilding is fine as long as there is somewhere to rebuild, and unfortunately, in some places they were running out of room. The river was clipping back the soil and vegetation directly to the cliff face, and certain parts of the trail involved perilous creeps along slithers of landslide mud. I would have refused to cross a certain section had I not just seen two Nepali men carrying sheep on their backs walk across merrily and with ease.
Changing season- Mists and blood sucking menaces.
We’ve been walking so long we’ve seemingly walked right past the end of winter, through spring and now into the beginning of monsoon season. Local people keep telling us they had a long winter and now monsoon season is coming early. One Nepali man gave a great lament to his full trekking lodge of people (sheltering from the rain) about how the snow then the rain is ruining his livelihood. None of us would have stopped in his lodge without the rain, but we didn’t explain the irony to him. Without a doubt, the snow-line is lower than it usually is, and when it rains here, it absolutely pours annihilating any possibility of any farming or construction.
For us the coming of the rains have also brought some things which are making trekking less attractive. First, there are no longer any views! As soon as the sun rises, the mist follows and turns the landscape into a hazy humid mysterious landscape. This has its own beauty, but the rewards of ascending thousands of metres are diminishing with the mountain tops hidden by veils of clouds. More troubling are the arrival of leeches on the trail. Usually these blood sucking parasites only appear in about June when monsoon season hits, but try telling that to the one which attached to Liam’s calf the other day! Or the three wriggling around in our room having dropped off Liam’s trousers. Leeches are absolutely horrific, tiny wriggling menacing looking things. Usually you would think that you could only pick them up by wading into jungle swamps, but Nepali leeches are really accommodating, and find you, wherever you are! They either fall onto you, diving off trees and vegetation, or wriggle up your boots using their blood guzzling suction pads, into your socks and up your trousers legs. Whilst they don’t carry disease, I think I mentally prefer both ticks and mosquitos. Maybe it’s their similarity to slugs. Leech, tick or mosquito? The question was hotly debated in our lodge amongst trekkers that evening.
We managed to remove Liam’s bloodsucking companion by pouring salt on it, bringing forth a gush of blood. Everyone in our lodge felt a little itchy all of a sudden!
We’re now resting in Ghorepani after trekking back up to 2860m, a climb of 1700m, in two days. There are supposed to be mountain panoramas but all we can see is layers of mist, and cloud. Every afternoon now it begins to rain spectacularly hard. However, it’s really warm and cosy in our lodge, and we are comfortable!
The mists, afternoon rains, leeches, carbohydrate exhaustion and general fatigue are leading us to think of Pokhara, a town at the end of the trail that has Western food, french wine, Italian pizzas… ice cream. It is also 30 degrees there and it doesn’t rain. It would take us just one day to reach this leech free pizza filled Mecca should we choose to, and be done with the circuit! However, we want to do a few side trips first, and reckon we have about 3-7 days of walking left in us.
Tomorrow we move on to Ghandruk in one long day, and then we will see what next!