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Hiking from Nayapul to Annapurna Base Camp via Ghandruk

Title 2011 Dec – Deerwalk Hiking from Nayapul to Annapurna Base Camp via Ghandruk
Location Nayapul, Ghandruk, Bamboo, MBC, ABC
Start Date 17 December, 2011
End Date 22 December, 2011
Participants Sumit Shrestha and Sunil Manandhar
Photos By Sunil Manandhar
Report By Sumit Shrestha
Creative Support Prashnna Pandey, Sunil Manandhar

“Not only alphabets, even life starts at ABC”

Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp “Before” 2001 AD

Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp “Now” 2011 AD

Two years of continuous work without a long vacation had taken a toll on me. I had been on both sides of Annapurna and wanted to be on mountains once again. Sunil and I had been working on our project Makalu, for a while and we desperately needed a break. We set plans to be at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and taking several days’ leave rushed to Pokhara leaving office around 3:15pm on a Friday. We stayed in Pokhara at my home for the night.

Day 1 (Pokhara-Nayapul-Ghandruk):
Way through GhandrukOur first day was most relaxing day of trek. We woke up early, had breakfast and took a bus to Baglung from Baglung Bus Park.We reached Nayapul around 10 where we had trouble finding something decent to eat before braving the slopes. We managed to find a restaurant and the owner cautioned us against going to Ghandruk. The way through Ghorepani was much easier and merrier according to him. He also said that the way through Jhinu was shorter so one could reach Macchapuchre Base Camp (MBC) on second day itself. This put us in confusion but we took the planned destination and moved ahead.

On the way, I was tweeting through my cell phone (see how connected we are!) while Sunil was taking snaps whilst avoiding wasting batteries. The weather was good. We had our lunch at banks of Modi Khola at lower Syauli Bazaar.

Moving up we reached at place where there was a fork in the trail – one to Ghandruk and other to Jhinu. Walking for some time we discovered that the road actually led to Ghandruk instead of Jhinu. It was too late to turn back as nightfall was approaching so we ended staying up in Ghandruk. A hot shower and a warm meal was enough to enliven our spirits after the confusion and lethargy of the journey.

Day 2 (Ghandruk-Bamboo):
Way through GhandrukThis was one of the most intensive day of trek. We knew that if we could spend a day at ABC, we had to get to Bamboo by second day. This stuck us mentally and we woke up early than anybody else in hotel. By the time, hotel workers were back to kitchen, we were ready to have breakfast. We left at sunrise and the whole village was just waking up as we were headed towards Chomrong. On the outskirts of village, we met a shepherd who guided us.
I was really concerned about the sun as it was cloudy all day. But, still we continued ahead without worrying about weather. We moved through Klieu and then Komrong. We descended steeply to reach Kimrong along Kimrong river. We now had to walk uphill to Chomrong which was 3 hours walk. We moved fast uphill trying to push ourselves. This was second uphill of day and more steeper one. I still remember estimating 20 minutes to reach the top when we rested after climbing for an hour but it took us 45 minutes instead. The path once up was straight and easy to walk. It was getting sunny then and wind was fierce. It was 11:30am when we reached Chomrong (2100m). Weather cleared suddenly and we were able to see Macchapuchre (Fishtail) very clearly. We had lunch at Chomrong and descended towards Chomrong river to climb uphill through stony stairs for Sinwa. This climb was really tough especially after a heavy lunch. We were following group of school children who were returning home after finishing school at Chomrong. I couldn’t imagine daily life over that place where education was so far and hard to get. After treading for long, we reached a few hotels whose sign boards suggested that we were at Sinwa. I was very happy we reach there by 2:30 pm.

Many people on way discouraged us saying it was very cold at ABC and most people were moving down. It reminded us of many naysayers who advised against trekking in the winter.

On moving ahead we encountered steep stairs like those in temples. It was really hard to move uphill on those stairs. On asking locals, we were shocked to hear that Sinwa hadn’t yet arrived and the previous place was something else. We felt cheated and felt that we were back at square one. We finally reached Sinwa which was at top of a hill opposite Chomrong at 4:00 pm. Our last destination of day was Bamboo. We passed downhill which was steeper enough to shake our already tired legs. The path was full of Bamboo forests. It was very dark and cold then and we were desperate to get to bed. Finally, at 5:30pm, we reached Bamboo. Hotel here worked on periodic basis as it was off-season for tourists. We got the last room which was hotter compared to one at Ghandruk.

Day 3 (Bamboo-ABC):
It was the most awaited day with lots of expectations. I also knew it was hard to walk this day due to altitude factor. So, we had to hurry in order to gain some extra time at MBC for acclimatization. We left early but before leaving a guy by the name of Kevin gave us some guidelines. “Its really cold out there at ABC. Stay at dining hall and not at room. They charge same. Stay at paradise view hotel, a guy called Niel is awesome”.

We began in dark Bamboo forest going against river flow where met the Nepali surveying team. We took water for 80 Rs at Dobhan which we bargained down from 100Rs!!. Sunil exclaimed in agony “Every where we could see water flowing but they charge as if it was desert”. Perhaps they charged what it cost in US. The walk to Himalaya was bit hard and longer. It took us 2 hour of continuous walk to get there. Kevin’s friend Matty who had started one hour late than us caught up with us. He was with a Nepali potter whom he called Maurice (actual name was Prakash). We quickly became friends and decided to spend time at ABC together at dining hall as Kevin advised with Whiskey/Rum he had brought along. Sunil was not happy with the whiskey idea but the thought of night at ABC also thrilled him. We could see the Annapurna range in all its glory now. We decided to have lunch at Deurali, next spot. I tried to keep pace with Matty but he would always walk past me. Deurali was the last spot before entering the mountains and was also very beautiful. It was high noon and the weather was amazingly clear and the mountains reflected the snow.

Everything over here seemed frozen, even water from the pipe. Lunch was served quite late so Matty left with promise to book room for us at ABC. We left at 1:00pm. The path wound through small bushes and sparse vegetation. We could see Fishtail at our right side with Annapurna’s standing right ahead us. Mountains were never so near in our lives! It was increasingly getting hard to move ahead now. Slowly, we were gaining steep height. Weather was best possible and this magnified the energy in us. I accelerated as fast as I can with Sunil following me.
MBCWe reached at MBC at 2:30pm and my first question was “is it really MBC??”. Hotel owner smiled at me, “Yes it is”. I could see myself standing tall at the base of Mt. Fishtail. Sunil arrived tired but with happy feeling at being at MBC. We had hot tea. We called home from one point putting cell phone on loudspeaker mode from NTC Sim of Sunil. We were using GSM at 3800mtrs!. After tea, we moved for ABC. It was very cold now and Poor man’s blanket (sunlight) had left us. Shivering wind blew from Annapurna directly onto us. I covered myself in jacket and all clothing I had. My poor nose was left unprotected and got dead due to cold dry wind. We couldn’t walk at brisk base as we were gradually gaining altitude.
Finally we reached ABC at 5:00pm. We could see sunlight at mountains. We took room at Paradise View hotel and left for taking breathtaking view of mountains surrounding us at 360º. The light fading from Fishtail was amazing and will be memorable. Later, Matty showed me a large ridge (Esker) formed by glaciers that existed just 10 years before. Now, it seemed like large man made tunnel. We could still feel water flowing benath it. He seemed very upset over the global affects of climate change which were more visible in the Himalayas. Later when we met at dining hall having whiskey/rum with snacks, he showed us the video footage taken 10 years before by his friends.ABC

Entire area of base-camp was covered by snow and people did ski over it then. We even asked Neil(Lodge Owner) who had been staying there from past 18 years. “It was full of ice then. Now, even mountains don’t have them. No wonder ABC shifts up every year!!”. It was indeed a saddening sight. We people at Nepal have so much faith in our rivers but if we cannot prevent glaciers from disappearing, we would have to drop the hydro power projects entirely. If this continues, there will be mass famine and desert in Himalayas within few decades. The dinner was very delicious. At night, we went out for stars. The whole milky way was visible in moonless night. Sky was a starlit canopy. It was simply amazing. Perfect place for tracking star motion in camera. We slept at dining hall which was warm due to stow heater with double blankets. We were feeling hard to breathe. So, we could rarely sleep all night. There was glass window besides me from which I could see Annapurna III directly.

Day 4 (ABC to Jhinu):
ABCThis was best day of trek. I was woken up by a screaming Matty. My eyes went to Annapurna III through window what was already shining at peak by dawn’s light. Sunil was also woken up and hurrying for pictures. We got ready in minutes and got out in the chilling cold. The following half hour was wonderful. Annapurna over a perfectly blue sky looked like an artificial studio. Sunlight gradually covered Annapurna displaying varying shades of red to orange and finally brilliant white. We had seen both sunrise and sunset at ABC. It felt amazing. I don’t know if my children will ever see sunrise over white Himalayas again so I felt that moment extremely precious. Cold winds started blowing now and it was getting harder to stay outside for long. We went in and warmed ourselves with breakfast before leaving ABC.

Sunil was still taking pictures for getting panoramic view of Annapurna. It was 8:30am when we started our descent. Matty and Sunil went through lost glaciers ridge taking snaps and rocks for memory. Our goal for the day was Jhinu’s Hot-spring to re-energize ourselves. Sunil didn’t liked the idea of hot-spring but I tried pushing him for it. Matty was very excited about idea of being at hot-spring. By time we reached MBC, Matty had again raced past us.

We then moved fast downhill to reach Deurali.On way Sunil explained me about Vipassana and need of it in life. For me, long trek itself was a form of meditation. Weather clear as we moved downhill. We paced through Dobhan and then through Bamboo forest to reach Bamboo by 12:30pm. We took some rest as we were pretty tired. We decided to skip lunch and follow Matty style of trek using chocolates and nuts. At Bamboo, we had new Korean friend Shim Jeong who had been in solo trip to ABC. So, we were a gang of five along the trail.

We reached Sinwa and hurried downhill through stairs to reach duplicate Sinwa and the continued down to Chomrong river before we could start our final uphill walk to Chomrong. It took lot of time and effort to get to Chomrong. The locals couldn’t believed we were at Chomrong from ABC in such short time. We had some rest at Chomrong before making our final move to Jhinu below Chomrong. After such a strenuous trek, everyone was eager to reach the hot-springs of Jhinu. “We will have Beer party at hot-spring”, Matty said and we could feel excitement in his voice. We reached Jhinu at 5:00 pm and we took lodge that appeared the best among all we had stayed.ABC

It was dark and Matty had bought Asahi Beer for us. We began our downward walk for half an hour in darkness. We got into hot water that was hot enough to protect us from outside chilling cold and maintain body temperature. We had beer party inside hot-spring. Sunil was having beer for the first time. We could feel water pressure that was making drinking hard. We had to force it down through throat. Everybody was chilling and trying to heal themselves up from continuous trip. Shim Jeong was very happy for being there. We didn’t feel like moving from water and regretted having booked hotel for that night. We also had some rum before moving up for hotel at 8:00 pm. I was feeling very weak once outside. We had dinner together which was great. Shim shared his Korean recipes with us which include Cheddar Cheese soup and Babchingu (rice soup). We had skipped lunch earlier so we ate and retired to bed.

Day 5 (Jhinu-Birethanti-Pokhara):
ABCFinal day was relaxing one as most of the downhill walk had been done on fourth day. The morning weather was amazing. We had some breakfast before slowly moving down through Modi River. We moved through river carefully avoiding the fork, the upper one leading to Ghandruk. There are no specific directions or signals provided. We had to follow our own intuition. I hope that this situation would change in the future.

We then reached Kimche at 10:00am where we rested for a while. The return path through Jhinu-Landruk-Tolka seemed more popular among tourists. Since we wanted to shorten the route, we preferred going directly to Syauli Bazzar. It was sunny and increasingly getting hotter. We had few stocks of water with us so we got dehydration problems on the way. Syauli Bazzar was 3 hours later but since we had enough time, we tried moving on our normal pace.

It was afternoon when we reached Syauli Bazzar and very hot. We thought of getting taxi but it was very expensive. So, we moved to Birethanti instead. We bought few oranges on the way that were very sweet. They provided us with needed energy to keep moving in sunlight. We reached at Birethanti at 3:00 and rested for a while before hiring taxi to Pokhara.

360 degree Video Footage of Annapurna range taken at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) on near winter solstice time (20 December). It has sunrise at near 7:00 am in morning. Annapurna III at front while Fishtail (Machapuchre) back.