The full scale of everything is still setting in and despite feeling almost completely rested physically, my mental state hasn’t quite managed to fully comprehend all of it yet. It was another one of those “let’s do it without really thinking about it” decisions, because you know, when in Nepal … and so we embarked on a shopping spree for high quality fake sports equipment, stashed up on some energy bars and water purification tablets, randomly met a monastery friend and invited him along, found a friendly guide, packed our backpacks as lightly as possible, and set off to walk the entire Annapurna circuit trek. We only knew our basic route plan, which was supposed to take us 18 days to complete, and we also figured it won’t be the easiest thing in the world, especially considering our probably not the most optimal level of fitness. But still, we went. And looking back I have to admit, that sometimes it really is better not to think about it too much and just go.
We started our Himalaya adventure after a long and hot bus ride to our starting point in a small town of Besisahar at 760 m above sea level. As you can imagine, that is nothing close to the slopes of the worlds highest mountain range, so our first couple of days slowly took us through gorgeous rice fields, small villages, lush forests, past countless waterfalls, up and down and up again across the green hills. The scenery was amazing, the weather mostly kind, and our little group that consisted of our local guide Bhim, our new 22-year old French friend Anthony, and the two of us was despite completely different backgrounds quickly beginning to resemble a pack of long time companions. So we were definitely off to a great start, but to be honest, the first few days were still quite hard, both in terms of physical efforts of our travel-stiff bodies and the mental fathoming of our new temporary life consisting of roughly 6 hours of daily walking, unsteady options for hot showers, getting accustomed to the taste of chlorine water, eating enormous amounts of carb-loaded plates, getting our first ever leech, and being dead tired at the end of every day. But we were there and the constant impressions of natural beauty all around us didn’t really give us the opportunity or even reason to be anywhere else.
Slowly but surely our path inevitably kept leading us higher into the mountains and the first real feel of where we actually were, that is in the middle of the Himalayas, awaited us at Upper Pisang, a small, picturesque village at 3320 m altitude with amazing views on the long-stretched valley and a snow-covered Annapurna II peak mightily perched above it. We were all in ave when we first witnessed a glimpse of white-capped mass behind some random clouds, where one is usually accustomed to seeing only blue sky and where it just seems unreal to see such an enormous, imposing, even a little intimidating formation. Our sore muscles and slightly funky, altitude-induced feeling were therefore easily put aside for the spectacular new landscapes and we happily marched on, now already fully accustomed to our everyday routine. The next day was a 10-hour long knocker, though, so we gladly indulged in a much needed rest day before setting off towards our first real trekking challenge.
Tilicho lake is supposedly one of the biggest and at 4920 m above sea level also the highest lakes in the world, but in my opinion the most impressive feature is definitely its breathtaking turquoise colour that almost glows among the harsh, rocky, grey-toned surrounding. Of course, we wouldn’t even dream of missing it, despite the growing difficulties of higher altitudes (my biggest concern being my inability to sleep properly, of all the things). That’s why we bravely marched on towards the Tilicho base camp, while stumbling across a couple of kilometres of quite scary landslides and at the same time ignoring our occasionally shaky legs. And then setting off at sunrise the next day, slowly overcoming the endless curves of the steep path, ever more often stopping to catch our breath, trying not to curse too much in between, and after three hours finally beholding the view that made it all worth while. I have to say that was one of the happiest moments of the trek for me and I had the biggest grin on my face while sitting dressed in almost all of my clothes on the bench overlooking the lake, munching on an energy bar, and soaking in the sun rays that just peeked out from behind the clouds.
After two more days of intense walking and again slowly gaining altitude, we agreed to add an extra rest day to our plan, which was a more than welcome time spent in the most boring place of exactly three guesthouses in the middle of nowhere, where lying in bed and eating cookies (for regaining energy, of course) seems like the only appropriate thing to do. And it sure was, because our next endeavour took us to so called High camp at 4850 m, the starting point for the famous Thorong la pass. We got to the camp in the early afternoon and the setting was really pleasant with another set of amazing views bathing in the sun, a common space filled with just the right number of fellow trekkers, and a fairly delicious milk tea, the signature drink of our trek. But the sun inevitably set and with it came the snow, freezing cold, and thanks to some charming looks by Tina luckily also the cosiest fire ever, by which we all set squeezed and actually had a lovely evening before the big day. Upon waking up in the morning, what followed were probably some of the hardest hours of my life (which in retrospect makes me extremely grateful for my life’s experiences so far, because there are obviously much, much worse things one can endure). But still, getting out of my warm bed in a simple, unheated and uninsulated stone cottage into the freezing air of the 4am morning felt like the hardest thing to do. And that was still the easiest part of the whole thing (excluding breakfast, of course), since the 3-hour hike up to one of the highest passes in the world (5416 m!!!) was truly a challenge … let me just say I was seriously contemplating the option of getting our guide Bhim to phone the camp for emergency horse and porter service along the way, before realising there’s probably no network anyway and painstakingly summoning up the fast depleting motivation to continue my putting one foot in front of the other while eagerly trying to suck all the available oxygen from the thinning air and at the same time not feel too sorry for myself (seeing the poor, 30 kg packages-carrying porters on the way up quickly solved at least the last variable). Fortunately, with the help and support of my awesome trekking crew, I was soon able to secretly shed a happy tear at the top, acquire the biggest possible smile on my face, and savour the unbelievable endorphin rush that lasted until the evening.
From then on, everything was pretty much a breeze. We went almost all the way down again, part of it even with a thing hardly called a bus on roads hardly suited for even walking, then another big chunk up again, before on the 19th day finally reaching our well deserved resting sanctuary in the chilled-out town of Pokhara. Now that this whole experience is over, I have to admit that before we left I wasn’t fully aware of the entire scope of it and actually overcoming roughly 17,000 m of altitude and 160 km distance of the whole circuit feels a bit unreal. And at the same time so massively rewarding!