When we planned our year travelling in Asia, Nepal was one of the top countries on our list. We were originally going to visit Nepal after India but everything changed after the devastating earthquake, which we even felt when we were in the Indian Himalayas. We had read and heard that tourism in Nepal had reduced by 90% after the earthquake, which was probably the last thing that the country needed, a country that so heavily depends on income from tourists. So we decided to make a trip there when things were a little more stable, almost at the end of our travel year.
Landing in Kathmandu
We landed in subzero temperatures in the capital, Kathmandu, in late December after spending 2 months soaking up the sun in the Philippines.
Our main goal in Nepal was to do some trekking in the Himalayas. The most popular routes are in the Annapurna Sanctuary (circuit or base camp) and the famous Everest Base Camp trek (EBC).
Back home in Iceland we did a lot of day-treks in the mountains so we have some basic knowledge of mountaineering and how far we can push ourselves. Nevertheless, after 1 year on the road, with almost no routine in terms of physical exercise and diet, your strength and stamina becomes minimal, at least in our case.
After some research we decided to go for the Annapurna Base Camp trek (ABC), 6 days of hiking through valleys and ridges up to the roots of the Annapurna peaks at 4100 meters. The Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit would take around 2-3 weeks to complete, which we might have been ready for at the beginning of our travel. Now in late December it’s the coldest time of the year and the maximum altitude in both of these treks reach over 5000 m, so some passes can be closed due to snowfall.
We just weren’t ready to risk it, so ABC it was!
We were still pretty nervous. We heard temperatures go down to a shivering -20°C at night and there is no heating in the teahouses! Again, this is the coldest time of the year in Nepal!
Getting ready! Permits…check!
We decided to go for it and we were determined to do it on our own, without a porter or a guide. Although it’s a great idea to support the local economy by hiring either two, but we just really enjoy the freedom of our own speed and personal space, and not to be dependent on somebody else throughout the trek.
After sorting out our permits at the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu (both the TIMS permit and the Annapurna sanctuary trekking fee, 2000 Nepali rupees each) we set off on a 6 hour bus ride west to Pokhara, a chilled lakeside town just south of the Annapurna sanctuary.
The strip by the lake is probably as touristy as it gets, lined with guesthouses, restaurants and shops selling trekking gear. Despite so, it has a really relaxed vibe and the scenery around the lake is just breathtaking with some of the highest peaks in the world on the north side.
Paragliding in Pokhara
Although we were planning our ABC trek we didn’t waste any time in Pokhara; we went for a boatride on Phewa Lake and even tried paragliding for the first time! Paragliding is a must in Pokhara! You set off by taking a 4×4 jeep from lakeside up the mountain (30 min) to Sarangkot village, which by the way is a famous sunrise spot. From there you take off and get approximately 30 minutes in the air, with an awesome view of the lake and the Annapurna peaks.
We didn’t have a lot of gear with us (except 100% wool base layers) so after threading all the trekking stores we bought some gear…
- fleece, soft shell trekking pants, gloves, hats, scarfs, water bottles, sunscreen, chlorine tablets and a trekking map
and rented the rest…
- trekking shoes, down jackets and sleeping bags for about 100-200 rupees each per day.
All of the stuff is fake, but there is a lot of different quality from store to store. We recommend giving plenty of time to find the right shoes that both fit comfortably and seem strong enough to endure the hike. They will be your most important asset during the trek.
On our way to the starting point in Nayapul…
After packing everything we grabbed a taxi to the bus station (350 rupees) at 7 am and set off to Nayapul (2 hour ride, 150 rupees each), a small town at the height of 1000 meters by the Modi river. This is where we would start our ABC trek!
After we got off the bus we asked where the trail starts and soon heard the roaring Modi river. The path is well marked all the way up to ABC and if you get lost, which is almost impossible, just ask a local where to go or follow the Modi river upstream and have it on your right hand side. In the beginning we stopped at two hassle-free checkpoints to show our permits. After that it was just the river, the lush green hills and us for the next few hours.
When to go? Trekking ABC in December – January
We actually couldn’t have been happier with our timing; we had sunny skies the whole trek and even at 4100 m we felt comfortable only wearing the base layer at daytime. The difficult part was the nights and evenings when the temperatures dropped sharply. But armed with our down jackets and sleeping bags and extreme fatigue after 8 hours of hiking everyday, we fell asleep almost instantly.
So once again, we truly recommend trekking ABC during late December, early January. These are one of the driest months of the year with great visibility, and you still feel like you have the tracks to yourself.
The busiest season is during the post monsoon season, October to November, when the temperatures are milder and the sky is clear. However, this is also the time where most people plan to hike, so you won’t be alone on the trek and most teahouses will be packed with people. Prices in Pokhara will also be higher and it will be more difficult to negotiate reasonable prices for the trekking gear.
Our 6-day itinerary
In a nutshell our 6 days 5 nights journey was as follows:
Day 1: Pokhara ——-> Naypul ——> Jihnudanda (Jihnu)
Day 2: Jihnudanda ——> Dobhan
Day 3: Dobhan ——> Machhapuchchhre Base Camp (MBC)
Day 4: MBC ——-> ABC at sunrise! ——> Dobhan
Day 5: Dobhan ——-> Chomrong
Day 6: Chomrong ——-> Nayapul ——–> Pokhara
We hiked for around 7-8 hours per day on a steady pace except for day 5 where we only hiked for 5 hours and decided to spend the night in Chomrong to see the amazing view of Annapurna South and Machhapuchchhre (otherwise known as Fishtail mountain) at sunset.
We regret a little not taking the bus from Nayapul to Siwai, saving us three hours on a dirt road at the start of the trek, which would have made it possible for us to reach Chomrong on day 1. This plan would have allowed us to reach ABC at day 3 instead of day 4, giving us a chance to witness both sunset and sunrise. But then again the risk of altitude sickness would have been higher.
The physical side
The first day of our trek was possibly the hardest. I guess our bodies just weren’t used to the sudden strain of an 8 hour uphill hike. Our first night also seemed the coldest (although it wasn’t) and our bodies were aching everywhere making it almost impossible to fall asleep. But everyday from then on was easier, our bodies seemed to gradually adapt to the physical strain and the extreme cold at night.
Carrying about 14 kg was a bit of challenge but I stopped complaining when a 60 year old local walked passed me carrying 75 kg of rice on his back without breaking a sweat. He even offered to carry my luggage for free, which I courteously refused. What a superman! We met many men and women like him carrying loads heavier then their own body weight. We were blown away be these tough people and it really shows that size isn’t all when it comes to muscle!
The lovely teahouse villages…decent food and wifi!
We loved how this world class trek can easily been done on your own and you don’t have to bring all your trekking gear with you from home. The trek is well marked and you’ll find new teahouse villages with restaurants and maps every 2 hours during the trek.
The rooms are basic but we were surprised how clean they were and the price is fair (150 rupees per person for a double room). The menu is the same everywhere but the prices go up as you go higher. Dal baht or lentil soup with rice, is the most popular dish in Nepal and available almost everywhere. It’s usually served with a mix of seasonal vegetables, sometimes with yogurt or pickles, and the price (about 300 rupees) includes as many free refills as you like. If you’re looking for something more western you’ll find pizzas, pastas, and even popcorn.
Most of the food, candybars and sodas, is 2-3x the price in Pokhara, but it’s understandable since the ingredients have to be carried all the way up. Surprisingly, there’s wifi in every teahouse, even up at the Annapurna Base Camp. It was quite strange to see most of the guides and guests stuck to their smart phones during the evenings. Modern technology seems to be penetrating even the remotest areas.
Shifting landscape from bottom to top
During the trek you’ll experience a wide range of nature as you go up. Down at foothills you cross lush green valleys, glacial rivers, rice fields, and coniferous and sub-tropical forests. As we passed the village Dobhan we came across a gang of Himalayan langur monkeys swinging in the bamboo forest, but they were pretty shy, so we didn’t get a good picture. When we got closer to the top the landscape became more barren with big rocks, dirt and dry grass, but no trees. It reminded us a little of the landscape back home in Iceland. Along the way you pass stunning cliffs and waterfalls, but the real attraction, the Annapurna mountain range, gets closer and more magnificent every step of the way.
Reaching the top!
When we reached the top at ABC we were at awe by the sheer dramatics, being surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world! At 4100m we were proud, so proud to have just made all the way. This is the highest altitude we have both been to and fortunately we didn’t feel any symptoms of altitude sickness. We had seen one or two helicopters on the way up, bringing trekkers down, but that actually doesn’t meant that they were sick; if you weren’t in the mood to walk the same way back you had the option of paying for a helicopter to pick you up.
We kinda felt like that’s cheating!
Visiting Jihnu hot springs on our way down
On the way back we kept a nice tempo, it was a pretty nice change to transition from the leg flexors to extensors. We stopped in Jihnu for a soak in the hot springs and my god was it worth it! These heavenly hot springs are one of the most beautiful we’ve come across, and we’ve seen many! They have the perfect temperature and are situated right by the mighty Modi river. We had the place all to ourselves and we recommend visiting around 11 am (when travelling in December), as this is the time when the first rays of the sun reach deep into valley, which makes everything so beautiful.
For us hiking Annapurna was a life changing experience. We managed to conquer a quest that we personally had no idea we would be able to finish. Although reaching the top was a rewarding feeling the journey itself is what it’s all about; the lovely Nepalese people, the dramatic landscapes, the unbelievably good weather, the sweat, the strain, the endorphin rush, the delicious dal baht, the beautiful sunrise and sunset! This is a trek we can truly recommend for all the hiker lovers out there or just anyone wanting a taste of the real Himalayan culture and nature!
New Years Eve!
After the hot springs we came across a New Year’s party where we were greeted with smiling faces, dal baht and some ethnic Nepalese dancing and music. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip! We reached Pokhara by bus the same day and enjoyed a nice hot tandoori meal while enjoying the New Years celebration by the lake side
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