Day 44 – Location: Nepal, Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Deurali
I was rudely awoken at about 3am. Inexplicably, the big group from last night were getting ready to leave this early, after only 3 or 4 hours sleep! I could only imagine that they were on a crazy mission to get up to Annapurna Base Camp for the sunrise. For the next two hours I became increasingly infuriated as they turned on the light, went in and out leaving the door open to let all the heat escape, chatted and generally faffed around, achieving seemingly nothing. They didn’t even leave till an hour later so god knows what they were doing. I was really pissed off and told them to close the door, hoping they’d leave us in peace. Unfortunately my stomach was sore so even with earplugs, I still couldn’t get back to sleep until after they left. I eventually caught a few hours kip before we got up around 6:30am. Poor Krishna and Shiba had had the same experience, with the group’s support team in addition to having to share a single mattress in the restaurant. That group were inconsiderate bastards. In their haste to get up to ABC they hadn’t a thought for the other people who also had to make the trip. I downed a coffee and tried to focus on the positives of what should be an awesome day ahead, despite the lack of sleep.
Outside it was clear and very cold, penetrating my microfleece. Whilst my companions ate, I wandered around the back of the lodge to photograph a sheep herd and the imposing mountains. I saw a big pile of rubbish and felt guilty when I saw drinks cans there, the night before I’d had a very expensive can of coke to go with my rum. I wondered if the rubbish would ever get carted down the mountain or if it would languish here.
We set off, joining a steady trickle of trekkers and porters making their way up to the base camps. Rounding a cliff we were presented with a fantastic view of the flat river valley leading up to the Annapurnas, which were shining so brightly in the sun that it was hard to look at them. To the right the Fishtail towered overhead, though its top wasn’t visible from this angle.
The wind blew bitterly cold, not helped by our damp clothes from yesterday’s grim weather. My fingers were losing all feeling, so I decided to use a spare pair of socks as gloves, to the merriment of all, including passing trekkers who struggled to stifle their giggles. I was happy to provide some entertainment but even happier to not have frostbitten fingers! Shiba had a hoody and lent me his hat. My ears were falling off.
We were on a tight schedule to try and reach ABC before the clouds rose and obscured all the mountains – if we could get up there in time, we wouldn’t need to spend a night there freezing our asses off just to see the view in the morning. An hour later we were well up the valley, I’d only occasionally stopped for photos. I didn’t have time to use the tripod so the exposures were all too dark. On the left we passed a big gravel-pocked ice cave, a remnant from the winter season. The terrain around here reminded me a lot of the flat areas up in the French Alps, with grass, flowers and a rocky river tumbling alongside. Big dark boulders were scattered along the rocky river shoreline. We passed a familiar face and I realised it was Rose, the Dutch girl I’d met in Kathmandu at the monkey temple. We chatted briefly, she’d come from ABC, spending the night in a tent, to see the sunrise. It was so cold up there that she hadn’t had any sleep and had emerged to find a layer of snow on the canvas!
Half an hour later we started to climb a slope past bare, knarled trees, and then along a rocky, grassy stretch. The Fishtail towered on our right and was now out of the cloud. It was surrounded by an array of smaller, jagged mountains with sheer cliffs descending to our level. Ahead we could still see the glaring white snow-covered peaks of more Annapurnas, and as we crested the slope, MBC, Machapucchre (The Fishtail) Base Camp came into view. It was just three hotels sitting in a flat area of the valley.
There were quite a lot of trekkers in the area, mostly coming down after their sunrise expedition from ABC. We headed left past MBC through a muddy goat-ravaged area along a path which slowly climbed up a lovely long-grassed valley alongside a big stream. Annapurnas rose up ahead, close now. On each side were mighty cliffs and jagged peaks topped by low cloud. More banks of clouds were slowly rising up the mountains ahead and I knew we didn’t have long before they’d be completely obscured.
As the path meandered along the yellowy grass landscape we passed lots of trekking groups as the sun came out and at last warmed us up. We could see ABC up ahead and reached it in about 45 minutes.
Towards the camp the landscape was punctuated with huge, isolated boulders which looked like they’d dropped from the sky. Just before ABC, the snowy Annapurnas ahead dominated our view, and behind us was a truly spectacular view of the valley surrounded by icy mountains and the Fishtail dramatically cutting above them all. No photos can do justice to the massive scale of the place, it was an awesome location I felt like a tiny ant within a mountainous garden.
ABC was just two lodges with flat, rock strewn camping ground behind it, tents scattered around. From the campsite the terrain got rocky and a path snaked up towards the mountain feet – a trail for real mountaineers. When we climbed the steps to ABC I gave a cheer and wandered around admiring the stunning views as we waited for lunch to be prepared. It was about 10:30am. A little stupa trailing colourful prayer flags overlooked the campsite, to its right a cliff fell to a huge, gritty glacier leading up the mountains. It was huge and at first I didn’t realise it was ice until someone pointed out a river you could glimpse in through holes in its grey surface.
Down the valley the Fishtail was already covered in cloud as I hurriedly took photos. I got chatting to a British man who sat admiring the view, and Krishna arrived and posed for some photos. We went back down and I demolished two full plates of dahl bhat before we went down, I was ravenous. By the time I was finished the Annapurnas behind the base camp were almost completely covered by cloud. We were lucky, half an hour later and we’d have had to stay the night to see anything.
The descent down the grassy valley was very peaceful, the only noises being the crunch of our feet on the path, a gusting breeze through the long grass and the trickling of the stream. We only passed a few groups on the way down to MBC. We were on a tight schedule to try and reach the village of Shinwa (below Deurali) before dark, to give us an easy day tomorrow.
We powered down from MBC and made our way back to Deurali, which took a few hours. Towards the village the cloud billowed up the valley past us in big clumps, and we were in the thick of it.
It got quite misty and started to rain hard, just as we reached Deurali the rain turned to hailstones. We took cover under the eaves of the lodge and watched other unfortunate trekkers press their way up to ABC despite the onslaught. After twenty minutes it died down enough to venture out again. Throughout the trek I’d been dishing out fizzy cola bottles, Harbio mix and chocolately goodness to boost our energy, and was glad to devour some today!
With the rain still pattering down and cloud permeating everything, there was nothing to do but put our heads down and trudge on. I put on my iPod and Hospital’s drum and bass podcast powered me onwards for the next few hours as we retraced our steps from the previous day, going up and down staircases and passing through the bamboo jungle. The rain continued and we all got wet, we reached Bamboo around 4pm. Shinwa, our destination was another two or three hours away and Shiba asked if I wanted to stay in Bamboo or press on. Although I was knackered I felt I could continue and wanted an easier day tomorrow, so on we went.
Unfortunately the rain decided it hadn’t finished with us, and it continued for the next two hours as we plodded fast through the forest and it started to get dark. We were all exhausted now from our fast pace with almost no sleep. I learned about Krishna’s family. He has a son in the army and another who’s just finished university. He paid for their private education and is hoping the monetary favour will be returned when his sons are older. We talked about marriage in Nepal and I found out that although now it’s legal for women to divorce their husbands (quite a recent upgrade), it’s rarely done. On a later day, Anja, who is living in Nepal, told me there’s a massive stigma for women who choose divorce, they usually lose everything and are forced to live with their parents in shame. They can even lose access to their children. Little wonder it’s uncommonly done! Krishna said that men never divorce their wives, presumably because a similar stigma is attached. As far as I could gather, both Shiba and Krishna had wives from arranged marriages, which is still common in Nepal. It is quite strange to be in a place where basic freedoms like your choice of partner are dictated by others.
By the time we reached Shinwa it was about 6:30pm and dark. I’d struggled to see anything in the last forest sections. All of the good places were full so we ended up at a sub-par lodge. The food wasn’t great and Krishna, not one to hide his emotions, grimaced at the taste of their dahl baht as we ate dinner together. My room had dirty sheets (I found dried noodles on the bed from the last occupant!) and the shared toilet was cold and grim. I caught up on the diary as we sat under blankets in the restaurant for warmth, and turned in for an early night. Unfortunately my plan was scuppered as a rat was on the prowl in the ceiling. As it was only made from plywood, it amplified the sound of the ratty adventures – scuttling movement and gnawing. I couldn’t sleep until Mr Noisy Rat decided to give up on the tasty vital support beam he was feasting on, and then my tummy was dodgy and I didn’t pass out till about 1 or 2 in the morning.