Day 44 – Location: Nepal, Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Chhomrong
Although I was nice and toasty in the night, the local dog battles woke me up a few times. I woke quite early to the sound of porters and mule trains below on the path, and admired the spectacular view of the Fishtail, now completely clear from my bedroom window. Annapurna II was peeking out to the left above the valley.
After a tasty breakfast of Gurung bread and honey we started down the long steps to the base of the valley, entering terrace fields where a farmer was ploughing the traditional way, with two buffalo tethered to a wooden plough, pushing them up and down the narrow fields making furrows, and guiding the plough arm by hand. It looked like hard work.
Down at the rushing river was a very old, frayed, cable bridge with a wooden floor and flat stones covering gaps in the woods. It swayed as we walked across one by one. It’s bound to collapse within the next year or two. From Chhomrong onwards, mule trains are banned to preserve the paths and for safety as the trails get much narrower and treacherous. A fully laden mule on this bridge would easily be its final straw.
We climbed up the next hill, working our way along the valley towards the Fishtail. It was hot going and the sun was blaring down. Having been rained on so much in Thailand the sun was welcome but it made climbing all the steps hard work.
We were in the forest without views for most of the morning, skirting round the edge of the hill, and it became cloudy. We crossed on stepping stones over big streams and waterfalls fell on both sides of the valley, some very high up, falling vast distances before hitting rock again.
We stopped for lunch at a village called Bamboo, and I devoured only one meal and a dessert this time – we were in expensive territory now. At almost every village, the prices would rise by at least 10 rupees (10 pence approx). You could hear a big river way down in the gorge roaring away. Bamboo’s name became apparent in the next stretch as we entered a bamboo forest made of clumps of a thin, short variety.
The occasional village we passed through were now just made up of three or four lodges. Up here this was the only form of civilisation although the locals also kept animals and farmland. As we were walking in the forest, a bird squarked and flapped past the path awkwardly, we could see it had string tied around its leg, it must have managed to escape a trap.
It started to rain and we bagged up our things into plastic bags and rain covers. I donned my rain coat but I hated it as it was so sweaty I I would have been just as wet wearing nothing!
We were getting higher and higher and the cloud rolled in, shrouding everything in mist. It was quite cold. Krishna only had a plastic cloak and was drenched. Other porters passed us with similar garb, it seemed dryness didn’t matter to them as long as their cargo was covered.
We passed over raging rivers coursing over smooth slabs of rock, crossing wooden bridges – gaps plugged with soil and grass. Up on our left through the cloud I could see cliffs towering above, some areas had clear signs of recent landslides. The terrain was more rocky here, the path winding around big boulders from landslides many years ago, and it hugged the cliffside.
All of this section, I read in the Lonely Planet, is well known for avalanche chutes and in the wet and snowy seasons it was dangerous to use this path – whole groups of trekkers have died along here, swept away by avalanches and landslides. With the sheer drops into the jungle below, and the towering cliffs and rocks above, I could see how unsafe the location is, there’s nowhere to run but along the path.
By now I was feeling a bit dizzy, a combination of tiredness and the altitude gain, we were approaching 3000 meters again. Fortunately my knee on the descents had been a bit better today, with the help of crab walk ™. My thighs and calves were sore, unused to all the hard work, and Krishna was having trouble with his thighs too. It was still cloudy and dark with no sun penetrating the dark clouds. The views were non-existent with our view restricted to the path ahead.
Near to our destination for the day, Deurali, we saw a big herd of maybe 100 goats on the hillside next to us, shepherded by a young boy with a stick. The goats were shaggy and had twisting horns. Duerali only has a few lodges, and we stopped at the first, it was only 4pm, we’d done another fast day. We were all tired and wet though, and although Shiba told me it was around 2 hours to MBC (Maccapucchre base camp) and we could push on if I liked – I knew it would almost be dark by the time we got there, we were all tired and I didn’t want to push Krishna hard as he was wet through and had sore legs. So we shacked up at the lodge, changed and hung our things out to dry.
Unfortunately up here, because of the lack of lodges, there were a lot of trekkers and only a dorm room was available. I had only one room-mate, a sleeping Korean guy, so I unpacked and went to the restaurant, which had a big communal table, and smaller benches and tables around the edge of the room. They all had mattresses on them. When there are no rooms available for porters or guides, they sleep in the lodge restaurants, which unfortunately Krishna and Shibu would have to do tonight – although I offered to buy them places in the dorm they resolutely declined. Around the table was a multinational mix, a young couple from French Canada, a Swiss German family, an older British Couple, a British/Chinese woman, a Russian man and his teenage son, and some Nepali guides.
I got to work on catching up on my diary, having bought a jotter and pen – unable to rely on my laptop up in the mountains – and chatted to my fellow trekkers. Many were on holiday just for trekking. The Swiss father had been on the other big Nepal treks and had some interesting stories from them. I was disappointed to hear we wouldn’t see yaks on the ABC trek, as in this season they are kept really high in the mountains. On the plus side, the British guy produced a locally bought slab of yak cheese and invited us all to try, he’d bought it really cheap and didn’t want to lug it all around with him! I took a chunk and it wasn’t too bad, quite hard with a similar taste to goats cheese.
It stopped raining outside and as the sun went down the clouds cleared to show towering cliffs all around us, quite impressive. There were no sign of the Annapurnas though. Like the other days there was no sunset, the clouds roll in and so instead you get sunrays peeking out from behind them.
After dinner I backed up my latest photos on my laptop, this time having to pay double for the cost of charging now we were so high up. Just as I headed for bed a trekking group of young people arrived at the restaurant. It was 10pm! They must have been on a tight schedule for their guide to make them walk in the dark, especially considering the narrow rocky trails leading up here. One of the staff lit a gas ring and put it under the table, with its long woolen tablecloth. Don’t mention it to Health and Safety… I felt really bad for all the guides and porters, now they wouldn’t get any sleep in the restaurant until after the big group had eaten.
I went to the dorm to discover that the rest of the beds were reserved by the new group. I curled into my sleeping bag, it was very cold, and read for around an hour. As I turned in, the group invaded. For the next hour and a half they kept the light on, went in and out, talked loudly and moved around. I eventually got to sleep after midnight, but it wouldn’t be for long…