Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Part V

So what did you expect? That I will be diligent and post the entire trip in consecutive days? I took 4 years to finish a 2 years M.A. Program on education from TISS ( This rate of blog output is far better than the assignment submissions that I did for the course. In any case, here goes the part V...

May 5th Tadapani (2630m) to Sinuwa (2360m)

Summary – Crazy ups and downs. Killer steps. German bakery in Chomrong. Fresh apple pies. Death after Chomrong. Body brought to Sinuwa.

For those readers who don't want to hear one long monotonous groan you may skip this day altogether.

Skies were clear again this morning and we had good views of Annapurna South and Hiyun Chuli from Tadapani. The trail starts to descend almost immediately from Tadapani. It passes through a forest and quickly reaches a slope and descends steeply on switch backs and steps. We drop to Chuile (2309m) and walk down further to cross the stream Kimron Khola at probably 2000m. So we lose more than 630m and all in one steep downhill. My left knee was hurting badly and I was struggling to maintain any pace at all. I was really thankful that I had carried a Leki walking stick. I tried to shift all my weight to the stick when I was using my left leg but it didn't really help. I had to figure out how to use the stick correctly to keep pressure of my knees, but that I did only the next day. So it was an agonizing day for me.

When we climbed down we lost the view of the mountains and instead it was valley views. This part is not really wild and most of the hill sides are prepared for cultivation. There was barley, corn and vegetables and potatoes being grown here.

After crossing Kimron Khola we had to climb again. We passed Ghurnung (2060m) and the walk was easier, almost flat along the hillside towards Taulung. But I found it very difficult to walk even on flat ground, my knees was giving me lot of trouble. My knee protection and pain relief gel was all in my backpack which Narayan had carried far ahead. I was walking very slowly and gingerly. We reached Chomrong (2170) by 11:30 and stopped at the first restaurant for lunch. It took us a very long time to get our food, but I was happy to get my knees attended to. I rubbed Volini gel on it and put my knee caps on. We also saw some Himalayn Griffons soaring up the valley riding the thermals. It was around 1 when we finished our lunch and thunder clouds had already taken over the sky. When we started to walk and it started to pour. We took shelter in a water purifying station in Chomrong. Beyond Chomrong ACAP does not allow plastic water bottles to be sold. After a heavy downpour the rain abated and we started to walk quickly. We reached Chomrong downtown which is an happening place. We found snooker clubs and bakeries in Chomrong. The smell of freshly baked apple pies wafted through the clean mountain air. But we were full and it was threatening to rain, so we had to move on. From Chomrong there is again a steep descent to Chomrong Khola. It was painful walking down the steps, may be 1000 or more. After crossing the stream we had to climb up to Sinuwa. We were now walking along Modi Khola which would take us all the way up to Machapuchare Base Camp. The exhaustion due to the steep climbs, up and down, and the constant threat of rain forced us to stop at lower Sinuwa. I had a hot shower and felt much better. We had got tired of eating inane food from the menu designed to appeal to the taste of western tourists. We decided to make kichadi and aalu fry for dinner. 2 German girls were the only other trekkers who had stopped in lower Sinuwa, the rest had plodded up to Sinuwa. The Germans were lucky to have a share of our kichadi, or so we thought. They politely said it tasted very good. They offered some rum in return which I gladly accepted. In that cold, rainy evening a thimble of rum in hot water made me feel good. I ignored Jayesh's frowns. He is completely against any alchohol on a trek and for good reason. I think for most Indians drinking alchohol is linked directly with getting drunk and that is a good generalization. Getting drunk on a trek is a nuisance and in high altitude it could be dangerous. It is difficult to distinguish the symptoms between Acute Mountain Sickness and a hangover. But I have never been drunk in my life, but Jayesh does not know that. In any case the rum did wonders to my aching bones and muscles and I slept well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Part IV


I have to first apologize for the delay in continuing the blog. I had jammed a finger of my right hand in the car door and it was badly injured. I was also away from Bangalore for 3 days. I was in Timbaktu ( conducting training. Timbaktu has organized thrift cooperatives for women in the 3 blocks that it operates in Anantapur district of AP. These cooperatives have a turnover of more than a crore of rupees. A good part of this turnover goes as loans for borrowers who are attempting to run small businesses like milk production and trading, sheep rearing, poultry, small grocery and vegetable shops etc. Timbaktu thought it would be a good idea for the “loan officers” of these cooperatives to have a better idea of what it takes to run a viable business so that they can counsel their borrowers. This would have two benefits at least. The thrift cooperatives would have better repayments and the business persons would have a better livelihood. These “loan officers” are mostly women with very basic education and some of them are not even literate. We ( are trying to teach them “Business Viability Analysis” over a course of 10 days spread over 3 months. It has been an interesting experience. But let us get back to more important stuff of the ABC trek....

May 4th – Ghorepani (2860m) to Tadapani (2630m)

Summary – Climb Poon Hill (3150m), sunrise views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna Range, back to Ghorepani. Climb from Ghorepani to Deurali pass at 3090m, have the same views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, walk through thick rhododendron forests to Ban Thanti (3180m). Climb down to meet Bhurungdi Khola again and then a steep climb to Tadapani.

We got up at 4. I was hoping that it would be cloudy and I can snuggle back into my sleeping bag, but it turned out to be a clear sky. Damn. From our guest house we could already see the fresh snow on Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South and Hiun Chuli (6434m). The climb to Poon Hill seemed like a pilgrimage. The entire tourist population of Ghorepani, around 200 of them, was up and early and religiously climbing Poon Hill to catch the sunrise. The only thing missing was bhajans and cymbals. May be it was the morning hour or my laziness the climb seemed infernally long. When we reached what appeared to be the top, there was a reassuring sign “Only 15 more minutes and you would reach the top”. I was thinking may be it would be easier if I sat for 15 minutes and waited for the top to reach me. The climb went on for another 45 agonizing minutes. There were some enterprising locals who had carried huge flasks of hot water to the top and the 200 pilgrims who had gathered had an option of coffee or tea, black or with milk (powder) at 80 rupees a cup. I gladly bought a cup and waited for the sun to rise.

The sunrise was not as spectacular as it was touted to be. It was a bit hazy and the sun rises behind the Annapurna range. It was nice to see the rays of light interrupted by the peaks but otherwise the view from Poon Hill is better seen at sunset when the fading light illuminates the mountain peaks. That would also mean a relaxed cup of tea in the evening and not getting up at an unearthly hour. Unfortunately at this time of the year it is impossible to have clear evening skies. But if you are in the Poon Hill area in October-November season I would recommend a sunset climb.

We climbed back to Ghorepani and had our breakfast and we were ready to leave. We had to climb again and the morning walk was up on a open ridge which had spectacular views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range. There was no reason for us to have tortured ourselves for the sunrise. If I had known that the views from Deurali would be equally good I would have skipped the sunrise tamasha altogether. After we passed the pass the trail descends into a beautiful rhododendron forest. The forest was filled with bird calls but I could manage to see only the red billed blue magpies. The gnarled trunks of the old trees made it feel as if we were walking through Ent land.

We reached Ban Thanti (3180m) for lunch. The owner of Hungry Eye (again) restaurant had lived in Mumbai for a few years and she was happy to talk to us about her experience. It looks like these small villages are safe enough for women to live alone. She lives there in her house even during winter when practically the whole place closes down. It seems ACAP keeps one guest house open in each village during winter for the occasional tourist. The community decides which guest house would be open. It is crazy to think how they manage during winter time in this rickety wood structures which are more or less open to nature. These villages have small vegetable patches where they grow cabbage, potatoes and other greens. As a responsible tourist it might be better to order food that is locally grown rather than packaged food like noodles and stuff. Both in terms of transportation and garbage disposal. In our group, Zubin was the most responsible in that sense since he ate Dal-Bath (rice with some vegetables) almost every lunch. I should remember this on my next trip.

After Ban Thanti the walk continued through forests and we had to climb down to cross the Bhurungdi Khola again. As soon as we crossed we had to make a steep long climb to Tadapani. It was a tiring day since we started early in the morning for Poon Hill and a climb up and down. We had to climb again to the pass and then descend and climb again to Tadapani. By the time we reached Tadapani it was cold and rainy. It was around 3 in the afternoon and I decided that I would snooze for a while, but we had some noisy Spanish travelers who were speaking loudly and I couldn't doze off. Our room in Tadapani was tiny but had great views.