Welcome to the Himalayas
I think this was the country I was most excited about for many reasons...but I think mainly it was the possiblilty of trekking in the Himalayas! We flew from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to then catch our flight to Kathmandu. That day our flight was delayed and we weren't sure why, then I got a message from a friend asking whether we were near Kathmandu airport and that she was scared we had been in the crash that had literally happened a few hours before. My heart sunk and I was completely saddened by what had happened a plane had skidded off the runway and caught fire causing most people on board to die. Thoughts ran through my head like that could've been us and I'm so lucky that I have friends who care about me. All the excitement was forgotten for that moment.
Arriving in Kathmandu
The airport was so small and there were no ATMs so we got into the taxi and asked him to stop off at an ATM on the way to our guest house. The place we were staying at was in Thamel and was blocked off to cars so we had to walk the rest of the way with our expedition bags, avoiding potholes, piles of stones and anything else we couldn't see in the dark! When morning came, we went out to explore the streets but most importantly get the last couple of items that we need for our hike into the Himalayas. We'd heard that Kathmandu is a great place to find all the bits you need and also at a good price. We rented sleeping bags, water bottles, warm yak wool hats, water tablets etc. Then the tricky part was budgeting how much money we would need for the time we would be trekking as there wouldn't be any banks in the mountains! We also got our permits for our hike and a map and of course we didn't forget some snacks. We would only be taking our smaller rucksacks on our hike for the next week and a half. We were able to leave our bigger bags in a store room at the guest house.
The following day we caught a 10 hour bus to Pokhara which was the bumpiest ride of our lives - no joke. Jonny and I were constantly slipping off our seats and there was no way you could sleep a wink! The bus took us along mountain passes which were conjested with traffic, trucks carrying goods from India and Nepal decorated in colourful paints and musical horns. We then got a taxi who took us to the wrong place which we didn't realise till we got to the reception and they were like you don't have a booking, so we had to walk to our place which was a tad annoying but hey we eventually found it.
The town of Pokhara was huge and busy but also somewhat beautiful surrounded by mountains and a lake. This place has been made popular due to it's position as the gateway to the Himalayas and some of the most beautiful peaks and valleys in the region. We spent the rest of the day exploring the town and found a little pizza restaurant on the lake which served amazing pizzas. We got an early night as the next day we would be starting our trek.
Hiking to Annapurna Base Camp
We got a local bus to Phedi, vendors would jump on and sell fruits and vegetables. One lady bought a large bag of oranges and shared them around. We were the only ones to get off the bus at Phedi, where there was road construction going on and it wasn't very clear where to find the path. A local taxi guide showed us where to go and we were then followed by our first beautiful Himalayan mountain dog.
We carried on up some very steep steps which took my breath away and there was a lady at the top selling chocolate. The views from up here were out of a painting, rice terraces on the side of mountains outshines those we'd seen in Bali, farms were perched on these hills with views reaching over the valleys. Our first stop for the night was Dhampus, kids were walking home from school smiling and laughing.
The place we decided to stay had a small Himalayan pup who couldn't help but nibble at my legs, and made a hole in my leggings. We ordered some lovely hot Nepalese potatoes and then watched the storm roll in, it was fierce!! We wrapped up into our sleeping bags to warm up and the lighting flashes were so bright and the thunder echoed in the valley below. Our sleep was broken every now and then from a clap of thunder but the last two days had been busy and we soon feel asleep.
We woke up in the morning to the most incredible sunrise and the panoramic mountain views before us were just wow. It was overwhelming at how big they were compared to the Alps.
Then we set off for our first day of proper hiking as it had only taken a couple of hours the day before. We passed our first permit check point and had pancakes as a snack with a picture perfect view.
Then we wondered through Rhodendron blooms and passed mountain monkeys playing in the trees which led us to a beautiful village on the edge of a hill. We stopped at one house and asked to look at the rooms most of the them are all fairly basic and looked good so we sat down on the bed and then realised there were no plugs which we needed to charge our camera batteries, we explained that we couldn't stay and the lady then blocked the door and said you will have to pay 500 anyway, we said sorry no we cannot pay that and she said you must pay as you have messed the bed, we had just sat on the bed not rubbed our dirty feet or anything else on the bed. We then told her we would be back for food which she smiled and let us out. She really scared us and we ran as quickly as we could to the next place which was so much nicer and the people much friendlier. We understood that this lady was perhaps desperate for business but her reaction only put us off more than being willing to help her.
We spent that evening watching the local guides playing cards, playing with more Himalayan mountain dogs and watching an incredible sunset.
We were the first ones to get up and watched the sunrise as a table was set up for breakfast. We had wonderful warm cups of hot chocolate and porridge to keep us going. We set off and the walk was really pleasant, we crossed suspension bridges and beautiful waterfalls and followed the river down the valley. Prayer flags were drapped over the suspension bridge and the wind swooshing down the valley made them dance.
The distance wasn’t as great as the previous day. But the steep decent and the previous day had tired our knees out and made the hike feel just as long. By the end of the day though we both felt that we were getting into the rhythm of the trek and the views that we faced all day made the miles and hours tick along.
We had heard about the famous sugar momma who cooked delicious chocolate cake and pizza. She had one of the last tea houses in Chomrong. We stopped at most of the to ask about prices and some of the rooms had fantastic views. However we pushed onto Sugar Mommas and she offered the cheapest room with plugs and the best food. We were happy thats he also threw in a hot shower for us. It really was just boiling water pouring out of the shower. We placed ourselves with it and quickly got dry as the weather was creeping below freezing. The buildings were not insulated and it quickly got very cold. We wrapped up warm ate our dinner and then jumped into our thick sleeping bags for another early night and another 6am start the next day.
We woke to our alarm at 5:30 and did the usual check on the sunrise before finally crawling our of our sleeping bags. Our morning routine consisted of packing, eating breakfast and photographing/filimg the sunrise. We were usually the first hikers up and ready to leave as we wanted to avoid any potential of an afternoon rain storm. We also had the clearest views in the mornings before the afternoon clouds rolled in. Our average pace over a mile was now slightly slower than our first full day in the mountains and it was a much better pace for us. We were covering less miles a day but felt like our knees and legs could sustain this type of trekking for a lot longer than the fast pace.
Today was a day of steps though. We left our guest house climbing all the way dow hundreds of steps to the river, across a bridge and then right back up the other side and higher up hundreds of more steps. We knew on the way back down the mountains this was going to be very punishing.
Today was the day that we were going to reach our first base camp. We would be aiming for Machapuchare base camp today before our final hike the next day to Annapurna base camp. Machapuchare had become our favourite mountain on this trek, it had been visable after the first nights storm and its unique shape made it stand out. We got away fairly early after breakfast and packing and pushed on up the valley which felt like it was now closing in around us as the mountains got taller and we climbed higher. We had heard a couple of days before that a British hiker had fallen off the trail only to be rescued at the last moment by his guide. We knew that there had been storms at night and guessed that there might have been a heavy dumping of snow. We had been told that we might possibly want to hire some micro spikes for when we got up too the base camps. With the mixed reviews that were coming from hikers we decided to get the spikes just incase.
Mid way through the day we reached where the snow was. It wasn’t thick at all on the trail but we were still a little way from the base camp and knew that Annapurna could be coated. We were cautious of avalanches and knew that our early morning starts would get us past any chutes before the sun started to melt the snow.
The views back down the valley were incredible and all morning the helicopters thundered up to base camp echoing off the walls of the mountains.
The cloud moved in quickly in the afternoon and at around 2pm not far from MBC we were walking in thick cloud. We couldn’t see very far ahead of us and there were now a couple of different trails to choose from. Initially we chose the wrong one and spent some time checking our maps and making sure we got it right. The altitude and tiredness was now taking effect and we wanted to get to base camp for a warm drink and food before our final push the next day.
We arrived at MBC at around 2:30pm and dropped our stuff of in one of the rooms before filming some of the clouds rolling past the mountains which looked amazing sped up. We ate some good food but both had a slight headache from the altitude. We drank plenty of water before bed. A couple of the girls who had walked periodically with us were really suffering with headaches and we gave them a little advise on what to do and if it got worse then they should defend the mountain.
After a hard day we were very ready for bed and the prospect of being at Annapurna sanctuary the next day.
For the first time in a week we didnt get up at 5:30am and had a little bit of a lie in and easy morning. We were woken by the roar of a helicopter landing on the pad right outside of our front door. It was a great start to the day. The hike from MBC to ABC was only a couple of miles but we spent a lot of time stopping to film and photograph the helicopters as they were not very close and also a group of mountain skiers who were on the sides of the slopes between MBC and ABC.
After finally arriving at ABC we went straight past the que of people wanting to get photos next to the base camp signs and dropped our gear off in one of the rooms before heading back to the signs which was now much quieter to get our photos and videos. We then went and grabbed some lunch. For the rest of the day we either relaxed and read our books or were a little bit further up than base camp making sure we got all of our photos and videos that we wanted and needed.
It was absolutely freezing and now that the sun was setting it was getting colder and colder. We got the last few sunset photos before calling it a day and heading to bed. We wanted to get up early enough to watch sunrise over Annapurna one which is a 8000m mountain.
After watching the sunrise hit the tops of the mountains and then gradually fill base camp with warm light we had breakfast and then we spent some time watching the helicopters land and takeoff before finally packing and getting ready to defend the mountain.
We decided that we were going to skip a couple of days on the way back and try to reach Chhomrong (Sugar mommas) by the end of today We knew it was a long way but it would leave a final short day after that and seemed like a good plan.
We were on the go for almost 10 hours with breaks and short rests. It was pretty much down all day and by the time we reached the steps leading to Chhomrong our legs were almost broken. We knew when we left Chhomrong on our way to ABC that this section would be tough at the end of any day. We didn’t expect it to be at the end of a 14 mile/10 hour day. It very almost broke us and each step made our knees feel like they were about to break.
We had told Sugar Momma that it would be Jonny’s birthday when we next passed through and she remembered and had even baked some of her delicious cake. It felt even better after this mammoth day.
We were so happy with what we had accomplished and the time in which we had achieved it. We expected that by the end of the next day we would be back in town getting a leg massage to recover from the last few days.
This was our final day in the mountains and the original plan was to hike all the way back down to the highway where we would be able to get a bus back to Pokhara. Hannah and I were walking with a couples of friends that we had met along the way and after about 4 miles into the day they were asking if there was a sport coming up to get drinks and have a break. I checked the map and said there would be a place soon. When we reached it they had ice cold coke and water which was perfect as it was much hotter this far down the mountain and we had been walking for the last few miles along a ridge baked by the sun.
When we sat down to drink our drinks we could see just a few hundred meters away that there were some jeeps gathered. We soon released that this was the first point where you could catch a jeep back into town. At this point we bumped into an older guide who was also on his way back down the mountain. The jeep drivers would squeeze these guys in for free when they had a jeep full of paying hikers. We were the only hikers around for miles and we persuaded the guide to help us get a jeep down the mountain. The drivers all wanted the 4 of us to pay the price for 6 people. We declined and then the girls spent some time trying to negotiate. The drivers were a little frustrated and didn’t seem to like talking to the girls. After a bout an hour of different offers flying around Jonny eventually went up to the guide and the drivers and managed to persuade them to take us back for the cost of 4 people.
The journey was super scary all of the jeeps had bald tyres and the roads were rocky and at times deep gravel sections with drops off the road of hundreds of feet. We were surprised that the jeep didn’t just skid going around the hairpins. Even now and then we would have to let a bus squeeze past us on the tiny road (more like a horse track) Once we got back down to the first town where the buses gathered we started picking up other local guides who need a ride back to Pokhara. We still had and hour or so to Pokhara and we arrived just before dark. We found a very cheap but comfortable place for the night which cost 1000 Nepalese rupees (around £7) It might have felt better than it was because of the beds we had been used to up in the mountains. Overall though we were very impressed with the tea houses and places to stay in Nepal. They were generally all very clean and comfortable.
It was Jonny’s birthday and he wanted to head back to the lake side pizza restaurant for dinner which was so tasty and incredible. We both had warm showers and feel asleep ready to properly explore Pokhara and have a massage the next day.
After a little bit of a lie in we got up and headed down the street to find somewhere for breakfast. We found a quiet little upstairs caffe and had some pancakes over looking the lake. On the way to breakfast we had stopped by a spa to book ourselves in for a massage after breakfast. The prices were fairly cheap for a full body massage and the spa itself had a western feel. We were both sore and tight in some areas and the massage was the perfect way to tell our bodies that they could now recover after a long few days hiking.
We booked our bus tickets back to Kathmandu for the next morning and explored the many different little shops that made up the lake side of Pokhara. We probably needed up doing just as many miles as one of the days in the mountains with all the walking we did around town.
Heading back to Kathmandu
We weren’t really looking forward to the bus ride as it was so bumpy on the way to Pokhara that it was almost impossible to sleep without slipping from your seat.
The journey was warm and once again we were delayed by the single mountain pass heading to Kathmandu. We did eventually arrive and headed to the guest house we had previously stayed at to collect our bags and book a room for the night.
The guesthouse had the typical very hard wooden beds with a very thin blanket between you and the wood. We decided as a bit of luxury that we would check into a nicer hotel for the next few nights before leaving for India.
We found a hotel that was a 20-30 min walk from the Thamel area and checked in. The rooms were spacious and comfy. Our first room though non of the plugs worked so we couldn’t get any work done. The hot water for the shower was also temperamental. We asked what was going on and we got up graded to a bigger room with the comfiest bed and plugs that worked. We were happy and relaxed and watched movies on the massive TV. This room would have been pretty expensive in the UK but was a great price in Nepal and a nice way to recover from the mammoth hike we had just completed.
We had finished our Annapurna base camp hike in less days that we had originally planned. We had planned on adding Poon Hill into the route but we were pretty tired on the way back and knew that we perhaps should have done Poon Hill on the way to ABC as nothing would be the panoramic views of ABC.
One of the things we had been warned about before arriving in Kathmandu was the dust on the streets. Most of the streets around the Thamel area are still dirt roads and the motorbikes and cars zipping past kick up loads of dust and dirt. We could feel it in our throats at the end of just a couple of days of being there. It was nothing like the beautifully fresh air of being in the mountains.