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Saturday 24 September - Day 1: Bus to Nagdi (1,050m)

After meeting up with our guides, porters and fellow trekkers, we took a taxi to the bus station for the first leg of our journey, by minibus. We climbed out of the Kathmandu valley on steep muddy tracks, with sheer drops that seemed to be just inches away. At Besishahar we changed to a tourist bus and arrived at Nagdi in the late afternoon. The tea house was a welcome surprise, set amongst apple trees and surrounded by lush green lawns, overlooking the fast flowing Marsyangdi Nadi river a short distance below. The name means ‘raging river’, and it would mark our trail most of the way to the Thorong La pass in the days ahead.

Sunday 25 September - Day 2: Trek to Jagat (1,410m)

We set off along the dirt road and soon we were on a steep climb up through forests, passing lush green farmland of rice terraces. It was hot and humid at this low altitude, but we took our time with frequent stops. We arrived at Jagat, to our very brightly painted tea house just before the rains started.

Distance: 15.8km

Monday 26 September - Day 3: Trek to Bagarchhap (2,160m)

We walked on the trail on the side of a steep sided valley, along the Marsyangdi Nadi, grey with glacial water, which we crossed on bouncy suspension bridges. It was still warm and humid, and the leaches were out in force, especially attracted to my ankles. Much of the route was on the jeep road which leads all the way to Manang and beyond. It was a relief to reach Bagarchhap after what would turn out to be one of our longest days.

Distance: 19.3km

Tuesday 27 September - Day 4: Trek to Chame (2,710m)

We walked up through a pleasant trail, much of which through pine forests, though at times we emerged onto ugly roads, with construction materials, piles of rocks and diggers along the sides of the road. On the other side of the valley we could make out the trail that had been washed away by floods in earlier this year. We were accompanied by a dog for the second half of the walk, all the way to our tea house at Chame. The local dogs weren’t happy with the new arrival. Chame was one of the larger towns. Later in the afternoon we visited a bakery (apples were in season so there was plenty of apple based goodness) and had a wonder through the town. It rained again during the night. It was hard to distinguish between the sound of rain and the thunderous river nearby.

Distance: 13.3km

Wednesday 28 September - Day 5: Trek to Pisang (3,240m)

It was a two hour walk through pine forests to the orchard where we stopped for tea and apple pie. We continued the climb up to Lower Pisang. In the afternoon we walked up to Upper Pisang to help with acclimatisation. It was cold here, due to the winds blowing through the valley, especially in the evening. The town had a very bleak feel, and was probably my least favourite place on the trek.

Distance: 15.5 + 2.1km

Thursday 29 September - Day 6: Trek to Manang (3,540m)

I slept a good 9 hours. We had a choice between a shorter route along the jeep road or a longer one along the trail. We opted for the shorter one. It was nice and sunny all the way, the vegetation was noticeably shorter at these altitudes, and I was starting to feel breathless on the ascents. I liked Manang. There were farms by the side of the path that runs through the town, and the locals were harvesting crops, mostly potatoes and buckwheat. The surrounding mountains provided a scenic backdrop, and it had the feel a remote mountain town. It was much warmer here than in Pisang. The hotel we stayed at was nice as well, one of the best on the entire route. The rooms very bright and roomy, with a tiled ensuite bathroom and a good hot shower. After lunch we visited Praken Gompa, a monastery a short walk up the side of the valley.

Distance: 13.9km

Friday 30 September - Day 7: Acclimatisation day at Manang (hike up to 3,950m)

After breakfast we hiked slowly up to an old monastery dug out from the rocks in the mountain that was overlooking the town. A nun lived here. She was 73 years old and had been there for the last 11 years. We sat inside and had tea, before heading back down at midday. After popping into the to the clinic to pick up some medication, I spent the next few hours in a bakery, where I read and had apple crumble and coffee.

Distance: 3.3km

Saturday 1 October - Day 8: Trek to Ledar (4,219m)

It was a steady but manageable climb, as we hugged the side of the valley, crossing another suspension bridge, passing mules and yaks along the trail. It was 10km to Yak Kharka, our intended stop for the day, but we decided to push on a bit further to Ledar, to give us some protection in case we face altitude sickness issues and had to come back down. It was a pleasant walk, sunny with cool winds. A final suspension bridge brought us to our tea house at Ledar. After a short rest we walked up the nearby grassy hill up to 4,450m to help us acclimatise. It began to drizzle as we descended, and it was starting to get cool.

Distance: 12.0km

Sunday 2 October - Day 9: Trek to Thorung High Camp (4,881m)

We walked along a mostly flat, newly constructed trail on the opposite side of the valley, after landslides had made the original trail unstable. The downside of the new route was that it took us all the way down to the river bed, before having to climb back up to Thorong Pedi. We stopped here for tea, and from there it was a short but steep climb up to Thorong High Camp. This was as basic as it got; no hot water or even any power for light in my room. And it was really cold here, even at this time of year. We had lunch here before walking up to High Camp view point, which was adorned with long strips of prayer flags and offered impressive views of the valleys below. Went to bed at 7pm because of our early start the next morning.

Distance: 7.2km

Monday 3 October - Day 10: Over Thorung La (5,416m) to Muktinath (3,802m)

I woke up at 1am to use the toilet in the courtyard and was met by a sea of bright stars. The clear sky was a good sign for our walk later, and it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. I brought out my camera and took a few pictures of the sky before managing a couple of hours sleep. We set off at 4:30. It was a slow and steady ascent in the dark, the way ahead being lit with just the light from our head torches. After a brief stop in a very remote tea shop it became light enough for us to walk without torches. Devoid of all vegetation, the landscape was barren and rocky, and here are there were patches of shallow snow. Thorong La peak loomed over us on our left side shortly before we reached the pass around 7am. We spent an hour here, taking photos and enjoying the moment, having overcome Annapurna circuit’s biggest challenge. It was a long descent from here. Ahead of us the town of Muktinath came into view. When I was here in 2002 I had trekked from Jomsom up to Muktinath before heading back down. This time I was approaching from the other western side of the circuit. We stopped at Muktinath temple briefly before a long descent of steps down to the town. It was unrecognisable from the small snow-covered town I remembered. It had expanded significantly, and buildings were being constructed in and around the edges of the town. It was nice to be in a hotel with a good level of comfort, despite the hot water not working. I went for a short walk in town and stopped at the Freedom Cafe for cake and coffee. I saw the South African mountain bikers there who were following the same route as us and had been staying in many of the same places.

Distance: 13.7km

Tuesday 4 October - Day 11: Trek to Jomsom (2,750m) Via Kagbeni

It was a long steep descent along a tarmac road. On the way we stopped at Jharkot. This old village, 3,500m up, dated back to the 17th century had plenty of charm. It was one of my highlights from my last and most of the original buildings still stood. While the others hung around the large gompa that sat at the top of the village I wondered round the dusty narrow streets to take some pictures. Further along the road we passed the town of Kagbeni at the bottom of the valley, which marked the entryway to the upper Mustang region. After lunch we were given the option to head back to Kagbeni or continue to Jomsom. I really wanted to see Kagbeni, but it meant we would have to find a lift or transport back to Jomsom because of the distance. The group split and a few of us headed on the dirt road along the river for about 40mins to the town. We visited a monk school while the children were hanging around outside for break, then wondered round the town for an hour or so. We headed back around 4pm, and after a short while we managed to find a bus to take us to Jomsom. This town was also unrecognisable from my memories from 20 years earlier. It was far from the nicest on the circuit.

Distance: 19.7km

Wednesday 5 October - Day 12: Bus/Trek to Tatopani (1,190m)

Natural hot spring It was raining overnight and was still raining in the morning. I’d seen the forecasted rains a week before and it proved to be accurate. It was a bumpy ride down towards Tatopani in the decades old tourist bus, and water was seeping in through the roof. After a couple of hours we stopped because a landslide ahead of us. We waited two hours for the road to be cleared until we were told it wouldn’t be, and that we would have to walk the 15km to Tatopani. It was still raining heavily, and in the small restaurant nearby one of the staff made me a makeshift poncho, which was to prove invaluable over the next couple of days. When we came to the landslides we were told to run past the fallen rocks as rocks were still sliding down the side of the mountain and we had to time our runs carefully. We soon realised that even if the landslide had been cleared, there was no way a bus would be able to get past the large rocks strewn across the road further on. Things soon improved, though we were regularly crossing steams fed by waterfalls by the side of the road. After a late lunch we were forced to take a trekking trail to avoid an impassable landslide ahead of us, as relayed to us by returning guides from other groups. We arrived at Tatopani just before 6pm. The rain continued into the night, the sound of which was amplified on the metal roof in the attached bathroom.

Distance: 14.7km

Thursday 6 October - Day 13: Tatopani (extra day)

We had breakfast early with the intention of setting off at our usual time, but we needed to wait for news to come through on the conditions of the route to our next stop, Ghorepani, a steep eight hour ascent away. After an hour or so our guide informed us that the road was not passable, and with the continuing rain it would be too risky to hike today. The new plan was to stay in Tatopani for today, which meant we’d need to skip Ghorepani and the viewpoint at Poon Hill. Instead we would head to Beni tomorrow, from where we would catch a bus to Pokhara the same day. Although I’d visited Poon Hill in 2002, I was keen to go back, but with the weather like it was it was unlikely we’d get a clear view of the mountains. It was nice to be able to have another rest day, though. It would also give me the chance visit the hot spring for which the town is famous (Tatopani means ‘hot water’). It turned out to be a nice relaxing day, which I spent reading, eating apple fritters, and drinking coffee in the restaurant of the hotel opposite that overlooked the street. After two days of relentless rain, it finally died out later that evening.

Friday 7 October - Day 14: Trek to Beni, bus to Pokhara

I was woken up by the returning rain at around 3am, and it was still raining when we set off. We knew there were more landslides ahead. We were able to climb over the first one, but the second was too risky because of the continuous rockfall. A large group of both locals and trekking groups watched and waited, before turning around and taking a trekking trail which took us steeply up the side of the valley through dense forest. Despite the effort and the long detour, this turned out to be a really pleasant walk through small settlements clinging to the steep mountainside, amongst lush green rice paddies, banana palms and scattered livestock. We’d climbed a lot higher than we realised, and low clouds were scattered throughout the valley below us, as the rain turned to a light drizzle. We’d walked a lot along the jeep roads in recent days so it was nice to be able to walk along a scenic trail, being greeted by locals who seemed surprised to see us taking this route. After seven hours we finally began to descend down the mountain, and after scrambling down another landslide we reached a town on the banks of the Kali Gandaki river. After a belated lunch here (which turned out to be the best dal bat of the entire trek), we set off one last time as the rain began to come down heavily once again. It was a short distance along the river to Beni. We waited around for a while under a shelter, watching life go by and buses and jeeps departing. A dog was sniffing a calf’s behind, before being chased off over and over again. At 5pm we boarded our bus for Pokhara. It was an awful road, and the first hour was horrendously bumpy. It would have been scarier if it wasn’t getting dark and I could actually see the steep drops below us. Once we descended to the main road things improved, and we reached Pokhara at 9pm. The hotel was excellent. I took a much needed hot shower and met the others for our last dinner together in town.

Distance: 25.0km

Saturday 8 October - Day 14: Kathmandu

I knew that many flights had been cancelled in the last few days due to the bad weather, and I had no way of checking if the flights were operating. But this morning the sky was clear, and when I arrived at the airport I was relieved to see that my flight was scheduled and on time. It was a short half hour flight to Kathmandu. I arrived at my hotel by 9:30am, so I had most of the day to spend in the capital. I did some shopping (salt, tea and incense) and headed down to Durbar Square. Most of the restoration work following the 2015 earthquake had been completed, and the square and surrounding areas were once again dominated by large pagodas. I had lunch on a rooftop restaurant and then headed to a coffee shop nearby where I spent a couple of hours. Back at the hotel I had a ‘trekker’s massage’ and my final dinner, reflecting on what had been an awesome and unexpectedly adventurous two weeks.

Total Distance: 175.5km

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