Thursday, 9 January 2014

We felt like crying when our trip to Valley of Flowers was postponed due to Rudra's Tandava in Uttarakhand. Then we did not realise that the Lord had already arranged another opportunity for us to cry.

Annapurna Himalaya
Members of "Padatik", Abhisek, Niladri, Sudip and I sketched a draft of a trek to Annapurna Base Camp in mid November. After lots of research and information gathering we finalised our plan of 12 days (23-11-2013 to 06-12-2013) and reserved four seats in 13021UP Howrah-Raxaul Mithila Express.

from bottom: Abhisek, Niladri, Sudip and Myself
Though Mithila Express stops for a minute in our hometown, Serampore, we decided to embark from Howrah. The train departed at the nick of time (@15:45) and reached Raxaul with only 15minutes delay. Our first destination was Green city, Pokhara. Raxaul is the border town of India and on the other side is Birgunj. It was an amazing journey of 25-30minutes, from Raxaul station to Birgunj Car stand in a tonga (Horse cart). In Birgunj we exchanged Indian Currency with Nepal Currency and started our journey to Pokhara in a Bolero. The journey was of nearly 8hours (including lunch and tea breaks) and costed ₹6500. We had a four-bed room booked in The New Winds Hotel, just a minute away from Phewa lake.

The real beginning

Phewa Lake, Pokhara
Next day was our acclimatisation day in Pokhara. Besides, we had to meet Mr. Devi Bhandari for a guide and permits. ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area project) and TIMS (Trekkers' Information Management System) are two necessary permits for entering Annapurna region. Mr. Bhandari is an experienced guide in this region. He arranged Mr. Rajendra Rai as our guide-cum-porter. Rest of the day we spent on the lakeside of Phewa. Pokhara is a beautiful city beside Phewa lake. Phewa is the second largest freshwater lake in Nepal (Second after Beganus Lake, 15Km. away from Pokhara). There is a temple namely Taal-barahi situated on an island inside the lake and accessible through boats. Pokhara has two highest points for viewing panoramic view of the the Annapurna massif, Dhaulagiri massif and Ganesh Himal. Sarangkot, in the North side of the lake and Shantistupa on the South. Sarangkot is famous for its majestic view during sunrise and Shantistupa for sunset. We left this spots for visiting after completion of our mission. In the evening we roamed about the lakeside market in Pokhara. The market is full of restaurants-cum-bars, trekking gear shops, Tibetan curio shops and most importantly of winter garment shops. A night walk in Pokhara streets after 8'o clock is very much rhythmic, as every hotel and restaurant organise open air music parties to entertain boarders. Mainly English and Bollywood songs we could hear, but in our mind the only rhythm we were listening to, was Annapurnesvari's (Goddess Annapurna) rhythm:

".... Bhikśām déhi kripābalambanakāri Mātā Annapurneśvari ...."
[.... O Mother Annapurnesvari, Please grant us the alms of your grace....]

"Hui ze lili kortise..." - Ghandruk is just beside those fluttering flags.

Raj, our guide, was also a bird of the same feather. So in no time, we became a team of five. Our journey began at 8am from Mr. Bhandari's office in his indica.
Machhapuchhre, the Matterhorn of Nepal
The actual trekking begins from Nayapul, a village on Modikhola, 45kms away from Pokhara on Pokhara-Baglung highway. In Nayapul trekkers have to register their journey showing TIMS permit and in Birethanti, another village 30minutes from Nayapul ACAP permit is to be registered. From Birethanti check post the road is divided into two routes. Both leads to Chhomrong, one via Poonhill and another via Ghandruk. We had chosen the second one. The road from Birethanti to Syaulibazar is basically plain and wide.
Modikhola, our co-traveller
Watching beautiful Annapurna Dakshin (Annapurna South), Hiunchuli and Machapuchhre, the matterhorn of Nepal, we reached Syaulibazar around 12:30PM. We had our lunch here with momo and fried rice. After Syaulibazar, to avoid the dusty motorable road and to reach an hour earlier, our guide insisted on taking a shortcut. We also agreed with him and started walking through steep steps to Ghandruk. At the beginning we started counting the numbers of the steps, but after 50 we stopped counting because as far as we could see, it was more than one thousand. In the mid-way we took rest in a tibetan curio shop, where we saw two direction boards, one showing "Syaulibazar 1500 steps" and other "Ghandruk 2000 steps". Raj pointed some tibetan flags and assured us that Ghandruk was just beside those
fluttering flags (in Abhisek's translation, to Bengali, "Hui ze lili kortise"). It took 2500 more steps to reach those flags. After an exhaustive journey we reached Meshrom guest house, our night shelter, at last at 40' clock in the afternoon. The first day of trek became a bit strenuous for us. We took soups as dinner and went to bed at 7:00PM.

One’s own feet - the only available vehicle

Sunrise at Annapurna Dakshin, from Ghandruk
The alarm rang at 5:30AM and we woke up to witness the sunrise over snowy peaks of Annapurna. We could see the first ray on Annapurna Dakshin, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre. Our journey began at 8o'clock. Throughout the entire route there is a rule, that the boarder have to take dinner and breakfast from the room provider or have to give 2/3times room fare. We had to pay for our ignorance in the second morning of our trek. This day’s journey can be divided into three parts, ascent of 2-2.5hours to Kimrong dara (local pronunciation: Kumrong), then a steep descent to cross Kimrong khola (1.5-2hrs) and finally the famous steps to Chhomrong (ascent of 3.5-4hours).
The bridge across Kimrang khola
Kimrong dara is a hilltop with 2/3 restaurants. The rocky trail from Kimrong dara to Kimrong khola was through a deep forest and demands more attention while walking. Carelessness for a fraction of second can leave one with broken dream of being blessed by Annapurna. Trekkers must follow the "Stop, watch and then walk" rule. Crossing a wooden bridge over tiny Kimrong khola we halted on a beautiful riverside dhaba. The most strenuous portion of our journey started at 1o'clock, after regaining energy with a glass of nimbu paani followed by a plate of noodles.
Trail to Chhomrang
The sky was becoming cloudy. We did not feel it too strenuous as we had crossed a similar type of steps just one day before, though the distance and altitude covered were far more than that of day before. Probably we got acclimatised with Himalayan weather. We feared of a heavy downpour from the thick cloud just above our head, but locals assured, that this cloud appears every afternoon but downpours very very rarely and finally it did not rain. Our second day of walking came to an end at 4:30pm.

"Ore yaar, maro maro… (Hey friends, look sharp...)" - Raj’s only advice.

On our third day of trekking, we left behind the civilised world with all its facilities. This day we crossed four villages, lower and upper Sinua, Bamboo and Dovan. Starting from Chhomrong the trail goes down to cross Chhomrong khola. This downhill was not as tough as of Kimrong khola. On the other side of Chhomrong khola there was an ascent of 1.5-2hours upto lower Sinua and 45 minutes more to upper Sinua. After upper Sinua the trail was through dense forest and our guide made it mandatory for us to walk together. The forest was teemed with mainly Bamboo trees (that is why the only staying place inside the forest is known as Bamboo).
Trail to Bamboo
We were walking slowly and enjoying the silent beauty of Himalaya. It seemed that, we were on a different planet, where there was no one other than ourselves and snow capped Himalaya. Bamboo is a place inside the forest where we stopped for a mug of orange squash (Rs. 80NC) in one of the 4 hotels. It took 2hours to reach Dovan from Bamboo. The trail was same as before.  Here we halted for an hour to have our lunch with veg fried rice. When we started for Himalaya the sky became overcast as usual. Raj’s plan was to stay at Deorali, which was at 4 hours’ distance from Dovan. But we insisted on staying at Himalaya, between Dovan and Deorali. The trail was muddy and obviously through denser forest.
An hour before Himalaya
When we reached Himalaya it was fully covered with clouds, visibility was too low, so we could not move farther. This night we went to bed at 7o’clock at night.

Voilà Annapurna

This day the destination was the Annapurna sanctuary. The voyage began early in the morning, through jungle trails. Our first halt was Deorali, (2hrs journey from Himalaya) via Hinco cave. Hinco cave is a large cave for travellers to have some rest. After Hinco the downhill trail leads to a tiny stream to cross. As the altitude was getting higher, the green beauty of Himalaya was turning into pale. Instead of age-old trees, in a wet jungle, dry yellowish grass covered both sides of the trail. The sky looked bluer. In Deorali we left behind the only facility of modern world that followed us even after Chhomrong.
Valley of Modikhola with Gangapurna
Deraoli has the last tower of Namaste telecom. The medium for keeping in touch with outside world remained, was satellite phone. The trail from Deorali to Machhapuchre Base Camp (MBC) was through the bed of Modi khola.

On the way we could only listen to, dancing Modi khola's sound, chirping of some unknown himalayan bird (may be himalayan pheasant) and 'Namaste' from downhill trekkers and could see two sisters, Gangapurna with Annapurna II on the horizon.
Machhapuchhre from MBC
Mt. Machhapuchhre kept staring on us from the opposite side of Modi khola. The trail through the valley was gradually gaining height. We reached amazing MBC around 12o'clock.

From MBC we had the first glimpse of Annapurna I, the 10th among 14 eight-thousanders of the planet. Sri Shankaraacharya truly described Devi Annapurna as Soundaryaratnākari (Mine of beauty). We were enamoured of her beauty in her very first appearance. Though he also described Devi as "Barābhayakāri" (Goddess who dispels fear) Mt. Annapurna is the deadliest mountain of earth. Annapurna I has the highest ascent to death ratio (38%, nearly 8 times of Mt. Everest).

We bow to thee, O Mother!!

Annapurna I (8,091mt.)
The heavenly trek to the foot of Mata Annapurna from MBC took 2.5hours. As we were approaching ABC, we could only engage ourselves in enjoying the heavenly beauty with a big awww.
Our celebration at ABC
Massive Annapurna Dakshin's North face was dominating the horizon in front of us, while Machhapuchhre and its buddies, Barasinga etc. were dominating the horizon behind us. Our dream became true around 15:30 in the afternoon. We reached the Amphitheatre of Annapurna. 360degree horizon was covered by Himalayan heroes like Hiunchuli, Annapurna Dakshin, Annapurna I, Tent Peak, Annapurna II, Gangapurna, Barasinga, Machhapuchhre etc.
We are sitting in front of Annapurna I
It took few minutes to realise whether were we on the same earth or not. Blessed we were, to be granted to encroach on the lap of Annapurna. This was the auspicious moment, that almighty kept aside to make us cry. We couldn't help getting down and cry in front of this astounding beauty. Hail to the creator of this universe, we bow to thee. 
What the reddish rays of the setting sun from the other side of Annapurna Dakshin advised us, in Kalidasa's Yaksha's language that was, "Āpṛcchasva priyasakhamamūtugam praņamya śailam" - "Bow down and say goodbye to your good fellows, those high mountains.." [originally ".... tugamāliñgya śailam..."] . It was the time to bid adieu to Annapurna. Touching our head on the feet of Annapurnesvari we departed for MBC. 
Mighty Machhapuchhre
Then Machhapuchhre was gradually turning into red. If Annapurna was the prima donna of the noon, Machhapuchhre was the prima donna of the afternoon. We gratefully thanked the Almighty once again for bestowing us with a pair of inbuilt camera to frame supernatural Machhapuchhre during sunset.

Pheri bhetaula

Annapurna massif as seen from Shantistupa
This day was to say au revoir to the divine land. We woke up early in the morning to frame the first ray on the only eight-thousander of the sanctuary. Around 8o'clock we started our journey downward through the same trail, from the foot of Mt. Machhapuchhre. After a downhill trek of 3days, we reached Syauli, from where bus/ car was available for Nayapul (cost rupees 2500NC). Syauli to Nayapul was a journey of 1.5 hours and it took more 1.5 hours to reach Pokhara. The next day was rest day in Pokhara. Initially our plan was to utilize this day in discovering Pokhara. But changing our program we visited only Pokhara Shantistupa to say “Pheri Bhetaula” [‘See you’ in Nepali] to Annapurna. We enjoyed the mesmerizing panoramic view of Annapurna Massif, Dhaulagiri massif above Pokhara and Phewa Lake during the sunrise. Besides Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri peak, 8th highest peak on the earth, Nilgiri can be seen from here. We spent the remaining day on Phewa lakeside, cherishing the memory of our last 7 days. We left the valley to get back to our own land on the next morning. When we looked back we found Annapurna seeing off us even after one and half hour of journey. Around 3o’ clock we entered India.
(শ্রীরামপুর, ২৩শে পৌষ, ১৪২১)

“Pheri bhetaula Annapurna, Pheri bhetaula Nepal.”

Few words for future trekkers 

(specially for Indians):

  1. Don’t carry so much food with you. It is mandatory to buy dinner and breakfast from the lodge you are staying at night. Or else, 2/3times room fare will be charged.  Lodge owners want to prepare a Rs. 3000-4000 NC bill for you, no matter what you do or buy to help them out.
  2. Accommodations are available in Sinua, Bamboo, Dovan, Himalaya, Deorali, MBC and ABC.
  3. Train your heart in such way, that it doesn’t stop working after hearing the rates of food. Fooding charge increases proportionally with the altitude.
  4. Guide charge: Rs. 1500NC/day and Porter charge: Rs. 900NC/day. No fooding/lodging needs to be provided.
  5. Wifi is available at every point.
  6. Mobile towers are available upto Deorali. After that satellite phone is available. It costs Rs. 150NC/minute.
  7. Passport/visa for Indians are not required. But keeping an original copy of a Govt. of India identity card is suggested.
  8. TIMS and ACAP permissions are required. For SAARC citizens the charge is Rs. 200 NC per person. Photocopy of Voter ID card or any other Govt. of India identity and passport/stamp size photos of individuals are sufficient to issue these permits.
  9. Indian currency is accepted upto Pokhara. But don’t carry ₹500 or ₹1000 notes, use of these are strictly prohibited.  160 Nepali rupees in exchange of ₹100 is available from agencies in Birganj and Pokhara.
  10. Though Nepali is the national language of Nepal, Hindi and English are widely used.

For travel photos in Flickr, please click here.

Here is our detailed itinerary.

আর বাঙালী পাঠক বন্ধুদের জন্যে এই লিঙ্কটি।

Please go through our Maenam La, Har-ki-Doon travelogue.

** NC = Nepal Currency, IC = Indian Currency.
*** Rates mentioned here are, as on Nov. - Dec 2013 and may vary with current rates.
**** For Sanskrit Verses IAST transliteration scheme is followed throughout.





Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek Itinerary

Grade: Easy to Moderate
Max. Altitude: 4130 mt./ 13550 ft.

Our Itinerary:-

Day 1: Pokhara - Nayapul - Ghandruk (1.5 hrs by Car and 6-7hrs trek)
Day 2: Ghandruk - Kimrang dara - Chhomrang (7-8hrs trek)
Day 3: Chhomrang - Sinua - Bamboo - Dovan - Himalaya (7-8hrs trek)
Day 4: Himalaya - Deorali - MBC - ABC - MBC (7-8hrs trek)
Day 5: MBC - Sinua (6-7hrs trek)
Day 6: Sinua - Chhomrang - Jhinu (4-5hrs trek)
Day 7: Jhinu - Newbridge - Syauli (4-5hrs trek)
           Syauli - Nayapul - Pokhara (1.5+1.5hrs by Car)

Itinerary in detail:

To reach Pokhara from your hometown, you have to arrive at kathmandu in flight from where buses and private cars for Pokhara are easily available. If you are coming from India, easiest way to reach Pokhara is via Raxaul. For details on this route please go through our ABC travelogue.

Day 0:

Acclimatisation day in Pokhara. You can utilise this day in arranging a guide and a porter. Two necessary permits, ACAP and TIMS are to be issued from Pokhara also. Also you can spend sometime beside Phewa lake and in Pokhara Market. In the mean time prepare yourself for the upcoming adventure.

Day 1:

Set out for Nayapul in a car or a local bus early in the morning. Registering your journey details at Nayapul and Birethanti check post start your trek. Between Birethanti and Ghandruk, Sayulibazar is an ideal place for having lunch. It takes 3-4hours from Nayapul to reach Syaulibazar. Now-a-days car service is available up to Ghandruk. Nightstay at Ghandruk.

Day 2:

Watch Sunrise on mighty Annapurna Dakshin, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre. Having your breakfast in the hotel you are staying, start as early as possible. Cross Kimrang dara and Kimrang khola and then famous steps to Chhomrang. Nightstay at Chhomrang.

Day 3:

This day you can cross Sinua(Lower and Upper), Bamboo, Dovan and stay at Himalaya. But if you have time in hand, don't hurry, divide the journey. Stay at Bamboo or Dovan.

Day 4:

Starting from Himalaya in early morning, you can visit Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) via Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and come back to MBC for night stay. Watch last rays of the Sun on Mt. Machhapuchhre. (We did like this)

If you are staying at Bamboo or Dovan, you can reach MBC by this afternoon. You can complete this day's journey at Himalaya or Deorali too, if you start from Bamboo. Again time plays the key roll.

Day 5:

Catch the breathtaking view of sunrise on Annapurna I from MBC. After breakfast at MBC lodge start downhill trek towards Sinua. Night stay at Sinua (preferably Lower Sinua).

If you want to view Sunrise on Annapurna I from her feet, start for ABC at dusk to reach ABC before sunrise and witness one of the best Sunrise in your lifetime. Staying there for 1-1.5hrs start coming down. Night stay at Himalaya/Dovan, if possible Bamboo.

Day 6:

Start from Sinua around 9o' clock. Take rest and have lunch at Chhomrang around 12o' clock. Then calmly come down to Jhinudanda. It is a steep descent of 1.5-2hours. There is a Hot water spring at Jhinu, where you can take a hot bath and get refreshed. Night stay at Jhinu.

If you are staying at Bamboo/ Dovan, you have to start earlier to reach Jhinu by the afternoon.

Day 7:

Last day's trek starts from Jhinu around 8o' clock. The trekking trail through jungle reaches Syauli via New Bridge. There are 2/3 restaurants in Syauli, where you can take lunch. Buses and cars are available for Nayapul from Syauli. Get back to Pokhara from Nayapul by another car or bus.

Day 8:

Take rest and explore Pokhara.

Please have a look at our ABC travelogue for additional informations and visit this link for photologue in flickr. Hopefully it will be helpful for you.

You can visit our Maenam La and Har-ki-Doon travelogue also.

Thank You.. :)