Annapurna Circuit - DAY 1
Well, we’re back from the mountains and ready to share our experiences with our readers. This was our first trek in the Himalayas and what a trip it was! As you’ll remember, we wrote recently about our plans for the route. Now we’ll share what we’ve learned:
First things first: Getting to your starting point may not be as simple as you’d expect. Chamje, where we planned to start hiking, might only be 209km from Kathmandu, and Google maps might estimate that it would take you 6 hours 37 minutes to get there – which already seems an absurdly long time compared to travel times back home – but many factors caused the trip to be extended to 14 hours. Yes, 14 hours. No typing or reading mistakes; it took us 14 hours to travel 209km.
Getting out of Kathmandu was a challenge, mainly because of a few logistical hurdles. The vehicle picked us up around 04:00 that morning. Then we had to pick up a lady who’d joined our group a few days before we departed, and who was not prepared sufficiently. We knew that we wanted to limit our stops that morning, so we invited her to stay with us the previous night. Eventually, she still had wet washing which needed to be dried overnight in a clothes dryer, which we didn’t have. Therefore she had to stay at her home and we had to pick her up the next morning. Then she was locked in and had to make a plan to get out of the house, which cost some more time. Then we had to travel further along the Ring Road to pick up our porter for the trip, eventually returning the same way to take the exit at Kalanki towards Pokhara. By now we were around 45 minutes late, and even though our driver knew an alternative route past most of the roadworks on that road, we still ended up in a major traffic jam on the other side of Chandragiri hill.
From here it was “easy going”, except for Ekraj, our porter, who was clearly made for walking, not driving. He suffered from motion sickness for most of the way from Kathmandu to Besisahar. We stopped at a coffee stop just after we’d left the Prithvi Highway, stretched our legs and set off towards Besisahar, where we’d have to get a vehicle permit for the last part of the road. Then everything went south. Apparently the locals don’t like outsiders bringing in tourists, and they made very sure they got their slice of the pie. It happened like this: Our driver went to get his permit, only to be told he couldn’t transport tourists, as he had the wrong colour number plate. According to them, it indicates whether your vehicle is a private vehicle or a commercial vehicle. During the long conversation between our driver, That-Man (our resident attorney), the man at the permit office and the man who wanted our business, someone was heard saying: “The Syndicate won’t be pleased.” It seems you don’t have to travel to Sicily to encounter the mafia! Therefore, our driver refunded us some of the money we had paid him, and we were forced to procure the services of the man who had been waiting like a vulture for all of this to play out. He took our money (which increased our travel budget by 20,000 Rupees - $20), packed all our luggage into his much more uncomfortable vehicle and set off to buy fuel for the trip. We sent some of our team mates with them to be sure we didn’t lose our belongings as well as our time and money. It took the best part of an hour to get that vehicle’s tank filled, but that’s not the end of it. As soon as we were all packed like sardines into his vehicle (have i mentioned that his vehicle was exponentially less comfortable than the one that had brought us from Kathmandu?), he proceeded to give us THE GOOD NEWS: We were stopping on the way for “minor repairs.
”WHAT?!?!?!?! Apparently the Syndicate has no standards as to the maintenance of vehicles with the “correct colour numberplates” in their area.
So we stopped at the first workshop along the road and waited for the “minor repairs” to proceed. While we sat looking at the work, we realised for the first time that this vehicle had not one single tyre which would pass as roadworthy by any stretch of the imagination. We hoped that was why we were stopping, but that hope was soon squashed. The front right wheel was unbolted and then some thingamajig was taken from somewhere below the belly of the vehicle, and repairs commenced. Some welding and some tinkering were done and some time passed. We were seeing our last possible hope of hiking at all that day evaporate as the sun sunk lower and lower towards the tops of the hills. Even the most optimistic of our thoughts turned to the realisation of the inevitable: we were not hiking anywhere today, and we might not even make it to Chamje by car.
Another matter were clarified while we waited. Several vehicles filled with tourists on their way to the start of their own Annapurna adventures passed by, and about half of those vehicles had the “wrong” colour numberplates. How did they get to pass when we couldn’t? At last we were convinced that transport in the Annapurna Region is nothing more than some bullies hoarding as much money for themselves as possible.
From here onwards, the road was challenging to say the least. We were shaken around inside the vehicle, we bumped our knees on the too-small seats, we bumped our heads, and on several occasions i almost lost some teeth on the seat in front of me. i prayed that my bad back would be able to stand this abuse, and sure enough, i had no back-related side effects of this trip. At some point, just before darknes fell, the owner got out of the car and bid us good-bye. The driver continued with us toward Chamje. It was getting dark now and we hoped that Chamje would be the next village, but it was not. A strange, burning aroma reached our noses and we all prayed more fervently for the vehicle to remain running until Chamje. For a while we made some progress, but then the vehicle stalled and wouldn’t start again. On the way up a steel hill, i might add. Everyone got out and we attempted to start it by pushing it down the hill, but some rocks braked the vehicle. As soon as we got that out of the way, the vehicle was started with small effort and we were off again. The smell didn’t abate, and we continue to pray. There seemed to be an inordinate number of villages on the route. Shouldn’t we have arrived by now? Have the driver lost his way? Have we already passed the village? How much longer? ARE WE THERE YET?!?!?!
At last, we were. We were in Chamje. We unloaded the vehicle. We chucked everything on our backs and climbed the stairs to our rooms. We thanked the driver for his service. We thanked God for bringing us safely here. We had some dinner, and then we settled in for our first night in the Annapurna Circuit, thankful that we would not have to travel by car for many days again.
As our original plan had been to travel to Chamje and hike from there to Dharapani on the first day, we were one day behind our plans, as we couldn’t possibly start hiking at 18:00. So we decided to sacrifice our day in Pokhara at the end of the trip in order to be able to stick to our plans of hiking to Muktinath in 10 days.
Day 1 Planned: Kathmandu to Chamje by vehicle, then hiking Chamje to Dharapani
Day 1 in Reality: Kathmandu to Chamje by vehicle
Day 1 Distance: 209km by vehicle; 0km hiking
Days behind: 1
Day 1 Budget pp: $25
Day 1 Cost pp:$15
Accumulated Savings pp: $10
Lessons for next trip:
Reserve at least 1 one day for travelling to the place where you'll start your hike and spend the night there before starting your trek.
Other articles in this series include:
Annapurna Circuit - Reaching For The Sky
Annapurna Circuit - The Budget