Annapurna Circuit

The Himalayan adventure started with me rushing through the Indian border, my visa was about to expire and apparently you don’t want to mess with that! It took me 2 night buses to get to Pokhara – a base for all the Annapurna expeditions and also a lovely city by the lake, with mountain views and around one million cafes and restaurants designed to make the tourists very happy, and I think they were 🙂 It took me a good couple of days to start feeling the trekking rush, I have done a month long yoga course just before coming to Nepal and it absorbed me completely. I remember that on the first days of the hike I was still dreaming about yoga, then I dreamt that one of my yoga teachers was my trekking guide… and finally after a couple more nights I was dreaming only about the mountains 🙂

So here I was, packed with a lot of warm clothes, full of excitement but also doubtful whether I’ll be able to make it. In my head I’ve created different kind of scenarios of what could go wrong, here they are in the order of their propability :

a. My backpack will be too heavy
b. My right ankle won’t make it, I’ve strained it earlier during the yoga course
c. I’ll get altitude sickness and will have to go down
d. It will be so cold that I’ll just give up
e. The blisters on my feet will be so big I won’t be able to walk.

Filled with  such ‘optimism and confidence’ I took off… And what a start it was! I left my SD card in my tablet back in the hotel… no pictures at all? Luckily my trekking buddy Pawel had a spare one and saved my skin. Then, on the way to the trekking site our bus broke, after an hour of attempting to fix it we got a replacement one, and this one broke as well in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember how long it took but it finally got repaired and we made it to our destination. I have to say I was quite impressed with how our journey began but all of that became irrelevant the moment I started the hike. The first views of the route, fresh, non polluted air, the peace and quiet of nature, I was slowly forgetting the rankings of the reasons I won’t be able to make it 😉

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That’s how you fix a bus, you simply go inside of it 🙂
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The first glimpse into the mountains. Pure happiness!

The first few days were rather steady, no crazy steep ascends, it felt like the Annapurna Circuit was easing us in, allowing us to get  the ‘mountain legs’ first, adapt to the weight in the back. How nice! I was definitely grateful for such a slow beginning. I was also very impressed with the cuteness of the villages we were passing by, all the houses were beautifully painted with different colors, there were front yards with flower arrangements, just lovely! And even though I do realise that all of that has been done to please the western eye,  I was still happily  surprised and I guess pleased too;)

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One of many super cute guest houses
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There was a lot of pink 🙂
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Admiring the big and beautiful monsters 

The fairytale villages slowly started to become grey, rather rough and more real while were ascending. The green forests disappeared as well. It’s hard to explain what were the landscapes as they were changing daily, that’s the charm of the Annapurna Circuit! There was no way to get bored with the views, one day I was walking in a pine forest (inhaling so much happiness and childhood memories), the other day I was in a desert or surrounded by massive rock formations and admiring half frozen waterfalls. What a show it all was!

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One of many encounters on the trek, always super adorable 🙂
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This bridge was reserved to the locals, I saw someone crossing it and it took my breath away!

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The breathtaking views were basically constant

Things were going pretty smoothly until we decided to take a 3 day detour to Tilicho Lake, the views were supposed to be amazing and it was a good acclimatisation practice. By that I mean going up really high and back down the same day, the lungs get used to the new altitude but you don’t put yourself at risk by staying over night there. The general rule is that you shouldn’t go more than 500m up per day. That rule was slightly bended on the day we were approaching the Tilicho Base Camp and I’ve felt the consequences of that, really hard. I honestly don’t remember how I got there, everything seemed a blur, especially the last hour of the trek. Sadly, I didn’t go to see the famous lake the followig day, I spent all day in bed, sick, frustrated, studying the map for easier routes. Yes, I was thinking of going back down, I thought it was it, that my body will not get used to the altitude. Little did I know, that the next day I will wake up healthy, full of energy, ready to conquer the highest peaks. I felt like a mountain goat again – that’s how my friend Lauren calls me 🙂

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First encounter with a wild yak
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Pisang Peak Base Camp 4380m
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On the way back from Tilicho Lake

With more respect to the altitude the adventure continued. And it was getting more and more exciting now, we were slowly approaching the highest point in the trek – Thorong La Pass. We’ve talked about it so much with other trekkers over the fireplace in the evening that it had become almost mythical! And there’s a reason for that, many people died in the past trying to cross it. It is not the altitude that is the main obstacle there, it’s the ferocious winds that can blow you of the ridge! With that in mind we started the trek at 4am that day in order to avoid the worst winds in the afternoon. I barely slept the night before, I was too excited! I was so high on adrenaline I felt like I could move the mountains to make my way! That sort of motivation helped, especially as I was not ready for what was coming… The wind was indeed strong, I haven’t experienced anything like that before. Ironically it was that bloody wind that kept me going, I was so angry and annoyed with it that it pushed me all the way to the top (it involved a lot of swearing in Polish but it really helped;). I have to admit that when I saw the famous flags at the top of the pass I had tears in my eyes, I consider this one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced. And I’m proud of myself! Ok, ok, enough self-admiration 😉

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The day before the big ascend I hiked up and down to the base camp at 4900m as part of my acclimatisation and also to check out what was I getting myself into the following morning 🙂
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Here it is, Thorong La Pass 5416m!
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Trying to fall asleep at 4500m, it’s not easy. The air is thin, it’s so cold it’s hard to breathe.
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Our cosy room somewhere very high up

After the pass I decided to change the scenery and do a Poon Hill trek. It basically meant, going by bus 2000m down and then spending 2 days walking the same height up, ha! The views have changed completely and that was the whole point, it was well worth the sweat! It was a nice change to be able to breathe easily and walk up without any difficulty. I’ve finally got some decent sleep. And the water was no longer frozen in the taps! What a pleasant change! 🙂

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Poon Hill trek means basically a lot of stairs up and down…
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Sunset at Tadapani
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And a memorable morning at Poon Hill

The trek was slowly coming to an end, and even though my heart wanted to continue (the list of the mountains I wanted to hike was getting longer), my body was slowly telling me it’s ENOUGH! So I listened politely and after 3 weeks of staying in the mountains I returned to civilisation, rich in new experiences, knowing my new limits, feeling extremely happy, proud and being veeery dirty 😉 The following days I spent pampering myself, the feeling of putting on clean clothes after a shower is one if the nicest sensations I’ve experienced 🙂

So here I was, no broken ankles, no massive blisters, back stronger than ever… I’ve made it! Why was I panicking so much? I understood that I have limited myself by keeping an old idea of what I’m capable of and not realising that I’ve grown, become stronger, both physically and mentally. I can do much more than my perception of myself was allowing me. Ok, it got a bit serious now, I’m just happy to share my experiences with you guys!

Annapurna Circuit was a beautiful, memorable and very rewarding challenge and I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s considering a trek in the Himalayas!

And here are few more photos, cherry picked ones:

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Cinema at 3500m? Yes please! Free tea and popcorn included 🙂
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Beautiful spot for a tea break
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Hello Mr Buffalo!
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That’s the size of the luggage the porters carry…
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Is it Autumn in Poland?
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Lovely Ghandruk village
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I had to stay Ghandruk an extra night as there were no buses going to Pokhara that day due to election. Not a bad place to be stuck at 😉
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Sunrise at Poon Hill
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Yes, that’s still the same sun event at Poon Hill…
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Ubiquitous prayer flags, they make taking pictures so much easier. Everything looks better with them blowing in the wiind!

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Waiting for a delicious chai tea 🙂
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It’s incredible how fast it gets cold. We were sitting sunbathing in short sleeves and the moment sun hides behind the mountains everyone made a run for jackets and thermals.
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It was a very cold breakfast
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Another yak experience, this one wouldn’t let us through for a while 🙂
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Dal Bhat power, 24 hour! The most popular dish in the mountains.
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Admiring the views at Pisang Peak Base Camp
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Celebrating with class! Roxy, local rice wine, 3$ for the whole bottle. It wasn’t that bad actually 🙂

 

 

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