My first trekking experience in the Nepal Himalayas.
Annapurna Circuit Trek November/December 2014

A month before my fortieth birthday I undertook my first trek having never done anything like it or similar before. My experience with Raj's company, Responsible Adventures, from the first e-mail I sent enquiring about trekking, could not have been better. 

The months leading up to my departure for Nepal saw me preparing for something entirely new for me, and Raj’s advice was invaluable. I was in regular contact with Raj asking many questions which he patiently and comprehensively answered which was very reassuring. 

Tara in front of nyatapola Bhaktapur

I had booked to spend some extra days in Nepal outside of the trekking itinerary, splitting the time between Kathmandu before the trek and Pokhara after it. Raj assisted me with my additional inquiries and travel arrangements and met with me the morning after my arrival in Kathmandu. Raj took me on a walking tour of Kathmandu and up to Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple. Raj also gave me some other ideas as to how to spend my time in Kathmandu and knowing that I enjoyed cycling, suggested I rent a bicycle and cycle to the medieval city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley. This turned out to be quite an eventful ride and one I certainly could not have planned for! Dodging the still busy weekend traffic of the city and negotiating my way through the main and side streets was quite an experience and tested my cycling abilities in ways I didn't think were possible! This said I had an enjoyable day exploring another part of the Kathmandu Valley rich in some of the most exquisite religious architecture, narrow cobbled streets, various squares and courtyards filled with temples, red brick houses, shrines, statues, and other artifacts. The first day of the trekking itinerary soon arrived and consisted of a car journey to Besi Sahar where my trek would begin. After lunch, we set off for Bhulbule, and I took my first steps of many on a journey that would excite and delight me at every corner and have me fall in love with the Himalayas.

Being my first day, I had no idea what to expect, but my guide ensured I was looked after, arranging my order for that evening's meal along with plenty of hot tea and breakfast the next morning. I soon fell into a routine which served me well and helped me to adjust to life on the trekking route providing me with a sense of self-assurance and confidence in an area that, to begin with, was very unfamiliar to me but soon became very regular and comfortable and one I would come to miss once the trek had concluded.

Tara and Raj Tamang

A typical day started with my guide knocking on my door in the morning, and after getting ready, I would go to the dining room for breakfast which was always served promptly by him. After breakfast, I would pack my final bits and then we would set off for a day of trekking and chatting! My guide always ensured I was kept safe and well on the trek, pointing out any hazards such as thorny bushes and nettles in the lower regions, and advising on how to negotiate any terrain that might prove to be a bit tricky for me! He also carried my trek pack, arranged the evening's accommodation at every destination at the end of each day as well as making sure I was well fed and hydrated throughout.

In the lower regions, it was clear to see industrial progression including hydroelectric plants, fish farms and of course the road slowly creeping further along the trekking route. This took up quite a lot of the conversation, to begin with, with me asking about how this impacted on the local communities and their lives and the pros and cons of this modern advancement. As we started to leave this behind, my attention turned more towards the mountains and even more stunning scenery and local life along the route. As we ascended, the landscape began to change, and once we got above 3,000 meters, an acclimatization walk was added to the day's trek by my guide. This usually consisted of an extra walk for about an hour and a half heading upwards before coming back down to the tea house seeing me trekking high but sleeping low. I am sure that this helped with acclimatizing to the altitude and meant that I did not need to take a rest day in Manang. I certainly didn't feel I needed to have a rest day and although I did begin to notice that sleep was becoming a little more elusive the further up we got, I always felt healthy and well, and the altitude did not appear to have any adverse effects on me. Despite this, my guide did suggest I add garlic soup to my already increasing meal in the evening, saying that it would help with acclimatization. As my appetite didn't appear to be suffering, I happily added it to my dinner order! 

On the way to Manang

Feeling strong and well during the trek meant that we seemed to be making good time on each day's walk so when we arrived at Thorung Phedi at lunchtime, we decided to head up to High Camp in the afternoon rather than spend the night lower down. This also means that the long day that would follow going over the high pass at Thorung La would be slightly shorter. It was always lovely that I was able to discuss these sorts of things with my guide and it made me feel like I was able to give some vital opinion as to how the day would unfold, and I wasn't just being led the whole way. It was also nice to know that my opinion was considered and valued by my guide. The morning going over the high pass, Thorung La, started early (I had not slept much that night, but it did mean I was able to witness some of the most incredible night skies I would ever see) and we were the first to leave High Camp under a moonlit sky. I was told that the temperature that night had been in the region of -17 degrees C, and by the time we reached Thorung La, my two liters of water had frozen solid! Trekking through snow and ice was quite amusing at times, and there were still the telltale signs of the blizzard and the events that had occurred in the region earlier on in October. Although sobering and humbling, it did not detract from the immense sense of achievement of reaching the pass and I was able to celebrate with customary photos of myself underneath the many fluttering prayer flags hiding the official sign as well as one of the most welcome cups of tea I think I have ever had; so much so, I stayed and had a second while waiting for some of my friends to arrive. 

The trek down from Thorung La to Muktinath proved to be probably the most challenging part of the day as I stumbled and slid over snow and ice with my trekking poles certainly coming into their own! Just to add to the excitement, some of the ice had formed into round spheres of varying sizes so at times I was trying to walk over ice ranging in shape from small marbles to footballs! Once safely down from that area we found a tea house where we stopped for lunch before continuing on our way. It was quite a relief to finally walk into Muktinath after a long day albeit a very rewarding one. The next few days saw us descend just over two thousand six hundred meters to Tatopani where I caught up with some of the friends I had made along the route and where we all enjoyed soaking in the waters of the hot springs before heading upwards again to Gorepani! An early morning wake up call saw my guide, and I join others for the hike up to Poon Hill at 3,210m where we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. With only two days of trekking left, it was a lovely way to finish off the trek.

View from Bahundara

The trek concluded in Pokhara where my guide made sure I was checked into my hotel before we headed off for our last lunch overlooking Phewa Lake. I could not have asked for a better first-time experience trekking, and it would not have been possible without Raj and his team at Responsible Adventures. As well as taking care of all the logistics of the trek, I was kept well informed about the areas we trekked through and the mountains that surrounded us as well as the local traditions and customs. Consideration was given to my health and well being, and this all meant that I could relax and enjoy the whole experience. I highly recommend Raj and his team at Responsible Adventures to anyone who is interested in trekking and tours in the Himalayas, and I am certainly looking forward to returning for more adventures with them!

Text and Photos: Tara Austin

UNDER: ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK

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