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Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp


ABC- Annapurna Base Camp, the very name evokes adventure. A surge of adrenaline races thru’ the veins. The base of a glorious mountain chain stretching north of magical Pokhara.

My trekking companion (Dr. Brahmadathan) and myself put ABC on our trekking sights during the preceding Dussehra vacation. The start to this rather ambitious undertaking was not very promising. Got caught in a very heavy downpour near Kyumi when it really rained cats and dogs. Cold water was poured on our trekking plans. Got soaked to the skin and had to call an early halt to the proceedings.

The next day dawned bright and glorious. Smiling yellow fields bathed in warm sunshine. Pretty feathered birds chirping in the trees and the unfeathered ones chattering along the trail. The village of Ghandruk is the field headquarters of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, an organization which looks after the Annapurna trekking area. A large and sprawling Gurung village, the settlement has a plethora of lodges and electricity. We directed our steps towards the Himalaya lodge at the very top of Ghandruk. Set among green lawns and flowering shrubs at a height of around 2000 metres, the lodge has beautiful rooms decorated in a traditional style. The attached bathroom was very clean and the solar shower was a real luxury helping to wash off the grime of the dusty trail! Down jackets, slippers, floor mats, carpets, gloves were all provided. Paintings and etchings on the walls made a very pretty picture. A library with a large collection of books added to our delight.

Annapurna Dakshin and Hiunchuli

The next morning was amazing. There were spectacular views of Annapurna South and Hiunchuli and Macchapuchare, the pyramidal Matterhorn which lords over Pokhara was seen in its true ‘Fish tail’ aspect. Breakfast under the benign gaze of the snow clad Annapurnas in balmy sunshine will always remain etched in my memory. The place was inviting, the food was sumptuous, the books were interesting but the road was long and Chomrong, the last large village on the route to ABC was a good five to six hours away. A long ascent to Khimrong Danda and then the descent to Kimrong Khola. We crossed the river on a swaying suspension bridge and then climbed on a winding trail across a landslide prone zone. The sun was beginning to sink beyond the brooding hills as we hit the home stretch to Chomrong.   

The Himalaya guest house with its beautiful gardens and the delightful hot shower beckoned us. The last outpost of civilisation before the wilderness began. Sir and me really freaked out on potato rosti, finger chips, bhat and chicken curry that night. Stayed away from the local delicacies of fried Snickers and Mars rolls. The lure of Bacchus was resolutely resisted. The view of Annapurna South and Hiunchuli the next morning was stupendous. Annapurna south turning a blushing pink under the stern gaze of Surya, the Sun God. Macchapuchare lived up to its name. We felt like we could reach out and touch ‘The Himals’ and we were about to plunge in to the adventure of a lifetime. Jamuna and her family provided us with wonderful hospitality. I am sure even today, Sir cherishes our group photographs.

Annapurna

The long descent started. Down, down, down to the bridge. Chomrong- a sprawling malignancy down the hill side. I was feeling blue. You huff and puff your way up and then lose all your gains in one glorious descent. Sir was more philosophical. “That’s life”, he said. “You win some, you lose some.” The climb to Khuldi was rough and tough. Saw the traditional Gurung way of shearing sheep and making yarn at the sheep rearing station. The ‘forked’ Machapuchare was guarding the northern end of the Modi Khola valley.

The night was spent at Dovan. We were not very happy with the arrangements but we did have some beautiful company. As Dr.P.K. Sen (Surgeon at Manipal Teaching Hospital, Pokhara) is fond of saying, “ They were easy on the eye types.” It was a ‘de novo’ experience shacking up in the cook’s room next to the bustling kitchens. Lodging was a perennial problem after Chomrong and if you reached late (after 3 pm.) there were no lodges to be had for love or money.

The altitude was beginning to have an effect. Sir was becoming increasingly lethargic and nauseous and even pretty faces were not having much of an effect. We were taking the trail really slow. The long crawl to ABC. Shacked up for the night at Deurali JUST BEFORE THE GATES OF THE SANCTUARY. Virgin forests all around. Occasional areas of malignant change. Lodges were huddled together for protection against the elemental forces of nature.

Met a British neonatologist from Liverpool over dinner. Dinner was truly an international affair. Two Indians, a few Nepalese, a few Britishers, Germans, an infamous Frenchman and a rather colorful character from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The kerosene heaters blazing away under the tables created a welcome ring of protection against the evil assaults of father winter.

The Himals disappear after Khuldi and then make a reappearance only after Deurali. But what a grand reappearance! Can put any prima donna to shame. Snow clad peaks enclose you- The forked Macchapuchare, the thickly snow clad Glacier dome, the pointed façade of Hiunchuli, the elephantine form of Annapurna III. Proud figures demurely clad in virginal white. The trek up the Alpine meadows was a steep incline which left us gasping for breath after every two steps.

Stayed at the ‘Cosy Lodge’ run by a rather plump Gurung lady whom Sir still recalls with fondness. She was heard complaining that Pokhara is very hot. Sir was led to remark, “Wait lady. I will take you to Vellore where it touches 50 degrees (Centigrade) in the shade sometimes.”

Sunset on Annapurna

I had a quick romp thru’ the Alpine meadows to ABC where I met our old French friend from Deurali. Lucky chap! In ABC if you are travelling alone due to the pressure of tourists you may have to share your rooms with others. Our Frenchman got some very pretty British company. Some guys have all the luck! And other’s get all the pain? The view of Annapurna south was out of this world. The immense face towers over you. Annapurna I was on the other side with the Annapurna Fangs in between. The setting was majestic- A Himalayan SHANGRI LA? I could not help noticing that how the mighty have fallen. The boastful Machapuchare which lords over Pokhara was cut down to size by the towering mountains.

Sunrise the next morning was gorgeous. Peaks turning a delicate pink and then golden in the magical rays of the morning sun. Annapurna I was the first to be lit up followed by the colossal Annapurna south. It was a display fit for the Gods. I felt small and humble. A puny human being- Homo sapiens. The mighty Annapurnas named for the Goddess of plenty. Mighty glaciers, roaring avalanches, Himalayan heights. We are really small fry in nature’s grand scheme of things.

Information for Travellers

Sunset on Mount Macchapuchare

Pokhara is a city in western Nepal, around 200 km west of Kathmandu. The city is the headquarters of Kaski district and lies in the Gandaki zone. Tourist buses take around 7 hours to reach Pokhara from Kathmandu along the scenic Prithvi highway. Or you can fly to Pokhara, a fifteen minute hop with magnificent views of the Himalayas on a clear day. The Annapurnas dominate the skyline to the north of Pokhara. The trek to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) starts from Nayapul. Nayapul is a one and a half hour taxi ride from Pokhara. The trek to ABC starts from Nayapul. People have done the trek in 4 to 5 days. However, to enjoy the stunning scenery and because of the large gain in altitude (ABC is at 4200 metres) an eight to nine day schedule is more enjoyable. You can save a day or two by skipping Ghandruk and carrying on straight to Chomrong. The best season is from September to end of November. In March and April there is a danger of avalanches. It remains one of the most popular short treks in Nepal. Dr. Brahmadathan, from the Christian Medical College, Vellore was in our college as Professor of Clinical Microbiology, when he was on a two-year sabbatical from Vellore.

About the author: Dr.P.Ravi Shankar is an Assistant Professor at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara and is a keen trekker and photographer and writes often about trekking in Nepalese newspapers.

Glossary of Nepalese terms:
Dussehra or Dashain is the main festival of Nepal and is a ten-day festival in October or November.
Himals are the snow-covered ranges of the Himalayas.
Bhat or boiled rice is the staple of the Nepalese diet. It is eaten with daal (a lentil soup) and tarkari (vegetables).
Gurung is an ethnic group inhabiting the hills north of Pokhara. Most gurkha soldiers are recruited from this hill tribe.

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