Trekking in the Himalayas always seemed like such a far fetched dream or idea, I never considered putting it into action, until recently. Even though I planned on spending at least two months in Nepal, a trek of some sort wasn’t on my “list.” After my month in Kathmandu, I had arrangements to live with a Nepali family in Pokhara, the well known lake and resort area closer to the Himalayas than the dusty capital. Because much of my time would be spent living and working with them on their farm, I figured I wouldn’t have much time for a trek. As my time in Kathmandu came to a close, I began doing research on various treks, at the same time, I stopped hearing from my farming family.
My permit and other trekking documents cost $40. I also spent some money on gear, including a smaller, more compact sleeping bag than what I had brought from Mongolia. I was committed to a trek of considerable time and distance. Not only that, but a friend encouraged me to go for a hike. After all, we both love the outdoors and I would be so close to the majestic Himalayas, amongst the world’s tallest mountains.
I spent a few days in Pokhara, checking out the city, seeing the sights, but most importantly, getting prepared for my trek- the Annapurna Circuit. The trek of treks, but the “cliche of treks.” I’d read various blogs praising this trek, but then others would say it’s “over-hiked,” far from the proverbial “road less traveled,” and if I had the opportunity, I’d be better off checking out treks in other areas. Some of those areas are more remote, and more expensive. A permit to Upper Mustang, for example, costs $500 for 10 days, plus you must hire a guide- hardly in my budget. But the Annapurna Circuit is much more accessible, and that’s somewhat comforting as a solo traveler. I’d asked some locals if worse came to worst, I could just sit on the trail if I got injured or something. They agreed. So yeah, many people do this trek. Some say it’s easy, they said it offers the best views in Nepal, there are many guest houses along the route, the trail is clearly marked, so why NOT do it, especially considering I would be starting alone?
Well, I did it. And I didn’t do it alone. As soon as I arrived at the bus station, I met a girl from Switzerland. We ordered the same breakfast. By the end of the 5 hour bus ride to the starting village, I think she knew my life story. When we arrived, it was raining, so everyone on the bus opted to go to the final village on the line. Miraculously, when we got there, the rain had stopped and in that short distance, I sat next to a guy from Sweden on the bus. When we got to the end of the line, I sorted my affairs, used the rest room, and filled my bottle. I was ready to go and had been so worried about hiking alone, but there was no need- I had two buddies from the start!
We set off- “Team Menu” as we’d later be called. The Swiss, the Swede, and myself. We got along great. We developed systems, had group chats, made decisions, and occasionally had “emergency meetings.” We all liked food, ordered a variety of menu items at times to share, and often made Masala tea or milk coffee breaks along the trail. At night we developed a habit of drinking hot chocolate and a few times, we even visited the mountain side bakeries. There were so many unsuspected treats on the trail. Chocolate cake, fresh, local apple pies, organic ground coffee, and best of all, fresh made local skillet corn bread. We were hooked. By the end of the trek, not only had I gotten the recipe for it, but definitely had some to go, as a souvenir, right around my gut.
While many people say the trek is “easy,” they are mistaken. It’s not, it may have a lot of conveniences, like guest houses, delicious food, and wifi and hot water at times, but it’s not easy. It’s physically demanding, day after day. You hike long distances and gain and lose major elevation some days. High altitude environments affect people differently and some days, it sucked the life out of me.
When all was said and done, “Team Menu” spent 11 days together until our Swedish partner had to leave in Jomsom. Elena and I continued on and hiked over 150 miles (over 200 kms) in 17 days and took one rest day in Tatopani, a village known for its hot springs. The highest elevation we crossed was 5,410 meters (17,000 feet) at Thorangla Pass. Coming into the pass was an emotional moment for me. I hadn’t planned on doing that trek at all and before I knew it, I had accomplished so much, and we were barely halfway through. It was great to see others on the pass, the people we’d seen day to day, crisscrossing along the trail, and with whom we’d shared stories in the evening, the camaraderie was comforting and reassuring. I felt like we had done something big! And literally, we had.
So while I didn’t plan on trekking in Nepal for 17 days, I’m sure glad I did. I accomplished something I’d always wanted to experience, I saw amazing sights, scenery, and culture, and I made some friends that will last a lifetime. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it!