Saturday, December 16, 2017

Annapurna Base Camp ..... The ABC of trekking ! (10th Nov 2017 to 22nd Nov 2017)

I always wanted to trek a route that tests my physical and mental endurance and strengths. Since the last two years I was scrolling and window shopping over online websites and blogs trying to figure out a route that would suit my requirement of being difficult on the body and mind but at the same time easy to get evacuated from in case of an emergency. I considered Kanchenjunga Base Camp, 7 Lakes in Kashmir, Chaddar Trek, Chandrashila and even the Everest Base Camp (EBC). My only treking experience for a difficult trek was to Kailash Mansarovar, but on Kailash its a different motivation that you derive from faith and worship that pushes one to complete the difficult and grueling parikrama of Kailash from Darchen to Darchen through Dirapuk and Zhuthulpuk.

At this point, I saw a facebook update of my brother-in-law, Hemang Goradia about his plans of visiting ABC (Annapurna Base Camp). Even though it is the most sought after and arguably the most scenic treks in the world, i was unaware of the same and during my research to select a destination, I had not even considered this option. But, after taking some inputs from Hemang, I went through the itinerary and the plan. It was the perfect setup because of the following reasons:

  1.  ABC is a 8-10 day trek from Pokhra to Pokhra. So the itenerary was of 12 days from Mumbai to Mumbai which was an acceptable absence from work.
  2. It tests your strength since the 8 days require you to trek for a minimum of 5-6 hours everyday. The terrain on the trek varies from flat tracks, to rocky climbs to grueling and steep steps to a slippery and sliding descents and declines that challenge your Quadriceps and Calf muscles.
  3.  Reaching height of 4130 meters at the Base Camp is achievement that sufficient to satisfy my ego or self respect.
  4. It is a arguably the most beautiful Tea House Trek. The night halts were to be at very comfortable Tea Houses with decent facilities of accommodation, food and washrooms.
  5. Helicopter Evacuation Facility was available throughout the trek at Gangdruk, Chongrung, Himalaya, Bamboo, Dovan, Deurali, Machapuchre Base Camp and even at the Annapurna Base Camp which provided me the complete comfort of the choice of retreat in case of a worst case scenario
  6. Finally and the most convincing feature of the trek was the awesomeness of the scenic route which I was able to read about on various blogs.
So I decided. ABC it was and confirmed the trek from 10th November 2017 to 22nd November 2017.

Preparing for the trek was the next step. After reading through some blogs on the net, I came up with a simple workout plan which was not time consuming and yet enough to prepare me for the trek. The following was the schedule I followed everyday for 4 weeks:
Week 1
Jogging : 3 km in 30 minutes
Squats: 3 sets of 10
Week 2:
Jogging : 3.5 km in 30 minutes
Squats: 3 sets of 15
Week 3:
Jogging : 4 km in 30 mintues
Squats: 3 sets of 20
Jogging : 4 km in 30 mintues

Squats: 3 sets of 20

While the regime may be different for different people but I followed the one above and I reached ABC and back so I guess it works.

Packing for the trek was also a project. I am not a regular trekking enthusiast hence, I did not have most of the items required for the trek. A friend of mine sent me a list and I refined the list to things that I thought were most important. The following are the things which are needed :
  1. Trekking Shoes (Brought from Decathalon Forclaz 100 for Rs. 1999/-)
  2. 4 pairs of quick dry t-shirts (Brought from Decathalon, Rs. 399/- each)
  3. 3 pairs of quick dry track pants (Brought from Decathalon, Rs. 999/- each)
  4. 1 Fleece Jacket (Lots of options available at Decathalon, I brought one for Rs. 2499/-. Even a Rs. 999/- would have worked)
  5. 1 Goose Down Jacket (I forgot to buy this from Mumbai, eventually brought the same from Pokhra for Rs. 2500/-)
  6. 4 pairs of Trekking Socks (Brought from Decathalon, Rs. 199/- each)
  7. 2 sets of Thermal wear (Upper and Lower) (Brought from Decathalon, Rs. 399/- each)
  8. 8 units of Underwear (Well, wear what you normally wear)
  9. 1 Large Duffel Bag (The tour operator gave me this. Most trekkers land up buying a large bagpack (70-100 Litres). But since this bag is carried by your porter, its best to use a duffel bag. Most tour operators in Nepal provide one for Free. Else, you can buy one from Pokhra)
  10. 1 small trekking bagpack - 20-30 Litres (I carried a 55L bagpack since I had an old one from my Kailash trek, but it was a burden to carry on the trek. It would have been easier to carry a 20 L pack)
  11. A good water bottle, preferably one which you hang on the bagpack. (This is important before after Sinuwa on the ABC trek plastic bottles are not allowed. You have to refill your water bottles at the cost of approx. Rs.100/Litre. The water is filtered and is perfect for consumption. There are a lot of blogs suggesting use of Aquatabs, I did not use them.)
  12. KneePads (Brought from Decathalon, Rs. 599/- each)
  13. A pair of Trekking Sticks (Buy it from Pokhra for approx. Rs.500/- Nepali Rupees) 
Most of the above items you can buy from Pokhra if you have a days time to shop. The quality of trekking accessories in Pokhra is superior with a wider range of options and at half the price as compared to anywhere in India.

You also need to carry some easy to carry high carb food items. I carried the following:
  1. Dry fruits
  2. Snikers
  3. Energy Bars
  4. Dates
  5. Enerzon / Glucon D (This helps to keep energy levels high while walking)
I carried the following medicines, I did not use all but a few were very useful:
  1. Flexon MR (This is one pill that provided me immense relief on day 3. The first two days of trekking made my muscles extremely crampy and painful. One Flexon MR provided me the relief to continue marching forward)
  2. Gasex or Phudin Hara (Since the Tea houses mostly serve Dal Bhat  (Rice) or Eggs or Noodle soup, I faced gastric issues. Phudin Hara was magical at these times)
  3. Dolo
  4. Augmentin 650 (This was used by my friend since he suddenly developed a tooth ache in a cavity filling he got filled a week before the trip. Cavity fillings may get painful with high altitude gains so if you are getting a dental treatment done, be careful)
  5. Combiflam
  6. Gelusil / Digiene
  7. Ondem
  8. Crocin Cold & Flu
  9. And some standard travel meds
So with the preparation done, we were all set on the 10th November to leave.

Day 1: 10th November 2017 : Mumbai to Kathmandu

My family was very anxious and paranoid about the trip because no one from my family generally has been into adventure tourism or trekking. For my family a leisure trip was generally a trip to Mahabaleshwar, Matheran or Lonavala. But after a teary eyed farewell on the 10th November at the Mumbai International Airport, I met the gang at the airport to board a flight on Royal Nepal Airlines to Kathmandu.

The Gang:

Left to Right: Vipul Gosrani, Himanshu Oza, Jayang Nagrecha, Hemang Goradia, Keyur Desai, Vikram Vora, Manish Chugh, Ketan Zaveri

We also had our unique experience with Royal Nepal Airlines. Its a very humble airline company. Small airplanes, simple air hostesses and a very unorganized checkin process. But the overall experience was perfect. We took the 5 pm flight from Mumbai to Kathmandu. We reached Kathmandu at 9.30 pm. We were greeted at the airport by our guide Mr. Bharat from Mountain Go Trekking. From the first meeting it was very evident and clear that Bharat was a very courteous, helpful and generous host. He took us to our Hotel which he had booked right next to Pashupatinath temple which is close to the airport. This way we could visit the temple the next day morning and then take the flight to Pokhra without wasting any time in travelling. We checked in had dinner and slept.

Day 2: 11 November 2017 : Kathmandu to Pokhra

Day 2 started with a visit to Pashupatinath Temple which was a 10 min walk from our Hotel. We had a flight from Kathmandu to Pokhra at 8.00 am and hence had to reach the airport at 7.00 am. With this agenda i mind, we had an early start. We visited Pashupatinath Temple at 5.30 am and came back to the Hotel by 6.30 am to have breakfast. After breakfast we moved to the airport to board the flight to Pokhra. 

The flight to Pokhra is an experience in itself. We had booked tickets on Buddha Airlines (costing approx. Rs. 8000/- for a return ticket ie. Kathmandu - Pokhra - Kathmandu). It was a nice 72 seater aircraft. Since it was a small airplane, the ride was a bit bumpy but the view from the airplane in awesome. For the entire flight time of 20 minutes you can enjoy amazing views of the himalayas. Try to get a window seat since the view from the airplane of the himalayas and the valleys of Nepal is breathtaking.

We landed at Pokhra airport at 8.30 am. Pokhra airport is a small airport with complete views of Annapurna South, Himchuli and the Machapuchre in the background. We loaded our luggage into a Toyota Bus that our Hotel had sent to pick us and moved towards the Hotel Meera in Pokhra. We checked into our rooms and relaxed for while. It was a great day for me since I could break the ice with the new friends I was with, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. But the gang was super cool, we blended like Jack Daniels in Coke and I became super comfortable on Day 2 itself.

We visited the Mountaineering Museum and Devi Falls which were two of the sightseeing spots in Pokhra. But we were all awestruck but the views of Machapuchre in the background of the Pokhra town. We took photos of Annapurna and Machapuchre wherever without realizing that we were to visit the same mountains and see them upclose in two to three days.

We reached back at our Hotel in the evening, had a nice dinner and wound up in our beds since we had a long next day. Bharat has already warned us about Day 1 and the trek to Gangdruk. So, in anticipation of a great beginning of the trek the next day, we slept.

Day 3: 12th November 2017 : Pokhra to Gangdruk

After a light breakfast of eggs, toast and porridge, we started our bus travel to Nayapool from where we were to start walking. On Nayapool we met our porters and our second guide whom we used to call Mama. We topped up our water bottles, had some tea and started one of the most memorable treks of my life. The walk from Nayapool to Birethanthi was quite flat and easy but the views of mountains and the distant peaks were already getting us excited. As we moved towards Saulibazar slowly the trail started increasing its ascent and we could get a mild feel of the path forward. In any case the trail from Saulibazar to Kimiche was rather easy. Now started the real trek. The trail from Saulibazar to Ghandruk is a climb through a huge number of stone staircases. We continue climbing for 3-4 hours to reach Ghandruk which a small village. We reached there at aroung 7.00 when it was already dark. On reaching our Tea House lodge, we checked into our rooms and then followed up with some Khukri Rum, Hot Lemon Drink then a pretty good dinner of Pizza, Biryani and Dal Bhat. After dinner we slept early to recover from the soreness of the first real difficult day of the trek.

Day 4: 13th November 2017 : Ghandruk to Chomrong.

We did not have any knowledge of the Tea Lodge or the location in Ghandruk but when we got out of our rooms in the morning after getting up the most amazing views of the Annapurna South, Himchuli and Machapuchre mesmerized us. We had an early start with a light breakfast and got back on the trail since we were warned by Bharat of a difficult day 2. The trek today was a steep ascent with gradual but considerable gain in altitude. The temperature change was also supposed to be considerable to adjust to. But the trail from Ghandruk to Chomrong is beautiful. Our Cameras have the maximum photos on this trail. We pass by Komrongdanda, which provides very beautiful peaks of the Annapurna peak and also pass through beautiful Himalayan hamlets where we keep stopping to topup our water bottles and have some ginger tea or hot lemon drink We reached Chomrong at aroung 5.00 pm which is was the perfect time to see a golden Machapuchre from our Guesthouse towering right close to us. The views are breathtaking. We kept gazing at the views while we finish our evening session of drinks consisting of Hot Lemon, Garlic Soup, Ginger Tea and Khukri Rum. We have a light dinner of Dal Bhat. Lady Luck was very gracious today, we found the most unexpected thing at the Chomrong guesthouse, a masseur. We all took a session of a foot massage which felt better than ones in Bangkok even though provided by a masseur of the same gender. Sore Legs were treated well to prepare us for the next days grueling climb to Dovan.

Day 5: 14th November 2017 : Chomrong to Dovan

We got up again to early morning views of the fantastic peaks but closer. Again the same schedule of breakfast and packing of the bagpack and ready to leave for the day 4. By now we were pretty much acclimatized to the altitude and the temperature. Neither the altitude of temperature was causing a lot of concern. Even the walks were getting easier due to the body getting habituated to the difficult terrain and legs getting used to being sore. This day we travel from Chomrong to Dovan through Sinuwa and Bamboo. Chomrong to Sinuwa is a set of 3 descents and climbs though 3 hills with steep trails pushing your calves to the limits. Our walking sticks were really put to use today. Before reaching Sinuwa we cross the beautiful suspension bridge that takes us over the Chomrong Khola which connects near Sinuwa to the Modi Khola. We halted at Sinuwa overwhelmed with the beauty of the trail which passes through dense forests over the hills before reaching Sinuwa. After having lunch at Sinuwa we started our journey to Bamboo. Sinuwa to Bamboo is quite easy but very beautiful as you pass though dense Bamboo forests. With Bamboo shoots climbing tall over your head on either side of the trail, the trail is a dark walk though the forest. Bamboo has beautiful set of Tea Houses each of them looking similar but very nice and hospitable. We took short bio break at Bamboo and refreshed ourselves with Hot Lemon Drinks and Masala Tea. Now, we moved towards Dovan. After 2 more hours on a beautiful trail we reached Dovan which was a set of Tea Houses nested in a valley between 4 mountains with a clear towering view of Machapuchre. We then proceeded with a regular ritual of Garlic Soup followed by Hot Lemon or Khukri Rum and then the Dhal Bhat dinner. And we slept. Dovan was pretty cold in the night. Water kept for cleaning outside our room actually turned into ice the next day morning. But our sleeping bags designed for -20 degrees kept us warm and comfortable.

Day 5: 15th November 2017 : Dovan to Deurali.

As usual we woke up early in morning and had breakfast. Today, we walked only about 3 hours 15 minutes to reach our destination. After we walked about 1hour and 15 minutes we reached Himalaya, which is located in the altitude of 2900m. We took rest a bit in Himalayan and then again started to walk to our destination. From Dovan to Himalaya the way is very similar as before we walked on the trek. Then from Himalaya the altitude starts to gain. It gets steeper and steeper.  On the way to Deurali we pass by a small a cave called “Hinku Cave”. Its very windy and clod at Hinku Cave but again the view from outside the cave leaves you spellbound. After 2 hours of walk from Himalaya we reached to Deuarli which is at a hieght of 3200m. The view from the Tea House we stayed at in Deurali was amazing. Here, you start feeling the stress on your lungs due to the altitude but the view of the peaks and the valleys across the panaroma from Deurali makes you feel fitter than ever and more energized than ever to continue on the journey. We spend a lot of time relaxing at Deurali. The nights sky was also beautiful. The stars were so close and so many. I had never seen anything like what I saw that night. The clear black sky was sparking with millions of stars. After floating through heaven for a while and having a the same Dal Bhat dinner and Khukhri Rum under the beautiful starry sky, we rolled into our sleeping bags and crashed.

Day 6: 16th November 2017 : Deurali to Machapuchre Base Camp

The trail to Deurali is the most different. It passes through deep valleys with rocky mountains. The view keeps changing all the time. From valleys, to streams, to melting ice to flat tracks with mountains in the background. Lungs are working over time to continue powering the body with oxygen from the thin air as the altitude increases. But the mind is free from the day to day madness of Mumbai, I could feel heaven, I could connect with myself, I was never happier. The last leg from Deurali to Machapuchre was so beautiful I can't find words to justify the same. The fish tail mountain's view became larger and larger as we moved closer and closer to the Machapuchre Base Camp. On seeing the camp, we went into frenzy of clicking photographs and experiencing the thrill of being so close to our final target. We reached Machpuchre at noon. The trial today was when we had consciously taken baby steps and long breaks to avoid the effects of Altitude sickness since we ascended the maximum altitude gain. Machapuchre Base Camp is right under the Machapuchre with a view of the glacier on one side and the Annapurna South on the other. We relaxed in the heavenly lodge for a while after which we had lunch and prepared to march towards our final destination, the Annapurna Base Camp.

The trail from Machapuchre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp is a very gently ascent but was covered very slowly to avoid altitude sickness. As we walk we can actually feel the air getting thinner. But the adrenaline rush of being close to reaching the final base camp kept pushing us and after a 2 hour gentle yet slow and steady climb we reach Annapurna Base Camp. We celebrated, hugged and clicked photographs. The view of the Annapurna peaks and the glaciers stunned us. But, Bharat suggested that we have a quick drink of Hot Lemon or Ginger Tea and descend back the Machapuchre Base Camp to avoid any complications of altitude sickness or other related difficulties. So after satisfying ourselves with photos, celebrations and views of the great Annapurna Massif we started our descend to MBC and reached back to the Tea House Lodge at Machapuchre Base Camp by 6.00 pm where we celebrated again over dinner and has a comfortable nights sleep in our sleeping bags.

Day 7: 17th November 2017 : Machapuchre Base Camp to Himalaya

The descend is the same trail we traveled. The repeat of the views keep us engrossed as we realise that the amazing trip is ending soon. As we move though the trail, we keep discussing among us as to how we were able to get to MBC as we realise the difficulty of the trail which we descend. The now extremely easy yet beautiful trek continues as we pass through Deurali to reach Himalaya. We now have longer pre dinner evening sessions with drinks and discussions on the various happenings through out the trek. Now we sleep nice and cosy having realized what we aspired at the beginning of the trek.

Day 8: 18th November 2017 : Himalaya to Bamboo

As we move down, the trail becomes as simple as it can get. We enjoy every minute through discussions and laughter. The 5 days prior to visiting ABC had enough events to discuss and enjoy. I cherished every moment and enjoyed the same.

Day 9: 19th November 2017 : Bamboo to Upper Chomrong (before Jhinu)

The trek from Bamboo to Chomrong is also on the same route as feeling of deja vu keeps you in love with the Annapurna Sanctuary. The Tea House that we stayed tonight was icing on the cake. I have never seen a location this beautiful. The lodge was at edge of the a valley overlooking 2 river streams flowing down from innumerable mountains in the background. One could stay in this lodge for days without getting bored of the view or the place.

Day 9: 19th November 2017: Upper Chomrong to Nayapool
The descend from Upper Chomrong to Nayapool through Jhinu was a difficult and long trek. The difficulty increases further because of the home sickness and the enthusiasm of the trek reducing due to the eventuality of end of the journey. We reach Nayapool with sore legs. The body starts informing you of the difficulty level of trek by cramps and stiffened muscles. At Nayapool, we bid farewell to our porters and our Hotel Bus takes us back to Pokhra where we checkin to Hotel Meera again. Some of us spend the evening getting a massage to relax our muscles while others decide to spend the time at the various pubs and bars along the beautiful lake in Pokhra.

Day 10: Pokhra - Relax, Rewind and Celebrate.
Today, we get up late. Have a proper bath. Visit a massage parlour. And the evening was a celebration. We visit 4 different bars and pubs in the evening. Dance and Sing. Celebrate our achievement. Discuss the amazing journey over drinks and sleep over memories that will last a life time.

Day 11: Pokhra to Kathmandu
We take a flight back from Pokhra to Kathmandu. Kathmandu is a great place to spend a night before heading back home. We use the spare day shopping in Thamil and the evening at a local pub discussing life as it will start on the next day.

Day 12: Kathmandu to Mumbai
As the trip ends, we take a flight from Kathmandu airport to land in Mumbai with million memories and a mind as clear as the sky in Deurali and body as strong as the Machapuchre. We hug each other good bye at the Mumbai airport as we pull the curtains on a trip that is etched in our minds forever.

 "Contest entry for The Adventurer Blog Contest November 2017 by Bikat Adventures