Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

After our very early start the previous day, this morning we had a bit of a lie in. However I was awake before the guides arrived with my tea and as soon as I’d finished that I went out on to the grassy terrace to do a short yoga session. It was warm enough for my bare feet today and it was a most wonderful setting for this. I performed Sun Salutations facing the early morning sun and the 8000m mountains. Wonderful!

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Our daily routine involved packing our kit bags before breakfast, so the porters could sort the bags and get them ready for carrying as soon as they had eaten. We had been asked to keep our luggage to 10kg or less and the porters carried two bags each, plus what else they carried for themselves. The porters usually walked straight through the morning to an early lucnh break, then arrived at the overnight stop several hours before us.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

The walk today involved a long descent through the forests and farmland to the Kyumnu Khola, a tributary of the Modi Khola. We could see the river from very early in the walk as we looked down the steep-sided valley.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

We passed scattered farms with the narrowest of terraces where crops had recently been harvested. The corn was strung up to dry outside the houses. By hanging the corm in a place visible from the paths, they was also as a show of wealth.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

When we we still a hundred metres or more above the river we could see shepherds rounding up a large number of sheep and leading them down the opposite hillside. They were guided towards the suspension bridge and driven across.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

We too eventually reached the bridge over the Kyumnu Khola and from here we had a steep ascent us to Chomrong, at 2,170m, another Gurung village and the last permanent settlement in the valley.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

On the way we paid a visit to a local school, Shree Ghurjung Primary School. This school has been supported by trekkers from Exodus for a few years and Keshar, our leader, is well known to the staff. This is a government funded school. but the funding doesn’t cover all the teachers’ salaries. The donations are used to fun two extra teachers. Also, all other costs are expected to be covered by the village families; meaning libraries and books are extremely scarce.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

The school consisted of 4 very basic classrooms for the 4 classes of children from nursery to about age 12. I was surprised to see the condition of the classrooms; they were just bare stone walls, open windows with no glass, and cold and dark, but the children appeared to be working hard.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

The nursery teacher told me she had her own baby with her

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Continuing our ascent from the valley we passed more farms with various crops spread out to dry.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Memorial decorated with prayer flags and dried flowers

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Keshar had also arranged for us to visit a house in one of the villages we passed through. He gave us a brief explanation of some of the daily rituals, and we were invited inside for a brief look. He explained that many of the families in the rural villages live in extended family units. One of the duties of the daughters-in-law is to re-grout the stone terrace, every morning, with yak dung mixed with water.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

According to our trip notes: “From Chomrong we have good views again of Annapurna South”. When we arrived the views were obscured by the cloud, but we had brief tantalizing glimpses of the mountains over the next hour or so when the clouds blew about.

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

Annapurna Trek: Day 6 Chuili to Chomrong

See more photos from this day in my Flickr album.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

An early morning wake up call at 5am by Ratner, Nima and Pemba meant one thing: that the sky was clear and our ascent of Poon Hill was on! We just had time for a very quick cup of tea and we were out walking, by torchlight, at 5.30am. The sky was clear and vast numbers of stars were visible. It was beautiful and if not for the fact I had to look down to see where I was walking, I would have gazed at the sky the whole time. It was pretty chilly, but we soon started to warm up as we began the ascent. Poon Hill (3210m) is one of the most famous view points in Nepal and we were far from the only people out on the path up the hill. As we climbed higher the hill got busier. It took us just under an hour to reach the summit and we got there just as the first hint of light was coming to the mountains.

The first light on the summits of Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhar
Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

The sun started to inch up over the mountains and gradually touched the snow-capped peaks to show a spectacular panorama.

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili
First rays of sun touch the top of Dhaulagiri (8167m)Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

All too soon if was time to leave the panorama behind and head back down to to our tea house for a very welcome breakfast. Then we started a long day’s walk from Ghorepani to Chuili, with more ascent and descent throughout the day. Initially we headed east, following a ridge to cross a pass at 3,193m.

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

We passed through open country then descended through jungle where we heard monkeys chattering and screeching in the tree tops.

After a stop for morning tea at a tea house we climbed back to reach another small pass at Tadapani where we had superb view of Annapurna South and the peak of Machhapuchhare.

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

Following lunch we had further descent through the rain forest and were delighted to see monkeys this time.

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

As had been the case for the previous couple of days, the cloud rolled in by early afternoon and hid the distant views of the big mountains. But it was still a very pleasant walk for the final few kilometres down to the brightly-coloured tea house at Chuili.

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

Annapurna Trek: Day 5 Ghorepani to Chuili

More photos here on my Flickr page

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Day 4 Ulleri to Ghorepani

Ulleri-Ghorepani (2885m) We woke to another clear morning and enjoyed breakfast outside on the terrace of our tea house. Porridge, egg and toast and tea. Sustenance for today’s long, uphill walk to Ghorepani. Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani The first section from Ulleri was very pleasant, with stretches of flat ground in between the steps, giving a welcome break and making it an easy walk. We passed by many homes and tea houses. Part way up, the first view of Annapurna South appeared and it was beautiful to see this 8000+m peak. Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Still higher up we entered a wooded area of rhododendron trees and large bamboo plants. Having crossed a stream, we arrived at the village of Banthanti (2,300m). At our tea break stop, our guide, Keshar find several wild herb plants, including cannabis and other herbs used in cooking growing at the edge 0f the forest. Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Beyond the village is a jungle of lush vegetation and mossy trees, with small streams and small waterfalls. After following a stream up a narrow valley with more stairs to climb, we emerged from the forest at Nangathanti where we visited a tea house for lunch. Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani We arrive in Ghorepani in the early afternoon and the ancient village is busy with activity, with trekkers coming from other directions and convening here. Ghorepani is the gathering place for those who want to see the sun rise from Poon Hill, just above the village. That is the plan for tomorrow. After our fairly easy day’s walk we spend the afternoon chatting, quietly reading books and looking out at the thick fog blanket that had completely engulfed the area. We caught a tantalising glimpse of the big mountains very briefly in a wee break in the clouds. Hoping for an evening wind to clear the view for morning, we were in our beds early that night. Annapurna TreK: Day 4 Ulleri to Gorepani

More photos on my Flickr page here.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Day 3: Birethanti-Ulleri

The morning was clear and we were delighted to see Machhapuchhare.

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

In fact it was a beautiful morning for hiking with warmish temperature and sunshine.

The day’s walk started easy with a stroll along a wide track that, no doubt, will soon be an extension of the road system. We passed a couple of 4×4 vehicles and can understand the locals wishing to use these where they can instead of the mule or pony trains.

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Here in the valley bottom we passed many rice paddies. Many of the fields of wheat had recently been harvested.

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Part of the morning traffic – children on their way to school

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

After lunch we left the valley floor and begin the steady ascent, passing through tiny villages and farms with chickens, goats and cows roaming freely. As the slope got steeper the terraces for crops got narrower, but still very productive. The path was undulating, but gradually rising and climbing over 3000 steps in total. (No, I didn’t count them, but was informed of this fact!)

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

Tea Houses

Around Annapurna (and other major trekking areas such as Everest), the most popular form of accommodation is in the tea houses. Teas houses provide food and drinks. Yes tea! Black tea, mint tea, lemon tea, ginger tea, lemon and ginger tea! But also they have simple but comfortable rooms. Most rooms had twin beds (but at the higher altitudes we were in 4-bedded rooms) and mattresses. And that’s it. no en suite, no furniture (except one table) and no heating. These rooms can be very cold, especially at the higher altitudes and we were thankful for our good 4-season sleeping bags.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

The tea houses have a communal dining area which in some cases was warmed by a wood burning stove – a large painted oil drum with a fire-opening cut into it and which we fed with logs throughout the evening. Once we entered the Annapurna Sanctuary Conservation area there was no heaters in the dining rooms, however we discovered the delights of the ‘tables with skirts’. Here we had the option to pay for the lodge owners to light a gas-burner under the table (which I presume must have been covered with metal) and by sitting at the table and pulling an attached blanket over our knees, we could keep warm knees. Cold toes and a freezing cold back, but warm knees!

The dining rooms were great places to chat to other trekkers and as many are doing the same or similar routes we got to know some who we saw several nights.

Our tea house at Ulleri

Annapurna Trek: Day 3 Birethanti to Ulleri

The lodges have simple squat toilets that ofter involved going up and down awkward stairs and/or going outside, so a night-time visit was quite and undertaking! Some of the tea houses had the opportunity to have a hot shower, or at least a tepid shower. The solar showers were usually pretty cold when we were there, but for a small fee we were able to pay for a hot shower on several nights on trek. But these were not long, lingering showers, as they were heated by LPG and we were aware that the gas cylinders had been carried to the lodge by mule or porter. Also the shower rooms were in unheated outside buildings where a quick scrub was all that I cared for.

As I mentioned we had plenty of tea! We were waken each morning by our assistant guides bring hot black tea to our rooms. The we enjoyed more tea with breakfast. We usually stopped for a tea break after a about 2 – 21/2 hours walking or whenever we reached the next suitable tea house, then had a longer stop for lunch (with tea) by noon. We were offered a cup of tea on arrival at that night’s tea house. The tea houses offered a greater range of dishes than I expected, but I soon got into a habit of knowing what suited me for lunch, while still allowing for the fact I had more walking to do. Veggie noodle soup with local bread was both our preferred lunch, then a rice (Dal Bhat or fried rice) or potato (veg rosti) dish for my evening meal.

The tea houses often had a small selection of items for sale, but I resisted buying the choccie biscuits, soft drinks and beer while on trek. It was possible to buy filtered water or boiled water at all the lodges and we filled our camelback at each stop.

More photos here on Flickr

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Days 1 & 2 Kathmandu to Birethanti

I first started hillwalking when I was about 17 years old umpty-dot years ago, way back in the early 1980s. At the time there was no Trail or TGO magazines; all that was available was the Climber & Rambler magazine, which as well as featuring walking and climbing in the UK also featured articles about mountaineering in high mountains such as the Himalaya. I knew I’d never be climbing these 7,000=8,000m tall peaks, but I have wanted to see them since them. So now, almost 40 years later, I managed my first trip to Nepal. Neil and I chose to to travel with Exodus, as this is a company we’ve used before. We like the fact they employ local guides and have a responsible tourism policy and pay the porters a fair wage.

Days 1 & 2: Kathmandu to Birethanti
We met up with the other trekkers in the group in the Royal Singi Hotel in Kathmandu, and enjoyed our last night of luxury, ie sleeping in accommodation with en suite facilities. That night I threw open the window in the bedroom and listened to the noise of the city below as I felt like yelling “I’m in Kathmandu!” I’m not really a city person and wasn’t specifically excited to be in the city, but all those magical Himalayan trips I’d read about began in Kathmandu.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

The following day we left the hotel and set off on the drive from the capital city to Pokhara. This 200km drive usually takes about 7 – 8 hours, but this week the road was MUCH slower than usual. The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation’ (SAARC) was being held in Kathmandu the day we were leaving and the police were stopping and searching many vehicles as they reached the city boundary. This meant a nose-to tail queue of traffic most of the way heading to the city, and therefore less chance for our bus driver to pass the slower-moving vehicles heading west. The tourist buses in Nepal have two drivers. the actual driver and an assistant who looks out and advises the drivers of hazards on the opposite side of the road.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Lunch stop
Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

At Pokhara we continued by bus to the end of the road at Nayapul. Nayapul is a new settlement which has grown up to serve the needs of the very many trekkers who depart from here. This village had a track suitable for 4×4 vehicles that runs to Birethanti.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Here our porters hoisted our bags for the short walk through the village, which is a Our first nights trekking guest house accommodation was across the Modi Khola (river) at Birenthanti.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

At the outskirts of Birethanti we entered the Annapurna Conservation Area where the mandatory trekking permits are checked at the ACAP check point.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

Keshar, our group leader explained that if we were lucky and it was clear in the early morning, we could walk back across the bridge and we should be able to get our first glimpse of one of the mountains we’d get to know over the next week – Machhapuchhare. Known as the fish-tail mountain thanks to its silhouette from this angle, this is at the entrance to the Annapurna sanctuary. Keshar told us of the mountain’s sacred status – of particular significance to Nepal’s Buddhist population. It has never been summited, despite being a 1,200 metres lower than its neighbouring giants. Two climbers attempted it in the fifties, but only got to within 150 metres from the summit. Storms came and washed two villages clean off the mountainside. Any summit attempt is now forbidden by law.

Annapurna Trek: Day 2  Kathmandu to Birethanti

More photos here on Flickr

Tiree by bike and foot

Earlier this spring I thought it would be a nice idea to try to do a little ‘run tourism’ here in Scotland. I especially wanted to visit some of the Scottish west coast islands that I haven’t been to previously, so I eagerly signed up for the Tiree Half Marathon. For those who don’t know, Tiree is known as the ‘Hawaii of the North’, Not because the weather is quite as balmy as Hawaii (although it is milder and sunnier than much of the rest of Scotland), but because of its beaches and great waves which are excellent for surfing.
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