Day 1 – I think I want to climb Everest, or maybe a slightly smaller one but I definitely want to learn how to grapple hook my way up a mountain. I can see the peaks of Annapurna One and Two and they both look awesome and totally climbable, nice and snowy as well. Hiking around the side and through the middle is also really fun, we slowly huff our way up steps from the bank of the river up up up to the top of the hill and then go all the way down again on the other side, then our guide Hari points to the million steps heading up and we start the whole thing again. Nepalese have the lol of the Nepali flat-little bit up, little bit down. I can confirm this is a truthful lol.
Day 3 – I’m such a walker now, I feel like I could just walk forever, my calves are the only part of me that are complaining, this is a bit weird cos my calves are the muscliest part of me, they’re the size of most peoples thighs. I hope this hike isn’t gonna make them even bigger. Dal Bhats are keeping us well and truly fed, I think they’re my favourite Nepalese food, even preferable to my beloved momo. With dal bhat you get free refills of everything so there is nothing not to love about them. We pass through loads of colourful little towns made up mostly of tea houses and maybe one shop, there are chickens and cockerels running around everywhere which means there are lots of cute little chicks as well, there are also loads of dogs and goats just wandering around, sometimes they don’t mind being scooped up and cuddled, sometimes they bleat and try and get away… luck of the draw I guess. The sun is shining and the air smells clean and crisp and cold, there are beautiful mountains to look at and the forests we walk through are gorgeous. I’m beginning to think our porter, Gopal, is superhuman, he’s so small in his frame but he carries so much, plus he’s always laughing and saying nice things to us, they’re in Nepalese but I assume they’re nice. Hari is the sweetest man in the world, he always wants us to be happy and sorted and asks us is everything is ok and if we need anything. We have befriended two Japanese students, T and Gin, they might be the happiest boys I’ve ever met, they are always laughing and I find myself laughing just because they are. Shower tonight, luke-warm water dribbling over me in a cold, concrete room where I can see my breath, it wasn’t the best shower I’ve ever had if I’m honest but I warm by the fire and that’s quite pleasant. We go to bed about half past 7 which is a bit odd cos we’re not five years old, and then leap out of bed larger than life at about 5am, I say leap, we’re wide awake but it’s a little chilly and we speed dress in tracksuit, coat, hat and gloves so we leap the leap the Michelin Man might leap.
Day 5 – I can imagine what it would’ve been like to live in the Wild West now, before it seemed weird that towns were just dotted around the country but it’s just like that here, you walk for miles and miles and see no one and no sign of human activity then you enter a town past a little sign that says ‘Welcome’ and there are probably only a hundred people living there, people use the taps outside to do their washing and their washing up and even some poor kid is having his face washed, he’s screaming and I see why, that water is on the colder side of cold, a lot of the taps aren’t working at all cos the water is all frozen inside. Old dudes are sat outside on chairs watching the world go by and children climb rocks and run around in their sandals, apparently not as prone to tripping on the uneven ground as I am, they’re mostly pretty grubby in a cute carefree child way and they greet every trekker with a nameste and a respectful head bow and the all important question… “Chocolate?” More layers come out of the bag as we’re told we’re heading for a snow storm, Gopal is happy cos the weight goes from his pack to our bodies. My stomach feels weird, I don’t think it’s altitude related cos we’re not even that high but I do feel like something’s up. I will eat through the pain with my favourite comfort food, mashed potato, that always works. My calves don’t ache so much anymore but I feel weary in my whole body now. I wonder if that’s normal on day 5 of 18.
Day 7- I’m sick, I’m not happy, I was so bloody cocky about my iron constitution cos I didn’t get Delhi belly and I thought I was so invincible and now I’m halfway up the bloody Himalayas and I’m pretty sure there is one of those worms living in my stomach. I can feel him in there. Anoushka says it is really unlikely that there is a worm in there but she doesn’t know cos she doesn’t have the worm inside her like I do. If I eat it hurts and if I don’t eat and let myself get hungry it hurts even more, Hari says I should eat hard boiled eggs and drink only hot water, there’s no electricity and no running water at all and it’s cold and I’m fed up of eggs and I have to pay £5 for hot water which is annoying and I try and sleep under three big blankets and my sleeping bag but I can’t because I think the worm is getting bigger and gnawing on my stomach lining. We go to the local doctor and I walk in followed by Anoushka, Hari, Hari’s friend and Gopal, we all squeeze in and the doctor and I discuss my bowel movements which is fun with a crowd, he listens to my stomach with a stethoscope (the fact that he doesn’t hear the worm makes me feel better, maybe I don’t have one in there), he gives me some Rennies and says it’s not altitude sickness. I’ve decided to add crackers and peanut butter to my diet and this is helping and seems to soothe my stomach a bit.
Day 8 – I wake up happy and feeling more healthy and continue to munch on my crackers, my mood clearly affects the way I see things and this place has gone from grey miserable hell hole to beautiful, blue skies top of the world paradise, the mountains look lovely today and I’m in a good mood all over again. We set off slow and steady and as always it’s a little bit up, little bit down, with stunning views all around. A few yaks are hanging out on the road, they’re pretty uninterested in us, Hari says we’re not walking far today so we can acclimatise but I feel so glad not to be in pain I could walk all day. In the evening we play cards with the boys and we teach each other different games, The Pass is in two days and we’re all super excited and having a ball. I get boiled veg and pots for dinner but when it arrives I realise my stomach has started hurting and it’s really hard to swallow anything. F you life, this is so unfair. I thought I was better and now I’m not and now I’m even more pissed. Went to bed with a hot water bottle on my stomach willing myself to feel better, Hari says I won’t be able to do The Pass unless I feel better so we’d have to turn around and go back down. Not a bloody chance of doing that, I didn’t hike all this way to turn around.
Day 9 – Only 3 hours walking today but as we get higher it gets a little tougher, we take tiny little steps up and down on roads and ice and over rocks and on dusty paths, it’s all good fun and I’m feeling positive and we shuffle along the mountain side. When we get to our tea house there are icicles on the prayer flags outside our door and a wonderfully large fireplace for us all to gather around. We practice going up the side of the mountain where we will go tomorrow and it doesn’t seem so bad, of course tomorrow it will be dark, cold and 4.30 in the morning when we do it tomorrow.
Day of the Pass- Wow. Seriously wow. The stars, the moon, the mountains… all against the night sky, all so fantastically dramatic and awe inspiring. I shuffle slowly up, then take a few seconds to gaze up, be amazed, then shuffle shuffle again. It’s so early that I’m not even tired, I wish I could say it was so cold that I’m not even cold, but that’s not how it is, all of our technical equipment is breaking… our phones won’t charge, my kindle has completely given up, even the hardy go-pro isn’t working. T’s contact solution began to freeze, which I thought was impossible, and our water bottles quickly turned to ice slushies. The cold seems to target any fatty areas of the body, and my thighs feel as if thousands of little insects with needles for feet are walking all over them. Halfway to the pass. Hari is like a cat making purring noises and encouraging us to keep going. The sun comes up and all the many layers that I was grateful for a few minutes ago for keeping me warm (e.g. down jacket, woolly hat, pillow gloves) have to be removed immediately. I’m sweating in the sunshine but I still have a frozen face. The incline increases, this is a lot harder than I thought it’d be, every breath is a struggle and I can’t get enough air to fill my lungs. Just before the pass. To me altitude is when waves of nausea follow you up the mountain and you begin to feel your legs go weak. You start wondering how hard it would be to call the rescue helicopter out to pick you up. Dizziness meets feeling like you’re going to be sick, and you desperately focus on putting one foot in front of the other. The snow that was so beautiful and sparkling a minute ago is now blinding me and making me feel trapped in a world of endless white and no escape. Anxiety creeps up on me and I realise that I’ve put myself in a position that if I were to freak out and panic (my biggest fear) there is nothing anyone could do to get me out of it… I may as well be on a bloody plane (my other biggest fear) I take calming breaths when I can catch them and I tell myself that every step gets us closer to the end. Suddenly Hari calls back “There’s the pass” The ground evens out and all the fear, worry and stress disappears. It’s as quick as that. We get to the colourful sign and take some pictures. Hari gives us chocolate and biscuits, and the mountains return to being beautiful and majestic instead of fearsome and oppressive. The walk down. What goes up must come don, and we are up at 5410 meters, we have 17kms of steep and winding paths to walk down before we can stop for the day, but we are so full of beans (relief) that we skip and slide and sometimes fall. My toes feel like they’re in danger of poking through the front of my boots, cos my feet have been facing down for 3 hours. We stop for lunch and one by one the Aussies join us. They seem so out of their element… they had gone through altitude sickness and food poisoning, and seemed to long to be 0 meters above sea level and 22 degrees warmer… to coin one of their Aussie phrases: they’d been on struggle street all day. A hot shower! A real life hot shower! I’m clean for the first time in a week. I smell of grapefruit and yumminess… my hair is still a nest on top of my head, pulled forcibly into a plait and will be left like that until I have the tools to deal with it. However the rest of me is delightful. Hot chocolate, and a fire, and leftover Hari biscuits and a veggie burger for dinner. Life is good.
Day 11. 27kms walked. I am cream crackered, like, to my bones. The walk was a weird one today, miles and miles of dusty ground; just greys and browns and dust. No trees, no life, a bit apocalyptic really. The monotony was momentarily broken when I walked into a mud patch by a stream and sank up past my ankles, and squealed for Anoushka to come and pull me out. She didn’t. She laughed. Luckily Hari was there to save me. Always the hero. Tonight we stay in a very lovely village called Martha, with a stream running all the way around and under it meaning plenty of lush green gardens of vegetables. Day 12- Slog, trudge, steadily moving forward. Glance up at arid, dry grey surroundings, then my head goes back down and I keep trudging. 30kms one day 27 the next. All the while picturing the hot springs up ahead, and me in them, floating around as the dust and grime peel off me in clumps.
Day 13- Tatopani… means hot water. Means hot springs and bath time. Sitting in the hot pool in the hot sun, in the hot spring, reading a book (not on the kindle.. stupid thing won’t resuscitate) I feel like I’m on summer holidays. Yes, the hot spring had some hair and bits of skin floating around in it and yes it did seem to have a film of oil on top but no this did not take away the utter enjoyment of the whole experience. We had a fantastic last night with the boys, playing cards and drinking beer. Day 14 – Well holy shit that was a bit of a climb, 1800 m up. The steps just went on and on and although they were beautifully moss covered and ancient looking and nestled in amongst nature towards the end they became like torturous steps from hell. But we’re here now and we made it and now we can have tea and biscuits around the fire.
Day 15 – More steps. Hundreds of them, all the way up Poon Hill, we saw the sun rise and then set off through the old forests to our next destination, we get 360 views of all the giants Annapurna 1 and Annapurna 3, and they are as wonderful as ever though the inclination to climb to the top of them has vanished. The downhill climb is lovely as we follow a stream and see little pools form, there are a lot more people on these paths and Hari says it’ll get busier from now on cos the season is starting. Squeeze past a group of horses taking up the whole path who pay us no mind and continue to graze happily. There’s the teensiest chance I may be a bit over walking now, we’ve been through some of the prettiest and loveliest places I’ve ever seen but the going up and then down may be slightly destroying my soul. I don’t want to be dramatic or anything. We had a lot of fun litter picking for few hours, Hari not wanting us to go off the path so if we spotted a can he would race down and grab it, even though his pack is way bigger than ours, he’s still way more agile. We filled a good few bags and felt like this was our minuscule contribution and thank you to the Magnificat Himalayas who have housed us these past few weeks.
Day 18- It’s all over, we get a hilariously bumpy bus back to town, I mean you are literally thrown from your seat and jostled around so much you have to brace yourself and hold the seats in front to avoid injury. Anoushka being tall had a hard time not banging her head at every take off. We’ve said goodbye to Hari and Gopal and I miss them already, how will we get anywhere without them? Oh look we did manage to get somewhere, a luxury spa where we booked massages, a swim a steam and a pedicure. Pokhara is a wicked cool place where everyone is chilling and relaxing because they’ve just finished their hike and feel like they deserve to do nothing for a week, that or they’re high, which by the smell of it, is quite a few people. They’re big on hammocks and beanbags and fresh fruits and salad. We fill up on the fruit and veg to avoid the scurvy that will doubtlessly set in due to lack of vitamins consumed on the mountain, but also get a tub of Nutella and peanut butter because apples can be boring on their own. Annapurna Circuit is done, I love love love that we did it, there were definitely highs and lows but the good outweighed the bad by a mile, I say that now as I’m comfortably snuggled in my bed with the hot shower only a few feet away, great food available and knowing tomorrow I have absolutely no walking to do, but yeah, it was still bloody awesome.