We are in Pokhara, the backpacker capital of the Nepal and the Annapurnas Circuit. Back, they stayed Kathamandu, Bakhtapur and the valley that surrounds them.
The Annapurnas creep in to the north.
For a few hours after each dawn, the still water of Lake Phewa contemplates the outsiders with the reflection of its snow-capped peaks. The sight disturbs us double but we couldn't take the Himalayas and the Annapurna Circuit lightly.
Arrived in Kathmandu, India, without clothes for the cold, we had a lot to plan, the permits needed to obtain and almost all the equipment still to be purchased.
There are so many and so similar trekking and mountaineering shops that – as happens to most outsiders – we soon found ourselves lost in the labyrinth of shop windows and interiors crammed with synthetic and colorful Made in China and Made in clothing Nepal.
Aware that we would be two weeks or more without adequate Internet, in addition to purchases, they also kept us from creating articles and other computerized tasks that, from the outset, we had to leave solved.
We spent a good deal of time in the hotel's room and on the hotel's balcony, with surgical trips to the town's commercial center to eat and stock up on the clothes and equipment on our newly created list.
Pokhara, Too much Pokhara
“You again? Still around? But after all, when does it leave?” Binsa, the easy-going and witty owner of one of the stores we returned to and return to, asks us.
Too many days passed without us being able to avoid them, almost all with meteorologies that evolved from a radiant morning sun to furious showers and thunderstorms towards the end of the afternoon and night.
We had arrived in Pokhara on a Thursday. We didn't want to let the next one beat us. Accordingly, on Wednesday night, having decided to go out to the mountain, we filled the backpacks we had also bought there with everything we were going to carry. We slept stunned by the weight of the expedition.
The one with fourteen kilos that – due to the photographic material but not only – counted the backpacks, instead of the recommended eight or nine. And that of the sheer size and duration of the walk, by far the longest and most exhausting we had ever been on.
As a result of the accumulated anxiety and tiredness, we leave the hotel at lunchtime instead of the planned eight in the morning.
It wasn't until almost four in the afternoon that we found the last call of the day to Besishahar, in the company of a Nepalese emigrated to Dubai fourteen years ago, expansive and enterprising to match, who loved us and made a point of guaranteeing us two seats in the overcrowded van.
The Providential Shelter of Besishahar
We arrived in Besishahar shortly after dark. A thunderous storm descended from the mountains and seized the village. It didn't take long to unleash its fury and a frightening torrent of water on her.
We got off the van to a Gangapurna guesthouse, like the whole village, in the dark.
We left our backpacks in a claustrophobic room and went down to dinner by candlelight. By serving us thupka and the veg fried rice, the hotel owner promised us a seat in one of the jeeps that would leave early in the morning for Chame.
With no reason to extend the forced romanticism of the supper, we went upstairs and slept as much as we could.
At half past seven in the morning, the electricity was still out of town. Even so, the stores opened as if nothing had happened, and the ATM of one Siddartha Bank blessed us with 25.000 Nepalese rupees, it was still time for us to get into the jeep.
Besishahar established the limit of the road network navigable by normal vehicles.
From there, to the north and up the mountain range, only vehicles with powerful tractions managed to overcome the rough road that the authorities of the Nepal they tore off the steep, rocky slopes.
Filled with tight stretches between the slopes and great cliffs over the Marsyangdi River, the section between Besishahar and Chame is considered one of the most dangerous on the face of the Earth.
Especially during monsoons, when floods form in the higher lands they can cause landslides at any time and wipe unlucky vehicles and passengers off the map.
That day, however, had dawned in a good mood. Even if the strong jolts of the jeep were crushing our unprepared backs, we advanced at a good pace and without any hitches.
The Winding Choice of Circuit Start
Truth be told, the Annapurnas circuit brochures now feature Besishahar as the official start of the course. Until a few years ago, the number of trekkers who inaugurated the trek in Dumre – well before Besishahar – and completed it more than twenty days later in Pokhara was substantial.
But when the roads between Dumre and Chame, and on the other side of the mountain range, those that went to Jomson and Muktinah – were ready and the jeeps began to serve the routes, the decision to shorten the route and concentrate efforts on the higher stretches, closer to the Annapurnas, became popular.
Today, only a few fundamentalist hikers, with no reserve of time, continue to want to complete the whole, from Besishahar to Birethanti or even Pokhara.
We were interested, above all, in the itinerary that wound through the Nepalese villages of Tibetan culture, overlooking the snowy and high peaks of the mountain range.
Well, this redoubt started in Chame. The second night, if the mountain allowed it, we would sleep there.
The Geological Improvisation of Syange
Not everything went as expected. The jeep driver soon informs us that a crash had taken place before Syange did.
The trip would thus have to be completed in two stages and in two separate jeeps. We rounded the buried stretch on foot in half an hour.
In Syange, we refresh ourselves and, trusting in their Buddhist honesty, we pay the normal cost of the journey to Chame to the initial driver. This one promised us that he would put us on board another jeep that would complete the last stretch. Jeeps were not lacking. Unlike the driver who, when we came back from the bathroom, had disappeared.
We asked a group of Nepalese and outsiders if they knew about him. We are told that he had gone to lunch. We soon realized that he was forgetting about the total cost of the journey already paid and what he had promised.
The Irish-Aussie couple who accompanied us on board only had ten days to complete the journey and were anxious.
Confronted with embezzlement, instead of trying to recover the lost payment, they decided to start the journey there. We soon found the cheating driver in the middle of his meal.
All we had to do was threaten him with a complaint to the police and a promise that he would get into serious trouble to give us everyone's money back.
On the other side of the debacle
The negotiation of the final stretch also proved to be complicated. The unexpected number of backpackers in need of jeeps in Syange has caused their owners to try to inflate the price to what would normally cost the entire journey from Besishahar to Chame.
As always in these situations, given the abundance of vehicles, the repeated promise to reject their services resolved the issue.
Faster than we expected, we set off up the mountain with three new traveling partners: Arthur, a young French sportsman, marathon runner and reserved on his way to Manang.
There he was supposed to meet a local guide who would help him climb a nearby peak of over 6.000 meters.
“In a year I want to be on the summit of Everest” he informed us with the confidence that his physical shape and youth lent him. “It will be a good workout!”
Arthur, followed with us inside the cabin. On top of the box were two other backpackers. Despite the violence of the bumps and the even more frightening panorama over the precipices to the right of the road, Josua Schmoll, German, and Fevsi Kamisoglu, Turkish, assured us that they preferred the outdoors
When, at five o'clock in the afternoon, we landed in Chame, almost at sunset, the duo trembled like sticks.
The shadow and sudden cold of the mountain had caught us off guard. With their backpacks buried by the jeep's cargo, they had been enduring the suffering for almost an hour with a lot of conversation and even more solidarity.
arrived at Chame, we settled in guesthouses different from them, but it wouldn't be long before we found them again.
There's a glimpse of the Himalayan Hotel just across the street, a two-story wooden mansion painted blue and pink. As would happen all along the route, a sign at the entrance promised WiFi and hot water. And, like what would be repeated over and over again, WiFi doesn't even think about it; hot water, only hot water, supplied in a bucket.
The room had no electrical plugs. Charging the phones, powerbanks, machine batteries and other devices meant sharing with several other guests a tower of unstable chips available in the dining room. At least electricity was not lacking as it had happened in Besishahar and would be repeated again.
These were gaps for which we had already been warned and that nothing bothered us. More importantly, we were at the planned starting point of our hike, a huge wood-burning oven warmed the kitchen and a tiled stove warmed the dining room.
We settled at one of the tables closest to the heat and ordered our first dinner in the highlands of the Annapurnas mountain range: vegetable soup, veg fried rice and an omelet. We ate in the company of a group of Japanese who had arrived from the opposite direction of the route.
A Supper with Japanese Company
One of them, Kaito, was passionate about languages. I dominated English and another twelve or thirteen dialects. I visited the Nepal for the twentieth time and knew its four corners. “The more I come here, the more I like to come back. Even if the rottenness of this country leaves me truly disappointed.”
The small Japanese group's Nepalese guide appears from the kitchen. To spare him the outburst, Kaito aborts the speech. Instead, he introduces us and brags about his guide, a young mountaineer who had climbed the summit of Everest twice, conquering Annapurna and K2.
We started to dialogue with Kaito and the guide at the same time. We take advantage of your knowledge to clarify the most delicate point of the itinerary, Thorong La.
Located at the highest altitude of the route of 5400 meters, this canyon generates anxiety in all hikers, aware that sooner or later they will have to cross it sometimes, in difficult weather conditions and suffering from mountain sickness.
Tired of their journey, the Japanese and the guide leave. We moved into the kitchen, still enlivened by the cooks, the young hotel employees and a group of jeep drivers, guides and porters all over their meals and unbridled playfulness.
After the meal, desiring peace and rest, the cooks and servants rush to close the hottest room.
We wished them good nights, wrapped ourselves up and faced the freezing outside cold, almost as bad inside the little or no protected room as we had. Armed with sleeping bags for minus 20º, we recover energy snuggled in the lap of the Annapurna mountain range.
The next morning, we would begin the long pilgrimage through its vast domain.
More information about hiking in Nepal at Nepal Tourism official website.