Hiking in the Himalayas
Nepal is arguably most famous for being home to the Himalaya Mountain Range and there was no way I was going to Nepal and not going trekking through these sacred mountains. However, before heading off lots of questions, entered my head; Do I need a guide? What should I pack? How much is a permit?... Keep reading if you would like some advice on my experience hiking in the Himalayas.
Trek: Annapurna Base Camp Trek (ABC Trek)
Duration: 6-12 days
Distance: 115km and 4000m ascent
Route: Pokhara local bus to Gandruk > Gandruk to Chomrong 7 hours > Chomrong to Dovan 5 hours > Dovan to MBC 7 hours > MBC to ABC 2.5 hours > ABC 1night
I was in Nepal in monsoon season and some people often say you cannot trek in monsoon season. You can, however, you need to be prepared for rain, the saying 'when it rains, it pours' could not be more true for Nepal. Monsoon season also means there is a lot more cloud which means you might not get the majestic Himalayan views you initially thought. However, I can assure you, you will make the funniest and most amazing memories along your trek. I had initially planned to do the Annapurna circuit trek, which takes around 13-15 days. However, since I only had 14 days in Nepal and wanted to spend time seeing other parts, and after speaking with my friend who had been studying in Pokhara, she recommended the Annapurna Base camp trek.
Permits for Annapurna Trek
For most trekking in Nepal, you will need to have a TIMs card and a hiking permit. I got mine in Pokhara, from the tourist centre, there is also one in Katmandu. The tourist centre in Pokhara is a short walk from the bus station and it is worth picking this up once you arrive to save spending money on a taxi back there another date, as the bus station is slightly outside of the main streets of Pokhara.
You will need to have 2 passport photos, if you don't have any, not to worry, they will take them there for you and print them for free. The TIMS card is 2000 NPR (£14.50) for foreigners and the hiking permit is 2260 NPR (£15.90). Since we were there in the monsoon season the centre was very quiet and the whole process only took around 15 minutes.
The Route and Itinerary
If you are starting your trek from Pokhara you will need to jump on a bus to the start of the trek. I was travelling with my sister and her boyfriend. We got up early and got a taxi to the local bus station to get on the first local bus from Pokhara to Nayapul (this costs about 400 NPR), we planned to start our trek here but the bus kept going all the way to Kimche and since we were pretty short for time this worked perfectly. I have to say I have never been on a scarer bus ride in my life...because Nepal suffers badly from landslides and it was monsoon season the roads are not roads. The bus is literally hanging off the side of the mountain and you are looking down into a deep deep valley, it is nothing short of terrifying.
Local bus to Kimche
Kimche (1550ft) > Chomrong (2140ft) (approximately 9 hours trekking)
Today was long but we were determined to make it to Chomrong. At the start of the trek, it was very hot, which was surprising since everyone had warned us how rainy it was going to be. To begin with, it was very busy since this links in with the Poon Hill trek, however, before long it was just the three of us. It is a pretty steep downhill into Komrong, which is about where it started pouring down and we got soaked and realised we were lost. Thankfully we found 2 young locals who were heading in the same direction of Chomrong and showed us the correct path. After we left them (it was still pouring down) we headed uphill, by now it was pretty dark and we were cold, it was about 19:00 and we were getting pretty worried. We had no idea how far we actually were from Chomrong but new we had to make it here so we had somewhere to sleep. After another hour of trudging through the rain, we made it to Chomrong and set up camp at the first tea house we saw. Despite the worry of getting lost, day 1 was a success and trekking through villages and the wonderful mountains felt really rewarding.
I also became extremely aware of how much I hate leeches, they are terrifying. If you are trekking in monsoon season all of your socks will eventually become soaked with blood.
Chomrong (2140ft) > Dovan (2505ft) (approximately 6 hours trekking)
It was day 2, we could feel the burn but we were ready to get a move on and had worked out it usually rains around 15:30 so we wanted to try and make it to Dovan before the rain hit. Since we had panicked last night we had picked the first tea house at the very top of Chomrong, however, we realised that Chomrong was a pretty big town and it was situated on the side of a valley. The village has lots of guesthouses to choose from, a local school and monastery. Since Chomrong is spread over a hillside, it meant the whole time we were walking down the valley we could see the steep climb on the other side we would eventually have to go up to get to Sinuwa. However, once you reach the top you get a nice break since it is a steep downhill to Bamboo and the landscape changed to a dense forest.
Today was the only day it didn't rain but because we arrived earlier it meant we could explore the paths around Dovan and play cards with the locals and others we met along the path.
Dovan (2505ft) > MBC (3700ft) (approximately 7 hours of trekking)
The initial plan was actually to only go to Deralui but most people who we stayed the night with in Dovan were all going up to MBC (Machhapuchhre base camp) and since we made it to Deralui in really good time we figured we might as well keep going. It did not stop raining today and before we set off I realised I had forgotten to pack a waterproof jacket...I ended up buying what can only be described as a waterproof tarp and cut out 3 wholes for my head and arms. By the time we arrived in Deralui we were freezing we stopped and had some noodle soup to heat up, which I would highly recommend if you fancy something warm, before climbing up the steep hill to MBC.
MBC was covered in cloud and we were the only people in the tea house we decided to stay at. We had picked up a dog who had followed us from Deralui to MBC. It was really interesting talking to the man who owned the tea house, he grew all his vegetables in patches around the tea room and said it was nice to have company for the night.
MBC (3700ft) > ABC (4130ft) (approximately 2 hours of trekking)
We were ready for the summit, we had a relaxing morning since we knew the walk wasn't very long. We ate some porridge and had some tea with the man who owned the tea house before setting off. The walk took about a couple of hours but you could feel that the air was getting thinner. It was very cloudy at the top so we couldn't see any views but most people were planning to get up early to try and catch a glimpse of the mountains above 8000m around us. There are a few tea houses at base camp but only one was open. It was pretty full and we just chilled, played cards, chatted and ate delicious dal bhat.
ABC (4130ft) > Chomrong (2340ft) (approximately 9 hours of trekking)
For most of the hike, we had been walking while it was raining and in the cloud, we had barely seen anything, so to make sure we got a glimpse of those mountains we had all been waiting for we got up at 4am. At first, it was pretty cloudy and we thought it perhaps just wasn't meant to be, everyone had warned us it was monsoon season...but by 6am we were in luck. The cloud cleared and for about 2 hours everyone was in absolute awe and it stayed like this for most of the day. The whole way back down we could see the valley we had walked up. It will definitely be a moment I will always remember.
We pushed it hard today, we were determined to make it to Chomrong so we would be able to have an extra day in Kathmandu before our flight and have more time to explore the city. We hiked down pretty quickly, so quickly I fell flat on my face in a puddle of mud...but by this point nothing was clean. By the time we got to the bottom of Chomrong and saw all the stairs we had to walk up we were almost defeated, we had been hiking for around 9 hours but we made it and had the most delicious food at the tea house that evening with wonderful hosts.
Chomrong (2340ft) > Pokhara (approximately 6 hours of trekking)
It was our last day hiking and we decided to go Jhinu to go to the hot springs and it meant it was a different hike back out. Somewhere in-between New Bridge and Landruk we got completely lost. We had met an old man who we had sat down to rest with us and had some tea, he was telling us there had a pretty bad landslide, and we were sure he told us 'stick to the right'...we later found out there is no way he meant right since we ended up not on a path and on the ground that had been most affected by the landslide. We luckily saw some houses and the path a little down the hill and just went straight down to it. The number of leeches that we found on us after this was like something from a horror movie. Turning the corner and emerging from the valley onto a road felt pretty good then it wasn't long until we were back on the scariest bus swinging around the mountains on our way to Pokhara.
Accommodation along the trek is tea houses that are run mostly by families who live and work in the villages. The further up you get, MBC and ABC, these tea houses are built especially for trekkers to use. All of the rooms we staying in had 3 beds with a mattress, pillow and blanket. I always take my sleeping bag liner with me, it is super light and kept me warm with the blanket they provided on-top. The tea rooms are very reasonably priced, never more than 150 NPR per person, most of the time they were cheaper than this since you would guarantee you would be eating dinner there. Since we hiked in down season the tea rooms never filled up, however when it is high season this trek is very popular and all the tea rooms can fill up very quickly. If you plan to do this trek in high season I would recommend pre-booking or bringing a tent in case they are all full.
The food at the tea rooms is almost the same menu everywhere. They have everything from pasta, noodles, rice and curry. I would recommend the Dal Bhat, it is a little more expensive, but once you have finished your curry they come back and fill your bowl again. The noodle soup is also a great way to heat up and the perfect energy boost.
Do You Need a Guide?
The ABC trek is pretty much pathed the whole way and it's safe, you do not need to hire a guide for this trek. If you are travelling by yourself and would rather not hike alone, it is worth speaking to people in hostels to see if they would like to trek with you or you are almost certain to bump into someone along the path that you can hike with. Before we set off we picked up a map of the area so we always had this as a reference and I had the lonely planet Annapurna Circuit trek book, which had a section on the ABC, trek. This book doesn't weigh much and came in handy more than a few times. It detailed exactly what you should expect from one village to another and the surrounding landscape which reassured us we were on the right path.
What To Pack
Clean clothes and socks for everyday you plan to be on the hike - especially if its down season, once your clothes get wet they do not dry on the trek
Reusable water bottle and water steriliser tablets, you can pick some up in Pokhara at the chemist
Sleeping bag liner
Hiking shoes and flipflops for when your not hiking
Warm down jacket and jumper for night - they sell lots of fake ones in Pokhara for a very good price
Warm Hat for top
Snacks, even though food isn't that expensive, packing some porridge for the morning and paying for hot water is a good way to save money, also granola bars or dates keep you going during the day