Featured Image: Heavily modified panorama of Machhapuchhre or Fishtail from above MBC towards ABC.
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 6 March 2018
Muktinath to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) trekking in Nepal, 2004
We went to ABC in the Annapurna Sanctuary for the second time in December 2017. I thought it might be a good idea to outline our first trek in Nepal in preparation for the photo essay of our more recent trip with a better camera.
It was a much quieter time in Nepal in 2004, because it was in the midst of the Maoist Insurgency.
In the Spring of 2004, we went to Nepal for the first time and began on part of the Annapurna Circuit. We were very ignorant but secured the services of Davendra as our guide/porter on the Internet. Davendra was tall for a Nepali, dark, friendly with a good sense of humour. He was also very patient and helped us to learn the protocols of trekking in Nepal. We had no problems securing accommodation almost anywhere.
Jomsom, Kagbeni, Jharkot, Muktinath and Marpha (5 days)
We flew up to Jomsom (2710m) on the Annapurna Circuit, taking Diamox for the altitude the night before. The flight crossed the ridge near Ghorepani with its acres of beautiful Rhododendron forests just beneath us.
We walked up to Muktinath via Kagbeni, a charming medieval village —the gateway to Upper Mustang. Because Denise had a bad cold and was feeling the altitude we stayed at Jharkot on our second night and at Muktinath (3710 m) the next.
We had infinite freedom about where we stayed and when. This was a luxury but we didn’t know it. We also had to learn to that Davendra had important needs too and that we had to cater to them too and to compromise to make us all happy.
Muktinath is a famous pilgrimage site the first stop below the Thorong La high Pass for those undertaking the Annapurna Circuit. By starting at Jomsom, we were planning to cover roughly one third of the circuit, a sensible start for beginners in Nepal. Staying in Muktinath we saw many exhausted walkers coming down from Thorong La.
We walked back down from Muktinath through Jomsom to Marpha (2680 m) where we stayed for two nights as we both had colds. Marpha was a wonderful medieval village. On our rest day through Davendra, we attended an exciting bow and arrow competition among the locals. We congratulated and celebrated with the winner. The locals were unused to tourists attending the whole match and getting as excited as they were.
Marpha, Kalopani, Dana, Chitre, Ghorepani and Poon Hill (5 days)
On day 6 (a restful schedule) we walked down to Kalopani (black water) via Tukuche. Next day we walked down from Kalopani to Dana stayed the night and had a short walk to Tatopani (1190 m) next day (day 8). Tatopani (hot water) means hot springs and we luxuriated in the hot water. There was no jeep road in those days and we haven’t been back. It was a beautiful walk from Marpha to Tatopani and unlike most trekkers we were in no hurry.
From Tatopani (day 9) it was a steep uphill walk for a day-and-a-half to Ghorepani (2874 m). We met Teresa from Slow Trekking and her nephew at lunch on our first day on this walk. It was one of her first commercial treks. We met again at Tadopani and Chomrong.
2004 was in the midst of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal and there were fewer trekkers in Nepal, making accommodation easy to secure. Coincidentally, when we arrived in Ghorepani (day 10), the Maoists had attacked Beni the previous night in one of the few major battles of the insurgency war. Davendra told us that there were many Maoists passing through Ghorepani that afternoon and evening, heading back to the jungles and in consequence we were not asked to pay the normal Maoist fee for the conservation zone (the same amount as the government fee).
We also experienced another excitement that evening as one of the lodges further up the hill burned to the ground. There was no fire fighting equipment. Fortunately, the Japanese in the lodge all managed to escape, some out the windows. Candles and curtains were the cause we were told later.
We walked up Poon Hill (3210) to view the dawn next morning with hundreds of others. It wasn’t really worth the effort. Sometime during our stay at Ghorepani (meaning once in ancient times water for horses) we’d decided to extend our trek to go to the Annapurna Sanctuary and ABC (Annapurna Base Camp, 4130).
The downside of trekking in Spring is that the dust in the air — washed away by the monsoon — makes viewing mountains from a long way away difficult. We hadn’t seen any mountains from Pokkara or Kathmandu. Hence though we’d been seeing mountains everyday we wanted to get amongst them.
Ghorepani, Tadopani and Chomrong (2 days)
From Ghorepani (day 11) after breakfast we walked up a ridge through Rhodendron forests with much more spectacular views than from Poon Hill to a crest also at 3210 m. Rhododendron’s have no smell but the forests smelt heavenly because of the Daphne growing beneath the trees. Mountain views through the Rhododendrons were stunning. In an earlier time one may have also seen tigers here. This is a much better option than Poon Hill.
After lunch on the saddle we walked down through ravines to Tadopani (2630 m). The next day was from Tadopani (hard water) to Chomrong (2170 m) was up and down. I think we must have been fit by now because I remember the walk from Ghorepani as being relatively easy. In Chomrong we said goodbye to Teresa and headed for ABC (day 13).
Chomrong, Doban, MBC, ABC (4 days)
I don’t remember continuous long flights of steps to the river from Chomrong (Day 13) that we experienced in December 2017. I think Davendra took us on a more agricultural journey, we followed steep tracks down through the fields. I do remember, however, my knees shaking and giving trouble. Davendra cut me a bamboo stave and I used a stick for the first time and for the rest of the trek to ABC. We arrived that afternoon at Doban (2540m).
For some reason the lodge owner refused to light a fire in the common room until dark. We, other foreign tourists and the porters, danced in the courtyard to keep warm. Even the lodge owner’s family and staff joined in. A good time was had but it was extremely cold.
Between Bamboo and Doban and beyond Doban the walk was through lovely forest. The pointy end began after that but the walk up the valley towards Annapurna was magnificent. Between Doban and Himalaya, just before the latter, was a bad avalanche spot on the trail, particularly in Spring. Some time before a group of three Australians including a child had left an Australian Army Everest expedition doing preliminary training at ABC because of sickness to go down the trail. They didn’t have a guide and had been killed by an avalanche at this spot. To avoid the notorious avalanche gully, Devendra had us cross an arm of the river and continue on a detour along an island to recross above the avalanche area.
The first crossing was the most frightening water crossing, I’d ever done — including the suspension bridges in Pakistan with planks made of river driftwood, many of them broken or missing. The crossing over a section of stream was only the length of two tables and consisted of two wooden poles with cross-bams covered with large flattish pieces of slate. The slate was wet, with snow in the cracks, and slippery. Davendra walked across with our packs, while we crawled on our hands and knees. As a white-water kayaker, I could tell if you fell off here, the white-water was a death-trap, disappearing under rocks. The crossing-back higher up was uncomplicated.
The remainder of the walk to MBC (Machhapuchhre Base Camp) was pleasant. Machhapuchhre or ‘fishtail’ is a holy mountain which can no longer be climbed. In Annapurna Sanctuary you are requested not to eat certain meats and other foods. At MBC (3700 m) you emerge into a bowl surrounded by mountains. Wild, beautiful and absolutely stunning. My memory of the MBC lodge was that the dining room was warm and cozy, but the rooms were like walking into a freezer. There were plenty of heavy doonas. Nevertheless, you didn’t delay getting into your sleeping bag as quickly as possible, fully-clad wearing a woolly hat.
We stayed at MBC two nights days 14 to 16), because Denise was suffering from the altitude (headaches and difficulty sleeping but nothing else) and we walked up to ABC twice. On the first day it was rather misty with a little snow at the beginning but cleared later, but the second day was glorious. On the first day, we were accompanied by a red-coloured mastiff dog that had walked into the Annapurna Sanctuary with another group and had latched onto us.
These dogs are taken up to the high pastures with shepherds in the summer and some become detached and hang around the high villages like Chomrong and are looked after by the villagers and trekkers.
On a flat patch of earth on the way up to ABC, the dog became interested in what appeared to be tunnels and dug excitedly. As a result of his activities, a Himalayan mole emerged some distance from the dog and we had a good look at him, before he tunneled back into the earth. We weren’t going to let the dog anywhere near him.
At ABC (4300 m) on the second day, I climbed above the lodges to a spur looking up at ABC South. Davendra was concerned because it also could be exposed to avalanched. I was careful but Denise was extremely cross with me when I came down. We also saw a ‘panda’ as Davendra called it going up to ABC at dawn and much closer coming down. It wasn’t a red panda, much smaller and wrong habitat, but it was a marvellous ‘carroty’ colour and looked like something between an ermine and a mink (from my journal).
The bowl of mountains one is surrounded by at ABC include Annapurna 1 (8091 m, ranked 10th in the world), Annapurna II to IV (7937 to 7525 m), Gangapurna (7445 m), Annapurna South (7219 m), Khangsar Khang (7485 m), Machhapuchhre (6993), Hiunchuli (6441 m) and Tent Peak (Tharpu Chuli, 5695 m). The amphitheatre here is a paradise, probably the most beautiful mountain vista in Nepal. The skyline is dominated by Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna 1, Tent Peak and Machhapuchhre. On a clear morning it is too breathtaking for mere words.
ABC, Chomrong, Tolka, Phedi and Pokkara (4 days)
After walking back to ABC on Day 16, we descended through light snow to MBC when it began snowing heavily and we walked through heavy snow and rain all the way back to Doban. We returned to Chomrong (day 17) for one night and then descended to Tolka via Jhunnu (day 18). I noted in my diary that the walk down to Jhunnu was steep but I don’t remember it. From Tolka we walked down to Phedi (day 19) and took a taxi back to Pokkara. I do remember that the descent from the ridge down to Phedi was quite steep.
The photographs were taken with my last film camera, a not particularly brilliant Ricoh SLR with a small zoom, and they are not as satisfactory as I would like. I also experimented after I returned endlessly with panoramas, which was a good learning experience but frustrating, as I did not know how to take panoramas and was as always stingy with film. It all became much easier with digital. I’ve also fiddled with some of them in my early experimentation with PhotoShop. Scanning from prints is also problematic but I have found negatives even more of a problem.
Nevertheless, they are rather dramatic!
The article is a part of a growing set of articles on Nepal. Other posts on Nepal and Nepal trekking on this site are: Boudhanath Stupa, Everest Trekking 1, Everest Trekking 2, Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Pattale to Juke Trek,and Pattale to Pikey Peak Trek.
Key words: ABC, Annapurna Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary, Jomsom, Kagbeni, Muktinath, Marpha, Talopani, Ghorepani, Chomrong,Machhapuchhre Base Camp, MBC, Pokkara, trek, trekking, Nepal
The final photos are the obligatory and ubiquitous dawn photos. Nowadays trekkers hurry up to ABC for the dawn, get excited and leave.