Annapurna Circuit (Nepal)
Day 10 – Jomsom to Tadopani
Jomsom marks the deepest point to which the road has been completed on the west side of the Annapurnas. After Marta flew out in the morning for other adventures, the rest of the Posse decided to take a bus from Jomsom further down the trail so we would have enough time to do the Annapurna Sanctuary trek as well. We piled into a tiny bus (1900Rs/$19) for the ride to Tadopani, along with Thijs (one of our three Dutch friends), his guide Akal, and Alex and Olga, a pair of hard trekking Kazakhs that had been on the same schedule as us since Muktinath.
The road follows the west side of the river. Following complaints from the trekkers, ACAP has recently completed a new trail along this stretch that follows along the east side. We later heard that this stretch is once again worth trekking.
We passed through the towns of Marpha (2,670m), Tukuche (2,590m), Larjung (2,550m), Ghasa (2,010m) as the road descended toward Tatopani. We were treated to great views along the way of Dhaulagiri (8,167m). There is an excellent side trail along this section of trail that leads up to the Dhaulagiri Ice Fall.
We reached Tatopani (1,190m) by mid-afternoon. After settling in, we made for the local hot springs and took advantage of their beer and popcorn happy hour, while we alternated between soaking in the springs and taking brief dips in the frigid river.
At some point, Thijs and I decided that we needed to ice our trail weary legs. We were soon engaged in a furious contest of wills as we fought to stay submerged in the ice melt for 10 minutes. We just barely made our mark before racing back to the steaming comfort of the hot pools.
Day 11 – Tatopani to Ghorepani
Our motley crew from the AC had swelled mightily by the time we left Tatopani. The expedition now comprised of Amy, Graham and I from the original AC posse, Thijs and Akal (owner of the best laugh in the world), Alex and Olga (the Kazakhs), and now another Alex, this one a German, along with his Nepali guide.
We stopped by the ACAP office on our way out of Tatopani (1,190m) and began the long climb toward Ghorepani and Poon Hill. We were accompanied for the first few hours be great views northward of Nilgiri South (6, 839m).
We climbed through the tiny village of Ghara (1,700m) and then reached Shikha (1,935m), a slightly larger town where we once more checked in at the ACAP office.
Our lunch stop was a solitary house just an hour outside of Shikha. We ordered dal baht all around and then killed time with few rounds of cards as we sat underneath the watchful gaze of the towering Annapurna South (7,219m).
Nearly an hour later though we were still waiting. We found out why when Akal and the owner finally appeared with massive steaming plates of veggies and rice. The owner had been unprepared for such a large group and he and Akal had spent the first half hour harvesting our meal from the field. As we sat around the table, coping with the effects of our second and even third heaping plates of the freshest dal baht possible, we all agreed the wait was worth it.
We reached Ghorepani (2,858m) late that evening for what would be our last night on the Circuit. It proved to be a perfect ending. We whiled away the night playing cards (Cavill, a game I’d learned from a pair of Israelis and a Swede while on the Three Passes trek, and a devilish Kazakh game that I managed to lose every single round), drinking pot after pot of tea, and and eating an array of international delicacies.
Some of the culinary highlights included Snickers rolls (a monstrous creation straight out of a Mid-Western American state fair consisting of a battered and deep fried Snickers bar) and a 3 lb. Kazakh hard salami that Alex had dragged entirely around the Circuit without taking even a single bite.
Day 12 – Ghorepani to Tadapani
I managed to rouse myself in the pre-dawn hours the next morning to make the 300 meter climb eastward to the summit of Poon Hill (3,193m). We were now solidly on the popular tourist route and the tight trail was crowded with slow groups of tourist trekkers on agency-guided 3- and 5-day treks.
Navigating the traffic to the summit delivered an incredible view. From our vantage, we could make out to the gleaming profiles of the entire Annapurna Himal (Annapurna I, 8,091m; Annapurna South, 7,219m) to the west and the Nilgiri Himal (Tilicho, 7,134m; Nilgiri North, 7,061m; Nilgiri Central, 6,940m; Nilgiri South, 6,839m) to the north.
Once the sun had risen over the peaks, I returned to the tea house to join up with the others. We packed our gear and then marched due west from Ghorepani toward Tadapani (2,630m) where we would begin our trip deep into the core of the Annapurna massif on the Anapurna Sanctuary trek.
Instead of turning north east as we did, the traditional Annapurna Circuit route continues from Ghorepani to the east through Ghandruk, then turns southeast. The Circuit typically ends in Birethanti (1,025m) or Nayapul (1,070m), just a short couple days’ walk from Ghorepani.
That’s end of my Annapurna Circuit adventure. Check back soon for posts on my trip to Annapurna Base Camp on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek.