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Monday, 30 December 2013

Trekking Annapurna: New 'highway' or old by-ways? - Page 3

Written by Heather Knight
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Thorung La Pass, at 5416 meters, places itself higher than Everest Base Camp, and the bottleneck at its base is convivial as excitement and nervousness permeates the draughty buildings. We wisely wait for the sun to materialize before we begin to slowly plod each foot in front of the the other, comparing Darth Vader breathing impressions. I'm certain mine is the best. We arrive on the pass at 10 in the morning, tired but buoyed with achievement in its beautiful white expanse. We muster in a compulsory photo and celebratory tea before numb hands and a warning altitude headache propel us on the three hour descent into the Muktinath valley, a desert spread of limes, golds and rusts.


The road begins again at Muktinath, where an increasing number of trekkers now call it quits, jumping on a bus to cut off four days of the original trail. Maintaining our red and white route, we leave the road for the village of Kagbeni, its musty medieval warrens protected by ancient phallic guardians. Young men attempt to be monks, leather jackets pointedly worn over their robes, leaning on motorbikes. A Yak Donalds and another rampant goat add humor to the village serenity. We opt to follow the road for an afternoon and see a few brave vehicles force themselves along the dusty river valley. But once past Jomsom, traffic increases, throwing cloaks of cloud over us at every rumbling. We re-embrace the NATT trail with relief to wind along quiet grassy trails, ruined walls, orchards, and climb to old villages where oxen plough beneath Himalayan summits.


Our penultimate night highlights the road's draining effect on the circuit's tourism. We arrive in the virtual ghost town of Dane to find the recommended tea house boarded up. We meet the former owners, now operating from a smaller premises, who explain they no longer receive the numbers now the road bypasses the old trekking route. “Where are the tourists?” they ask, “We know they don't like the road, the trucks, the dust, but what about the other routes?” With Nepali resolve they shrug their shoulders and smile. 


The final mile of our walk reunites with the road, where we witness jeeps which steer people back to the urban bustle; their dust coats the trees on either side, whitening them like ghosts. We pause once more to succumb to the steaming pleasures of the Tatopani Hot Springs, the traditional culmination of the Annapurna Circuit. Here we celebrate our journey, and with hydroelectricity development looming, both quietly hope that the Annapurna retains its draw for those who enjoy immense scenery and the freedom of walking. 



©Heather Knight



For detailed route descriptions of the New Annapurna Trekking Trail, see Andrees de Ruiter and Prem Rai's 'Trekking the Annapurna Circuit: including new NATT trails which avoid the road' (2011 Herstellung und Verlag). New edition upcoming. The trail is usually completed anti-clockwise, beginning at its trailhead in Besi Sahar (bus from Kathmandu takes approximately 6 hours and costs 400 rupees, from Pokhara approximately 5 hours at 300 rupees).   A private jeep can also take you to the trailhead. You will require an Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (2000 rupees) and a Trekkers Information Management System card (1,840 rupees). Guides are not required. Lodging on the route begins at 100 rupees per person per night. The best time for trekking is between October and mid-December or March to May. 


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Last modified on Thursday, 02 January 2014

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