Annapurna Circuit Days 5-7: The road to Manang is paved with buckwheat flowers

6A0F06B2-987C-4149-A013-2482798E8E41.jpeg

All day we experienced rewarding glimpses of the Himalayas.  I nearly broke my neck looking at then while hiking.  Unfortunately, these peekaboo shots don’t translate as well in photographs.

118CDDB0-D529-4256-A2AB-6440E505691CEF13EDDB-D12D-417D-9859-265904E01B3C Day 5 Stats: 

Miles: 13.4

Starting elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Ending elevation: 11,590 @ Manang

Net gain: 620

Total hiking ascent: 2,090

Total hiking descent: 1,470

Dal Bhat meals: 2.5  1/2 meal being what we were so graciously offered in Nawal to participate in the Lucky Day feast.  One being the worst we have had and 1.5 being the best. At least there was more good than bad!

Cost for teahouse for 3 nights (board, dinners and 1 breakfast for 2.  We we had to indulge in the fried yumminess on the street for most breakfasts!): 2,880Nrs ~$26 USD

B531FF66-2B74-48AF-B844-6253A3E066AC

70AA4724-D6F0-4BB1-9EFA-C96077DED853

We learned that the pink fields are buckwheat and enjoyed a delicious buckwheat pancake for lunch in Nawal

49AADDC7-599A-480F-B12D-5F44D1710877

The first half of Day 5 felt like a Nepali fairytale. At dawn, Rob and I were awakened by the sound of a gong from the monastery above as the monks began their morning prayers. We stayed in bed for a bit and watched the clouds reveal the snow covered peak and ridge line of Annapurna II. It glowed in the morning sun and looked nearly fake as it sat so high in the sky. We were finally getting a clear view of the majestic mountain that has been hiding behind the low hanging clouds we hiked under through the valley yesterday. The sounds of the monks playing drums above us ushered me out of bed and onto the balcony where I meditated and did a few sun salutations for the morning to prepare my mind and body, all under the glowing Annapurnas. It was the best way to start what was going to be our most physically challenging day of the trek thus far. 

019AACCA-BB67-4BF9-8482-B755A211E62E

Walking through the stone village of Ghyaru

7602EB74-20AB-41D5-8ACA-1FBB06728DCE

Ascending to Ghyaru required a very challenging, but rewarding climb

9E862D0C-4CDA-44E4-952E-BE87DF71B42B

Leaving Upper Pisang we both hoped to encounter the smell of fried onion balls or doughnuts to pick up as snacks for the road. Little fried nosh is a very common Nepali item in the morning, but we were only been fortunate enough to come by any yesterday on our way out of Chame, a much a larger village. The doughnut we ate was so fluffy and warm and satisfying we really wanted another to start today. It certainly would have helped us as we made a grueling ascent right out of town. We were climbing STEEP switchbacks 1,200 ft straight up a mountain.  Moving from 11,000 to over 12,000 ft first thing in the morning had us winded and moving slow. We stopped often and when Rob looked at the map at one point and told me were only 1/3 of the way up I couldn’t believe it. We both tapped into every bit of strength we had and climbed and climbed some more to reach the lovely mountain top village of Ghyaru, complete with stunning views over the valley and pink buckwheat fields. It’s an old stone village and had a charm about it as the many prayer flags flew from the roofs. We crossed through the town and began what we hoped would be a more leisurely hike into Nawal for lunch. Along the way we caught glimpses of Annapurna IV as it too glowed from the sun shining on the snow.  The landscape and the air today are both more arid. Huge mountains surround us where you can see the tree line as the evergreens form where they no longer fill the space above. Long waterfalls trickle through the crevices from high above.  The trail to lunch has us walking above a beautiful green pasture where we watch deer, horses, and Nepali bharal grazing below us. 

23D20C84-CBD6-4DE0-951F-392CEE448F82.jpeg

7AFD521E-E1C6-45B4-96E1-B764058606C8

Bharal

830DC088-0E5F-4171-92DB-96F35E78846B

Turning the corner into Nawal we each exhaled a heavy sigh. Both at arriving to rest after a taxing morning and seeing how picturesque the village is sitting perched in the mountains, surrounded in buckwheat fields and overlooking the valley.  Again, I felt I was in a fairy tale. We strolled into the village and chose to eat at the very first teahouse that seemed alive. I began to feel low energy as we finished our trek to lunch and hoped that some nourishing food and rest for my feet would build me back up. As we sat down we heard the chanting of monks and Daddie Gizmo asked if he could peer into the room where it was coming from. We both did and saw half a dozen monks seated on cushions playing instruments and praying. We were told that today is a Lucky Day and all the village people were coming to the teahouse we had chosen to eat their special meal. While listening to the music and chanting emanating from the room behind us, in front of us were the older women preparing for a feast. Tearing lettuce for salad, grinding curry powder, washing vegetables and dishes and more. The atmosphere felt very special and we soaked in the opportunity to be included in this moment. As our food was served so were plates of Dal Bhat for the monks and the women. Huge pots of rice, potato curry and papa (the homemade thin cracker that accompanies this dish) were brought to the courtyard area to serve everyone. We hadn’t ordered Dal Bhat for lunch, but our hosts were so gracious to offer us a bowl of the potato curry (the best we have had so far!), local salad (lettuce with a very spicy dressing) and papa. It was so unexpected and kind for them to include us in their festive meal. Lunch was delicious and special and we left the teahouse knowing we just had one of our most cherished moments of the trail so far.

EFD1E8D0-1B42-4E0A-8B1E-E944683F4461

A look back on Nawal where we enjoyed a special Luck Day lunch

 

D8D12999-68A7-4042-B23F-BAD8AB82A0D4

More Mani stones as we hike

70E649B8-A8B5-4BB7-A6DB-B0A22BE0630D

Unfortunately, lunch did not give me the energy I was hoping for. I think the altitude wore me down today and I moved quite slow the rest of the day. Daddie Gizmo was only a little faster. For all of our climbing in the morning, the afternoon began with a huge descent where we lost nearly everything we had gained.  We hiked down through loose sand and gravel and then a fairly flat trail through the mountains. Fortunately, the scenery continued to inspire us to move our feet forward as we neared Braga. We planned to spend 2 nights in this village to acclimatize to the altitude, but all the lodges were closed for low season. Instead, we enjoyed a tea and Coke for a little boost to get us to the next village of Manang. Thankfully, only another 25 minutes. Daddie Gizmo informed me before we left Braga that he was “not much for this world” and was ready to settle in for the day. We pulled our tired bodies into town about 4, the latest to date, and found a suitable teahouse with a room that has a great view. After two necessary showers, hand washing our laundry and bellies full of fried rice we climbed into bed with the pleasant knowledge that we were sleeping in tomorrow. 

B45381D5-90EC-4C06-8553-D209DD85EE20

Marsyangdi River in the foreground, Gangapurna Lake behind and a peak of the snowy mountains in the background

The following day we visited the village doctor so that Daddie Gizmo could get some relief for the stomach issues he has been dealing with for the past week. We were relieved to get the medicine he needed very easily and quickly so that he could rest and recover. And surprised that it was all free. Feeling depleted and erring on the side of caution for more time to rest and rehydrate, we opted to stay a second full day in Manang. The second day, I ventured out and explored the village, crossing the river and hiking around Gangapurna Lake. It was a nice quiet place to meditate while the sun was shining in mid afternoon. Even though I set my alarm for 5 every morning when the sky is normally the clearest, I didn’t get any wide clear views of the hiding Himalayas.  Instead, I saw it was cloudy and snuggled back up for an hour or so. It’s the rainy season and we traded expansive Himalayan views for cool cloudy days, minimal trekkers in trail and low season costs. Plus, the timing was perfect!  So, any peak I get of those beauties makes my heart skip a beat. All in all, Manang served us well for purposes of acclimatization, rest and relaxation. Plus, it’s a big enough village that we were able to score our fried samosas and Tibetan bread from the local purveyors for breakfast nosh again. Tomorrow we are going to take it easy and only trek another 2 hours to a higher village, Khangsar, where we can further acclimatize on the way to our side trip to the one of the highest lake in the world, Tilicho, resting at over 16,000 ft high.

BCF1BC82-9006-44E8-B47D-9571029A27D7

Buckwheat fields behind Manang

183B8C9A-85B0-4208-ADE2-A54B2FC186F0

Marsyangdi River draped in prayer flags

Annapurna Circuit Day 4: Chame to Upper Pisang for a magnificent view

91ABCEBF-FE2B-4953-A2F4-F2D4B1225E1B

You can’t turn a corner without seeing prayer flags adorning the mountains, trailing down from the highest peaks to temples below. The presence of these flags makes this trail unlike any other we have hiked. This view is looking down to Lower Pisang from where we stayed in Upper Pisang.

Day 4 Stats: 

Miles: 9.3

Starting elevation: 8,690 @ Chame

Ending elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Net gain: 2,280 We climbed 1,800 ft of that by lunch,  reaching 10,460 in 7 miles 

Total hiking ascent: 2,622

Total hiking descent:  342

Dal Bhat meals: 0. A first. We found a place on the topmost part of Upper Pisang that we liked so much that we stayed at even though we couldn’t get a bargain deal. The view of Annapurna II from our room and balcony right out front was unbelievable. Since we paid full price, we ordered something a little different.  Sadly the food was nowhere near as good as the view. 

Cost for teahouse (board is free with purchase of dinner and breakfast): 1,700 Nrs ~ $15.50

E43D1DEA-D0DF-4572-BEF3-41A54D8D2297

EDCF9213-E284-460F-A05C-662B06291F52

Two happy faces after lunch of garlic soup and fresh mushroom pizza on chapatti bread

Rob: The one hiker came up to the top of a little mountain village called Upper Pisang in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and asked a hiker he found sitting at the top, “What did you do this afternoon?”  The first replied, “I watched clouds and it was a wonderful day.” “Really!”, the inquisitor exclaimed, “That’s all??” The second hiker didn’t answer with more than a small smile and went back to watching clouds, evergreen sprinkled foothill mountains, snow capped Annapurna IV at 24,788ft, Annapurna II at 26,040ft, prayer flags trailing from 2 different Buddhist Stupas below and about a dozen waterfalls he could see high and low. After a few minutes of silence, the curious hiker packed up and moved on to try and chat with other hikers about his accomplishments of the day leaving the meditative hiker to himself. His wife came to join him on the balcony of the Tea House they would be spending the night and brought them both a full glass of the local rice wine. She asked, “What did that young hiker ask you about?”  “He basically wanted to know what we had done today”, he said.  She asked, “Did you tell him that we had the greatest fried bread-like donut for breakfast, glimpsed the peaks of the mountains as the sun broke the mist at 5:30 this morning, climbed a quiet little side trail just for fun, hiked a net gain of 2100ft from 2450ft ascending and just 350ft descending, climbed out of the river valleys, above the  tree line and all before 12:30pm.”  “No, I forgot to tell him that part”, he said, smiled, toasted his glass with his beautiful wife and told her that, “He loved her so much.”

A6DFCC4F-E6BC-4D99-BC84-68644296F0AF

The view from the balcony of where we stayed in Upper Pisang looking below to the valley and Lower Pisang. We spent the afternoon outside enjoying the view and watching the clouds move as they offered us glimpses of Annapurna II.

A68C10FA-7704-4DAA-A860-20BF88C2FDCA.jpeg

35F7A6CB-BE90-4172-8659-5C36FAC4D798

A tiny Short Story to help you understand what it feels like to just look out today on the Himalayas and foothills as we make our acclimation ascents. We have found a beautiful all wooden Tea House at the very top of the village of Upper Pisang. We have a tiny little corner room with a big open balcony in front of us where we can sit and admire the view as I write this.   The view, of course, is Lacy’s favorite part as well since she can also watch the clouds cover and uncover the Annapurnas right from bed! Our balcony will be a perfect place for her Yoga & Meditation practice at sunrise. Our place is just under the highest buildings in the village which are a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and Monastery. They are so vividly painted in great detail on almost every exterior surface and that doesn’t even compare to the painted murals, adornments and large golden Buddhas inside. We hear the giant brass gong chime the beginnings or endings of daily and evening prayers for the Monks studying there. 

81C3BE81-B17B-48A7-A46C-48FFA99D0F86

The monastery gate overlooking the valley

A2F072C7-AC44-41B4-8823-5010DE73380F24A109D6-3E2D-43BA-9816-177E3A485C19

52594786-11E6-4940-9FA2-FCE99F2C916C

The detail and bright colors that the Nepalese use to decorate their temples and monasteries is something we both find very beautiful

Our trek thus far has been from village to village along the Marsyangdi River. We have crossed and recrossed the river a dozen times on bouncy, breezy, cable suspension bridges. And gained the maximum recommended elevation each day on our way around the Annapurna Circuit. We currently sit at 10,970ft. We started in the low river valleys at the middle village of 3 possible starting points. The plan has been to find our legs and our lungs along the way up. We will continue this for the coming days with the ultimate goal of successfully completing the Thorung La Pass at 17,770ft in about a week from today. We have a number of day treks planned while at 12,500 to 14,500ft to help us acclimate even further. 

A923B0CB-E786-4C72-95AE-39F923825E55

41B19383-5274-422C-A553-135E53A1BEBF

Prayer flags as you enter a village…

B46A0400-79BC-491A-BDBD-1238647B1271

And unexpectedly on the forest trail complete with piled rock markers

From Bhulbhule to Nadi Bazar to Bahundanda, Ghermu, Syange and Jagat on Day 1, we were wet from rain but didn’t really mind as we climbed through rice fields and marveled at the number of waterfalls on both sides of the valley. From Chyamche, Sattale to pretty river village Tal and onward through Karte to Dharapani, it was hard to keep your eyes off the raging river just below us on Day 2. Day 3 began by going through Thoche, Bagarchhap, Danakyu, Thanchok, Koto and into Chame via grassy hillside trails through the foothills. At one point we came upon a small herd of about 12 dairy cows that decided to nap right on the trail. The hillside was pretty steep above and below us so we had to literally tip toe around and between them to pass by. Our 4th day continued the climb up and out of the misty river valley and into much drier air of the low mountain passes. We came up into the evergreen trees and have broken through them into the rock cliff mountain vistas and views. 

68BB3798-ACEC-4B6A-8311-BBCDC80ED6A0

343DB8A3-DB4B-403B-9530-6B17BE148270

Mani walls are another very common feature for Nepalese villages.  They are low walls or another area where collections of engraved stone prayer slabs are placed. We have seen them in every village and wish we could decipher what the stones say.

It is truly calming and peaceful to just enjoy a long afternoon up here on our little perch in the clouds. The air is quite a lot cooler than when we started down in the river valleys and we have moved from shorts and a sweaty tee shirt into long pants, wool socks and down jackets.