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Pictures: Philippe Stalder

One should not leave Nepal without completing one of the many extensive trekking routes that the mountainous north of the country has to offer. Eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains are located in this secluded Nepali part of the Himalayas and you can get relatively close to them with an intermediate trekking experience.

A deep dive into the Annapurna glacial basin

Since I neither had the money to fly into the remote area of the Everest nor the time to do the whole Annapurna circuit, I opted for the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek which allowed me to dive deep into the Annapurna glacial basin within a reasonable amount of time of eight days:

Advanced trekking: Route to ABC. Picture: Saribung Adventure CC BY-SA 4.0 (2014)

There are numerous trekking stores in Pokhara where unequipped travelers can rent the utensils necessary for a trek into the Annapurna basin. I would recommend to only pack a small bag of maximal 35 liters since you will have to ascend steep territory and every pound of unnecessary ballast will be a bloody pain in your ass. However, good shoes, a down jacket as well as a water bottle and Aquatabs are a must.

No motorable roads

Make sure to bring enough cash. Prices for food will be around two to three times higher since there are no motorable roads in the Annapurna Sanctuary and porters therefore have to carry the goods all the way up for you.

The only way of transportation: Two young porters carry goods into the Annapurna Sanctuary. Picture: Philippe Stalder (April 2016)

It took some time for me to get accustomed to the idea that teenagers in flipflops carry my food in 25 kg loads up the mountain for six hours a day. However, as a local guide explained to me, the situation for them improved a lot during the past years:

“Today, the porters work in a regulated environment and they can make up to 15 Dollars a day which is a lot of money in Nepal.”

The limping legs of some older porters indicated that these regulations had not always been in place. Back in the days porters would underbid each other for prices and overbid each other for loads in a fierce competition over the few jobs. Due to an increase in trekking tourism there are enough jobs available today and the porters have learnt how to organize themselves. However, compared to the revenues of the agencies who employ them, the porters still don’t seem to get a fair share of the money. The agencies in the valley also make money with hiring personal guides for trekkers, however, the routes are well labelled and you meet plenty of people in the lodges so unless you feel uncomfortable on your own you don’t really need a guide for ascending ABC.

A sole culmination of ascends and descends

The only thing you really need is a pair of legs. The ABC trek is basically a sole culmination of ascends and descends without many flat parts in between which can be tough at times. Yet, the physical effort is worth the breathtaking beauty of the nature. The ABC trek leads through idyllic valleys, into traditional villages, through a wild forest, along a river of fresh melt water, over an icy glacier and eventually into the Annapurna glacial basin from where you have an exceptional view on Annapurna 1, Annapurna South, Gongapurna, Annapurna 3 and Machhapuchhre – the Nepali Matterhorn.

Inside the basin: Annapurna South (7219m), Annapurna 1 (8091m) and Gongapurna (7454m) from left to right. Picture: Philippe Stalder (April 2016)

Home to several deities

The Annapurna Sanctuary is home to two different ecosystems. The southern slopes are covered in dense tropical jungles of rhododendron and bamboo, while the northern slopes have a drier and colder climate which resembles to the near-by Tibetan Plateau. The Sanctuary is inhabited by a number of endangered species such as Pikas, Blue Sheeps, Snow Leopards, Red Pandas, Himalayan Tahrs, and – as some of the locals insisted – Yetis. To the local Gurung people, the entire Sanctuary is a sacred place and the home of several Hindu and Buddhist deities. There are many small temples on the way where you can pray for protection by the gods. However, you should relinquish meat and alcohol since its consumption inside the Sanctuary will bring bad luck to you.

Good company

Apart from natural and physical pleasures, you will also encounter many interesting people. I met a Russian cook who fled the Sowjet Union in 1990, a neuro-scientist from Sri Lanka who explained my Ayahuasca experience from a scientific point of view, a bunch of American English teachers who live in Myanmar, a Dutch medicine student who just completed an internship in a hospital in Kathmandu, a Nepali barkeeper who lives in Amsterdam and went trekking with his girlfriend for the first time in his life, two British soldiers who were stationed in Afghanistan, a French mountaineer who enjoyed a holiday from his wife, two Israeli chess champions, a British lawyer who quit his job to go trekking and surfing, and a group of South Koreans whose primary goal seemed to be to get me drunk in the Jinhu hot springs. Oh, don’t miss the hot springs. There’s nothing compared to a hot natural bath after a week of heavy sweating and burdening your sore muscles.