Updated: Feb 17, 2021
After sumitting Kilimanjaro in 2017, EBC was always on my ‘to do’ list. Was pleasantly surprised when a chance to try Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) @4130 meters came my way the very next year in May itself.
An added incentive was regrouping with my Kilimanjaro trekking group and creating new memories. A generic google on ABC on do’s and don’ts, training & practicing walking stairs in my apartment building, and a mental makeup of staying vegetarian was the preparation plan.
An energetic guide Dumber welcomed us at the airport on 9th May 2018 and whisked us straight to ‘Hotel Holy Himalaya’. Our first job as preparation to the climb was directed by Sreeram the tour guide, who handed us “waterproof” duffel bags with absolutely NO guarantee of water not seeping, and in a way prepping us for rainy wet weather. Simple dinner of dumplings, peanut masala and Everest beer and early pack up made us chirpy happy to be taking a 7:30am Buddha airlines for Pokhara the next day.
The Pokhara landing was great compared to the three-hour drive that we undertook towards Kimchi which was super bumpy due to potholes coupled with rash driving skills of the driver. By the time we reached Kimchi, the heat had got us well roasted too. The only silver lining was the humor and amusement of having our south Indian trekker friend guiding our driver to slow down in deep south Indian accent.
Kimchi village @ 2000 meters altitude is the start for the Annapurna base camp trek towards Gandruk. The trail gave us a flavour of the steps, which awaited us as we walked 2 hours to reach Breeze Guest house and had the luxury of staying in separate rooms with one plug point to charge phones, fresh blankets, towel and a bucket. This village is blessed with beautiful flowers and plantations. Despite the Nepalese & Bollywood dance numbers playing loudly, we managed getting some good night sleep. We were freshly bathed the next day with each of us getting a bucket of warm water, which we knew would be scarce the more we moved forward. For breakfast we had an interesting Tibetan bread shaped like the Indian bhatura in a shape of a huge vada with a hole, along with an omelet which is deep fried with a generous usage of oil.
The first day trek took us about 8 hours which were essentially steps and more steps. The weather was very hot with bollywood and south indian numbers giving us company. We stopped @Kimrung for Nepalese lunch accompanied with murukku that we had carried and ignoring the blisters that had formed in my feet. We reached our lodge Panorama tea house @Chomrong. Rooms were small with a common bathroom. Charging points were available only in the kitchen and WIFI on chargeable basis, the cost of which had increased by now. Luxuries were reducing. The Chinese dinner that evening was a strange concoction of noodles and aloo gobhi, capsicum curry. We got razais to snuggle and sleep at night. I was remembering nights in Killi where we slept in tents @ -20 degree at night and was thankful for what we got that day.
Day 2 of the trek started at 5.30 am with a welcoming and mesmerizing view of sunrise, and the rays of different hues and colour filtering around the Annapurna range. We proceeded to Sinua @ 2340 meters where terrain was a beautiful with small cottages surrounded by lush green mountains. The locals that we passed by led such simple, uncomplicated lives taking care of vegetable gardens, poultry or tea houses. We decided to do 2 stops together since they were 4 hours away, which would give us the advantage of finishing our trek, a day earlier. 3 hours before finishing it started drizzling and we quickly wore our rainwear but after an hour we were all soaking wet. Stones were slippery and steps were steep and loose rocks on the way added to the challenge. The trail was through the forest, which was blessed with flora and fauna. Unfortunately, couldn’t afford to look and gaze anywhere else apart from the trail ahead as we had to watch our steps, and any slip would have been fatal. There were no teahouses on the way to stop either, so we just walked like zombies in the rain-claustrophobic and dizzy. The first sight of the teahouse after a long walk was rather exhilarating. We had walked a total of 18 kms uphill that day and were right at the lap of the fishtail mountain. Drinking water, charging phones, heater and hot water shower, small comforts came at a cost here. We were advised not to have a bath till our return. After repeated dal rice sessions, yak milk cheese pizza for dinner was a welcome change. We had luxury of a television tucked in the corner of the dining hall where we watched IPL. Walls of the rooms were very thin, and we could hear our next door neighbours and the loud cheering across the hall. Rooms were tiny with three of us sharing small beds parallel to each other almost like a train compartment, but cozy and clean.
Every passing day we were getting closer to the lap of this Giant Mountain as it stared at us with great pride, completely unaffected. Camera lenses can only capture a part of what is visual. It’s just not a mountain we see it’s how you feel standing at its feet. Every mountain has a different story to say, a different experience to tell which makes them enigmatic, and ignites an adventurous hunger to explore more.
Day 3 of the trek and morning was cold, and we prayed that rain gods have mercy on us. We loaded ourselves with gloves and layers which were sealed away for so long. The trail passed through forests with stones & shiny rocks as if someone had thrown silver sparkly colors. Met many solo travelers and women on a girl’s trip too who were on their own without a guide & porter. Watching the waterfall and streams flowing through all the hills and rocks were a treat to the eyes. We passed through many shaky wooden bridges and few iron bridges, which i personally loved but some of my group members were petrified. Weather was great till Beurali @3200 meters when terrain suddenly changed. We had to walk through snow covered with mud and a river flowing under the big chunk of snow and rocks. We had to wash hands with ice cold water and even slightest of sun felt comforting. After further 3 hours of trek and cold windy weather we reached Machapucchre base camp @3900 meters after 19 kms of trek for the day. It felt surreal being surrounded by these larger than life mountains, covered in snow, grey fog, low visibility. There were not many tea houses on the way, as there was an avalanche in the same region last month, with many tea houses destroyed and this entire trail shut. At a point I had to lead the way as the guide went at the back, to help out the others who were struggling. It was scary for a moment, but there was no option but to continue walking one step at a time and hearing the sound of my own breath and the stream flowing. The hike was challenging and when we finished, it was encouraging to hear one of the guides tell me that I should try Mt. Everest sometime. Very ambitious, though ultra-pleasant to the ears.
From MBC to summit is a 2-hour trek. Waking up at 3:45 am, gulping black coffee, we set out in the dark @ 4:15am with our headlights on. The snow looked beautiful in the dark, shinning as if someone had sprinkled silver powder. We finally saw the sunrays hitting the Annapurna peak when we reached the base camp@4130 meters – surrounded with machipuchre, Annapurna south, barahparbat, and Annapurna 1. The sky was clear and the ranges looked beautiful as if it was painted. We clicked photographs in turns in front of the summit signage and saw passport size snaps put on stones in the memory of people who had lost their lives while trekking /summiting Annapurna. Only 1 tea house was functional that served tea, coffee. We trekked back around 9 am and found the ice melted in many patches leading us to puddles, slippages and more ice. I was on my own and I suddenly felt so small & insignificant surrounded by these huge white mountains, so calm and at peace. By 10 am we had reached the guest house but were ready immediately for our downhill trek when the rains started again. We passed through many glaciers which were all at an incline. Our shoes were not well equipped to handle so much snow so we kept slipping when we got our feet into snow, gush of water beneath and wondering what would happen if we slipped. We had to tread very slowly, one step at a time by pulling over the ice with the pole. My shoes experienced snow, rain, mud puddles and horse poo in a single day.
I made a friend on my way – a dog, which followed me all the way from the MBP camp till our next stop which was 19 kms. Every time we stooped, I treated him with a biscuit, cost of which was reducing as we trekked down. It was so comforting to change into dry clothes even though we had not taken a bath for a while. I was tired and it was like a mixed feeling of being challenged and feeling grateful for seeing and experiencing things, which we would normally not experience, in our daily life. Experiencing nature in the pure form. Next day from deurali @3200 meters we went downhill in some great weather and reached the lunch place before it started to rain. It felt so good to have a warm water bath, and we celebrated that night by having Khukri rum and Wai Wai noodles.
Next day we trekked down till the new bridge@2170 meters where a car was waiting for us. The 3 hours bumpy car journey was better than what we experienced while coming up. We grabbed our last Nepalis meal before I swore to myself not to have rice for the next few weeks. We saw many small children, mostly girls though walking down the road to go to school. These kids walk every day 2 hours one way to reach school. Well-groomed and utterly cute, it was impressive to see the awareness amongst the locals about educating the kids. It was quite a sight to see the girls diligently walking hand in hand or sharing an umbrella, while the boys being naughty trying to hang on trees in different directions. We asked our guide Dumber to give us his visiting card before we left and to our surprise the name was mentioned as ‘Amber’. He never corrected us throughout the trip so i guess he had taken a fondness to his newly given name “Dumber”.
Every time i trek through the mountains it unravels a part of me, that i am not aware of. Unlike last time, this time my mind was still living one day at a time and no thought of what tomorrow holds; it was like treading through that glacier. Taking time out, appreciating what is around and moving on. Listening to the nature; birds chirping, the chilly winds, feeling the warmth of the sun rays, locals talking, crunching sound of the leaves and the snow and to hear. I felt and feel ‘life’ closer than before. We are at the mere mercy of the erratic form of nature, which can either be favourable or relentlessly challenging. What is required is the keenness to explore, skills to adapt and survive and most of all mental strength and perseverance.
I read somewhere “Strength isn’t about how much you can handle before you break, it’s about how much you can handle after you break”. This is so true when it comes to mountains who continue to teach me something new about myself, and things around me every single day. It also help me in appreciating what life has to offer, family, strength, food and the sheer joy of living.
Looking forward to coming again for EBC (Everest base camp) for more mountain experiences, more friendships and some more stories to write about.