29 May 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 1: Trek to Tikkedhunga

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Annapurna Base Camp
Annapurna Base Camp. Elevation: 4,130 meters (13,550 feet) above sea level. Photo by Gina Sales, April 2014.

It must have been the cold and fatigue talking, but when I reached Everest Base Camp last year on the 5th of June (my 33rd birthday, to be exact), I muttered to myself that I didn't need to see another mountain again for a very, very long time. At that moment, I was tired as hell, breathless, and dealing with a sunburn and a pounding headache.

But the Himalayas is like a black hole: once you get sucked into it, escape is well nigh impossible---and a second trek is highly probable. Every trekker who's been to Nepal understands the lure of this mighty mountain range.

Six evenings after reaching Everest Base Camp, I was back in Kathmandu having my farewell dinner in Rum Doodle with Naba, the co-owner and managing director of Himalayan Planet Adventures. Over fish and chips, I found myself asking the all-important question: "So, where can I trek next?"

"Annapurna Base Camp."  That was Naba's swift reply and that became my obsession in the following months. I was ready to return to Nepal in 2014 after all.

As early as January 2014, I worked with Naba on an itinerary that aligned with my busy work schedule. I had a route map of ABC on my office desk to keep me inspired every day. I counted the days leading to my April 15 arrival in Kathmandu. I ran, I did yoga, I told myself I was primed and ready.  I thought, oh, I've achieved EBC.  I mean, how hard can ABC be after that, right?


As I was to discover throughout my 9-day trek, Annapurna Base Camp proved to be just as tough and challenging as Everest Base Camp. Sure, it was lower than EBC with only an elevation of 4,130 m (13,550 ft) as the end goal. I didn't realize that terrain was going to play a major factor in testing my endurance in this trek.

To keep to a modest budget for ABC, I opted to take a 7-hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara and back, instead of taking the plane. The ride wasn't a total ordeal, as I chose to go via Greenline, which is like one of the country's premier tourist bus services with a good safety record. Buffet lunch was part of the package, I had good spacious seats, and there were adequate toilet stops. In short, I was a happy camper. After the recent Nepal Airlines plane crash that killed 18 people heading from Pokhara to Jumla, I wasn't keen on taking a domestic flight anytime soon. I still get the shivers every time I think of my flight from Kathmandu to Lukla in the Everest region.

The classic route to Annapurna Base Camp usually starts with an overnight in Pokhara, a lovely bustling tourist town that serves as the jump-off point for the trek.  I got to rest well and sort out my gear in the hotel while bonding with my companions.  I made sure from the very start of the trip planning process that Madan, my guide to Everest Base Camp last year, would be with me again on this trek. My porter was Hari--who I found out later on is actually Madan's elder brother. With the two brothers watching over me, I knew I was in good hands.

Day 1: April 17, 2014

Started the day right with a big breakfast at my Pokhara hotel. We were out by 8:00 am and on a 1.5-hour ride via private car to Nayapul, where the trek officially begins. There was enough time for a quick snack of spicy vegetable curry and coffee (what a combination) at a Nayapul roadside canteen before hitting the trail at 10:30 am.

Day 1. This dog walked beside me for quite a while on
the trail. My porter Hari was just a few meters ahead.
I was awash in a nice warm sensation of being at home as I started my walk on the trail with Madan and Hari. It felt like being on the EBC trek all over again; the only difference here was that the altitude level was a lot kinder since we were starting at a height of only 1,070 meters above sea level.

(Side note: As I write this first blog entry on Annapurna Base Camp, I realize that today's date is May 29--a very special day.  It is the 61st anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing's historic ascent to Mt. Everest's summit, and it falls on the same day that I started my Everest Base Camp trek last year. Perhaps I was meant to write this blog post on this auspicious date after all.)

As we were still at a lower elevation, it was a hot and humid day. Nothing exciting really happened since the first day was pretty much peanuts--4 hours of trekking on relatively flat terrain plus lunch hour. Since I was doing the trek in spring time, that meant significant 'trekking traffic' on the road.  Last year, I practically had the Everest trail all to myself during monsoon season.  This year promised to be different.

I encountered many American, Canadian and European trekkers. Didn't get to see any Filipinos on the ABC trail (which made me feel a wee bit lonely), but there were a lot of Chinese and a handful of Thais, Koreans and Indians. Yup, the Philippines was sadly underrepresented. And it didn't help that I kept being mistaken for a Thai or Japanese national.

Reached my Tikkedhunga teahouse at 2:30 pm--just in time to settle down before a particularly heavy rainstorm started. Whether it was spring time or monsoon season, I already had a fair amount of Himalayan trekking experience to know that one had to be prepared for any kind of weather up in the mountains.

Had potato cheese momos and hot chocolate (as in really good hot chocolate) for dinner and then I hit the sack at 9:00 pm. I knew we were going to do some tough trekking the next day, and I certainly needed rest in preparation for that.

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If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.