05 June 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 2: Trekking up the Ulleri Steps to Ghorepani

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

Day 2 of the Annapurna Base Camp Trek - the forest trail in the afternoon
Day 2. Madan (left) and Hari (right) chillaxin' while I take photos. We had to pass through this dense forest in the afternoon.

Day 2: April 18, 2014

Horrible day. Just horrible. With a lot of drama and public displays of grumpiness from my end. Why does Day 2 of a trek always have to be a miserable one?

If you've been following my (mis)adventures on this blog, you'll know that the second day of my Everest Base Camp trek was an unforgettable ordeal--and this year's trek to Annapurna Base Camp just had to follow the same pattern. You know...the kind of hiking pattern that does cruel tricks to the mind and ego: an easy peasy Day 1 to make you feel good about your supposedly mad trekking skillz and then--kablam!--Day 2 throws you a sadistic punch to the stomach and leaves you in near-tears.

I totally blame the mountain trail, of course. And to a certain degree, myself--for being quite unprepared and not reading up more on the infamous Ulleri steps.

Day 2 of the Annapurna Base Camp trek - crossing suspension bridges
The day started nicely enough with a few
suspension bridges along the way. Then things
got rough quickly...
We were out on the path by 8:00 am, and my guide Madan informed me that it would take 2 hours in the morning to finish the steep ascent from Tikkedhunga (1,577 m) to Ulleri (1,960 m). And another 3-4 hours more until we reach Ghorepani at 2,850 meters above sea level by the end of the day. Great, I can do this, I told myself.

Well, see, here's the problem:  I should have remembered (as early as last year's EBC trek, for heaven's sake) that the Nepalis are like super human beings; think of them as a whole nation of agile Legolas-like entities who seem to have been born with a natural speed up on the mountains. What seems like *just* a 2-hour steep ascent to them may not necessarily be the same thing for us regular folks who find it harder to defy the laws of gravity.

I spent 4 hours that morning climbing up, up, up a sadistic, never-ending flight of steep rocky steps. It was like doing the StairMaster beside a ravine for 4 straight hours in the heat of the sun. Actually, to put things into better perspective, the total ascent to Ulleri was like going up the Empire State Building practically twice. From street level to the 103rd floor, the Empire State has around 1,870 steps. The stone stairs from Tikkedhunga to Ulleri is comprised of 3,210 steps; some say it's about 3,480. Try doing all those steps at an altitude level that's three to four times higher than that of the Empire State Building.  Just thinking about it all right now makes me want to hurl.

I kept moaning and groaning during those 4 hours, finding excuses to stop every 30 steps and guzzle down my water supply. Madan, who was used to my moods, knew how to take everything in stride.  I must have looked like a total drama queen to my porter Hari, though. He was always gently advising me to take it easy. "Bistaari, bistaari ('go slow, go slow')," he would say--before sprinting up the steps with my 10-kilo rucksack on his back. And in my mind, I was sobbing out, "Yes, unfortunately, Hari, that's exactly what I'm doing."

I don't have photos of the steeper parts of the Ulleri trail,
which is composed of more than 3,200 steps.  This was
taken during the 'easier' bits.
Wasn't able to take many photos on the Ulleri trail because I was frequently looking down at the steps, watching my balance, and trying my best to survive the ordeal and to avoid fainting from the overpowering stench of animal dung. Dung everywhere. The smell was so strong, I felt my clothes reeked of dung for several hours.

To make myself marinate in self-pity even more, I watched taller, younger trekkers pass me by. The path itself was steep, yes, but the actual steps were also tall to begin with, and so it was all an extra struggle for me. Short-legged petite me was at such a natural disadvantage. The one prayer that kept running through my head was, please God, do play fair and let me lose at least 5 pounds on this literally shitty trail alone.

I wanted to burst into tears of relief when we finally reached Banthanti (2,250 m) for lunch. Because this was such a popular lunch stop, the locals at the teahouses were very busy cooking for everyone, and it took some time before my food (vegetable fried rice) was served. I was ravenous; that was the only time during the entire 9-day trek that I actually wiped my plate clean.

The trail after lunch was, blessedly enough, a 3-hour mix of flat terrain, gradual inclines and steep ascents. I mean, after that morning of Day 2, everything else felt easier. The Ulleri experience just completely stole the 'Worst Day Ever' Award from my EBC Trek Day 2, which was basically a 9-hour trek to Namche Bazaar in the pouring monsoon rain.

As we headed closer to the day's destination, I was feeling sick at the realization that Ghorepani stood at an elevation of 2,850 meters. That meant, from Tikkedhunga's height of 1,577 meters, I had made a total ascent gain of 1,273 meters on this day alone. It was obviously not your regular trekking day. I've never even covered that much in a day's trek on the Everest Base Camp trail.

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Donkeys on the trail
I reached Ghorepani, shivering slightly; the hot day had given way to a very chilly afternoon, and I was nursing a small cold as I hiked up. Ghorepani is like a smaller version of Namche Bazaar with many locals settled here eking out a simple living, while trekkers use this main stop to relax and prepare for the tough trail ahead of them.

Every trekker in the teahouse looked worn out and was sharing his or her own tale of woe on the Ulleri trail while drying socks by the stove (where everyone gathers, as this is the warmest place in every teahouse). Personally, I must have looked disgruntled and robbed of all happiness.

I don't think I was very good company that evening for Madan and Hari, who didn't seem to have lost their appetites.  I was so tired, I only had a few forkfuls of my tomato-onion-cheese macaroni dinner; Madan ended up eating the rest of the dish. Hot shower was actually free, but my exhaustion level was off the charts and all I wanted was to crawl into bed and pray that I would make it to Poon Hill (3,210 m) by sunrise tomorrow, still in one piece.

Day of Annapurna Base Camp trek - from Tikkedhunga to Ghorepani
Six hours from Tikkedhunga to Ghorepani? You lie, you signboard you! Kidding aside, I honestly couldn't
do it in six. 
P.S. I write this post today, June 5. This, too, is a very special day for me. Not only is it my birthday today, but it was the same day I reached Everest Base Camp just a year ago.  Within the past 12 months, I feel like my two treks in Nepal have helped me grow so much as a person. These experiences have allowed me to revel in whatever strengths I have and have taught me to accept my limitations as well. It's been an awesome year. Hope there are more to come. :)
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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.


  1. Glad you made your trip safely!

    Just spotted your new blog today, I was actually hoping you would write another one - still not found anything as generally informative and amusing on the entire t'interweb!

    Ps. Would you mind at all if I contact you in future re: potential source of reliable and up to date information?

    Best wishes on your travels!

    1. Thanks for the kind feedback, Martin! Hoping to write 4-5 more posts on the Annapurna trek (inc costs and what to expect).

      Sure, no problem, you can contact me. Will do my best to provide you with the info you need. :) Here's my email address: ginacsales@gmail.com

      Thanks again!

  2. I was in immediate need of such detailed info and thanks to your post I can now better plan my trip and go ahead with it in a more confident manner.

    Annapurna Trekking

    1. Thank you, Aditi! Happy to help in any way. Will post the next ABC entry within this month. Happy trekking and travels! :)

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