Smitten With The Himalayas
**Namaste! I trekked the ACT with my friends in December 2013. Our trekking on foot started in Bhulbhule and ended unexpectedly early in Muktinath. The pictures, notes and observations may not be completely accurate as of 2015. The trip is divided into a series of posts in an attempt to help with organization and to include more detail. **
I caught a glimpse of the Himalayas when I travelled to China’s Yunan province during December 2011 and immediately fell in love. I just knew that one day I would go back again. The mountains, Tibetan culture and sheer mysteriousness drew me in and refused to let go. I continued to think about the Himalayas when I moved to Singapore and when my friend Gabriel asked if I wanted to do the Annapurna Circuit Trek with him, I agreed right away. Like that quote I always see online: the mountains are calling and I must go 🙂 We ended up gathering a few more friends along the way to form a group of five: Gabe, TP, M, Sanny and me. The group solidified around September so we had about 2-3 months to prepare.
Group Preparations and Trip Planning
All of us were on fairly tight schedules so we decided unanimously that we needed to book porters and guides while still in Singapore. When I was researching the trek, I read some blogs where people found their guides locally in Kathmandu in order to save some cash but we didn’t have the luxury of time so that was out of the question. I’ve also heard of people planning and carrying out the trip all by themselves. This is ok, provided you’re willing to put the effort in route planning and packing as light as possible. BUT, I do agree with Santosh, my guide: hiring a local guide helps the Nepalese people and supports the local economy. Not to mention Santosh was extremely useful in situations that required any sort of translation and was always full of interesting cultural information that you would never find out while trekking alone. In short, get yourself a local guide and also porter, if you need one (you’ll want one, trust me 😉 ) We all booked separate plane tickets due to our mismatched schedules. TP, M and Sanny could only arrive Dec 6 so Gabe and I decided to do a short Climbing, Canyoning and Caving trip beforehand (separate post). We all got our tickets with AirAsia X and booked them a few months in advance. It was the cheapest option (around $500SGD round trip from Singapore) but required a transit via Kuala Lumpur. Direct flights were around $700 from Silkair and Thai Airways. We researched some quotes from several trekking companies:
- Jomsom Treks And Expeditions (Nepal)
- Divine International (Singapore)
- Adventure Quests (Singapore)
- Outfitter Nepal (Nepal)
We found these companies either through word-of-mouth or working with them via school trips. We ended up choosing Outfitter Nepal for several reasons: they were recommended by Sanny’s friend who is an avid trekker, they had very flexible schedules and they were also the cheapest. Our trip with Outfitter Nepal was about $900USD, which is a great price compared to the other companies. Contacting the trekking companies from Nepal direct has this advantage as you cut out the travel agencies in-between. The only thing is that communication may slightly problematic due to the language barrier so you just need to keep emails very straightforward and you need to clarify what you want the company to do for you. There are many trekking companies in Kathmandu (Thamel in particular) and new ones are always popping up. At the time, Outfitter’s happened to be a new company opened by guides and porters who to wanted to set up their own business. This may explain the extremely competitive price and awesome service. They really went out of their way to accommodate for us.
Annapurna Circuit Trek 16 Days Day 01 – Arrive in Kathmandu Day 02 – Drive from Kathmandu to Bhulbhule Day 03 – Trek from Bhulbhule to Chamje Day 04 – Trek from Chamje to Dharapani Day 05 – Trek from Dharapani to Chame Day 06 – Trek from Chame to Pisang Day 07 – Trek from Pisang to Manang Day 08 – Trek from Manang to Khansar Day 09 – Trek to Tilicho Base Camp Day 10 – Trek to Tilicho Lake and return to Base Camp Day 11 – Trek from Tilicho Base Camp To Yak Kharka Day 12 – Trek from Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi Day 13 – Trek from Thorung Phedi to Muktinath Day 14 – Drive form Muktinath to Tatopani Day 15 – Trek from Tatopani to Ghorepani Day 16 – Trek from Ghorepani to Poon Hill Included: 1) Airport pick up service 2) 1 night accommodation in Kathmandu in 2/3 star hotel including breakfast. 3) All accommodations in lodges/tea houses during the treks. 4) Standard meals during the trip with hot tea/coffee in breakfast. 5) All necessary paper work, conservation entry permits, TIMS permit. 6) One night accommodation in Pokhara including breakfast. 7) Ground transportation from Kathmandu to Bhulbhule by bus. 8) An experienced guide and porters (1 porter for 2 people). 9) Salary, food, drinks, accommodation, transportation and insurance for the guide and porters. 10) Arrangement of any emergency helicopter services. 11) Sleeping bags and down jackets if necessary. 12) All government taxes. Excluded: 1) Visa fees. 2) Travel insurance. 3) Lunch and dinner while in Kathmandu & Pokhara. 4) Personal expenses like souvenirs, batteries. 5) Drinks. 6) Extra food like chocolate, dessert. 7) International airfare and airport departure tax. 8) Tips for the guide, porter & driver (Tipping is expected but it is not mandatory. The porters rely on tipping especially. They usually don’t receive a large salary). The above was our planned itinerary. People usually do the entire circuit in about 21 days but we couldn’t get enough time away from work so 16 days it was for us. As you can see, we planned to hop a Jeep and drive for the last little bit. Unfortunately we didn’t end up following the itinerary anyway (but more on that later). Gabe and I also arrived five days before the trek to sightsee and do some climbing, canyoning and caving.
Personal Preparations – Gear and Physical Fitness
I climbed Mt. Kinabalu with my school during Sept 2013 so I was feeling pretty good about my trekking fitness. I did I lot of weighted stair climbing and running to prepare for Nepal (See my post on why I swear by stair climbing). I should have done more stairs actually because Annapurna was much tougher than Mt. Kinabalu. The next big thing for me was what to bring. My main issue was that I had to bring stuff for the caving trip beforehand. But I dutifully researched online and came up with this detailed list:
- Outdoor Research Conviction Pants
- Montane Hiking Pants
- IceBreaker Arctic LS Zip Merino Wool Fleece
- Cloudveil toque
- Black Diamond Pilot Gloves
- MEC waterproof shell mittens
- MEC Gore-Tex gaiters
- MEC quick dry Ts x 2
- MEC quick dry long sleeve T
- MEC T3 Long johns
- MEC Merino Long johns
- Addidas sports bra x 2
- MEC merino wool underwear x 4 – merino in comfy, warm and won’t stink.
- SmartWool hiking socks x 3
- Fox River merino wool sock liners x 2
- Salomon high top hiking boots
- MEC hut booties – a luxury item but I hate frozen toes.
- Money belt – not that useful. Should’ve just used a ziploc.
- MEC Pika Plus daypack
- Onsight Mesh zip organizer bags – one large, one small
- MEC 1L drybag – not necessary. Shouldn’t have brought it.
- Filosi Tyrant Sunnies
- Victorinox camper knife
- Black Diamond Spot headlamp
- Mountainsmith trekking pole (single)
- Olympus TG2 waterproof camera
- iPod Shuffle
- Steripen Adventure – AMAZING … until it stopped working. Hence, backup purification tablets.
- Powermonkey-eXtreme solar charger – AMAZING … until it stopped working as well.
- Batteries – AAA x 14/ CR123 x 3
- Adventure Medical First Aid Kit .9
- (Rehydration salts, mole skin, bandaids, tweezers, duct tape, compression bandage ect.
- Nalgene water bottle– 1L
- GSI foldable water bottle – 1L
- Thin piece of rope 1m
- Krave Beef Jerky x 5
- Clif Bars x 10
- Larabars x 5
- Earl Grey Tea x 40 bags – light and huge morale booster.
- Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
- An Edible History of Humanity – Tom Standage (Shouldn’t have brought this one.)
- Photocopy of passport
- Dental floss
- Bar soap – cut in half. Ended up ditching it.
- Sunscreen – could be purchased in Kathmandu but don’t trust the SPF rating if buying locally.
- Moisturizing cream – a MUST for when we went in December.
- Nose strips 😉 – totally didn’t use them.
- MSR microfiber Towel
- Nail clippers
- Tweezers – not necessary. Dumped it in Kathmandu.
- Feminine items
- Shewee 😀 – practising is necessary.
- Lip balm
- Toilet paper
Purchased in Kathmandu:
- Fleece buff – The one I got doubles as a hat when the drawstring is closed. Very useful and I still use it now.
- Fleece sleeping bag liner – a LIFESAVER. Makes your life that much toastier at 4000m.
- Extra shoelaces
- Hand sanitizer
- Water treatment tablets
- Diamox Tablets – for AMS.
- Ciproflaxacin – broad spectrum antibiotic for infections.
- Extra camera batteries
- Headband for sunnies
- Fleece gloves – I was desperately looking for mittens, actually. Mittens are important.
Turns out, I probably shouldn’t have brought food because Thamel had pretty much everything. Although, my beef jerky, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thamel had all kinds of trekker foods for cheaps. If you’re not a picky eater, don’t bring food like me. I would discourage people from buying really important gear in Nepal, which produces a lot of look-alike items that are decent looking but sketchy. As in, it may or may not fall apart on you mid-trek. Things like hiking books, trekking poles, hydration packs – I suggest you buy them at home. Clothing like fleece, gaiters, hats, gloves are available good and cheap in Thamel.
I bought travel insurance. And so should you. I got a one-shot single trip insurance plan from MSIG in Singapore. I got it online, too! It was around $200SGD. It’s annoying to have to pay for something you may not use but if you need it, but you’ll be really glad you got travel insurance. Trust me. Our group had to use travel insurance. Just make sure emergency evacuations and hospitalization are included in your travel insurance. Some travel insurance do not cover activities like trekking and paragliding so read the fine print before you commit.
Money is easily changed in Thamel. Shop around for the best prices. USD is king. And make sure your bills are CRISPY FRESH. The money changers there want them fresh off the press. Shop around for the best exchange rates and you can haggle with them a little bit, too. Most nationalities can get visas on arrival at the airport. You’ll need two passport photos. My 30-day single/multi entry visa cost me $40USD. Prepare for a long lineup. Hotels, guesthouses and hostels are easy to find in Kathmandu and are mostly located in the Thamel district. Cheap and good.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post on the city of Kathmandu. Hope this will be useful for any prospective trekkers out there! -J