Parakeets burst from the blooming rhododendrons, the pink flowers glowed in the soft morning light.
It was a radiant start to my second day of trekking on the Annapurna Circuit — much more enjoyable than yesterday’s dust choked affair.
Rice terraces cascaded down the valley’s sides, a lush bounty for the villages that clung to its slopes. This environment was vastly different to what I’d experienced on the Everest Base Camp trek. It was much hotter, much greener, and much more developed.
The horrible road epitomised this last point, a symbol of Nepal’s problems. Here was a poor country desperate for development, but blessed and cursed by its wild landscape.
The solution had been to blast a road into the cliff-face, a perilous drop on one side, seasonal landslides on the other. But what was the alternative?
The road continued through the Marsyangdi gorge, an impossibly narrow canyon with walls that touched the sky. I stayed in Tal that evening, a village that looked like a cowboy town. The next morning I entered the Manang district, the landscape shifting from steaming jungle into forests of pine, oak and maple.
The trail chopped up the valley before bisecting Thachowk, a supremely awful place promoted as a “traditional Tibetan village”. It was filthy, matching descriptions of medieval London. The buildings were all soot-stained, firewood was crammed onto every rooftop, while the smell of excrement poisoned the air.
I decided to keep walking to Chame, arriving as it was getting dark. I was surprised by the amount of locals on the street, all offering me free accommodation at their lodges. There was a sense of desperation here.
The reasons for this were predictable — the new road. “It’s destroying my business,” Tharpu told me, as I sat in his kitchen, the only person staying in the lodge. “People are driving instead of trekking. The road’s only useful for emergencies. Even then, it’s too slow.”
The trail followed the road the next day, passing apple orchards and long mani walls inscribed with Buddhist prayers. Nature surprised me once again, this time with the Paungda Danda, a perfectly smooth rock-face that resembled a slide for the gods. It stretched so high that its upper reaches were carpeted in snow. The locals believe that the spirits of the dead ascend it on their way to heaven.
I was grateful when the trail left the road, heading up a sparse hillside. It ended at the old village of Upper Pisang, a collection of draughty stone buildings that oozed atmosphere. I climbed up its steep streets, fearing that if I slipped I’d tumble down to the bottom of the valley.
Prayer flags were draped on every surface; rocks placed on the roofs to save them from the wind. Across the valley was Annapurna Two, its summit hidden by low clouds.
This was my fourth night on the trek and it felt like I’d finally reached somewhere exotic. But it was still very early days.
After trekking from Bahundanda to Upper Pisang, I continued to Manang, which you can read about here.
You can find more about my trek around the Annapurna Circuit at the links below: