I woke up sore all over, on the final trekking day. New muscles had begun to ache, across my upper body. Unsurprisingly so, since for the past two days I was basically trekking with a crutch. But my knees were in pain again, even before I got out of bed. So it was not the best morning, even though I was actually no longer quite so cold. We had descended a considerable distance from Annapurna Base Camp.
Nonetheless, I felt a kind of calmness. The kind where you know there’s no help for it but to accept the situation and carry on, somehow. After 9 days of monsoon trekking through mountain trails, feet always squishing in wet socks, rationing clean clothes and often sleeping cold, I wondered how I must look.
Actually, not too bad, I thought. There again, I do have a strange tendency to look my best after having been exposed to the mercy of the elements, and struggle to look healthy in the city. I did have one friend who could somehow tell that I was struggling. You do not look happy? he had asked with concern.
Inflamed knees and constant cold would do that. Ah, I’m such a tropical mermaid after all.
- 1 Through the Farmlands to Syauli Bazaar
- 2 Through the Nepali jungle to Syauli Bazaar
- 3 How I Got to Nayapul from Syauli Bazaar
- 4 For the Newbie Trekker: 9 Monsoon Trekking Tips
- 4.1 1. Trek with a guide
- 4.2 2. Give it time
- 4.3 3. Bring the ability to make your own potable water
- 4.4 4. Get really good boots, and break them in beforehand
- 4.5 5. Ditch the thermal sleeping bag (unless you’re me).
- 4.6 6. Instead, bring socks.
- 4.7 7. Power banks, yes – but no need to overdo the electronics
- 4.8 8. For God’s sake bring Tiger Balm
- 4.9 9. Yes, there will be leeches. Lots and lots of leeches.
- 5 So Am I A Trekker Now??
- 6 Related Posts:
Through the Farmlands to Syauli Bazaar
We left Jhinudanda’s (lack of) hot springs to return to the mountain trails. Even on the final day the sky was still overcast, blank and white, although thankfully at least it held back from raining.
As we stepped back onto the flagstones paving the trails near the hot springs retreat, I noticed that we had returned to the area where the stones were shot with silver flecks. Like the paths on the first day.
We trekked as quickly as I could manage. The trails became less sylvan and more monotonous, often passing through habitations. There were steps, but they were not as steep as before. Nonetheless, because my knees had deteriorated, this became harder for me proportionately.
Despite all of that though, I was still feeling grateful. I had seen some amazing things, and felt I learned a little bit more of wisdom. And thinking back to all the little animals that had come out in the recent days – the cute little gerbils and the birds and butterflies – why, I thought, it was almost like being a Disney princess! All I needed was for a butterfly to land on my finger!
And what happened next, is 100% true. I am not at all embellishing this story.
Annapurna’s bright blue farewell ambassador
As we stepped down along the route between farmed terraces, we were suddenly met by a bright blue speck on the path stone. We stopped short, expecting the butterfly to wing its way away, after sensing us on the path.
But it didn’t. It simply stayed there, waiting. Curious, we came closer, camera at the ready. Still, it did not budge. We took pictures of the butterfly, and it stayed put. And when it started moving, it was not to fly away. It was almost as if it was waiting for us specifically.
Then it began to dance. It stepped its way left, and it stepped its way right. Round it went in a half circle, snapped its wings sharp, and twirled.
You could not find three happier ladies in the mountain, I’m sure.
Devi videoed it right to the end, until it hopped from one stone to another on the path. And flapped away. And she was looking for it, looking, looking…
But the blue butterfly winged right back around.
And it landed – on my finger.
I simply could not believe it. Especially mere moments after I had wished it to complete the Disney princess theme.
Its delicate legs tickled my skin lightly as it crept around, but it didn’t fly away. Obligingly, it stayed for a while, allowing us to take as many picture as we liked, as close as we liked.
At that moment, I did not care about the pain in my knees. Everything in the world was absolutely perfect.
Annapurna’s final waterfalls
Eventually, we came upon the Modi again, its turbid waters just as fast flowing as on the first day. Here, the countryside was the picture of rustic idyll, farmland and fallow all peaceful beneath the slow drizzle of rain.
Against the hill, shooting out from the forest, a waterfall drops down to find its way to the river. A lone water buffalo supine in the grass, ears flicking away flies from about its face.
But that was not the last waterfall of the trek. It would not be monsoon trekking to be let off so soon!
We came upon the final one soon after this. It came into view quite dramatically, as we rounded a bend in the trail. A slender stream of rushing water, flowing so fast that when it struck a ledge of rock in the middle of its fall, the water sprayed high up in the air, creating a curtain wall of water.
I was sure that, if the sunlight had been at the right angle, rainbows would be thrown up against the waterfall.
Through the Nepali jungle to Syauli Bazaar
We had lunch at a rustic restaurant not too far after the waterfall. I remember it was a quiet place, the rain dripping around us. It had a sign saying yak cheese was available to buy, but they didn’t actually have it at the time. Too bad, I was wondering what yak cheese was like.
But it couldn’t be lunch time forever. Reluctantly I got back on my feet to resume the journey. By this time, I was switching my trekking broom stick much more frequently between left and right – both the knees were complaining. So much, that there were few photos from this day.
The forest from here on in, felt the most like Malaysian forest than anywhere else in the trek so far. It was warmer, and there was a kind of thick humidity that felt familiar to my senses. The paths were siltier as well, which made for more muddiness. Occasionally there were passages through trails where the shrubbery had grown to almost enclose it – I can imagine it would be eerie in the evening.
Monsoon trekking has some perils
My guide had received some information from a passing villager. If I understood right, one of the ways down had collapsed in a landslide in the heavy monsoon rains.
I can’t remember for sure if we took a different route – but I sort of remember that call. Pain erased a lot of my detailed memory from that day, and it never got jogged by reviewing images either. Nonetheless, on the route that we did take, we still came upon a portion that had slid away.
We needed to get across to the path we could see on the other side, but there was only a slope of rubble in between. My guide scanned it and judged it passable, explaining to me the route she would take – and therefore, also me. Before she crossed, she told me to cross quickly, not stopping to take pictures.
“Cross now. You can take pictures afterwards,” she said, as she turned to cross. “The slope is not finished sliding.” And she was off.
The slope is not… what???
I took a deep breath, commended my soul to God, and followed resolutely after.
And of course, the trusty Seema took it calmly in stride. Nothing seemed to faze that girl.
How I Got to Nayapul from Syauli Bazaar
The trail grew wetter even though the weather didn’t. Puddles collected among the leaf litter, and made for muddy-clayey paths.
This was the hardest part of the trail for me – but paradoxically, it should have been the most familiar. These were very like Malaysian jungle paths.
But I had never hiked with my knees in such pain before. My guide reassured me, every now and again, that we would reach Syauli Bazaar soon.
When we did, it was a bit of a surprise. We emerged into a bustling little village centre. Not charming and rustic like Chomrong, but in the ramshackle way of Nayapul and much of Southeast Asia.
Devi sat me down somewhere – I forget where – and we all took a rest.
And then she asked, “Do you want to hire a car from here to Nayapul?” She told me that the rest of the way was basically just going to be a trek on gravel roads – like the beginning of the first day.
I paused. I really didn’t want to give up. But then again, I was on my, er, last legs. I had to be well enough to last all the way back to Kathmandu, and then for whatever it was that I might do in India. Besides, the ‘real’ trekking part of the trek was over.
I decided to be sensible, and asked Devi to negotiate a ride down to Nayapul for us three.
The questionable driving on Nepali winding roads
Soon we were packed into a jeep, amongst a local family on their way back to Nayapul. They were cheerful in that way of group trips out on chores.
After some further negotiations, the jeep started off, Bollywood music blaring, on roads as narrow as the ridiculously slender country lanes in remote rural England – except untouched by Roman or Scot engineers.
Straight ahead it went, bouncing and jouncing on the gravel road that wound tight against the hillsides down the mountain. It was a madcap rollicking ride, the jeep sped and braked, careering at the edge of cliffs as it slid by other vehicles, honking madly at goats suddenly appearing from the verges.
But I had consigned myself to God since the still-slipping slope. There is a kind of tranquility to that, which allows you to be extremely tolerant of the ill-advised perils of the situation.
And as you can see, I happily survived.
For the Newbie Trekker: 9 Monsoon Trekking Tips
I’ve said before, right at the beginning of this series, that I am not a trekker. I read up a little bit, especially from the blogs of people who were trekkers, to prepare myself for my first try. So I’m not going to cover more general trekking tips, since there are far more qualified people on the internet who have done it.
Nonetheless, there were some Annapurna-specific or monsoon trekking-specific things that I found important. And there were some newbie-specific things as well, which more seasoned trekkers may not think of. Kind of like how I never remember to warn people about mosquitoes, because they don’t bother me too much.
So here’s my take on the most useful things to know, for a novice trekker attempting monsoon trekking in Annapurna.
1. Trek with a guide
You can totally trek in the Annapurna Conservation Area without a guide. In fact, I said as much in the story of the third day. And I met up with other travellers – including one who trekked solo to Poon Hill – who went in without a guide.
And this is fine if nothing goes wrong. However, the value of a local guide comes in when things do not go fine. Numerous times in my trek, it was made more comfortable or safer because of my guide’s local knowledge and preparation. The monsoon brings additional challenges to the trek.
She could get near real-time news from guesthouses, locals and other guides on the condition of trails, and whether the monsoon had made any of them impassable. She could range ahead for help if needed, and could call for help more effectively.
The higher you go and the further from the farmed areas of Annapurna, the more it is a good idea to trek with a guide. Especially if you are trekking solo.
Besides, it’s much more fun to trek with a local! And it is a way to make your trip more sustainable, by supporting local guiding professions. In my case with the 3 Sisters – female livelihood as well!
2. Give it time
Put as much time as you can afford to the trek. Aside from the monsoon rains making the trails more of a drudgery, you’ll want to linger in the amazing fantasy forests and alpine plains – and you should. You’ll want to linger in the guesthouses and perhaps browse a little bit, take photos, try yak cheese – and you should.
Give yourself time to enjoy the things along the way to the mountain.
3. Bring the ability to make your own potable water
Whether this is a portable water filter, which is what I did, or a Steripen or chlorine tablets, there’s nothing so empowering as this.
The water filter is so small and light, it’s nothing in the backpack, and it is so fast that it is literally more convenient than finding a shop to buy bottled water. It is.
Even if I weren’t already actively avoiding plastic bottled water, it literally made the chore completely redundant.
4. Get really good boots, and break them in beforehand
I mean, I had wanted to take the elderly guide’s advice and offer, in Pokhara. But it was kind of late to be changing boots, and mine did the job after all. But, indeed the soles were slippy on the wet rock crossings because they were not really meant for trekking – light hiking, maybe.
Good boots is generally good trekking advice anyway – it’s just that with the monsoon river crossings when you could encounter raging streams and fast-flowing waterfalls, the advice goes double.
5. Ditch the thermal sleeping bag (unless you’re me).
The monsoon summer season is almost warm enough for me to trek all the way up to the base camp, wearing thermals and layering as if for winter, for the upper levels. If you stay at the better guesthouses, in the monsoon you should not be competing for beds – and most importantly, blankets. Double up on blankets at high altitude and you would not need more than that. Maybe bring a thermal sleeping liner – much less bulky and really quite warm.
Except if you’re as intolerant of cold as me, in which case you will need that thermal sleeping bag on the highest altitude night at the base camp.
But my point is, even I only needed it for that one night.
6. Instead, bring socks.
You could stay reasonably dry from top to bottom with good waterproofs and if you brought truly waterproof pants (unlike me). At worst, you could avail yourself of the local bin bag poncho and skirt solution.
But you will certainly have wet socks, no matter how good your boots are. Nothing makes you more miserable than not having dry socks to sleep in, even if you could bring yourself to put the damp socks back on for the trek every day.
However, dry socks – even if only temporarily dry – is such a mood booster in the monsoon, for such small things!
7. Power banks, yes – but no need to overdo the electronics
One of the things I was paranoid about, was running out of battery on my camera phone, and being unable to record incredible things (because as we all know, according to Sod’s Law, the incredible things will happen subsequent to your camera being out of battery). I once encountered a majestic school of bumphead parrotfish, stately as a herd of mastodons, right after my snorkelling camera’s battery died.
I was not sure about whether I could easily recharge either phones or power banks at the guesthouses. Long story short, I brought three power banks, not including my flashlight which could also double as a power bank. And a universal adaptor that could take several USB connections, in case I needed to share the socket with other travellers.
That was… overkill. In the peak season, it may not be. But in the monsoon there is a lot of vacancy in the guesthouses. In fact, some guesthouses don’t open for guests at all in the rainy season. The guesthouses I stayed at also have universal sockets already, so you don’t actually need to bring an adaptor.
A couple of power banks is enough, for contingencies and convenience. Just one, if you’re cool with not really taking pictures. However, do make your primary camera as waterproof as you can. The monsoon can be relentless with rain, and you won’t be able to record any of the gorgeous sights if your camera cannot cope with the wet.
8. For God’s sake bring Tiger Balm
Really, whatever medication or salves that you need to keep your joints and muscles going, bring enough of it for the whole trek, and then some. Otherwise, be prepared to re-supply at Chomrong, as the other pharmacies may not open in the monsoon.
For myself, I really ought not have underestimated the effect of my trekking diet on my knees. It made the last three days of the trek much less enjoyable than the way up.
9. Yes, there will be leeches. Lots and lots of leeches.
Now, I’m not saying you need to trek in a Hazmat suit. However, similar principles apply. Tuck tops into pants, and pants into socks. That sort of thing. The leeches will get in if you don’t. They are resourceful little buggers. Be prepared to flick them off your clothes, hair, forehead, and from inside your bra.
They’re pretty much harmless though, just super annoying and a little bit itchy afterward. Note: if they have already fed and fall off on their own, it’s supposed to itch less. My skin is not very sensitive so I’ve not really noticed a difference.
So Am I A Trekker Now??
A question that’s hard to answer! I certainly did not regret doing the trek. And I think I understand why my friends are into mountains. I pushed my limits and learned much about myself along the way – which is an important reason for my travel.
But at the beginning of the year I considered doing Macchu Picchu at the same time as my Easter Island trip late last year. It would be rainy season in Peru then. And despite the enlightening and humbling experience of monsoon trekking in the Annapurnas, I simply didn’t think I could do wet trekking twice in a year.
Will I trek again? Maybe – Never say never!
But for now, I leave the mountains behind.
To start all the way back from Day 1, click here.