The name Annapurna derives from Sanskrit and means something like full of food. The mountain is named after Annapoorna, the Hindu goddess of cooking, who was a daughter of HImavan, the king of the mountains. The connection seems to be the melting snows of the formidable ice fields on the southern slopes of the mountain, that gave water and therefore fertility and hence food, to the lower regions.
Before crossing the High Pass on the Annapurna Circuit it is advised to spend an extra day in Manang to acclimitise. This town lies at 3500 metres above sea level, and the onset here of the first symptoms of altitude sickness, even at this moderate elevation, is not uncommon.
Day 7: Manang – acclimatisation day
During this day I tried to find Milarepa’s cave, which was located on my map, not far from the village of Brakha. Milarepa was an 11th century Tibetan yogi who had studied sorcery at his mothers request and had reached an acceptable level in that field. At first he mainly seemed to have specialised in hail storms, but in later life he repented and attained Buddha-hood. It was then that he wrote his Hundred Thousand Songs, which is impressive by any standard, and which made him the Paul McCartney of Tibet. For his cave: I couldn’t find it.
It was very cold in Manang that evening and several fellow trekkers had to abandon their ambitions because of altitude sickness. Two young brothers from Denmark were helicoptered back to Kathmandu after they’d come down by horses from Thorung Phedi, further up the trail.
Day 8: Manang to Ledar
This day I noted several sightings of blue sheep. These agile animals created mini avalanches as they performed their antics on the steep slopes of the nearby mountains. Nobody knows why they are called blue sheep. They are not particularly blue and they don’t seem to be sheep either. However, they constitute the main food of snow leopards and were studied by Peter Matthiessen who wrote a book called The Snow Leopard. It reamains questionable whether it would have enjoyed the same popularity were it called The mating habits of the Bharal…
Further up the valley I spotted many yaks, or, more likely, crossbreeds between yaks and cows, which are called dzos and have desirable qualities for high altitude farmers. The reason they can be crossbred is that they share the same number of diploid chromosomes, which is 60 in case you wondered. This impressive number makes you think again next time you drink a glass of milk. The hybrid cows are fertile but the steers are sterile. Crossbreeding of cows and yaks poses certain questions of religious significance with regards to the holiness of the bovines in Hinduism, a religion that understandably didn’t take genetic engineering into consideration.
Yak dung is used for fueling stoves, which is very practical in areas with few trees.
Day 9: Ledar to Thorung High Camp
The High Camp is at 4900 metres and most trekkers at this point experience some kind of headache and many suffer from insomnia. For reasons I do not understand, I had no problems whatsoever, and after devouring a sumptuous dinner, I slept snugly under the thick blankets provided by the lodge.
Day 10: Thorung High Camp to Muktinath
This day I had to cross the Thorung La which is the highest pass on the entire trek at 5416 metres. The night before, at the lodge, I had met some fellow trekkers and I thought it expedient, if not prudent, to team up with them. Unfortunately, my new friends, who were trekking with a guide, chose to start early in the morning to avoid hiking in the strong winds that usually start to pick up later in the day. This meant we had to leave the lodge well before the sun came up, It was utterly dark and terribly cold when I woke up. I had packed my tiny backpack the night before and after I had put on my warm clothes, I ventured out for some breakfast. Then we set out in the dark. My head torch was of low quality and I had to carefully negotiate my way past some icy patches of frozen snow. Luckily, the sun came up not much later and because my pace appeared much faster than my fellow trekkers, I bade them goodbye. Swiftly I walked to the pass which I reached in due time. The weather was clear but after arriving at the pass a strong wind started to blow in an icy fashion… I didn’t lose much time at this barren desert and soon I was heading down again.
It was a long descent to Muktinath where conditions once again were much milder.
Day 11: Muktinath to Kagbeni
From Muktinah I took the scenic route through picturesque hamlets. This side of the pass was very arid and close to Kagbeni, I had a good view into the Upper Mustang valley.
Day 12: Kagbeni rest day
From Kagbeni I walked a few kilometres north to Tiri which is as far as you can go without paying 500 US$ for the required permit for the Upper Mustang valley. The lama of the gompa had gone to Pokhara and there wasn’t much to see. An old woman slowely turned the prayer wheels as dust was blown through the dried up riverbed in the centre of this small town. In a small traditional eating house I ordered dhal bat..
On the way back I looked for fossils in the riverbed of the Kali Gandaki.
Day 13: Kagbeni sick day
During the night I was woken by severe diarrhea. That day I stayed in bed, drinking water, but feeling too weak to eat. Having a room with an attached bathroom was a godsend for understandable reasons.
Day 14: Kagbeni recovery
The woman in the kitchen urged me to take the tsampa porridge for breakfast. It was very good for the stomach, she said. Tsampa is the traditional Tibetan staple of roasted barley flour.
The kitchen was dark and because of the smoke it was hard to breath. I preferred the freezing cold dining hall
To be continued…