Getting high . . .

Our trek took us over Thorung La Pass, 5400 metres, between the two snowy peaks on this mountain range. Pictures by Sari MacKenzie
Guide Niraj (left) and porter Arjun after chewing rhododendron flowers.
Our route from Besisahar, 760m to Pokhara, 1890m, via Thorang La Pass, 5400m.
A novel way to store firewood.
Sari crossing a swing bridge near the start of the trek.
Arjun carrying a 30kg pack.
My cosy bedroom on the first night.
A Nepal squat loo with no toilet paper in sight.
Playing cards with Niraj and Arjun at the lodge.

Gisborne physician Sari MacKenzie shares her adventures while trekking the Annapurna Circuit from Besisahar to Pokhara in Nepal considered one of the best treks in the world . . . here’s the first of a series about her 17-day, 273km expedition which took her over the 5400m-high Thorung La Pass.

I decided to do the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal on a bit of a whim. I had some annual leave due and my husband Andrew and our sons were not able to join me. I was originally intending to do a yoga trip but then came across the trekking idea. I spent a weekend researching Nepal treks and chose to go with the Adventure Mountain Expeditions company based on the reviews I read and the availability of the right dates.

There could have been up to nine others on the trek but it turned out to be just me because no one else signed up for those dates.

Adventure Mountain Expeditions assigned a guide and porter and organised transport and accommodation. All I had to do was show up in Kathmandu on the appointed day. They took care of everything else.

As I had never travelled in Nepal before I would not have felt comfortable trying to make my own arrangements myself but having been there, I would now feel confident to do the planning myself.

The Annapurna Circuit is considered one of the best treks in the world. It encompasses three zones in Nepal covering subtropical, hilly then mountainous terrain in the Himalayas — Himal means mountain, by the way.

The trek is 273km or 165 miles long. It takes about 17 days with time to acclimatise along the way as the highest point, Thorung La Pass, is 5400 metres, about 17,600 feet. Each day is about 6-7 hours walking and climbing with the longest being day 12 over the pass.

The beauty of this trek is that all along the trail there are tea houses (lodges) that provide very, very basic accommodation and meals so there is no need to carry food and camping gear.

Most people hire a guide and porter so all you need is a daypack. I travelled alone with my guide and porter but there were groups of all nationalities on the trails.

Some young people seemed to be carrying their own packs without guides or porters. Though the trail was supposedly well marked they looked a bit lost at times, certainly not as happy as me with my lightweight pack and two singing guide and porter men to help me.

A guide also makes it so much easier to communicate with the locals who only know just a bit of English. I ’m sure I got the best rooms at the lodges too because of them.

The trek begins . . .

Today I got on the bus in Kathmandu to drive eight hours to the start of the trek. I am not exaggerating when I say the bus was more rustic and less comfortable than the ones I rode in Kenya 30 years ago. I was squished into the seat with my big backpack at my feet and my other heavy backpack on my lap. My knees were against my chest.

As we started off, my guide Niraj was immediately on the phone looking for our porter Arjun who was not on the bus. Finally he met us somewhere en route and made a running jump to get on board.

The roads were unpaved and really narrow and we stopped every 15 minutes or so for traffic or to let more people on . . . despite the fact there was no room for anyone else! People were all over the place with boys hanging out the door. It was hysterical.

After a while, I was busting to pee. When we finally stopped, I got my first experience of a Nepal squat loo with no toilet paper in sight. Back on the bus, I had to open the window to get some air (no air-con) but it was raining so I got constantly dripped on.

I looked out the window at the landscape — flat, rural, green, tropical rainforest with very poor housing in the little villages.

At around 2pm Niraj turned to me and said we had 15km to go. I gave him the thumbs up, all excited. An hour later we arrived at the lodge in Chamje. I was shown to my room which had no electricity at that stage due to thunderstorms and frequent power outages. But at least I had wifi.

I took a cold shower, waited for my dahl bhat dinner and contemplated the 273-km trek that lay ahead of me.

Dahl bhat is the national dish and consists of a huge mound of white rice surrounded by sautéed spinach and another vegetable (whatever they have on hand) usually cauliflower, potato and maybe chicken or pork. There is a spicy pickled relish served with it and a cup of lentil broth with dahl spices, and maybe a thin chapatti. Each cook has his/her own way of making it but most eat it twice a day.

I went to bed and woke up at 5am to the beautiful sound of Buddhist monks chanting. We set off at 7.30am and reached our lunch stop an hour and a half early.

Niraj laughed and said he thought I was going to be really slow. Perhaps his impression was based on my age? He is 31 and has a 23 year-old wife Alina, 5 year-old daughter Nirvana and 2 year-old son Jebain. They live in the eastern part of Nepal near Mt Everest.

Soon the trekking season will be over so he will be home with them for a few months. The average wage is about $US5-$US10 a day if you can find work. He is one of eight kids. His parents are in their early 60s but sadly, due to the hard life here, they “are much older and cannot do much”. He tries to support them when he can. He has been a guide for 11 years and his English is good.

Arjun, our porter, is 21. He has a young daughter and lives in western Nepal. He has limited English and is as skinny as a rail but carries a 30kg load on his back supported by a strap around his head.

They both had smartphones and surprisingly the reception was better there than in some parts of Gisborne.

Our trek took up from 1430 metres to 2160 metres in elevation on a warm sunny day, 20-22 degrees C, with a few light clouds. We mainly followed a dirt road past terraced fields, a big hydropower station, many types of bamboo but no sightings of mountains yet.

We made it to our lodge at Gyuncie by 3pm with some breaks. I had a hot shower after a bit of finagling around with a suspect shower stall but it felt great. I ate dahl bhat for dinner again and then went to bed. It was a rainy evening but there were much cooler temperatures to come. To be continued

Gisborne physician Sari MacKenzie shares her adventures while trekking the Annapurna Circuit from Besisahar to Pokhara in Nepal considered one of the best treks in the world . . . here’s the first of a series about her 17-day, 273km expedition which took her over the 5400m-high Thorung La Pass.

I decided to do the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal on a bit of a whim. I had some annual leave due and my husband Andrew and our sons were not able to join me. I was originally intending to do a yoga trip but then came across the trekking idea. I spent a weekend researching Nepal treks and chose to go with the Adventure Mountain Expeditions company based on the reviews I read and the availability of the right dates.

There could have been up to nine others on the trek but it turned out to be just me because no one else signed up for those dates.

Adventure Mountain Expeditions assigned a guide and porter and organised transport and accommodation. All I had to do was show up in Kathmandu on the appointed day. They took care of everything else.

As I had never travelled in Nepal before I would not have felt comfortable trying to make my own arrangements myself but having been there, I would now feel confident to do the planning myself.

The Annapurna Circuit is considered one of the best treks in the world. It encompasses three zones in Nepal covering subtropical, hilly then mountainous terrain in the Himalayas — Himal means mountain, by the way.

The trek is 273km or 165 miles long. It takes about 17 days with time to acclimatise along the way as the highest point, Thorung La Pass, is 5400 metres, about 17,600 feet. Each day is about 6-7 hours walking and climbing with the longest being day 12 over the pass.

The beauty of this trek is that all along the trail there are tea houses (lodges) that provide very, very basic accommodation and meals so there is no need to carry food and camping gear.

Most people hire a guide and porter so all you need is a daypack. I travelled alone with my guide and porter but there were groups of all nationalities on the trails.

Some young people seemed to be carrying their own packs without guides or porters. Though the trail was supposedly well marked they looked a bit lost at times, certainly not as happy as me with my lightweight pack and two singing guide and porter men to help me.

A guide also makes it so much easier to communicate with the locals who only know just a bit of English. I ’m sure I got the best rooms at the lodges too because of them.

The trek begins . . .

Today I got on the bus in Kathmandu to drive eight hours to the start of the trek. I am not exaggerating when I say the bus was more rustic and less comfortable than the ones I rode in Kenya 30 years ago. I was squished into the seat with my big backpack at my feet and my other heavy backpack on my lap. My knees were against my chest.

As we started off, my guide Niraj was immediately on the phone looking for our porter Arjun who was not on the bus. Finally he met us somewhere en route and made a running jump to get on board.

The roads were unpaved and really narrow and we stopped every 15 minutes or so for traffic or to let more people on . . . despite the fact there was no room for anyone else! People were all over the place with boys hanging out the door. It was hysterical.

After a while, I was busting to pee. When we finally stopped, I got my first experience of a Nepal squat loo with no toilet paper in sight. Back on the bus, I had to open the window to get some air (no air-con) but it was raining so I got constantly dripped on.

I looked out the window at the landscape — flat, rural, green, tropical rainforest with very poor housing in the little villages.

At around 2pm Niraj turned to me and said we had 15km to go. I gave him the thumbs up, all excited. An hour later we arrived at the lodge in Chamje. I was shown to my room which had no electricity at that stage due to thunderstorms and frequent power outages. But at least I had wifi.

I took a cold shower, waited for my dahl bhat dinner and contemplated the 273-km trek that lay ahead of me.

Dahl bhat is the national dish and consists of a huge mound of white rice surrounded by sautéed spinach and another vegetable (whatever they have on hand) usually cauliflower, potato and maybe chicken or pork. There is a spicy pickled relish served with it and a cup of lentil broth with dahl spices, and maybe a thin chapatti. Each cook has his/her own way of making it but most eat it twice a day.

I went to bed and woke up at 5am to the beautiful sound of Buddhist monks chanting. We set off at 7.30am and reached our lunch stop an hour and a half early.

Niraj laughed and said he thought I was going to be really slow. Perhaps his impression was based on my age? He is 31 and has a 23 year-old wife Alina, 5 year-old daughter Nirvana and 2 year-old son Jebain. They live in the eastern part of Nepal near Mt Everest.

Soon the trekking season will be over so he will be home with them for a few months. The average wage is about $US5-$US10 a day if you can find work. He is one of eight kids. His parents are in their early 60s but sadly, due to the hard life here, they “are much older and cannot do much”. He tries to support them when he can. He has been a guide for 11 years and his English is good.

Arjun, our porter, is 21. He has a young daughter and lives in western Nepal. He has limited English and is as skinny as a rail but carries a 30kg load on his back supported by a strap around his head.

They both had smartphones and surprisingly the reception was better there than in some parts of Gisborne.

Our trek took up from 1430 metres to 2160 metres in elevation on a warm sunny day, 20-22 degrees C, with a few light clouds. We mainly followed a dirt road past terraced fields, a big hydropower station, many types of bamboo but no sightings of mountains yet.

We made it to our lodge at Gyuncie by 3pm with some breaks. I had a hot shower after a bit of finagling around with a suspect shower stall but it felt great. I ate dahl bhat for dinner again and then went to bed. It was a rainy evening but there were much cooler temperatures to come. To be continued

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