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Tea House Trekking in the Himalayas – Annapurna Base Camp

Tea House Trekking in the Himalayas

November 19, 2014 – November 28, 2014

Full Annapurna Base Camp Trek Photos Here.

Hiking the Himalayas

Our first stop in Asia would be Nepal for a month of exploration in the Himalayas.  The world’s tallest mountains have always been a dream to see, and now we were actually going to be hiking amongst some of the peaks.  We would be spending eleven days doing what is known as Tea House Trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp.   Popular hiking routes are dotted with small Tea Houses where one can stop to relax and refresh and even stay the night, making trekking on these long high elevation trails safer and easier, and accessible to hikers of nearly any skill level.
After another long layover in Doha, Qatar, 13 hours, where we were not so lucky to score a free hotel room this time due to the promotional rate we paid, we finally arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Himalayas and now we were going to spend over a month in Nepal and two weeks actually trekking through the foothills of the tallest peaks in the world. One of the first things we noticed is that you can’t really see any mountains from Kathmandu. The capital city is too far away and the sky’s too hazy with pollution. The air pollution was another big surprise, thinking of Nepal and the Himalayas brings to mind images of pristine mountain ranges and skies filled with cool clean air. Only on the clearest of days can you see hints of the mountains in the distance.

We spent two days in Kathmandu, planning our trek and buying some gear that we would need. For anyone who is a fan of outdoor gear in general Kathmandu is a shoppers paradise, shop after shop filled with brand name gear on the cheap. Most of it is knock offs, there’s apparently shops in town that specialize in making brand name labels and the other materials are easy for manufactures to get a hold of. The fake gear doesn’t mean its bad however and pretty much everything we saw looked just as good as the originals. I just wouldn’t buy anything that is a safety concern like climbing gear, but jackets, shirts, pants and things of that nature all look and feel just as good as the original. We purchased two sleeping bags, they say they are good to -20 C but they pack as small as a football, so we doubted they are actually good for -20.  As we would be returning to Kathmandu two more times in Nepal I’ll save more on Kathmandu for a future article.

After Kathmandu we headed west to the smaller city of Pokhara. This lake shore town with views of the Himalayas on a good day is the starting point for many of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal.  Here in Pokhara we rented some more gear, and better alternative to buying we found out, you can rent a sleeping bag for as little as 70 cents a day, we rented another sleeping bag, in case the other two which promised to be -20 degree bags could not deliver.  Krista would take the real sleeping bag and I took the two fake ones figuring I could stuff them together and sleep in both if I needed too.  We also rented two trekking poles for 60 cents a day for both, we each took one, they turned out to be very helpful for the downhill bits.

Tea House Trekking

There are various routes all around the Annapurna Range and all are very popular with tourists, as a result tea houses, essentially minimalistic hotels offering simple rooms and hot meals have sprung up everywhere, just about anywhere on the trail you are rarely more than an hour from shelter, hot tea and a warm meal, occasionally even a hot shower at the nicer places. So you need not pack a tent or a significant amount of food or cooking gear unless you really want to.  Hiring guides and/or porters to carry your stuff is common on the trail, we elected to go by ourselves and just purchased a good map to keep costs down.  The trails are generally well marked and there’s always other trekkers and villagers around to ask directions if you are unsure where to go.

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

There are many options for trekking in the area varying in location, difficulty and length, from one or two days or up to 30+ days. We elected to go for the popular Annapurna Base Camp trek, a 8-12 day trek to the Annapurna Mountain Base Camp at 13,537 feet. We left most of our stuff in our hotel’s storage room in Pokhara and loaded our packs for only what we would need for what would turn out to be an 11 day trek. A short taxi ride from Pokhara took us to the trail head at Phedi around 9am where we began our journey into the mountains.

Our trail started out challenging from the get-go with a long staircase up this hill from the small village of Phedi in the river valley below.
Our trail started out challenging from the get-go with a long staircase up this hill from the small village of Phedi in the river valley below.

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The first couple days of our trek were not what most would envision as hiking in the Himalayas. As you are mostly walking through small villages, often on gravel roads through jungle forests filled with monkeys. It is however a great way to see small village life in Nepal as you walk passed small farms and schools in the foothills far from the big cities. Having plenty of time and not being in a rush we took our time and only hiked for around 4-5 hours each day. Seasoned hikers who don’t waste any daylight hours could easily get from the trail head to the base camp in three days or less but we had the luxury of time and didn’t want to get worn out quickly. We stopped for the first night in the small village of Tolka.

The trail starts in the village covered foothills, with beautiful views around, but no mountains.
The trail starts in the village covered foothills, with beautiful views around, but if there were any mountains they were blocked by the clouds.
Villagers use the hiking trails as their road and herding trail.
Villagers use the hiking trails as their road and herding trail.

The Tea Houses

The Tea Houses, really just small family run hotels, a large home which rents out a handful of rooms to guests and has a kitchen large enough to feed everyone, are very common, and very cheap. The typical price of a room is 300 Nepalese Rupees or around US $3.00 a night, but if you agree to eat your meals there you can usually negotiate your rate down to just US $1-2 a night. The meals are more expensive around US $3-5 per person and where the Tea Houses really make all their money, so the rooms are easily negotiable. While there were plenty of rooms available everywhere we went, the worry of hiking somewhere late in the evening and not being able to find a room was another reason we choose to stop early each day, usually by 3pm. This only really becomes an issue during peak hiking seasons and in the smaller villages. The prevalence of accommodation options along the trail makes setting your own difficulty level and schedule incredibly easy and convenient.

Hot Springs in the Himalayas

Another surprise was the existence of hot springs in the Himalayas, not being a particularly volcanic range, at least to our understanding we were not expecting to find anything like a hot spring but when we purchased our trail map in Kathmandu the sales clerk alerted us to its existence and told us we should be sure to check it out, so we packed our bathing suits. The hot spring along the trail we visited (as there are several) was in the small village of Chinu, a 20 minute walk down to the river revealed several small pools filled with piping hot water with views of the river and monkeys playing in the trees. If you want the village sells cold beers to take down with you.

Monkeys were a common sight along the trail.
Monkeys were a common sight along the trail.

As we progressed the villages became more and more remote, the gravel roads turned into proper hiking trails and the mountains loomed higher and more magnificently above us with each passing day. By the time we came to the village of Chomrong on our third day the mountains were offering great views of what was to come ahead.

 

The small village of Tolka clings to the steep sides of the valley.
The small village of Tolka clings to the steep sides of the valley.
Day two we began to be able to see the snow covered Himalayas in the distance.
Day two we began to be able to see the snow covered Himalayas in the distance.

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Children like to run up to trekkers and ask for sweets.
Children like to run up to trekkers and ask for sweets.
One of many cable and rope bridges that we would cross on the way up.
One of many cable and rope bridges that we would cross on the way up.
The large village of Chomrong on the way up the mountain.
The large village of Chomrong on the way up the mountain.

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The views just got better and better the higher up we went.  Machhapuchhre (Fishtail Mountain)
The views just got better and better the higher up we went. Machhapuchhre (Fishtail Mountain)
Our goal is ahead, the base of Annapurna Mountain.
Our goal is ahead, the base of Annapurna Mountain.
Almost there, surprisingly there is very little snow along the trail, even for being nearly 13,000 feet above sea level in late November.
Almost there, surprisingly there is very little snow along the trail, even for being nearly 13,000 feet above sea level in late November.  However this stream has turned into ice.

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Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp, 13,537 feet - Lodge in the background.
Annapurna Base Camp, 13,537 feet – Lodge in the background.

After 5 days of hiking and 3000 meters of elevation gain we arrived at the base camp, altitude 4130 meters(13,537 feet), and the best mountain views since our Huayhuash trek in Peru. Despite being just a few days before Thanksgiving the weather was surprisingly clear, there were only patches of snow along the trail and the during the day the sun was actually quite hot. At night however the temperatures plummeted and the extra layers and sleeping bags we brought came in handy. We had great sunset and sunrise photos and at night we went outside to see one of the clearest and most star filled skies we’ve seen on this trip. Only the night sky on the Bolivian Salt Flats was better.

Tibetan prayer flags are a common sight.
Tibetan prayer flags are a common sight.

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Sunset and Sunrise at Annapurna Base Camp

Nearing sunset at Annapurna
Nearing sunset at Annapurna

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Staying for sunset and getting up in the cold for an early sunrise is popular if you stay at Annapurna, and is indeed the reason most decide to stay the night there rather than just visit for a few hours and begin to head back down.  Sunrise was beautiful, but if the clouds are cooperating we thought sunset was better.

Sunrise over Annapurna.
Sunrise over Annapurna.

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After sunrise the sky is the clearest and we could finally take some clear photos.
After sunrise the sky is the clearest and we could finally take some clear photos.
The Annapurna Glacier in the valley to the right, you can hear it creaking constantly.
The Annapurna Glacier in the valley to the right, you can hear it creaking constantly.

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Back Downhill

It turns out walking downhill is much faster than walking uphill and we made great time leaving the base camp. We took a different route back so we could go to Poon Hill, a view point above the town of Ghorepani, which was known for great views and also so we wouldn’t have to backtrack as much along the same trails.

Looking back the way we had come on the way down, Fishtail again in the background.
Looking back the way we had come on the way down, Fishtail again in the background.
A common road block along the lower sections of the trail
A common road block along the lower sections of the trail
We stopped in Chomrong and found a bakery serving freshly made apple pie and real filter coffee! A real treat where instant coffee is king.
A coffee shop with the best view in the world! We stopped in Chomrong and found a bakery serving freshly made apple pie and real filter coffee! A real treat where instant coffee is king.
In case you're wondering how chickens (and pretty much everything else) is transported to the remote villages.
In case you’re wondering how chickens (and pretty much everything else) is transported to the remote villages.
Everything you see in the villages has been carried there.
Everything you see in the villages has been carried there.
Corn set out to dry.
Corn set out to dry.

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A newly  constructed cable bridge.
A newly constructed cable bridge.
Hiking in the fog.
Hiking in the fog.
Petting wild ponies
Petting wild ponies

Ghorepani and Poon Hill

It took four days to reach Ghorepani on Thanksgiving Day and shared our Thanksgiving meal with Stephanie an American we met. They were fresh out of stuffed turkeys so we had to settle for vegetarian curry.  The next morning early, we hiked up Poon Hill with our headlamps on in the dark for the popular sunrise view of the mountains.  Unfortunately the day we were there it was completely clouded over and we couldn’t see anything.

The view from cloud covered Poon Hill.
The view from cloud covered Poon Hill.

After Poon Hill we again took to the trail and headed back down the valley towards the main roads in order to catch a bus back to Pokhara.  Our final night, in Birethanti, we met an American lady on her third trip to Nepal, who gave us all the fixings for smores!  Although we found it difficult to roast marshmallows in Nepal, we very much enjoyed a taste of home with some snacks of Hershey’s chocolate and graham crackers.

Waterfalls along the way.
Waterfalls along the way.
The end of the hike near the town of Nayapul.
The end of the hike near the town of Nayapul.
Checking out, every trekker must register in and out of the mountains.
Checking out, every trekker must register in and out of the mountains.

After our trek we spent a few days relaxing Pokhara.  Tea House Trekking turned out to be a great way to experience the Himalayas.  It is a wholly different style of hiking than what we were used too.  With lodging and hot food available constantly along the trail it is easy to see why it is so popular, it has opened up Himalayan trekking to those of all skill levels.  If you have the time you can make the trip as long or short as you like.

2 thoughts on “Tea House Trekking in the Himalayas – Annapurna Base Camp”

  1. Hi did either of you or anyone you know suffer with alttitude sickness. I am doing annapurna base camp over 10days in April.
    Thanks x

  2. Hi! Your pictures and descriptions are so awe-inspiring! I plan on doing the ABC trek this January and I was just wondering what your final budget was for the trip. It sounds like you and your partner had an amazing time. Please let me know, thanks.

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