Annapurna Circuit, Nepal -1

In 1988 – thirty years ago! – I walked the Annapurna Circuit. This has long been regarded as one of the top ten walks in the world, and is certainly the walk I have enjoyed most. I put up a post about the circuit a year and a half ago (here) should you wish to read it, but as a celebration of that anniversary, I thought I would put up some more photographs over several posts.

Today, they are all from our second day’s walk.

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We camped the whole way, since there was virtually no accommodation on the route then. It was sometimes possible to sleep on the floor of a tea-house, but that usually meant an uncomfortable night in a very smoky atmosphere, and probably not a great deal warmer than a tent. It meant we were travelling with four guides, a couple of cooks, a couple of ‘kitchen boys’, and an average of fifteen to twenty porters (every so often one or two would leave, and others get hired from a village we were passing through).

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We began our walk from Gorkha, walking through the Terai – the sub-tropical forest region that stretches across most of Southern Nepal and much of the Himalayan Foothills of Northern India. This was a land of small rural villages, terraced fields carved painstakingly out of the hillsides, and, naturally, wooded hillsides.

Much of the woodland had already gone, cut both as clearance for fields and for fuel and fodder. It was already leading to much soil erosion and the degradation of the remaining soils. With the passage of thirty years, this can only have got worse.

On day 2 we walked from our campsite beside the Dharandi Khola to the settlement of Chepe Ghat.

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Transport in these areas was entirely by foot, usually in the form of porters who carried massive loads upon their backs. Occasionally by pony, or by bullock, but never by yak – they do not survive at these comparatively low altitudes. In 1988, walking the Annapurna Circuit was entirely on tracks and paths, since there were no roads of any description on our route. Today, there are motorable roads along part of it, but back then we did not see or hear a motorised vehicle for the duration of the trek.

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Building materials in these areas were, and predominantly still are, wood, thatch, and mud. Stone was used only in larger settlements.

The boy pictured above, incidentally, will now be in his late thirties.

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Wooded hillsides, with the terraced fields belonging to a nearby village encroaching.

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Rice paddy – terraced fields flooded for the planting of rice, the staple crop of the Nepal Lowlands.

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37 thoughts on “Annapurna Circuit, Nepal -1

      1. Yes , exactly what I meant . Read one such experience in Ruskin Bond’s ‘ A tiger in the house ‘ . A hunting expedition with a tent for each hunter , eight course meals and hot plates ! Stark contrast to your experience . Coincidentally I think the setting of that story was also somewhere in the Terai 🙂

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  1. An amazing experience, especially to visit before roadways came through.
    I hope to visit that area some day. This post reminds me of when I was a kid, visiting a relative’s house, and poring over a generation’s accumulation of National Geographic’s. Always excellent photos – in the articles, that magazine always focused on the positive side, but sometimes when you see these denuded hillsides, there’s an undeniable urge to intervene, and try to prevent the erosion and soil exhaustion. I guess that’s my classic Westerner’s arrogance – but once they’ve constructed the terraces, don’t they last for 100’s of years? So they must have worked out the engineering to channel and control the rainwater somewhat, or the terraces would have washed away? Or do they up stakes and move the village periodically, like the pre-colonization Iroquois did in my part of the world.

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    1. Thanks, Robert. It is a remarkably beautiful place. I’ve been to Nepal four times, and certainly intend to go again.

      Yes, the terraces last for ages, since they are looked after and maintained. That’s not really the problem, though. When the trees are cut on the hillsides that haven’t been terraced – and that is all the higher ones – the soil washes away and this contributes to landslides, degradation of the whole soil system (higher up, much of the subsistence farming is on any available flattish land), and destroys the chances of trees being replanted to replace those cut. There are solutions, for example there are some lo-tech clay cookers being introduced that not only use less fuel, and therefore lead to fewer trees being cut, but also produce fewer toxic fumes. So everyone’s a winner!

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  2. 1988! Before I was born. Haha..
    But the soil erosion and land degradation should not have become worse Mick. The route lies in the ‘Annapurna Conservation Area’, and also due to its worldwide attention and publicity, the government should have imposed strict laws and has made improvements.

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    1. Ah, I hope so, Aditya. Have you been there? I would certainly be interested in seeing how it has fared in those last thirty years. Some changes, of course, are beyond the government’s control. Higher up, there are the glaciers retreating and new lakes forming. A different problem altogether. But that is something for a later post.

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  3. Thanks for showing us pictures from the past. I’m sure these are much before the digi-cams took over. There’s a different feel to the print – color! I will never walk any of popular trails like the one you mentioned, EBC or Chaddar trek here in Ladakh. These places are too commercialized for my liking!

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    1. You make a good point, Arv. There is certainly a very different feel to, for example, the Everest Trail, where there are so many lodges you can stay at, a few luxury hotels…
      …but it is still the Everest Trail for all that, and you still get to see magnificent scenery and beautiful monasteries, and I’m sure the Annapurna Circuit is still an amazing experience. Just a bit different from thirty years ago.

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            1. Again, I have to agree with you on this, Arv. The idea of rushing through a place in an attempt to see every sight in the guide book seems ridiculous. I’d rather take my time and get to know a place for a while, just wandering around, and then go and see the places I really want to see.

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  4. Amazing photos Mick, there really is something special about developed photographs rather than digital. Deeper colour maybe or just the sense that they really are 100% truly accurate with no filters or touch-ups. Looks like a wonderful experience too.

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    1. I think the colours have faded a bit over the years, Jonno. A couple of years ago I dug out a couple of negatives from my first trip to India, which was around the same time, having lost the prints and had them redeveloped. The results were far brighter colours than the remaining prints.

      As for the experience, without a doubt my favourite journey so far.

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        1. I’m sure it has, although I’m thinking that because the colours seem a little washed out next to more recent shots of various subjects – if I boost the yellow and the green artificially, I get a more natural looking shot (although I’ve not done that on these)

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    1. It was amazing, Ann. But I’m really uncertain whether I would do it again. Part of me reminds me how fantastic it all was, and that it would still be, mainly, fantastic. The other part reminds me there is now a motorable road along part of the route, and lots of new lodges and it will inevitably be different.
      On balance, I suspect i would…

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