Woke up this morning just before the sun came up an even though it was before 6 – decided to climb to the roof and see whether there were any clouds. Was greeted by the most amazingly clear view of the Annapurna Himal. I sat and watched as the sun slowly rose and turned each peak orange.
It was a perfect morning to fly and at the airport the same faces from our attempt last week were there smiling and easing any last minute concerns that we might not leave again. I was pretty nervous about the flight – never been on such a small plan before – only about 12 seats. But Rob held my hand for take-off and I held onto the seat for the rest of the way, and we sucked polos and watched out of the windows at the crazy scenery.
At a couple of points the ground suddenly appeared right below or next to us which was a bit unnerving, but in a record 15 minutes we were slowing and descending to Jomsom – one of the highest airports in the world.
From the airport we headed right to the first checkpoint and filled our water, chatting to a couple of Polish guys who were doing a similar route. We exchanged a few key words (pani = water) for some string and then headed off. They are going to Kagbeni today so perhaps we will see them on the way down. We are going to rest at the lower town of Marpha to help acclimatise before heading further up to start the half-circuit.
In favour of a promise of scenery instead of the ‘road’, we chose a harder route to Marpha. The well sign-posted route mentioned in the guidebook turned out to require a lot of guesswork and following locals to the small hillside town of Thini, wandering through rice field and up and over stone walls and vertical drops. Not quite as tame as the book had made it out to be, but arriving in Thini it was worth it. A picturesque, untouched place, white-washed buildings, apple orchards and a quick moving stream along the main path in the town.
From Thini we headed down to cross a river joining the Kali Gandaki at which point I realised I had left my sunglasses in a field when we stopped for water break. There was not much to do but feel stupid, already an hour into the walk, too far to turn back.
We headed up again to Dhumba Lake (2830m) and further still to Katsapterenga Gompa (2920m) where we did not go in, but did die for ten minutes outside, enjoying a comfortable rock and an amazing view. The path then snaked down the hill, past a school “Hello! Sweet?” and then further down, going back on ourselves to a bridge to Syang where we picked up the road and walked the final 30 minutes to Marpha, trying to avoid the dust kicked up by motorbikes and a sudden opposing wind that tried to push us back to Jomsom.
So now we are at the eerily quiet Hotel Trans-Himalaya where we have a double room with bathroom for Rs200 (about Rs100 to a £) and have just had an amazing lunch (first meal of the day) and tea for Rs300 for us both!
We’ve both taken a diamox (helps the body to adjust to the altitude by making you wee lots?!) to be safe, but at this stage I think we’re just knackered. We rested our legs before exploring Marpha in more alert detail.
Managed to fill up our water at another safe drinking station – think they are in all of the main towns now) and then had the bright idea to walk up the steps to the monastery above the town. It was a great view over the valley but the steps were a killer!
Somehow cold at 18C we (I) climbed into sleeping bags and dozed and planned our route for tomorrow before a massive dinner of Dal Bhat and apple juice. We met the only other guests here (in a massive hotel), a couple from Estonia who had tried unsuccessfully to climb the pass to Tilicho Lake. Made our little 200m climb today look silly. We headed to bed at a pitch-black 7.30 and had a silent but restless night at the diamox did its job.