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A STRANGER IN STRANGE LANDS:


THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT, NOVEMBER 2001


'In such country there is no monotony' : H W Tilman



















I said 2001 would be the last Nepal visit - the increasing unrest in the country, the thought of hard days walking, the cold and discomfort, a new guide, the desire to see somewhere new. Yes, 2001 would be the last time. And then as the plane came in over the suburbs of Kathmandu, and people working in fields waved as we swooped low over the airport boundary, the thought came to me: 'Yes, you're home…'


The Annapurna Circuit is described as one of the classic walks in the world. It is long - 23 days trekking, but comparatively simple, walking up one valley and down another. Between those valleys, though, lies the Thorung La, a pass of 17,766' - a barrier as much psychological as physical, which must be crossed to complete the circuit. The trek excels in the variety that it offers the visitor. Following the Marsyangdi river through a sub-tropical region, the mountains are distant, but over the next week you walk through alpine forests and pastures, along wide river valleys, and then, passing into the rain shadow, you enter high altitude desert. Here the mountains tower over you. The people along the route change from Hindu farmers to Buddhist highlanders, seemingly often just scratching a living from the barren lands they inhabit - but appearances can be misleading as these people have long been well known as traders and travellers.


Crossing of the Thorung La is straightforward, but it is a 3,000' climb followed by a 5,000' descent in one day - physically and mentally this is challenging but the result is worth it as you descend to the ancient Hindu pilgrimage site of Muktinath. Here come pilgrims from all over the sub-continent, searching for Mukti: liberation or freedom. Now the trail is downhill, through an ever-changing landscape of greys and brown, backed by white-capped mountains, and with a clear blue sky. We follow the Kali Gandaki river for several days before climbing through wonderfully scenic foothill country to Ghorepani and then down to Pokhara: the end of the trail.


As we arrived in Pokhara there came the news that the ceasefire between Government and Maoists had broken down and there was serious fighting in parts of the country. Despite this, this was a trek to savour and remember. It was possibly the happiest trek that I have done, certainly since the heady days of 'Everest '92' (‘What Does the Mountain Care?’). Walking alone, but with young Tendi and Nuri for company made this a trek to savour and remember. And there were still the wonders of Kathmandu…


The presentation aims to show the country but also, perhaps, to think about some of the stresses and strains that the country is experiencing as it stands at a crossroads.


I said I would never go back…


"And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said,

I have been a stranger in a strange land" (Exodus 2, 22).