There is a kind of routine on the main Annapurna route. Almost everyone gets up early in the morning, has breakfast more or less at the same time and then sets off to the next stop. This has the effect, in busy times, that for the first kilometre or two the route can be relatively crowded with a mixture of trekkers and porters, until gaps start to open up between those walking at different speeds. The bigger groups tend to fall behind, as they stop more often, and because we were just a group of two we could set our own pace and usually were amongst the first to arrive at our destination for the night. Not everybody stops in exactly the same places, because there are many possibilities, but you do end up seeing the same people day after day.
Soon after leaving Dharapani, and still following the course of the river, we got a reminder that there were some bigger mountains beyond the high walls of the river valley. It had been a couple of days since we had seen much more than our immediate surroundings, but not far from Dharapani we got a brief view of a distant peak, as a smaller valley met ours.
A short way further up the track we got a view in the distance of the peak of Annapurna 2. There are four numbered Annapurnas, with Annapurna 1 topping 8000 metres and the others not far below this. It was quite exciting to see these peaks like this, we got the feeling for the first time that we were getting into the high range. Little did we know at the time that this was to be the best view we would get of Annapurna 2 on the whole trek.
For a while the track leaves the river and enters into the forest, with a steeper climb. After this section the route is easy and beautiful as the landscape becomes much more what we would expect for such a mountainous area. It was perfect conditions for walking.
There is now plenty of pine woods and the vegetation is not as lush as it is further down the valley - we were now well over 2000 metres above sea level. The main crops cultivated up here are maize and wheat, and we also saw the first buckwheat fields and some apple orchards. Stopping for a mid-morning drink after our climb we were treated to a view of Manaslu behind us, already half covered by clouds
The path descends slightly in the latter part of this day's walk, rejoining the river with an easy stretch the rest of the way to Chame. The villages on the way look different from those that we had seen before, and we started to see the first signs of what would become a very strong Buddhist influence. At the same time the maize being dried in the sun is an image that can still be seen in rural parts of Spain.
Chame is the big city compared to many of the other villages on the circuit. It has a bank, a police station, a reggae bar where they appear to play no reggae and internet! It wouldn't do to exaggerate things, it's still one long street surrounded by the walls of the river valley. The houses by now are almost all built of stone and there are big piles of firewood used for heat and cooking. So did I feel the need to test the internet connection? Well of course I did, it had been almost a week! It was slow. I also changed some money here, although the rate you get is much worse than in Kathmandu. It's hard to know in advance how much money to change for the trek, we had prepaid for almost everything but there are always essential extras - like internet.
Just outside of Chame there is a small Tibetan community, a presence that would become significantly stronger over the next few days. The flags, prayer wheels and stones we saw here for the first time would soon become a familiar sight.
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