The route from Jagat to Dharapani starts with a beautiful walk along the narrow river valley. Waterfalls are everywhere, and the vegetation becomes a mixture between the lush greenness of the first couple of days and the woodlands of a higher, mountain altitude. At first the route goes up and down quite gently above the river, but soon comes a steeper climb – we were now walking close to the 2000 metre mark.
After the climb you arrive in Tal, which is said to have once been the site of a lake that gradually silted up. The result is now that the river spreads across the valley, looking much slower and in many ways less impressive than it does with a narrower channel and steeper gradient.
We were no longer seeing rice fields, maize is much more the preferred crop in these parts. In Tal we came across the solution to the problem of water and plastic bottles that I mentioned in a previous post. A scheme has been set up in several of the villages on the Annapurna Circuit to provide safe drinking water to walkers. You pay less for good quality purified mountain water than you do for mineral water, and you reuse the plastic bottles that would otherwise end up on heaps of rubbish. Just to make it the perfect scheme, the local community makes some income from it. It's a wonderful, and very simple idea. From this point onwards we hardly had to buy bottled water.
After lunch in a restaurant in Tal, a privilege of tea house trekkers, we set off again into a narrower valley. The big peaks are invisible in this stretch of the route, hidden behind high valley walls. At points here the route becomes difficult and even slightly risky as we had to navigate a waterfall. However, most of the time the path is broad and easy, something that has been “helped” by ongoing road construction work on the lower parts of the route. Judging by current progress this work could take years, but if the result is traffic along this road then it's worth asking whether the trekkers will still want to walk this path? It's a good reason, if you need one, to do the Annapurna Circuit before it is too late.
The ascent is generally not too hard. What it did have was several river crossings, which brings us neatly to the subject of bridges. Now I have what could be described as a medium level vertigo problem, not so serious that it stops me from enjoying high mountain walks, but occasionally quite severe when I find myself feeling insecure with a big drop below me. It's hard to explain to those who don't suffer from the problem, those that do will know what I'm talking about.
One of my big fears about this route concerned bridges, more or less from the moment that I read in our schedule about having to cross a valley at 4000 metres. My imagination got to work with this idea and I soon had the picture of a flimsy rope bridge high above a ravine, and probably with some malevolent local chopping with his machete at the last remaining threads on the opposite side. Something a bit like this.
The reality, I'm happy to report, is different. Strong metal bridges cross the river, supported by very sturdy steel cables and huge concrete blocks on either side. They are still crossing fast moving Himalayan rivers of course. The first bridge we had to cross was during the great Siurung thunderstorm, all I had to do was make a simple association between water, lightning and a metal bridge and I was across in record time. My second bridge was on the other side of Siurung and some local kids thought it was great fun to start jumping up and down in the middle of the bridge. Not everybody was laughing. On the third bridge I was lucky, the group of donkeys got across before I got there.
These animals transport most of the goods that reach the villages up here and it's not a good idea to get in their way. In the end I adopted a simple system of getting Silvia, my partner, to walk ahead of me on the bridge, I would go about one metre behind and focus on her rucksack or cap rather than on the torrent of water below me. It works.
One of the villages we passed through closer to Dharapani was clearly in the hands of the Maoist party, who are now a major political force in Nepal following the civil war a few years ago and the conversion of the country into a republic.
Dharapani is similar to Jagat but the river gorge at this point is even narrower, and the village faces an almost sheer rock face rising above it. There is always the local cartography to help you find your way, although it's quite hard to get lost.
View Nepal - The Annapurna Circuit in a larger map