With a desire of escaping the hustle-bustle of my daily work and trekking away from wi-fi and luxurious foods, I snacked off to Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit, the wild and less trekked Tibetan Influenced trekking trial slowly opening for independent trekkers allowing them to know more about the Manage people who have been living in this region for decades.
Once the exclusive domain of expensive, porter-hauled mountaineering expeditions, Nar Phu is becoming increasingly accessible to ordinary 'carry your own pack' trekkers. It’s now possible, with a guide and the right permits, to string together simple village lodgings into an inexpensive seven day teahouse-style trek, visiting a string of stone-walled villages dotted across the Annapurna range.
I started my expedition at Koto (2,610m) a small village on the Annapurna Circuit route accompanied by a prescribed guide, kissing goodbye to the creature comforts of pizza, apple pie and Face book updates. Within minutes of joining the narrow, unblemished trail, the number of trekkers was surprisingly few compared to the other trekking trials. For the next seven days, I would see more porters than walkers on this 'blink and you'd miss it' track. With no motorable roads and advance transport facilities, the delivery of goods in Nar Phu region depends on mule, yak or human muscle.
Ascending ahead through prolific conifer forests above the furious white-water of the Nar Khola, there was little to do but soak up the sounds of nature. A bunch of simple bhattis (food stalls) made for a salubrious lunch stop before the trail beat an increasingly vertiginous path towards the treeline. Breathlessly, I gained the crest at a lonely chorten (stupa) and basked in front of starling views of the coming route – aloof, high reaching peaks, fragile, barbed cliffs, and deep, plunging gorges.
As I walked on a shaky suspension bridge over a stream, joined a dusty mule track zigzagging west, high above the gravity-defying monastery of Nar Phedi, but that would come later in the trek. First, I needed to tackle the totally arid and sheer rock walls of the meandering Phu valley, marked north towards Tibet. I slowly could feel the effects of high attitudes as I rolled into Meta (3,530m), set in a high bowl on the valley side where a tea house offered a meal of daal bhaat (lentil and rice) and a homely bed for the night.
I spent an extra night at Meta to ease with acclimatization, passing the time with a lenient day trek towards the base camp following by ascent of Kang Garu peak (6981m), before continuing north, on a path that immersed in and out of deep georges as it slowly twisted towards Phu. The landscape became rougher and drier due to the effects of Annapurna rain shadow with blisteringly eroded cliffs and gharled stunted juniper bushes.
The sound of stones disloged from above constantly made me watch for a glimpse of wild tahr (mountain goat) or blue sheep, both often seen on these rocky trails. After a period of time, the trail climbed onto the high grassland around ruined Chyakhu (3700m), where a brace of bhattis served up a welcome meal of daal bhaat, fueling for the final push to Phu. Following a tapering and sharp gorge, it took few more hours to reach the crumbling entrance gate to Phu. The village still was half an hour away and I was glad to drop my bag pack when I finally reached solitary lodge in Phu.
I spent two days in Phu because of the altitude as I was 4,070 meters above the sea level, exploring the village further more. The village was a stack of Tibetan - style mud and stone houses decorated with buddhist prayer flags and crowned by stacks of firewood. Due to the recent Earthquake the upper portion of Phu Village was mostly damaged, but a set of steep switchbacks delivered me to the doorstep of Tashi Lhakhang Gompa, further up the ridge, where a friendly nun proffered a cup of butter tea and welcomed me to view the shrine's inner sanctum.
If you have sufficient time you can spend several more joyful days exploring the ridges around Phu. The trail then headed above Tashi Lhakhang Gompa with its 360 degree views and two trails, one stiking north towards Tibet while another heading east tracking the glacial moraine to Himlung Base camp (4920m). There are plenty of stunning views from the bowl shaped hanging valley for those who are less oppurtunistics. The valley perches enticingly atop the terraced fields rising above Phu village.
As I wake up with an uncomfortable feeling after an uneasy and altitude affected sleep, I slowly packed my bag once again and rejoined the track along the Phu Khola, striking west just before Meta on the same trail I had spotted on my way north. Crossing a low suspension bridge at the base of eroded hoodos allowed me to enter the enchanting monastery at Nar Phedi (3,510m) , surrounded by hovering prayer flags, set on a composed ledge and ragged pinnacles. Despite their circumstances, the local monks do offer visitors with lodging facilities and I joined then on their evening puja (prayer) ceremony followed by a exuberant communal meal of Thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup).
The sleep felt much more relaxing and I had a very good sleep at this lower altitude. I was well rested for the climb to Nar. Following the trail i finally reached green barley fields of Nar Village, passing dispersed mule tracks and an atmospheric octangonal chorten. As I reached Nar during day time I had enough time to explore the smut paths twisted between stone v houses and ancient Kagyud School Gompas. Later that evening I had extra crabs in my diet in preparation for the highest point of the trek, mighty Kang La (5,320m).
Despite the low height than the Thorang La (5,416m) on the Annapurna Circuit, reaching the lofty Kang La is a much more challenging task. Above Nar, gracious pasture land soon introduced me to lose and rugged moraine, and a coarsely-defined path, switches back and forth past scruffy prayer flags, to reach several spirit-crushing false summits before finally cresting the misty, knife-edge pass. Tired from walking for hours, I paused and took a congratulatory selfie on the high point and scanned the scenery around. I could see the distant houses of Manang, the thin ribbon of Humde airstrip, and the main Annapurna circuit, two vertical kilometers below, while the snow-capped crags of Annapurna III and IV seized the horizon.
The final day was also not an easy trek for me, a descend on crazily steep angle was followed by a leveled path out onto the open debric slopesI skied down the loose gravels of the trail and i was able to walk faster. From here, the path was all downhill till Ngawal (3750m), the final stop on the trek. Nonetheless, I was extremely tired by the time I finally rolled into the village, where the Annapurna Circuit trinity of banana pancakes, apple pie and wi-fi awaited. After a week off the apple-pie trail, I wasn't entirely sad to rejoin the cheerful maas.
In order to Trek in Nar Phu, it requires a special permit, which must be issued through licensed trekking agency who will assist you and appoint a mandatory trekking guide that accompanies you throughout the trek. At the time of writing, the cost for the Nar Phu permit ranged from US$75 to $90 depending on the season; the permit is valid for only 7 days so you must complete the trek in the given timeframe. Nar Phu is a high altitude trek and acclimatizing during the trek is always proffered which will decrease the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (ACM).