Unexpected trek over Thorong La Pass

This blog post about my trek experience over the mighty Thorong La Pass (Annapurna circuit) is actually from somewhere in 2012. I did not have my personal blog then so my good friend over at haminepali.com had hosted the post. But now as I have been writing occasionally here, I am sharing my experience of trekking through a beautiful part of the renowned Annapurna circuit in Nepal here. This is a post regarding how we were supposed to trek to Tilicho lake which is a lake situated at the highest altitude in the world, but had to abandon the plan mid way and trek over the mighty Thorong La pass which is one of the highest passes in the world. Hope this post will be of help if you plan to trek along this path of the Annapurna circuit.

Headed to Tilicho – ended up in Thorong La Pass

Count me in. I’m going!!!“. These were the words I said without any second thoughts when I came to know that my Rotaract friends from Pokhara (Rotaract Club of Pokhara Fishtail) had planned to go to Tilicho Lake, Manang during Dashain (a huge festival in Nepal). Trekking had been in my wishlist for a long time and October being a perfect time to visit the lake, I was super excited. But this excitement was almost given a butt-kick as the day approached.

Problem #1: My friends from Pokhara were to reach Besisahar, Lamjung and three of my other friends from Kathmandu had arranged for a car to reach Besisahar on the next day of Dashain. But due to some unavoidable circumstances, the car became unavailable for the day and we were forced to go on our motorcycles to Besisahar (almost 185 kms ride).

Problem #2: Dashain time in Nepal is when the monsoon ends and the autumn slowly creeps in. But this time around, something unexpected happened. The adverse condition in the sea around West Bengal, India dramatically affected the weather almost all over Nepal and it started raining almost 24 hrs a day some 2 days before Dashain. This continued even on the day when we were supposed to leave for Besisahar making our motorcycle ride more difficult. Moreover, the highway on the hills was actually covered with covered with clouds making it very very difficult for us to see the road. Nevertheless, the bike trip that we had started at 5:00 in the morning ended at 11:00 when we reached Besisahar (it was supposed to take only about 4 hours)

So, this was the actual trekking plan to reach Tilicho Lake.

  • Day One: Besisahar (830m) to Chame (2630 m) via Jeep
  • Day Two: Walk the whole day from Chame to Manang
  • Day Three: Rest in Manang (3540 m)
  • Day Four: Tilicho Base Camp (4200 m)
  • Day Five: Tilicho Lake and return to Base Camp
  • Day Six: Walk Tilicho Base Camp to Manang
  • Day Seven: Manang to Chame
  • Day Eight: Chame to Besisahar via jeep

Day One (Besisahar-Bahundada-Chamche-Tal)

Our plan came across its first hurdle in day one itself, when we came to know that the continuous rain had caused landslides in certain areas. This meant the jeep could not take us to Chame from Besisahar and we had to get down at Chamche from where we walked for 3 hours towards a small village called Tal (1600 m). Walking with the aid of flash lights on the first day of the trek itself gave us a slight hint of what we could expect in the coming days.

Day Two (Tal-Karte-Dharapani-Bagarchap-Danaque-Koto-Chame)

waterfall
A huge waterfall in Tal

The next morning at Tal, we came to know that the rainfall had caused waterfalls to originate from what previously was just a cliff. That was pretty amazing to know. So, we began our walk from Tal with an aim to reach Chame, a whooping 1030 m gain in altitude. This trail consisted of green hills, the great Marsyangdi river, huge cliffs, and majestic waterfalls.

This day was a real challenge for us as we did a two days’ trek in a single day. A 12 hour’s walk in the rain, through the ups and downs really drained us all at the end of the day.

Day Three (Chame-Pisang-Humde-Manang)

Day two was really tough on us and we had really taken a beat. Most of the group members were really exhausted and were not in a state to walk to Manang. Considering the fact that we were already behind schedule, and that resting in Chame was not a choice, we finally decided to hire bikes to take us to Manang. This might not sound like the spirit of a trekker but we were left with no other choice.

swargadwari
View at Swargadwari. We took a break here to have a look at the amazing landscape here.

The bike ride cost us Rs. 2500 per head and took us to Manang within 2 hours (including breaks). The bike ride through the rough roads, up the hills, across the suspension bridge was an adventure on its own. There were times when the rider had to ride the bike up to the debris caused by a fresh landslide. And not to forget to sharp corner he would take while going up the rough mountains. But once we reached Pisang, the roads were wider, “smoother”, and the views were mind blowing. This time around I wished we had walked. Wide and flat area of land with colorful maple trees, with first clear views of the snow laden mountains took all the tired feeling away. Finally, by mid-day we were in Manang – on the shadows of the mountains.

manang
First view of the mountains as we reached Pisang

Things we did in Manang

  • Rested in the hotel for the first hour
  • Had lunch
  • Enjoyed the first warm feeling of the sunrays after many days
  • Dried our wet clothes out in the sun
  • Played cards amongst friends
  • Visited Gangapurna Lake : This is a glacier lake which is just about 15 minutes away from the town. We had loads of photographs there and shouted our tiresome feeling away.

Day Four (Acclimatization: Ice Lake, Visit to Braga Village and Monastery)

To get adapted to the conditions in Tilicho lake, we were suggested to spend some time in Ice Lake (4400 m). We were told that it would take somewhere around 6 hours for us to reach there. The girls from our group could only make it up to 4200 m that day while the boys totally lost the way and adventured around in the unknown hills.

In the evening, a few of us went out to visit Braga village. It is just about 30 minutes walk from Manang and was like an almost abandoned village when we visited. The houses on the village were damaged heavily by snow and the only human activity that we noticed was on the Braga Monastery on the top of the hill. When we reached there, we came to know that a special Pooja was taking place asking for forgiveness for the sacrifices of animals done during the Dashain festival.

yaks
Yaks grazing with Braga village in the background

Weather had slightly improved on day four and we sat down to plan for the next day after dinner. There were two views that came out at night.

  1. In case the weather does not favor us to go to Tilicho Lake, we would then head towards Thorong La pass
  2. In case the weather favors us and we go to Tilicho Lake, we would then return the same way we came

Day Five (No Tilicho Lake for us 🙁 )

The first thing we noticed after waking up on the fifth day is that it had started raining again. This meant it would not be possible for us to head towards Tilicho Lake due to the snow covered trails and our inexperience in such conditions. The locals even warned us that the shoes we were wearing would not be able to protect us from snow. So we headed towards Yak Kharka (4000 m). It was a nice 4 hours walk from Manang to reach Yak Kharka. At night we got to enjoy some television after a long time – we watched the English Premier League (football). We also noticed that it had started snowing a bit. I personally was very excited as it was my first time witnessing snowfall.

Day Six (Yak Kharka – Ledar – Thorong Phedi)

The morning was cold and it was snowing a little again. The roof tops, the stock piled wood, and the stairs were white covered in snow. As we started the walk for the day, the snow stopped and the sun came out a little. We reached Thorong Phedi (4450 m) in about 5 hours walk.

landslide area
Landslide area – the last push to reach Thorung Phedi. It is recommended not to stop while walking these kinds of trails as there are chances of rocking falling.

We slept very early that day as we had to wake up at 4 am the next day to head towards Thorong La pass.

Day Seven (Thorong Phedi – High Camp – Thorong La Pass – Muktinath)

It was the day I had not imagined of. I was not supposed to be there; at Thorong La – but I was a few hours away from being there. This anticipation woke me up early at 3:00 AM. As soon as I stepped out from the door, I could see the white mountains against the barely moon-lit sky. The moon rays had really brightened up the mountains. The best part was – the sky was clear, very very clear. No clouds to be seen anywhere. The locals there told us that we were very lucky as the sky had not been that clear for a long time. So, I took a moment to snap some photographs and capture the moment.

night sky with mountain
Early morning photoshoot of the mountain with amazing stars as a backdrop

So, at around 4:15 am, we stepped out and started our journey towards the much anticipated Thorong La pass (5416 m). Our first stop was at High Camp where we took a moment to have a look around and snap some photographs. This was the moment when I realised that the bottle of Coca-Cola that I had in my bag had frozen a bit. As we moved on, the sun started coming out. It was amazing to see the sun peeping out from behind the mountains. Playing with the snow and battling the cold, slipping in the icy rocks, we finally reached there. We were there. We had reached the Pass and the view of the mountains everywhere and knee-height snow made us feel like we had conquered Everest. It was an Everest for us.

So with the chilly winds hitting our face, we enjoyed a cup of tea in the only tea-shop there and then headed downhills. A really really long downhill to Muktinath (3800 m). We took nearly about 5-6 hours to come downhill (with occasional long breaks) and finally reached the Muktinath temple. After paying a visit to the temple, we headed to our hotel where we celebrated our achievement and spent the night.

Day Eight (Muktinath – Jomsom)

Completing the Annapurna Circuit was not our prime agenda. So, walking was not an option for us now. We took a jeep from Muktinath and reached Jomson (2720 m) in a matter of three hours. We rested a while in Jomsom and headed to Dhumba Lake there in the evening. The lake is almost 2.5 hrs walk away from the town and presents a magnificent view.

Day Nine (Jomsom – Ghasa – Tatopani – Beni – Pokhara)

We had to change three vehicles this day to reach Pokhara from Jomsom. I don’t think we will easily forget the bus ride from Ghasa to Beni owing to the treacherous road conditions. Just imagine the bus backing up to allow another bus to pass through on a road that was just enough for a single bus. Not to forget the rumbling Myagdi river below us. Our heart rates rose, whenever our bus backed up. We survived!!!

Day Ten (Pokhara – Besisahar – Kathmandu)

The trek might have been over for our friends from Pokhara, but four of us still had to reach home at Kathmandu. So we took a taxi from Pokhara to Besisahar (we were charged Rs. 4200), had lunch at Besisahar, took our bikes and headed to Kathmandu. The dark road and the heavy traffic jams meant that we reached home at 10:30 PM. Alas! the trip was finally over.

Expenses

October is one of the peak seasons which sees a lot of inflow of tourists. This means that the expenses rise as well. For this ten day’s trip, we had to spend an average of Rs. 2000 per head per day throughout the 10 days. But please bear in mind that we had a lot of transportation expenses involved as well. So, this may not apply to you.

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