I was a little apprehensive about hiking the Annapurna Base Camp Trek alone in Nepal, even though I had been told by other travelers it’s fine.
There’s always so much conflicting information about this!
There’s no way to know what’s right and wrong because it’s so subjective.
I know girls in the US who won’t go to the mall alone. I know girls from the US who live in India who insist that hitch-hiking is the only way to travel.
So who do you listen to?
I’m kind of in the middle, and after my experience, here’s what I’d say, out of all the hikes I’ve done (Patagonia, Machu Picchu, etc.) being alone on the Annapurna Base Camp Trek as a girl would probably be the most comfortable of all.
But I just wasn’t comfortable with it because I truly did not know that before experiencing it myself. I wanted to enjoy the trail and feel safe. If you do risk it and spend the whole time worrying about your safety, it’s not a fun trip. So I hired a guide recommended to me by my hostel.
Do you need a guide?
Am I glad I had one?
My guide was an older man named Dumbar. He and had been a guide for 20 years and was usually recommended to single female travelers. Dumbar seemed exactly like the type of guide I needed. He was good natured looking and friendly with 5 kids at home and enough English that we could communicate reasonably well.
I worked with an agency I found in Kathmandu to schedule the trip. It would be nine days at about $50US per day including the guide, lodging, and food which is a little high since Nepal is the cheapest place I’ve been to yet, but I figured a good guide is well worth it.
Dumbar met me at my hostel for the long bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara in the morning. I had two sets of clothes, a book some chocolate and a little more than $10 in my backpack and I figured I would get by.
The bumpy, jostling ride with goats on the bus began at 7:15 AM and lasted until about 4:30 PM when we arrived in Pokhara about two hours late. Two hours late seems to be average for long haul bus rides in Nepal.
Just get used to it. Schedules are not as important over there as they are at home.
Once we got to Pokhara we took a cab to to Syuali Bazar where we would be starting the hike. It was about a two hour drive in a car the size of a Geo Metro.
We played chicken with oncoming traffic and bounced up and down the hillsides. Several of the puddles we went through were so deep that water flooded the floorboards and soaked my backpack. We got to watch the sunset on the mountains before reaching the first Teahouse I’d be staying in.
It was absolutely beautiful, the view, not the teahouse.
When we sat down for dinner I asked Dumbar if I could see the itinerary again. He handed it over and my stomach sank as I read it. Instead of nine days I was only scheduled for six. For someone who lives on $50 a day and wanted to spend more time in the mountains the difference in price was pretty significant, not to mention days.
Dumbar hadn’t been part of the negotiations I asked if he could call the office for me while we still had cell reception so I could talk to the agency. But I knew there was not much of a chance I would see that money again so I decided the next best thing to do was just enjoy the hike, which is the easy part.
Dumbar and I had breakfast and got on the trail by 7:00 AM from Syauli Bazar where the elevation is about 4,000 feet. We had a lot of ground to cover in a day because my tour was more compact than I anticipated. Annapurna Base Camp Trek in 6 days is fairly fast-paced.
We walked past houses where chickens scratched in the dirt and cows ate from troughs. Little kids ran to the trail to wave as we walked past. It was like being pushed back in time 100 years. There were acres of terraced ground for rice, millet and corn.
It wasn’t long before the trail got serious about getting to the mountains. The gradual slope was gone and replaced by stone steps with the occasional switchback thrown in for a little relief.
That’s the thing that surprised me, we didn’t spend hardly any time on a sloped trail after that. It was all stone steps!
When I climbed to Machu Picchu the hardest part was the 45 minutes of stone steps to the top. From 10:00 AM on that day, it was all stone steps. The hour before lunch stretched the longest. I started counting the steps. We climbed 535 steps in an hour.
When we stopped in Bamboo for the night it was cold! There was only one shower and the line was long. I decided to go without. A cold shower on a cold night without heat in the room seemed unnecessary.
This would be the one long day of hiking.
We left Bamboo in the morning when it was frosty and freezing. My backpack had finally dried out but the clothes I had sweated through the hot morning before were still damp. I really needed a shower but wouldn’t get one any time soon.
As we left, we were joined by another trekker and her guide. The trekker was a middle aged woman from Hungary. Her guide was a similar age and, of course, from Nepal. When she had gone to hire a guide they had warned her he was an old man but he was only 46! She was 46 too, so she supposed that made her an old lady.
The path was more uphill climbing that day but easier than the day before. Everyone we passed on the trail said the traditional “namaste” for greetings, both locals and tourists.
I figured I was one of the more poorly prepared tourists on the trail; I didn’t have trekking poles or a rain cover for my pack or a lot of the specialty gear most people did but I was fine. But when I saw the locals, I actually felt a little overdressed and guilty.
The locals who do this trail every day seemed to manage with flip flops or rubber boots while carrying propane tanks and other supplies. I was amazed to see porters who could be carrying two 55 liter backpacks for travelers.
I was really glad I carried my own pack.
I liked hiking with a group much better. The Hungarian woman, Helena, was learning to speak Nepali since she was sponsoring a Nepali girl at an orphanage who didn’t know English. Both guides seemed really pleased to have a tourist speaking Nepali and kept finding new words to teach her.
Helena liked to stop for tea pretty often which was fine by me. I usually ordered lemon tea which is extremely delicious here. It’s thick with real lemon and sweet, very different from lemon tea at home.
Even with extra tea stops we had a pretty short day. By 2:30 we were at Machapuchare Base Camp where we would be spending the night. It was already cold and the clouds started surrounding us in the mountains.
We spent a cozy night in the dining room of the lodge where all the travelers gathered. It was nice because without internet everyone was either reading or talking and drinking tea. We sat around the table or on padded benches by the wall where the guides slept.
I hadn’t realized but tonight was the biggest celebration for Dashain, a holiday similar to Christmas in that part of the world.
The guides who were all away from their families played cards and drank rum with hot water. They seemed to be in good spirits despite being away from home. Helena bought them an extra bottle of rum before we went to bed in our freezing room for the night. I didn’t bring enough cash for rum, so I settled on tipping extra well.
We woke up at 4:30 AM to begin the two hour hike to Annapurna Base Camp in the dark. I had half expected to do this little stretch without a guide but Dumbar was there and waiting when Helena and I left the room. He seemed excited to get to the mountain and laughed and jumped down the path.
I couldn’t believe he could muster that much enthusiasm, he must have done this trek a hundred times by now. I was excited too though. The morning was frosty and crisp and beautiful.
The stars shown overhead as we walked through the dark. It was cold as the sun started to rise and show the mountains. We got to Base Camp at 13,500 feet elevation in about an hour and a half. No altitude sickness yet!
We watched the sunrise with all the other tourists at the top. There were a lot of people, but it was a great feeling and an incredible sight watching the sun come up over the Himilayas and melt the frost off the grass.
Afterwards, we headed back to camp and ate breakfast at the lodge before starting the long road back down.
It was such a happy group up at the lodge drinking tea and eating eggs after a long, cold hike.
We hiked another long day to end at Sinuwa at 7,600 feet. Our Teahouse was on a ledge overlooking the entire valley. It was an amazing view for several minutes but before dinner was half finished were surrounded completely by clouds. I loved that feeling of being surrounded.
We spent the day zigzagging up and down the mountains, taking a different path than we had on the way to Annapurna and still joined by my Hungarian friend and her guide.
By this point, I was pretty convinced hiking uphill was better than downhill. For one thing, it didn’t make my knees sore and now that we were at lower elevation my lungs had no problem with it.
The morning had started out as busy on the trail. I couldn’t believe how many people were heading up to the mountain. We seemed to be getting out just in time. There were several large groups of Chinese hikers we passed as well as a huge group of Israelis who were volunteers, leading their fellow blind Israelis up the mountain.
We ended the day in a village called Ghandruk at 6,600 feet. Our Teahouse was empty of other travelers and surprisingly clean.
Most importantly, it had hot showers. There is really nothing better than a hot shower. A hot shower after a few days of sweaty hiking and freezing nights is really about as good as it gets.
I sat and watched the sunset over the mountains before dinner from the rooftop. You could see all three peaks from the village: Annapurna, Annapurna South and Machapuchare. As if that wasn’t good enough, the monks in the monastery began singing and playing music to welcome the night. It was so peaceful and so wonderful, I wish I could’ve bottled the experience to take home with me.
The last day of my trek went too fast. It was only a few short hours of easy hiking before we said goodbye to Helena at Syuali Bazar where I had started the first day.
After the goodbyes we boarded a local bus to get back to Pokhara. I was relieved goats were not allowed on this particular bus.
It was, however, the type of bus you should have a helmet, a sports bra and most of all, a seatbelt to ride on. We zoomed along the edge of the canyon, precariously close to the edge where the river roared hundreds of feet below. It didn’t help that any guardrails that did exist were usually punctuated by bus-sized holes leading to nowhere.
Along the way I saw a girl in one of the villages wearing a shirt that said, “Series, Primavera, Autumn.” I’ve found English is sometimes just used stylistically but people have no idea what they’re wearing.
I wanted a shirt like that.
Dumbar and I parted ways in Pokhara. I made sure to tip him extra well since he had spent his holiday with me (for how much to tip guides click here) . Then that was that, the hike was over, he went off to find another client and I went off to see what else Nepal had to offer.
It’s always a little sad to part ways after a trip like this. I feel kinda flat at the end of it.
But I had really liked hiking in Nepal. “That was just the first time.” I told myself, “I’ll be back again.”