Annapurna Circuit: Besi Sahar to Chame

Jeeping from Besi Sahar to Chame for a shotgun start on the Annapurna Circuit.

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The Annapurna circuit is a 12 to 20 day hike around the Annapurna massif. The massif features one 8000 meter peak and many 7000 meter peaks. The traditional circuit runs counterclockwise from Besi Sahar to Birethani, but roads now penetrate  into both sides of the trek. The road construction has lead to many trekkers opting for shorter or alternate itineraries.

On the morning of September 19th Filipe and I travelled from Pokhara to Besi Sahar. Our plan was to find a jeep the next morning to bring us to Chame, which is 4 days into the traditional itinerary. We wanted to avoid walking on the road and leave more time for side trips at higher attitude.

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We splurged on our hotel the last night before trekking, $16 for the room, but it came with a nice pool.

The morning after arriving in Besi Sahar we walked along the main road and negotiated a ride to Chame. We figured it would be a 3 or 4 hour ride. Shortly into the jeep ride our driver informed us that it’s closer to 7 hours, and that’s on a good day.

The first few hours winding up through the Marshyangdi river valley were uncomfortable. We had seven people crammed into a jeep cab meant for six. After playing some musical chairs we found a few seating arrangements that were bearable. You might be wondering why we opted for a jeep at this point. The “road” to Manang is more of a 4WD track by Western standards. We spent a lot of time in first gear with four-wheel drive engaged.

We stopped for lunch after a few hours in Syange. While lunch was being cooked the locals pointed us up a huge set of stairs to a nearby waterfall, it was definitely worth the hike. The mist coming off the falls felt great after several sweaty, dusty, and bumpy hours in the jeep. In retrospect, this would be a great place to ditch the jeep and start trekking.

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The waterfall was a nice lunch time side trip.

Full of dal bhat and tea we hoped back into the jeep for the rest of the ride. We made it about 25 meters before getting stuck. The right rear wheel had slipped off the road and the Jeep was balanced precariously on an embankment. After some unsuccessful attempts at pulling it out with another jeep we started unloading all of the cargo that was being transported. With all of the rice, ramen, whisky, and kerosene tanks out of the bed the jeep quickly climbed out of its hole. By this time quite a traffic jam had developed behind us so we loaded up quickly and took off.

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Our unloaded jeep stuck in an unfortunate spot.

The road got even sketchier after lunch, with sheer cliffs and no guard rails becoming the norm. It didn’t seem to phase our driver who spent half the time texting or fiddling with the radio.

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Another waterfall along the road.

We eventually made it to a bridge where traffic was stopped. The jeeps coming up in the opposite direction couldn’t make it over the hill. We waited for close to an hour for them to finally succeeded. In this time, two of our jeep mate’s decided they had had enough. They paid the full fare and started walking. I was excited for a minute, thinking there would finally be breathing room in the backseat. My hopes were quickly dashed when the two locals who had ridden on the back bumper all day hopped in.

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The jeeps coming from this direction couldn’t make it up the hill to the left.

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If you look closely you can see how the road is cut into the rock.

In the end we arrived in Chame only a little worse for the wear. We found a teahouse across the river from the main city. An hour and forty minutes after ordering dinner I started to become concerned that they had forgotten my order. The other trekkers informed me that this was normal, most of the lodges on the trek make all the food from scratch. It was worth the wait, the momo I ordered was delicious. After dinner we soaked in the hotsprings below our lodge, which felt wonderful after the gruelling Jeep ride.