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post #1 of (permalink) Old 02-11-2020, 01:21 AM Thread Starter
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Default Annapurna Trek: Circuit + Base Camp

I spent 4 weeks in Dec '19 trekking Annapurna Region in Nepal Himalaya Mountains. This was my 2nd time in Nepal, after visiting Everest Base Camp / Gokyo Lakes in 2007. Most treks focus on either Annapurna Circuit or Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), but I decided to do both -- reason: flying is not cheap + I am not getting younger, so since already in the area this plan made perfect sense. I also extended ABC part with visit to Poon Hill for infamous sunrise - well worth! Original plan was also Tilicho Lake side trip on Annapurna Circuit (extra couple of days from Manang), but approaching snow storm made me change on the fly and go straight for Thorung La Pass. In retrospect this was correct decision & I had one of most memorable days ever crossing the Pass in complete bluebird!

Over the next month or so in continuation of this thread I will post detail day-to-day account, eventually finishing with logistics. For now I will say it WAS demanding -- over 3 weeks of daily hiking, some on high altitudes, very cold temperatures with only couple of days break in Pokhara between two parts -- but this all fades away compared with gained rewards. Couple of visuals:

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[Enjoying Gangapurna views on Day 6, after mandatory rest day in Manang. Decision to abandon Tilicho hike was made the night before. Altitude here is ~3900m & I was really well aclimatized by this point. Fabulous Gangapurna glacier center left]

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[Thorung La Pass, highest point on Circuit 5416m on Day 8. Thorung Peak (6150m) behind & relatively easy ascent. Except shortness of breath and slow pace had no other altitude related problems. Even hiked a bit higher to that little hill ~100m above, center left & had whole thing entirely to myself for 40mins or so!]

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[Not a bad way to celebrate 58th birthday: Sunrise View of Dhaulagiri, world 7th highest peak (8167m), from Poon Hill on ABC trek, Day 15]

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[Iconic Annapurna Base Camp, after brutally cold night (-20 or so) on Day 19. Previous day was socked in, but it cleared up overnight and I had bluebird morning. That is Annapurna South (101st world highest, 7219m) above my head. Base Camp altitude is "only" 4130m and after completing the Circuit I had zero altitude issues]

Finally I will say between the two ABC is harder from Circuit even if altitude is lower, and scenic rewards come very late. But once there it feels really special; iconic setting that gives you goosebumps & anyone who likes trekking/hiking should put it on the list.
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Last edited by zeljkok; 02-11-2020 at 11:06 PM.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 02-11-2020, 10:57 PM Thread Starter
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Default Annapurna Area Overview

Annapurna Range is roughly shaped as horseshoe; Circuit follows perimeter on the outside, while ABC goes straight to the middle through horseshoe inside. There is no link between the two 'somewhere in the middle'. Following map, lifted from here, illustrates this:
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[Horseshoe, angled to the right ~40 degrees. Circuit is dotted green line; ABC trek is thinner red line. Circuit start/end points are indicated with green rectangles -- Besisahar right and Birethanti left. Red dots are villages where you can overnight in one of the 'lodges'. Only link between the two is at Ghodepani / Poon Hill (center left), or at the very end of CCW Circuit loop at Birethanti. Birethanti is also the usual ABC trek start]

Circuit looks big, and at one point it took 3 weeks to complete. Not so anymore as roads are getting built deeper and deeper. Nowdays it is possible to drive all the way to Manang at east side and Muktinath at west side. This effectively reduces number of walking days to only 3 -- if one would decide to drive what was possible and have no altitude / acclimatization issues. I even heard of MTB races across Thorang La -- hard to believe! All this has insanely commercialized once iconic wilderness trek; This was one of reasons I decided to do it now while there is still something left.

Area is also insanely busy in prime trekking season -- October / November. Solitude and room in lodges is not easy to come by. So I picked December when crowds are largely gone. Yes it is significantly colder, but living in Canada I figured this was not something I could not live with; clear air for crisp photos was another incentive. If you are willing to rough it a bit, I'd recommend this strategy as I had whole thing most of the days entirely to myself!

There are little route-finding issues. Way is obvious and also marked with red/white squares painted on rock. I still suggest getting a map, but wait till you are in Nepal -- selection in either Kathmandu or Pokhara is excellent, and cost of such map is ~5USD only. Due to above mentioned road construction, and point where you start / end trek there are choices; at several points "low" routes stay on the road, while "high" routes are trails, and although longer, much more scenic and highly recommended. In hindsight 2 out of 3 best days I had on Circuit were Pisang to Manang high route and Muktinath to Jomson high route!

ABC is different, and roads have not reached that far so you have to walk. Main issue with ABC trail are stairs; constant up and down staircase for large part which tires you, and real trail starts only not long before Macchapuchre base camp! Leeches are presumably danger as well if you go in rainy season, but I had no such issues in December.

My trek went as follows:

Day 1) Kathmandu - Dharapani drive (bus + jeep). Start hiking at 1900m elevation (critical decision that helped me acclimatize; most trekkers nowdays will start walking from Chame at 2600m or even higher)

Day 2) Dharapani - Chame
Day 3) Chame - Pisang
Day 4) Pisang - Manang
Day 5) Rest Day in Manang (3600m)

Day 6) Manang to Yak Kharka

Days 6 and 7 were planned for side trip to Tilicho lake. This photo, lifted from Shutterstock, made me drool & make plans to go there:

It never happened due to snow storm forecast, but I'd likely not have such view as in December lake is already frozen. For these kind of colors and conditions I was told one has to visit Tilicho in September/October.

Day 7) Yak Kharka to Thorang Pedi
Day 8) Thorang Pedi -- Thorang La crossing -- Muktinath
Day 9) Muktinath - Jomson
Day 10) Jomsom - Pokhara

I planned to fly from Jomson, but above mentioned snow storm ruined this & I had to take local bus. In hindsight this was the crux of the trek. 10 hrs on ultra rough road, bouncing all the way with crummy seats - and already tired from previous days. If you can, fly from Jomsom; it is worth avoiding the hassle.

Day 11,12) Rest Days in Pokhara
Day 13) Bus Pokhara to Birethanti then hike to Hile

Day 14) Hile to Ghorepani
Day 15) Poon Hill Sunrise then Ghorepani to Tadapani
Day 16) Tadapani to Sinuwa
Day 17) Sinuwa to Deurali

Day 18) Deurali to ABC
Day 19) ABC to Sinuwa
Day 20) Sinuwa to Jhinu Danda
Day 21) Jhinu Danda to Siwai then Bus to Pokhara
Day 22) Pokhara to Kathmandu on a "Tourist" Bus (more on that later)

There were also 2 extra days in Kathmandu on start and 1 extra day at the end bringing full count to 25 (excluding arrival / departure days). For this 30 day Nepal Visa was necessary & it cost me 50 USD.
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Last edited by zeljkok; 02-12-2020 at 12:56 AM.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 02-12-2020, 10:14 PM
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Looks like a once in a lifetime trip. It looks like it would take a lot of stamina for this hike especially due to the high altitude.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 02-15-2020, 05:53 PM Thread Starter
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Default Pre Trip -- 2 Days in Kathmandu

Before starting hiking decided to spend 2 full days in Kathmandu. Reasons for this: 1) Jet Lag 2) Sightseeing / Photography. This was my 2nd time in Kathmandu & it was interesting to note how much larger and how much more polluted it got in the meantime. Most visitors will stay in Thamel -- tourist heavy part with restaurants, hotels, shops etc. Checked in inexpensive, but clean hotel (~30 CAD/night) just outside Thamel. Did some trek preparation (permits, maps, money matters) etc. Btw -- once you are up in the mountains you need cash (Rupees) for lodges, but ATMs and Banks if you want to exchange $ are all over Thamel. Then went sightseeing. There are several places to see in walking distance to Thamel and Kathmandu and Nepal in general are very safe (standard precaution applies like everywhere). For rest, like Boudhath and Pashupatinath you can take taxi which is also inexpensive. There is official taxi stand in Thamel, but you can flag someone just about anywhere; they will even haggle you with offers, but it is not in your face & it didn't bother me. Here are some photos with story:

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[Descending to Kathmandu after 3.5 hrs flight from Bangkok on Thai Airways. They gave us lunch, but towards end of flight everyone was rushing to the bathroom (including myself), so there was something suspicious there. Upset didn't last long though]

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[Durbar Square detail. This is former Royal Palace and brief 15-20min walk south of Thamel. It was devastated in recent Earthquake and lots of restoration (financed by China) was going on. Couple of interesting things to note on this photo: Woman is staring to her cell phone, and this is nowdays same all over the world. Couple of guys sitting on temple are wearing face masks and this is now prevalent in SE Asia due to pollution. Even before coronavirus]

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[Buddhist Stupa in "Monkey Temple" (Swayambunath). It is on the hill so there are some nice panoramic views and lots of buddhist detail, including nice monastery. Lots of monkeys, both human and animal too. Most people will take taxi to get here, but you can walk from Thamel too -- about 40 min (1 way) and google maps on your phone are sufficient for navigation]

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[And this is why they call it "Monkey" Temple. Image is not staged]

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[Hindus burning dead near Pashupatinath Temple. Lots of smoke and bad air quality. You can not enter Temple itself if you are not Hindu, but it is quite interesting to walk around]

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[Panoramic View of Pashupatinath complex. Main temple is in center of pano. It is not practical to walk here but taxi will be 5-6 USD]

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[Boudhanath Stupa. If there is only 1 thing you have time to see in Kathmandu, make it this one. It is magnificent. Plenty of cafes/restaurants on perimeter, so you can do as I did, get yourself something to drink and enjoy the views. Then enter the stupa (no charge) and walk around just watching what's going on. It is worth waiting for sunset too. Also note it is within walking distance (30 mins) from Pashupatinath, so this makes good day drip -- taxi to Pashupatinath, walk over to Boudhanath, then taxi back to Thamel. This will cost you ~10 USD for taxis + 1000 Rupees (ovepriced) for entry to Pashupatinath]

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[Bookstore in Thamel, with all kinds of Himalaya maps you will ever need. They go for ~5 USD . I have mine now on my coffee table and it's been used heavily. They are quite good]

If you'd like to see something more or have a question about Kathmandu, just ask!
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Last edited by zeljkok; 02-15-2020 at 05:58 PM.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 02-17-2020, 10:34 PM Thread Starter
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Default Day 1: Kathmandu to Dharapani

This was the "drive day" in order to get from Kathmandu to (self chosen) trailhead. Took public bus Kathmandu - Besisahar (~6 hrs) followed by jeep Besisahar - Dharapani (~3 hrs). Public transit in Nepal is very inexpensive, but story on its own. Just flag first taxi in Thamel and ask them to get you to bus station; then buy the ticket where you want to go. They will strap your pack on top of the bus, then its time to "rub the shoulders with locals". Roads in Nepal are quite bad; even the "highway" Kathmandu - Pokhara is not paved all the way, many potholes etc + driving is quite crazy. You pass when you want, not when there is nobody coming from other direction. Yet it somehow works and there are no accidents. Then the bus itself -- you need bathroom? Just yell to the driver, he'll stop just about anywhere and off you go while others wait. Women happily lift their skirts and squat right by the bus. Then flat tire on narrow section. No problem -- block half of the road and have everyone wait till its fixed. Among all this I still felt quite safe, but it is a culture shock.

One can start hiking Annapurna Circuit at Besisahar; in the past, before roads got blazed people did. It would extend the trek for better part of the week and involve lots of walking in canyon enclosed valley. So I took private jeep to get me to Dharapani (jeeps are lined up at point where pavement ends, as trekking is quite a big business in Nepal). Dharapani was at altitude I wanted to start walking in order to acclimatize. What followed was quite crazy; teenage kid, one hand on cell phone, no belt, road on edge of precipice with huge boulders (BC FSRs are auto bans compared to this) and you go. "This is how we drive in Nepal" was the answer I got. Eventually I arrived to Dharapani ~6pm and went to one of lodges where I spent the night. Already a bit chilly; sign of times to come.

Took no pics on this day, except for this one of rather neat waterfall when Jeep stopped at Tal (village) for bathroom break. This was just as it started getting dark & about an hour before Dharapani:
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 02-19-2020, 08:33 AM
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outstanding. thanks for taking the time to put together the detailed TR.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 02-19-2020, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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Default Day 2: Dharapani to Chame

Distance (estimated): 14km
Elevation Start: ~1900m
Elevation End: ~2700m
Trekking Time: 6-7hrs

First Day of Hiking! Obviously, got up very excited - this is what I came for after all. Beautiful clear morning, and after breakfast and check-out I was on my way. (Word about food -- you eat in these lodges; you actually don't have a choice; they won't let you sleep there if you don't buy food. Only other alternative is total camping but it would be very impractical to carry all that load when you can essentially day hike. Food is ok, there is always menu that is more or less similar with obviously less selection the higher you go. But prices are uniform and controlled by government. For breakfast I'd usually take "Set Breakfast" -- scrambled eggs, toast, butter/jam + instant coffee. I'd usually skip lunch or have light snack and then have some soup / pasta / pizza / chicken / etc for early dinner. I'd often ask for "packed lunch" in the morning before I set off -- some sandwich or rolls. So you will never be hungry, and all you need to bring from home country is energy bars. You can also buy standard chocolate bars in these lodges, and yes there is beer too)

First day was mix of road and trail hiking, and this is pretty much the standard till you get to Manang where road ends. I really took my time, sat often and admired the scenery. In full season this will be very busy (think Joffre Lakes) but in December, except for locals, almost deserted so I had it all to myself -- yau! As day progressed it warmed up nicely so I after climbing out to lovely grass terrace before Timang I sat in T-shirt and admired views of Manaslu range. Later on Annapurna 2 came into view and excitement started to build. Was walking fairly slow aware of constant elevation gain, and reached Chame -- my next overnight stop -- around 4pm. Btw in all these lodges they have wifi; lower it is free, higher they will charge you 1 or 2 dollars for password, but quality is usually quite good. Took a shower too -- not a good idea because of cold higher up, but it is nice to go to sleep clean. Some pics of Day 2:

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[A.C.P -- Annapurna Conservation Project checkpost in Dharapani (lodge where I spent night is right below). Here you must present your trekking permit and they will stamp it. There are several more checkposts along the way higher up too. Btw Dharapani is where you end Manaslu circuit as well, and this is why checkpost is here]

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[Passing through Odar village some 30-40 minutes above Dharapani. Annapurna range starting to show up!]

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[Going trekking to Nepal requires careful water strategy. If you just drink tap water, or from streams, you will get sick. So they have these "safe drinking water stations" where for few rupees you can refill your water bottle. I simply brought Aquatabs from Canada, and although water doesn't taste that great, was worry free all the time]

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[Autumn harvest in Odar]

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[Junction: As you pass this gate, road starts switchbacking to Timang. But you can take trekking trail which is shorter and of course much nicer to talk on -- watch for sign]

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[Hiking up on trekking route; mild temps and just such a joy to finally be doing this!]

Not far after met another solo trekker -- some Chinese girl. Here is conversation that followed:

Me: Where did you spend previous night?
Her: I slept by the road
Me: Why???
Her: They kicked me out of the lodge!
Me: ????????
Her: I was cooking dinner and they wouldn't let me stay

(She basically brought cooking stove along and thought she'd fix her meals -- this is not how it works in Nepal!! Reason beds in these lodges are so cheap is because they expect you to buy food there. They even tell you that upfront)

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[Lunch break at Timang looking back where I came from, with awesome views back to Manaslu range. Elevation here is ~2400m]

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[Beyond Timang is another junction; you go right and are able to hike for next half an hour on trail again before rejoining the road. I've seen this pic btw on just about every online report]

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[Crossing suspension bridge before re-joining the road. These bridges are quite safe, and even if I walked across this one gingerly, later on I'd not even notice. Still recommend to walk one by one, as they tend to sway quite a bit]

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[Entering Chame as valley is already in shade. End of First Day of Hiking which was simply awesome!]
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Last edited by zeljkok; 02-19-2020 at 04:01 PM.
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 02-20-2020, 03:22 PM
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Zelkok ... I haven't been on CT for a while, recovering from foot nerve damage and caring for our little grandson quite often. At 63 yrs old I'm like you, wearing out a bit, but we persevere.

This morning something told me to check out CT and there it is, another damn fine TR from Zeljkok. Amazing. I am heading out for my first mini-hike in several months, on a local trail. I will celebrate upon return by reading your TR ... again.

As an FYI, when I last flew Thai air, to Malaysia, they gave us pickled chicken hearts and vinegared rice for lunch. I puked for two days afterward.
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 02-21-2020, 01:31 PM
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@zeljkok: thanks so much for this! Your TRs are always so interesting and engaging. I'll be impatiently awaiting future installments .
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 02-21-2020, 02:11 PM
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Awesome Zeljkok, I think you just motivated many people to do the Annapurna Trek, including myself, Thanks!
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 02-21-2020, 05:42 PM Thread Starter
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Default Day 3: Chame to Pisang

Distance (estimated): 12km
Elevation Start: ~2700m
Elevation End: ~3300m
Trekking Time: 5-6 hrs

Similar to previous day, with little less distance / elevation. Initial couple of hours are on road, but after crossing suspension bridge you climb ~300m vertical on trail to Dhikur village where valley widens up and views really improve. Here you cross 3000m line and stay above it for next week or so. Past the village is junction -- road continues left to lower Pisang, trail goes right (on sunny side of the valley!) to upper Pisang. I spent night in lower Pisang then hiked up to upper Pisang for sunset views, but do yourself a favor -- go straight to upper Pisang & spend night in one of lodges there. Annapurna 2 + 4 are towering above Pisang and you also get glimpse of Annapurna 3 / Gangapurna in the distance. This is where "I am in Himalaya mountains" finally kicks in! Photo journey:

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[Prayer wheels with some art on exit from Chame]

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[Overburdened Nepalese woman on road some 30 min past Chame]

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[Interesting water fountain about 90min or road walk from Chame]

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[Road cuts into the cliff as you approach point where climb to upper valley starts]

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[Leaving the road and crossing suspension bridge to start climb out of lower valley. Halfway up there is "refreshment stand" -- it was all deserted because this was off-season, but in October/November you can buy water, soda pop, mars bars etc. In this part you cross 3000m barrier]

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[View back from Dhikur village. This is good place for a break, and pic was taken from terrace of one of lodges where I stopped for tea. No need to rush, as Pisang is now just an hour away of mostly flat walking]

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[Dried out lake at point where trail to upper Pisang splits on the right side; road to lower Pisang stays left & is very dusty. Stopped here for snack & even fell asleep briefly in warm sunshine. But it is December & sun low, so shade came in very early & temps dropped rapidly forcing me to continue walking. Bunch of Nepal ducks were enjoying on that lake too & looked quite exotic, but flew away before I could get close for nice photo]

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[Upper Pisang with Annapurna IV towering above. Photography note: This is obviously very poor, overexposed pic, but if you can be here in the morning sun will be on the left side and give very good light. I planned to return in the morning but took different route & was not able to confirm this theory]

All photos so far (except opening post) were taken with pocket camera, but for the next day I finally took SLR out of the pack as views & light conditions were simply fantastic. That will be the next post
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Last edited by zeljkok; 02-21-2020 at 05:45 PM.
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 02-22-2020, 12:33 AM
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Beautiful pictures.
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 02-22-2020, 01:58 AM
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Wow wow wow! Thanks for sharing!
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 02-22-2020, 10:11 AM
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Thank you for recreating the journey here.
The photos are beautiful.
Annapurna Circuit was on my radar for decades. Life happened, and now I get to live the route vicariously through your pictorial with commentary. Very grateful! (And much has changed since the 80s.)

Last edited by ColdBrook; 02-22-2020 at 10:16 AM.
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post #15 of (permalink) Old 02-22-2020, 01:40 PM
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That Nepalese woman, hauling bales of straw on her back, at that elevation and uphill? Wow, just wow ....

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