Travel/Experiences  •  Dispatch

Dispatch: Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal

Saks Rouypirom leaves his phone and his worries behind on an 8-day excursion into the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.

Story & Photography
June 14, 2017
Sakson Rouypirom is founder of SATI non-profit and proprietor of Broccoli Revolution, the 2nd floor of which features Case Space Revolution, a meeting point for the worlds of food, art, and civil society. Saks recently returned from a trek to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal and offers us this dispatch.

I chose Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek because I tend to prefer trips that allow me to be active and also have views so I can practice my photography skills. Because of this, I have compiled quite an extensive list, and ABC was one of my planned destinations.

I didn’t have many expectations beforehand because it’s hard to gauge what to expect for a quite long trek (eight days). Expectations are always different, so I just tried to be as prepared as possible for different climates, different views, and different foods, and then and adjusted to the rest. Everything was overall much better than I expected, especially the views.

The greatest takeaway from this trip for me was the almost constant walking meditation that I experienced throughout the trip. You have to be aware of each step or else you might slip; this allows you to be in the moment and forget everything else. Very rarely do I have a moment when my mind is not racing with several ideas and my phone isn’t bothering me. It was total disconnection in the truest sense. Also, the breathtaking views allow you to be completely immersed in nature and allow you to understand it’s true beauty.
Before you go, you should know that there are tons of trekking gear shops in Kathmandu that have reasonable prices (and you can bargain too). I wish I knew this before my trip but I ended up buying gear for future trips. The ABC trek is quite unique in that you get to experience several seasons all in one trip. When you start off, it’s warm and you can pretty much wear shorts and a t-shirt.  As you ascend, it get’s cooler and cooler until you’re eventually surrounded by snow. We even had some hail. It’s important to pack accordingly: layers work the best because they’re easily put on and taken off.

Hiring a guide and porter group is a must: they are familiar with the path and can help you navigate properly as far as timing and where to stay.  Since you’ll be carrying all the stuff for your whole trip with you, porters are also a must. The porters are quite amazing, how they are able to carry everything with them and still walk faster than you. It's quite easy to find a guide and porter as there are tons of companies listed online; Himalayan Trails is known to organize good treks.
What to do/see: Kathmandu has many of places to visit but we did not spend much time there.  There’s the Boudhanath, which a beautiful Buddhist stupa that we visited, as well as Durbar Square, which has some Hindu temples. There’s a mixture of Hindu and Buddhism everywhere. Besides actually arriving at Annapurna Base Camp, there are amazing sites all around. The nature that is all around is a moving art piece in itself. During the trek, you pass a lot of locals, and interacting with them allows you learn about their culture.

Where to stay: Along the trail, the guesthouses offer the bare minimum, including old-school toilets or outhouses. Some of the places have electric water heaters, but whether or not they work tends to be the luck of the draw. Rooms are quite minimal too. It’s important to bring a sleeping bag for two reasons: first, there’s no heat so it can get quite cold at night, and second, the bedsheets at most places do not seem very clean, so it’s best to use your sleeping bag to prevent getting bed bugs or anything of that sort. On several occasions, even though our guide booked ahead, some guesthouses were full. Be prepared to adjust: basically, you plan a route of where you should be at the end of your daily hike and expect to sleep somewhere around there before it gets dark.

Where to eat: As expected, the best food on the trip was in Kathmandu. We ate delicious Nepalese food, which consists of different curries quite similar to Indian food with some East Asian influences. There was a place in Kathmandu called Third Eye, that had a nice atmosphere and good local food.

As we ascended the mountain, food options became quite limited: random tea houses on the mountain with hit or miss dishes. Every place you go there will be a dish called momo, which is the Nepali version of dumplings. They come with different fillings, vegetables, pork, and chicken. Most of my trip consisted of different forms of eggs and rice. Boiled, omelette, fried; eggs, eggs, eggs. But at least they were free range and not factory raised.

I had several opportunities to drink in the kitchens of the guesthouses with the staff and our porters, who were amazing. Rakshi is their local barley wine that is brewed in-house. I had the opportunity to try some and it tasted like Korean sochu, which I believe is made the same way. It was very good after a long trek and helped to warm me up in the cold weather.

Where to shop: As you ascend the mountain you will meet many locals who sell cool local garments and accessories. I bought a set of local meditation beads to add to my collection. Just make sure you’re buying local, handmade products and not stuff shipped over from China. The best way to do this is to converse with the shopkeepers, and stay away from the bigger, more commercial shops in Kathmandu. Once you're on the trek you can find little shops, most of the old villagers make things themselves.
Favorite part of the trip: Soaking in the surroundings and taking photographs. The best experience for me was the final stretch from Machapuchare Base Camp (Machapuchare is a sacred mountain that people are not allowed to climb) to Annapurna Base Camp. We were quite high [altitude] already so it was very tiring, but the view was out of this world. Because of the altitude, I had to walk quite slowly, which gave me even more time to soak in everything. In the final days, opportunities to shower came less and less. The first hot shower after that felt amazing!

Additional Photography by Jakkapong Sreprasom