Travel Story 

The Annapurna Circuit, Part III

Over Thorung La Pass

Manang, with its prayer flags and maze of narrow flagstone streets and steps, is both a destination and a starting point. For many trekkers who have laboured up the Marsyangdi valley from Dumre this cluster of low stone buildings, perched across the valley from the towering snow-clad peaks Gangapurna and Annapurna III, is the climax of their journey, a place to relax and savour the grandeur of the Himalayas before retracing their steps to Dumre.

For others, like ourselves, Manang, with an elevation of 3,351 m, was a place to pause, go for a climb, and acclimatize before moving on to the 5,380 m (17,650 ft) summit of Thorung La pass.

Despite the resonant snoring of an Italian chap who shared our room, we left Manang feeling refreshed and energized by the previous day's climb. Half an hour later we passed through Tengi, the last permanent settlement below the Pass, and followed the trail northwest up a tributary of the Jargeng Khola.

The dry, alpine landscape criss-crossed with low stone walls is uninhabited except for a few sheep and yaks. An occasional goTH (shepherd's hut) and patches of scrub birch along some of the streams provide the only shelter from the wind. We paused for lunch at one of the streams and watched a large American party pass. Their porters, decked out in war-surplus GI uniforms, legs of folding tables and chairs protruding from huge packs, looked like a legion of troops headed for the front.

Three hours out of Manang we arrive at Leder, set up our tent on a low hill well away from the small bhaTTi (Nepalese Inn), and watch the human pantomime unfold as group after group of trekkers roll in.

The Americans who passed us earlier have taken all the space in the bhaTTi and are holding their ground. A small French party, suffering from cold and altitude sickness, turned back from the Pass and is trying to negotiate a spot inside. Below us a German group is ordering their porters, armed with a wooden hoe, to level out a tent spot on the rocky slope, repeatedly testing and rejecting each effort. They are still at it when we go to bed.

Even bundled up in all our clothes we were cold during the night, and it is good to warm stiff hands on a cup of hot tea before starting the day's climb. Lama left before daylight to secure our group a spot inside the small shelter at Pheti, where we will spend our last night before crossing the Pass.

Leaving Leder we pass the three Germans standing dissolutely beside a great pile of gear. According to Babu their porters finally rebelled and headed back to Manang.

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