Annapurna Circuit Day 1: Kathmandu to Taal

After a terrible journey to Kathmandu, courtesy of Qatar Airways and a 13 hour delay, we started the day at 04:00 with a shower and then an introduction to the team. The aim was to get away by 05:00 for the 180km drive to Besisahar, before catching a further off road vehicle for the final four hours of the journey to Taal.
We met the other members of the trek, who we would spend the next two weeks with, in the foyer of the hotel, handed over the luggage that we weren’t taking on the trek for safekeeping at the hotel and picked up our packed breakfasts.
A point of note is that the ideal bags to store your luggage for the porters to transport is a duffel bag, preferably a waterproof one. Typically a porter will carry two people’s luggage. We brought our trekking rucksacks (Osprey ones from a couple of years ago) but could only take a single bag. We struggled to get all of our kit into the single bag, a duffel bag would have been easier.
Before we could leave we needed to get cash for food while on the trek. It is impossible to purchase Nepalese Rupees outside of Nepal, therefore you have to purchase them inside the country. You can get them from the arrival lounge of the airport, while you’re getting your Visa. You can exchange dollars or sterling (USD seems to work better) at many government sanctioned exchanges or you can use an ATM. When we arrived, the exchange in the airport had an IT issue and couldn’t exchange our dollars and the ATM was also down. We’d arrived too late in the evening to use an exchange (thanks again Qatar Airways) so we were forced down the ATM route.
Kathmandu has many ATM lounges available 24 hours a day. Like me, you might wonder what an ATM lounge is! It’s actually just a small room full of ATMs. In our case, most of them seemed to be broken, or maybe just empty, but it was early on a Saturday morning. We found that the different ATMs varied between both the maximum withdrawal and the fee, which they all charge. Standard charge seems to be 500 rupees per transaction and maximum withdrawal seems to vary between 20,000 and 35,000 rupees. As of April 2022, the recommendation for cash seems to be about 80,000 rupees per person for the twelve day trek.
So, finally ready to start, our guide, Raj, and his assistants, Ram and Nabin, loaded our bags onto the roof of the minibus and we all bundled in for the long drive.
Traffic in Kathmandu is interesting, to say the least. I can’t really explain it in a way that would be believable, but just believe me that it’s an experience. The road to the start point from Kathmandu is six hours along roads of variable quality, ranging from typical U.K. country road level down to dirt tracks.
In Besisahar we changed vehicles into a four wheel drive and continued along extremely tough dirt roads. The vehicle itself was a sight to behold, with the interior decorated with a flower garland, teddy bears stuck to the windscreen and a pelmet on the windscreen, making forwards visibility challenging. We were treated to recent popular Nepalese music videos by way of a video player, which had taken pride of place where you’d normally expect to find a rear view mirror.
Our driver quickly proceeded to drive down a bone jarring off road singletrack, significantly shortening our spines in the process. About thirty minutes into this journey we abruptly came to a stop, next to a bridge. After being stationary for around 45 minutes, Raj appeared, having gone to negotiate with the local police to let us through. It appears that a local syndicate had formed and claimed all rights to tourist transport along the trail to Taal.

The inside of the Bolero Camper was “Interesting”
A crazy ride to Taal

Some time later, we were finally allowed to move on. I’m not sure how Raj managed to convince to local police to let us through, but the whole affair had cost is about 2 hours.
The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful, despite traversing a few landslides and exceedingly narrow passes of oncoming vehicles, with a sharp drop if even a wheel was out of place. On the way there is an amazing waterfall to the right, unfortunately I was sat on the left of the car and unable to capture the sight.
We eventually came to a halt about three kilometers from our final destination. Stopped by a boulder on the bridge, placed there by workmen who had freshly laid new concrete to improve the road. At this point we had to race against the light on foot to get to our accommodation, where a hot meal and shower awaited us.

Racing the darkness to our overnight stop

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