Annapurna in the Monsoon Day 9: The Perks of Slow Trekking
My efforts to try and dampen my knee problems the previous night seemed to do some good. They held me up a little better in the morning. I would need them to hold me up all the way down to Jhinudanda - and we already needed to make up some time from the day before. We were supposed to be in Bamboo by this time, but had only managed to reached Dovan.
But my guide was optimistic that it would be ok. I took more anti-inflammatories and fastened the brace to the other knee. It bore more shocks the previous day, and was the worse one today.
"Jaam jaam*!" Devi said, signalling the start of the trekking day.
- Back Into the Mountain Forest
- The Wildlife of Annapurna
- More Malaysians Trekking in Annapurna
- Insects and Spiders of Annapurna
- The Steep Descent to the Hot Springs of Jhinudanda
Back Into the Mountain Forest
The rain relented that morning, such that I went without my bin bag skirt. It was a lot harder to hike with the crutch in the skirt; it kept coming off.
We wasted no time and began hiking, descending into the mossy alpine forest once more. In good enough spirits that we had a little fun with morning photography. Hey, if you're having to lean on a staff anyway, might as well get in some cool shots!
And there were other flowers that we passed by the first time, which were not photographed before. I had not thought it super important to catalogue every single one I found.
But that all changed after I encountered the wildflowers on the alpine plain to the base camp. Thereafter, I saw every single one with new eyes, on the way down. And I thought, why not just capture as many as I could - and make an album when I returned?
Devi indulged as well, for there were many ladybirds that day charmingly resting atop blossoms and leaves. By this time, the macro lens was with her, and I went without. Her macro photography captured many more flowers and insects that day.
That said, we had gotten better as photographers by then, and it didn't really slow us down. Not much more than my maximum pace with my debilitation, anyway.
Why slow trekking is better - even if you don't have to
I'm well aware that it probably sounds like sour grapes, for me to sing the praises of slow trekking. Considering my relatively lower fitness level compared to other trekkers in the mountains, not to mention being effectively half-lame by the ninth trekking day, one might argue I didn't really have a choice.
One would be correct.
But I've argued for trekking slow pretty much since the beginning of this series. I've put forward through my recent stories for my argument, the enjoyment of the fairy forests and the elfin streams, absorbing the Annapurna villages and the lovely flowers all over the summer mountain. All of which could not be appreciated if you were trekking rapidly to the base camp.
However, not trekking rapidly is not the same as trekking slow, you might object.
Well, here are some other things you would be more likely to encounter, with slow trekking.
The Wildlife of Annapurna
I've been trekking at a fairly modest pace for basically the entirety of my Annapurna journey - sometimes because I've been fascinated and distracted by sights along the way, and sometimes because I've simply been physically limited.
Before crossing the cable bridge of Chomrong into the Sanctuary, most of the large animals you see are domesticated. Mules and ponies and dogs. Maybe you might hear a bird, and certainly there are many leeches in the monsoon season, but otherwise that's it.
But within the Sanctuary, nearer the alpine plain towards the base camp, it was a bit different for me.
Aside from the birds singing right at the door of the Sanctuary, there were others further up the mountain. On the seventh day when we were headed to the base camp, for example, we came upon this russet-backed bird. It was not making a sound - or perhaps its cry was drowned out by the roar of the rapids. Stopping short, we watched as it happily flipped its dark tail up and down, running over the rock. Spreading its dark wings to flit from boulder to boulder.
Perhaps it was quite a bit far down from the trek, and so did not feel at all threatened by us.
Another Annapurna critter we encountered was a kind of gerbil (yes, clearly I'm not a terrestrial biologist), among the rocks around Annapurna Base Camp. They were shy creatures, but if you keep with very slow movements, and with the assistance of the zoom function (I only had a camera phone), you could creep close enough to take photos. [Actually, they're marmots - thanks to Carrie in the comments below!]
But the lucky break was to encounter them on the way down. We were slow enough that I spotted one the previous day while it was still too far to be alarmed by us. It simply kept cutely nibbling at the low leaves by the path. And this video is entirely attributable to Devi's stealthy footwork:
Later that day, when we were gaining closer upon Jhinudanda, we even encountered a deer! In fact, we were nearly trekking too fast, and it might have bolted immediately had Devi not seen it quickly enough. She had mentioned deer to me, when I asked her what animals lived in the conservation zone.
And it was the first wild deer I ever saw. I nearly could not process what I was seeing - a deer, right in my path.
It clearly felt jittery though, sensing we were close, and disappeared into the bushes quickly.
I asked Devi whether the deer were hunted in these mountains. Not avidly, I gathered from her response. But Devi herself had tasted wild deer, when some meat was brought home one day. She rubbed her stomach to indicate it was delicious.
More Malaysians Trekking in Annapurna
At length we came upon Sinwa around lunchtime. And lo and behold there were Malaysians, again! Why, trekking around Annapurna seems not an unusual pastime for Malaysian outdoorsy people (not that we have very many such people, mind you!). In the monsoon too - although that's probably because things are cheaper off the peak season. We are also a shopping people constantly looking for bargains!
So once again I was fussed over, for once feeling accepted for doing eccentric things like trekking solo while female. I got asked about hikes I've done. I confess to being more of a seaside girl. Same drill. And they gave me some serunding to have with my lunch (did I not say that Malaysians will have serunding?).
I thought further on what I said, as I half-hiked, half-ambled on my way. I really am more of a seaside girl. The truth can be seen in the way I naturally treat my walking stick.
Unlike seasoned alpine hikers, who continue grasping them when they didn't need it, holding them aloft, I automatically flipped mine horizontal when it was not needed. Basically, I would 'ship my oar'!
My guide gave me a choice before we came upon Chomrong again. We could try and make for Jhinudanda, where we would enjoy the hot springs the following morning, or we could take another route.
It was not technically a shorter alternative route, but it would reach a road earlier. This means that we would have the option of getting passage on a vehicle sooner, should I need to.
It was indeed very tempting. And I really couldn't say how much worse my knees would feel by the end of the day. But so far I was able to keep my weight mostly off of them most of the time.
I picked Jhinudanda.
Insects and Spiders of Annapurna
We began to trek through the mix of forest trails and farmland trails once more. Lothlorien slowly morphed into the Shire again, and though the clouds didn't break, the rains held back for the most part. Enough that the beetles and butterflies emerged again.
A particularly pretty beetle was metallic green that shifted to shining brass as it crept upon a shrub at different angles to the light. And then moths that lay camouflaged against its environment - or became exposed as they ventured into areas which were not.
One butterfly particular caught our eye, because it was a dramatic black that contrasted with white and red markings - but with a bright red body! I'd never seen a red-bodied butterfly before!
But on this particular day, down this particular route, I saw something else that I'd never seen before. And it involved the rain.
Low in the hollows of earth and undergrowth, against the banks along the trail you would encounter spiderwebs.
But these spiderwebs were special - they caught the raindrops in their net so well, such that the whole web became dusted by droplets of all sizes. They seemed as transparent wet baubles strung on transparent strings - like a pearl necklace of mine, one where the pearls seemed as though suspended on your throat.
I didn't see the spider that made these particular gossamer layered nets, but I did see a lovely yellow-green one, sentinel upon its web. It obligingly stayed motionless through my numerous attempts to get the camera to focus on it instead of its background.
To be sure I had no choice other than slow trekking, but in a roundabout way I was glad. Because it forced me to discover the rewards of trekking this way.
The Steep Descent to the Hot Springs of Jhinudanda
Just when I thought I had gotten the hang of clambering three-legged down the sloping trails, it changed.
Would you believe it, the steep stone steps were back. Which is not too surprising, since we needed to descend 4000m in three days. Eventually this was going to be required.
Except that this time, unlike the earlier part of the trek, it was mostly only going down.
This sounds like it would be a good thing, and indeed I had complained about the route going both steeply up and down before. But back then, my knees weren't on fire with every jolt of weight upon them. And anyone who has weak knees will agree that downwards is worse than upwards. I did not have this in mind, when I chose to head to Jhinudanda earlier that day...
So my pace dropped again as I tried to spare at least one knee, hobbling down step by step.
But I persevered. Being better prepared for my trekking challenges that day, I even made better time than the previous day. We managed to arrive in Jhinudanda before sunset.
Jhinudanda without the hot springs
Jhinudanda felt more like a resort-village than the other villages I had passed through before. There was something about its layout and the wide courtyards that brought that thought to mind. It sprawled down a hill - but not as steeply as Chomrong - with guesthouses on every tier.
We even ran into the Malaysians we met in Sinwa earlier that day. They had of course arrived much earlier, not being hobbled like me. They were staying at the upper levels of Jhinudanda, further from where the hot springs were.
Though the place where you go to bathe in the hot springs was not within the guesthouse area, the springs supply hot water to the guesthouses. So my guesthouse in Jhinudanda didn't have gas heaters for the bathroom. Except, except...
Devi came over with bad news. The hot springs were closed for maintenance.
Not only did that mean no hot springs perk tomorrow, it also meant the guesthouse did not have hot water.
No. Hot. Water.
The tale for how this situation eventually got resolved, is told on this collaboration article on Look and Walk: Travel Bloggers' Creature Comforts!
Jaam - Nepali for 'let's go'. I remember this, because it is very similar to a Malaysian slang word that means the same ('jom').
To go back to the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek Series, click here.