The biggest thing we were excited about coming down the pass was warmth!! Even though Muktinath was still pretty high (same as Manang), it was much warmer because the climate is different on this side of the range. Still not hot but it felt good to put on flip flops.
There is a jeep road starting from Muktinath which goes down almost the whole West side of the Annapurna Circuit trek. We had read many reviews that said it’s not that nice to hike on the jeep road since every time a vehicle passes, it raises up a ton of dust. So we opted to take jeep/car down the West side all the way to Tatopani.
It took about 4 total hours, and you do have the transfer at certain cities. We took a crowded jeep from Muktinath to Jomsom, then at Jomsom you can transfer to a bus to Ghasa, and transfer again to Tatopani. We found a taxi willing to take us from Jomson all the way to Tatopani and shared it with Gal, a Phd student from Israel trekking independently. Travel wasn’t cheap but it was nice to get down to Tatopani where we felt like we were dropped into a tropical paradise. Cicadas buzzing, bright flowers, and banana and orange trees. Since the road makes it pretty accessible, the food prices were much cheaper here too. Prices go up the higher up you are in altitude and the further you are from the road. The tourism board fixes all the prices, so pretty much every teahouse will have the same exact menu with the same prices. Meat is very hard to come by on the trek (and expensive), so we ate vegetarian every day. There were other trekkers trying out the yak dishes up on the mountain, but they cost a small fortune.
Tatopani is known for their natural hot springs. They’ve built 2 pools by the river for the hot springs—the idea of hot springs is what kept us going in the cold! The two pools are different temperatures: hot and really really hot. We relaxed in the evening in the hot springs, Mike had his first beer on the trek; it was nice and relaxing. Coincidentally, we ran into Sean, the social worker/surfer from SF, who we met on the first day of the trek. He had done the trek amazingly fast, and even did the steep hike to Tilicho Lake. It was so nice in Tatopani that we decided to take an extra rest day here to rest our sore legs. We did a short day hike the next day and just bummed around the small village.
On our day hike, we came across a small village that was butchering a sheep or a goat. When we stopped to watch, they explained that they were going to have a feast that night. It’s not every day you get to eat meat!
Tatopani has patches of marijuana growing wild everywhere. The Bob Marley restaurant next door to our teahouse even advertises Space Bread on their sign and a South African girl we met at the hot springs was telling us about getting her lassi (a yogurt smoothie) with weed.
After Tatopani, it was back to hiking uphill to the next village, Ghorepani. We broke the 7 hour uphill journey into two days to take it easy. Many people do it in one day.
Ghorepani is back up high in altitude and known for the sunrise hike to Poon Hill, where you can see a panoramic view of the mountain range. It was cloudy that morning, so we didn’t see much, but it was still beautiful colors.
Rhododendrons were in full bloom here and really neat to see the mountain side covered in red and pink blossoms.
By this time, we were about done with trekking overall, so we decided to push from Ghorepani all the way down to Birethani in one day. It’s all downhill and we hiked about 7 hours to Birethani—tough again on the knees. From Birethani, we hailed a taxi and drove the rest of the 2 hours to Pokhara, a lakeside down where we could relax for the next few days.
One memorable moment I forgot to mention happened on our 3rd day of hiking. We were resting along the trail on a mountain path, when all of a sudden, Mike’s backpack fell off a rock and starting tumbling towards the edge of the path. It was like slow motion–backpack falling down the hill. We ran to the edge of the hill thinking it would stop, but nope it kept going and every time you thought it would stop it just kept tumbling down and down and down. Our hearts just dropped into our stomachs. Ack! Mike and Min went slipping and sliding down the hill to try to find out and Min luckily found it and it got snagged on a branch before the cliff the dropped off. So insanely lucky.
Success, done with the trek!! Such a mix of emotions: relief, exhaustion, and excited to eat something other than daal bhat. =)