OK, we’re back in Pokhara, after a 10-day trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp. Much fun, and much dhal bhat, was had by both of us, despite some initial scariness…
Basically, myself, Catherine and Bhadra our guide, spent a very pleasant first night in Dhampus, the first stop on the 10-day trek. Much rakshi (local millet booze, tastes like watered-down lukewarm vodka) was imbibed, resulting in some seriously ludicrous attempts at Nepali dancing! Thankfully there’s no photos.
Next day, we hiked up to the next town, Pothana, over some very leechy trails (top leech tip: cover your boots in salt, they can’t stand it). All well and good, until halfway through the town a Dutch guy ran out of a teahouse and stopped us, telling us that an English couple had been attacked in the forest just outside the town — of course, we immediately went to meet them. The guy had a bloodsoaked bandage tied around his head, and told us how himself and his girlfriend had been walking through the forest towards the next town, Landruk, when a Nepali guy approached. The English guy said namaste (hello), and was rewarded with a wallop over the head with a 6-foot stick! They then stole his girlfriend’s rucksack and attempted to take his, but (somehow) he managed to fight them off with half of the stick, then escaped.
With some help (and interpreting) from Bhadra, we found out from the locals that there was a gang of robbers operating in this forest, and a week previous to this, 2 Swedish girls had to be airlifted out because they were too badly beaten to walk! Serious problem — and one nobody had bothered to inform any of us tourists about!
After this, the 8 tourists, and their respective guides and porters, all trooped out of the village — Bhadra knew a quick route back to the road over a ridge, which saved us a half-day’s walk back via Dhampus. Along the way, the English couple were stopped by what seemed to be the entire village, who were having a very heated conversation. The upshot was that they wanted the English couple to wait around for a half day until some of the men returned from the forest, hopefully with captive robbers in tow, and then the whole lot would get the bus back to Pokhara (the nearest city) and give out stink to ACAP, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, who run the area. The English couple agreed, and we went on.
Eventually, we sidetracked around to another way up the trek. Myself and Catherine were the only 2 tourists to head up — everyone else decided to head back to Pokhara, but we were happy enough with Bhadra’s assurances that this route was very well-travelled, with no forests and no known robberies (by day at least).
It turned out for the best in the end — we had an amazing trek, got loads of pictures, saw the entire Annapurna range from the Annapurna Sanctuary, no clouds, and no further robberies. And lots of rakshi!
In the end, we heard through the grapevine that the robbers had been attacked by the local Maoists (the police don’t patrol the mountains any more). One 17-year old robber was shot, and 2 more had their arms and legs broken. Rough justice in the traditional paramilitary law enforcement style, I guess. (By the way, the Maoists enjoy about 80% support in the mountains, from what we’ve heard).
The remaining robbers hightailed it to Pokhara as well (they were not locals), and were eventually arrested. Hopefully the Nepalese law enforcement system can sort it out – corruption is apparently rife, but around here they take these kind of tourist-targeting attacks very seriously — for many people, it’s their livelihood, and it’s already suffered a lot this year due to the political situation.
So, a happy ending for us, and a warning for anyone else out there thinking of doing the Annapurna Sanctuary trek — stick to the known-safe trails, and bring a Nepali guide/porter for extra safety.
Photos will be forthcoming once we get back to Ireland, earn some money, get them developed and scan them in. This could take several months though… ;)