We woke on Day 1 in Besisahar ready to enter the Annapurna Conservation Area and get on a jeep to Chame as planned. First we stopped by the TIMS office to check in. There happened to also be a jeep driver there and we agreed on seats on the jeep to Chame for 2000 rupees per person. The night before we had heard 2500, while online we had seen 1300 (we later found out both were wrong). Considering we didn’t see any other tourists around, we figured we would settle for the slightly higher price.
Of course, getting a lower price is never that easy. The minute we agreed, the driver took us to this ticket counter where the price went back to 2500 rupees and the driver changed. We were furious. How did things change in a matter of seconds? After some heated conversations with the ticket counter guy and walking away multiple times, the price once again dropped to 2000 rupees. Not a good start to the day.
It took another hour for the jeep to get gas and enough passengers to finally depart. As usual, the jeep was crammed to the max – 10 people in 8 seats, with 4 people in our row of 3 seats. Carlos is easily twice the size of a regular Nepalese person so I don’t know how anyone could think this was a good idea. Our hips were literally crushed against each other and the other two Nepalese ladies in our row between the two jeep doors. In the row behind us, locals actually sat on top of each other’s laps. Oh boy, this was going to be a really crowded ride, we thought. It was about to get much worse.
Once the jeep took off, it didn’t take us long to realize that this road up the mountain was not really a road. It was a narrow trail filled with big and small rocks, bumps and hills, mud and dirt. The ride was so bumpy, we had to hold on to whatever we could so not to injure ourselves hitting something. Sometimes the bumps were so big that holding on did nothing and we all shook around like marbles. The bumpiness was constant – we couldn’t remember how it felt to drive in a smooth road. It was tortuous. I had no idea how we would endure this for eight hours.
We eventually drove into the mountains, literally on this “road” carved from the cliff on the mountainside. The shaking and bumpiness was no longer the biggest problem. We forgot all about it when we began to fear for our lives. Sitting by the right side window, I had a front-row, high-definition view of the valley gorge below us and just how far down it was. We knew it was serious when the local Nepalese women beside us just closed their eyes and prayed.
There were no barriers. There was nothing preventing us from driving directly off the cliff. The “road” was so narrow sometimes that from my window, I couldn’t see the ground we were driving on (the jeep wheels must have been on solid ground). All I could see was the vertical drop and the river so very far below. It was terrifying. I’m not scared of heights and I normally am quite at peace with factors outside of my own control (such as in a public vehicle), but I was genuinely afraid.
It wasn’t just the “road” conditions. The bumpiness added to the drama. Whenever the jeep rocked to the right side (cliff side), I couldn’t help but cringe, lean to the left, and hope we didn’t rock off the cliff. If that wasn’t enough, the jeep lost traction occasionally. Those were the scariest moments. The wheels spun aimlessly and the jeep started slipping backwards. Whenever that happened (and it happened several times), the Nepalese women beside us screamed while the rest of us held our breaths hoping the driver would get control of the vehicle once again. The section between Chamje and Tal was the worst. For future trekkers who want to take the jeep, if you can’t deal with this kind of thing, don’t take it past Chamje (or even better, just to Syange).
By mid-afternoon, we had passed the worst cliffs and were hopeful about arriving in Chame soon. But come on, this bad day was going to end badly. A little after Danakyu, our jeep got stuck on a slope. Our driver tried a few times to no avail, so we all got off temporarily. Some people walked onwards so the jeep could catch up with them later (including me). Others stayed to help the driver with the jeep (most of the Nepalese men). This had happened once before during the day but that time the jeep got going again in no time, so I didn’t think much of it this time.
An hour later, freezing with the setting sun, we heard that they had officially given up on the jeep. Apparently they had tried a bunch of things – pushing the jeep, moving rocks on the road, driving down to attempt to drive up again. Nothing worked. So this was as far as the jeep would go. We had to get our stuff and trek on our own. Great. We put on our down jackets, backpacks, and headed uphill for the next town of Temang.
As we were walking, Carlos told me about the refund situation that has taken place with the jeep. Since it did not make it to Chame, the driver was issuing refunds – 100 rupees. Considering we paid 4000 rupees, this was way too low. Our driver did not speak English, so another driver was translating. When he heard we had paid 2000 rupees per person, his eyeballs almost bulged out of his eye sockets. Apparently the rate was only 900 rupees per person. When the other driver told our driver, he was equally shocked. So clearly, the ticket counter guy in Besisahar scammed everyone and pocketed 2200 rupees. Our driver gave us back 500 rupees in the end, but I’m sure he’s going to have a nice chat with the ticket counter guy. It’s bad enough to be overcharged, it’s unacceptable that the extra money we paid didn’t even go to the person doing the work. This is a very hateful thought, but I hope karma gets that Besisahar ticket counter guy.
Our trekking began prematurely, but it was honestly a relief compared to the past two days. No better motivation to walk than a hell bus and a death jeep. We had not made it to Chame so we were behind a day, but we were just glad to be alive. The hour walk from where the jeep broke down up to Temang was not bad, except that it was getting very dark. We arrived in Temang before 7pm.
Our first night in the teahouse was brief since we had arrived so late. A quick dinner (dhal bhat) and we were headed to bed. We had expected teahouses on the circuit to be basic shacks but were pleasantly surprised. Many of the teahouses were cute wooden lodges. They were not the perfect winter cabins in Canada, but more than good enough. Just before we called it a day, we saw shadows of all the mountains surrounding Temang, which seemed to be situated in a mini sanctuary of sorts. We couldn’t wait to wake up tomorrow to see it in the light. For the moment, we were mesmerized by all the stars in the sky – neither of us had ever seen so many. It was magical.
Day 1 in the death jeep was a very long day. Not only was it physically tiring, it was mentally draining. It took more energy to fear for my life than I ever expected. And to think we thought the bus ride from Day 0 was bad! That was a ride in the park compared to this death-defying journey. If I was a cat with nine lives, I certainty used one (if not a few) on this ride. This has to be one of the world’s most dangerous roads… if it even qualifies as a road!
Continue to read Trekking Annapurna Day 2: Dreams Crushed…
For more pictures from the jeep ride, please visit the gallery!