Providing a combination of spectacular high mountain scenery, picturesque lowland farms and villages, a wealth of cultural interest and a challenging pass crossing, the 160km long Annapurna Circuit trek is simply superb. Tucked away between the tallest peaks of the Himalayan Range, this epic trek puts one seemingly within stone’s throw from several high peaks including Manaslu, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I, II, III and IV, with Annapurna I towering at 8,091 metres as the 10th highest peak in the world. The highlight for many is the 5,416 metre Thorong La pass which leaves most people breathless, both on the account of the stunning scenery as well as lack of oxygen.
For those wishing to hike only the highest parts, the trek can be done in as little as 10 to 12 days, even shorter if the go-getters already acclimatized to high elevations and managed to get onto the rare flight to Humde airport near Manang 4 days from Thorung La pass. On the other side of the hump, plenty of people opt for flying out of the Himalaya on one of the multitude of aircraft serving Jomsom airport. Alternately, trekking the entire route requires closer to three weeks, but as time tiks away, the appeal of this route is diminishing as a road is connecting more and more villages, turning the solitude of Himalayan trekking into a dusty and noisy experience full of tractors and jeeps.
Himalaya – Annapurna Circuit was shot in the Fall of 2009 , before the road construction made a significant progress into the interior of the region. Our team started the hike in the town of Besi Sahar, and then spent 20 days hiking towards Manang, over the pass, down into Jomsom, and then jeeping out. For hikers, the beauty of this trek is that you literally overdose on great scenery and hike through fiercely remote territory, yet don’t have to carry food, tents, cooking equipment, and other stuff. Hiking is done on a village-to-village basis, and just about every village has a wide range of accommodation, and a decent variety of food on tap, which makes for comfy life while seeing scenery normally associated with very rough expeditions.
Filming this 8-part series was a great adventure, although it came at a price: while normally trekkers pack about 14-15kg of stuff into their backpacks, I was carrying about 20kg, on the account of the camera, laptop, tripod, cables, chargers, and other accessories. The trail is very dusty, and so every day was a struggle to keep the lens clean: in the end, you can see that most of the time the battle was lost and plentiful dust is visible.
The cast includes myself, Derek, Jeremy, and Jess, who was a last minute, unplanned addition to the team, but turned out to be a brilliant and tough trekker and a fun member of the Monkee troupe. In the first few episodes you see Shen Shen, a fellow trekker from China, but she “dropped off” after discovering marijuana and debilitating her hiking performance. I tried to keep the video as a useful video guide for people curious about the trek, but I still squeezed in plentiful chilled-out footage backed by some easy tunes to let you get into the video and just enjoy the scenery. Some light drama was provided by minor setbacks such as equipment failures, blisters, and Derek’s intestines, but it was nothing serious and overall I think the video shows the trek as a pleasant experience and hopefully whets viewers’ apetites for hiking.
For those interested in gear lists, here is the good stuff:
Fujifilm S-5100 camera – this is a tough unit with an excellent microphone, a very good lens, and the benefit of AA batteries which is great in case recharging is not possible and cells have to be purchased.
Wide angle adapter lens – scenes inside tight spots like guesthouses look better shot with wide angle lenses.
Four sets of rechargeable AA batteries w. charger – rechargeable batteries are more economical
US to Nepali plug converter – Nepal is on the two-bolt system, as opposed to the US type two-tab system.
Lightbulb-to-plug converter – a simple device which screws into a lightbulb socket and allows “mooching” of electricity if standard sockets are not available.
6 x 2GB (xD) memory cards – if you shoot a lot like I do, you need them. xD cards are now slightly outdated, but n 2009 the 2GB ones were all the rage.
500 GB Acer External Harddrive – it’s all about backups, backups, and backups.
Acer laptop for moving footage from xD card to Harddrive – annoying and heavy, it had to be brought along in order to transfer the videos. Both harddrives experienced difficulties in low temperatures, so beware.
Power adapter for laptop, USB cables, etc. – standard things…
Ultralight tripod – essential for time-lapses, group action shots when we had nobody else to film us doing incredible things, and for shooting those stunning self-shots that I do.
Lens cleaning kit – there is an unbelievable amount of dust in the Himalaya, and all of it seems attracted to your lens. This is a critical piece of equipment, although for the most part appeared to be a losing battle.
As per usual, I filmed much more than I could use, and so there is a parallel series available on youtube, the Nepal Details, which have more useful info about the logistics and costs of the expedition, as well as other footage that, while fun, didn’t quite fit into the main production. Serving as an aid for hikers/trekkers as well as just about anyone curious about Nepal, both series are available on Youtube, so have a look, and tell your friends.
Thank you for reading, watching, and I hope you enjoyed it all!