Odar homestay village (or rather just Odar) is an easy 50 minutes uphill walk from the Annapurna Circuit Trail between Tal and Chame and a great opportunity to get a bit off the beaten track.
In Odar, the homestay system is meticulously organized: 16 homes are currently approved for homestay in the village (several more have applied), and everything is meticulously organized: Thus, depending on which day the guest arrives, he/she will be directed to the homestay “on duty”. This also applied for guests passing Odar for lunch, where cut-off between the lunch homestay place and the overnight homestay is 2pm. All this in order to fairly distribute the income from tourists in a poor village where two overnight guests may support an entire family for several weeks.
Odar is a traditional village, making their living from agriculture and almost everything is home-made, with bees and chicken all around the village.
I learned from my host that this area was not really affected by the 2015 earthquake. I also learned that the locals pay around 2 dollars for a jeep down to Besi Sahar (while a tourist pays around 200 dollars). And that many of the villages young people had left seeking employment in either China or the Gulf States. My host furthermore explained that the decline in walking tourists on this part of the Annapurna Circuit (most take the jeep directly to Chame), had forced the development of new forms of tourism, and it was believed that home-stays in more remote villages could be a possible solution.
8 pm: Finally in Khudi. It is pitch dark. The batteries for my head-lamp are not working.
I intended to walk the classical Annapurna Circuit – from Besi Sahar to Naya Pul, including Tilicho Lake, approximately 250 km.
Roads are continually being constructed and it is now possible to hire a jeep all the way to Manang now, and many drive up to Chame and start from there.
Walking up, on quite a few stretches you are obliged to follow the dirt jeep track, however there are quite a few alternate trails up the valley avoiding the road.
The great advantage walking from Besi Sahar is experiencing the transition between the low tropical zones and the high alpine landshapes:
The villages of the lower country are very atmospheric and full of culture and life.
The downside apart from the dirt roads is all the construction going on mainly by Chinese companies, including a major dam on the Marsyandi Kola.
On one side obviously improved infrastructure is essential for the development of these very poor communities. On the other side, this development makes the area less appealing to hikers and the local tea house owners have difficult times, and have to re-think their businesses.
I was the only person staying in most of the lodges and in several villages I was the only guest as well.
Highlights of the lower part of the Annapurna Circuit:
The suspension brige over Marsyangi Kola to Syange.
Bahundanda hilltop village.
Tal, the glacier-carved valley and the traditional pumpkin dishes.
Quite frankly, neither the way up to, nor the pass itself are particularly beautiful. In good weather conditions, the crossing is straight-forward and uncomplicated. However, large amounts of snow may pose difficulties and a snowstorm on the top may contribute to a disaster as seen in October 2014.
After the 2014 tragedy, it seems people pay even more attention to crossing the pass early in the day, and most sleep at the Thorung High View Camp (4850m), 1,5 hours above the Thorung Pedi Lodge (4540m). Furthermore as many leave as early as 4 am, I was alone on the trail all the way to the pass when I left at a the (to me) more reasonable time 6 am from Thorung Pedi Lodge. I arrived at the teashop on the pass right before midday in time for lunch.
Having spent already a week around Manang including hikes to the Ice Lake and Tilicho Lake, I did not have any altitude-related issues , though I did walk rather slowly, carrying my own backpack as well. The descent into Muktinath is long, but uncomplicated and I noticed a couple of new bright blue emergency shelters, built after the 2015 snowstorm to prevent people from getting lost in bad weather conditions. I checked into the Muktinath temple at 3 pm, on what turned out to be a major Hindu festival day.
Perched on an almost vertical mountain side 400 meters above Manang at 2945, a female Monk lives at the Praken Gompa in solitude, only interrupted by a once-weekly climb down to Manang to buy supplies. Is has been customary for travelers on the Annapurna Circuit to hike up there and donate around 100 rupees in return for a blessing. However, as the female monk explained to me, 100 rupees is next to nothing these days, and times are hard, so she thought 500 rupees (around one dollar) a more appropriate donation.
The woman explained that she had been living in this mountain dwelling for 40 years together with her father, Lama Tashi, the original “100 rupee monk”, now is apparently in his 90s and in Kathmandu.