They say it rains leeches during the monsoon here in the Sanctuary on the way to Annapurna Base Camp.
With 3,700mm average annual precipitation, this is the area of Nepal with the highest annual rainfall so it is not surprising.
The rain, leeches and landslides are three reasons the guidebooks tell you to avoid the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek at this time of year. But just last week, the trail had some intrepid trekkers going up to the Sanctuary, the leeches were behaving themselves, and the rain fell mainly at night. The morning views of Annapurna South and Machapuchre with the cleft summit made it all worth it.
However, hotels and lodges in the trekking region managed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) bear a deserted look. Years of conflict have taken their toll. The ACAP headquarters in Ghanruk is still a ruin after it was bombed and burnt down three years ago. And despite the ceasefire, it is the fear of money extorting-gun toting Maoists, and not the blood-sucking leeches, that is putting trekkers off.
Hotelier Bikram Gurung in Birenthanti recalls having several customers a day even in the midst of earlier monsoons and can't wait for the autumn season. "Now that the political situation has improved people will come," he says confidently. Higher up the trail in Chomrong, Laxmi Gurung is busy adding rooms to her Mountain View Hotel to accommodate anticipated trekkers later this year.
Even though ACAP has pulled out, its program supporting sustainable eco-tourism has left its mark. Villagers are carrying out conservation work by themselves even though there is no money from the project and no local staff. The monsoon rains have nourished their paddy and maize fields, bringing wild animals like monkeys, deer and mountain sheep right to their doorsteps, but local residents now refuse to trap or kill them. The jungles are lush green teeming with wildlife and echoing with the songs of birds and insects. The sound of falling water never leaves you: the roar of the Modi Khola, the rustle of waterfalls, the murmur of brooks and the sigh of an afternoon drizzle on the forest canopy.
The emerald valleys and dark green slopes make the Annapurnas in the monsoon like no other trek in the Nepal. Despite the mist and clouds, the sun always shines through. And when Machapuchre make its appearance through a rain-washed sky, it looks close enough to reach out and touch.
Yalamber Singh in Chomrong