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Published: December 6th 2009
13th Nov - 6th Dec
Getting off the plane in Kathmandu and driving through the bedlam of pink buses, tuk tuks, cows, fruit sellers and randomly wandering people was quite a shock after our 20 hour journey from England. We had a 5 hour stop off in Mumbai to change flights and we got a little taste of what India might be like when we go back (non-existant personal space, us having no clue what’s going on…). We had picked a hotel from the Lonely Planet and as our cab pulled up, the guy in the tourist information stand informed us that a tour guide would be joining us. He proceeded to sell us on his tour company whilst pointing out various landmarks - the such and such bridge… the so and so building…the municipal open-air crematorium…nice.
Anyway, I’m not sure if we bought in or if we were just too tired to resist but we agreed to meet him the following morning to talk about trekking options. We stayed in Hotel Utse just beside the heaving backpacker/social centre of Thamel. We opted for the deluxe room for our first night. The only difference between it and the basic
seemed to be that you had more stairs to climb to get there (we’ve realised that the higher the room, the higher the price). We were glad to have somewhere to crash though and resisted the temptation to explore the night life of Thamel.
The next morning, we met our new friend and he told us all about his company and what they could offer. After visiting his office, we decided that it might be a good option after all to do our first big trek in Nepal with someone who knew what they were doing. We planned on 15 days and figured out a route which would involve flying to Jomsom (about half way up the Annapurna Circuit) and then trekking the rest of the circuit and on to Annapurna Base Camp. For about $50 per day we would get a porter/guide, all transport (including flights to Jomson and return 7 hour bus from Kathmandu to Pokhora), all food, all accommodation (15 nights on the circuit and a night in a hotel either end), safe drinking water and the two trekking permits we would need. They seemed reputable and were a member of the porter safety organization
and the eco-tourism association so we signed up.
We had been warned that bus trips in Nepal can be a bit hairy and to only travel by tourist bus. We were on a tourist bus and our trip was reasonably straight forward apart from a little Suzuki crashing into the back of us in Kathnandu (that caused great excitement for the locals). Other that than, we saw 3 separate bus and truck crashes along the way - one of which was hanging over the cliff with its back wheels spinning. You kind of have to do what the bus drivers do and put your faith in a higher power (hey, it works for most of them!)
On landing in Pokhara we met our guide Goppi for the first time. I took one look and thought oh no, we can’t possibly make him carry our bag - he’s half the size of me!! It turns out though that these lads are very strong and agile and our 15 kilo bag was nothing compared to the 40 - 60 kilo loads that some of them carry (makes me think how easy we have it in work). Goppi sorted
our permits and settled us into our hotel for the night. The next morning we headed to the airport at sunrise. What a lovely view we had of the mountains surrounding Pokhara. The plane trip to Jomsom is very short but incredibly scenic. It’s a 15 minute hair raising trip in a 10 seater through some of the highest mountain peaks in the world (Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest peaks). You literally fly through the mountains and the landing strip is only just long enough to touch down and come to a halt. We all let out a communal sigh as the engine stopped! From Jomsom, we trekked up to Kagbeni - a beautiful Tibetan style village right on the border of Mustang. We visited a little Buddhist Temple and had the most wonderful view into the heart of the village (a medieval maze of streets and buildings at various levels with animals being kept in what looked like peoples back gardens) as well as across the desert landscape with snow capped peaks all round.
From Kagbeni we went straight up to Muktinath - a famous religious pilgrimage spot for both Hindus and Buddhists.
It’s at 3800 metres and I really struggled with the sudden gain in altitude. As soon as we got there, I took myself to bed to sleep off my headache while Matt went and used the first hot shower we had come across. The next thing I knew, the owner of the guest house barged in to the room shouting “shower, shower, now, you”. Feeling both groggy and slightly bemused at this concern for my personal hygiene, I politely declined and put my head back down. A few minutes later, our Guide Goppi then came in and said “come now, your friend needs medicine in shower”. I threw on my clothes and raced down to see Matt lying half naked on a day bed with two people rubbing his arms and hands and about 20 people crowded around. I got such a fright when I saw that he was staring kind of deliriously at the ceiling and slurring - “Izz ok, juss fine”. It turned out that the gas shower which had no outlet was pumping out carbon monoxide. This combined with his attempts at doing washing in said shower by swirling a bucket with clothes and suds over his
head whilst at high altitude, caused him to pass out and land face down in a puddle of water. Luckily, Goppi came to the rescue when he noticed a gradually building line up of people waiting for the shower, strange noises coming out of the shower and a missing Matt. He broke down the door and dragged him out quick smart and together with another lad called Having described the car/bus incident, you can imagine the excitement that a naked, unconscious, 6 foot white fella caused the sitting room full of porters, guides and tourists. You’ll be glad to know that Matt turned out just fine although it was a bit of a worry at the time. He came out of it with a small cut on his head, some bruising on his side but otherwise no major damage - just a good dinner story!
We spent the next few days trekking down through the Annapurna Circuit. We stopped at Marpha which is the apple capital of the Nepal….yummy crumble!, Ghasa (don’t bother), Tatopani where we soaked our tired muscles in the hot springs, Sikh where we partied hard to a Bollywood cassette tape (I kid you not)
with the Nepali guides and porters who had been drinking Rahksi all day (the local wine made from Millett) and Ghorepani where we climbed Poon Hill at 5am and to watch the sun rise over Dhaulagiri. We then cut across to Tadopani and Chumorong towards the Annapurna Base Camp. From there we had a pretty tough slog - very steep steps up and down for up to 7 hours at a time. It was worth it when we got to ABC though, we were surrounded by Annapurna South on one Side, Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail Mountain) on another and Annapurna 1. We were at 4100 metres by this stage and it was hard to believe that these peaks were twice that again - they felt so close. It was so quite up there, you could hear the ice cracking as well as a huge avalanche (luckily on the other side though). Matt was very brave and took a bucket bath there before running inside and putting on his down jacket. It was actually really warm when we got there in the afternoon but after the sun dropped, it was literally freezing. The stars were out of this world….if it hadn’t been
View from Pothana
I think these are mustard plants
so cold, I could have spent all night out there.
A quick note on the food - Yes Dal Bhat is everywhere; the Nepali love it and eat it three times a day. It's a traditional dish comprising of rice, a lentil soup, curried vegetables, pickle and a papadam. It's definitely a good option if you're hungry - a) it's a big dish and b) they always offer you seconds (and seem a little put out if you don't have room!). Other than Dal though, there's a surprising array of food available on the trek. We were amused to see that at 4100 metres, we could have ordered pizza, chow mein, pasta, sandwiches, omelettes, soup, fried rice or dumplings - all prepared in a handkerchief sized kitchen with new supplies 3 days walk away. Amazing really.
It was a pretty exhausting two weeks but so worth it. Neither my words nor the pictures we took could come close to describing the beauty of what we saw along the way. The diversity of the landscape was mind blowing - from windswept flood plains to majestic mountain peaks and then quiet pastoral villages - one day surrounded by New England
Fall style scenery, the next walking through gently floating cherry blossoms. Walking along a path the width of one person and with a deep ravine to one side, we would be faced with a line of donkeys wanting to get by and have to press ourselves against the cliff face to let them step round us. Some days we would be concentrating so hard on our feet as we negotiated steep rocky steps and rock hopped through streams and waterfalls and then one of us would look up and say “oh my God, look at that” and we would have to stop and take in yet another breath taking vista of valleys, mountains, rivers and trees with little villages precariously balanced on the slopes.
We also met some wonderful people along the way - it’s such a social trek as you stay in tea houses and all congregate in the sitting rooms in the evening to eat, play cards and exchange stories from the day's walking. We got great tips for India from Urvi and Anand in Marpha, partied with the Canadian crew (Jamie, his mum Carol and girlfriend Lisa as well as newly-marrieds Doug and Julie) in
Crazy dancing at Sikh
yes I am dancing in my pajamas...fashion has no place on the mountain
Sikh, kicked back after the ABC descent with Andrew and Kate from South Africa, and last night enjoyed post climb curries, Mojitos and hubbly bubbly with our Zen friend Greg and James the DJ and Sofie the designer from London (hope you guys made it out ok this morning!).
We’re not entirely sure what’s next although we’re thinking Chitwan for a few days and then a 10 day meditation retreat (silent….hmmm wonder how long we’ll last). For the moment though, we’re stuck in crazy Kathmandu as the Moaists have shut down the country for the day (no vehicles on the roads and almost no businesses open). We’ve managed to get a “lock in” in our favourite local café though so hiding out here with our American Buddhist friend Greg and overdosing on caffeine and internet for the day - it’s quite nice really to kick back after all the action!
A few recommendations:
In Pokhara - the Monsoon cafe is fab for breakfast and Moondance does great coffee and lunches. Everest steak house was a bit disappointing but Koto Japanese is supposed to be amazing. We stayed in Hotel Yeti which was pretty good
Happy Hour at Tadopani
Enjoying beers and pringles with Carol, Lisa, Jamie, Doug and Julie. This was the place with the "worm heater"
- clean and cheap (600 rupees per night). It's pretty cheap to hire a boat across the lake for the day (about 500 rupees) but as Chris de Burgh says "don't pay the ferry man, until he gets you to the other side" - one of our mates got ripped off by paying in the morning and trying to pick up the boat in the evening. ah well.
Marpha - the Paradise Tea House is fantastic - great food and hot showers, what more could you ask for.
Kathmandu - we're staying in the Sacred Valley - central, brand new, great showers and only 1000 per night (about $13 US). Gaia is our favouite cafe, great atmosphere, free wi-fi and they import their beef from Australia! The Buddha Bar does great (if slightly lethal) cocktails.
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