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Asia » Nepal » Annapurna » Annapurna Circuit
January 18th 2010
Published: February 17th 2010
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O man, why am I so lazy to write! The weeks haven't exactly flown by, but I am now in N. Thailand. So I apologize for any lack of fluidity in this blog. Less I digress any further.........

Pokhara is an easy place to fall for. The traveler scene is based around lovely Lake Tal. You can find all that food your homesick for and wash it down with a tall bottle of Everest, my favorite Nepalese beer. But the mountains beckoned and I was ready to get up there as soon as possible. I was thinking about doing the 17 day Annapurna Circuit, but I've had respiratory problems since my last 6 months in Taiwan. Looks like all that fresh South Asian air has done a number on my lungs. Had a doctor on the train a few days ago confirm that is probably my childhood asthma coming back due to the air quality or should I say lack of. Pretty gay, but true. I had also planned to not take a guide, but I met an older Tibetan man and well, I have a soft spot for the Tibetan community. The deal was sealed over tea as all
His BeardlinessHis BeardlinessHis Beardliness

Chilln on the roof of my hotel in Pokhara.
good deals are in Asia, and we were off the next day. Tea house trekking they call it, pretty much hiking from one village to the next and always having a roof over your head at night and apple pie for dessert if you wish. I hardly needed a guide, but it was nice for the companionship and insight into local culture. This came in a big way on the 1st night. We had had a hell of a bus ride to the trail head, which for the last 3 hours was over the bumpiest, dustiest road you can imagine. Yet Wangdu, my guide, was in high spirits as he had several more customers sign up for treks in February and March. So he decides to introduce me to the local raskhi or rice wine. It could also be used for general cleaning purposes or as nail polish remover, yes, it's kick ass strong. Wangdu was telling me, "only one or two glasses, then too much," but as he is giving this sound advice our 3rd and then 4th glasses arrive. We got 6 glasses deep and were best friends by then, staggering arm in arm back to our hotel.
"Fishtail" on the Right Horizion"Fishtail" on the Right Horizion"Fishtail" on the Right Horizion

Sacred mountain that is illegal to climb.
Of course the next morning we were both a bit foggy headed to say the least. But wait I almost forgot, there was a reliever in the form of community hot springs at the lovely village of Tatopani. So after a soak and breakfast, we were on our way. We did 7 days in total. On the 3rd morning we woke up at 5 am to see the famous Poon Hill sunrise, which encompasses 300 degrees of Himalayan views. Several 8000 meter peaks dotted the majestic horizon. This was also to be a red hot day for birding. We were already seeing new species on the way down from sunrise. It just got better and better with bullfinches, parrotbills, griffons, woodpeckers and warblers. We also went through a lovely forest of Rhododendron with red flowers beginning to open and a bamboo understory. At lunch I saw the elegant common langur (monkey). By the time we got to Tadopani and I birded till dusk, I had seen 16 new bird species! I also thoroughly scared a member of the weasel family that was bounding toward me whilst I was identifying a woodpecker. This was definitely the best day of the trek,
Lake TalLake TalLake Tal

Took a rowboat back after hiking to World Peace Pagoda.
but almost every morning I awoke to million dollar Himalayan views, often from the bed of my 1 to 2$ room.

Back in Pokhara I stuck around a few extra days in order to attend a weekend Tibetan Buddhist meditation course with yoga as well. It was fantastic, that's all I really need to say. You either dig or you don't and I really dug it. Pm me if you really want to hear about it. So it ended on Monday after lunch. I hadn't walked 300 meters from the center when I saw one grinning Steve Dorward, a Taiwan football mate of mine. I had totally forgotten he was going to be in town, and it sure was great to see a familiar face. Some course friends of mine and I had dinner with Steve, Vivian, his wife, and Brett our key sponsor for the Kaohsiung 100 Pacers football club. It's amazing how well beer goes with dharma talk. Lol, of course we were watching premiership football before the night was over.

They headed off trekking the next day, and I headed for Chitwan National Park. It was only a four hour bus ride from Pokhara. I
World Peace PagodaWorld Peace PagodaWorld Peace Pagoda

The big stupa.
didn't reserve a room as I rarely do. But this bus park was especially hellish! I was surrounded on all sides by hotel touts and they were coming in for the kill. Business has been slow recently. My guide book was open as I tried to look at some of the options, but they just put there brochures over it. I heard a voice of reason telling them to back off and let me breathe. Thankfully a nice tout named Babu saved me from further torture since he had a jeep with 2 other foreigners waiting to depart. I wasn't obliged to stay at his place, Jungle Sunset Camp, but it was right on the river overlooking the park. Easy decision. Babu actually was a good chap and set me up with a 2 day trek as well. Chitwan National Park is one of the most famous wildlife parks in Asia. Rightly so with wild tigers, elephants, sloth bears and rhinos on the list of big species to see. It's also unique because you can do walking treks with just you and two other guides. You here some terrifying stories about people being chased by angry rhino mothers and sloth bears, but this is actually more of a rarity. When we came across our 1st three rhinos we were walking on a raised river embankment. The rhinos were in the tall grassland, and I could see the one in front stick its massive nose straight up in the air as it winded us. Then they switched directions going deeper back into the grassland. My favorite wildlife spot came on the 2nd day as we walked through a hardwood forest that they call "sal forest". Ram, my main guide, had spotted a small raptor and we both tried to train our binocs on it. It turned out to be the tiny collared falconet(18cm), and it had captured a passerine that was nearly the same length! We took a snack break ourselves and watched it rip into its breakfast. There were also tons of spotted dear, wild boar, gaur and I saw one mongoose. It was certainly two days well spent.

It was time to head back to India the following day. The trip started normally enough as I boarded an overcrowded local bus. After 20 minutes I was able to get a seat and settled in for the 4 hour journey to the border. I was hardly settled before we were coming to a stop. Wouldn't you know it, I was leaving Nepal on a strike day as well! At least this one was local and I just had to walk an hour until another bus picked me up. The border was not very well marked, in fact so much so that I had to ask around to find the tiny immigration office. I decided to spend my last few days back in Bodgaya to experience it without the chaos of His Holiness's entourage. Then on February 10th I headed back to Kolkata by train. This train ride gave you a full perspective on India culture particularly Bihari and West Bengali culture. I was in sleeper class, which is just above the lower class tickets. So anyone and everyone can hop on and sell you anything or just ask you for money. This was the case of the hermaphrodites. They were all dressed up and patrolled the cars in groups of 4. They walked through and simply clapped their hands in front of your face and demanded money! The craziest thing was it actually worked with many people, not including myself. When and when not to give money is always one of the hardest things in developing countries, especially places like India where the poverty is always in your face. I generally give to handicaps and musicians, but never children. All aide agencies will tell you that it is better to donate to a school or local relief organization, which I did. In too many places begging has turned into an industry with babies rented out to women who just use them to beg! Back to my train journey.....You can also try the regional food specialties when vendors come aboard and a cup of tea or coffee is never more than 5 minutes away. Forget your toothbrush, comb or pens? Need to pick up a scarf that you didn't buy in Varanasi? Don't worry this is all possible, and I'm sure much more on the great Indian train journey.

That was it for India. One more sub par hotel room and fresh batch of food poisoning, and I was on my not so merry way to Thailand. I'll be finishing up this leg of the trip in Thailand and Laos. Until next time, I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from Venerable Yeshe, the teacher at my meditation course.
"Trying to satisfy our desires is like drinking salty water."
"Faith is a belief in the absence of knowledge."


Additional photos below
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Mountain PrincessMountain Princess
Mountain Princess

The big red mark on her forehead is leftover from a bindi. They make them rather large here with lots of flowers.
Poon Hill SunrisePoon Hill Sunrise
Poon Hill Sunrise

Got up at 5 am to hike an hour up a hill for this sunrise.
Annapurna South and Annapurna 1Annapurna South and Annapurna 1
Annapurna South and Annapurna 1

Annapurna South looms large on the right horizion but Annapurna 1 is over 8000 meters
WangduWangdu
Wangdu

You see these flags all over the Himalayan mountains. They have mantras, sutras and or auspicious symbols put on them using the woodblock printing style. The prayers are dispersed by the wind for the benefit of all sentient beings. Wangdu signed his family name on them for good luck.
Rhododendron/Bamboo ForestRhododendron/Bamboo Forest
Rhododendron/Bamboo Forest

Okay, this does it zero justice, but it's the only pic I have. In March and April there would be thousands of red, blue and yellow flowers.
Exiting Wicked CanyonExiting Wicked Canyon
Exiting Wicked Canyon

This was one of my favorite days. I saw 5 new species of birds while descending out of the canyon, part of an epic 16 lifers extravaganza.
Early Rhododendron BloomEarly Rhododendron Bloom
Early Rhododendron Bloom

Now imagine a whole forest!


17th February 2010

5 star
I think this is the best written one yet! And the others were very good.
1st October 2010

Nice read
Hey Cato, I really enjoyed reading this blog- particularly the Nepal part. Kiron and I are heading there for the month of December. It's been 9 years since my previous trip there and your blog has helped whet my appetite just that little bit more. Hope you're well mate. Take care.

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