Woke up at 6 AM and freaked-out thinking that my plane to Jomsom was leaving at 6:30. Then I remembered setting my computer's clock 15-minutes fast and the flight was actually scheduled for takeoff at 6:50. Duh! Airport was a 5-minute taxi ride from my Damside hotel. Twin engine Otter. Flop down door with tiny steps built into the innards. Duck your head please. Felt like we were loading a DC-3 for the D-Day drop. After the close call in Chiang Mai I figured that I was in the clear, mathematically, for at least a few more flights before another near-disaster.
Seating on-board the slanted flight deck had all the comfort of a lawn chair. I sat right behind and between the pilots for the 20-minute flight. We flew no higher than 10,000 ft, winging our way between the Annapurnas. Hedge-hopping ridges. What a spectacular show. It was like being in the IMAX movie 'To Fly'. Terrain warnings were going off regularly in the cockpit as we cruised too near the ice-encased granite cliffs. No clouds. Visibility; Infinite. Pilot and co-pilot were very focused. No auto-pilots on this route. Final approach made though a narrow valley with a jittery plop-skip
View From The Cockpit
Definitely an 'E' ticket ride as we skirted 5 mountains.
landing on Jomsom's very short runway. Plane immediately reloads and takes off again. They have to get in as many flights as possible before the winds put an end to any flying for the remainder of the day. The air here is thin and I feel it immediately. The altitude in Jomsom is 8,400 feet vs. 3,500 in Pokhara. Grabbed a room at the Muktinath Hotel for $9/ nite. My window faces Annapurna I. Hot water with a squatter. Very clean. Had Nepalese lunch at the hotel when I returned from my first walk-around. So good. So hungry. I ate every grain and they gave me more. $4 total for the food. Family operation. They could not be nicer or gentler. I am the only guest here. After lunch I fell out in my room for 2-hours of coma-quality Zzz's.
I decided on flying here when the public bus I was starting out in dropped its drive shaft in the bus station as we were pulling out. You need to take three separate public buses to get to Jomsom. If you make all of your connections and the drive shafts stay put, the trip could be as short as
The Jomsom Airport At 7:30 AM
First thing I saw when I emerged from the train was Annapurna. Is this a great airport or what?
13-hours. To rent a private 4-wheel drive car costs $250 each way and even then you have to negotiate 9 hours of bouncing, bad road. A guy in town told me that most trekkers will take the bus to Jomsom once so they know to never do it again. The plane costs $113 each way but my boys at the hotel got me a deal that I could not refuse. A matter of somebody knowing somebody knowing somebody. The buck a day I tip my guys makes a very favorable impression on them. And letting them watch 'The Matrix Reloaded' on my laptop during dinner doesn't hurt either.
Jomsom town looks like a South American village. A wide, sun-drenched, granite-flagstoned street lined with squat, stone-walled and stone-roofed buildings. Stacks of firewood cover the eaves. Hand-made ladders lean against the buildings. A LOT of blue-cammy, fatigue-garbed Nepali Army troops are here and they are jumpy. Weapons are locked and loaded. In the distance I hear a recoiless rifle firing in the mountains. No photos allowed. I keep my camera in my pocket. I walked east through the town to a little wooden bridge. Crossed it, turned back west along the
Jomsom's Main Street At High Noon
This is essentially the tourist area as it is right next to the airstrip.
river for a mile. Climbed to the top of a big ridge via a path to a ville called THINI. Halfway up I'm sucking wind like a GOMER. When I manage to get to the top of the ridge, Annapurna 'The Mighty One' smacks me right in the face. 8,081 meters of granite and ice yelling, "Behold Me, Old Man and Stop Wetting Yourself!" I tottered at the mountain's base, squeezing the nape of my neck hard with a cold hand while looking skyward through misty eyes. It's overwhelming. Glacier capped icy whorls and cascades hundreds of feet wide. I saw a zig-zag path leading north over the next, razor-back ridge. I plan to hit that one tomorrow morning. It looks like a 2,000 ft vertical climb in total. Manageable, even in my dotage. I found a handy suspension bridge on my way home. It should cut 2 miles off the walk so I can concentrate on the climb. It's all about climbing here. Inca Trail 'Day Two' torture every day and those of you who have done Machu know what I'm talking about. This town needs an escalator salesman badly. When I get back to Jomsom the wind is
Follow The Silver Cable Road
Once you get across there's a cliff to scale to get up to the flats and one helluva view.
blowing so hard I immediately think of H.P. Lovecraft's 'Mountains of Madness'. All the flights out of the airstrip have been grounded now. I'm in my hotel's restaurant writing this. Beautiful sunny day. Air is crystal clear and the sky is Indigo. Jomsom was a very good move for me. I have added a new 'Happy Place' to my life.
It's getting on 3 PM now. Wind is still blowing like a Cat 2 hurricane getting ready to pummel Florida. I can only imagine the scene up on the circuit. I met two German girls leaving for the trek early this morning. They looked nervous. I asked if they felt ready for it. One said that she had prepped by climbing hills in Scotland. The other said nothing. It was so warm on the trail by noon today that I stripped down to my T-shirt. Now at mid-afternoon I'm under the covers wondering if my jacket will be warm enough tonight to go out in to look at the stars. Nobody in town has heat in their homes except for what their small cooking fires put off. My room's solar hot water shower is the real deal but only
if you let it run for 10 minutes before you get under it. As cold as it's getting now, I may be back in the shower for a warmup before getting under the blankets. There's no TV here and the only WIFI I can access is at Om's Cafe across the street and Om's closes at 4 PM. I like it. I have a tendency to use the internet to goof off on when I should be doing something more productive like playing Company of Heroes or writing or rewriting or re-rewriting or editing pictures or taking pictures or researching where I'm headed next. Hopefully that will be east to Everest depending on the reports I get from trekkers out there. The Sherpas tore up Everest base camp after the avalanche and westerners are running back home with all of their unspent cash. Did you know that a permit to climb Everest costs $30,000? That's just for the permit. The climbing costs are additional.
I saw some Sherpas for the first time today. A group had just come off the circuit and the Sherpas were running gear back into town. These guys might weigh 110 pounds soaking wet. They
carry the equipment in big, white, bulk-rice bags roped to their heads and waists. Three of them were taking a break and I asked permission to try lifting a pack which they readily gave me as they needed a good laugh. The loads are easily 100 pounds in weight and the Sherpas carry them for seventeen days over some of the toughest terrain in the world. They are a dark, tough, little people with jet black hair that constantly falls over their friendly eyes. Under 5 feet in height, they have distinct Chinese features. Very hospitable and responsive to hellos. I give them a Wei and they beam.
The organized trekking groups stay in three different 30-room hotels next to the airport. Lots of French and Germans here. I guess other nationalities don't make it this far though they sure do crowd Pokhara. I have met no other Americans in Jomsom. Most of the westerners I see are here to do the Annapurna circuit but a few others are hitting the 'Mustang' trek which is considered a tougher nut to crack. English is the common language in Jomsom between foreigners and Nepalis. Western food is available at the trekker
Nice Man + Cute Son = Good Photograph
Families here are tight knit. Kids are usually at work with their parents. I have seen no schools here.
hotels. I've only eaten Nepali and Indian since I arrived in Nepal. It's healthier, better tasting and far less expensive. Prices for food are higher here than they were in Pokhara. $2 a meal in Pokhara compared to $5 in Jomsom. I paid my 4-night hotel bill in Pokhara. Total with 2 meals a day came to $31.
My landlady treats me like I'm her son. Come early afternoon I'll hear a slight knock on my door and she'll softly inquire as to my state of hunger. I think the woman is part Italian. She serves me a platter with mounds of delicious Nepali food orbiting a summit of rice and when I've demolished that she brings me more. I am, apparently, a vegetarian now. I did not know this! The mornings and evenings are the busiest times in Jomsom as groups head out to the circuit or crawl back in with sunset. During the day nothing much happens and the town takes on a drowsy attitude. Throw in a burro and a couple of sombreros and it would look perfect. Perfectly weird.
I woke up at 4 AM one day. The Jomsom night sky offered more stars
Ex-Realtor Becomes Mountain Man
I'm surveying lots here now. Big offer coming your way soon!
than void. What I, at first, thought was a long, low cloud gliding overhead was actually the Milky Way. I haven't seen stars as clearly as this since Peru in 2006. The ridge I spotted yesterday proved to be more of a climb than anticipated. The surface is covered with a foot-deep layer of black, razor-sharp, shale shards. Walking on it makes a sound akin to the careless stacking of fine Chinaware. It's also very slick. Trails along these heights are only a foot wide and you are constantly fording yet another, narrow, fast-running stream. You have to do a lot of cautious side-stepping when transitioning to a higher or lower trail. I appreciate my new, ugly-brown boots more than ever. The thick, stiff soles proved excellent shovels for digging footholds out of the shale. The reward for all of this labor was a panoramic view of Annapurna I and Tilicho, conjoined by a monster-sized ice ridge. This is Snow-Leopard country. I quietly rested in the shade of an ancient Cypress, hopelessly hoping to spy one of the rare cats. Drank some water, ate my Nepalese butter cookies, listened to the cliff-nesting Cuckoo birds and half-dozed through the view. It
was as fine a hike as I could have wished for. My routine now is to walk until I think I can walk no further, rest, snack, nap and head back down.
On the way home today I found myself wading, waist deep, through herds of little, shaggy-brown cows and hundreds of big Nepali goats. These animals free graze along the steep ridge meadows. I'm back in my room now and I am whipped. Knees are knocking. My lower legs feel as if they've been clamped into ski boots all day and my butt is pleading with me to declare a national holiday immediately. I'm afraid to look at my face. The UV index in Jomsom is what they refer to as a "Strong' Level 10. I need a radiation badge. On the upside I have learned that every time I go out it gets easier. The muscles ache a little less. The breathless panting has disappeared and my love for this outdoor play grows stronger with each day. Life is very good up here.
One night, the hotel was filled to bursting with Nepalese holiday makers. In the picture-windowed breakfast room upstairs I heard some fine singing
Same As Indonesia; Women Do All The Real Work
I watched them for 10-minutes and these ladies were NOT happy with their task.
and the beating of small drums. I ventured up to see what the ruckus was about. The choir members were seated against the walls of the rectangular space, their small, brown hands hard-clapping in time to the tune. Four laughing men played Tom-Toms in a corner while three couples danced up a storm on their tippy-toes. Dervish-whirling around the room with tight, concentric steps. The women's' native skirts spinning out and up into colorful peaked cones. Someone offered me a chair so I joined them and I looked and I listened and I laughed with them at the simple joy of it all. Outside the windows; The moonlit Annapurnas glowed down on us all.
Notes: The Happy Pants girls have made it to Pokhara intact. I plan to meet up with them for Karen's big birthday party which is to be held at a place TBD in Nepal. Photos of the festivities can be expected within days.
Notes to trekkers coming here: You will need an Annapurna permit just to breath the air here; Cost is $40. Get it at a T.A.T. office before you arrive. There is a cop in the airport that
Load Em' Up
The will pack people into these things as if it were the 'Black Hole of Calcutta'. It's a 13-hour ride.
checks for them before you can leave the airstrip. Always pay in US currency if you are able. It's cheaper. You do the Math. I'm too tired from all this walking. You will have to buy a separate Trekking permit once you arrive. Price of that is dependent on where you are going. My 'Solo' permit cost $20. Do NOT eat any meat up here. There is no refrigeration. Talked to a group just off of the circuit last night. Half suffered from gastroenteritis from eating spoiled chicken and Yak at various Tea Houses. The circuit is the last place you want to be suffering from gastro. Bring toilet paper with you. The hotels here do not provide it. You can purchase basic supplies here but they are VERY expensive compared to Pokhara.
Tot: 2.13s; Tpl: 0.13s; cc: 10; qc: 33; dbt: 0.0521s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb