Nepal: Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Annapurna Circuit (07.03.2010 - 02.04.2010)

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March 7th 2010
Published: July 4th 2010
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After 10 days in India, we decided to go to Nepal. We found out that it was very easy to arrange this from Varanasi. Travel agents offer package tours including an overnight stay at the border directly to Kathmandu, but we decided to go on our own by night train and bus. It is cheaper, quicker and more adventurous. Since we are already familiar with booking train tickets for Indian trains online, it was easy to arrange our ticket to Gorakhpur in India approximately 2 hours away from the border. When we crossed the border, we had our first quick Nepali lunch and hopped on a bus to Kathmandu, where we would arrive that same evening.

Many people don't like Kathmandu, but we think it's a beautiful city. Dirty? No way in comparison to other cities like Varanasi for instance. The main area where the tourists stay is Thamel quarter. Completely setup for the backpackers, Thamel can compete with Bangkok's Khao San Road and has everything a tourist can ask for. Bars with live music every evening, internet facilities everywhere and banana pancakes. I think it deserves to be mentioned in Wikipedia's explanation of the Banana Pancake Trail.

Most striking about Thamel is the amount of trekking stores available. In every street there are dozens shops, selling all sorts of trekking gear and clothing, mostly from fake brands. The major fake brand is The North Face, so everyone in Nepal (local and tourist) is walking in a North Fake clothing item. Since we wanted to prepare ourselves for our trekking around the Annapurna Circuit, we did a lot of shopping and bought socks, a Mammut long sleeve and fleece jacket, gloves, hats, (original) The North Face zip off trousers, water treatment tablets, aluminum water bottles, altitude sickness medicine, a lot of energy bars and hired a sleeping bag to keep Anna warm in the mountains at night.

One day in Kathmandu was wasted because we had to go to the Indian embassy to get an endorsement in our passport that allows us to re-enter India on a double entry visa. It is a bit backwards, because we already had a double entry visa, but the Indian Immigration had changed the rules recently. Without the endorsement, we had to wait 2 months before we could re-enter India. The embassy told us we had to show a flight out of India to get the endorsement, which of course we didn't have yet. So we went back into town and book our flight home. Our luck was, because of the early booking we found a cheap Emirates flight to Amsterdam for early July. The next day I returned to the Embassy, while Anna continued shopping. Luckily I could pick up the passports that same evening.

After all this organizing and arranging, we managed to see some of Kathmandu. We walked around old Kathmandu, with it's busy streets, markets and countless tucked away courtyards, known as Bahals. We wondered around many temples of the Durbar Squares of old Kathmandu and Patan. To get to Patan we hired mountain bikes and biked half an hour outside of town. During this dangerous ride we sometimes had to fear for our lives, the traffic can be so chaotic. We found the best lassi ever: ice cold, rich and full of flavor topped with a sweet almond/nuts mix. I was more than happy to do the 15 minute walk to get my lassi reward.

Fully loaded with our new travel gear and snacks we went to Pokhara, gateway to the famous Annapurna mountain range. Pokhara's main tourist area is situated on a lake. We stayed south of "The Lakeside", which offers numerous cheap accommodation, trekking stores, bars and restaurants. The place is much more relaxed than Kathmandu. People leave you alone and are not constantly asking if they can offer their service as taxi, tour guide or marijuana supplier. You can feel the mountains are close, the weather is cooler and late afternoon it is mostly raining or sometimes big hale stones are coming down causing floods in the streets.

During the few days, we hiked up to Peace Pagoda on a hill, from which we had nice views over Pokhara. Another day we hired a motorbike and went to Sarangot a viewpoint on 1600 meters high. From both sites we were supposed to see a panoramic view of the Annapurna Himalayan mountain range, but we were both times treated with a cloudy sky. We were not disappointed, because we knew we would see the Himalayas from much closer.

12 days Annapurna Circuit
Finally we could start with the trek, which was for us a dream come true. Trekking through the Himalayas. The Annapurna Circuit is known as one of the classic trekking routes on the planet. This "tea house trek" offers amazing views and the trail is relatively easy to follow. There is plenty of accommodation along the route at intervals of maximum 3 hours walking distance. All this made us to decide to go on our own, no guide and no porters and no walking sticks needed. We packed light: I had Anna's backpack (ca 8 kg)) and she had my day pack (ca 5 kg). To get an idea what we carried for 140 km and over the pass, I list which clothing items I brought along: 1 pair of zip off pants, 3 pairs of under ware, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of hiking shoes, 2 long sleeves, thermo under ware, a pair of gloves (wind stoppers), a hat, my rain jacket and my low hiking shoes. Anna gets cold easily, so she took a bit more clothes with her and her sleeping bag rental.

Besi Sahar to Chame
The trek started in Besi Sahar a six hours bus ride from Pokhara. We took an early bus, so when we arrived around noon, we could immediately start with the trek to our first stop in Bhulbhule at an altitude of 840 meters. Via Ghermu (1130m) and Karte (1385m), after suffering some steep but beautiful climbs, we arrived in Chame (2710m) and spend there our fourth night. Along the trail the views on the different Annapurna mountains became better and more intense. The passing trains of donkeys, carrying all kinds of goods and warning you on their arrival with bells around their necks, created a special atmosphere. Not only donkeys are carrying goods but also porters or sherpas are hired to carry, for example, bridge parts or tin plates for rooftops supported by their backs and carried by means strapping it to their heads. I tried once to carry the package of a porter, when he was resting. I couldn't lift it, he said it was 65 kg. We heard stories of sherpas carrying over 100kg.

Chame to Manang
From Chame we went to Pisang (3250m) and chose the more difficult upper route via Ghyaru (3730) where we had our tea break, where we overlooked one of the best views of the circuit. The nearby Gompa (temple) with it's countless prayer flags was a good setting for a photo shoot. Following the ridge and having continuously amazing views over the Annapurna mountains we descended to Manang (3540m) where we stayed for 2 nights. We were advised to acclimatize in Manang for 2 nights to reduce the chance of getting AMS. Although we could have used that full day in Manang to rest, we did some hiking in the morning. We went up a couple of hundred meters to the viewpoint above the lake to see the view over Manang and after climbing down we backtracked half an hour to the picturesque village of Bhraga and climbed to a 400 year old monastery. In the afternoon we rested, washed our clothes and mostly ate a lot of delicious apple pies.

Manang to Thorung La pass
The last part of the ascend would be the toughest. From Manang we walked to Letdar (4200m), climbed up to Thorang Phedi (4450m) and spend the ninth night in High Camp at 4850m. The higher we came the less vegetation we saw. The scenery became more empty and rough, though still breathtaking. Further uphill we had to pass a landslide area. For 50 meters we had to climb over loose limestone rocks along a steep cliff. One misstep and we could be falling down for a few hundred meters. The next day we started at sunrise with our final 3 hour climb to the pass. Sometimes we had to walk in the snow. The thin air made it difficult to breathe. Walking step by step in your own tempo is the way to do it. Around 9 am we arrived at the Thorung La pass at 5416 meters, the highest we both have ever been. After a photo shoot we had our well deserved tea and enjoyed the amazing views.

Descending to Jomsom
We heard that climbing down to Muktinath (3800m) would be even tougher because of the steep, slippery descend and tiredness. Luckily we expected the worst and the descend was for us fairly easy. It took us another 3 hours to climb down to Muktinath. After a short afternoon nap, Anna discovered that one foot was too painful to walk, so we decided to stay 1 extra night in the boring town. We killed time by playing Yatzee and a lot of eating. After two nights, Anna's foot was much better and on painkillers we continued our walk down to Jomsom (2720m), our final destination. From there we took a bus for a hellish ride through the mountains to Ghasa, from where we could get another hellish bus to Beni, to get a final bus to Pokhara.

Additional photos below
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4th July 2010

Isn't Nepal beautiful! Me and my mum went from Jomsom to Muktinath and then all the way back down to Pokhara: it was amazing... I bet you guys had an even more beautiful trek. Well, here in Holland it is sunny, so it's not a bad timing to come back :)
16th July 2010
Hailstorm in Pokhara

very nice
loving all the pics peeps apart from the giant hail stone, which is clearly a camera trick floor.. try to fool me :) you know its hard being friends with folks like you's, because i'm so bloody well envious of your journeys but at the same time appreciative of having been giving the chance to share them via your persistant and impressive blogging bravo to you both ยค your just still friend Dan B

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