Day 30: Kathmandu

29 December 2008

We met everyone at breakfast to say goodbye to Russell, before SB and I packed up and headed next door to book our trip to Tibet and getsome information on Chitwan.

We then booked into Hotel Himal Ganesh and headed to the bank to get money to pay for Tibet to find we needed our passports, so had to go back to the travel agent and get back our passports and then head back to the bank etc.  We had afternoon tea at the hotel where the bank called and actually came to see me to get another signature on their form, something do with their paperwork.

At 6pm we headed out to catch up with everyone from the trek and had a few beers etc before having a relatively late night and walked back to our hotel in tthe dark, due to yet more nepali power cuts.

 

Day 29: Kathmandu

28 December 2008

We waved Miranda off after brekkie and I wasn’t feeling too  flash so sat in the garden before heading to bed for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile SB headed out and got some info on Tibet and then went to the Monkey Temple and Boednath with Russell and Emily.

Butter lamps burning
Butter lamps burning

We all had dinner at the guest house as Emily also wasn’t feeling so flash and yep you guessed it another early night.

Day 28: Pokhara to Kathmandu

27 December 2008

An early start to Kathmandu.  We were waved off by those staying behind and started our 6 hour bus ride.  The road was extremely bumpy and we took on some locals to fill the few empty seats on our bus.

We stopped a couple of times along the road for breakfast and lunch.  I got some sleep and thank goodness for an inflatable pillow which at least stopped my head being constantly rammed into the window.

We made it into Kathmandu, which we now realize how big it is, from entering the outside, i took approximately another 25 minutes to make it to the bus stand and into the fray of “you want hotel”, “you want taxi”.  We strapped on our bags and headed to the Kathmandu Guest House and went straight to our room to do the most important thing sort out the dirty washing as we have absolutely no clean clothes.  After dropping off the laundry and sorting out some additional accommodation and wandering through Thamel, which seems a lot quieter than when we were here a month ago.

Some people like malaria with their aloo govi?
Some people like malaria with their aloo govi?

We caught up for dinner with those remaining and had a few drinks to celebrate the fact that we did the whole trek, no mean feat.

We attempted to party hard but early nights seem to now be the trend, so we all retired early again.  A hard partying lot we are.

Day 27: Birethanti (1025m) to Pokhara

26 December 2008

Our last day trekking.

We got up early and had breakfast and then headed off on our last trek to the bus.  Everyone was a tad sore after yesterday’s trek downhill.  We wandered slowly to the bus station and boarded the bus for Pokhara.

the bus ride was uneventful and took about an hour.  We arrived in Pokhara at the offices of Himalayan Encounters and had a hot drink and then headed to the hotel to drop off our bags.

SB found a barber-wallah and had a shave, we also dropped off some washing and then found the internet to check the millions of messages that seem to accumulate.  We wandered through Pokhara and found a place to have some lunch with Steve and Kevin.

We didn’t do much sightseeing as it was cloudly so the view is not great and fairly cloudy.

I went back to the hotel for a snooze and SB headed back out and caught up with Emily and Miranda who were on a shopping frenzy.

Kirsty, Emily_A and Kevin enjoy the end-of-trek celebrations
Kirsty, Emily_A and Kevin enjoy the end-of-trek celebrations

We headed out to dinner with the guides and porters at the local office and had a great dinner in a tent where we had some drinks.  The stereo was wheeled in and music started along with the prerequisite dancing.  We were all shattered so called it an early night.  It is sad that the trek is after, even looking back on how hard it was things seem a bit dull now.

The dancing continues...
The dancing continues...

Day 26: Gorepani (2785m) to Birethanti (1025m)

25 December 2008

The morning was cloudy so we didn’t get the 5am wake-up call we were expecting and by the time the clouds cleared SB and I couldn’t be bothered trekking up another 500m to see Annapurna 2, which we have seen heaps already and it was so cosy and warm in the bed.  We finally got out of our snug bed into the absolute freezing with lots of ice on the ground.

We headed off on the path to Birethanti – going the opposite to most of the other people we have seen – lightweights, after all we have just trekked up and down mountains at altitude.

Of course the walk was excruciating as it was down stone steps for approximately 1600m down.  I thought it was never going to end and was in huge pain by the time I reached the lunch break as my Achilles heel which I thought was heeling is now worse.  So after a bout of tears, SB took my day pack and almost carried me down the rest of the way.  The only good bit being the uphills, at which I am definitely getting fitter.

Over 3800 stone steps play havoc on the knees
Over 3800 stone steps play havoc on the knees

We finally got to our lodge where I had a hot shower and changed into some relatively less stinky clothes.  We chilled out with the others playing cards and enjoying our last night away from civilization.

A shattering way to spend Xmas Day.

Day 25: Tatopani (1190m) to Gorepani (2785m)

24 December 2008

An early start in the dawn light meant a constant uphill walk.  We had our first break at the top of the steep climb with the weather heating up.  After about 4 hours we had a lunch stop which ended all too soon before yup, you guessed it even more uphill at an even greater incline.  The walk was across valleys with no memorable level or downhill steps.

Purna and Indra stuck b y me on the long slow haul.  We finally got close to Ghorepani and the weather started to get really cold and darkened considerably.  SB had already made4 it to the lodge, when he came and walked back to motivate me and get me across the line.

The lodge was huge and very full as this was the crossing place for those changing over to the Annapurna Sanctuary and Poon Hill treks.

The room we had was freezing so I jumped in the shower and Scott ordered some blankets while I waited for my bag to arrive.  As usual Scott’s bag was the first to arrive as Purna is always the first porter to get to each lodge.

After a hard day climbing, the weather only allowed us glimpses of a view.  Cest la vie.
After a hard day climbing, the weather only allowed us glimpses of a view. Cest la vie.

We headed to the dining room to order food and had some great popcorn.  There were quite a few others starting to gather so we grabbed a large table and started to have a few Christmas drinks.  Miranda spotted a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and due to the lack of tonic we resorted to a bottle of sprite to help with the massive gin portions and by the time dinner arrived we were all on the way to being merry.

The Japanese contingent started off the festivities with a Christmas carol and huge supply of balloons.  The music was then turned on and our table of Australian/English were the loudest and caused much amusement to the porters who hadn’t really seen us let our hair down so far.  After such a huge day of walking it was nice to relax a bit.

SB and I waited and celebrated Xmas on Perth time before heading to bed.  Missing out some of the action later and judging by the loud singing it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Day 24: Kalopani (2530m) to Tatopani (1190m)

23 December 2008

After an excellent quiet and restful night we awoke to the magnificent scenery around the hotel and had a lovely breakfast in the warm dining room.  We set off, full of food and enthusiasm for the longest day on the road of the trek.  We walked through mountain valleys; crossed streams, passed through dense pine forests and watched herds of sheep being driven along the road by a shepherd with a very dubious leg.

Morning tea was taken at a local cafe where the tibetan local inhabitants (traders fromj Upper Mustage) just stared at our group in utter fascintion and bemusement.  Our guides eventually shuffled them inside where they continued the observation of our group through the window.

We left the cafe to continue our passage through the forest along the riverside by following the roadway; which was undergoing some well needed maintenance.

Nepali "flat"
Nepali

We noticed a considerable increase in the amount of traffic along the road (despite its condition) and had to accept that we were arriving back into civilization after so long in the mountains.

Lunch was taken at Guithe at the foot of a large waterfall  (Rupse Chhaharu), which despite its large fall was not supporting any hydroelectric power plant.

After lunch TH left with Indra B and Purna ahead of the others to try and get to Tatopani and rest her leg.  The others followed at a more leisurely pace.  The road was fairly flat with lots of roadworks and even worse local buses and the belching exhaust fumes with spewed.

We made it to Tatopani and everyone ordered dinner before heading down to the hot springs, which is really just a concrete pool – but we soon became a sight for the locals.  I left early as it was baking hot and was escorted back to the hotel by Purna – lucky really as I am sure I would have got lost.  I had a hot shower and was joined by SB and made ti down to dinner at the prearranged time.

We called it an early night as we head to Goripani at 7am tomorrow.

Day 23: Marpha (2710m) to Kalopani (2530m)

22 December 2008

Nearly everyone awoke feeling refreshed despite the previous nights celebration.  Steve A had picked up a tummy-bug was wasn’t feeling too flash.

After breakfast we headed off through the village and down onto the flood plains along the muddy river.  The morning was clear and crisp affording all brilliant views of the mountains and pine forests.  We eventually left the immediate riverside to enter Larjung where the dal baht was very good and served by a very sprightly elderly Nepali lady who mastered getting up and down the stairs with plates of food with easy.

After lunch we basically followed the road, with an occasional period along the river or another track to eventually make it into our home town of Kalopani for the night.

Progress is progressing... a Swiss-style chalet will provide lodging in the near future
Progress is progressing... a Swiss-style chalet will provide lodging in the near future

The basic lodging included marble tiled bathroom with warm shower and western toilets, great beds and huge thick blankets, an impressive bakery and excellent views of Annapurna I and its surrounding peaks.

The dining hall was heated and dinner served was excellent.  After dinner and the evening briefing we had a few rounds of cards and snuggled into our warm beds for the best night sleep of the trip.

Day 22: Kagbeni (2800m) to Marpha (2710m)

21 December 2008

TH woke up in the middle of the night (again) while S slept through (as usual).  We had our morning wake up call to signal the start of yet another trekking day.

We had our breakfast after singing happy birthday to Emily B and then set off through another moonscape scene.

We left town by following the road then stepped down into the river flood plains.  The going was rocky and somewhat dusty.  There was plenty of foot traffic on this road with burdened yaks, donkeys and other tourists.  Our supposed 4 hour walk was over in 2 1/2 hours when we arrived in Jomson, the largest city in the region and the regional capital.  We ordered our lunch and then went for a saunter while it was being prepared.  There wasn’t a lot to see as most of the city where we were in is shut for the off season.

After a mediocre lunch we immediately set off for Marpha.  The track followed the road and the river, and was very dusty.

A busy day on the highway.  Purna (foreground) is one of our porters (aged 51, carrying Scott's, Kevin's and his own bag!)
A busy day on the highway. Purna (foreground) is one of our porters (aged 51, carrying Scott

The dust, the rocks and the wind played havoc with TH’s re-emergent cold and caused her a strained Achilles tendon.  As usual with the intrepid trek our hotel was on the far side of the town and we arrived to find that we have a lovely double room with western toilet, geyser shower and a clothes drying rack.

The afternoon gales made clothes drying easy so SB and Russell decided to have a beer; soon joined by nearly everyone who partook in a beer, apple brandy or apple cider.

Dinner was served and was very good (not sure if the drinks had anything to do with that decision) and afterwards Emily B was presented with her birthday cake which was eagerly shared by all.  This celebration was supported when Indra A shouted a bottle of whisky, lter supported by more apple brandy and beer, dacing, music and singing.  This late night of revelry finally wrapped up at 21:30 when everyone retired for the night happy and replete.

Kirsty watches as Emily_B cuts her birthday cake
Kirsty watches as Emily_B cuts her birthday cake

Day 21: Muktinath (3800m) to Kagbeni (2800m)

20 December 2008

There was an early morning knock for those that wanted to visit the monastery, SB went and I took the opportunity to hve a lie in.  Callie and Steve also left the trek to head to the Annapurna Sanctury.

The monastery had a lot of taps that if you ran your head under it absolved all your sins, so Scott is now all sinless.  The area was a hindu/buddhist monastery nd they get monks and saddhurs from all around the world.  The water around the base of the taps was totally frozen.

Emily_B, Steve_A and Kevin wash away their sins in the freezing holy water
Emily_B, Steve_A and Kevin wash away their sins in the freezing holy water

The views of the mountains today are very cloudy and apparently there was snow on the pass, so we wouldn’t have been able to cros the pass if it had been the same yesterday – hmm not sure if I would have been happy with that.

We had brekkie and headed off on our walk which is level with some down hill.  The scenery on this side of the mountain is a lot greyer and bleaker, kind of moonscape.

After about 3 hours we arrived in Kagbeni, which doesn’t look too much, however, we have actually seen our first motor vehicle since starting the trek and getting off the main route.

We had lunch at our hotel and then went fora walk into the town to the monastery.  The town is medieval in feel and it reminds you of a set from an Indian Jones movie.  You just can’t imagine how hard it would be in winter.  We then walked to the black gate which is the entrance and border to Upper Mustange (guarded just in case you wanted to do a dash across the border).

We headed back to the hotel for some R&R and played cards and a few of the group had their first beer.

Day 20: Phedi (4450m) to Muktinath (3800m), including the Thorang La Pass (5416m)

19 December 2008

After a rude morning wake-up call at 4am, we quickly packed and rugged up in nearly all the layers we could find and had a light breakfast at 4:30am and left the lodge at 5am.  It was still really dark so we had to start the climb with our headlamps on, making a very strange sight with all the headlamps going up the mountain.

We started walking uphill, uphill and more uphill in what seemed to be a never ending trail uphill.  It was also freezing, especially with the wind chill factor, so our sweat turned to ice on us, hmm a nice feeling, not.

The altitude was not too much of a problem as we have been acclimatising for the last week or so going up slowly.

The climb was hoendous and never seemed to end, everytime I thought we were close to the top, it still seemed so far away.  The dawn finally started to come over the stupendous mountains, although unfortunately I did not fully appreciate it as I was totally knackered and the climb seemed to just continue tortously and I began to think that I wouldn’t make it – this is where Scott decided that he was going to drag me up there no matter what.

It started to get even colder and our water bottles and camel packs turned to ice.  We stopped a couple of times for a longer break and trying to catching my breath.  Scott was either pushing me or dragging me by that stage which can’t have made it easy for him, but he was not going to give up.

Finally at9:15am we reached the Thorung La Pass at 5416m and had a couple of photos taken.  The marker for the highest point on the pass is just surrounded by millions of prayer flags.  I can’t believe I made it, it is the hardest thing I have ever done and it is hard to explain the emotions that you feel, so after a few tears and before we froze, we started on the track down the otherside of the pass as our destionation (Muktinath) is at 3800m, so we had a long way to go.

Thorang La (5416m ASL) and it's smiles all round.  All we needed was champagne (or another drink that wouldn't freeze!)
Thorang La (5416m ASL) and it

Unfortunately the walk down was absolutely bone jarring and rocky and it took over 2 hours just to reach the teahouse for a rest and drink.  The walk was almost as exhausting as the walk up.  After a well deserved drink at the teahouse, we started on yet another downhill slog to Muktinath which is a monastery town and by the time we got to the hotel I was absolutely exhausted and jumped into a hot shower to try and ease some of the aching muscles.

We had some lunch and then I had a short walk around the town centre with Miranda and Emily, not that there was a lot to see.

WE all had an early dinner and retired to a very early night fter our mammoth walk for the day.  I am still in amazement that I did it, SB of course wants to do it again – he is not picking next years holiday activities that is for sure.

That night, nature put on a spectacular sunset to celebrate our success in crossing the La and signalled the change in the weather
That night, nature put on a spectacular sunset to celebrate our success in crossing the La and signalled the change in the weather

Day 19: Yak Kharka (4018m) to Phedi (4450m)

18 December 2008

We were allowed a small lie in and left the hotel at 9am and again it was uphill.  Why am I constantly surprised by this.  We were happily plodding along when we started encountering a lot of ice which was very slippery.  We then continued on and rounded a corner and there was a huge almost impassible ice flow where the guides and porters were waiting for all of us to help get us across as it was extremely tricky and any slip involved a very long splattering fall to the river bed below.  Hmm not the way I woul want to end the trip.

On the other side of the ice we went down a tircky downill zig zag to cross a bridge, which the porters all ran down wearing all our packs – amazing.  At the bottom we had to yep – you guessed it – go back uphill.  This time through a landslide area which just added another dimension of adventure.

As there were no teahouses open on the way we cotninued through to the lodge for the night, which is very basic.

SB did the acclimatision climb which went partially up the track we will go tomorrow, I took the easy option and had a rest and read my book.

Thorang La is behind me now, but ahead of us tomorrow! (and yes it's f#^%ing cold!!)
Thorang La is behind me now, but ahead of us tomorrow! (and yes it

We all had an early dinner and contemplated the trek tomorrow which I am not looking forward to.

Day 18: Manang (3540m) to Yak Kharka (4018m)

17 December 2008

At breakfast Kathryn told us she was definitely leaving the trek and we left Soonam (guide) with her.
The early start was freezing and immediately into an uphill slog which at least warmed us up.  We had a short stop at a local stupa where a local lady had set up a shop where she had a few sales (Miranda on a shopping frenzy).

We continued on an uphill slog – why is everything uphill?

we stopped at a local tea house for some drinks and a sit in the sun before heading off again.
the walk wasn’t’ too bad and we headed straight to Yak Kharka where we were housed in what looked like Swiss Chalets and a double bed with a big blanket.

Tracy has to tread carefully as she crosses yet another frozen waterfall
Tracy has to tread carefully as she crosses yet another frozen waterfall

We had a quiet afternoon and SB went for an uphill walk and I had a lie down.

Finally getting organised and heading out to the dining room and watching Forrest Gump!
We headed to the upstairs restaurant where there was a pathetic heater and played cards until our early dinner arrived.

Heading back to our chalet where we were toasty and warm considering the outside temperature was -3C.

Day 17: Manang

16 December 2008

Acclimatisation day – groan.  We got up a bit later than the usual crack of sparrow fart starts and headed out on our walk above the lake.  It was approximately 300m up and we stopped at a Stupa before continuing up to another Stupa overlooking the whole valley.

Us on the acclimatisation day, high above the glacial lake, high above Manang, high above sea level (is everything high around here?)
Us on the acclimatisation day, high above the glacial lake, high above Manang, high above sea level (is everything high around here?)

It was an incredibly hard climb, but the views were great. We then headed down which was hard going as it was slippery and rocky, but we finally made it back to manage in time for yet another good lunch and then headed to the local cinema to watch Blood Diamond.

... by the looks of the hotel Xmas tree.... yes!
... by the looks of the hotel Xmas tree.... yes!

The cinema was made up of long benches covered in yak hides.  There was meant to be a heater but it was crap and we froze.  Still the movie was good.

After the movie we headed back to the heater at the lodge, spending the rest of the night, eating, reading and playing cards.

Day 16: Pisang (3300m) to Manang (3540m)

15 December 2008

Scott and I decided to take the lower (or southern) route to Manage as we were a bit knackered.
The views were fantastic surrounded by massive mountains.  We passed some and the walk wasn’t that bad, passing some great stupas and villages.

The walk was a long steady incline and by the time we reached morning tea Kathryn had spotted a plane and was ready to leave.  We convinced her to come on to Manang and make a decision there, not based on emotion.  We went past some stupas so high on the mountains but there were prayer flags and wheels everywhere.  We walked through Bhraka which is a Tibetan village built into the mountainside.

There were loads of eagles soaring above us with the most incredible blue skies and white snowcapped mountains.  The walk itself was not too bad although altitude is getting higher, but so far we are only as high as Cusco, Peru.

The main street (only street?) in Manang looks like something from the wild West, just a lot colder!
The main street (only street?) in Manang looks like something from the wild West, just a lot colder!

The hotel is far from basic.  We have a room overlooking the Annapurna ranges and it also has an attached bathroom, so no need to run outside during the freezing night.  There is also a great hot shower and they have a laundry service and when you consider where you are this is like 5 star luxury. The food is also great and so much choice.  We had a lovely veggie burger with fresh salad before heading off to look around the village, also looking at the Gangapurna glacier and lake below it.  It isn’t much of a glacier at least compared to South America, but still you can get quite close.

There are a lot of shops and small lodges, even a mini cinema, you can only imagine in peak season this place is packed and people had to camp outside.

We get to spend 2 nights here to acclimatisation so it is nice to relax and not have to worry about packing for a night.

The weather is quite cold, but the lodge has a dung fuelled fire which heats the room.  This is an amazingly efficient way of heating and surprisingly doesn’t smell and much more environmentally friendly than logging the forest.  It is nice to hand out and relax.  It is also busy with other groups of travellers.

Day 15: Chame (2710m) to Pisang (3300m)

14 December 2008

Another early start made worse by the fact that we didn’t hear Scott’s alarm so we had to rush and pack.
The morning was uphill through forests so everything was icy – you know it is cold when event he rivers are frozen.  The surrounding mountains are just bleak and you can see where the glaciers came through.

We walked through pine forests after morning tea which was cool and uphill as usual. The views were of Annapurna II and Pisang Peak (Jong Ri).After lunch at a lovely lodge before heading off again.  The walk this afternoon wasn’t too hard and we stopped along the way to look at the massive eagle.

The sunshine is quite deceiving: it's actually very cold (but we're slowly getting used to it)
The sunshine is quite deceiving: it

We arrived in Lower Pisang at our guesthouse.  Although the accommodation on this trek is mean to be very basic, the last few nights the rooms have been really nice.  Again tonight we have joined the sleeping bags together and have cracked open another Japanese heater pad (thanks so much Daisuke and Margot).

The food has also been great so far, although getting more expensive.
I had a rest while SB trekked to Upper Pisang to see the Monastery which was closed when they got there.
The houses are very basic wood and local rock some of which we saw being carried by the locals – it is such a hard life.

Everyone of the locals has massive ruddy cheeks as it must be so cold here in the off season and you need to be totally self sufficient.

Scott got back from his walk cold but with some lovely photos.

We got organised before heading to dinner and a lovely heater.

Day 14: Bagarchamp (2160m) to Chame (2710m)

13 December 2008

After a very cold night, breakfast was porridge yet again – getting over it already.
Straight away into a climb which seemed to last forever and I didn’t do much sight seeing, mainly looking at where I was going.

Finally making it to the morning tea break and a well earned Sprite.

The trek was rocky but once you got going it wasn’t too bad.  We had a lunch break sitting in the sun – lucky as once you are in the shade it is freezing.

After lunch the walk was through pine forests which showed signs of logging and deforestation.  You also got lots of views of Annapurna II.

Even in the dark forest, the scenery was still spectacular...
Even in the dark forest, the scenery was still spectacular...

Making it to Chame at about 2:30pm.  Chame is the capital of the Manang region and there are a couple of shops which are well stocked and even has an internet and ATM, so we stocked up on supplies which should see us through to the end of the trip.

The hotel has a large room but it is very cold.  We have got some washing done, but don’t think it will dry in our lifetimes it is that cold.

There are loads of Buddhist prayer wheels which adds to the serenity of the area.  The people here also look much more Tibetan as well.  There isn’t a lot of farming except animals, maybe due to the harsh climate.
There is however a lot of horses, which I am now looking at to see where they could hold me.

I got my exam results and passed, so had a wander through town with Miranda and treated myself to some thick socks for relaxing in the lodges with.

Day 13: Chamje (1430m) – Bagarchamp (2160m)

12 December 2008

We left Chamje at 8am and had another long walk on very rocky trails. We passed a lot of small villages with no idea how these villages get supplies or survive in the winter months it is an extremely hard existence, although they do grow vegetables in every available space plus have small herds of goats, chickens and cows. Everything that gets to these villages must come on donkeys or by being carried on your back.

We stopped for lunch before heading off – almost straight away going uphill for a hard long slog. We crossed several long suspension bridges and gorges with some lovely scenery.  All the fields are terraced and have a good variety of vegetabels and crops, in fct all the hillsides are terraces, in itiself an amazing feat of human engineering and are either hoed by hand or buffalo.

Scott on the river flood plain, more mountains in the background
Scott on the river flood plain, more mountains in the background

The trek finished at3:45pm and I jumped straight into a warm shower, clean clothes and relaxed. Scott is finding the going much easier than me. Oh well.

Day 12: Bahun Danda (1310m) – Chamje (1430m)

11 December 2008

After a horrible night with hardly any sleep we left Bhulbhule at 8am and walked through terraced farmlands almost always uphill which was extremely steep and hard going with limited chances to stop. At one point we had to turn around and walk back and find another trail as the trail was being dug up and turned into a road for the next generation of trekkers in buses and cars.

We are still following the river and cross some very dubious looking suspension bridges.

We stopped at a local place for lunch which took ages to get served and our meals to arrive. We then set straight off for Chamye with an altitude of 1430m, which is still quite low so lots more uphills to go but we are surrounded by valleys and lots of hills all going upwards 🙁

Tracy waiting for the local rush hour traffic to pass...
Tracy waiting for the local rush hour traffic to pass...

We finally arrived at Chamye at about 4pm after a really long hard day. As usual I was nearly at the back of the pack but I made it (yeah for me). I was greeted by Santosh with a Sprite this now being the treat I am constantly craving.

We had a cold shower, the downside of arriving nearly last and after the sun has started to set, but we put on warm clothes and headed to the restaurant area which was enclosed.

We had a warming dinner and a couple of games of cards before retiring for the night.

Day 11: Bulbule (840m) – Bahun Danda (1310m)

10 December 2008

We had a reasonably comfortable sleep, surprisingly enough, considering how thin all the walls were. We arose early as you couldn’t laze in bed and listen to all the coughing and spluttering of the locals and the sharps and guides.

We all mustered at the guest house cafe for breakfast, and then headed off.

The trek today was supposed to be about 4 hours of walking through Nepal flat terrain. However, by the end it was only a couple of hours. Most of the trail was pretty sedate, rambling through the countryside, watching the local villagers watching us as we passed through. At one small village, our trekking party picked up a hitchhiker, a local man who was purportedly a maths teacher. The man followed us along the trail and rested when we rested, this wouldn’t be so bad except this guy was just freaky! He followed the girls quite closely but didn’t talk to anyone’ he was wearing long trousers and a leather jacket (despite the heat, we were all sweating profusely) and carrying a laptop computer (well a laptop bag anyway – we had no idea of if he actually had a laptop inside).

Suspension bridges have been donated by many countries to assist the crossing of the many rivers and deep gorges in Nepal
Suspension bridges have been donated by many countries to assist the crossing of the many rivers and deep gorges in Nepal

Eventually the nepali flat countryside gave way to a long rocky climb to the day’s destination. This was the first “test” for the group – the racers raced off in the front, the plodders set their pace in the middle and of course there was the rear echelon (Tracy and Kathryn). Despite how far the group spread out we all arrived in Bahun Danda within about 15-20 minutes.

We spent the afternoon wandering in the town and sitting in the wonderful garden eating and drinking and got in some washing and hot showers.

After a simple but lovely dinner we received our briefing for the next day and with the time fast approaching 19:30 we retired to the night.

Day 10: Bandipur > Beshi Sahar > Bulbule (840m)

09 December 2008

Breakfast on the balcony overlooking the valley which was enshrined in smog or mist, however, we could see the snowcapped mountain tops of the distant ranges – hope we don’t have to climb them!

We headed off to the bus where we left Bandipur and drove for a few hours to Besi Sahai and had lunch.  The restaurant and guides put us in the indoor dining room, but it was lovely and sunny outside so we decamped to where the locals were, much to their amusement, and had our lunch outside.  SB and I shared a Dhal Bhat and after lunch the trekking started with the porters going ahead with the main bags.

The walk was along a trail that was also used by cars and was very dusty.  It wasn’t long before the group spread out with me bringing up the rear as I was trying to take in the scenery.  We passed through a few villages all with lots of animals, even seeing a couple of white rabbits – I think they may be destined for the pot.

Spectacular.  What else is there to say?
Spectacular. What else is there to say?

We finally arrived at our accommodation, which is very basic with twin beds.

Outside it is very warm and sunny so everyone took the opportunity to sit in the sun or do some washing and after having a hot shower we all sat around chatting and getting to know each other.  The garden area was surrounded by flowers and trees affording views of the local area, very surreal.

Although the guest house was basic the food was varied and filling, even though Santosh forgot to order our meal and it finally arrived way after every one else’s, but we aren’t expecting a 5 star trek.

Day 09: Kathmandu, Nepal > Bandipur, Nepal (and the start of the Annapurna Circuit Trek)

08 December 2008

We woke up early (as if we had been asleep).  We are both not feeling well and wishing we could have another day of R&R.  As we did not have enough money for the trek we tried to get some from the local ATM but that wouldn’t dispense any cash so we will need to be careful with our budget as apparently there isn’t any banks until Jomson which is the other side of the pass.

Our group assembled in the foyer and our guide (Indra) joined us.  We had a short walk through Thamel to our bus which would take us to another town just short of where our trek will start (Bandipur).

The bus ride wasn’t as scary as some of our previous trips in India and South America but the country roads are still of poor quality and the drivers take some very risky maneouvres – we passed several head-on accident sites (luckily none of them looked too serious).

There were a few checkpoints along the highway; another opportunity for the government to collect revenue, but at least someone is keeping some sort of eye on who is arriving and departing the city.
We stopped for morning coffee in a small cafe on the edge of the cliff overlooking at fast flowing river and a long way below.  There was a table of local young men just sitting, casually drinking their tea with a garbage bag of marijuana by the table!

Shortly after leaving the cafe we stopped in a little town for lunch; a popular truckstop that served pretty good and fast food.

Eventually we arrived at Bandipur and walked a short distance up the hill to a lovely and well restored guest house “The Old Inn” that was partially owned by the trekking company. Bhandipur was on the main trade route between Tibet and India, but 50 years ago the route swapped to Pokhara and Kathmandu and the town started to fall into disrepair.  The town is being slowly restored and is very strict on development and is basically a traditional town that has not allowed tourism to spread uncontrollably as in Thamel.  There was also no cars which added to its beauty.

The view from our bedroom window.  The haze ruined things, but the next morning was a little clearer.
The view from our bedroom window. The haze ruined things, but the next morning was a little clearer.

We were warmly greeted with tea and coffee and eventually shown to our small, but very nice rooms.  Ours has a double bed (we are the only couple of the trek after all) and a view over the valley below (if it wasn’t so smokey we might have even been able to see some of it!)  After a short break, the group went for a stroll to see this small town and the lookout points.  It was still very hazy, so you could do little but imagine how magnificent the view would be in less polluted conditions.

We arrived back at the Inn in time for a lovely buffet dhal bhat dinner and a briefing about tomorrow’s activities.  Although a few left and went to bed straight after dinner, some of us pushed on and stayed up longer, eventually deciding to call it a day at 20:00.

Day 08: Kathmandu, Nepal

07 December 2008

During brekkie Scott helped out some of the other guests with camera issues. The problem with the new Olympus is that the cards and batteries just aren’t up to scratch.
We finalised our packs and left the hotel to move to the Kathmandu Guest House to join the rest of our trekking group.

The hotel has nice gardens but the rooms are very dark and not as nice as where we were.
At 1pm we met the rest of our group and our tour guide and got some very unexpected news – we don’t have to carry our whole packs, only a day pack and we have a porter carrying our main packs and I paid too much for the local payment and got a refund of USD200. Not a bad meeting after all.

So after the talk we raced out and bought a bag to fill up with stuff to leave behind and caught up with the rest of the group at 3pm to visit KEEP which is an organisation that is attempting to reduce the negative impacts of tourism and try to introduce sustainable initiatives – an uphill battle I think seeing what kind of mess the country is in.

We headed back to the hotel to re-pack the rest of our bags and then caught up with everyone for dinner at a steakhouse. It was strange that the meet was imported from India and the potatoes imported from Bhutan – why can’t people just use local products.

After dinner I started to feel a tad queasy – not sure if it is the food or the thought of the trek and Scott has a cracker of a cold.

Day 7: Kathmandu, Nepal

Saturday, 06 December 2008

Today we have to get organised as this is our final day in Kathmandu as we start the Annapurna Circuit tomorrow.  Yes those four weeks of gym have paid off – not.  However, we are expecting amazing scenery and great food.  Now just to find someone to carry me – apparently Scott isn’t keen, honestly 🙂

Today is also the day where we downsize out packs to bare minimum and let’s face it, I hadn’t packed large in the first place, but I am determined to reduce it by half.

The weather is so nice I also got a chance to sit out in the sun reading a book while Scott pottered around spending the afternoon talking to a lady who had just finished a 3 month Buddhist retreat where she didn’t speak – I am considering that next year.  She had a fascinating life and was interesting.

We had the traditional afternoon nap before heading otu to dinner at a nepalese restaurant in Thamel.

So after a day of doing nothing we had an early night, but we figure this will be the last relaxing day we have for quite a while.

Day 6: Kathmandu, Nepal

Friday, 05 December 2008

Today is shopping day for Scott.  So we wandered through Thamel and he bought a scarf, North Face Goretex Jacket, Mammut reversible fleece and some Oakley sunglasses.  The two jackets were only AUD$70 for both, not sure if they are real (probably not) but they are made well and exactly what he wanted for the trip.  I bought nothing (yes I know shock).  I will be doing my shopping when we return to Kathmandu.

We had lunch at one of the rooftop restaurants in Thamel taking in the warm sun which is lovely.  Amazing that it is so warm here.

After lunch we caught a cycle rickshaw from Kathmandu Durbar Square to Patan which is an old Buddhist town originally on the trade route from Lhasa to Kathmandu, although now it is a part of Kathmandu which is a huge sprawling city.  Patan was one of three independent kingdomes in the kathmandu valley, but now is a suburb of Kathmandu.  The Durbar Square is made up of temples, palaces and golden gates and massive scultpures.  As Nepal was never colonized there are no western influences.  The temples are not for show and are actively used by locals.

To get there we had to cross the Bagmati River which just seems to be a total swamp these days, with the slums only being divided from the river by small community gardens.  The river levels have dropped to such a low level that the hydroelectricity plant can’t make enough electricity so power here is only available for about 45 hours per week and that is at random intervals.

The cycle rickshaw driver dropped us close to Patan at the bottom of a hill, obviously thought it was too hard to push two lardy ass Australians up to the top.

On arriving at the Patan gate we had to pay a tourist fee to visit the city – very strange.  Anyway it connected with a walk in the lonely planet, so we headed off in the usual wrong direction, however, stumbled across a golden temple (Kwa Bahal) which was beautiful.  Although to get in, that was additional – start to get the idea about Patan, everything costs entry fees.

We continued wandering through Patan which has a lot of beautiful Newari architecture, something has has gradually been demolished in Kathmandu except in the older parts.  Patan itself is a world heritage site, so there are extensive works continually keeping everything maintained.

We wandered into Durbar Square which also contains the Royal Palace.  This square is stunning, it is full of temples, stompas and shrines.  It was built at the start of the 14th century and yet again it required an entry fee, but we managed to avoid it.  Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is very touristy, but Patan’s Durber Square is a working square and is the main commercial district for the area so it makes a change to see it as a working square full of local people.

We finally finished wandering around as the light started to fade so we caught a taxi (given up on cycle rickshaws) back to Kathmandu and then wandered back to the hotel where we got organised and headed back into Thamel for a lovely dinner of thukpa and momo’s (Tibetan food).

Day 5: Kathmandu, Nepal

Thursday, 4 December 2008

After a restless night (too much food?) we woke up early and headed downstairs from our room for our hotel breakfast.  Over the morning coffee we made our plan for the day, then decided we had better get moving!

We planned to take a taxi to a local Buddhist template then walk back to Thamel (about 6km).  We found a taxi for the right price who took us through the peak-hour traffic through some shonky looking backstreets in order to avoid the worst of the traffic.  Eventually we arrived at Boudhanath Stupa, a beautiful centuries old place of Buddhist worship and the largest in Nepal.

We drew parallels between the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Stupa; there was chaos, noise and maelstrom outside, but inside was serene and very peaceful. We walked the circuit around the Stupa a few times, soaking in the atmosphere and hopefully topping up our karma points.

The stupa is 138 feet high and painted white and is surrounded by Tibetan shops, restaurants and hotels, all with a view of the stupa. There are prayer flags from every available space and the blue sky against the white stupa highlights the flag colours and just looks amazing.

We climbed to one of the many rooftop cafes for a lassi and coffee, an opportune place for some more photographs with sun gleaming on the white dome.  We wandered around the circuit a few times, visiting the monastery (the Tsamchen Gompa) and was given a short tour and blessing by one of the monks, we exchanged donations; rupees for him and a traditional white scarf for SB.  With our karma back in balance we left the peace and went outside.

We couldn’t get a taxi to Patan as we would have liked, and we believed we had absolutely no chance of ever finding our way back to Thamel on foot, so we reluctantly took a taxi towards Thamel.  The roads were less furious than the morning, but still pretty hectic.  The taxi dropped us at the start of Thamel and left us to our devices to figure out where we were.  We started walking in the direction of where we though we were, keeping our eyes open for any familiar landmarks.  Eventually we figured out we were in a section of a day walk described in Lonely Planet, so by following the route there, we ended up back in Durbar Square (luckily we still had our tickets from yesterday).  We took the opportunity to head up to a rooftop cafe for momos and pakora (steamed dumplings and friend vegetable patties).  We we knew where we were, finding our way home was easy.

Siesta beckoned – some traditions die hard.

After another lengthy power cut (frequent here as the river level has dropped there isn’t enough water pressure for electricity generation and with no other option means no power).  The hotel has a generator but for some reason that didn’t kick in.

We headed back into Thamel for a Nepalese dinner but due to a power cut we could only have snacks – hmm nice but not what I was expecting.

We found an internet cafe but just as SB was starting to sort out photos it froze – our karma hasn’t been flash as we are having memory card problems and have had to buy two new cards here in Nepal.  We arrived back to the hotel with the power still off.

Day 4: Kathmandu, Nepal

Wednesday 03 December 2008

Brekkie in the hotel for an early start.  The breakfast is nice, but service is extremely slow, although it does mean you don’t rush the start of the day.

We headed off to Durbar Square, which is located in the old town and shows off the tradiditonal architecture.  The square is made of several buildings based on terraced platforms which used to be the Royal Palace (until 100 years ago when it moved).  It was hawker heaven, you couldn’t stand still without someone trying to sell, beg or provide some service you didn’t need, particularly on Maya Deval when they just wait for you to descend with no escape route available.  The “holymen” were doing their best to convince you that you needed their photo, for a price of course.  Still it was a fascinating place.  Even though it is a world heritage listed site, there appears to be little restoration work going on and in some places it sorely needs it. 

There was an exhibition of photos showing climate change (we just cannot escape it!) which showed the differences between the 1950’s and now.  The Nepalese glaciers are melting at 6 times the global average.  This actually put a lot of things into perspective, mainly how hard these first trekkers and climbers did it.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

We got our tickets to the Square extended for a few days so we can come and go as we please, so we can watch the different people and happenings. 

From the Square we walked across the River Bagmati which flows into the River Ganges so all the waste from here continues down to India.  We headed to Swayambhunath Stupa, which is a gigantic Bhuddist temple at the top of a very steep hill.  The steps here beat Jacob’s Ladder in Perth hands down!  We made it to the top past all the hawkers and mini stupas without having heart attacks (good signs for the trekking to come) (Tracy thinks that her personal training sessions might have paid off).  The Temple is also known as the monkey temple, evident from the plethora of monkeys inhabiting the temple; our thoughts returned to the fact that we chose not get the rabies innoculations before we left Australia.  This temple was originally built about 2000 years ago and was definately worth the climb (the view from the top, through the haze, is also worth the effort).  We spent a few hours meandering through the different temples surrounding the stupa then finally descended the tricky stairs.  The Nepalese have small feet, even I had to walk down at an angle.

Walking back into Thamel (the main tourist area of Kathmandu) for a lovely plate of steamed momos and coffee to get rejuvenated for a hike through Thamel to check out some prices for the upcoming trek.  Things here are sooo much cheaper than at home and if you cannot find it, you can have it made and have the genuine logo placed wherever you like on your new designer-brand jacket!  We can get “genuine” Oakley sunglasses for AUD$16 without even bargaining, not to mention all the North Face gear which is everywhere.  We headed back to the hotel for an chill-out and siesta before heading out before sunset.

We wandered back to Durbar Square to try to get the photos in the afternoon light that weren’t that good in the morning light.  Weaving our way through the afternoon rush-hour traffic we finally arrived at the Square in the first shadows of sunset;  we will go back earlier in the afternoon tomorrow to get the photos.  The Square was a little less hyper-active than earlier in the day although it was still pretty hecttic.  We wandered back through the main part of Thamel to find a place for dinner; settling on a little place tucked away off the main street.  As we were waiting for the delivery of our food we discovered our little restaurant had a pretty good review in the Lonely Planet for its Nepalese-Tibetan cum world food.  We have missed the foods of Daramsala (India, 2006) so we tucked into steaming bowls of thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) and Kotay (half steamed/half fried vegetable dumplings); this food is always good.  Full to the brim for only a few dollars, we wandered back to the hotel for an early night.  A quick check of the email (would be made quicker if people actually shared the limited internet resources) and then its another early night before another early start tomorrow.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Day 3: Delhi – Kathmandu

Tuesday 02 December 2008

We got up earlyish and ventured back to Ramas for a last south Indian breakfast. The south indians certainly know how to do that.

We headed back to the hotel and finished packing and got our driver to take us to the airport, whcih strangely was less than the usual adrenalin rush. check-in was also orderly and smooth – something never experienced at an Indian airport before. Also note that you can’t take more than RS100 notes into Nepal and you can’t buy Nepalese currency at the airport.

The plane left nearly on time, but as the flight was only a couple of hours it wasn’t a big deal. My vegetarian meal was on the plane – except it contained chicken? So luckily the main meal was vegetarian so I did a swap with Scott.

The scenary was very mountainous on the way – all looks a tad hilly for my liking 🙁

Kathmandu is also a huge sprawling city, not at all what we imagined.

We whizzed through immigration, already having got our visa from Australia. Only to be held up waiting for our luggage. I had truly given up on ever seeing my backpack again, but it finally came through. Whew. We struggled through the hoards of taxis and foudn our name (2 out of 2 for airport pick-ups). The drive from the airport to the Hotel Ganesh Himal was amazing, just so much to try and take in.  There is a mix of fancy western style houses next door to slums.

We got our room and ventrued stright back into the fray and found an ATM taking out what felt like a million dollars – sometimes the exchange rate isn’t too bad.

There are so many shops, trekking companies, shops, trekking companies, it makes your head spin. I am already thinking of what I can ship home.

We found a small place for an Indian meal, which was nice, but nothing fancy before heading back to teh hotel in the now pitch black and with my sense of direction at its best we got lost and had to backtrack – Note: take torch next time.  The weather isn’t too bad, warm during the day and a bit chillier at night to we don’t have to sworry about rugging up too much.

We finally made it back to the hotel in one piece and the hotel seems fairly quite and has a huge garden – all very tranquil. especially considering the noise at the end of the street of horns from all the competing traffic.

Day 2: Delhi

Monday 01 December 2008

After another fairly good sleep, we headed back to Rama’s for breakfast where Sb had his Idly and I had paneer uttapam, both delicious.

We headed back to the hotel to pay for our dirver on Saturday night – simple tsk we thought – apparently not. By using HostelWorld the email and hotel details are actually not the hotel, but an agent, so we had to wait for the agent to come and take us to their offices where we had to wait some more to pay – what a hassle. Anyway we then decided to see some more of the local area nad headed away from the main streets. It is a fairly good area and a lot of construction taking place – we were followed by the obligatory rickshaw and tuk-tuk drivers, all showing us where Macdonald’s was, not understanding our desire to walk. We found a place and have coffee etc before deciding to head to Fatepuri Masjid and the old part of Delhi.

We now wanted to get a tuk-tuk, but not one in sight and the couple we fianlly tracked down were charging extortionate rates. So we cuaght the metro to Chandni Chowk and walked from there.

It is hard to describe Old Delhi, it is just heaving. We found the old Spice Markets and ventured down the alleys which were full of huge spice bags all being carried in out and out on the heads of people. The roads were sheer pandemonium, trying to cope with every type of tranpsort you could imagine. We were happily watching the hoardes go by when we lost each otehr, but after a few minutes of panic. I spotted the red Oracle cap (knew it would come in handy one day). We contineud wandering the streets, at one time being accosted by a man who wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan and blow up the US, except Las Vegas which he thought was brilliant and he would like to move there – weird.

Again we had trouble getting a tuk-tuk back to Karol Bagh, but on finally securing one we discovered Delhi peak house and where the traffic was just out of control, only outcome by the fumes of all the vheicles. Finally gettingd ropped off at the end of the makret which was in full flow and for some reason we looked like people who needs a life time supply of foil wrap!

Back at the hotel we continued the siesta traditiong from South America before finally arising and heading out for yet more food. Finding a restaurant for dinner and because the manager’s brother in law was from Sydney that was close enoughf ro us to have free desert.

We headed back to the hotel and booked a driver etc for the airport tomorrow.

Day 1: Delhi

Sunday 30 November 2008

We got up at 08:30 after a lovely night sleep and headed to the bank to get rupees, finding a nice South Indian restarant enroute. We stopped in for breakfast as Scott had a hankering for all the foods he missed since the last trip here in 2006, idli and vada while Tracy had poori masala (both great meals at very reasonable prices).

From there we headed to Karol Bagh Markets and wandered up and down. It was still early so all the stalls were in theprocess of setting out i.e. sweeping the dirt onto the next persons patch. Delhi is even more polluted than we remebered, but the people are still friendly.

We caught the Metro to Connaught Place which was deserted. We were blown away by the lack of people. We had coffee and pakoras for snacks at the United Coffee House. Catching the train to Chawri Bazaar and took the back way to Jama Masjid and then found all the people, it was packed plus everyone seemed to be taking the goat out for a walk. It was manic and great – this was the Delhi we loved. We walked to Red Fort to see what had changed, but there wasn’t a lot different except much much much less police around the place.

We headed off down Chandni Chowk and back into the noisy, throbbing sea of people. Wandering around and getting lost before finding the back way (in other words gross way) into the metro to catch the train back to karol Bagh. The Metro is still super efficient and the easiest way to get around.

Walking back to our hotel we stopped at the Puhnjabi Sweet Corner for a couple of Samosas which were great, the place is just packed all the time.

Finally getting back to the hotel for an after noon snooze. After which we headed off to find a thali restaurant for dinner and coming across a great all you can eat place (Rajistani and Gujarati) for $14. We had to have a walk about afterwards to try and compact some of the food we had eaten and watched as people set up their homes for the night on any empty space of land. Quite amzing consdiering during the day everything is packed up and cleaned.

We finally headed back to the hotel full of good food, our ears ringing form the noise and our eyes sore from all the smoke of kitchen fires – brilliant.

Accommodation: Hotel Singh International
http://www.hotelsinghinternational.com/

For more information and details on Delhi, check out: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/delhi

Day 0: Perth – Dubai – Delhi

Saturday 29 November 2008

We didn’t get much sleep last night; packing, checking, re-packing, re-checking.  Craig picked us up from home at 03:00 when we said our final farewells to the cats and the chickens for the next three months.

Perth International Airport was its usual sleepy self.  When we arrived only a few counters were open attending to a smattering of travellers, our counter was not open so we had to sit and wait.  Eventually our Emirates check-in opened and the man shuffled some seating allocations to ensure we got an exit row.  It happened to be immediately next to the lavatories but none-the-less it was nice during the flight to stretch out your legs to their fullest extent, even if you did end up kicking some poor unsuspecting person waiting to use the toilets in the shins!

Dubai Airport was huge!  We arrived 20 minutes early, so had well over three hours to explore and wander through the plethora of duty free stores.  Eventually they all started to look the same so we went and sank into the lounges near our departure gate and watched the masses wander by.  We started counting the Westerners flying with us to Delhi, this was easily achieved with the fingers on one hand.  Were the recent events in Mumbai to blame for this?

The flight departed spot on time (2/2 on time departures with Emirates; QANTAS take note)  This time the flight was more crowded and was a lot like some sort of flying creche with a load of screaming babies and kids running up and down the aisles (the only time this stopped was when a very large Muslim man layed out his prayer mat in the aisle to conduct his devotional prayers and bowing.  As soon as he was packed up, the kids were back in the aisles).  The flight arrived early (QANTAS take note again) and our taxi driver was waiting for us on arrival to take us directly to the hotel.

On the way from the airport we noticed a few differences from our 2006 trip:
1) There was much less visible police and security presence in the airport and surrounds and given the recent events in Mumbai and the State elections we weren’t too sure this was necessarily a good thing.
2) The amount of construction that is going on in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is phenomenal.  The amount of time, effort and money being spent must be huge.  With all the work still going on at night, we bagan to wonder if it would all take shape and e ready in time.
3) Things just seemd much more quiet than last time we were here?  Maybe we were better prepared?  Maybe we were just used to it?

We made it to the hotel and our bookings were all correct, so we went up to our comfrtable room and went to bed.  It took a little over 21 hours since leaving home and we are finally back in Delhi, exhausted but here.

We have three days in Delhi, flying to Kathmandu on 02 December 2008.