NEPAL – HIMALAYA ANNAPURNA TREK OCTOBER 2010
Day 1 – Friday 22nd October.
Our flight on Qatar Airways leaves Heathrow Terminal 3 at 2230. Mike the taxi driver arrives at 5pm to collect us – first problem, only half my case is packed. I should have started earlier! William arrives to see us off, and ends up making Mike a coffee while he waits for me to find what I need to take. He comments that we seem to be travelling light – until another two bags appear, and he changes his mind. I thought we were travelling light, but in the last minute rush (I know, I need to be more organised) I just open the wardrobe door and grab anything that looks as if I might need it. Oh yes, and the dog has just eaten one of my shoes that I had put out to travel in. Have to choose another pair then. William comments on the list that Paul has made – he is the organised one – and asks “why the knife, who are you going to stab?”. I reply, “probably dad”, as he doesn’t seem amused that I am nowhere near ready to go! “I have had a Swiss Army knife for years and never used it” says Paul. So he is planning on using it! Probably to stave off the rabied dogs we were warned about but decided against having the injections. I have had a busy day – my excuse for not being ready. The dog got an hour and a half walk this morning, then I went for a manicure and pedicure (Sandra had said “you do realise you don’t need painted nails to go up a mountain!”) and then on to see my mother. Who promptly broke down in tears when I told her I was going to the Himalayas and made me promise that I wouldn’t go! I will never go to heaven. Hopefully when she finishes her fish and chip lunch she won’t even remember I have been, let alone set off on a trek to the Himalayas.
Then it is home to repair my trousers that I am travelling in and do the ironing for the clothes I want to take. Why hadn’t I done both of those earlier? Oh yes, and put the last wash on with a couple of things that I need. Ahhh! You can now see why I wasn’t ready when Mike arrived. I am sure he had allowed loads of time to make the journey. And he commented Madeleine is ALWAYS ready and waiting when he picks her up!
We arrive at Heathrow in loads of time – Friday night rush hour, and no traffic jams at all. Why all the fuss!!! After checking in we make our way to the Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge which Qatar uses at Heathrow. After only having two pieces of toast and marmite all day (I should have been eating plenty of marmite for the last month because it helps keep the mosquitoes away, but only just remembered that this morning as well. Lucky I have the Tiger Balm for the bites then!) I was rather hungry. Hot pasta, Thai Curry, fresh noodles, sandwiches, the list goes on. Lovely. Then it is off to find a hairdryer (yes, a hairdryer) as my travel hairdryer seems to have been left in Australia by the last person that borrowed it. I figure that if I have to sleep in a sleeping bag, I really don’t want to do it with wet hair. We’ll see later if it comes in handy. I also have to pop to Boots to get some foot cream – I seemed to have a pain just below the ball of one of my feet, and when I look there is a huge crack, and it is bleeding. Great! So much for trying to give my feet the best possible start.
The flight is called, and we make our way to Gate 30 for the first leg to Doha. This flight is just over six hours. We are offered champagne as soon as we sit down – might as well make the most of the good bits, as I am sure we won’t get the same level of comfort in those tea houses! As soon as the doors are closed the entertainment system starts. What a good idea. The thirty or so minutes that you are waiting for the chocks to be taken away, and move slowly to the runway is far better if you are getting into the A-Team. Especially with the really plush ear phones that look like ear defenders, but give the best sound ever! Dinner was lovely – tablecloths, linen napkins, exquisite service. Pudding finished at the same time as the film – and off to sleep for four hours. When we arrive in Doha, the clocks have to be moved forward two hours.
Day 2 – Saturday 23rd October.
I arrive in Doha fairly refreshed – Paul doesn’t as he couldn’t sleep. The temperature is 85 degrees at 7am! The Qatar Lounge here is massive – very peaceful and comfortable for our two and half hour wait for the next leg to Kathmandu. The lounge in Doha is fantastic more than enough – there is more than enough of everything you might need, all served with the Middle Eastern service ethic that is just great. Just as we are about to board our flight I drop my boarding pass. Upon bending down to pick it up I hear a horrible tearing sound – my trousers (the ones I have only just repaired) have decided to split from the waistband to the top of my leg via the side seam. Paul looks very pleased with himself – “have you brought a needle and thread? I have. I have brought it on every holiday we have ever been on and never used it before”. The fact that I am flashing my underwear at anyone that is standing to my right hasn’t really entered his mind! The next flight is on a smaller plane, and the business class seats are nowhere near the same as the ones we had just experienced. I suppose for the shorter flights (this one is just four hours) the lie flat beds are really not necessary. But for those of us that needed to catch up on more sleep they would have come in handy!
The food and service were just as good. Breakfast was served on this flight – the take off time was 0930 from Doha. The pastries were fresh and hot, and the fresh fruit and hot food really good. We didn’t have personal screens, just one in the centre of the row two rows ahead, so I had to make do with watching Toy Story in between naps. They did bring round a DVD list, and they then brought individual DVD players to your seat if required.
The descent into Kathmandu was impressive. The snow topped mountains were poking though the white clouds, and the lower green foothills were looking bigger the lower we got. To start with, it looked as if we were just going to land in the middle of the mountains, as there was very little else in sight. Then we went through some cloud, and emerged to see a massive sprawl of town all ahead of us. Kathmandu is in the middle of a valley, with mountains all the way round. Magnificent.
On arrival at the airport it seemed that there were several planes that had all arrived at the same time. The passport lines through immigration were split into two – those that had obtained visas before arrival and those that hadn’t. Although there was absolutely no hassle at getting the visa on arrival, the queues were six times as long. There were two forms to fill out, one for disembarkation that everyone had to fill in (none were given out on the plane, I presume all airlines are the same and this form has to be filled in after disembarkation) and one if you needed the visa. You also needed one passport size photo (there was a very antiquated booth there for those that did not have this) and either $25 for a visa for up to 15 days or $40 that covered you for up to 30 days. You could also pay in a variety of other currencies, but it was all the same amount – £40 or 40 euros so dollars was certainly the cheapest. It was very straightforward, just a long queue.
There is a money exchange booth this side of the airport (if there are two of you waiting one can go and change some money) and the other. The pound today was 109 rupees – so roughly one rupee to one penny. There are porters around to help with bags – make sure you have the bag receipts that the airline gives you as these are checked and taken from you when you go through customs.
Once through customs it was an absolute bun fight! I have never seen so many people vying for your attention. Many of them holding up pieces of paper with surnames on, about six deep. None of them said mine though. Oh my god! Oh well – the guy with the bags doesn’t seem worried, so why should I be? Outside there were even more – and it seems every one of them had a taxi that was parked wherever they stopped, with the traffic going right and left, whichever way there was the smallest of holes. Paul spotted a sign that said “Trans Indus” – good enough for me!
The guy took us to a driver and guide that could not have been more helpful or pleasant. We were greeted with beautiful garlands of flowers to wear around our necks (hope they had been debugged!). We were informed that we had these two with us right up until the time we left for the trek. The car was a four wheel drive vehicle that knocked spots off what seemed to be the norm out there – small battered vehicles that looked like they may or may not make it to the perimeter of the airport. Surya was the driver (no English, but a good hat) and Jeevan was the guide from Alpine Travel Service, the ground handlers that Tran Indus use. His English was excellent, and during the twenty or so minute drive to the Yak & Yeti Hotel told us various things about our itinerary. Seems absolutely perfect! The sun goes down around 5.30pm, and by 6pm it was pitch black. The temperature was very pleasant, it gets around 23 degrees during the day, but drops to around 15 degrees or colder as soon as the sun goes down. The hotel appeared at the end of a tatty road (they are all tatty really) and surrounded by crumbling shops and restaurants. The hotel itself looked out of place, as it really was a lovely building.
He checked us in to the hotel, agreeing to meet us at 9.00am tomorrow morning for our first days sightseeing. Looking at the chaos of traffic, people and cows that we had passed, I can’t wait. It is so much like India! We were staying on the Club Floor, which means we got “Happy Hour” between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. This turned out to be two hours of complimentary food and drink (campari included!). Sorted. Apparently it is advisory to have alcohol with any food so that it kills off any bugs you may be ingesting. Good enough for me. We met a guy from Huddersfield who had just arrived with his girlfriend to bring her brothers body home. He was back packing, and had tragically died the week before when he fell from his balcony. He was on his way to India to help build a school for disabled children. How sad.
Day 3 – Sunday 24th October.
We decided to go for breakfast in the main restaurant this morning – I think so did every other guest in the hotel. It was rather manic – and no egg station! The food was OK – not exceptional, but edible. We were meeting Jeevan and our driver and guide for the day at 9.00am in the hotel reception. Krishna was our guide for the day – and a very pleasant and knowledgeable chap he was too.
We first made our way to Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple. This was a large Hindu Temple with a Buddhist section – apparently 90% of Nepalese are Hindu, with the other 10% being made up of Buddhists, Moslems and Christians, but all of whom live, work and play together very peacefully. Some lessons to be learned here I think! One of the first sights we were met with was a whole flock (probably not the right adjective) of monkeys. I suppose that is where it gets its name from. There was even a sign pointing towards a Monkey Swimming Pool. Five star hotel I think! It is one of the main tourist sights in Kathmandu, so it was heaving with people, and locals trying to sell you something. We then went on to Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu over the other side of the river (but was once the ancient capital). This again was absolutely heaving with people – but the sights and sounds are amazing. The amount of temples is astonishing – apparently Kathmandu was named after one of the temples here that was made solely from one tree (must have been a big one!). There was a post in here that is meant to have healing powers, so I rubbed my foot on it!
We then went to a temple where a female child is chosen to be a “kumari”. She is chosen from around five years old, has to have perfect skin and temperament, and is a very religious figure. She keeps this standing until menstruation, when she is then replaced by another. She appears and gives out blessings for a few seconds, and by chance she happened to appear when we were there. An absolutely beautiful child. I suppose this means we have now been blessed. All good signs so far!
We went to the Patan Museum where we had lunch in an outdoor restaurant among the flowers and bushes – really peaceful. I tried a typical Nepalese dish, and Paul had a cheese and tomato sandwich! But he did take it with red wine to keep the bugs out!
We then went on to a Tibetan Refugee Centre, where about 1000 Tibetans are housed after fleeing their own county when China invaded. Many of the woman work in the rug making area, where really good quality hand made rugs are crafted, and apparently have international fame Could have bought a few, but thought about the luggage allowance on the flight home. We also went to a wood carving workshop, and other handicrafts. I think the guide soon realised we didn’t do shopping!
After an hours rest at the hotel, we then met Jeevan and Prashant Rana, the manager of Nepal Sanctuary Treks, the trekking company Tran Indus have used, for a briefing. He had brought Paul a sleeping bag – “not good quality, but OK for all apart from the odd few days at the top. You might want to ask for extra blankets”. His face dropped, and said he would buy one. When it turns out they are going to be around the same price as the one I had bought he has a dilemma! We will fit in a stop to a shop tomorrow and he can make up his mind. I think he needs to go back to You Tube to see where the guy got his whole kit for under $100! It seems that we can actually stop where we like on the trek, so if we go too fast (!) or too slow we can just stop and sleep at any place on the way. They have also given us two duffle type bags to put our kit in – so I didn’t need to take Fran’s backpack after all. It is all very positive here – we shouldn’t have any trouble reaching the top at all!
We have a very early start tomorrow, so after another “Happy Hour” we hit the sack.
Day 4 – Monday 25th October.
After an early morning wake up call (well, three actually. I had tried to set my phone, which was still on English time, and got it wrong twice before getting it right. What I hadn’t realised was that I had set three alarms – two for far too early!) we had coffee and Danish delivered to the room and left the hotel at 0550. No traffic on the road – well hardly any. We made it to the airport in record time. Jeevan sourced the boarding cards, and we made our way through the domestic terminal for our Yeti Airlines Everest Express flight. Jeevan had got us seats right behind the cockpit – but after we got through to the departure lounge a little man came and took those away and gave us different ones. There were two seats left on the flight that was just about to depart, so we got those – but 9a and 9c. Somehow don’t think they are just behind the cockpit! They were one row away from the back – but not bad seats – “a” being better than “c.” The back row, I think, are probably the best. The whole plane only took 20 people. After take off, the seat belt sign went off, and everyone was moving about to get the best view of the Himalayas. They were on the left hand side going, and the right hand coming back, so everyone had the same chance. The weather was absolutely perfect – as clear and sunny as could be.
We were all called up to the cockpit one by one – the pilots certainly had the best view from the front seats. We had a lady pilot – good job there was no parking involved! No health and safety either considering we were not so far over the tops of the mountains and people were in and out with the driver. Can’t see that happening in the UK. Everest came into view just before we turned to head back, so everyone had a really good view of it. Fantastic. The whole flight was just under an hour, and in no time at all we were taxiing on the runway.
When we met Jeevan in the car park, he said just after our flight had taken off the fog had come in, and all the flights were suspended. Excellent choice to get us on that one. They had just started to take off again as we landed. Not sure what would have happened if the fog was still there – does landings have the same rules as takeoffs? Maybe we would have had to circle again.
We then came back to the hotel and had a leisurely breakfast on the Club Floor Lounge. Not as much choice as yesterday, but hardly anyone there and really peaceful. After a couple of hours relaxation by the pool, we were ready for the next instalment to the Kathmandu sightseeing.
We started at Pashupatinath, which is a Buddhist Temple on a holy river that flows eventually into the Ganges. This, explained Khrishna, is where funeral pyres are held. There were several jetties that jutted out into the disgustingly dirty river – some that still had smouldering wood on. There had been funerals there earlier. Then, two separate funerals appeared, both taking place at the same time. There was a little stack of wood on each of two jetties. The first body was draped in orange cloth, with a small procession of relatives behind. After a few minutes walking her round in a circle around the wood she was laid on it. Some of her clothes were taken off, and more wood and straw like material was laid on top. Apparently it is up to the eldest son to light the fire, and after another few circles around the body the fire was lit. Krishna said that incense is put in the bodies mouth, and then lit, but the fire was actually lit in several places underneath as well. It didn’t take too long to get going. Bizarre. I never thought I would see a body being burnt. It was fascinating, if not a little weird. The piles of smouldering ash that were there when we arrived were then being doused and swept into the river. The family can take a small amount of the ash in an urn, but most of it is washed down the river. There were young boys playing in the river, and hunting for things on the bottom – perhaps valuables that were left on the bodies that didn’t burn? Not sure I would want to get in there! There was also a coffin in the river that they were filling up with larger pieces of wood, I suppose to use again. The other funeral still hadn’t taken place – there were far more people attending that one. There are different ceremonies depending on what type of Buddhist you were. The actual temple is not open to the public, but the whole funeral part is watched by hundreds of tourists taking photos.
We then went to the biggest Hindu Temple in Kathmandu at Boudhnath. This was a huge white stupa (many of which can be seen all around the city and are all the same design) with the traditional eyes looking at you wherever you are. We then went to a Thanga Painting School – a traditional way of painting in Nepal in monasteries. To be a grand master it takes fifteen years, and it is the grand master that does all the outline work. The students are then left to paint, the more intricate parts being painted by students that are further on in their training. We bought a painting that took three weeks to complete, and it cost us $50. A little bit of Nepal to take home. We were in an area full of shops and restaurants, so we had lunch on a rooftop restaurant with the eyes looking at us!
On the way back we bought some water purifying drops, as bottled water stops halfway up apparently! But no sleeping bag shops in sight!
This evening, we were invited to dine at the home of Mr Mullah, who is the Managing Director of Alpine Travel Services. Mr Chedup Lama and Jeevan were also invited, both of whom run the company. Mr Mullah owns this and several other companies, and employs around 100 staff. We left the hotel at 6.30pm for his house, which was only a short drive from the Yak & Yeti. It was a gated property, but very different to what I imagined. We were asked to remove our shoes, as is traditional in a Nepalese home. The house was reminiscent of a sixties furnished property, and Mr Mullah reminded me of my dad! He was a very unassuming man. Mrs Mullah was introduced, and then disappeared. He lives in the street with his five brothers, who all have their own houses. He has five children, some of whom live with him together with wives and grandchildren. Various women brought in plates of Nepalese food – daughters and daughter-in-laws. The food was delicious – a local delicacy called momos was served – very similar to Chinese dumplings. After half an hour or so, it was announced dinner was served – I thought we had just had it! We went into the dining room, where the table was set for the men and me only! The ladies served, and said they would eat when we had finished. I wonder what they thought of having to have a woman at the table with all the men? The food was excellent – all typical Nepalese, really tasty. The pudding was not so – really sweet and sticky. I tried it, but had to leave it. Unlike me! It was a really lovely evening – we were very lucky to be able to experience Nepalese home cooking. Then it was back to the hotel to pack for the onward journey tomorrow.
Day 5 – Tuesday 26th October.
Another fairly early start today. After a quick breakfast in the lounge, we drive to Chitwan. Which should have taken around five to six hours, so we set off at 7.00am. We paid the hotel bill – various drinks every day from the mini bar – and it came to just over £5. That’s value for money. We said goodbye to Jeevan, who is attending the World Travel Market in London with Mr Mullah so will not be in Kathmandu for our return. Surya was driving us, and will stay to pick us up from Tiger Tops to take us to Pokhara, then he will go back to Kathmandu. He has very little English, so it was a quiet journey. Talking wise anyway. We first of all were stuck in a traffic jam for three hours. The only way out of Kathmandu is over the mountains, whichever way you are headed. It seems as though once you head out, there is only one road anyway. There was an accident somewhere ahead, and it was very slow progress. The road did not get any better the further we went – pot holes everywhere, very narrow and littered with bicycles and every conceivable old heap of a car, lorry and bus you can think of. Because there were hold ups, lorries were overheating and breaking down, and causing more chaos. How we ever got to Tiger Tops in one piece I will never know! There were more near misses than I care to count.
We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking a river we had been following for some miles. The toilets didn’t look so inviting so I gave them a miss – I know, there is worse to come! The six hour journey turned out to be nine hours, and unbelievably the last 30km of road got worse. It was nothing more than a farm track. We did make it to the edge of Chitwan National Park, and transferred to a Tiger Tops vehicle. We had only packed a small case for the two nights here – the rest of the luggage was staying in the car with Surya. The final part of the journey consisted of a bus, a boat, at jeep, another boat, another jeep and then a walk. Talk about being in the middle of nowhere. On the way a Rhino crossed the road, and we saw a monkey and a few deer. We were greeted with iced tea and cake, and sat on the balcony overlooking the grass plains with the Annapurna Mountain Range in the background. Only a couple more days…..
We walked with Jitou, the main ranger, to a hide about ten minutes walk away, as we had arrived too late for any of the normal activities. We saw a few bits of wildlife on the way, but it was soon getting dark so we made our way back to our home for the next two nights – our tent! No electricity here – how am I going to dry my hair? We have a kerosene lamp outside the front on the balcony (it is a poshish tent) and another one out the back in the shower room and toilet. Plus a bucket of sand and a bucket of water just in case we have an accident. Inside the actual tent, we have been issued with two torches that don’t throw enough light to out to see the nose in front of your face. Great. Why did we wait until it was dark to go to the tent?
Dinner is at 7.30pm in the dining room – well, the only room actually. It is the bar, and the daytime balcony, and anything else that it is needed for as well. And the bar stocks campari! Surprisingly, we had vegetable soup, cottage pie carrots and cabbage, and pineapple and banana! And it was really good. We met a New Zealand couple that had flown in from Kathmandu – on a twenty minute flight that landed at Tree Tops. Hmm… have to speak to my travel agent. There are 24 people housed in twelve tents, so one sitting for dinner is ample. When I took my socks off, I felt something funny on my little toe. When we were sitting having iced tea when we first arrived, I felt something bite my toe, then thought no more of it. I got the torch, and two of my toes were covered in blood – and it was still bleeding. Lets hope it isn’t the insect wasn’t the one that is carrying the dengue fever that broke out in Chitwan about four weeks ago!
Day 6 – Wednesday, 27th October.
After a 5.30am wake up call (a man banging on the outside of your tent until you acknowledge him) we had a quick coffee and cake before we set off on an elephant safari. There were four people to an elephant, and the driver. The other two were a very nice couple from New Zealand that arrived at the same time as us. We set off at 6.00am into the pampas grass – but it was really misty and so hard to get a good view at all. We were on the elephants for about an hour and a half, but the mist was very slow to clear. We did come across quite a few rhino, wild boar, peacocks and a stork though. We were also shown tracks in the wet ground that were tiger tracks. I have my suspicion that someone comes out at night with paw prints on a stick and makes a track!
When we got back, we had breakfast. And would you believe it – an egg station! And what a wonderful omelette he made. How bizarre – the middle of nowhere!
After breakfast we then had a walking safari. After a few minutes of seeing various small animals and various vegetation we came across a rhino in our path. “If he charges don’t run” said the guide, who only had a stick to defend us (albeit a big one). When he started to walk our way, I was beginning to wonder what we did have to do. We were next to a tree, but the chances of me getting up there were minimal! The guide pushed us backwards and started to walk very quickly – OK, I suppose that doesn’t quite constitute running. The rhino then decided we weren’t worth bothering about, and went another way. Phew.
We then came back and had lunch (Tree Tops is full board). It was typically Nepalese, and again lovely food. Curry, dahl, rice, etc. Really good. There were a group of Norwegian Doctors on safari here from a conference – or a camouflaged holiday as one put it! It is very international.
At 2.00pm we went to the camp where they keep the elephants, and learned a bit about the elephants that were there. They apparently eat around 500lbs of food a day! We then got the chance to feed them – Paul stepped up to do the honours. This was just after he had been telling us about how one of the elephants got in a mood one day and swiped his trainer with his trunk and broke his arm! We then started a jeep safari. We saw lots of deer, monkeys, wild boar and other odds, but no sign of the tiger. Supposedly, one was seen around ten days ago. There are apparently over 100 tigers in the park – 362 square miles – but the monsoon was late this year, and there is a lot of water near the camps. Tigers don’t like walking in water, so that aren’t expected around the camp. Good excuse! We then moved to a boat, and paddled down the river for an hour. Great scenery, but devoid of much bird life at all. Where have they all gone? “Are those crocodile tracks over there?” says Paul. Not with a jeep at the top and two men waiting to haul us out of the boats! Needless to say, we didn’t see any of those either. Another hour or so in the jeep, and various animals on the way back (but still no tiger), we get back to camp just before it is dark. The sun was shining on Annapurna as it went down – beckoning…..
Dinner tonight was another lovely soup, chicken stroganoff, rice and pumpkin, and fruit salad. Amazingly good! I could keep feeling something moving in my clothes when we were eating dinner – when I took my bra off a great big thing fell out and crawled away o n the floor. I think the moral to this tale is to shake your clothes before you put them on – he must have crawled in when I was taking a shower! Another early start in the morning, so off to our little tent we go. The beds are quite comfortable – I didn’t have any trouble sleeping anyway. The covers are quite heavy, and surprisingly after the heat of the day you need all the covers to keep you warm. Good job one of us has got a four seasons sleeping bag!!
Day 7– Thursday 28th October
The wake up call today was 7.00am for a 7.30am elephant safari. We had the elephant all to ourselves this morning – the other participant did not manage to get up in time. The mist was still down when we left, but we instructed the driver to find us the tiger! We went a different route, and crossed a fairly wide river. I could see the elephant snorting up the water – I just hoped he didn’t squirt it over his back. The guide seemed to find some more tiger prints (that man had been out with his stick again!) and seemed keen to find it for us. But to no avail – he was definitely hiding. He did point out some crocodile footprints though – that man must have got another end to his stick! The mist cleared, and it was the most amazing experience to be peacefully swishing through the undergrowth looking for wildlife. When we got back, one group claimed that they had seen the tail of a tiger, and another group said that they had seen his eyes. Yeah, right.
After breakfast we packed (that didn’t take long) to start the road trip to Pokhara. We started with the jeep again, but went via the Lodge to pick up a packed lunch they had made for us. The Lodge is run by the same company, but is about double the size. Those guests that we had spoken to that had stayed in both seemed to prefer the tented camp, as there were not so many people. But saying that, one Canadian said he saw a tiger the last time he came when he stayed at the Lodge, but not this time staying in the tented camp. Hey ho. We paid the bar bill for two nights (no prices anywhere, just ask for what you want and they give you the bill at the end) and it came to just over £50. Wow!
We then got on the boat, and then another jeep. When we got back to the airport Surya was waiting for us to take us to Pokhara. If I thought the journey from Kathmandu to Tiger Tops was bad, I hadn’t seen anything yet! Looking out of the front window was just not an option – how we got there in one piece I will never know. He must be either an exceptional driver or extremely lucky! If I called the roads appalling it would not do the word justice. They were completely disintegrated at some points. Although driving here is on the left, officially, it seems that you just pick the best bits of road and go for it. If you come up against something slow, just honk the horn and pull out. No matter if it is on a blind bend, on a mountain pass, or if there is something coming the other way. If you honk, you go! The only trouble is, there is often someone honking coming in the other direction, so when you go round a bend you have two vehicles coming towards you, and nowhere to go. Well there must have been somewhere, because we went. Nobody looks when they pull in or pull out, they cross over the road in front of you, there could be a herd of goats on the road just round the corner or a sleeping dog that is not going to move – you name it, we have come across it. The amount of buses that are packed to the rafters, with people hanging on the outside and sitting on the top with all the luggage going at one mile per hour is amazing. Where are all the people going. Every other vehicle is a Tata lorry, painted brightly on the outside with tinsel and baubles hanging all around the windscreen on the inside. Bicycles, motor cycles, lawnmower engines towing trailers, ox carts – the list goes on. Most of the road is habited in some way or other. There are lots of rice fields, full of women harvesting the crops. The rest is made up with houses of all descriptions, usually selling some sort of goods, and shops and market type stalls. When the towns get slightly bigger, so do the shops, but it is basically all the same.
When we arrived into Pokhara (we knew we were there because there was a roundabout) it was full of police. There was even a row of police in riot gear, as well as several truck loads (about fifty on the back of one small truck). Have the Maoists revolted again? No English from Surya, and he doesn’t seem bothered anyway. Just honked and passed them! It seems the president is visiting, and this is his security detail.
We go through Pokhara, and towards our hotel for one night – the Shangri La. Not the Shangri La group – but nice enough. I get a lovely dollop of red on my forehead as we check in, and then say goodbye to Surya. The grounds look lovely, and the room has electric light! Ha – I can wash my hair tonight. I look at the pile of bags that the porter delivers to the room – there are six in total – and wonder what would have happened if we weren’t travelling light? We now have to make six go into two – and remember to take everything we need for two weeks including our bedding. Somehow think I am going to struggle!
We have a set buffet dinner in the hotel – it is a while to get back into town, and it just seems the easiest choice. It is very nice – around £30 for both of us including drinks, so not as cheap as some. The packing went quite well – especially when I found straps on the outside of my backpack to strap my sleeping bag and pillow onto (David from Action Outdoors had sold me a dry bag to “vacuum pack” my sleeping bag, and boy was that a good idea!).
It all goes in eventually!
Day 8 – Friday 29th October
Up at 7.00am this morning to have breakfast, and then meet the guide at 8.30am. Breakfast is good – another egg station. Somehow think this may be the last for a while…
We meet the guide, Mangal and the porter, Urba. The porter is so tiny, he is no bigger than Harriet. He has got two full bags to carry, so I hope he is up to it!
We first have to get a taxi to Naya Pul. I see a lovely white people carrier parked outside, and think that is perfect. Then I see a man strapping our bags to the top of a beat up tiny Suzuki 800 car – ha! All five of us have to fit in here (this is the non air conditioned vehicle that was mentioned on the itinerary) so they put Paul in the front as he is the biggest. I squash in the back with Mangal and Urba – who promptly goes to sleep. Must be conserving his energy! The journey is about one and a half hours – we go way up into the hills, and I am thinking this is great, the more up in the car the less up on the legs! But then we go down and down and down – bugger!
Naya Pul is heaving with people both starting and finishing a trek. This is the main starting point for Poon Hill, which is where we are headed to first. This puts about three days onto the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, but apparently the sunrise at Poon Hill is worth it. Let’s hope so!
We start the trek at around 11.00am by going down – I don’t like this. What goes down must come back up! The trail is absolutely littered with shops, animals, people and trekkers. We cross a rope bridge and a wobbly iron bridge over the river, and then after about half an hour it is announced that we are stopping for lunch. Oh well, not so bad after all! It is full board on the trek, and the guide chooses the restaurant. I think he must have a budget for food – as he says it doesn’t include drinks, meat or dessert! It is a lovely positioned restaurant overlooking a gushing river. The lunch was good – but the toilet facilities left a lot to be desired. I think I am going to have to get used to this. It was a hole in the floor – albeit a porcelain one. If you could see me trying to take one leg out of my trousers, over my boots, without getting anything wet you would have laughed. The floor was wet all over – hopefully water that was coming out of a tap that went into a bucket to flush with rather than anything else – as I got a lovely footprint on my trousers as I tried to put them back on again. Oh, and no toilet paper. Good job I had a tissue in my pocket. I must be more prepared next time!
Lunch over, and we start the trek again. The sun is so hot – and there is hardly any shade on this part. Seb has leant me his sunhat, as I do not own one. I didn’t think I would need it, but the heat actually started to make me go dizzy. It is a bit big though – when I have got it on, I can’t see much more than five feet in front of me. Never mind, I don’t need to know where I am going! Then the up starts. This was meant to be an easy day, but I am soon flagging. Memories of me sitting at my desk thinking I have no time for the gym today come flooding back. That stairmaster would have helped. I knew it! The stone steps just kept going on and on. “ Just take it slow”, says Mangal, looking at his watch. I bet he hasn’t had a pair like us before! Tomorrow there are 4500 steps to Gorepani – oh my god! I don’t think I am ready for this! This bit of the trek is nothing like I would have anticipated. We go through small villages every half an hour or so, with restaurants, hotels (or so they advertise!) and little village shops. Then we go down, before going back up again. It would have much easier on the legs if they put a bridge across from one village to the next!
We follow the river for most of the way, and stop for a swig of coke every so often. It is really hard work in this heat. I stop to talk to a few English trekkers who are on the last leg – another good excuse to stop! Urba is so quick – he has strapped both of our bags together and is carrying them via a big bandage around his head. He and Mangal are both walking with us, although Urba usually goes ahead and then is sitting waiting for us to catch up. So small, and yet so much strength!
At around 4.00pm Mangal says that the village ahead is where we are staying for the night – hallelujah! The village is called Tirkhedunga, and is around 1540 metres high. Although I have a feeling we have been up and down a few more than that. We get a room at the Chandra Guest House – a wooden construction that is three storeys high, and we are on the third floor. There is a toilet at the end of the hall, but only a hole in the floor. One storey down there is a European toilet – well that is the name that they have given it anyway! The floor is wet, there is a tap and a bucket to flush, and it really does look rank. But, if you have to go you have to go. I wonder if I will be used to the toilet facilities by the end of the trek?
There are also hot showers here – but not exactly what I expected. A pipe is fixed to the wall with a head on it – that is the shower. The floor gets soaked, and there is only a couple of nails to hang your clothes up on. Trying to get out of trousers when the floor is filled with water without getting them wet is a bit of a trial. But the water is hot, and it is better than nothing. When I asked where there is a plug for my hairdryer, the look said it all. Perhaps I won’t be getting it out after all!
Dinner is in a communal dining hall. It is good – potato curry rice, and loads of it. I won’t be going hungry. After dinner, they take the breakfast order and what time you want it, and then it is off to bed – at 7.00pm! We have a long day tomorrow.
Day 9 – Saturday 30th October
We have a 6.00am wake up call, when we have to pack ready to leave straight after breakfast. It looks a strenuous day today, and I think Mangal is not taking any chances that we will still be on the trail after it gets dark! The porridge I had was really good – and Paul had a plate full of beans, potatoes, toast and egg omelette. A good start.
We set off at 7.30am for the trek to Ghorepani. The first half an hour or so was mainly downhill – oh dear! Our net gain in height today should be about 1500 metres, but that doesn’t take into consideration any downs and then back ups. After crossing a couple of iron bridges, we then start the uphill – and it goes on and on and on. The rock steps go on forever. It should take six hours to get to Ghorepani, but I have a feeling it is going to be a bit more than that.
We stop for five minute rest breaks every now and then – and boy do I wish I had been to the gym! At one of them, we meet a couple from Cambridge. Ha! Lunch is at 11.30am, when we stock up on the vegetable fried rice, and Paul has spaghetti. It is in the most beautiful spot, overlooking the valley and the snow covered “fishtail” mountain in the background. Glorious.
Off we go again, and this afternoon seems to go on for ever. I do not think I have ever felt so tired, and pushed my body so far physically. The steep rock steps take hours. Six hours come and go – and still no sign of Ghorepani. Mangal takes pity on me and offers to carry my backpack – I think the real reason is that he wants to get to where we are going before the sun goes down!
We get to Ghorepani – and then he tells us there is a lower Ghorepani and an upper Ghorepani – and guess where we are staying? Right, upper! Another twenty minutes when I thought we were almost there! It has taken nine and a half hours from when we set off! We stay in the Sunny Hotel (!). A European toilet right outside the door, and it even has a flush on it. Spoilt rotten. Our room is called Shane Warne – all the rooms are named after famous sportspeople – the one next door is Mark Spite – I think the painter couldn’t spell – should have been Spitz.
The showers were rubbish (I think we may think that they were fantastic by the end of the trip). Wet floor to get changed on, but they were hot. Still haven’t risked washing my hair – I hate wet hair, and still haven’t found anywhere to plug the hairdryer in. The weather here as soon as the sun has gone down was absolutely freezing.
The communal dining hall was warm enough, and dinner was good. The room was so cold – glad I have my lovely warm sleeping bag!
Day 10 – Sunday 31st October
A really early start today – wake up call at 4.15am to start the trek to Poon Hill at 4.45am. Poon Hill is supposed to have the most amazing sunrise. We walk directly up for one and a half hours, step after step after step – supposedly it was meant to be 45 minutes. We had to go by torch light, and it was really difficult, as the mountain is really hard to navigate in the dark. By the time we reached the top it was light, and the sky was full of clouds, so no amazing sunrise for us today. The panoramic view from here was something else – if the sun had come up behind those mountains I think it would have definitely been a wow moment. But it didn’t, so we then had to walk all the way down again. Quicker than going up (45 minutes), but still hard on the legs after the long day yesterday. Breakfast is served when we get back, and then it is time to pack and start the trek for real for today. I am so tired, I cannot even manage to get my sleeping bag in its travelling bag.
We set off at 8.30am, and have a two hour upward start. Who chose this holiday? Mangal was very kind, and carried my backpack for most of the trip up. That camera is really heavy – as well as the two litres of water that is in the camelback. The walk this morning was through forests – again, nothing that I had imagined. Lunch is taken in Deurali, and is a welcome break. The trek from there is mostly downhill, which sounds better, but is just as hard on different muscles. The only other village we go through is Banthati, where we stop for a cup of tea. We did have to move out the way pretty quickly for a couple of herds of goats that came charging down the track. On the way to market in Pokhara apparently. That is a long way to take about fifty goats – I wonder where they sleep? As the day wears on, we both get so tired. We eventually get to Tadapani at 4.30pm – eleven and three quarter hours after we started this morning. And I thought yesterday was a hard day! They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – I am still in two minds as to which way this is going to go!
We are staying at the Himalaya Tourist Guest House – this time it is built of stone rather than wood – but just as cold. No European toilet, yuk! I decide that I am too tired to have a shower, and will join the great unwashed. As soon as we get to the room we both get in our sleeping bags to warm up. Paul is in a bad mood – his legs hurt and he wants to go home – or back to the Caribbean with our butler! After an hour or so sleep, we go into the communal dining hall for dinner – and it is lovely and warm. There is an under the table heater, so your legs are kept lovely and warm. What a good idea! The food is good, and so is the company. We meet Alice & Andy, the couple from Cambridge that we met on the way, for dinner. They had booked a seven day trek, but had just decided to cut it short by a day as it had been hard on them too. Paul’s eyes lit up! After a beer or two Paul’s mood is better. The tiger balm comes out for the first time tonight – those muscles in my legs are telling me that they are there! Mangal says that tomorrow will not be so bad – but have we heard that before!!
Day 11 – Monday 1st November
A fairly leisurely start to the day today – wake up call at 6.30am, breakfast at 7.00am and start the trek at 7.30am. We say goodbye to Alice & Andy, and Paul says he hopes that there isn’t a signpost on the way that says “home” as he may be persuaded to take it.
We are going to Chomrong today – which is timetabled at five hours. I don’t think so for us. The first part of the trek is again amazing – all through forests and not too steep down, apart from in parts. There are tree roots, streams, waterfalls and all sorts to get past, but all not too bad. A couple of the streams have a log laid across from one side to the other. No health and safety here! We stop for two cups of tea on the way – Mangal must be in a good mood. One of the stops advertises that this is the last place we can buy bottled water. They do not allow any plastic bottles in the Annapurna Conservation Area, which we are now going to be travelling in. We stop for lunch in Ghurjung. The restaurant just had a delivery when we arrived – eight horses with two huge packs on each of them. All the family were involved with unloading and putting away – a bit like when I get back from Sainsburys!
When we reach the bottom of the forest, there is a river that is between the two mountains. We have to cross the river on a really wobbly long wooden bridge. When we get to the other side, the bad news is that we now have to go up! Looking on the map, we were going from about 2800 metres to 2100 metres – looks like an easy day. No. We go down to 1900 metres, then back up to 2200 metres before going down again. There had been a landslide on the trail, so we had to divert – up! When we looked back at the area where the landslide was, I suppose a few more metres up and down was probably better than trying to traverse that. Then we met a few buffalo on the trail – horns and all. A guide that is coming up behind us gives one of them a kick up the backside, and he goes on his way down the mountain. That cleared that then!
We stop tonight in the Panorama Guest House in Chhomrong. We have the same type of room that we have had every day, but there is a European toilet. Excellent. Amazing how that can make me so happy, if you could see it! One’s expectations have been lowered rather dramatically I fear! There is even a fairly decent (comparatively, that is) shower. We arrive at 4.00pm – a record for us – so I decide to have a shower and wash my hair for the first time since we started the trek. I put on my pyjamas, got my hairdryer, and dried my hair in the dining hall – the only place where there is a plug. Mad dogs and Englishmen! I don’t think the locals had seen anything like it. But it did feel lovely. There was a really bolshey French Man there, on his own with a guide. He is in full army fatigues, and boots up to his knees. He looks like a retired commando! Paul sat and had a few beers, whilst giving the locals copies of his music on his mp3 player. He is feeling better today too – and there were no signs saying “home” that we passed so he is still with me. Dinner was again in a communal dining hall. There was no heat in this one, so was nowhere near as nice as last night. There was a group from Singapore who had already been to ABC, and a lone Norwegian lady that was travelling on her own, with no guide or porter, who was also on her way to ABC. She had travelled from Gandruk that day, and taken the wrong route to Tadapani before getting to Chhromrong. Very fit!
Day 12 – Tuesday 2nd November
Today is again a wake up call at 6.30am and breakfast at 7.00am. I chose a lemon and sugar pancake this morning – not sure what I was going to get, but it turned out to be very edible. Apart from the ant that crawled out from underneath it just as I was rolling it up – I left him on the side.
We set off at 7.30am, and started down the steps that went all the way down to the river. That is the wrong way, as today we are going up to 2400 metres. Not sure how far we went down, but it took us one and a half hours to get there. Now we have to go back up. This is the route we will be taking to come back – so those steps we have just come down have got to be climbed back up. I am not looking forward to that!
The sun was really hot this morning – I have never sweated so much in my life. The good news is that I have had to borrow a belt from Paul to keep my trousers up – result! We are having a very short day today and only going as far as Sinuwa – which is stated as taking two hours, but it takes us four. We have a few buffalo on the track to clear, and a few pony trains – but I don’t think this is what has caused the slowness – just us. We knew we weren’t going so far today, so there was no need to hurry.
We booked in to the Sinuwa Lodge, and then had lunch there as well. And it has a European toilet. Not sure if Mangal is choosing guest houses that have these on purpose or if it is a good coincidence. But he does say that the accommodations from here get more basic. How much more basic can you get? The clouds started gathering, and it actually turned quite chilly. My thoughts of reading in the sun this afternoon are disappearing fast. There was a group of 18 French people who arrived at various intervals, having come down from the Himalaya Hotel this morning – that is quite a long way. They are all part of the same family – the ages looked as if they ranged from around 70 to about 10. There have been a few children we have seen doing the trek surprisingly. They trekked to ABC from the Himalaya Hotel and back again on the same day – that is also some trek. Apparently there are fewer hotels up there, and it is very busy at present. Hmm.
We decide to have an afternoon nap (sad) but are woken by the most torrential downpour ever. What a good thing we were having an afternoon off. I would not like to have been walking in that. If I couldn’t sit in the sun on my afternoon off, that is the next best reason not to be walking, or perhaps even better. We fill our camelbaks with boiled water from here, and add the purification drops that we bought in Kathmandu. Don’t really want to take any chances!
The weather really does not improve at all this afternoon – it isn’t supposed to rain at this time of year at all. The clouds come down, and we are sitting in the middle of them. Can’t see a thing. Hope it improves tomorrow. Dinner is again in a communal dining hall, and we meet a German couple of 71 and 72 who are on their way down from ABC. They don’t seem to have had any problems at all – it does make one feel rather inadequate! They are booked to go home via Dubai, and have booked afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab – bit different from where we are sitting now! We also met another English couple at dinner – Matt & Kerry who are on their honeymoon. It turns out that in a former life Matt had bought an old bus, and had marketed tours to all sorts of places. He took bus loads of students to Turkey, Morocco, Rome – you name it, he used to take them there. He did mention that our customers were from either end of the spectrum – but there is an idea there…
We were also entertained by several of the local children tonight, with singing and dancing. Then they came round and gave everyone a garland of flowers – closely followed by the donation plate! It did mean that we didn’t get to bed until 8.30pm!
Day 13 – Wednesday 3rd November
Today started at our now usual time – wake up at 6.30am, breakfast at 7.00am and start the trek at 7.30am. Matt & Kerry were doing double the amount of mileage as we were – so we didn’t expect to see them again. It was a fairly mild start – the sun was out, it was a lovely day, and we didn’t have ten million steps to go up to start with. We have got virtually no rise in elevation today, so one would assume that it would be a fairly flat day – so why is it after a little while we have to go down. And down and down. Must mean that we will have to go up again then!
Most of the trek was through forest again, but the peaks of the Annapurna range are getting closer and closer. The trail today was very narrow in places – nothing between you and a very nasty fall a long way down the mountain. Not so bad unless you meet several people going the other way – especially if they have huge baskets of goods on their backs. I know which side I want to pass them on. We also have to cross a couple of rivers that have the now usual log to walk over. One of them was especially long, and especially wobbly, with especially large rocks and raging water underneath! But we all make is across safely. I wonder if anyone doesn’t?
For the first time we didn’t meet any herds of anything, or buffalo on the track. Also meant that there was no poo to avoid either. We did the first section from Sinuwa to Bamboo in two and three quarter hours – not bad as it should have taken two hours. We are either getting quicker – or more likely there were no settlements in between to stop for a cup of tea. We did catch up with Matt & Kerry there – they must be taking it easy today. Except they left fifteen minutes after us, and had already had their tea break. Oh well..
Another two hours on and we arrive in Dovan – that is it for today. It should have take one and a half hours, so perhaps that does mean that we are getting stronger and quicker. Probably another reason though! The last few days leading up to ABC are going to be short days, as it is recommended that once over 3000 metres you don’t go over 500 metres per day. OK to go over, but you have to come back down to sleep. Can’t see the point in that, so we will take another easy day and finish at lunch time. And guess what is on the menu – egg and chips! The sun is out and I spend a couple of hours reading – this is more like it.
As this is going to be the last stop where there is a shower (from here on apparently you get a bucket of hot water) I decide to partake. It is 150 rupees for a shower now – the prices on everything go up the further up you go. When I come out (I wasn’t that long, honest) the sun had gone in and it was really cold. OK – fleece and warm trousers it is then. And there was a queue of Polish people about a mile long. The weather changes so quickly – I think this is more of what we have to come. Those on the way down have said that it has been snowing at ABC for the last few days. I will let my hair dry naturally – the fact that the place is full of foreigners has something to do with it. They have taken over the place. Oh well – I think it will soon be hat weather anyway. Dinner was fairly quiet, we sat with a table full of Polish that spoke very little English. One of them looked like Olga Klebb! The lady that owned the establishment persuaded them all to have a piece of her apple pie – that sounds like a good idea! When it came it looked as if it was filled with tuna – and most of them only had a couple of bites. Perhaps I won’t then. She comes in with a towel on her head to ask if they liked the apple pie – “lovely” they all said! I wonder if she believed them looking at the pile that was left?
Day 14 – Thursday 4th November
Usual time to start the day – but find two Australian ladies that are having breakfast – why didn’t we see them last night? The group of Polish, most of whom were in the room next to us, were still around, even though they had got up around 5.30am. And they have talked for every minute of it! What is there so much to talk about? They were going straight to MBC – we have a night in between. Most people actually go to MBC from there – but most people who are doing this trek can actually manage it easily – unlike us! At least by doing it so slowly we might have a fighting chance of making it.
We leave at just past 7.30am. There is only one settlement before we reach Deurali, our overnight stop for tonight. It should be one and a half hours to Himalaya, and a further two hours to Deurali. It is going to be mostly uphill from here on in – Deurali is at 3200 metres, so about a 700 metre gain today. It is still walking though forest, but the tree roots are gradually being replaces by huge sheets of rock. Apparently you are not in the Himalayas if you can see any vegetation – so for the last seven days we have not been trekking in the Himalayas, only the foothills. We have been walking up and down hills, not mountains. Didn’t feel like it!
We only had a short cup of tea stop in Himalaya, as it was so cold. We are walking through a valley of two mountains (or hills!) and the sun has not yet reached inside. When there is no sun, it is really cold. When the sun comes out, it is really hot. As soon as we had started out again, the sun came out. We made it to Himalaya in two and a half hours, not too bad. The next stop, Deurali, should take two hours. As soon as we leave Himalaya we start climbing up quite steeply, and really don’t stop until we reach Deurali. The rocks are getting bigger, and the waterfalls/streams we have to cross are getting harder. One didn’t even have a bridge, and we have about twenty yards of wet rocks to jump across. It was a fairly fast moving river, and was a bit scary. All of the rivers we have seen have had loads of rocks in – which was why it was quite surprising to be overtaken first by a chap carrying a paddle, then one carrying a canoe. There must be some white water somewhere up here!
We are now constantly seeing people coming down from ABC that we had previously met on the way up at various stops. All have had a fantastic time, so I think it is going to be worth it. We stop tonight at the Dream Lodge – the sun is scorching when we first arrive, so we have lunch and relaxation in the brilliant sunshine. Later on in the afternoon the clouds come over again, and as soon as the sun disappears it goes really cold. Warm trousers, fleece and hat come out.
It is really weird here – there is only one other American staying here, apart from that it is empty. Everywhere else we have stayed has been full to the rafters. Dinner is really, really quiet, and really, really cold, so we go to bed almost straight after. I actually ate my dinner with my gloves on. Paul is again not happy – he wants to know what we are doing here! Can’t think what he means – outdoor hole in the floor for a toilet, bucket of hot water if you want a shower – both to be taken in minus temperatures two minutes walk from our room. Who could want anything more?
Day 15 – Friday 5th November
We seem to take it quite easy this morning, and don’t leave until nearly 8.00am. It is a real struggle this morning – going up to MBC is up all the way. And quite steep up. As soon as we leave the village, the gradient is very hard. We go up for about an hour and a half before it even starts to get any better. The trip to MBC should take around two hours, but more for us. And with this gradient, I think quite a bit longer.
We again meet several people on the way down that we have met previously. The group of Polish people that we had dinner with a couple of nights ago were going to MBC that next morning, and then getting up at 3.00am to trek to ABC for sunrise. We met them on the way down – and they got perfect pictures. We then met Matt & Kerry, who had been to ABC last night and were now on the way to Pokhara. I bet they take several nights less than we will.
It is really cold again first thing, but we can see the sun and just have to wait for it to get into the valley. There is frost on the undergrowth. When the sun does hit, it goes up in temperature immediately. It reminds me of the film where the astronaut is walking on the moon, and the sun is coming round, and if it hits him he explodes with heat. It is a bit like that, but not quite so excessive. It does make you strip down to a tee shirt within a few minutes though. A Welsh man carrying what looks like a duty free plastic bag comes up behind and passes us. He stops to say that we are the first people that he has ever passed. I tell him that everyone passes us!
We make it to MBC by 11.00am – three hours. We must be getting better! The sun is out, and it is shining on the snow on the top of the mountains. There is hardly any vegetation now, so we are officially in the Himalayas. Not sure when this actually happened, but good enough for me. We sit in the sun for a couple of hours, until the sun disappears behind a mountain, and that cold air comes in again. Time to put on several layers, hats, coats, gloves – Paul has even put his shorts on over his trousers. Good job nobody knows us!
The place here is deserted again – we are the only ones staying at the Ganga View Lodge at MBC – 3700 metres up. The nights entertainment is Paul teaching the locals to play “Stop the Bus”.
Day 16 – Saturday 6th November
We start out again today at just before 8.00am. This is the last day to go up – to Annapurna Base Camp, the goal! It should take around two hours to get there, but as usual it is us that we are talking about, so will likely to take a lot longer than that.
The trail is not so steep, but the altitude is going to affect our actions. The higher we go, the less oxygen there is in the air, and the harder it is to breath. Everything seems to take such an age, whereas normally it would be no problem. It starts out fairly cold again – three layers, a hat and gloves. Until the sun comes out the temperature is definitely in the minus figures. There is a bowl of water by the tap that has about an inch of ice on the top. On the way up I discover the way that the Nepalese do their plumbing. There is an old plastic can with half of the back taken off that is placed just under a running stream. On the front of this can is a hole with a rubber hose pipe in, that is then run all the way to the lodges. The water automatically runs down the pipe, and the hotels have constant running water. I have seen people fill their water bottles from this – not sure that I would be happy to drink it though. Apparently when it is icy in the winter, each day it has to be de-iced. The trail is not so steep, but my legs feel like a mixture of jelly and lead today. It is the most weird feeling, and I just cannot go anything but ultra slow. As soon as the sun comes out, we have to strip down to tee shirts again, and whereas Paul says it has recharged his batteries, it has done absolutely nothing for me. We then meet the Welsh gentleman, still carrying his plastic bag, coming down from ABC. He must have made it all the way up yesterday. We also meet the Australian girls we met in Deurali coming down. This will be the last chance to meet anyone else that we have met along the way, as it will be our turn to come down tomorrow.
As we go up, the view of the mountains is spectacular. We are following the trail around to the left, so that we are in effect going into the middle of a bowl of mountains. When the sun rises from behind, it just sets them into life. The views here are like nothing we have encountered before. None of the other days have we witnessed a spectacular like this. To prove it is so cold, many of the streams we pass are frozen over, and when the sun hits the ice you can hear it cracking like a gun. We actually meet the bolshey French man coming the other way – or rather he was stationery looking as if he was in the middle of a heart attack! His guide was chanting over him – hope that does the job!
It is a real struggle for me today, I really don’t know why. In just about three hours we see the sign to welcome us to Annapurna Base Camp 4130 metres – with a little phrase in the corner – “you made it”. It actually brought tears to my eyes – quickly wiped away before anyone could tell! What a wuss. We checked in to the Paradise Garden Lodge, and then had fifteen minutes rest and a hot chocolate. We then walked around the camp, and the 360 degree view was something else.
Whilst we were looking at Annapura I there was a crack like thunder – there was an avalanche on the other side of it. Whilst we all stood there with our mouths open it happened again – this time louder and longer. Shame we couldn’t see it. We stood and waited a while longer – we could see cracks appear in the snow our side – nothing else happened. I am sure we would hear it if it did.
The sun disappeared behind the mountains at around 2.00pm on cue – and the temperature dropped like a stone. Time to move indoors!
We are the only English people again here – but tonight it is full to the rafters. Every room is full, and I think the dining room will be too – they also rent out every space possible for people to sleep. I got one last photo of the sun setting on Fishtail Mountain before it went down – and with it the temperature. I think it is well into the minus figures here. The stars are absolutely full in the sky – there is no light pollution here. Paul decides to try to take some photos, but I had forgotten my tripod, and for the four minute shutter that it needed to get them in he had wobbled the camera and they came out blurred. Shame, it was a sight to be seen.
Day 17 – Sunday 7th November
We are up early to see the sunrise – well I was, then got in the queue for the toilet and by the time I went in and came out Paul had taken some pictures and told me I missed it! The sky was clear, and it really lit up the mountains. Nowhere on the trek has there been scenes such as these. We have breakfast, and get on the move by 7.30am. It is so much easier going downhill! The looks on the faces of the people coming up probably looked close to what mine looked like yesterday – absolutely drained! It took us just one and a half hours to get to MBC, where we stopped for a cup of tea. We then went down to Deurali where we had lunch. It took us just over two hours to get here, so this morning we have covered the same distance as it took us the last two days going the other way. As we made our way down, we had to re cross all those wobbly bridges, and the tree roots suddenly became evident again. The scenery changed, and we are back in the forest again.
We were supposed to stop at Himalaya for tonight – which is where Mangal had our room booked. We got to Himalaya by 2.00pm, so decided to have a quick cup of tea and continue to Dovan. On the way down a huge monkey jumps from branch to branch next to the trail, and then just stops and looks at us. He was a really big one. The drop of 1200 metres does wonders for the oxygen level – I think I could have gone on for a long time. We got to Dovan at around 4.00pm – but there were no rooms! Oh dear. We have had to go for a tent. It is in the grounds of the same hotel we stayed in when we were in Dovan a few days ago. The last time I camped I was 19 years old. Oh well, better than sleeping in the dining room I suppose. I had nice (!) hot shower (first one for days – I really did have hat hair) and that felt really good. Paul has worked out that if we do a little extra each day than we were supposed to, we could have one night less in a tea house and one night more in a hotel. I think he is suffering more than me here!
There is a huge French group here – surprisingly none of them speak English. They do get round to offering me a cup of tea from their flask, but that is the limit of my understanding and their English. The lady with the towel on her head (same one I bet) asks if they would like her apple pie, but there was no takers. I wonder if they have spoken to the Polish group…? There is one lone American lady, who we talk to for the rest of the evening. She was a bit weird actually. She had a French boyfriend, but spent most of the time rubbishing the French nation as a whole. She was some sort of software adviser, and had spent the last eighteen months in Afghanistan putting all of the intel for all of the forces onto one system. Apparently NATO and the Americans had different systems, and one couldn’t see the other, and they decided that it would be a better idea if there was only one. Sounds sensible. She then went on to rubbish 30% of the American people for putting George Bush into power. I wonder who she does like? We retire to our tent…
Day 18 – Monday 8th November
We get up at our usual time – Paul says that is the best nights sleep he has had since we started the trek! It was a small two man tent that you couldn’t stand up in, so getting dressed and undressed was a bit difficult. When I mentioned that I got funny looks – I don’t think anyone else has brought pyjamas!
After breakfast we start a very optimistic day – to get to Jhinu. This is two and a half days of our trek when we came up, so I am not holding out much hope. But Paul is on a mission – he wants to get back into a proper bed.
We get to Bamboo for a tea break in just over one hour – not bad going, but it was still mostly downhill. The next bit to Sinuwa took a bit longer. We were meant to stay here tonight, but we arrived at just about noon, so we stayed for lunch. The trek was very up and down, so we didn’t have the advantage of the downhill only on this bit. I then remembered what it felt like to go uphill – not so good! I nearly took a dive in the river when I was crossing on the stepping stones and my foot slipped – but Mangal was just behind me and managed to hold my arm and saved me from a very wet backside! I must be more careful. When something like that happens, it makes you far more cautious, and consequently slower. Not Paul – he was way ahead on his mission.
When we left Sinuwa I remembered the journey to Chhomrong – one long steep set of stairs down to the river, and one steep set of steps up to Chhomrong. I was not looking forward to that bit. We got down to the river, and I just looked up – what I would do for a stairlift at that point! We walked up and up for over one and a half hours, one step after the other. What a way to spend an afternoon. When I got to the top, we stopped off for a drink, and I thought that would be it for the day – but no, Paul wants to go on to Jhinu. So we did. You could see Jhinu from Chhomrong – if you dropped a stone down the side of the mountain it would arrive at Jhinu. Our route was not so direct, but really steep.
It took about an hour and a half of steep steps downhill to get there. Some of them looking as if you were taking a leap of faith over the edge of the mountain, but with another step just underneath. I have done so many things that have scared me stiff I am getting a bit immune to it now – nearly. We get to the Jhinu Guest House (or cell no 10 as Paul puts it) and I absolutely collapse on the bed. I can hardly move – it has been a really hard day. I could do with a massage now, but have to put up with spreading the tiger balm on my aching muscles. But we are still on for finishing tomorrow, two days early, if we have another good day. There are some hot springs about half an hours walk downhill from here, which seemed like a good idea earlier on in the day. When we realised that it would be more like an hour walking back up, it really didn’t seem worth the effort. So, we give that a miss.
We have dinner in a dining hall with a TV – that is a first. A man comes in and asks if anyone wants a massage – but I look at him and at his finger nails and decide that I don’t want one that bad. I have chicken curry tonight – hope I won’t live to regret it! The chicken must have been a pensioner I think – so I think I will stick to vegetarian in future. My legs are about to seize up – so we call it a day.
Day 19 – Tuesday 9th November
We need to start early today to give ourselves a fighting chance of getting to Naya Pul and back to civilisation. I must admit, the more I think about it the more I think it is a good idea. This is day 12 of the trek, and as much as I have enjoyed it, we have hit our goal of getting to ABC and it is now just a case of getting back. I should have arranged for us to be helicoptered out when we were at the top! The reason we are able to cut two days off the trek is because we are taking a short cut. We should finish at a place called Fedi, but when Paul looked on the map it meant we had to climb back up to nearly 2000 metres and down again. I think both our faces dropped when we realised that, so Mangal gave us another option. Turn right at the traffic lights instead of left, and we are four hours from Naya Pul. OK – that way it is then.
Typically, we overslept and didn’t leave early. We got on the road at about 7.20am, and continued the sharp descent to the river. Then we had to do the mandatory sharp ascent the other side. We got to New Bridge (bizarre name as every bridge we have ever crossed has been very old, and very rickety) and went straight through and onward. Paul’s mission continues! He went ahead with Urba from here, and we get to a path that takes an uphill route and a downhill route, back to the river and over another bridge. Mangal looks down, and sees Paul and Urba have crossed the bridge – wrong! We need the uphill route. So he has to run down and they have to trek all the way back up. Paul says that Urba thought he was still too fat and needed the extra exercise!
We continue on, and Paul goes ahead with Urba again. My legs are feeling like those of the bunny who does not have the Duracell battery in! We come to another junction that has an uphill and a downhill. We take the uphill, and I ask if the others know this is the way. I am assured they do, but when the path turns into a small trail through the jungle, and then along the edge of rice fields I wonder. This path does not look as if it is very well used at all. We have to cross a few waterfalls again, and Mangal tries to help me and nearly goes down head first. If he hadn’t have righted himself, I wonder if I would have gone down as well??
We pass woman harvesting the rice crops, and it looks an absolutely back breaking job. We eventually get to a little hut, to stop for a cup of tea. But no Paul or Urba. Mangal gets on the phone, and says we have to go somewhere else, because they are having tea in another place. We start a long descent, and then he tells me that we took a shortcut and they didn’t. How come that they are having tea before us then? He explains that we have to come back up here to continue, so I refuse to go any further. I can go without my tea break for the sake of going down all those steps and then having to come back up them again.
They eventually come back up, and we continue on. We stop at a “new” hotel for lunch, and it is a very welcome break. I really am exhausted, but it is so close to getting back to a proper bed that it is worth the extra effort. There are lovely little children here that keep picking flowers and giving them to us. The children all over the mountain villages are just left free to roam wherever – it is a wonder that they don’t fall over the side of the mountain, but I suppose they just grow up with it. Mangal calls his company to call Alpine Travel to get us a hotel for the next two nights. It seems real now! I have not had a signal on my phone since we left Pokhara, neither has Paul.
We continue on, through Syauli Baazar and on to Birethanti, where we had lunch on the very first day of the trek. It seems a life time ago! The trail does not have any sharp ascents or decents from here – but it is still very rough. My legs seem to be on autopilot now – the brain seems to have become disengaged! When we get to Birethanti Mangal asks if he should call the taxi. Paul looks at him with amazement – we are about forty five minutes from Naya Pul, and the taxi takes about an hour and a half to get from Pokhara. “I was waiting for your decision” says Mangal. “What, taxi or walk?” says Paul, unamused.
We get to Naya Pul at around 4.00pm, and the place seems so different to when we arrived twelve days ago. In the morning it is buzzing with trekkers, but in the afternoon they have all left and only locals remain. Some of the little stalls are shut, and it just doesn’t seem the same. We get to a tea house, and sit and wait for the taxi. Paul gets a cup of tea – that helps him to calm down! Alpine Travel phones to say that the Shangri-La is full, but they have booked us into the Pokhara Grande Hotel. Same standard – although any standard will be better than what we have been used to!
The taxi arrives at 4.45pm, and we load up. It takes around an hour and a half to get back to the Shangri-La to collect our luggage, and then five minutes to get to the Pokhara Grande. First impressions are good – they let us through the gate with a salute – bearing in mind we are five of us in the small Suzuki with now four suitcases roped to the roof and the rest in the back it is a wonder they let us in at all.
I go to check in, and everything has been arranged perfectly. That shows the necessity of having a good ground handler that can sort out problems as they happen. If I hadn’t had them to call, and got to the Shangri-La and they were full I would have had a problem. Whilst I check in, Paul has to empty his loaned sack, and put all the stuff in his case. All this being done just outside the hotel doors with the doorman giving him a salute. I bet they don’t see that much dirty washing in their main entrance often! And it stinks. Probably we do too!
We say goodbye to Mangal and Urba, and retreat to our room with a bed and proper toilet – no, I never did get used to the hole in the floor! The shower is the best shower I have ever had, and it is an amazing feeling to be able to sit down on a toilet. I will never take it for granted again!
All I want to do is put my pyjamas on and slob about – so we order a biryani and another local lamb dish from room service – served with red wine and campari. Heaven. Oh, and just to prove that Paul used his knife that he bought (he hasn’t up until now) he had to open the bottle of sprite with it, even though there was a bottle opener on the worktop!
Day 20 – Wednesday 10th November
What a luxury – lay in until 9.00am. And then breakfast in a civilised surrounding, and an egg station. This is more like it.
We are going to have a very lazy day today – I think we have deserved it. We have the internet, £10 for 24 hours, and a phone signal, so we can let those nearest and dearest know we are still in the land of the living. Then I go and have a massage for my aching muscles – although they do not ache as much as I thought they would. The massage really hurt my leg muscles – it must be doing some good. A most bizarre set up though – the room is right next to the car park, so traffic noise instead of the relaxing music usually heard. The therapist often talks to a colleague outside the cubicle, so not that peaceful, but at $40 what do you expect??
Then, to the pool with a new book. It must be a record for me – I am only on my fourth book! I think the next few days will make up for it, although we have booked a city tour for tomorrow morning for three hours. There is a company here that does paragliding with hawks which I fancied, but there is only one pilot and he is off to Kathmandu for a week. The normal one didn’t seem half as exciting, so I will have to do it next time! Paul was going to sit that one out anyway, so he isn’t bothered.
We have lunch by the pool, and at 2.00pm on cue the clouds roll in. Not a problem though, it is nice to get out of the sun. After a hard day doing nothing, it is off to the restaurant for a lovely dinner, and then pack again as we are off to Tiger Mountain tomorrow. This has been a lovely day that was not scheduled, and really allowed us to catch our breath!
Dinner is in the main buffet restaurant, and is 700 rupees each – around £7. It is not bad. It seems this hotel is used for coach parties, as there have been a couple of bus loads deposited and taken away!
Day 21 – Thursday 11th November
Our tour this morning starts at a leisurely 10.00am, so loads of time to have breakfast and check out ready for our transfer to Tiger Mountain at 2.30pm. That is the nice thing about organising tours on a private basis – they go when you want them to go. The coach parties had long gone by the time we got to breakfast at just gone 9.00am.
We first go to Phewa Lake, which is the largest lake in Pokhara. We get on a little wooden boat, and a lady driver paddles us in the direction of a temple in the middle of the lake. It is very peaceful and serene where we got on, but as we get close to the temple there are the same sort of boats everywhere. And some of them are full to the rafters, not only with tourists but many with locals going to visit the temple. We spend just under an hour on the lake, and then go to see another temple. Religion is such a big thing here. It is at the top of a hill where you can see a good view over Pokhara. We then drive through the older part of Pokhara, where the guide says that the houses were built over 100 years ago – they actually look a lot more sturdy than some of the newer ones.
We then go to the Seti River Gorge. There is a dam somewhere near here, as they use this water for most of the needs of Pokhara. Today they cleaning the tunnels, so there is no water running to the dam. The water in the gorge is a long way down, apparently it gets a lot higher in the rainy season. We then go to another Tibetan Refugee Centre, where they are making the carpets. I would like to buy one, but have got no idea where I would put it!
The last stop is the Devi’s Water Fall. This is a very popular spot for tourists, as it is packed. There are pictures of the falls in the rainy season, where the water comes close to the handrails. The water is probably thirty feet down today, so doesn’t look so spectacular.
I am glad we have seen something of Pokhara, which we would not have done if we had gone directly to Tiger Mountain. There is just time when we get back to have lunch out by the pool, before we are collected are transferred up the mountain.
We are collected by a Tiger Mountain Land Rover similar to those at Tree Tops. The journey takes a little over half an hour, and we climb a steep hill further and further from civilisation. We arrive at the resort and are taken up steps to the main area – those steps remind me that my muscles are still there! We are greeted with tea and cakes, and the guest relations man goes through all the options we can do whilst we are here – a lot to do with trekking. I don’t think so! It is all optional, so we can take it as it comes. I like the sound of the bird watching walk, but Paul tells me I can go on my own!
We are shown to our little stone cottage – absolutely beautiful. We have a verandah with comfy chairs in amongst the foliage. Peace and tranquillity itself. A lady comes down with our luggage – doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid. We spend a restful afternoon doing nothing – I think this will be good for a couple of days, but no longer. Paul went for a swim in the infinity pool, but I think it will be a bit cold for me. None of the pools in any of the hotels have been heated, so they have all been too cold.
Meal times are similar to those at Tree Tops – set menu at set times, but very good food. Would you believe – there is a Saga group here. Do not ever let me go on one of those holidays! Average age 93 I think! We heard how two people had fainted on the walk that afternoon, and how as one was going down to Pokhara the next morning they were all going.
Dinner was very good – we sat with two ladies who had come out for a month to help in the local school. And get to stay at Tiger Mountain – can’t be bad. We started with Coconut & Pumpkin soup, which was really nice. All the food here is home made, including the breads, jams, chutneys etc.
Day 22 – Friday 12th November
We go for breakfast at around 9.00am, just to see the Saga group set off for Pokhara. That has cleared the place. Breakfast is taken out on the terrace, overlooking the surrounding hills. Lovely. It is rather cloudy this morning, so the temperature is not so hot. They cook the eggs fresh, however you want them.
As we are not partaking in the walks or treks, there is very little to do. The hotel supplies cards, chess, jigsaws – as Paul puts it, with the Saga group here, it is more like an old people’s home. I catch up on my reading, and I am sure my muscles will not complain at having to have a rest. Well, we are in cottage number 12, and there are still 109 steps plus some uphill to the main lodge. Not as bad as cottage number 17 apparently.
Lunch is also taken on the terrace, and is typical Nepalese style rice, dahl and curried vegetables, plus homemade chapattis and poppodom and chutney.
More of the same this afternoon, and as per normal in the afternoon the clouds do not clear. We meet a couple from Seattle at lunch and dinner today – he originates from Bombay in India, and she from Iran. A very nice couple, who seem to back up the American Lady who thinks 30% of Americans are whackos! Perhaps they are?
Day 23 – Saturday 13th November
I was going to make the effort and go on the 7.00am bird watching walk this morning, but just didn’t seem to make it in time. The less you do, the less you want to do! We speak to the two teachers, and they went to the school yesterday but it is now closed for nine days as all hands have to help with the rice harvest. Oh dear, bad planning.
The sun is sort of out, but it is another overcast day. There were a couple of people arrived yesterday and are going tomorrow who will not catch a glimpse of the mountains if it does not clear. It really is not supposed to be like this at this time of year. Paul said he heard it raining in the night.
One book finished yesterday, and another one today – my last one. Should have brought more! There is a library here of sorts, but the only newish book is one that I have already read, and the rest look as if they have been here for years. I don’t want to start one and not finish it either, so I will have to go without. I send my one and only postcard to Auntie Mary – I am sure we will arrive home weeks before it gets to her, but at least I have remembered, just! We sit at dinner tonight with two ladies who have done a Bales itinerary – very similar to ours without the trek. They are going to Dwarika’s tomorrow for two nights. There is also an American lady who works for Wilderness Tours selling Nepal, and has come to look at the product. She is off to Luckla and Mount Everest for a trek – but only knew that she was going two weeks ago so has done no preparation. Good luck!
Day 24 – Sunday 14th November
We have an earlyish start this morning, as we have a flight out of Pokhara at 9.30am – well that is what it said on the ticket. When the lodge reconfirmed, it was 9.15am. Not that much difference, but these small airlines (this one is Buddha Air) seem to go as and when they fancy. Whilst we were having breakfast we were told that the airport was still closed, as we seem to be in the middle of a cloud. It was deemed better to stay where we were rather than go to the airport. It really was as if we were in the middle of a cloud – you could see the wisps all around.
We were then told that it had cleared further down nearer to the airport, so we left at about 8.15am. When we got to the airport it was still closed, but they were checking in earlier flights. There were flights that were due to have left from 6.00am onwards, so there was getting quite a collection of people. Our baggage allowance for this flight was 20kg each – not enough! When they weighed our three bags it came to 62kg – I don’t think that was quite right as it was way more than when we came out. Looking at the inch of dust on the top of the scales, I wonder when the last time they were calibrated? As the charge was only 1640 rupees – the departure tax was 170 rupees each – it only came to about £13 for 22kg extra – no problem.
We then had to sit and wait. At about 10.30am a couple of planes took off that had been in the airport all night. Ours was a return flight from Kathmandu, so had to wait until the plane came in. As it was very patchy cloud, the only movement was out and not in. Another couple who came down from the lodge had a connection in Kathmandu to Delhi at 12 noon – their Yeti Airlines flight departing at 9.00am should have given them loads of time. Apparently this is quite a common occurrence – the smaller planes cannot take off and land in cloud so the airports in and around Nepal are often subject to closures.
At around 11.00am we saw that a Buddha Air had just landed, so we were on! We left at around 11.15am – a small 12 row plane with two seats either side that was full to the brim. We had c & d seats – on this leg the best seats to have are a & b as you get a good view of the Himalayas all the way to Kathmandu. The only view we had was of a Japanese ladies bum as she was taking photographs all the way! The flight only lasts 25 minutes, and we were in Kathmandu in no time. The domestic terminal we arrived into was the same one we had used when we took our scenic Everest flight. The bus takes you and your luggage to an area where they ask you for your luggage tags, and then find your bag and give it to you. Good job we noticed which truck the bags were loaded onto!
Chedup was there to meet us, and he took our tags and organised the bags into a taxi. Very smooth – otherwise it would have been somewhat of a bun fight. We went the fifteen or so minutes to Dwarika’s Hotel, where he checked us in. What a beautiful hotel – it is like staying in a monastery. The architecture is magnificent – so different. The buildings are around a central courtyard, where we sit and have lunch. It says there is beef in my Morrocan burger – I think not, as the minimum sentence for killing a cow is two years imprisonment! Our room is the best we have had on the trip – and the bed is the most comfortable. It really does stand out. As it is so nice here, we just sit by the pool and generally do nothing. There is a few stray dogs roaming about – one looks like darth vader as his black hair is completely over his face – he does look a state. I wonder how they get in – it says on the outside “Entrance by permission only” – they don’t seem to let just anyone in!
After it is dark, all the courtyard is lit by candles – on little walls all around and floating in big cauldrons of flower filled water. It is really magical. We have a typical Nepalese dinner on our last night – the famous Nepalese Restaurant serves a 16 course dinner, but I couldn’t face that so we stick to just the one course. Paul has what I thought was a green bean on his plate – until he bit on it and found out it was a chilli. He didn’t stop sweating all night! Last time he believes anything I tell him!
Day 25 – Monday 15th November
We have a fairly leisurely start to the day – Chedup is picking us up at 10.00am for the short drive to the airport. The breakfast here is again the best we have had whilst we have been in Nepal. It really is a special hotel.
When we go to check out, I ask what type of room we have. We were in room 55 which is in the Ram Palace building. I am told that is a normal Heritage Room – but she offers to show me a junior suite which is the only other room type that is available to look at. This one is in the main building, but is no bigger than ours. Wifi is free with the suites, whereas we had to pay 1100 rupees for 24 hours, and they have a safe. She did say that number 55 is a lovely room, so I think we hit lucky.
We make the short drive to the airport, chauffered by Surya, our original driver. He looks younger somehow – no hat! Chedup gets us a porter, and says that he cannot come into the airport. They only allow passengers into the airport on production of a ticket – make sure you don’t lose it! The luggage is x-rayed and the porter takes us to the Qatar Airlines check in. We then have have to fill in another immigration exit card and wait in line to have the passport stamped. After all of this we find the business class lounge – which is a haven I did not expect to find here. The domestic terminal in Kathmandu is not a place you would want to be for long – having spoken to several people who passed through there – no better facilities than a tea house! The international terminal is not too bad though – quite modern and clean.