The final day of our Trek/holiday had arrived, and a busy one it was to be. After a leisurely breakfast we had a tour of Kathmandu, including a visit to Swayambhunath, the “Monkey Temple”. The second part of the tour was on foot around the busy streets of the city including shrines, temples, palaces and of course the sites of everyday Kathmandu. I hope you enjoy the photographs.
The sights of colorful Kathmandu
After the tour it was back to the hotel. A quick, late, lunch at the excellent Vietnamese restaurant opposite the hotel. We were not being picked up from the hotel until 6.30 so Sian and I had a few quiet hours reading and catching up on emails etc. before an uneventful journey home.
Some final thoughts now that we are back home. Nepal is a fabulous country, with fantastic scenery, extremely friendly people but a lot of poverty. As the guides will tell you trekking is a vital part of the economy. It will be a great shame if the recent tragedy puts people off visiting Nepal. If you get the chance go, but go with a positive attitude. If you want Western standards of comfort then its not for you. If you go with the flow and have a relaxed attitude you will have a fabulous time. To put it into perspective the basic rooms, I showed in photographs in earlier parts of this blog, cost about £1 per person per night, as long as you eat there as well. About £5 will cover breakfast and evening meals.
If you go with an organised tour you will be extremely well looked after. If you go on your own please employ a guide. You are supposed to anyway but you will learn so much more about the trek, the country and it’s customs if you do and you will contributing to the economy.
Finally a few thank you’s from Sian and I. Firstly to Kit, Tom, Tony, Peter, Rich and Clare for you excellent company during the trek. Then to our guides, Pasang, Surendra and Dhurba, the porters and also to all the local representatives of Mountain Legends, who are Mountain Kingdoms local agents, who made all the transfers etc run so smoothly.
Thank you for reading this and for all the positive comments on the blog, twitter facebook and even email.
Before anyone asks, Sian and I have no relationship with Mountain Kingdoms and we did pay for the holiday ourselves. All photographs are my own except where stated from fellow trekker Peter Bell.
We finished the trek at Naya Pul and got on our bus to take us to Pokhara a journey of about an hour. During this journey I learned a lot about the chaotic world of Nepali driving and its two rules
Nepali driving rule #1
Frequent use of the horn is compulsory. One toot on the horn is a polite statement “I’m here please take note and if applicable get out of the way. Thank You” Two hoots of the horn is a bit more urgent ” You have ignored my first polite warning. It may have escaped your attention that I am bigger than you and coming through whether you like it or not. For your own safety get out of my way now!” If these two warnings are ignored a prolonged toot on the horn will be forthcoming “I warned you…Its your funeral”
Nepali driving rule #2
If your vehicle is capable of overtaking the vehicle in front you must do so, oncoming vehicles or a blind bend are absolutely no excuse not to do so.
On arrival at our hotel we were treated to a display of the Nepali Reversing Sensor. The drivers mate got out and as the driver reversed banged on the side of the bus, increasing in frequency as the bus neared the wall, until giving the bus an almighty thump to say stop.
On alighting from the bus there was some debate as to whether our driver was the best in the world, as we had arrived in one piece, or the worst thanks to his fanatical dedication to the Nepali driving rule #2. I suppose the fact we arrived in one piece should be celebrated with a gift to the Gods.
Bags were unloaded and it was now time for the presentation of tips and to say good bye and thank you to our porters and guides, except Pasang our senior guide who was to take us for lunch.
Before lunch there was just time to check into our hotel and grab some WiFi. Luxury, a hotel room with aircon and a TV! Pasang then took us for lunch in a restaurant over the road from the hotel. We learnt a little more about Pasang. His next trek was on the Everest Base Camp trip and at the end he hoped to make the two day walk to spend sometime with his family.
The restaurant would have passed muster anywhere in the developed word. Very nicely fitted out, immaculately kept, the only key difference being the price. I had a superb vegetable biryani that was about £2.50.
We had the afternoon free, so Sian and I had a wander, bought the Annapurna Sanctuary tee shirt, as you do. We met up with Kit, Tom, Tony and Peter for a beer and an evening meal.
The following day we all met up for breakfast except the “Lonely Hiker” who was staying an extra few days in Pokhara so he could be truly lonely now. Rich, Clare, Sian and I decided to go accross the lake to the World Peace Temple so we agreed to share a boat. For the equivalent of just under £5 you get a boat with an oarsman, who rows you across, waits a couple of hours for you and then rows you back.
Just after lunch we were picked up and taken to Pokhara airport for the short flight back to Kathmandu. On arrival at Kathmandu we disembarked from the plane onto a bus. We then wait whilst our luggage is unloaded onto a trailer. The trailer is then hitched onto the bus. The bus then goes around to the front of the airport where there is a sign saying baggage reclaim. You go to the far side and your bags are passed over. Simples!
If we thought Kathmandu was busy when we arrived on our first day then we were in for a shock. The only way to describe the roads in Kathmandu as we inched our way to the hotel is “Total Mayhem” There are lots of traffic police with their whistles but I have no idea what they actually do. Anyway we eventually got back to the hotel just in time for a shower before all going out for one last night together.
We walked for about twenty minutes, fighting our way along the busy roads until we reached The Thamel district which was even busier. Eventually we found a bar and then a restaurant and had a great evening. The walk back in the dark was entertaining with at one point Tom disappearing down to his knee in a puddle.
Tomorrow a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu then we fly home.
We awoke the following morning to the sound of rain. Heavy rain. In fact torrential rain. At breakfast it was clear that the guides were considering what to do. We had our own discussion and decided that as long as the guides wanted to go we were happy to get on with it. Eventually the porters sprung into action and we knew we were going. The porters and guides waterproofs consisted of a large plastic sheet tied over their head and draped over their packs. It worked as well if not better than out gortex clothes!
Once outside we realised just how heavy the rain was. I’ve occasionally had this level of rain in the Lakes but only for a short time. This had been going on for 12 hours and there was no sign of it stopping. There are no pictures from this day. Everyone’s cameras were in their bags in a waterproof stuff sack inside a waterproof liner.
Dhurba set the pace on the front, noticeably quicker than normal. Pasang took the back with the “Lonely Trekker” and Surendra the back of the main group. Normally as we reach our destination Surendra would take off to get things organised. Not today. The idea was to get us there ASAP and as safely as possible. A six hour trek was done in under four hours.
We spent the afternoon drying out clothes, watching the rain and hoping the wind would not take the roof off. Our accommodation was called “The Sunny Hotel”. Well it certainly was not sunny and it pushed the definition of hotel a bit far. The consensus was that gulag was more appropriate although having said that we were delighted to be there sheltered from the storm.
We realised that at higher elevations it would be snowing. We asked the guides if they thought that it would be snowing at Annapurna Base Camp at 13,500ft? They suspected that it might be sleet but changing to snow overnight. If we were there we would have had to stay put or if on our way up we would have had to come down. Which in the light of developments elsewhere in the region was reassuring.
Unbeknown to us a major disaster was unfolding on the other side of Annapurna, The weather that we were experiencing was caused by the remnants of Cyclone Hudhud and was completely out of character for the time of year. In the region of the Thorung La Pass at an elevation of over 17,000ft it was a blizzard 43 people lost their lives and over 500 people were helicoptered out. The people who stayed put in the tea house near the pass all survived. In theory everyone trekking in Nepal should have a guide. In practice this does not always happen and indeed we met many people doing it on their own without porters or guides. Some just hired a porter, which in a situation like this is not much good. The overwhelming majority of porters do not speak English and will not have had the training to be able to make decisions in a crisis. Most organised tours, our included, have flexibility in the schedule to allow for a delay. If you are on a tight schedule and have a plane to catch you will be tempted to push on. I think the best advice if not on an organised trek is hire a qualified guide and build in some contingency time into your schedule. You can read a BMC report of the tragedy here
Day 11 normally starts with getting up at 5.00am for forty five minute walk up Poon Hill for the sunrise. With it still raining the previous evening all but two of us gave it a miss. However the clouds cleared just in time and the views from Ghorepani were pretty good anyway. Thanks to Peter Bell for the two photos from Poon Hill.
I think the two photos above are my favorites from the trek. Click on either of them to open full size on Flickr in a new tab
With the dramatic turnaround in the weather we were all in good spirits at breakfast especially with this view to look at.
After breakfast we set off on our trek to Hille. Over 4,000 feet of descent today including 1,640ft down over 3,000 steps know as the “Gurung Staircase” That certainly gave the knees something to complain about! This is part of an ancient Trans-Himalayan trade route and there were plenty of mule and donkey trains carrying goods along the way today
We arrived at Hille mid afternoon After a shower the difficult business of sorting out the tips for the guides and porters commenced. After several attempts, much calculation, counting of Nepali Rupees, drinking a beer, buying the porters and guides a beer the finances were finally sorted and the envelopes stuffed for the presentation tomorrow. Tips were recommended by Mountain Kingdoms and eight of us were all of the same mind especially as we thought all the porters and guides had been excellent.
That done we could now relax. You can see the accommodation below and we had an excellent last Dal Bhat followed by Snickers Roll, a Snickers cooked pastry, heaven! All washed down with a few Nepali Ice beers.
The following morning the weather was excellent and we only had a few hours trek to meet the bus to take us back to Pokhara. The walking was easy, gently downhill on a dirt track road with only the occasional four wheel drive vehicle using it. However it was just then that we started to get word of the tragic events further up in the mountains.
A couple of trekkers told us that they had heard that some people had been killed in an avalanche. About half an hour later we regained phone signal and I had several texts asking if we were OK. One was from Gina Pennington @CumbrianBlondie who kindly put out the word on Twitter and on my timeline on Facebook that we were OK. It was only when we got back to Pokhara and picked all the tweets and saw the news that the true scale of events became apparent.
Shortly after passing this sign we entered the large village of Naya Pul a busy bustling place. A walk through the village took us to our bus but not before we had one final surprise view of Fish Tail.
So the trek was finished but still to come, the bus journey to Pokhara and 24 hours in Pokhara and in Kathmandu
Our group of nine trekkers had seven porters in total. They carry the gear that you don’t want to carry with you on that day, plus sleeping bags and some provisions. Whilst we are having breakfast they get our stuff together load up and set off. Typically a porter might carry two of our Mountain Kingdom kit bags plus his own day sack lashed together. A large band is put over the bags and up across their forehead. This might sound bizarre but thats the way most goods are carried in this part of the world where there are no roads.
Now on their feet they either have flip-flops or trainers out of choice. You can give them boots but they won’t wear them. They set off at a faster pace than we do but, understandably, they take frequent breaks. To help them at regular intervals stone structures are placed to allow them to take the load off their head but without putting it back on the floor, see photo. Usually they will arrive just ahead of us at our destination but unlike the guides their working day is now over. Normally they will wash themselves and some clothes and then they can relax. Sometimes they play a board game called Bagh-Chal, see photo below,. At Annapurna Base Camp, all afternoon, there was a game of volleyball going on, see photo. Does anyone know of a higher volleyball court than 13,500ft?
As a group they seem happy in their work which pays above national average wage plus tips. Most of them are very small in stature I suspect not many are above ten stone. Mountain Kingdom rules limit then to 35kg each but you see locals carrying far more and in one instance carrying a table!
Day 8 started with us having survived our night in the Dovan “prison cell” Today’s trek saw us losing another 1,500 ft in total but with a lot of undulations. We were still retracing our steps to Chhomrong where we would spend the night after which we would continue on our way on a fresh route. However we had the small matter of the final climb to Chhomrong of 850ft via over 1,900 steps.
We got to Chhomrong for lunch time. The accommodation was positively luxurious compared to the previous few days. Why we even had carpet and hooks to hang our clothes and an inside European toilet.The weather was very warm and Rich and I decided we deserved a beer with lunch! Well we were on our holidays after all!
After lunch it was time for a shower and to catch up on the washing. Later Sian and I were sat outside admiring the view along with Kit who was writing his travel diary for this wife. Looking up at the sign for a bar next door Kit and I both came to the idea. It was time to bring an element of civilisation to proceeding! We would go to the pub for pre-dinner drinks! As others joined us or came passed they all agreed it was a good idea…even the 9th man, the “Lonely Hiker”
Not a lot happens in Chhomrong but we did have a bit of excitement . A goat escaped! It was chased down the steps before someone grabbed its lead and waited for the owner to retrieve it and lead the goat on its walk of shame back past us.
One of my favorite signs which unfortunately I did not get a photo of was on the kitchen door which said “Do not enter the kitchen without a purpose”
Day 9 started sunny and warm. Again it was a very undulating walk with some very steep inclines. We were now trekking through farm land and a more populated area. Early on we passed several groups of young children immaculately dressed in their school uniforms presumably off to school in Chhomrong. The views of Annapurna South and Fish Tail were gone to be replaced by impressive terraced fields cut into the mountain sides and later rhododendron forest. Along the way we passed many examples of corn, chillis and mushrooms being left out to dry. Also we came across several large home made swings, see photo.
We stopped at Chuile for a tea break that then merged into a lunch stop. The tea, as always, was served from a massive thermos flasks elaborately decorated although showing its age.
After our leisurely lunch a steep uphill walk through rhododendron forest brought us to our destination for the night Tadapani. Tadapani is a bit run down to say the least, but very busy with a market mostly made up of trinkets. However a quick walk around did produce some excellent additions to collection of interesting signs as you will see below. Often in the afternoon it clouds over and you might get a few spots of rain. This afternoon the clouds were darker than normal and by the time we went to bed it was seriously pouring down. This would continue for over 24 hours with serious consequences in the area. But that’s for the next installment.
Annapurna Sanctuary is a magnificent glacial basin at an elevation of 13,500ft (4,100m) surrounded by the mountains of the massive Annapurna Range with Annapurna itself standing over the sanctuary at 26,545ft (8,091m) the 10th highest peak in the world.
On 3 June 1950, Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal became the first climbers to climb a peak over 8000m when they summited the Himalayan mountain Annapurna I, the 10th-highest mountain in the world. The ascent was all the more remarkable because the peak was explored, reconnoitred and climbed all within one season; and was climbed without the use of supplemental oxygen. It is also the only 8000 meter summit that was reached at the first attempt.
The south face of Annapurna was first climbed in 1970 by Don Whillans and Dougal Haston, members of a British expedition led by Chris Bonington which included the alpinist Ian Clough, who was killed by a falling serac during the descent. They were, however, beaten to the second ascent of Annapurna by a matter of days by a British Army expedition led by Henry Day.
Annapurna I has the greatest fatality rate of all the 14 eight-thousanders: as of March 2012, there have been 52 deaths during ascents, 191 successful ascents, and nine deaths upon descent, which means that for every three climbers that make it safely up and down Annapurna I, one dies trying.
Day 6 was to be a short climb of about two hours to Annapurna Base Camp but first there were some glorious sunrise photos to be captured.
So off we trekked to ABC with magnificent views unfolding as we went. On arrival Tom and son Peter kindly agreed to sleep in a tent on mattresses so Sian and I were back to a room of our own. We were there mid morning so there was lots of time to explore and to take photos. Lots of photos. So sit back and enjoy them and I’ll shut up for a while.
Right I’m back again I hope you enjoyed the photo tour of Annapurna Base Camp. Views don’t get much better than this.
The afternoon was cloudy and as you would imagine at 13,500ft quite cold. Down jackets were put on and we passed the time reading. Because of the altitude this was our third night without even a beer. I cant rember the last time I had three nights on holiday without alcohol. Alarm clocks were set for 5.30am to catch the sunrise and it was really worth getting up for.
So after that excellent start to the day we had a hearty breakfast in the chaotic restaurant (see photo) to prepare us for the long descent to Dovan a drop in altitude of 5,000 ft. Just a few photos as we are retracing our steps.
When we got to Dovan Sian and I had a shock. In the Annapurna Conservation Zone tea houses are only allowed to have six rooms. We were in room 7. Which turned out to have an entrance off the porters dining room and separated from the kitchen by a corrugated iron wall. Note in the photo how the laminated floor had been continued to make a skirting board. As you can see it was a little on the small side. It was christened the “Prison Cell” The only consolation was the best shower on trek. We had not had a shower for several days.
In the last post I mentioned that the guides wake you up with bed tea at 6.00am. That’s the start of a very busy day for them. On our trek as there were nine trekkers we had three guides. The head guide was Pasang Sherpa, with 22 years experience as a head guide, Our assistant guides were Surendra and Dhurba, Surendra had been working on a trek that Kit, one of our group, had been on 12 years ago. So we were certainly in experienced hands.
After serving us bed tea and washing water the guides serve us breakfast and get the porters going (more about porters in a later post) .
On a typical day Dhurba would set the pace, Pasang would take up the rear with Surendra in the middle. However every time we got near a tea stop, lunch stop and our destination Surendra would take off ahead of us to get things organised. Lunch and tea would be served by the guides.
In the evening after serving our meals the guides would wait whilst the porters had their Dal Bhat before eating themselves. Pasang would then have to tot up the bill and pay in cash. So you can see the guides have a hard and long day.
The trekking seasons are very short, October to early December and March and April. We asked Surendra what he did in the close season. He replied “Construction work in Kathmandu…no work no money” His family live a long way from Kathmandu.
So on to Day 4. This would be a bit more challenging as we would end the day at 10,500ft (3,200m) starting off at 7,670ft (2,340m).
Not long after setting off we entered an area with the following warning. Click on the image to see it larger if you cant read it!
I’m not sure how much notice people take of this as Dhurba our assistant guide at the front was spitting on a regular basis but fortunately we saw no evidence of “open defecation”
The day continued as normal passing through Bamboo (no prizes for guessing why its named), Dovan before having lunch in a very busy village called Himalaya. There was much talk from other trekkers about how busy the accommodation was further up the trail and how much overbooking had been taking place. Would we have a room for the night???
An hours very steep climbing brought us to Deurali where Pasang broke the news that we had three rooms between us. So the two girls would have one bedroom and the lads would be in either a 3 or a 4, but at least we all had beds. Having tea in the “restaurant” we got talking to some Americans who were going to be sleeping in the restaurant. Two of them in particular were not too worried as they were on planet cannabis.
Day 5 was a short but slow climb, due to the altitude, to Machhapuchchhre Base Camp usually called MBC. Calling it base camp is a bit of a stretch as it has never been climbed.
Wikipedia says “Machhapuchchhre has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 50 m (164 ft) of the summit via the north ridge; to an approximate altitude of 22,793 ft., but did not complete the ascent; they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and it is now closed to climbers.”
We arrived mid morning leaving plenty of time to explore. Unfortunately the clouds came down just after lunch and refused to budge until night. Again we had only three rooms between us so sleeping arrangements were the same as the previous night.
Day 2 on the trek was to start and continue in the same routine as every other day on trek would.
6am woken by guides with bed tea.
6.15am bowl of warm “washing water”
7.00am Breakfast having packed up your kit bag ready for the porters. Breakfast is a free choice from the menu made the previous evening. The choices included porridge, muesli, omelets, pancakes, fried potato, and breads of which gurung or Tibetan bread was a favourite, served with either jam, honey or fried egg all washed down with gallons of black Nepali tea.
After breakfast, anytime between 7.30 and 8.00 the trek would begin. Mid morning there may be a sit down break with tea optionally laced with Tang a lemon powder mix.I’ve since discovered that Tang was developed for US astronauts!!! Lunch would be a set meal consisting of two forms of carbs, examples of which were fried rice and potatoes, pasta and potatoes and even pasta and chips.
On some days we would have finished the trek by now and have the afternoon free, on others we would continue the trek.
4,00pm Tea, loads of tea, served from giant thermos flasks, with optional Tang. Tea would be accompanied with crackers, ritz, oreos etc. At tea you would make your selection from the menu for dinner. Most nights most of the group went for the local dish Dal Bhat. This consists of rice, lentil curry, veg or potato curry, popadom, and pickle. Every tea house has its own version and its popularity is enhanced by the fact thats its traditional that second helpings must be served.
After dinner your water bottles are filled with boiling water to drink the following day and use as a hot water bottle if desired. Breakfast choices are made and then most evenings we had a quick game of scrabble before retiring to bed usually well before 9.00pm.
The sun was out as we got up on day two and everyone rushed to take photos as Annapurna South,Hinn Chuli and Machhapuchchhre “Fish Tail” were on display.
The days trekking was surprisingly hot and mostly undulating. A tee shirt logo sums it up nicely “Nepali flat; a little bit of up then a little bit of down” We had our first taste of Nepali suspension bridges, the first was OK, the second, surprisingly called “New Bridge”, not sure when it was new, was the worst and longest of the trek.
This was probably our longest day on the trek arriving at Jhinu Danda late afternoon.
The following morning was again clear and very warm.
Our first stop was at Chhomrong a relatively big village spread over a large terraced farm area. From here our route would be an out and back only taking a different route on the way back from Chhomrong which at least meant that we would not have to go over New Bridge again. From Chhomrong we descended about 800 feet down stone steps the whole way in blistering heat. We were not looking forward to coming back up them on the return journey.
From our river crossing at the bottom of the bridge we climbed up to Lower Sinuwa for a two hour leisurely lunch. We were sat in the garden with fine views back over to Chhomrong and entertained by a passing mule train.
After lunch we had only an hour to go Sinuwa itself passing an interesting sign marking the entrance to the sacred Annapurna region (see photo)
Sinuwa itself was even more basic than our previous accommodation but it did have the distinction of having beehives over the toilets.(see photo). They also served the best Dal Bhat todate.
We arrived at chaotic Kathmandu airport via a seven hour flight from Manchester to Doha, five hours at Doha airport and a five hour onward flight. As instructed we headed out of the airport hoping to find our greeter. Luckily we soon saw him waving to us as he had spotted our bright red Mountain Kingdom kit bags. Kim and his driver took us to our hotel the Shangri-La. He told us that due to a festival Kathmandu was quiet. You could have fooled us!!!
Once the formalities were completed at the hotel we had a few hours to kill before meeting our fellow trekkers. So we did what every sane person would do and headed downtown to find the famous trekkers bar Rum Doodle in the Thamel district. The twenty minute walk was an experience, dust, hot sun, mopeds, way over crowded busses, horns and more dust. Quite a culture shock!
We ordered a beer each and were served with two 680ml bottles of 7% Nepal Ice Strong. Better just have the one after not sleeping for 24 hours.
So back for the welcome meeting. We met the other seven trekkers. Unfortunately it became obvious over the next few days that one of our group wanted to be on his own so we soon became 8+1. The eight of us got on really well. Apart from Sian and I the others were husband and wife Rich and Clare, father and son Kit and Tom and father and son Tony and Peter. The important news was we had to have breakfast at 6.00 for an early flight to Pokhara. The flight, apart from a one hour delay was uneventful with everyone straining for views of the Annapurna Range.
We were met at the airport by our guides and porters, loaded up into a bus and set off through the dusty streets of Pokhara for about a half hour drive to Phedi.
The trek starts, as it means to go on, with a steep path…or should I say steep steps. Every so often a step had a number chalked on it. Shortly after step 1111, we stopped for a well deserved break at small tea house. In the heat cold bottles of sprite and fanta were most welcome. We had a superb view back down the valley.
A short further steep climb brought us to Dhampus and lunch.
After lunch the walking was much easier, and as is normal the clouds came in obscuring any view, still at least there was no rain.
So by mid afternoon we arrived at our first overnight stop at Pothana, a small collection of tea houses. Our rooms were small and basic. Two beds and one light. The good news was that the toilets were “European” as the Nepalis advertise them. Below are a few photos of the village. Click on an image to view larger.