Saturday, October 27, 2007

After a 7 hour bus ride I got out of the Kathmandu valley and over to Pokhara. Here is a tourist town built on the lake. We took a trip up to the World Peace Pagoda, situated high on a hill on the opposite side of the lake, with nice views across. Then a row boat back into town. However, the real reason to be here was to get the bus to Besisahar, the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit. We ended up getting cramming into the back of a jeep to follow a bumpy road down part of the way. Managed to get seven people in the back seat, okay two Nepalis were hanging on either door outside!
Finally it was time to start walking, just one hour on we reached our first village, Ngadi. Here we found some simple accommodation, and some food. Later that night a band of villagers appeared to entertain us with their music and dancing, before soliciting donations to their funds. The next days we steadily ascend. After 5 days we reached Upper Pisang at a height of 3400m. The night however would bring snow, and fall steadily throughout the day. Undeterred we set out for Manang around 4 hours away. We trudged onwards, stopping for some tea after an hour or so into the journey. The problem with this is when you stop moving you realise how could you are! So we headed on cancelling the soup, just wanted to keep moving. Eventually we arrived at Manang and hunted down a place to stay, Mavis's. Here they had an indoor heater, a luxury! The next day it was a 1 hour climb upto a stupa nearby for an acclimatization climb. At this altitude the oxygen is thinner and people can be affected by altitude sickness. This isn't determined by genetics, so it is a bit of an unknown factor, fitness plays no role in it. Yet it is still a long climb to the top. I have a rest day in Manang, while others head off on a day long walk to the ice lake. The next day we ascend another 700m to Letdar (4200m). The sky is an amazing blue, the mountains coated in fresh white snow, stretching around forming a panorama. The Annapurnas is mountain scenery on a truly epic scale, with six peaks over 7200m, and in Annapurna I, one of only 10 peaks in the world over 8000m. However they are also some of the worlds most deadly to summit, with a fatality rate of 40%, so I was happy to stick to the trek.

The next day it was onto Thorung Phedi, and then after a cup of tea. We pushed onto High Camp, up a very steep track. Almost an hour of huffing, puffing and shuffling we arrived at the final stop before the pass at Thorung La. High camp has a heated glass restaurant to view back down into the valley below. But tomorrow comes the big day, the day which has taken a week of walking to get to, the Thorung pass lies ahead. After a cold, somewhat restless sleep. It was up at 5:00 for some brekky, and off at first light. First the icy narrow path had a steep snow-covered dropoff. Don't want to fall down there! Then it was slow and steady towards the pass. The wind steadily increased, the nearer we got. One false summit was disappointing and energy sapping, but plugging away we finally made it to the pass! At 5400m is a huge evelation (17716 feet), to put it in comparison - the summit of Mount Blanc is 4808m, Ben Nevis 1344m.

Also very cold with the wind howling! Thankfully there is a little tea hut up there to celebrate with a cup of black tea for 80 rupees. And a fantastic tasting snickers, went down very nicely. But back in the wind, the trek isn't even half done, for despite ascended around 1000m, we now have to descend 1600m down the other side. I zipped down as fast as possible to escape the biting winds. After a while, they eased but still a long long way down to go till the first village of Mukinath. Still everybody arrived safely and it was time for a well earned beer in the sun! The party continued through the night, thanks to the fact the Nepalis wanted to play pool for beer :)

Another long descent brought us to Kagbeni for the much anticipated trip to YakDonalds! Rather disappointing though as the burger was tiny :( Still a nice little traditional village. We took an accidental illegal trip into Upper Mustang, only when we returned did we realise that we weren't allowed out there without paying the 700$ for 10 day permit :o

Then a long flat walk to Kalopani, where I picked up a stomach bug and spent the night clutching my stomach, which was making crazy noises. Still, surprisingly after 12 hours I recovered to walk onto Tatopani, but then my leg got sore (shinsplints?)
And I hobbled my way the final distance. Some were continuing on to do the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, but for me the trek was over. One final two hour walk with Steve, then a 2 hour jeep ride, and a 5 hour roof-top ride on the bus and I was back in civilization! Well Pokhara anyway, which has steak restaurants! I order the fillet mignon and got two steaks! I like this restaurant. So now just a bit of R&R in Pokhara, and some pigging out :) Well I did drop two belt buckle-holes, so I deserve my Pringles!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Dropped down into the Kathmandu valley and through immigration, change some money and find a taxi to take me to a guesthouse. One guy to drive the taxi and one other to try and talk me into going to his favoured guesthouse. Anyway got a bed in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. Full of restaurants, bars, trekking shops, souvenirs, tiger balm salesmen, rickshaws, taxis and tourists.

I had a look at Durbar square, the main square here full of temples. Here resides the Kumari, a young girl picked as a Goddess who makes rare public appearances. After becoming a woman she reverts to being a mere mortal and new Kumari must be found. The occasional cow wanders past among the pagodas and ad hoc markets. Nepal is 80% Hindu but also where the Buddha achieved enlightenment in Lumbini.

Another day I headed over to Patan which has a similar arrangement. This time however a festival was underway. A small group of men banged at their drums, others played their long horns, creating a sound like a train horn. Following behind in single file were most of the villages woman, hundreds if not thousands were dressed up in their Sunday best, some carrying offerings held in tiffins. Grouped in colour, the line stretched on through the backstreets. I ate my thukpa while watching the going ons.
They proceeded into a temple, but here some temple are only opened to Hindus, so I don't know what goes on inside and then they pop out the front door and disperse amongst the square. Elsewhere is Patan I stumbled across a busy market street, where people hawked their goods to the masses. I then bartered with the taxi driver to go back to the guesthouse, in theory you can use the meter but with the traffic jams and them driving round in circle I found settling on a price beforehand a safer bet!

Next I went to the hard to pronounce town of Pashupatinath. Here is a holy Hindu town where people are cremated on the riverside ghats. Each caste has their own space for cremation. A cremation was taking place when I arrived, didn't really want to intrude, despite some latched-on guide saying "Photos OK!". I shook him off and headed across the river. Here the members of the Royal family were cremated after the massacre.

Continuing on up the hill I passed through a small village, here you can see how things are very basic. However little kids are smartly turned out in their uniforms with oversized ID cards dangling round there necks. After a while I arrive at Bodnath to see the huge stupa here. Walking in you can see everybody walking round it clockwise. You can climb up the steps onto the base, as the prayer flags flutter in the wind and the gild reflects the sunlight. However the mould also slowly grows over the whitewash walls, changing them white to green.

The next stop is to the quieter town of Pokhara with it's large lake. I met up with Barry and we shall soon tackle the Annapurna's. But first we headed up to the World Peace Pagoda with a good view back across the lake and nice views of the town. Unfortunately cloudy and so views of the Himalayas in the background are nonexistent except for tantalizing glimpses in the early morning. Tomorrow we head for Besishar for the start of the trek and then it will be up, up and up for the long walk round the circuit and then the sanctuary trek to the centre and back. See ya in a month!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

End of the ride

After Uttaradit I continued south to the little town of Pichai, where I searched around for somewhere to sleep. Found one grotty place about 7km outside town, with a foaming guard dog on a chain, decided to head in to town proper, where I found pretty much the only hotel, which was charging 500 baht for a room situated beside a road where trucks rumble past. Had a look around town, main centre seems to be some small supermarket type shops. Find a restaurant and order the old standby or chicken fried rice. I can almost read some Thai menus now, although painfully slowly! I decided to have a beer to help me sleep so popped along to the karoke bar next door, where some drunk Thai guys were wailing into a microphone. Then they all clambered onto a flat-bed truck/tractor and went singing into the night. Time to retire and get an early start for the ride to Phitsanulok tomorrow.
I set off at dawn and managed to pick out the correct minor roads to meet up with a highway. Sometime the minor roads are better as they are quiet traffic wise, but the downside is they aren't maintained to the same standards. So I navigated along a potholed road, rolling through little villages, getting a few wide-eyed looks, farang!

With 25km to go I stopped off for some breakfast and some rehydration. Feeling tired but push on, turns into a slog although the road is flat. I take a wrong turn as I reach Phitsanulok adding more distance, although I'm trundling along in first gear by now. I spot a large building straight in the distance which looks like a hotel and continue slowly towards, only 2km away but seems to not be getting any closer. Anyway eventually I arrive and it's pricy but I check in, order a steak sandwich via room service (which didn't last long) and crawl into bed. I wake up about dinner time :) Have some food and retire to watch a movie, today was a real struggle on the bike, the next day reveals why. I move round the block to a cheapy hotel, when I pull my bike out, I notice the rear brake block is rubbing againt the rim, hmmm. I suspect I cycled the last 25km like this, as the rubber is worn down on one side quite a bit.

Quite a big place Phitsanulok, I went for a walk and came across the local wat/market/construction site. Don't think I'll be eating here as dust fills the air. I walk through the middle of the city and a Thai woman in front of me screams at the top of her voice. I had almost stepped on a snake! It slithered off into the bushes, probably over a metre in length.

Then I took the easy way back to Chiang Mai, hopping on the train. Although I could only get the sleeper train due to my freight (i.e. the bike) The train meanders alongs through the night, eventaully getting into Chiang Mai after ten hours or so. Returning somewhere you know is so much easier, I jump on my bike and take the short ride into town, as new arrivals haggle with tuk-tuk drivers. Soon back in town and I sell my bike, buy some shoes, zip down to Bangkok and fly past Everest and down into the Kathmandu valley!