Week one: 17th September – 23rd September 2014.
These are going to be crazy long posts, even after I split it into three weekly segments. Everything is written up from my handwritten journal notes that I made as we were going. When I was planning the trek, other blogs were invaluable for getting an idea of times and costs so I’ve included these details for anyone who is considering doing the AC trek in the near future (once all routes are once again clear). Rob and I spent under our budget of R3000 a day, which included all meals and rooms for the two of us. As we were in a small group, most places offered us rooms at free-R150 per room, but advertised costs of between R100-R500 for a double room. Our jeep was booked through our hotel and cost R14000 between Kathmandu and Bhulbhule, although there were plenty of cheaper options to get to Besi Sahar.
Day 1: Kathmandu (jeep) – Bhulbhule (840m) – Ngadi (860m)
Walked = 2.5 miles, 1 hour
Stayed = Ngadi, Hotel Superview
At 6.30 we had eaten breakfast already and were off through the sleepy Thamel streets, up over the valley walls and away towards the mountains. Of course, before we could even see the mountains we had to pull the jeep over, rearrange seats (Sarah and I were feeling ill) and all take super-strength travel sickness tablets from Katie. Most of us managed to sleep (not me), and no one vomited – I’d call that a success.
We arrived in time for lunch, which we had after crossing our first bridge into Bhulbhule.
Another one hours walking took us past construction work and massive sand/mud piles to Ngadi, a small cluster of buildings on the side of a dirt road. By this stage I was finally feeling sleepy and struggling with the heat and weight of my bag (already! not a good sign, although it is 14kg which is about 13kg more than I am used to carrying!), and Matt was throwing up his lunch in the bushes, having accidentally eaten nuts (allergic, but thankfully not severely).
We decided to stay put and rest ready for our first proper day of walking in the morning. The view from our first tea house is indeed super, we can see the teeny tiny mountains that we will be in the middle of in a week or so.
Day 2: Ngadi (860m) – Bahundanda (1310m) – Ghermu/Syange (1130m)
Walked = 9.3 miles, 6 1/2 hours
Stayed = Ghermu, Rainbow Hotel
Today was a lot harder than I was expecting. The weight of my bag is causing me a lot of pain and slowing me down, especially on the hills. This is causing me all kinds of anxiety about the next few weeks; I didn’t expect it to be so hard early on. What will it be like when we’re climbing more than 450m and at a decent altitude? At least it will be cooler higher up; we are all struggling to drink enough to compensate for the heat.
The path is beautiful – that helps. We have walked through bright green rice fields, up and down stone stone staircases, through more waterfalls and streams than I can remember.
We are happy, full of Dal Bhat and falling asleep to the sound of a 150m waterfall right outside our bedroom windows.
Day 3: Ghermu (1130m) – Jagat (1300m) – Chamje (1430m)
Walked = 6.8 miles, 4 1/2 hours
Stayed = Chamje, Tibet Lhasa Guest House
Each day is tougher than the last, but I’m getting used to the hardness of it. My legs ache and I have been hot and slow all day but I got here and I feel good for it now.
Last night our tea house was shaken by the loudest, craziest thunder storm I have ever experienced, and we all woke this morning a little bleary eyed. After sharing a pot of Masala Tea, we set off towards our first stop, Jagat.
The heat was relentless in the morning, and there was virtually no shade on our side of the valley. Rob and I took lots of breaks when we could find shelter on the steep zig-zag up. Eventually, we met the others in Jagat for an early lunch. The rest of the walk to Chamje was hot but beautiful which helps to distract us.
Our teahouse in Chamje is great, and we have taken over the upper floor for drying washing and reading and writing up our days.
Day 4: Chamje (1430m) – Tal (1700m) – Dharapani (1860m)
Walked = 10.3 miles, 7 hours
Stayed = Dharapani, brand new guesthouse, no name yet!
This morning was amazing. It was chucking it down with rain when we woke, and we walked together through streams, fields of weed, up waterfalls. We saw clouds forming in the mists of the violent river below us, before being dragged up by the mountains. I finally felt like I was able to keep up, even on the up stretches and we reached Tal on a high. We had a great lunch and counted leeches (Matt probably won even though he couldn’t find any, but his boots were full of blood).
After lunch the sun came out and we were back on the road, and it was harder than ever before. Rob and I lost sight of the others and we struggled after getting soaked crossing waterfalls, wading up to my waist in my case. Feeling wet and cold and sick, we actually managed to arrive in Dharapani under our target time. What we didn’t realise was that there were three parts to the town, and the others had gone on to find a room in the furthest part of the town. By the time we got there I was hurting and shivering and feeling ill, and went to straight to bed until the morning (making a brief but unsuccessful appearance at dinner). Rob and the others decided that our next day should be split into two, giving me a chance to recover before we got to the impressive altitudes.
Day 5: Dharapani (1860m) – Danakyu (2190) – Timang (2750m)
Walked = 6.7 miles, 5 hours
Stayed = Temang, Oasis Guest House
Today was so much better, and hopefully not just because of the Indian Cold and Flu medicine I am now taking! We took the NATT route across a rope bridge to Thoche, through overgrown fields, carving out the outline of a trail with our boots and walking poles. We had a great brunch stop in Danakyu, after which I spied a giant prayer wheel, which I gave a turn to give us all the luck we could get for the crazy-steep ascent to Timang.
Rob, Katie and I walked together for this fun bit of up, and made a game out of walking to the next rock, cow, corner, stump. It was simple but made the climb much more manageable. We found another companion for the walk, an Indian teacher who (I only found out afterwards) Rob thought wanted to kidnap me. He rather mysteriously disappeared around a corner, into what Sarah and I thought looked like a magical fairy-tale forest.
We walked up into, and then finally through the clouds. Matt and Sarah (being crazy speed demons at every up stretch) had already found our hotel for the night, chosen for its pinkness, and walked back to the start of the town to meet us.
As we came over the final hill, the clouds parted for a moment and we saw our first in-your-face mountain. Or, as Sarah has now decided, wowntain.
Day 6: Timang (2750m) – Chame (2670m)
Walked = 6.7 miles, 3.5 hrs
Stayed = Chame, New Tibet Hotel
Not long after we woke up, the clouds started to part and revealed the actual (not the teeny one we had seen yesterday) white capped giant wowntain, Manaslu.
Sarah and I ordered tea, which we drank on the terrace and watched the sunrise over the Himalayas. A yoga-trek group had arrived after us and were providing further entertainment with their nose-rubbing morning routine. I have nothing against yoga, or trekking with a full cohort of porters, (porters who carry every toiletry item you are unlikely to need in the mountains), but the whole situation was just hilarious in its surreality.
We set off once the sun was up for Chame. It was another mini-day and we were there by lunchtime. On our way, we had amazing views over the pine forests and across the valley to the absolutely huge white-peaked mountains.
After lunch and washing lots of pants, we enjoyed a restful afternoon, which will hopefully help with tomorrow’s long day to Pisang. Sarah and I wandered into the village and met a Portuguese trekker, who (small world moment) now lives in my home town.
We ended our peaceful day in the the usual way now; some reading, lots of tea, Dal Bhat and cards before early bedtimes. Everything aches but I am finally getting into the swing of things.
Day 7: Chame (2670m) – Bhratang (2850m) – Upper Pisang (3300m)
Walked = 9.8 miles, 5.5 hrs
Stayed = Upper Pisang, can’t remember name – it was pink!
We set off early, walking through the forest as the locals raced horses up and down the road. In Bhratang a new(old) settlement was being built, machines were levelling the earth to make way for more orchards. We had our best meal so far, noodles and apple pie, whilst chatting to a proper British Adventurer and his Nepali friend about their trip over Tilicho.
Walking on to Dhukur Pokhari was tough; the road carved straight out of the cliff-face. At Swarga Dwari (Gateway to Heaven), a massive sweeping rock face curves around towards Pisang.
We walked through another magical ‘fairy’ forest, complete with a hidden shrine.
The final stretch dropped us down into a wide valley of fields, before steadily climbing up to the pinkest hotel we have stayed at so far. There are amazing views of Annapurna II, the biggest, scariest wowntain we have seen so far.
Sarah and I enjoyed eating ‘kwality ‘ biscuits with our tea and resting achy legs, while the boys explored the monastery that overlooked the valley. We are now above 3000m and the ‘real’ mountain trek can begin.
Just to reassure everyone checking that we are safe in Kathmandu right now. We had an amazing 23 days in the Annapurna region, going over the Thorung La Pass two weeks ago, and completing our trek on the 9th Oct. We were on our way between Pokhara and Kathmandu when the cyclone hit, well away from the dangerous areas.
If anyone ends up on here searching for more information about missing trekkers please check out the following websites which have the most up-to-date information about those missing, awaiting rescue or evacuated.
The trek was an amazing experience for us, something still fresh in our minds, and it’s just so sad to be able to picture the locations where so many people have died as a result of the blizzard and avalanches. I am in the process of sorting through our photos of the trek, but struggling to write much about it in light of the current news. Perhaps next week it will be a bit easier.
Before Nim left us to go back to the UK, we made sure we had a second trip to Patan for her to spend some more time with friends there, and for the us all to explore the historical area of the Kathmandu Valley’s other city.
We followed the Lonely Planet’s ‘backstreets of Patan’ tour, from the city gate to Durbar Square. These winding streets were different again the the hubbub of Kathmandu, and the touristy feel of Bhaktaphur. These streets were where regular Nepali life was taking place. These were the streets where mini-Rob had cycled around when he used to live here.
A highlight was the self-explanatory Golden Temple, where slightly creepy brass monkeys watched us walk around the central shrine and investigate hidden courtyards and balconies.
A little further, we got chatting to a sixth generation Thangka artist, who took some time to explain the meaning of some of the mandalas we had admired.
Finally, after a lunch break we split up; Nim and Rob went to visit the Didis, while Sarah and I continued the sightseeing by exploring the maze of backstreets and alleyways.
One of the last tips in the Lonely Planet tour was to visit the temple in honour of the Kumari, the living goddess. After all, the book said, it’s not often you get to take a photo of a sign pointing to a living goddess.Well we got a bit more than that! The central courtyard was deserted; we took a few photos of the sign and were about to go when a man came out and said we were free to go inside as long as we took our shoes off and left a donation. We figured there must be more to take photos of inside so headed in, only to be given a private audience with the Kumari herself. Well, she is actually one of many Kumari. Every city in Nepal seems to have one, but wikipedia assures me that she is the second most holy, and that they only meet with important guests. It is strictly forbidden to take photos of her, but both received a tika blessing, and sat for a moment with her.
It was an amazing but strange experience. Although it seems she lives a very privileged life in Nepali standards, she was very young and it seemed a very lonely place for such a young girl. She will live there though, her feet never touching the floor, until she reaches puberty; paraded and presented for ceremonies. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her.
Sarah and I reunited with Rob and Nim at Durbar Square, for some final sightseeing. By this stage though it was ridiculously hot and a massive storm was clearly rolling in over the hills. Also we had to
escape say goodbye to Sarah’s new best friend, a singing bowl seller who had fallen in love at first sight. He showed off his knowledge of languages (how to say singing bowls in German, Spanish, French and not really Italian), and then listened adoringly as she explained all the reasons she did not need a singing bowl, or a tour guide.
It was a great last day with Nim, and Rob and I will definitely be back after trekking to spend what’s left of our budget.
Nic & Rob
Ever since a doctor recommended I try meditation to reduce stress, after a rubbish year of health, I’ve been practising meditation, following the Tibetan teachings at my local FPMT school. It worked: that was over six years ago and my health has been pretty amazing, largely due to the fact that I just don’t allow myself to get as stressed or anxious any more. That and my amazing husband, who may have asked me to add that.
The home of the FPMT is here in the Kathmandu Valley. Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe founded the school and Kopan Monastery to introduce the Tibetan mediation practises to the influx of westerners to Nepal from the 1970s onwards. It is the birthplace of my calm and I was determined that we would get to visit during this stay in Kathmandu.
The monastery itself is stunning, standing high on a hill above the city. It is like another world; a world without beeping car horns, and pollution and dust. I wasn’t sure what the others would make of it, but I think we all found our calm there.
Although the daily Dharma talks had not yet started up, I was welcomed into Morning Puja with the monks and nuns, which was amazing experience. Outside the gompa, the others were enjoying the monks’ hospitality, and each received a bag stuffed full of edible goodies.
After enjoying the beautiful gardens and views from the cafe, we walked down the valley, towards one of my other favourite places in Kathmandu: Boudhanath. One of the largest Stupas in the world, it is one of the most interesting places (particularly for people watching) on the tourist trail.
Nic & Rob
The adventure continues and Sarah has arrived to join in with the touristing (and eating and sweating). So far we have attended two yoga classes (one of which was not actual yoga, but just some bloke telling us to relax while he made up the next position, air-cycling), two meditations sessions, eaten approximately 400 momos between us, and confused at least eight locals with our attempts at bartering. It is fun.
We got some culture done by heading out of Kathmandu to the ancient city of Bhaktapur, where to our delight, cars are pretty much banned. It’s not so much the constant dodging of vehicles that has got old fast, but the incessant beeping of horns. It was instant calm within the city walls, despite the intense heat.
The city was full of beautiful old temples and palaces, with some stunning viewpoints. We were also lucky again to see yet more noisy dancing in red, courtesy of the Teej celebrations.
As Nim has not that much time left in Nepal, we headed out to Patan to meet up with the Didis and Aama for some Dal Bhat and catch-up. It was lovely to see them again, and they were laughing lots as they reminisced about the mischief Nim and Rob used to get up to as mini-people.
We are also working our way through the restaurants of Thamel – a favourite being New Orleans Cafe on a Wednesday and Saturday when they have life music from Nepali bands. Sarah has a lovely photo of her unwanted cake getting smooshed into my face on her blog.
Nic & Rob