We've been and come back!

Trip Start Oct 20, 2012
Trip End Nov 12, 2012

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London-Delhi-Kathmandu-Annapurna trail-Chulu West-Pokhara-Kathmandu-Delhi-London-Home!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Well we've been to Nepal and come back, just about in one piece. Due to technical difficulties-we were in the Himalayas!-I've been unable to publish any blogs whilst we were away. Hence the entire blog will be written in one go. If you are interested in the photos but not in the text bit then there are a large number of photos at the end to bore yourselves with!
We left London on the 20th October. We flew to Kathmandu via Delhi. There was a last minute rush to get an Indian transit visa which we were unaware we had to have to pass through Delhi airport. Only luck saved us, as Pete read in the news paper the week before that we would have been sent home if we didn't have one! You cannot get one on arrival, so this meant a frantic week of sending our passports by courier to the Indian consulate in London and paying someone to sort things out for us. After spending seemingly endless hours in New Delhi airport, we flew to Kathmandu and arrived on the 21st.
The city is poorly developed by Western standards. The roads are very poor-rutted and chaotic which means travel around the city is haphazard and eventful. Animals roam the streets. Mangy dogs and random cows wandering aimlessly. There is very little for them to eat so they dine on any rubbish which is lying around. There are goats aplenty-tied to stalls or led around the streets on leads. One in particular kept us awake as it bleated constantly outside our hotel room. People traded in chickens and ducks which are carried around in baskets or have their feet tied and carried by hand.
Polution is high and the city has a definite pungent odour.
Electrical power is intermitant to say the least and there were numerous power cuts during the entire trip. Wiring and power cables are not exactly up to western standards!
We spent the second day sight seeing and shopping. There are a huge number of climbing and outdoor shops selling knock-off gear. Some of it very good and all of it much cheaper than here.
We visited Durbar square which houses the Royal palace of Patan and numerous Hindu temples. At one point we witnessed a chicken being sacrifised by a small shrine.
We took a taxi to Bodhnath-a Buddhist Gompa. Taxi rides are not for the faint hearted. The roads are riddled with potholes, some the size of craters. Vehicles are not exactly in great shape and our taxi driver struggled to get up one slope. The engine stalled. Not to worry though-we freewheeled back down the slope, he managed to restart it and then make a rush up the hill ignoring all other traffic until we got to the top!
On the way back we were stopped by a policeman. Time for a telling off and a ticket for having a poorly maintained vehicle, or so we thought. Actually he just wanted a ride back into the city at our expense. He didn't even thank us!
The next day we took a jeep ride to the start of the trek in Bhulbhule(840m). Like kathmandu, the roads outside the city are equally awful, and this was the main commerce route from Kathmandu to India! Potholes, landslides and abandoned vehicles abound. The ride was like something out of deathrace, our driver playing chicken with oncoming buses and lorries, but we arrived in one peice.
As the name suggests the Annapurna trail is a circuitous trek around the annapurna range of mountains to the north west of Kathmandu. Our objective was to trek for several days gradually gaining height until we made an attempt to climb a mountain called Chulu West(6419m) just off  the northeastern part of the trail. We would stay in tea houses(guest houses) on the way and then on the mountain we would be camping. After the climb, we were to continue on the trail over the Thorung La(highest pass at 5416m) and onto Jomsom where we were to fly to Pokhara for the last day or so and then fly home.
We were well looked after by a team of Nepalese Sherpas. Our guide was Dorjee Lama Sherpa. Having summited Everest 8 times, he was suitably over qualified!. Sirdar and cook Pasang Sherpa. Our porters, all students in Kathmandu, were Ngima Sherpa, Sherpa Bg and Karma Rinjee Sherpa. Karma and Bg have a cheese making business and Karma is studying maths and hopes to be a maths teacher.
Day 1:Bhulbhule-Bahundanda(1310m)
This was a few hours of gentle uphill trekking where we staying in the Hotel superb view and ate at the top of the town restaurant! The tea houses all have superlative names, some imaginative and some downright odd. We sampled out first Nepalese spring roll here and suitably impressed they became almost part of our daily diet. It was at this point that we realised there would be little or no internet connections and I had no mobile coverage although Pete did for most of the trip, much to his ammusement.
Day 2:Bahundanda-Chyamche(1430m)
Another easy day. We were joined by 2 Europeans who had been trying to climb a 7000m peak but had given up after reaching base camp and being unable to acclimatise. They struggled with the cold, and as was to prove to be the case, it was unseasonably cold higher up. One of them had developed a cough which meant she sounded like gollum every time she tried to talk. Were woken up in the night by the cries of a jackael.

Day 3:Chyamche-Darapani(1910m)
We continued to trek up Marsyangdi Nadi river valley. The vegetation remains lush and there still was no sign of snow covered peaks. Many of the villages showed signs of recent investment, with new paths laid and new houses. There ios also a new road which stretches as far as Chame which is some distance up the trail. We passed numerous fields of marijuana. These are natural and no attempt is made to destroy them as they just regrow! Kathmandu was a big draw for hippies in the 60's and 70's, smoking copious amounts of hash probably harvested from these very fields.They even had a street named after them-Freak Street!

Day 4:Darapani-Chame(2670m)
More of a climb today. Our porters continue to carry huge weights of 45-50kg each. Ngima is the smallest and seems to struggle the most but it's all relative. We couldn't carry that amount of weight and definitely not at the increasing altitudes .
We pass traditional villages which use oxen to plough the fields and where conditions are relatively basic. However everybody we meet on the trail seems happy, cheerful and friendly.

Day 5:Chame-Lower Pisang(3200m)
The altitude is ramping up now and you can tell, with a little more breathlessness when exercising.However neither of us is struggling with anything. We visit Upper Pisang and a 500yo monastry there, and catch our first sight of the Chulu range as the summit of Chulu central appears above the monastry. We're both given "neclaces" blessed by the head monk.
  We are starting to see snow covered peaks now. We saw Manaslu on the trek up here, and now we are below Annapurna 2 on the left of the trail, and Pisang peak on the right.
  We had a choice of rooms at the tea house and Pete gave me the decision on which to take-I chose one with a view of Pisang peak, next to the kitchen. It seemed like a good idea, until during the night we were joined by some friends which seemed to be attracted by out proximity to the kitchen-had a less than peaceful night listening to rats scuttling around and squeaking above, around and below us! 
 We spent the evening watching dvds-Into Thin Air and Touching the Void. Both are about climbing disasters so perhaps not the best things to watch in view of what was ahead!

Day 6:Lower Pisang -Manang(3540m)
A fairly uneventful day. The terrain has changed dramtically and we are now on verry dry and arid ground. Gone is the greenery and also the heat. During the day, in the sun, is warm but as soon as the sun disappears the temperatures plummit. This was only yo get worse the higher we go.

Day 7:Manang
Rest day. We did a short acclimatisation climb-up 300m and saw Chulu West for the first time. The altitude is beginning to tell, as we get more breathless when we walk. We had lots of time on our hands so for the first time I have time to think of the task ahead and worry about the altitude-only 2900m to go!
We decided to start taking diamox. Its a diuretic which supposedly reduces the effects of altitude. The problem with it is that you have to drink lots of fluids. It is necessary to drink more anyway due to the altitude-dehydration is a real problem partly due to the dryness of the air. Taking diamox means that you urinate more, which inevitably means frequent visits to the loo especially duing the night, which is no fun in the cold.

Day 8:Manang-Letdar(4200m)
We are starting to see our objective and have a great view of Chulu West from out tea house. We go a further 300m up from out tea house to help with acclimatisation. The mantra is to climb high and sleep low! It's cold up here. We speak to some people who have given up on walking and are riding ponies to the high point of the Annapurna circuit.
There are many more Yaks at this altitude for some reason. People use yak dung as a heating source. Some poor sods have the task of collecting this on a daily basis. It is left out in the sun to dry and then used as fuel to heat and cook. It doesn't actually smell when it burns and works quite well!

Day 9:Letdar-Base camp(4800m)
A relatively big height gain considering the altitude. We are now sleeping in tents. This means our late night sorties for a piss are less pleasant. It's really cold, but however much I try to last the night without peeing, it cannot be done! The thought of leaving the tent and the warmth of my sleeping bag is not a good one.
After this evenings pee we are both woken by a very loud roar. It is unmistakenly that of a large cat. on talking to dorjee the next day, the only thing it could have been was a Snow Leopard. They are incredibly rare. Very few people have ever seen one so it was quite something to hear one at least.
Pete seems to be struggling a little more with the altitude and is constantly tired and has the occasional headache.

Day 10:Base camp and acclimatisation climb to 5240m
The climb was straight up a steep scree slope. No fun at the best of times, but much harded due to the height. Base camp is approximately at the height of Mont Blanc-highest peak in the western alps, so it gives some idea of how high we are. Pete again struggles a bit more than me and appears to be having some problems acclimatising. It's nothing to do with fitness-just how it goes sometimes. We come back down to base camp to sleep.

Day 11:Base camp-high camp(5400m)
Back up the dreaded scree slop and then onto the rock band. The climbing here wasn't as technically hard as we thought it would be, but in view of the altitude it did make it physically a bit harded! There is approximately 200m of scrambling and 2 very short pitches of low grade rock climbing before we reaches snow and ice and our high camp on the edge of a glacier. Tomorrow would be summit day, which is a 1000m height gain all across glacier and snow and ice.
It was at high cam that we had confirnmation that it definitely was a snow leopard that we heard as we find numerous snow leopard tracks where we are camping. Sadly, we never saw it!
I feel relatively ok but Pete appears to be struggling a bit more.
My late night piss is greeted by the most amazing starry sky I've ever seen. Imagine looking at out night sky here and multiplying the number of stars 10 fold. I've never seen so many.

Day 12:Summit day
We get up at 1.30 after a very cold night. Pete has a headache. I manage to bolt down some stodgy soup made by Pasang. Pete can't eat and is unsure about continuing. The altitude is telling. I put my crampons back to front and even manage to argue with Dorjee about it. He was right, I was wrong but can't work out how I've done it!
Pete decides to try to summit and we set off at 3am.
It was hard. There are 2 relatively steep ice/snow slopes to negotiate and the second one appears incredibly steep and at the top of it we are both gasping.Pete however is struggling to recover from the exersions. Our pace slows down, with Pete gasping and coughing after every 10 paces. My feet start to get cold and cannot feel my toes-not unusual for me.
We continue our slow stop/start progress to about 5800m. There is still a long way to go and Pete is really struggling. I'm tired and cold. He doesn't want to give up and in his eyes let me down, but it is evident that summiting is going to be almost impossible. After some debate we decide to descend at which point Pete starts vomitting. He hasn't eaten and doesn't want to drink. He has acute mountain sickness and descending is now the only option.
This took a long time. Pete's coordination had gone and we had to keep the pace slow to avoid accidents.
We descended all the way down to Letdar over the day by whch time Pete started to feel better. My toes however did now and several were still very cold. I lost feeling in several. The circulation improved but it was days before I could feel any heat in them. As I write this now, several toes remain numb and I continue to get some pain in them. I suspect frost nip.

Day 13:Letdar-Thorung high camp(4900m)
No rest for the wicked. I can walk ok as I canot feel my toes! The idea was to trek to Thorung Phedibefore going over the Thorung la(pass) the next day. This is the high point of the annapurna circuit at (5416m). Base camp however was rammed with people so we had to trek higher to the high camp where we got great views of Chulu west.

Day 14:Thorung high camp-Thorung la(5416m)-Muktinath(3760m)
Another early start(4am) to miss the crowds and up and over the pass and down to Muktinath. We reached the pass at dawn, frozen but were the only ones there. Then came to long descent down into Muktinath. My feet were ok as I couldn't feel them but Pete's toes are mess with loss of nails imminant!

Day 15:Muktinath
A rest day and chance to have a beer or 2. We watch as women weave scarves and hats on and old hand loom. Muktinath is a very holy place for both Hindus and Buddhists alike. There are natural springs which is regarded as holy water. We visit a temple in which there is an eternal flame-supplied with natural gas from the ground.
For out Npalese friends, this is a special day and people come from all over the world to visit. In Nepla there is a great deal of religious tolerance. Hindism and Buddhism are very compatible religions anyway. Perhaps the rest of the world could take note that religions can coexist in peace!

Day 16:Muktinath-Jomsom
We continue the trek down to Jomsom where we are due to take a flight tomorrow to Pokhara for the last stage of out trip. We are now following the course of the kali Gandaki river. The river bed is famous for it's fossils. Nepal was once under the sea! These fossils are caled shaligras and are regarded as holy relics in the region.
The trek proves to be a tedious one into the wind and dust in what continues to be very arid land. There is very little vegetaion for animals to eats. We were greeted with the sight in Jomsom, of a pony walking into a shop, only to reappear secnds later being chased by the owner. It had its prize however,as it wandered off down the main street with an apple in its mouth.

Day 17: Jomsom-Pokhara
Our flight was at 8.30 am and we had checked in and out baggage ready to load on out tiny plane. Wikipedia declares Jomsom airport as the most dangerous in the world-very reassuring. My luggage is searched and the guard wants to know what my crampons are! It's the himalayas-surely other people have them!
After waiting for an hour our plane hasn't appeared and are then informed that there will be no more flights that day. The next day is booked up so we have to go to Pokhara by land. The flight was 40 minutes. As we were to find out, it was a bit longer by land!
Lickily Dorjee was still in Jomsom and we took a bus for the initial part of out trip. Local buses are not comfortable. Made in India(Tata) they are cramp and ramshackle. The roads as we were to discover were the worst yet. 3 hours later having banged my head off the luggage and the windows several times, a sore back and knackered knees, we arrive in Ghasa-1/3 of the way there. The idea was that we'd take a bus to the next port-Beni and then a further bus to Pokhara.
However there were no buses in Ghasa, at least not to 5 in the afternoon. So along with another guide and his clients, we ordered a jeep ride. 2hours later the jeep appeared-the driver had been having a kip.
Now,the driver of the bus looked about 16. Our jeep driver looked about 12. I have never been on a more arduous ride in my life. i have no idea hw many bits of my anatomy were bruised by the end of this. It was probably very good for my core strength as we were thrown from pillar to post for a further 3 hours. I have a theory as to the age of these drivers-they don't live for very long!
We reached Beni and again there were no buses. Even Dorjee had had enough by this point so we took a taxi for the last leg and arrived in Pokhara at 9pm-bollocksed.

Last day in Pokhara
We spent it dong a bit of shopping. Pokhara is much more relaxed than anywhere else in Nepal and is quite touristy. I had my first hot shower in 3 weeks.
In the afternoon we went paragliding-what a great experience but no pictures sadly!

The end of an incredible trip.As were about to board our ( late) flight from Pokhara, I looked back at the Annapurna range which loom above the town. There was a lot of low cloud but despite that, the sacred mountain of Machhapuchhre rose above the cloud as if reaching to heaven. It was my last vision before heading home.

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Gill on

You both deserve a medal - what an adventure! Bet it was good to get back in a nice warm comfy bed again. The pain was worth the gain though. x

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