Sanctury Sojorn - packs, paths, peaks and pizza

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Austrailia Camp

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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Factoid: Annapurna is a 55-km-long massif whose highest point, Annapurna I, stands at 8,091 m (26,538 ft), making it the 10th-highest summit in the world. Annapurna is a Sanskrit name which is translated as 'Goddess of the Harvests'.

Abstract: Finally after 12 days and an enjoyable Deepawali festival and not so enjoyable gut infection each, we parted company with Kathmandu bound for Pokara and the Annapurna sanctuary trek. Over the next 12 days we trekked, staying in lodges and carrying only 11kg, to the British 1970 base camp at 4130m. The view in the Sanctuary was stupendous, the most spectacular mountain scenery we had ever seen...

Nitty Gritty
Finally severed the umbilical cord and headed out of Kathmandu on 15 Nov bound for Pokhara, a days bus ride west. We'd managed to while away 12 days in the city
doing, we don't really know what, but definitely recovering from bad chest colds & stomach upsets. We also managed to arrange for all our wedding stationary
to be handmade, caught up with our Aussie mate Dave at the end of his 32 days trek, and saw our very first Bollywood film with Sharukh Khan (swoon swoon) - this was great fun especially as we saw it over the Deepawali festival weekend together with hundreds of
Nepalese and we were the only westerners - luckily there were English subtitles as the plot was more complex than most and G certainly appreciated the wet sari scenes! We were missing Lucy our traveling companion of the last 8 weeks who'd set off to India to meet a friend.

After arriving at the bus station at 6.30am, we waited an hour to be escorted to the bus and found seats on the old cronky bus. We instantly made a friend, an older man who spoke a little English and looked after us for the entire trip. The road between Kathmandu & Pokhara had several military roadblocks to negotiate and was very twisty turny, so we weren't surprised when half the bus started to be sick including the little boy in front of us. Relieving travel sickness by opening all the windows resulted in a bus full of dust and fumes and by the time we reached Pokhara we looked like we'd been down a coal mine and goodnessknows what our lungs must have looked like.

The journey was all very civilized and we stopped morning and afternoon for toilet stops and at lunchtime for a hurried Dhal Bhat (staple Nepalese food of rice, dhal, veg and pickle). At this point there was much activity underneath the bus and our friend explained that the bus needed medicine!

Finally reached Pokhara 7 hours later, tired & dusty and were set upon by a pack of hounds - hotel touts to be more exact. Gave in and went with one to a small hotel over looking a lake from where on a clear day you can see the Annapurna Himalaya, but today there was no view. Ended up moving hotels and sat in bed reading and listening to the 'Best of the Beatles' being played in the café opposite.

After a good Trekkers breakfast we set off in a taxi to Phedi, and the start of what was to be an 12day trek to and from Annapurna Base Camp ,ABC, (site of the 1970 Chris Bonnington summit expedition). Strenuous is an understatement, especially for 2 unfitties who've spent the last 6 months sat on their backsides Landcruisering around Australia. We started at around 1000m and climbed to 4200m, not including all the valleys we crossed in between. We met up with an English girl, Sally and her lovely guide Ram, and two Aussies, Bec & Jake and together we formed the summit team and kept each others spirits up.

From Phedi there was no way to go except up a stone staircase (well there was one other option and that was to get back in the taxi and forget about the whole thing!) and rejecting offers of a porter to carry our bags up the 800m climb we set off - the porters said we could shout to them at any stage on the staircase and they would come gallantly to our rescue! Climbing out of the valley, we passed small villages where the inhabitants were harvesting and their pretty houses were surrounded by marigold bushes - shame it was so cloudy and we couldn't see any mountains. Reached Dhampus after an 800m climb and managed to walk stoically past a group of English trekkers on their way down - only we knew how shattered we were - 800m on a step machine - the makings of butts of steel......

G attracted the attention of 2 sets of children who in separate incidents barred the track and sang at the tops of their voices in the hope that we would give them money or sweets - when we tried to pass, some pinched R which hurt and others rugby tacked G's legs which made progress really slow. They were really cute though and have been irreversibly spoiled by thoughtless trekkers giving them money which perpetuates begging, or worse, sweets which causes their teeth to rot and they have no access to dental services. In SE Asia we saw the effects of this thoughtlessness in kids with rotten teeth and one thing the Nepalese have is the most beautiful white healthy teeth which will be ruined by handing out sweets to them - you don't walk around the Lake District handing out sweets and money to the locals........I'll get off my high horse now!!

After taking a wrong turn we struggled into a lovely lodge called Australia Camp (very strange name) where the family kept Buffalo in a 'buffalo house' and chickens in a 'chicken house' and grew all their own veggies. Their youngest son, an earnest young English speaker, was home from college (he got a scholarship to Pokhara Engineering College) over the festival time and we had an enjoyable evening eating delicious food, drinking butter milk and chatting to him about Nepal,the Maoists, their desire for democracy, the cast system that exists here, and how difficult it is for the family to make ends meet now that tourists are put off coming to Nepal. Interestingly he considered trekking to be safer now as the Maoists have scarred off thieves who used to terrorize many of the villages where trekkers stay.

We awoke to a clearish day and our first views of the Annapurna Himalaya including Machhapachhure a beautiful peak, and had breakfast watching a family of Mongooses play until they were chased off as they tried steal the chickens. Much of the path was paved with loose stone and rocks and we passed villagers walking in the opposite direction carrying huge loads in rattan baskets on their backs, using a wide strap held on their forehead. We also passed and caught up with a lot of fellow trekkers. I'm back on my high horse again - trekking companies in the interest of saving money, hire too few porters so they carry too much stuff - 40kg or more - and it is upsetting to see them struggling with huge bags - 2 or 3 strapped to their backs - what do people bring with them?

Every so often the track would pass through a small village or collection of lodges with immaculate gardens with marigold bushes where the hungry trekker could stop for lunch or give up for the day and find a bed. Those lower down the valleys also had solar showers which were a welcome surprise at the end of a sweaty day of uphill struggle. After the first day we gave up stopping for lunch instead ordering chapattis and boiled eggs at b'fast that we could scoff on the way, otherwise we would get cold from sitting in our sweaty clothes whilst we waited for our food to be cooked and never went as well after we'd stopped.

On the third day, R didn't have enough b'fast and consequently 'hit the wall' on a 400m stone staircase climb and was nearly on her knees by the time we reached Heaven View Lodge just outside the pretty village of Chomrong at 2000m. Luckily the lodge mama was a great cook and sorted us both out with sweet milk tea, mashed potato and cheese and later chips, a mean spaghetti and awesome dhal bhat. We also were in possession of a soaking wet backpack as G's had decided to jump into the river when we stopped for a break - thankfully his sleeping bag was in a bin liner otherwise there would have been tears at bed time. One lodge we passed had a hutch full of snowy white Angorra rabbits which were really furry. At another point of the track we passed a water powered mill where water was used to drive a grinding stone and the motion of the wheel caused grain to pour into a hole on top of the stones at a constant speed and the resultant flower banked up around the mill stones.

Determined not to make the same mistake again, we ate a huge breakfast the following morning and were ecstatic at having an amazingly clear day with dazzling views of the mountains we were struggling towards. From Chomrong village we had to descend to a river (a long way down) and all the way up the other side - Oh for a flying fox slide to save the knees.....Today we met Bec & Jake as we got stuck in the middle of a goat jam on the track. I thought of Andy (R's brother) as there was a small ginger goat who really reminded me of when he was little!!!Not that he looked like a goat of course!!!Once up the other side of the valley the track thankfully traversed through Bamboo forest and moss clad trees and as we were making pretty good time, we pressed on to a little collection of lodges at Dovan at about 2500m. We no longer had the luxury of solar showers and had the coldest wash imaginable in glacial water and gasps came from the bathroom when it was G's turn. Met an older Aussie who introduced us to Nepalese pizzas which were excellent and became the staple of much of the rest of the trek, that and fried potatoes. Each section of the trek had a committee prepared menu so that every lodge within a section of track had the same menu and fixed prices, the prices obviously increasing the closer we got to ABC as mule trains operated to Chomrong but above that all supplies were carried by porters including kerosene for cooking and heating and all food etc. The lodges also had under table heaters with blankets pinned to the edges so you could put the blanket on your lap and your legs under the table to keep warm and then dash into bed before you cooled down too much.

Awoke after a restless night (paper thin walls and those coming back from ABC didn't go to bed as early as those going up (7pm!)) to a cold but brilliantly clear morning. We were now above the general cloud level in the valley and the sky was so blue. The track hugged the valley sides and by now the valley was getting really narrow and after the first snows had fallen 2 days ago, the avalanche detour bridges were in place. G spotted some tiny shrew waffling through the undergrowth, about the same size as a thumb from snout to bum with a little thin tail - very sweet. The track climbed gently and the sun on our backs was nice. The last part was a slog up and then we reached Machhapachhure Base Camp (MBC) at 3700m, a climb today of 1100m and the altitude gain was starting to kick in with cough, labored breathing and slight headache.

That night, the summit team were treated to a wonderful sunset during which Machhapachhure went orange with the moon rising behind it (see photos). It was really cold. We were joined at the lodge by a group of Indians who chain smoked in their rooms resulting in all of our rooms filling with smoke due to all the holes and not the thing you need at altitude, and kept us all awake by emitting various bodily noises throughout the night and moaning and groaning in their sleep. I couldn't sleep with earplugs in, as for some reason it made me feel really claustrophobic. The crescendo of noise climaxed at 4am when their guide banged on their doors awakening the entire lodge clearly to get them up for sunrise, but infuriating the rest of us as they didn't get up until 6am!

Sunrise was beautiful and at 7am G & I pressed on to ABC, 2hours and 500m higher into the Annapurna Sanctuary. It was sunny and wonderfully clear and there was a lot of snow on the track. Were passed by a fury dog, one of many who spends the time escorting trekkers on various sections of the track in the hope of biscuit rewards, we suspect.

The Annapurna Sanctuary as described by Chris Bonnington in his 1970 book 'Annapurna South Face' as "a huge glacier basin, its only exit being Modi Khola, a narrow gorge leading down into the foothills and eventually to the plains of India. It is the most incredible glacier basin in the world. Its entrance is guarded on one side by the towering spire of Machhapuchhare, showing on this flank a sheer rock wall leading up to the summit, and on the other side by Hiunchuli, a 6441m ice peak. From its Christmas-cake summit a razor edged ice ridge curls round the summit of Annapurna South at 7273m. From there the basin is contained by a fluted wall of ice, broken by steep rock buttresses, past Fang (7647m) and on to Annapurna I, whose three huge buttresses dominate the basin. Beyond Annapurna I the wall becomes more broken, with a whole series of subsidiary ridges and peaks jutting into the sanctuary - Glacier Dome, Annapurna III, whence the eastern retaining wall of the Sanctuary curves down to embrace Machhapuchhare. By lunchtime the 360degree view of the peaks had vanished and been replaced by low level cloud and it turned really cold, still we were happy to have seen what we had.'

Amazingly sunrise was clear and we were treated to another awesome view of the mountains and after a hearty breakfast we started the descent to MBC and back down the narrow valley we had struggled up - it was so much easier going down. We made it as far as the lodges at Bamboo approx 2500m so a descent of nearly 2000m and our knees were suffering. We spent the evening in the company of four American evangelical Christian missionaries in their late teens / early twenties who made us all feel very uncomfortable by playing the guitar and singing songs about Jesus the entire evening.... For those of you familiar with the Simpsons, G likened it to an evening with the Flanders!

Shortly after leaving the lodge in the morning, it started raining which we weren't unhappy about as having carried our wet weather gear, we were happy to don it. It did however turn the rest of the day in to one similar to trudging through the Lake District in the pouring rain. We arrived at an abandoned hut to find a huddle of people including our 4 little Christian soldiers and a group of Maltese and Israeli Jews who one of the missionaries was telling stories of enlightenment and trying to convert (more chance with Osama?).

The Maltese / Israelis had gone neo-hippy and wore woolly jumpers and ponchos and were wrapped in blankets and one of their party (who looked like Jesus) had walked to and was walking from ABC barefoot much to the wonder of the Nepalese. He was dressed in flowing robes and carried his belongings on a stick over his shoulder, Dick Whittington style, but had an amazingly flash digital camera. When we later chatted to an Irish guy he reckoned (and told the guy) the only way one would manage the walk barefoot was with half a ton of hash inside you, and we think that was probably the case!!!!Tonight was the last evening together for the summit team and it would be sad to go our separate paths tomorrow.

We awoke in the 'Excellent View' lodge to exactly that (see photos with mountains and flowers), my cameras battery reserve had diminished from seven at the start to the last one, I guess I take too many shots. The total for our travels is now over 20,000, it is going to take quite some time to edit/view/discard them. That should warn off any of you who where thinking of asking to see our 'holiday snaps'. We were slow moving off and said farewell to Sally and Ram from the 'summit team'. We walked with Jake and Bec past the guest house we had stayed at on the way up the 'heaven view', and appropriately enough our christian friends were staying there. Luckily we had decided against going back otherwise I think I would have been driven to use the guitar to give one of them a closer 'heaven view'... On the way we had a half hour climb over a massive landslide, it had taken a strip of land perhaps 700m wide and 900m high, narrowly avoiding a lodge/farm, luckily no one was hurt. We parted company from the J & B and carried on towards Tadapani, we had been warned about the climb ahead and stopped for sustenance at a lodge owned by an ex-gurka solder. His kids where very cute and had the same as us for lunch, I guess its easier to cook up a big vat of potatoes for everyone. They seemed to like trying on G's sunglasses (see photo). Indeed the climb got the better of us, we were feeling lazy anyway and people had told us the 'Mountain Discovery' lodge at Chuile was nice and Tadapani not so much so... Anyway we enjoyed an evening around the fire with the family and a German student who was walking with two Nepalese friends and had covered the distance in one day from the road (normally 13-15 hours walk), still they where young... Half way through dinner the pet parrot walked (!) in and seemed to enjoy sitting on everyone's shoulders...The next days walking was up through a fabulous mossy, green rainforest, we saw more birds than anywhere else in Nepal including a pied Himalayan woodpecker... on the track we passed (in the other direction thankfully) a few groups, two French one Korean amounting to 50 people with typically overloaded porters, pretty disgraceful loads, why do these people need so much junk? Is lipstick and perfume really needed? Three books? Maybe they should be forced to carry there bags uphill for an hour before passing them onto the porters. They would claim it was good employment for unskilled poor people, some would call it exploitation. When we have (rarely) hired porters in the past the maximum load was 20kg (much less in Kalimantan, over more difficult ground admittedly), here their loads seemed in excess of 40kg!!!! We had been told the view from Deurali was as good as the more famous Poon Hill, without the 1.5 hour climb, also some Irish guys had been caught by the Maoists in the hotel at Ghorapani at its foot. This coupled with laziness meant another short day and we stopped at a Tibetan refugees lodge, which had a stove in the small dining/living room. G climbed up the hill and was treated to a good though cloudy view of Dhaulagiri (8167m, see photo).

We awoke at 5.40 excited at the prospect of a great view, and were bitterly disappointed there was cloud=no view. We clambered up the 150m to the viewpoint in the dark anyway and were treated to a nice sunrise (see photo of valley) anyway, but no mountains... At least we had elected to stay at Deurali (3100m) and not go onto Ghorepani and Poon hill where the reward for a 1.5hour climb and no view was a Maoist reception committee and a 1200rupee 'contribution' at gunpoint (we had been warned about this). The people we had met trekking who where unlucky were spitting. As there was no view we got moving early and whizzed through Ghorepani to avoid our Red friends. After walking for about 3 hours, mostly downhill alongside a pretty river we came to a teahouse with a sign saying 'NayaPul 5.5 hours', at this point I think we both made the decision to go for it and try to get back to Pokhara that night. We had a bit of an epic on our hands, the most painful bit was the 3300 stone steps down from Banthanti to Tikedunga, our knees barely took the shock. The valley was very pleasant with lots of fields and buffalos, and a few mule trains to look at. Arriving at NayaPul at about 4.30pm we where confronted with the usual fracas of touts, taxi drivers and shop steward types... We had met up with two German hikers and we had loosely arranged to share a taxi, amidst all the yelling we agreed with one driver for 600rupees but as soon as one of the 'shop stewards' heard about it, he decided it was not enough and started making a fuss... exasperated, Rachel and I just got on the bus (about 1.5 hoursand 50rupees) and left them to it, about 20 minutes from Pokara, the Germans passed us in their taxi, so it must have taken about another 45minutes for them to negotiate their ride. The bus went over the pass as the moon rose over Manasulu (8156m), a beautiful scene and a fitting end to our trek. Arriving (earlier than expected) back in Pokara, we crashed in on the arrangements that our 'summit team' had made much to their surprise, we where well overdue a beer!

We awoke early and got a cronky old Toyota corolla to the bus station via the back streets as the taxi driver seemed intent on 'taking us for a ride' to the tourist park, where he would have got more commission... can't blame him I suppose... Arriving at the dusty bus park we managed to get a ticket without a scrum and they even elected one of the loitering touts to take us to our bus. The views where amazing as there was no cloud, we could see from Dhaulagiri in the west to Manasulu in the east, three 8000ers and dozens of 7000m peak in view. Partly due to looking at the great view Graham then amused the locals by performing a trip/dive and ended up flat on his face in a cloud of dust. Ouch.. the blood flowed, but more importantly the embarrassment was acute, I picked myself up laughed and tried to walk/limp off normally and I waited till I was on the bus before groaning...and mopping up the blood. The bus, much to our amazement sped off exactly on time. We tried to take photos of the panorama from the bus windows, much to the bemusement of the locals. Ignoring the wreckage of a bus that had tumbled off a bridge we would have reached Kathmandu in record time but due to the Maoists setting off a bomb on the road (you could see the wreckage on the side of the road) the previous week, there were checkpoints every hour where all the locals had to traipse of the bus and get searched...

Arriving back in Kathmandu the bus finally gave up the ghost and only about half a km from the bus station ground to a halt after half an hour crawling along... everybody sighed grabbed their bags/kids/chickens and started walking, we decided to get a cab, and where surprised when it only had to take us about 800m, the bus breakdown was right on our doorstop :-)

We retrieved our bag at the hotel, and over the next 48 hours feverishly ran around sorting out Indian visas, new (smaller) packs, lighter shoes (G), packing, cloth, stationary, and shipping our excess gear home. The excess gear (and our purchases) totaled 30kg in the end, FedEx claimed about a weeks budget to send it back. It was worth it to avoid the hassle of lugging it around India and Africa.
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