Day 2 - Tikhedunga (1540m) to Ghorepani (2860m)

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End Oct 15, 2006

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Thursday, October 5, 2006

I wake early and decide to explore a little before breakfast. I walk a little further along the trail, to where there are two cable bridges one after the other, the first crossing the Tikhedunga Khola, the second the Bhurungdi Khola. As I reach the end of the second bridge a few young Nepali boys come running towards me shouting excitedly 'Monkey, monkey, take picture'. I look across to where they are pointing and see a large monkey sitting in the grass about 100m away. A couple of other monkeys swing down out of a tree - then all 3 scamper off into the thick vegetation. They disappear too quickly for me to get a photo - so I take a picture of the boys instead.

I scramble down to the riverside to get a view of the amazing waterfalls. Through the night I woke several times, convinced that it was raining. What I heard was the waterfalls. Everywhere you go you hear the sound of water tumbling down the hillside. Everywhere you look there are cascades of water. Standing at the point where the two rivers join I can see more waterfalls than there are in the entire Lake District. Rivers plunge down drops of 10m or 20m, crashing down into the pools below. One river is like a giant staircase, with the water rushing down from one step to the next. Another is like an enormous waterslide. And in other places water jets out from unseen streams high above, the droplets spreading out to produce little more than a mist by the time they reach the river way below. The sights and sounds are just amazing.

8am - we set off knowing that we have a hard climb ahead. My guidebook says there are 3421 stone steps. I don't know how they can claim such a precise figure, since the path is quite broad and the 'steps' are rather uneven - so at some places you might go up 2 small steps on one side of the path, but just one large step on the other side. However, there is no doubting the fact that there are a lot of steps! We go at a slow, steady pace, stopping frequently.

At least it is not too hot - until about 9am - when the combined effect of the sun getting higher in the sky and our increasing altitude means that the sun comes up over the far side of the valley. Suddenly it gets much hotter. In an attempt to stop the sweat from dripping in my eyes I try tying a towel around my head. It may not look that fashionable, but it did seem to work! (Make a mental note to add a headband to my kit list for the next time I go trekking.)

We are rewarded for our climb with a view of Annapurna South, poking up through a gap in the hills. It is only a glimpse as the clouds around the summit part briefly, then close in again.

We reach Ulleri - or at least a lodge which claims to be in Ulleri. (In fact, for almost the next hour we continue to pass lodges which say they are in Ulleri.) The path continues to climb - but at least it is not quite so steep.

Above Banthanti the track enters a dense forest. The trees are draped in spanish moss and various ferns. In fact there appears to be more vegetation growing on the trees themselves than on the ground!

It is very pleasant walking through the forest. It is much cooler for one thing, and the path is almost level in places. Although high up on the hillside, we can still hear the sounds of distant waterfalls way below. The ground is quite wet in places, and I ask Jagan if there are likely to be any leeches. 'No no, too high for leeches. Leeches get mountain sickness.' Then he doubles over in laughter. It doesn't take much to make Jagan laugh - and he especially seems to enjoy his own jokes!

There is a brief clearing in the trees around Nayathanti - then the path enters the forest again. We spot some rhodedendron - not in flower, unfortunately, at this time of year. In fact, it takes us a little while to realise that they are rhodedendron. These plants are unlike the ones you find in your garden at home, not even like the huge overgrown shrubs you sometimes find in the grounds of stately homes. These are trees, some of them over 10m tall. Most are tall and spindly as they compete for light with all of the other trees and vegetation.

It is a steady climb again through the forest. Suddenly I feel very tired. The pleasant walk has become a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. And my head is throbbing. I wonder if it is the effects of altitude - after all we are approaching Ghorepani at nearly 3000m. However, I later discover that my Camelback water container is still more than half full. Although I had been taking regular drinks, I certainly was not drinking enough - especially considering the heat in the earlier part of the day. So it is perhaps more likely that I was suffering from dehydration than altitude sickness. In any case it makes me concious to drink more water in future.

According to my map (the National Geographic Annapurna map) we would have to climb up to a height of more than 3000m before dropping back  down to Ghorepani at 2750m. But having climbed steadily for over an hour from Nayathanti (with no hint of any downhill), I am pleased when we emerge from the forest to see the smart blue and white teahouses of Ghorepani just in front of us. I think the end is in sight - but our guide says that we are going on just another 10 minutes futher to Upper Ghorepani, where there are better views. Unfortunately, there is a lot of cloud on the peaks - but we do get another brief glimpse of Annapurna South.

At least our lodge does have scolding hot showers - and electric lights. It is strange that after just one night without electricity, it seems to be quite novel to have electric lighting again. The novelty doesn't last that long. At 7pm the lights go out - but the Nepali people are obviously used to this and quickly appear with candles and hurricane lamps. Just as all the lamps are lit, the power comes back on, then promptly goes off again 5 minutes later just as all the candles have been extinguished! Finally the power comes back on - and stays on.

It is noticeably cooler up here than our previous night down at Tikhedunga. There is a large stove in the middle of the room, which puts out a huge amount of heat. We are sitting around the edge of the room, about 5m away, and have to take our fleeces off because we are too hot. And yet the Nepali guides and porters sit on benches pulled up as close as they can get to the heater - and they all have their jackets and fleeces zipped right up!
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