We went through a time warp and got a glimpse of the future in the hills above Pokhara. We saw sustainable food production, local building materials, and renewable energy use. It was the year 2072! Actually, we celebrated Nepali New Year (which fell on the night of April 13) at this serene haven of eco ideas and education. The Nepali calendar is based on “Bikram Sambat” and is 56.7 years ahead of the common Gregorian calendar. The Nepali calendar (which is based on lunar cycles) was started by the emperor Vikramaditya (somewhere in India) after an important military victory. The new year always falls on the day after the new moon in the month of Chaitra. So, happy new year 2072. Apparently I will be turning 102!
The Annapurna Eco Village is a family-run enterprise that combines simple comfortable accommodation, great local food, and opportunities to explore meditation, massage, and relaxation in general! It can also provide a window into Nepali village life and is a good starting point for hiking in the Annapurna region. Cam couldn’t cope with too much relaxation (LOL), so he stayed for one night and then set off on his Mardi Himal hike, which he described in the previous blog entry. Actually, he had planned for the one night stay and the ambitious hike before we left Pokhara. Kaia, Jake, and I stayed a second night to soak in the mountains from a distance and from the comfort of a hammock!
On our first day there, the four of us took part in a 90-minute yoga/meditation/relaxation class. Our instructor, Yubi, was excellent and really explained the reasons for all the various components of the class. We even did lion roars (because lions represent strength, self-esteem, calmness) and laughter therapy (which Kaia excelled at)!
We liked it so much that we went back for more the next day. Our favorite part was when Yubi lead us through the relaxation process step by step. We can still hear his voice saying, “Bring your awareness to the right buttock. Totally, completely relaxed.”
So, what’s so “eco” about the Eco Village? Well, the owners are committed to environmentally friendly practices; they research extensively and have traveled to India and France to learn about various green technologies and farming practices. One of them gave Cam a tour of the facilities (while the rest of us were chanting “Bodum… Saranum… Ganchaaami” in the meditation room).
For more info about their mission and amenities, visit the eco village website: http://www.ecovillagenepal.com .
We met many interesting people at the eco village, including Claire and her 8-year-old daughter Salome, who are from France. I explained to Claire the gist of our trip and said (as I have said many times over the past 8 months), “We pulled the kids out of school for the year.” And for the first time, the response was , “Oh yeah, so did I.”
In the evening we had the chance to “help” milk the cow.
Nepali New Year was celebrated in a fairly subdued way: we had a nice meal and then Vishnu and Basantha (sons of the Adhikari family — owners) played the flute and drum while the family and some of the guests danced.
You can listen to this popular Nepali folk song here.
We had such high hopes for a prosperous new year. Who could have guessed that less than two weeks later, Nepal would suffer its worst earthquake in 80 years? I hope that 2072 sees a lot of healing and maybe the beginning of some type of building code that takes into consideration the likelihood of earthquakes and can protect people in the future from such catastrophes. Nepal is one of the countries we’ve visited this year that I feel I must return to some day. The natural beauty; the people; the culture; the food… all is stunning.
While hiking up then back down the deep Mardi Kola valley to the Annapurna Base Camp (see earlier blog entries) I noted on the map that there was another trail/trek perched high up on the ridge on the east side of the valley. It was hard to believe that a second trail could be running parallel, so much higher than our trail. This trail apparently snaked along the ridge climbing abave 2000m, 3000m, then up to 4100m at the Mt Mardi Himal viewpoint. A rough route rose further to the Mardi Himal base camp, but this was clearly well above the snow line.
The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued. Our route out of the ABC valley took us over this ridge much lower down, so I tried to convince the rest of my family to do this extra side route. They had loved the ABC trek but were thinking more about a rest than climbing back up another 2500 vertical meters for an additional 4 days of trekking. So that answer was “no”. Fast forward a few days. We planned to spend our last few days around Pokhara at the Annapurna Eco Village which is more or less near the bottom of the ridge that snakes up to Mardi Himal. I then schemed a plan to depart from the eco village (and my family) for a solo trek up to and back from Mardi Himal. I had only 3 days altogether, so I’d have to move quickly. But I like walking. And when alone tend to walk quite quickly, so it looked possible. I chose to go without a guide, mostly because I wanted the solitude, but also because I knew that once I reached the ridge, it was pretty hard to get lost following the ridge line up.
We had a lovely 1st night at the Eco Village (Yvonne will describe this in a final Nepal entry) and then after a tour of the village’s “eco” features (very impressive!) I set off. I was really excited to be returning to the Annapurna area for more trekking, and was quite enjoying the very modest day pack on my back (sleeping bag, water and some warm clothes). For the ABC trek we chose not to hire porters so I had quite a considerable pack (kids were traveling pretty light) all the way.
We had hiked up about 600 vertical meters the day before in order to get to the Eco Village. So I was a bit disappointed that I had to drop all the way back down into the valley before starting the climb to Mardi Himal.
Not long after reaching the valley bottom, a fellow on motorcycle stopped to offer me a ride, which I accepted. Turns out, my trail turn-off was only 500m ahead, but it was nice to chat a bit and he carried me across a river that would likely have meant wet feet if I was walking. I found my trail turnoff, and the climb began.
I had what I thought was a pretty good map. The route looked pretty simple. Follow the valley to the town of Lwang turn-off. Climb to Lwang. Then from Lwang take the very long and uphill trail to the ridge, then follow the ridge to “Forest Camp” to spend the 1st night.
When I reached Lwang, my plan started to come a bit undone. A guy who spoke English told me that the trail I was thinking about had many many unsigned junctions, and there was little chance I would choose the correct branches to find the ridge top. I should instead traverse along the hillside until I reached the town of Gahlel, from where it would be “easy” to hike to the town of Kalimati and up to Forest Camp. I heeded his advice, but none of his route was on my map, so I was a bit apprehensive. But he made it seem very easy to find Ghalel – just pointed and said “don’t go up, don’t go down … just straight”. How hard could that be?
I was quite happy at first – a nice trail followed the valley at a constant elevation as it passed fields, terraces and homesteads. But the trail gradually become more and more faint, and I could not find anyone to ask for confirmation. I could see no sign of a village ahead. This fading trail trend continued, and 30 minutes later I found myself scrambling across steep terraces and bushwhacking through the forest. I had a very long way to go today and this is not what I had in mind.
The trail was tiny. I didn’t really know where I was going. And I was quite concerned that I would run out of light before reaching Forest Camp. But I have to say I quite relished this portion of the trek. The trek to Poon Hill and ABC had been quite a trekker super highway. I was now in a valley virtually devoid of trekkers, high up on the hill, hiking past terraced field, forest and stone homesteads, heading deep into a side valley. I felt like I was in the “real” Nepal.
The other side of the valley that connected to Ghalel was a huge cliff face but I kept my trust in the woman’s directions and kept to the path. Sure enough, it crossed the river then climbed above the cliff and eventually emerged in Ghalel. I was (naively) relieved and figured I had a nice trail to follow the rest of the way.
The route from there to Kalimati followed a new road that had been recently carved from the mountain side. I caught up to a woman who was hauling an unbelievably heavy sack of manure on her back (I know this because I asked her if I could try to pick it up. Barely.). She assured me that forest camp was within 2 hrs reach.
Another 45 minutes put me in Kalimati. I inquired twice here about the trail up to Forest Camp and got the same answer – it was 3 hours away (so much for those earlier assertions …), and there were many junctions. At this point it was 3PM … and it gets dark around 6:30. As you can see, the weather all day was pretty marginal, and wavered between cloud, mist and rain. So I did not relish the idea of getting caught out in the forest for the night. Hmmmm….. So I asked if there was anyone I could hire to guide me up to the camp, and after some loud hollering around the village an older guy Chinta showed up a few minutes later ready to go. I was so relieved.
We moved quickly up through the steep, wet and very muddy forest – me with my nice hiking boots and Chinta with his flip flops 🙂 I was not sure what his plan was to get back down to his village before dark. I asked him, and he said “no problem”. This meant that either he would stay overnight at the camp or would come back down in the complete darkness (how could this be possible?). But if he said “no problem” …. who was I to argue?
It turns out that a guide was very necessary. So often trail reached a little grassy area, with no departing trail in sight. Several times there were junctions that I would have been just guessing at. And it was so foggy that I, in the lead, lost the trail a few times. After an hour and half of walking, he asked to see my watch. Only then did it dawn on him his predicament about getting down in the daytime. He then said he would walk another 15 minutes with me then I would need to finish on my own. I was apprehensive, but he gave me very detailed instructions about what to do with several upcoming junctions, then I paid him and said goodbye. His directions were spot-on and by 5PM I happily wandered into Forest Camp. I had been walking since 9:30 in the morning and not stopped for lunch.
It was very cool at that point but I had been sweating so went for a very cold shower (they simply divert the camp water supply so it pours into the little shower room). When I entered the dining hall I was met by five guys in their 30s speaking German. Turns out, one of them (Lucien) moved to Pokhara 3 years ago. His friend Henys followed him 2 years later. Then 3 more friends came to visit for a few weeks, and they were on this trek together. They are fantastic guys and the conversation that night was lively. I especially appreciated after spending the day trekking alone.
Next morning we had breakfast together then set out for High Camp.
Not too far above Low Camp we broke out above the trees and WOW … it was just the trail I imagined it to be while hiking way below towards ABC.
It was cold and cloudy so we mostly hung out inside reading, chatting and drinking lemon ginger tea. Then all of sudden the New Zealand doctor shouted that the clouds had cleared so we rushed out to this view:
I had planned with my German friends to head further up the ridge to Mardi Himal viewpoint early in the morning. We met in the dark at 4:50AM dressed very warmly with headlamps going.
I moved quickly down low camp and headed down the very steep trail towards Sidhing.
I was getting near the highway I had planned to catch a bus from when a fellow sitting next to the road called out to me and pointed to an empty chair and insisted I sit down to rest. I had at this point been walking for 11 hours without a stop for lunch. I sat. He was quite an engaging chap and within a few minutes told me that he was fundraising for his church. A church! My eyes expresed my surprise. I’d met so many Hindus and Buddhists, and a few Muslims. But no Christians. Said he had been moved by reading the bible. After a while he got around to asking me if I could perhaps chip in to purchase a few bags of concrete. He left for a few moments so I asked the fellow sitting next to him “how big is the congregation?” He smiled, and said “just his family”. The pastor graciously came to realize that I would not be one of his benefactors. Soon after a local bus came by in my direction headed to Pokhara so I jumped on.
One fellow got on with his bike. Intermodal transportation is always a welcome sight. But I have to say I was surprised by what form of transportation was awkwardly loaded onto the bus next.
I was quite happy to reach Pokhara, meet up with the family and settle into some great food. I had really missed them – this was the longest that any of us had been apart since we left in September. But I really enjoyed the time alone. I have always noted that you see and hear more when you hike alone. And you are much more likely to connect with others along the way when you don’t have an easy conversation awaiting with your friends/family. I would highly recommend this trek to those who might be considering. It experiences only a tiny fraction of the traffic of the better known treks and gets you up into some fantastic mountain views. If you choose to access the ridge via the Mardi river valley like I did, you will get even more of an authentic rural experience. But best go sooner than later … this trek may get the better of itself.
We picked up our bikes from the bike shop today. Yesterday we took the train to the package depot, so finally it is here! We are almost ready to start our cycling trip, and the weather has turned nasty :(. But we’re very eager to get going!
The city of Pokhara was our “home base” for most of our time in Nepal. It is about 200km from Kathmandu, but driving between the two takes over 7 hours! Its population of 265 000 makes it Nepal’s 2nd biggest city (my dad met someone on a trek who said that in 1990 the population was 50 000). Its proximity to the mountains also makes it a place where lots of tourists start their trek. It’s right next to the beautiful Fewa Tal (Fewa Lake), and there’s so much to see and do in and around Pokhara. So much of Pokhara’s (and Nepal’s) economy is based on tourism, so even though many of the activities we did seem very decadent, they helped employ a lot of people. I’m sure that now after the earthquake, Pokhara must really be struggling.
We first went to Pokhara with Yadav and Hira from Solar Sisters on the “Tourist bus”. But, since there was a change of plans and only my dad could go to the village to do the solar install, Jake, my mom and I had some time to explore Pokhara.
We stayed at the Hotel Fewa, a very nice place, right on the lake. The Solar Sisters organization brings their clients there every time, so they get a good deal. The tourist area of Pokhara is called Lakeside, and is pretty much a nicer, safer and more laid-back version of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. For example, Lakeside has wide sidewalks, Thamel has none. Crossing the street in Lakeside is very simple, whereas in Thamel it’s a life-theatening activity. Lakeside is on a beautiful lake with mountain views, and Thamel is in the center of a very dusty, dirty and polluted city. The street vendors in Lakeside are usually quite pleasant, but the ones in Thamel are very pushy.
Our first adventure in Pokhara was going to the World Peace Pagoda. It’s at the top of a hill on the other side of Fewa Tal. Most people hire someone to paddle them over in a boat. A man came up to us and said that he had a restaurant across the lake, and if we agreed to eat lunch at his restaurant, he would give us a free ride across. So, we agreed.
At the other side, we started the climb up. It was pretty steep, but we got some nice views along the way. One hour later, we arrived at the top.
There are a handful of little restaurants at the Peace Pagoda, but we had agreed to eat at the one near the bottom, so we headed back down. At one point, Jake and I were ahead of my mom, and we accidentally took a wrong turn. Then, we decided to wait for her, and we got a bit worried when she hadn’t caught up 15 minutes later. So we went back to find her, only to see that we had made a wrong turn! We ran back down to the restaurant, and she was there waiting for us. We ordered a very yummy lunch there. Then, we took a boat back to Lakeside.
The next thing we did in Pokhara was go to the International Mountain Museum. We didn’t have much time there because it was close to closing time, but there were some good exhibits there. One of them compared the mountain people of the Himalaya and the Alps. There were pictures showing that their lifestyles are quite similar, including their houses, the way they carry things and the way they herd animals. It was a very neat comparison! Another exhibit showed the evolution of climbing gear, and displayed the gear that Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay used to summit Everest in 1953. It looked very heavy. But then the museum closed, so we found some things to do outside.
When we got back to Lakeside, my dad was back! We spent a few more days in Pokhara finding a guide for trekking and getting organized. We always ate at restaurants, because the accommodation didn’t have cooking facilities. The restaurants always had the traditional Nepali food, some western food, and a page with Indian curries. That was where we normally ordered from, the curries. Our favourite restaurants were the Tea Time Bamboostan restaurant and OR2K, and our favourite cafe was Perky Beans.
Cows are very sacred in Hindu and Buddhist culture, so Nepalis always respect cows. If cows are on the road, drivers will always drive around them very carefully, so cows have learned that the streets are a safe place for them. They don’t care a single bit about the cars around them.
So who owns these cows? Why do they live in big cities? Why do they sleep on the road? We asked a few people these questions, but we still don’t understand.
We headed out on our trek with Prakash, then 10 days later we came back to Pokhara. This time, we stayed at Hotel Khukuri, cheaper than Hotel Fewa because it wasn’t on the lake. It was run by a very nice family.
By far, the very best thing we did in Pokhara was paragliding. Pokhara is one of the best places in the world for paragliding, and it looked absolutely amazing. We first watched it from the Peace Pagoda. Every day, we kept watching the paragliders, and finally, we decided that we just had to do it. Jake and I received money from our uncle Craig before the trip, and we used it to for paragliding.
First, we went to Open Sky paragliding to sign some forms, blah blah blah.
Then, we did the 30 minute drive from Pokhara to Sarangkot. The pilots were from all over the world: Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Russia, just to name a few. Jake’s pilot, Richard from Brazil, was telling us about different paragliding races there are in the world. In one of them, you trek/paraglide from Austria to Monaco over 20 days! He has even won an international competition in Argentina!
The drive to Sarangkot was very dusty and windy, and Jake was starting to feel pretty carsick. Finally, we arrived there, and by now we were practically fainting with excitement! Sarangkot is at the top of a hill overlooking Fewa Tal, and it’s where all the paragliders take off. Our pilots set up the equipment, and then we waited our turn to launch. Everyone had to wait for an updraft.
Then Jake took off…
My dad took off last so that he could take pictures of all of our takeoffs. Some of these pictures are taken by him, and some are taken by our pilot’s GoPro cameras.
To watch a YouTube video of me flying, click here.
We were so high above the ground! It was a warm day, and hot air rises, so it was a great day for flying. The only thing that could have been better was the view – it was quite clear, but the mountains were mostly hidden behind clouds. Still, it was such an amazing experience.
One hour later, it was time to land in the field (full of cows) beside Fewa Tal. Jake started feeling sick at the very end, and he threw up in a cup. But, he says that it didn’t ruin his experience at all, and he’s glad that it was only the last 3 minutes of the flight.
The landings were very smooth. Mine was a little less smooth, but still pretty good.
Of all the adventure stuff we’ve done on this trip (ziplines, rafting, canyoning, caving, ect.), paragliding beats everything by far. It was just indescribable. If you are considering it but think that it’s too expensive, do it! It’s worth it! Thanks, uncle!
Our favourite Nepali snack was momos. Jake described them in his post about Kathmandu, but in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll describe them again. They are little dumplings, filled with either vegetable, chicken, or “buff” (buffalo meat, Nepalis don’t eat cow beef). They’re always served on a plate in groups of 10. They’re delicious!
We were actually quite obsessed with momos, and asked the family who ran our hotel if there are any places in town where we could learn how to make them. They told us that we could go to their friends, at the neighbouring little restaurant to learn.
The kitchen at the All in one Cafe was pretty tiny, but we all squished in. They had already made the momo dough, but they told us that it’s basically flour and water.
Making momos is something I’m going to practice we get home. I hope to experiment too… how about fruit momos? Chocolate momos? It’s worth a try!
Nepal is notorious for selling very cool, funky clothes. They weren’t exactly Jake’s style, but the rest of us went a bit crazy.
First I went and chose my shirt. I loved the Namaste expression, and the man at the shop said that he could sew that on the back for me.
Here’s the full outfit:
My dad also got a shirt like that:
Here are the rest of the shirts that my dad bought:
Nepalis wear beautiful and colourful clothing. To give you an example, we saw a wedding ceremony with both bride and groom dressed extravagantly.
My mom loved the clothes that the women wear, so one day we went on a little trip to downtown Pokhara to see what we could find. We took a very crowded city bus to a neighbourhood called Mahandra Pul. My mom walked into a tailor and found some colours she loved. They measured her, then they told us to come back in a few days when the outfit would be ready. When she did come back, it didn’t fit, but when we went back a third time… Tadah!
Some more clothes we got:
Nepal is famous for its meditation and yoga. Peace, serenity, happiness and clarity are the core of Buddhism. We heard that a place offered free meditation in Pokhara, so we decided to try it. None of us knew what to expect.
We went into the meditation room. The instructor came in, but she thought that everyone knew exactly what meditation was, and explained nothing. “Hello, Namaste everyone. We will start with five minutes of silence”. We sat quietly for five minutes. Then, she had us chant “Om, Om, Om, Om…” for the rest of the class, about 30 minutes. We didn’t know how long the class was, and we were worried that we would be chanting “Om” for an hour! My dad struggled not to laugh.
We left the class no further ahead on the question of “what is meditation?”. More on that in an upcoming blog about the Annapurna Eco-village. Here’s a picture of me meditating:
But one thing I’ve learned to love is the “Om” symbol. It means peace and serenity in Hindi. Here’s what it looks like:
Our last adventure in Pokhara was a very fun rafting trip. We chose the Upper Seti river, a short but intense two hour trip. The drive to the start took about 40 minutes. Then, we got a short safety briefing. The last time we had been rafting was on the Inka Jungle Trip in Peru.
At one point, we got out of the raft and jumped off a cliff! The water was very cold.
That was an exhilarating time!
Pokhara was a great place to spend time in. We met so many nice people there, and we just have to hope that they are okay. We heard that Pokhara wasn’t hit too badly in the earthquake, but we wonder if the Peace Pagoda is still standing. We hope that Pokhara and the area will recover quickly. Be brave, Nepal. Namaste. Kaia
We spent our final 3 days of Nepal in the Kathmandu valley. Amid beauty, pollution, serenity and squalor. We have 3 other blog entries from our time around Pokhara that we would normally sequence first. But at risk of overwhelming with photos, I wanted to share with you some images of the beautiful side of Kathmandu before the quake hit. We know you’re seeing lots of the destroyed Kathmandu in the news.
Our trip back to Kathmandu from Pokhara was so much more pleasant than the trip to Pokhara. The sun was shining, we were again on the correct side of the bus for river viewing, and mostly, Jake wasn’t throwing up.
As you approach within 1 hour of Kathmandu from Pokhara you begin to climb out of the deep river valley. The sheer drops down to the river and the ubiquitous steep slopes take on new meaning now as rescue crews try to navigate to the outlying villages through landslides and instability.
Kathmandu suffers from high levels of pollution – especially air pollution.
We took the local buses around but they creep, amidst the crazy traffic. Face masks are a must, and we bought and wore them. I just couldn’t imagine commuting amidst this every day. But of course, you do what you need to do.
We spent our first few days of Nepal in the tourist Thamel area of Kathmandu. During these final three days we visited two of the cultural districts just east of Kathmandu – the Buddhist “stupa” (round temple) of Boudhanath and the ancient city of Bhaktapur.
Boudhanath is the largest Buddhist temple in Asia. It is simply awesome.
Built about 1500 years ago, it was traditionally a stopping point for traders coming to/from Lhasa in Tibet. It is still a very important Buddhist center. Buddhist monasteries surround the stupa and there are many educational workshops (meditation, thangka painting) for Buddhists and tourists alike. The monks are easily recognized by their maroon gowns with gold ornamentation. Most of them apparently are Tibetan refugees from the Chinese invasion/occupation who started arriving around 1959.
A number of music CD shops surround the stupa, and many of them pipe out the Buddhist mantra “Om mani padme hum”. It became embedded in our consciousness. To help get in the spirit of Boudanath and Bhaktapur, click here to load the chant in the background while you read.
Boudhanath is a well known spot for “thangkas”. At a basic level, thangkas are phenomenally detailed paintings done on cotton by monks. But they represent much more than art. It takes anywhere from a week to a month of continuous work to complete one (sitting 8 or more hours per day) and this represents a form of meditation. Thangkas most often are done in one of two forms; the circle of life, and the circle of time. Both of these representations follow established forms, and represent many important Buddhist teachings. We went into one of the centers where Buddhists are trained in the art form, and saw the progression of talent from beginner to intermediate to advanced to master. We had no intention of making a purchase but were so taken with the stories and details represented that we bought one. The money goes to the school and monasteries for general use; the monk/artist receives nothing directly as a result of a sale and does not, in my understanding, do it as a commercial activity.
We really enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere of Boudhanath for a couple days. There were some fantastic roof-top cafe’s that overlooked the stupa, and we found some very cheap, tasty local eating spots.
Our guesthouse was on the higher side of our budget but accommodation is a premium here, with so much interest from monks and tourists.
I was happy to learn that the Boudhanath stupa itself survived the earthquake, and suffered only some cracks to the spire. The Buddha still looks out across Kathmandu. Buildings around the stupa were however heavily damaged.
We spent our last full day in Nepal in the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur was the capital of the kingdom of Nepal up to the 1500s and it represents the best preserved (until last week 😦 ) ancient architecture of Nepal. UNESCO designated the city as a world heritage site because of its buildings, wood and steel carvings and especially its temples.
Although the city is also popular for tourists, it is a fantastically alive, vibrant city of 300,000. We wandered the narrow streets, contemplated the temples, marveled at the carving, soaked in the music, enjoyed the momos, sipped coffee, and enjoyed the renowned Bhaktapur curd (yoghourt). Hopefully the photos below convey a sense of the city’s vibrancy.
Bhaktapur was breathtaking. But it was devastated in the earthquake. Apparently more than 50% of the buildings were destroyed. 80% of the many temples were destroyed. I don’t know the status of the temple 3 photos ago, but can guess. But I do know the status of the stone temple in the middle of my photo above. Look below.
I know many of these very sad before and after photos are surfacing in the media. We spent a few hours on our 2nd day in Nepal hanging out at Kathmandu’s Durbar square.
I take some comfort from knowing how strong Nepalis’ Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are. I read the Dalai Lama’s autobiography during my last week in Nepal and Kaia is reading now. We soaked in some of the Buddhist thoughts during our last several days in Nepal. They are compassionate people that will take care of each other. I saw the t-shirt below in one of the tourist shops that surrounded the Boudanath stupa.
I will leave you with my favorite photo from Nepal. This little girl came running out of her house to greet me as I was finishing my solo trek to Mardi Himal.
We are torn apart with internet updates re Nepal. It just keeps getting worse. The roads to the communities are barely passable at the best of times … let alone after landslides and worse. The death toll will certainly rise.
Just after Jake finished this entry below about the final leg of our Poon Hill/Annapurna Base Camp trek, we learned that trekkers out there have been cut off by landslides and avalanches. The update came from a phone call from a little village called “Bamboo” where we had lunch on the way in to ABC and slept at on the way out. The trail follows a very steep slope so not surprising that landslides have cut off the trail.
We normally post entries in chronological order. But all our thoughts are on our last 3 days in Nepal – spent in the Kathmandu valley visiting the old temples and cities. I will write about this in tomorrow’s entry. But we wanted to post Jake’s entry below because it is part 3 of 3 entries on our trek to ABC.
I write this intro from my hospital bed in Frankfurt. An infection at the top of my leg got away from me and turned into an abscess that required full general anesthetic surgery. But let me tell you that I am not feeling sorry for myself, as I have nurses and doctors buzzing around, clean operating room, food to eat, a warm dry bed and my family by my side. I will be out of hospital on my feet later today. I am so lucky. Oh, Nepal …. 😦 Cam
From Jake ….
I’m writing this entry in French, but I recommend that our English readers look at the photos, because I’ll be putting in photos of our morning up at Annapurna Base Camp, where we got an amazing close-up view of the Himalaya mountains.
Brrr! La nuit à ABC était la plus froide qu’on a eu pour longtemps, probablement depuis qu’on est parti du Canada! On portait toutes nos vêtements chaudes dans nos sacs de couchage. Dehors, ça avait l’air comme le matin de Noël, avec la neige fraiche partout. On voulait sortir pour voir les montagnes avant même de manger le déjeuner, car il fait toujours clair les matins dans les montagnes. Donc, on s’est habillé pour le temps neigeux et sorti de notre petite chambre pour voir la levée du soleil.
Tout de suite, on était tous étonnés. L’après midi précédant, quand on est arrivé à ABC, il faisait nuageux, alors on ne pouvait pas voir ce qui nous entourait. Mais ce matin là, il faisait tellement clair, et on pouvait voir qu’on était entouré 360 degrés par des montagnes formidables! C’est difficile de décrire ce qu’on voyait, mais je vais faire de mon mieux, en utilisant le texte et les photos.
Annapurna est aussi considéré la montagne la plus dangereuse à escalader au monde. Un moyen d’un escaladeur sur quatre meurt en essayant d’atteindre le sommet. Maintenant, je lis un livre à propos du premier ascension d’Annapurna, en 1950. Le livre est écrit par le chef de l’expedition lui-meme, le français Maurice Herzog. C’était la première fois qu’un humain a atteint un sommet de plus que 8000 metres d’altitude. Herzog devait avoir toutes ses doigts amputés apres l’expédition, à cause de la gelure. Non merci, on préfère de juste l’observer!
C’était très different de notre vue des montagnes de Poon Hill, car on était si proche cette fois ci. En observant Annapurna, on trouvait difficile à croire qu’on était a 4130 mètres, ce qui voulait dire que le sommet était encore presque 4 kilometres verticaux plus haut que nous!
On a observé les montagnes pendant longtemps avant de retourner pour le déjeuner. Prakash nous a dit qu’on devait partir rapidement, car on devait passer la zone d’avalanches entre MBC et Deurali quand il était encore tôt, car c’est plus dangereux quand il fait chaud. Donc, on est retourné à notre chambre pour préparer pour faire un autre jour de randonnée.
Plusieurs personnes dorment à MBC et montent à ABC tres tôt, alors le sentier était bien tassé pour nous de descendre.
Les deux heures de marche d’ABC à MBC étaient pas mal faciles, et on s’est amusé avec la belle neige.
Mais, la section après MBC était un peu dangereuse. Voici pourquoi:
Des avalanches tombaient des montagnes, et quelques uns ont meme traversé le sentier. Ceux qu’on a vu étaient petits, mais Prakash a dit qu’il y a des fois des grandes avalanches aussi.
On a réussi à traverser la zone d’avalanches sans problèmes, mais on n’a pas vraiment aimé la section du sentier en approchant le prochain village, Deurali, car le sentier était couvert de boue, et c’était difficile à descendre les collines!
On a mangé des momos et du dal bhat pour le dîner à Deurali, un vrai mets Nepali! On a continué de marcher pour quelques heures, en passant les villages Himalaya et Dobhan.
Et souvenez-vous de la photo que ma mère a mit de l’homme coupant un enorme arbre avec un seul, petit axe? Deux jours plus tard, le travail était deja fini.
On a arrêté pour la journée à à peu près 3 heures et demi, au village de Bamboo, au même guesthouse où on a mangé le dîner deux jours avant.
Le prochain matin marquait huit jours depuis qu’on a commencé de marcher à Nayapul. Le plan était de marcher jusqu’à Chhomrong pour le dîner, et arreter au village de Jhinu, où il y a des sources d’eau chaude naturelles. On a marché pendant deux heures entre Bamboo et Sinuwa, et une heure pour descendre loin dans une vallée et remonter à Chhomrong.
On a mangé un diner delicieux à un restaurant à Chhomrong. Je pense que c’est le seul restaurant sur tout le trek de Poon Hill-ABC qui a un menu different que les autres restaurants. La cuisinière, que les guides et les porteurs appelent Didi, ce qui veut dire “grande soeur”, nous a fait des burritos, des bons pizzas, et même un gateau au chocolat! Ça goûte incroyablement bon après marcher pour plus qu’une semaine et en mangeant seulement la nourriture simple. Il y avait meme un article dans TIME magazine à propos des gateaux de chocolat de Didi, qu’ils appelent dans l’article “Sugar Mama”!
En partant de Chhomrong, on commençait à marcher sur un sentier qu’on n’a pas déjà suivi, car on est entré de Chhomrong d’une differente façon trois jours avant.
La marche après Chhomrong n’était pas tres longue; dans moins de deux heures, on est arrivé à Jhinu, où on passerait la nuit. Le guesthouse là était le meilleur qu’on a eu tout le trek. Mais rapidement après arriver, on s’est préparé pour descendre aux sources d’eau chaude, près de la rivière. On a marché en descendant pour une demi heure, jusqu’à la rivière. On s’est changé dans nos maillots de bains et entré dans le bain chaud.
Ah! Ça sentait si bon! On a parlé avec les autres personnes là, de plusieurs différentes pays. Après un peu de temps dans le bain chaud, on a décidé qu’il fallait essayer la rivière glaciale aussi!
C’etait tellement froide! On ne pouvait pas y rester pour plus que quelques secondes.
Ce n’était pas si agréable dans l’eau froide, mais ça faisait le bain chaud de sentir encore mieux! On a fait le traitement de froid-chaud plusieurs fois. Finalement, on est retourné à Jhinu pour manger le souper et se coucher.
Le prochain jour, on est allé au sud de Jhinu à un village appelé Pothana. Ce n’était pas un jour tres spécial, mais on a encore vu quelques choses intéressantes.
On a mangé le dîner à un village appelé Landruk, et après ça, on marchait sur une route. On a commencé de marcher avec la soeur de Prakash et son mari.
Enfin, on est arrivé à Pothana, ou ont passerait la dernière nuit du trek, car ça ne prendrait pas longtemps pour arriver à l’autoroute pour retourner a Pokhara. Le village de Pothana était très beau, et ça nous rappelait un peu comme l’Ontario sud, d’où on vient.
On s’est réveillé à Pothana le dernier jour du trek. Prakash nous a dit que ça serait beau de manger le déjeuner à un camp un peu plus loin sur le sentier, alors on a commencé à marcher de Pothana tout de suite. Pendant le déjeuner au “camp Australien”, on a rencontré une femme des États Unis qui a fait un trek appelé Mardi Himal, et elle a inspiré mon pere d’y aller plus tard…
On a marché pendant à peu près deux heures de plus, et on est enfin arrivé à la fin du trek, un village sur l’autoroute appelé Khare. Woohoo! On a complété le trek!
On a pris un taxi de 45 minutes pour retourner à Pokhara, et dit au revoir à Prakash. On a vraiment aimé avoir lui avec nous. Le trek de Poon Hill-ABC était le trek parfait pour nous, et on le recommande à tout le monde qui visite le Nepal. On a eu des vues fantastiques des montagnes, et sans devoir monter à des hautes altitudes. C’était 10 jours très agreables, et c’est un sentiment incroyable d’etre proche aux montagnes Himalayas, les plus grandes au monde.
Our trek in Nepal seems rather frivolous in light of the recent earthquake and the suffering that is going on there. However, we have wonderful memories from our time there, and our thoughts are with the people we met.
We often had the Jackson 5 song stuck in our heads during the days of hiking towards “A.B.C.” — the popular name for Annapurna Base Camp.
After the stunning sunrise vista at Poon Hill that Kaia described in the previous entry, we hiked through more rhododendron forests, past Prakash’s favourite viewpoint on the trek, and towards a mountain pass at Tadapani. However, this involved a huge downhill followed by a huge uphill… affectionately known as “Nepal flat”.
At our lunch spot that day, we saw a hiker with his foot elevated and swollen. One bad turn of the ankle and the trek becomes more complicated (and shorter, and probably quite a bit more expensive!) He was a physiotherapist from Belgium and knew that his best option was to be airlifted out. However, he had to get to a place where a helicopter could safely land which was several kilometers of “Nepal flat” away. He limped along with a trekking pole in each hand and eventually made it to Tadapani. We also stopped in Tadapani (early — around 1pm) because of our pre-dawn start that day (hiking by 5am). Prakash had predicted that Tadapani would be busy and there might not be many rooms available at the tea houses. Sure enough, we got the last 2 rooms at a fairly mediocre place. The dining room/common space was so small that we had to take turns with the other guests to sit at the table! But we managed to have hot showers which are a great boost to the morale. We also spoke to a young Norwegian man who was on his way down from ABC and he was definite in his advice: “You MUST go there.”
The weather was pretty socked in at Tadapani and we didn’t get a view until around sunset when some of the peaks popped out. Next morning, we saw the helicopter come to pick up the injured Belgian and his girlfriend.
We hiked (mostly down) to a place called Chiule where a group of Australians was camping. They were on an ambitious trek that should have taken them to some high passes but the weather had foiled most of their plans.
We had another day of steep down/steep up, but the trail was quite open in many places so we enjoyed great views across the valley.
We passed a school that was getting a new roof. Slate tiles. Carried up by donkeys.
That afternoon, we arrived in the bustling metropolis of Chhomrong. It actually was quite a big village that boasted some souvenir shops and not one, but two “German bakeries”! We got set up at the Elysium Guest House (great view and excellent kitchen, we found out at dinnertime). The guesthouses make most of their money on meals and the pricing for the rooms is based on the assumption that you buy dinner from the same establishment. We had been thinking of eating across the road at a place that got great reviews for its burritos and chocolate cake, but when we found out that the cost of our rooms would quadruple, we changed our minds. And the food was delicious at Elysium!
Next day, we started with another major downhill (the knees and thighs were really starting to feel it, and I was using a trekking pole by this point).
Continuing up the valley of the Modi Khola, we had lunch at a little well-named place called Bamboo. It rained throughout the entire lunch stop, but cleared up as we got back on the trail.
We spent the night at the village of Himalaya with 35 grade 9 students from United World College in Singapore. They were all in a pre-IB program and this was part of their outdoor education. We were impressed! And also kind of happy that we weren’t the supervising teachers. But, they had several professional expedition leaders as well as an army of porters, so the students only had to carry small day packs. The group leaders performed a simple medical exam every evening on each student. They had spent the day acclimatizing at Himalaya (~3200m) to make sure that all were in good shape to head up to ABC. It also meant that the students were going a bit stir-crazy and had lots of energy for singing, laughing and guitar playing into the evening (I think Kaia mentioned the paper-thin walls at the guest houses). We made sure we left early the next morning to get well ahead of them on the trail!
The following day was one of the most exciting and scenic of the trek. We did a substantial amount of climbing (about 1km vertical) and the mountains were really coming into view. Until the clouds rolled in and it started to snow, that is.
Hiking through a place called “Deurali” en route to “MBC” (Machhapuchhre Base Camp), I realized that those names fit in quite nicely to our new version of the Jackson 5 song: ABC, not as easy as 1-2-3, it’s further than Deurali, and MBC; ABC is a sight to see!
We hiked the last section in snowfall — it was beautiful! The steady uphill trek kept us warm, and we knew we’d have a room (and hopefully a view) once we got to the base camp.
In our high altitude haze, we saw some movement in the snow…
After dinner, we actually ended up going to one of the other guesthouses to take advantage of a little more heat generated by more bodies. We played some cards, but went to bed early in anticipation of getting up for sunrise. It was a chilly night, but the extra blankets kept us just warm enough! Yvonne
In case you hadn’t seen our update two entries back, we are now in Germany. We left the Kathmandu valley 6 days ago. The earthquake is so tragic – reminds us of Haiti, insofar as its emergency response capability is very limited at the best of times, and now much of it is damaged or destroyed. Most Nepalis live day to day, so the days ahead are difficult to imagine. We are also really sorry about the temples that were destroyed. We visited some of them last week and they are unique and majestic. Stay strong, Nepal. Nameste. Cam, Yvonne, Kaia & Jake