Category Archives: Nepal

The future is green at Annapurna Eco Village

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!

image
The "BS" stands for Bikram Sambat.

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!

image

image
This was our room and view. The weather was a bit cloudy, but the peaks popped out a few times.

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)!

image
Kaia and Jake with Yubi in the meditation studio.

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.”

image
Here we are in our room, blogging! Whenever we have a free moment we try to get caught up.
image
There's Fishtail Mountain, and the unique Nepali flag.
image
Beautiful view from the Eco Village.

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).

image
These solar hot water heaters use a thermo-syphon to move water through black tubes on a black background into the storage tank. This simple technology is used around the world.
image
Here, Purna is showing how drinking water is filtered through a series of sand and charcoal filters.
image
This is a demo of how the filter works.
image
This cow provides the milk used in the kitchen. The cow urine is collected in a trough and used to make a natural pesticide.

image
Each room has a little solar panel for lighting.

image
Here's a new one: a simple way to deposit "humanure"; where it can be utilised in the garden. They plan to build a movable structure around the chair and invite guests to use it if they wish!

image
This burner in the kitchen uses biogas as fuel, collected from a digester that is connected to one of the toilets. They can get up to to 2 hours of cooking per day from this fuel source and likely all their cooking if all toilets were hooked up.

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.”

image
We went for a walk with Claire, Salome, and their guide, Passan, who works for Three Sisters trekking company.
image
When we got caught in the rain, we took cover at a nearby house. The woman brought out woven mats for us to sit on.

In the evening we had the chance to “help” milk the cow.

image
I just love how the local women dress to do such chores. We watched as she cleaned her hands and feet before milking. Cows are sacred.

image
This woman is grinding corn into flour with a stone. It was one of the ingredients in the eco-pancakes that were served for breakfast.

image
They grow and process their own organic coffee beans.

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.

image
This terrible photo taken on Kaia's phone shows us dancing to a song that got etched into our brains. (Resham filili, O resham filili...)

You can listen to this popular Nepali folk song here.

image
We were given tikkas the next morning.

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.

image
Farewell to the Himalayan mountains. Until we meet again.

Yvonne

Advertisements

Solo trek to Mardi Himal

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. 

image
You get the sense here how fast the Himalayas rise towards the north. Both the Mardi Himal and ABC treks start in the lower green region and rise to the white snow. The photo is about 50km top to bottom.

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.

image
The morning was clear as I left, and I could again see Annapurna south and Hiun Chuli mountains. We trekked around these mountains on our way into the Annapurna Base Camp.

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.

image
Farms I passed on my way back down to valley bottom.
image
I walked with these 3 boys for a while. They were on their way to school, but it was not just another day for them. They had a few weeks earlier finished their grade 10 exams. In Nepal, you have to pass these exams to proceed to higher education, so their was so much riding on these results. Within an hour's time they would be getting their results. I wished them luck, then headed my own way.

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.

image
They don't fool around with trails going up hill. No time for switchbacks - just build stairs going straight up!
image
Small scale sawmills abound in Nepal. All furniture is hand made from this lumber.

image

image
Almost all tilling is still done with beasts.

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.

image
Approaching Lwang. From here I would try to find the trail heading up through the forest.

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.

image
These "sort of" trails would just peter out.
image
Eventually I found this trail that continued in the right direction.
image
What my direction-offering friend had either forgotton to tell me or perhaps didn't know the words in English to describe, was that there were some deep cut valleys that had to be dealt with on the way to Ghalel. I mean REALLY deep cut valleys! When I reached this point and saw a gaping drop between me and what I now figured out was Ghalel (look high up to the right) I was very much at a loss about how to proceed.
image
I few minutes later I encountered a woman at this house and called out to her "Ghalal?" She pointed across the valley. I shrugged to say I didn't know how to get there. She pointed that I could descend about 500 vertical meters to valley floor and climb back up, or hike WAY back into the river valley and come around the other side. I shrugged again, and she pointed up the river valley, so away I went. I was at this point very much reconsidering my choice to hike without a guide!

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.  

image

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.

image

image

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.

image
My 1 hr guide Chinta from Kalimati

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?

image

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.

image
Mine was one of 3 guest houses at Forest Camp on the Mardi Himal ridge. Dining room is on the right. It is very modest and run by a lovely family. Breakfast was prepared and served by the 14 yr old daughter, because mom had headed down to Kalimati in the pitch black ...after serving us dinner. She arrived (after climbing the crazy trail I had come up on the day before) by 7:30 AM with a huge mattress on her back. Wow.

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.

image
Break for garlic soup at Low Camp with my new German friends.
image
Lucien and a little "Low Camp" puppy. Lucien was fascinating guy. As an almost pro soccer player in Germany he was injured and rather lost his way in life for many years. He finally got himself together, sold all his possessions and bought land to farm on Sarencot just outside of Pokhara. He and his new Australian wife grow their own crops and gardens, keep chicken and other livestock and haul their water every morning. They live just like local Nepalis. Henys and his girlfriend liked the lifestyle and moved in last year. Lucien was a natural leader within the group and "mothered" this friends as we made our way up the ridge and to the high viewpoint the next morning.

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.

image
Chomrong can be seen up high on the left (we stayed overnight on way to ABC) and the ABC trail can be seen left to right.
image
Yes, still Rhododendron season!

image

image
The rate of development on this trail was quite remarkable. Apparently this trek didn't really even exist 5 years ago. Now there is Forest Camp, Low Camp and High Camp. Halfway to High Camp I found this almost complete new guest house. And a second guest house is just being completed at High Camp. Keep in mind that all consumables and much of the building materials have to be hauled by porters 3 vertical km from the valley below. Yes, tourism is a huge part of the Nepali economy. But I can't help but wonder how the experience will change ... maybe the Mardi Himal 10 years out will be like ABC is today?

image

image
The last hour of walking to High Camp was like this .... different breathtaking views around every corner. Of course, I wouldn't have complained if the clouds had moved on ...

image

image
High Camp. 3800m. You can see my room door - the view out from my room was pretty fantastic!
image
Inside the very rustic dining area at High Camp. Guests included a retired Brit, 4 Nepali teachers, a New Zealand family that used to live in Pokhara and a solo 19yr old woman from Germany on a Buddhist pilgrimage in Nepal and India. My German buddies stayed in the other (new) guesthouse.

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:

image

image
Fishtail (Machhapuchhre) mountain (7000m) never gets old on me. It is a sacred mountain to Nepalis and as such is not climbed, nor are foreigners welcome to do so.
image
Henys (left), Lucien (C) and Falko (R). We will meet up with Falko in Cologne, Germany in a few weeks' time.
image
They were still finishing the guesthouse that I stayed at. Trees had been felled below Forest Camp by axe then squared by cross-cut saw (that is, two guys with a hand saw). The huge timbers were then hauled up about 1500 vertical meters on porters' backs to High Camp. These guys were then sawing the timbers into small lumber for furniture. I was cold so offered to help saw for a while. I was surprised how fast we made it through the wood.
image
Some other guys were building this beautful rock wall. All the stones had been dug out from the ridge, and these guys were tirelessly (and tediously?) chipping the rock to create perfect rectangles before putting the rocks into the walls.

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.

image

image
1st light ....

image

image
Henys always had a grin on his face.
image
The final 30 minutes were through the snow.
image
It felt pretty fabulous to be up there. We of course wished we'd had a perfectly clear morning (like all the mornings on our ABC trek) but were still happy to have the view we did.
image
A couple of Americans Hailey and Isaiah caught up to us on our climb. Here is Hailey.
image
We made it to the Mardi Himal viewpoint (4100m) and were greeted by the prayer flags. The Nepali name for prayer flags ("Lung ta") translates to "wind horse". There are either Buddhist prayers or horse images on the flags. The horses speed the prayers to the sky.
image
Me, Sergei, Henys, Stephan, Lucien, Falko and Lucien. This one enlarges nicely - give it a "click".
image
I had a really long walk ahead of me so I said good bye to my friends and took off ahead to return down to the guesthouse. I was sorry to leave them - they had been so open, engaging, and really brought my journey to life.
image
Weather changes so fast up here. Within minutes almost all visibility was lost. Fortunately the trail followed the ridge so I did not get lost.
image
That's Mt. Mardi Himal above the German guys.
image
Arriving back to High Camp. An omelette and some coffee later, I was on my way.
image
About an hour down the trail from High Camp I ran into this porter, and inquired as to what was in his basket. "Wine", he answers. I asked if I could try to lift it, but could barely - it was soooo heavy! And he left from Sidhing (where I was headed) 2.8 vertical km below, earlier that morning. With that load. Unbelievable what these people can do.

I moved quickly down low camp and headed down the very steep trail towards Sidhing.

image
Here is a quarry where rock is dug out then delaminated. In this case, they were rebuilding many of the steps on the trail, so these would be hauled up goodness knows how far before being put in place.
image
My destination at this point was the far end of this valley. I would normally not push so hard but we were leaving for Kathmandu the next morning so needed to get back to Pokhara to meet up with the rest of the family.
image
Just can't get enough of these Nepali terraces! In this case they were used just for grazing.
image
There are an increasing number of roads like this being punched into villages. I think there must be some government priority to connect villages by "road". But can so easily see here how vulnerable they would be to earthquake-induced landslides.
image
Only moments later I came around a corner and saw this across the valley. Road construction right through the terraces. I wonder if the people who worked so hard to create the terraces are compensated?
image
The bottom of the valley is finally in reach. I had descended 3.1 vertical km over the past 7 hrs and my knees and thighs were complaining.
image
I could not trust the planks in this bridge - they were all rotted out. So I slid my hands along the steel cables just in case. Likely nothing to worry about though ... locals come and go across all the time.
image
Road-side wheat. I really came to love the rustic look of the stone homes.

image

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.

image
It took a rather interesting route down the valley. The smoothest gravel was that in the river. So .... the bus drove down the rather wide river, crossing side to side for about 5km.

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.

image
Fortunately they thought to anchor this massive wheel before it went careening down the aisle!

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.

Cam

Pokhara, Peace Pagoda and Paragliding

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.

image
We got our first view of the Himalaya in Pokhara! At one point, we were in a taxi when they popped out from behind the clouds, and we all started freaking out because we were so excited! The driver was a bit confused at why we would be so happy to get a view of mountains.
image
Early morning light on Fewa Tal

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.

image

image
Half pedal boat, half party boat!

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.

image
So our first glimpse of the Peace Pagoda was quite an ugly one. First we were thinking that they cut down the trees for a better view, but then at the top we saw a sign saying that a landslide occurred in August last year, and the Peace pagoda is now in danger. The monsoons come in June, and one more landslide could make the soil under the Pagoda fall away. They were asking for donations to help build supports for the Stupa (local name for temple). Another interesting thing is that at the end of our time in Nepal, we were in Boudhanath at a very big stupa, and even there they were raising money for Pokhara's Peace Pagoda! We are worried about the effect of the recent earthquake on the Peace pagoda... because Pokhara was hit.
image
This is the stupa. You always walk around them clockwise, and we saw a few Buddhist monks when we were there.
image
This was our view of Pokhara from 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.

image
This one wasn't as nice as the boat we took going the other direction.

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.

image
We rode a yak!
image
They even had a mini mountain we could try and climb!

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.

image
This is OR2K. It's a totally vegetarian mid-eastern restaurant. We ate at the one in Kathmandu, loved it so much, and went back to the one in Pokhara. The food is amazing, and there is a really cool ambience. Everyone sits on cushions and eats at low tables. They play cool music, and there is neat artwork on the walls. It has a very "namaste-ish" kind of feel!
image
Jake and I loved Perky Beans, because they had HUGE milkshakes!

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image
My mom went first...

Then Jake took off…

image
I was next. First, they lay the "wing" out on the field. When they feel an updraft wind, they say "run!". But by the time my pilot, Ziya, told me to run, I was already floating! We didn't have to run at all and the wind already carried us off.

image

image
The first second was the best one, the one when you realize that you are flying for the first time without any motor.

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.

image
That's me!

image

To watch a YouTube video of me flying, click here.

image
Jake flying over Fewa Tal

And to watch a video of Jake flying, click here.

image

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.

image

image

image
My dad and I were circling around each other and when he caught an updraught he took this photo of me.

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.

image
The landing field
image
The pilots quickly packed up their wings/chutes to get ready for their next flight. See the cows in the background.

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.

image
They are very efficient in their tiny kitchen.
image
First, you chop the vegetables very finely.
image
Then, you make a mix of different vegetables and spices.
image
Next, you wrap the mixture in the dough. This part was harder than it looked! The Nepalis make momos look so beautiful, I couldn't make them as nice as they could, but I tried my best. Finally, you steam the momos for 5-7 minutes. Then they're ready to eat!

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.

image

image
There are a lot of embroidered shirts. Some of them have neat Nepali designs, some say namaste, some have mountains or say "Nepal" or "Pokhara". My dad and I really liked these shirts, and we each got one.

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.

image
First, he traced it with chalk, then he "freehanded" sewed it on with his sewing machine!

Here’s the full outfit:

image
The design on the front is very special, and really represents Nepal for me. Firstly, the Lotus flower and and the wheel are Buddhist symbols. The little yellow characters are called "Om", and they are a Hindu symbol. Om is the sound you make while meditate. Finally, Namaste is a very common expression in Nepal. It literally means "I admire the divine in you", but it can be used as hello, thank you, or anything positive. This shirt really represents Nepal for me!

My dad also got a shirt like that:

image
That is the Lotus flower and the Buddha Eyes.

Here are the rest of the shirts that my dad bought:

image
For every shirt that comes home, one will disappear from my small wardrobe. These shirts are great souvenirs for me, because every time I put them on, I am reminded of the country they come from. When people ask me about my shirts, I will have many stories to tell them. I have many shirts from Africa, and I wear them all the time. -Cameron Douglas, PhD in Shirt Studies.

Nepalis wear beautiful and colourful clothing. To give you an example, we saw a wedding ceremony with both bride and groom dressed extravagantly.

image

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!

image
I loved seeing the local women wearing sequined, colour-coordinated outfits while doing their daily chores. -Yvonne Leicht, model of the clothes

Some more clothes we got:
image

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:

image

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:

image

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.

image

image
In the raft, it was the four of us and our guide, Santos. There were also two safety kayakers.
image
It was a very fun ride! As you can see in this picture, I kept slipping!

image

At one point, we got out of the raft and jumped off a cliff! The water was very cold.

image

image
Lying down in the raft at the end

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

The Beauty of Kathmandu

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.

image
The morning weather provided us one final view of the Annapurna range as we left Pokhara.

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.

image

image
The switch-backing highway was actually jammed with busses and minivans - carrying tourists and locals.
image
This bad photo has a police officer waving good bye to our bus as we approach Kathmandu. He stopped the bus and came on to tell us that since the New Year (April 14th this year .... Hindu calendar is different) Kathmandu had banned plastic shopping bags. Who'd a thunk?! He asked anyone on the bus with plastic bags to hand them over. In markets the next few days we had to remind some sheepish looking vendors that they shouldn't be offering us food in plastic bags. "No problem", they would say.

Kathmandu suffers from high levels of pollution – especially air pollution.

image
We are on the outskirts of the city but can't see the buildings for the smog.
image
Face masks are ubiquitous. Probably 1/3 of the population in the street has them on.

image

image
Traffic in Kathmandu is oppressive and overwhelming ... even compared to all other crazy traffic we've experienced this year. There are virtually no stoplights or stop signs - it is traffic anarchy. Be uber aggressive, and honk to warn others of your aggressiveness. Somehow it sort of works. But imagine the free for all at an intersection of 6 busy roads! Then look at this photo and see that cars and motorcycles will drive down any tiny street with horn going, regardless of how crowded it may be with pedestrians. It rather commands your attention as pedestrian. I can't imagine being a driver!

image

image
These little 3 wheelers are popular public transit but are slowly being phased out. I believe it is for the same reason 3 wheeler ATVs were banned in Canada - they flip over too easy.

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.

image
😦

image
Solar lighting at one of the many bus stations.

image

image
Fruit by bike is popular in Nepal.
image
This recycling vehicle looks a little different from the ones in Peterborough!

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. 

image

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. 

image

image

image
Did any of you notice that everyone is walking in the same direction? You only walk clockwise. And monks and other Buddhists come here by the hundreds to walk circles around the stupa.

image

image
Here we arriving at the Stupa. Our guest house was just 50m to the right, but we joined the "pilgrims" and walked a lap to our turnoff.
image
The Buddha's eyes are a very important symbol. For Buddhists, of course and for makers of tourist paraphernalia near the stupa. You'll see in Kaia's next blog that I succumbed to the draw of Buddha's eyes in a t-shirt purchase.

image

image

image

image

image
These prayer wheels surround the stupa ... hundreds of them. They too are spun only clockwise.
image
Some prayer wheels are bigger than others.
image
Pine and cedar mix incense was burning all around the stupa. I LOVE this smell and it is now etched in my mind.

image

image
This monk was doing a series of "prostrations" - down on the knees with hands out front on ground, then up like this. It is a form of meditation that also takes care of the heart.
image
Pidgins are actually revered here ... and fed!

image

image
So sadly, many monks feel compelled to wear masks.
image
This temple is across the street from the stupa.
image
Monks reciting texts recorded on long narrow strips of paper.
image
The activity around the stupa continues into the evening.
image
I'm not sure that I like the neon light effect. They lit the stupa up for 2 days to celebrate Hindu mother's day.

image
We discovered "singing" bowls during one of our earlier meditation sessions. The solid colour ones are hand crafted by monks as a form of meditation (read "it takes a really long time"). The coloured ones are machine made. When you rub the wooden stick around the bowl in a circular pattern, the bowl literally starts to hum (sing). They are addictive to play with, and if done the right way they make a gorgeous relaxing sound. Done too loud or abrasively, they sound like fingernails on chalkboard. We bought one ... come to our house later to play with it if you like 🙂

image

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.

image
We watched this artist work. What a steady hand. And patience. And commitment!

image
This is our purchase - a representation of the "circle of time". Click on the image to fully appreciate the level of detail. Much of the painting is done with a brush that has a single horse hair!

image
This thangka is of the form "circle of life". Each graphic tells a story. Again, click to enlarge to appreciate the detail.

image

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. 
image

Our guesthouse was on the higher side of our budget but accommodation is a premium here, with so much interest from monks and tourists.

image
This is the view from the top of our guesthouse. Immediately in the foreground is monk residence. They would stream out in the morning, on their way to workshops, monasteries or to walk around the stupa.

image
Many of the monks looked between 10 and 20 years old.

image
This guy is hanging out on the monk residence. I can recall as a little boy being confused by the two words "monk" and "monkey". I thought they were sort of the same thing 🙂
image
The sun sets on Kathmandu, as seen from our rooftop.
image
Our favorite little local restaurant for eating momos.
image
We bought some Nepali pepper here so we could make the chutney for momos at home.

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.

image
I grabbed this photo from the net. We couldn't see the mountains during our visit because of the smog.

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.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image
momos for lunch

image

image
momos for snack.

image
I spent a lot of time soaking in the ethereal sounds of Tibetan and Nepali music. Kathmandu has a thriving homegrown music scene and all sorts of fusion sounds are emerging. I have a few new CDs for my world music collection! You can listen to one of these (traditional) CDs at https://youtu.be/KpraoWWzNBY The first track holds some significance for us: Journey to Annapurna Base Camp

image
Bhaktipur curd is famous, and the authentic version is served in these little clay pots. Yvonne has recollections of being served Bhaktipur curd by her friend Heidi in Switzerland!

image
Bhaktapur is also well known for its profusion of sweet street treats. We sampled. Heavily 🙂
image
tapestries

image

image

image
A Srivasta ("endless knot") wood carving.

image

image
I was surprised to learn that the Nazi swastika was adapted from the ancient Buddhist symbol. I couldn't help but be taken aback when I saw these doors.

image

image

image
Coffee shop perch over one of the many squares that are surrounded by temples.

image

image

image

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.
image

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.
image

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image
Namaste.

image

image

image

Cam

Annapurna de haut en bas

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.

image
Il faisait encore un peu noir, car le soleil se cachait derrière les montagnes.
image
Annapurna dans les premières rayons du soleil de la journée.

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!

image

image
Voici le bien-nommé Tent Peak, 5663 mètres de haut.

image

image
En regardant Annapurna, ce n'est pas difficile à croire que c'est la montagne la plus dangereuse à escalader au monde!

image
Ces drapeaux de prière faisaient partie d'un monument en honneur de tous les escaladeurs qui sont morts sur Annapurna.

image

image
ABC est couvert en neige!

image

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!

image
La famille Douglas et Prakash à un "point haut" du trek!

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.

image
Une belle vue par la fenêtre de notre chambre!

Plusieurs personnes dorment à MBC et montent à ABC tres tôt, alors le sentier était bien tassé pour nous de descendre.

image
Juste quand on partait de ABC, la grande groupe d'élèves de Singapore qu'on a rencontré à Himalaya arrivait.

image

Les deux heures de marche d’ABC à MBC étaient pas mal faciles, et on s’est amusé avec la belle neige.

image
Je suis en train de faire un petit bonhomme de neige à côté du sentier.

Mais, la section après MBC était un peu dangereuse.  Voici pourquoi:

image

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.

image
Celui-ci a passé très proche de nous. J'avais un peu peur!

image
On devait traverser les pistes d'avalanches le plus rapidement possible!

image

image
Traverser ce pont etait un peu dangereux!

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!

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image
Prakash a apprit comment jouer notre jeu de cartes préféré, Onze.

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.

image

image
Je pense que ce porteur gagne le prix pour le plus grand charge qu'on a vu pendant tout le trek.
image
Et celui-ci porte des poules vivants!
image
Voici deux touristes et leur guide, qui travaille pour la compagnie "3 sisters", la seule compagnie qui embauche seulement des guides et des porteurs femelles. En marchant sur le sentier, presque tous les guides et les porteurs sont des hommes.
image
On a même vu quelques singes dans la forêt entre Bamboo et Sinuwa.
image
On a prit un petit repos à Sinuwa, où on pouvait voir toute la vallée du Modi Khola.
image
Kaia sur le pont qui croise la rivière entre Sinuwa et 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”!

image
Le restaurant de Didi a une vue excellente de Machhapuchhre.
image
Imagine le nombre de bouteilles en plastique qui seront utilises par les trekkers! Pour reduire le montant de dechets sur la piste, des organisation Nouvelle-Zelandais et Hollandais ont donne l'equipement necessaire pour purifier l'eau. Le systeme est l'osmose inverse et utilise souvent l'electricite solaire. Les locaux peuvent le vendre aux touristes (ca coute moins cher que l'eau en bouteille et ca leur donne une source de revenues).

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.

image
Le point bleu est Poon Hill, le jaune est ABC, et le rose est Chhomrong.

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.

image

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!

image
L'eau dans la rivière n'a probablement pas fondue jusqu'a un jour avant que ca passe ici!

C’etait tellement froide!  On ne pouvait pas y rester pour plus que quelques secondes.

image

image

image

image

image
On remonte vers le bain chaud.

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.

image
On a traversé le Modi Khola une dernière fois.
image
Il fallait traverser quelques pistes de glissade de roches, où on pourrait tomber des dizaines de mètres jusqu'à la rivière.
image
Cet âne etait le plus décoré qu'on n'a jamais vu!
image
Il y avait une tres belle cascade.
image
Voici un genre de moulin de farine, tourné par l'énergie de l'eau.

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.

image

image
Ces deux petites filles qui s'assoyaient à côté de la route avaient une belle place pour boire le thé.

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.

image

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.

Jake

ABC … (definitely not) as easy as 1-2-3

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. 

image
View from the breakfast table, after our Poon Hill hike. That's Annapurna South (7219m -- not even one of the giants).

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”.

image
Little bit down...
image
... little bit up.
image
And some massive rhododendron trees in bloom. Makes me think of my bush back home that might squeak out 5 or 6 flowers a year (if I remember to fertilize it properly).
image
Villages along the route are prepared for the parade of trekkers who come through each day. When you're carrying everything on your back, doesn't seem like the best place to stock up on souvenirs! But the knitted hats and socks could come in handy.
image
Looking at the map while waiting for lunch.

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. 

image
Thank you, health insurance!

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.

image
At least they had a beautiful view to wake up to!

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.

image

image
Healthy grains growing in the narrow terraces.
image
Most cultivation is done by hand, with occasional help from a team of buffalo pulling a plow.
image
Corn seems to grow well in this climate as well.
image
It is dried and then stored in little shelters like this. Later, it will be ground into flour.

We passed a school that was getting a new roof.  Slate tiles.  Carried up by donkeys.

image

image
Jingling bells announced approaching donkey trains. Fresh droppings indicated that one was not far ahead.
image
Here's an example of a slate roof (not at the school) with Fishtail Mountain in the background.
image
Some kids were hanging around the school (no classes that day) and we gave them some Canada pencils and pens that we had. Then the guys working on the roof asked for some, too!
image
Every day seemed to be laundry day in the mountains.
image
Cam and Kaia tried lifting these bags carried by porters for a large group.

image

image
We were constantly amazed at the loads carried by porters. And the flimsy shoes they were wearing.
image
Precious cargo
image
New bridges have been built to cross the rivers in the valley bottoms. Then it's up, up, up again!

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!

image
Arriving in Chhomrong. Lots of steps and lots of shops.
image
View from Elysium Guesthouse, where we stayed, looking up the valley of the Modi Khola, the river we'd follow the next day.

image
Cake, coffee, and a game of cards at the German bakery. Aaah! This is the life!

image
Just love this photo. One feels very small when surrounded by huge mountains and steep, deep valleys.

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).

image
The steps were rough and there were a few obstacles.
image
We marveled at the labour involved in the construction of the steps.
image
Look at the size of the individual stones! They would easily weigh 500kg. How far were they transported?
image
Another suspension bridge with prayer flags at the bottom of a valley.

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.  

image
Fuelwood needs to be used sparingly. Locals use it for their own needs, but it is not supposed to be used for tourist purposes.
image
Very basic tools for a big job.
image
Portable manual "sawmill"

image
Local building materials, all cut by hand!

image
We kept crossing paths with the same people along the route. Here we are talking to Edwin, an Australian, who was on a long trekking holiday.

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!

image
The school group took up much of the space in the dining hall. We learned that there was another similar group from their school that was heading up to Everest Base Camp (~5300m)!

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.

image
Prakash told us that this rock overhang used to shelter a very rustic guest house with about 6 beds.
image
Our early start was also necessary for getting past the avalanche zones before the heat of the day.

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!

image
Between Deurali and MBC, Prakash pointed out the natural colouration in the rock wall that looks like a sitting Buddha.

image
The villages rely on small micro-hydro installations for electricity, mainly used for lighting. We saw many penstocks like this one.
image
Kaia is crossing the glacial Modi Khola on the way to MBC.
image
Heading towards the snow. We were lucky to have a clear day.
image
More porters with huge loads and flip-flops. They've already walked through snow and there is more ahead.
image
Approaching the Machhapuchre Base Camp. Clouds are moving in, as they often did by mid-day.
image
It was (just) warm enough for us to eat lunch outdoors at MBC.
image
We saw the Singaporean students arriving. They were booked in at one of the guesthouses. We chose to push on the last 2 hours to Annapurna Base Camp.

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.

image
Prakash and his handy umbrella -- useful in rain, sun, and snow! I will never again trek without one!

image
Cam is our porter, carrying "Big Red".

image

image
Almost there! With all my layers on by this point.
image
We made it!

In our high altitude haze, we saw some movement in the snow…

image
Could it be?

image
A baby yeti!!
image
Dinner tasted great. There were very few others at our guest house that night.

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

We’re fine … and so sorry about Nepal

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