Nepal Trekking Takeaways

Feb 9, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Cori's blogs, Nepal, Uncategorized

I know Brandyn already written a great post about our time in Nepal but I wanted to add my perspective on the amazing Annapurna Circuit trek that we did for 20 days.

Brief background: As Brandyn described in his blog post, the Annapurna Circuit is a popular hike in Nepal that typically uses the city of Pokhara as a base. From there trekkers generally move in a counter-clockwise circle around/through/up the Annapurna mountain range which is part of the Himalayas. The trek goes through villages, past Buddhist and Hindu sites, is characterized by changes of scenery from tropical greenery to forests to desert-like conditions, and is within sight of some of highest mountains in the world (Manaslu, Annapurna I, II, IV, III, Dhaulagiri and more). Our “goal” was to cross the Thorung La Pass at 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) about mid-way through the trek and then go back down the other side and around. Whew.

While the trek can be done on your own (the trail is well marked and there are many teahouses or lodges along the way where you can easily eat and stay the night – no need to carry tents and equipment with you), we opted to hire a porter/guide for a few reasons. Most importantly, I didn’t want to carry a heavy bag and make myself miserable through tough climbs and changes in elevation. I had nothing to prove and didn’t consider it a weakness to have a porter.  Also, we thought it would be fun to have a Nepalese person with us to tell us about the culture, land, etc. And we were right…Jaya was amazing and really helped give us insight into the lives of the Nepalese. Lastly, for a relatively low price we were able to help the economy and employ a local for 20 days, who in turn could better support his family. Pretty good deal all around.

Now on to a few of my takeaways from the Annapurna Circuit Trek…

The Start of a Hike is the Worst Part

I really like the idea of hiking…meaning I like the concept of being outside in the fresh air and getting exercise. I also, admittedly, like being able to brag to people after a hike “Hey, I hiked that!” But the first half hour or so of hiking I am not very happy. I for some reason am usually terribly fatigued, each step is slow and heavy, and I feel critical of the weather, of the way my daypack is making my back sweaty and itchy, of how my trekking pants curl up weird at the hem and make me look frumpy. Most of all I am resentful of being active and think that I’d much rather be curled up with a glass of wine/mug of coffee, reading and admiring the mountains from a balcony of a lodge somewhere.  But then something begins to happen.  My legs no longer feel heavy, but strong. Wiping the sweat off my face makes me feel accomplished, not annoyed. Suddenly I’m enjoying myself! I’m taking in big gulps of delicious air, admiring scenery and my fatigue is slowly being replaced with energy. The “hiker’s high” I suppose.  The minutes and hours quickly pass and when I ask Jaya how far to the next teahouse and he says 10 minutes I am shocked! Happy of course to reach our destination, but a little bit sad to stop hiking*, something I couldn’t have imagined about 4 hours earlier. And yes, this hate-love experience happened pretty much every day on our 20 day trek.

*The exception being about 2 or 3 killer long days on the Circuit when I was deliriously happy to stop hiking for the day and just sit and drink tea by the liter. But I’m generalizing here…

Macaroni Meals Never Get Old

Every teahouse/lodge actually had a surprisingly extensive menu, with some Nepalese specialties and then a variety of foods that they thought Westerners would enjoy. Probably too many options, since a lodge in the middle of the Himalayas working on a wood fueled stove shouldn’t be expected to whip up Indian curries, lasagnas, yak burgers, soups, burritos, Tibetan dumplings, spring rolls, and pizza. Yet they did, to varying degrees of quality. The most consistent and safest bet always was Dal Bhat, the classic Nepalese meal of white rice, lentil soup and curried potatoes. But I HATED it. I don’t know why exactly, the first few bites always tasted good but then it just made me feel so full and bloated and unsatisfied. Sorry Dal Bhat! So after 1 or 2 days of Dal Bhat lunches and dinners I switched to macaroni. Not the mac n’ cheese variety that is near and dear to my heart, but shell-shaped pasta and was either boiled or fried…if you had it fried it was boiled a bit first and then sort of stir fried with vegetables and egg. Delicious. Being somewhat weight conscious, I rarely eat pasta when I’m home so it felt like an amazing gift to be able to order heaping mounds of macaroni for lunch and then again a few hours later for dinner. Completely guilt free greasy pasta – doesn’t get better than that.

Mountain Animals are Adorable

I’m the kind of person who says ‘awwww’ at nearly animal I see, and this trek was no exception! We saw so many animals that may have looked ordinary back home but when seen in their mountain habitat it was just a whole different level.

Baby goats: There were two of these cuties in Ghermu on our second night, and they were prancing around while staying close to mom, who sas tied up in a nearby shed with the food. I spent a lot of time watching them skitter across the path, climb up walls, race back to mom, and sleep curled up around each other in the garden.

Adult goats: We saw quite a few groups of them being herded along the trek, but my favorite sighting was of about one hundred of them being led across a suspension bridge. Some were trotting uniformly, some were pushing and shoving ahead of others, bells ringing, occasionally bleating and totally ignoring all the hikers on the path that had moved to the side to let them through.

Donkeys:  These passed us quite frequently, always carrying heavy loads of food, water, petrol or some other supplies that needed to make their way to the mountain villages. They all wore huge bells around their necks and brightly colored blankets or headgear and hearing them come from around the bend was always so festive – like sleighbells.

Yaks: Already on this trip I have become fond of ox, cows and buffalo and now I added yak to my list. Big and stocky with a curly mop of hair, yaks look very huggable even though apparently that’s not something you should attempt. My favorite sighting was one taking a drink of water from a faucet on the trail.

Dogs: Nearly every village we passed through was home to some mountain dogs. Usually a bit stubby legged, with a thick coat of fur, these dogs looked adorable but rugged.  Often found curled up on a step in the cold wind with bits of earth stuck in its fur, I was lucky enough to come across a few puppies along the way that were still mushballs of cuteness and hadn’t toughened up yet.

Sometimes Routines are a Relief

I’ll be the first to admit that one of the joys of traveling is the spontaneity you can have, and the last-minute decisions you can make to totally change course and stay longer/shorter somewhere, add a new destination, avoid another one, etc.  It’s something I find myself saying to others when they ask how I like travelling and tend to say things like “I love just making it up as I/we go along.” Well that’s true and that’s also false. It’s sometimes super nice to take a break from the constant planning and deciding and just get into a consistent routine that we could count on. That was part of the beauty of our trek.

Every day we’d wake up at 6am or so, put on the same clothes as the day before, pack our bags and head to the lodge’s dining room for a breakfast of tea, chapatti and boiled eggs. We’d eat quickly, focusing on fueling our bodies not enjoying the meal and then Jaya would head to our room to get the pack set for him. Usually we were on the trail by 7am and hiked about 4-5 hours, making it to the next teahouse by lunchtime. We’d drop our bags in our room, change out of hiking clothes into our spare ‘clean’ set (occasionally shower if there was hot water available but that happened maybe 5 times in our 20 day trek) and head to the communal dining room. We’d order lunch (Dal Bhat for Brandyn and Macaroni for me) and a large thermos of hot water which we used to make our own tea with bags that we’d brought. We’d play cards until our food came, eat, resume playing cards or reading or talking to fellow trekkers about their route and how they were feeling and what town they were stopping in next. We basically would try to kill time until around 5pm when we’d order dinner (macaroni for me again and either Dal Bhat or some veggie curry or veggie burger for Brandyn) and then continue to play cards and talk while huddling around the closest stove, and finally retire to our rooms by 7pm at the latest. We’d brush our teeth at some random cold outdoor faucet (or at a sink in the bathroom if we were lucky enough to have that) and then get fully clothed into our sleeping bags and fall promptly asleep, only to repeat the exact same thing the next day.

Seem dull? Well it wasn’t at all…the consistency of waking and sleeping at the same times every day, the timing or meals and the great daily exercise made us (well, me at least) feel quite balanced. And it really was a welcome relief to take a break from making the constant travel decisions that have come to define our life…where to spend the night, where to eat dinner, how best to get from point A to B, how much to pay for a particular item or tour, etc. Toward the end though we were starting to get desperate for our own time back, to veg in a hotel for a day, to watch a movie on a laptop, to eat SOMETHING DIFFERENT for breakfast. Turns out routines are a relief, but for us, they have a shelf life of about 20 days.

Slow and Steady Really Does Win the Race

Our route on the trek was planned out more or less in advance – meaning that we had a fair idea of how far we’d hike each day and what town we’d stay in, though we had the flexibility to change it if we wanted. This was dictated partly by Jaya’s experience and also by our need to ascend gradually to get our bodies used to the high altitudes that we would be getting into.  I got into a groove over the first few days and even though I hate hiking uphill I realized it was obviously necessary. The difficulties came as we got higher up…my legs by now were used to the steep climbs but it was my lungs that were not happy. I was getting out of breath after just a few steps and needed to stop and rest often. It was frustrating because Brandyn seemed immune to any of the altitude changes and could just bound up the hills and for Jaya of course it was effortless. My two lowest points happened during the climb to Tilicho Lake and the final ascent to Thorong La Pass. Both times I was so bundled up in clothing to guard against the cold that I didn’t feel limber, and I was taking these tiny baby steps then pulling up with my hiking poles and just repeating that again and again. Breathing was fairly regular, but deep and a few times I’d stop and just gasp in air again and again, trying to force as much oxygen as possible into me. Jaya was my cheerleader, telling me how it wasn’t so far left, how I needed to make it so I could take a picture at the top, etc. I was so conscious of how slow I was going and how slow time was going. I’d hike for 10 minutes and realize that I didn’t really cover too much ground. Sigh. Then, when we were almost up to the Pass my heart started hurting. “Hey Jaya! Is it normal to feel like someone is stabbing your heart with a knife?” “Okay!” was the reply so I babystepped on. The great thing was that I knew I was hydrated and hiking the right way and my slow and steady approach got me successfully both to Tilicho Lake (a beautiful turquoise lake that is about 5,000 meters high) and to Throng La Pass. Both times as soon as I reached my destination my breathing was totally normal again and I rewarded myself with tea and a snickers bar and thought to myself “that wasn’t so bad after all”.

Solitude + Hiking = Peace

This trek turned out to be the perfect time to do a lot of thinking. I tend to be a chatty hiker, but most of the time I was alone, with Brandyn way up ahead and Jaya somewhere behind me (sometimes directly on my heels but he was a quiet hiker too.) So I thought a lot…sometimes just taking in the beauty of all that was around me, sometimes trying to think about eventually going home and what type of job I may want to have, sometimes imagining how I’d react if there were a landslide (usually I would be a hero and save several people), sometimes thinking of every person I love and what exactly they might be doing at the moment I was hiking (usually sleeping).  I confronted not so pleasant memories too…I thought through all the semi-major decisions in my life in the past 10-13 years and where I may have taken the wrong path, and why. I tried to remember silly things, like how I spent New Years Eve for the past 5 years. I also thought through my favorite memories…I relived my wedding day. I relived meeting my nephew for the first time, and holidays at the Hermit Loj. It was actually very soothing. I have had a lot of downtime on this trip for sure, but often that’s on a bumpy bus ride or right before going to bed at night or while waiting for our meals to come, and it has been rare to have a long stretch of uninterrupted time when it’s truly quiet and peaceful and you can really just get comfortable with your thoughts. I wasn’t expecting that heading into this trek, but ended up really enjoying it.

I Have Much Admiration for Mountain People

As I mentioned, we decided to do this trek with a porter/guide who was carrying the bulk of our things on a big pack, while we each had a light daypack. There were many times while trekking when we would be huffing our way up a steep hill or carefully taking mincing sidesteps down a hill when we would be quickly passed by locals. Sometimes this was a group of schoolchildren in their uniforms and shoes (note: not hiking boots) literally running along the trail talking and laughing, or it was someone carrying a crates of chickens strapped to their bag, or it was a porter with 3 huge packs attached to a strap around his forehead, or it was simply men and women of the villages carrying huge bundles of grass or sticks or baskets of some type of food. It was just incredible the amount of weight they could carry and their surefootedness along the different terrain. They made it look effortless and made us look and feel like ridiculous, overdressed tourist trekkers. They really were amazing to watch – I have nothing but respect for the people of the Himalayas.

No Photos Will Ever Do Justice

We saw such stunning scenery on this trek and even though we tried to take pictures along the way, when I look back at them now they really don’t accurately represent what we were seeing. I suppose if we had a better camera it would’ve been different, but even given that, I don’t think it would’ve helped that much. The beauty was enhanced by our adrenaline, by the sounds we heard, and by our wonder at hiking through such an extraordinary place.  One day we’d be in thick forest that reminded me of my beloved Adirondacks and then we’d make our way through a village climbing over big stone steps, passing huts with vegetables drying on the roofs, little kids playing, colorful prayer flags flying, chickens squawking and dashing in front of us, and then suddenly we were plunged into quiet wilderness again and listening to the mighty Marsyangdi river follow us along. One of my favorite parts of the hike was walking from Upper Pisang to Bhraga on Day 7. The beginning was super difficult – gaining 420 meters in 5 km and I struggled through the switchbacks only to be rewarded by an incredible view.  Next we were on a (relatively) flat trail that wound around the mountain and everywhere I looked I saw beautiful rolling hills and greenery and then I’d turn my head a bit and these hulking, gleaming white mountains would be right there, literally looming over us (I think Annapurna II, III and IV). I’d stop and stare up, squinting against the glare and see what looked like little puffs of smoke coming off of the top and realize that was huge gusts of wind and snow. Can’t believe people have actually climbed those peaks. I’ve never been that close to mountains that big and I kept moving by head around while I hiked just stunned by what was around me. We stopped for a noodle soup snack along the trail, enjoyed with the mountains as a surreal backdrop. When I close my eyes I can re-live it all again perfectly in my head and can feel the wind whipping around the bends, smell the fresh scent of the air, and see the glowing mountains. Which may in fact, be better than a picture after all.

Annapurna Circuit 20 Amazing days

Jan 29, 2012 by     7 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Nepal, Uncategorized, Where we've been

In twenty days we trekked the Annapurna Circuit. Hiking over 210 kilometers starting at 800 meters in elevation from Besisahar climbing to the Thorung Pass at 5,416 meters. We saw a number of the world’s highest peaks including Annapurna I, Manaslu, and Fishtail Mountain while climbing though the world’s deepest gorge. Staying at tea houses or guest houses along the way, we went though sacred Buddhist and Hindu sites and saw some of the oldest monasteries in Nepal. This trek by far is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

Day One: Pokhara to Ngadi

Pokhara had been raining for a few days leading up to our departure. It was cold foggy rain which was sure to ruin our spirits if it kept up. We took an early morning bus to the police check point and had our TIMS Card and made sure we had paid our entry fees.

We had a small lunch and then took another smaller bus to get to the end of the road and the beginning of the trail. The inside was crammed packed and I couldn’t handle it. I went up to the roof to escape from the circus inside. On the roof I lost count at 20. So there were at least 20 of us on the roof of a bus with bald tires, going up roads that didn’t look like roads but wide trails, while it is raining and very slippery. I thought I was going to fall off for sure.

The first day our walk wasn’t too long, only about an hour or so. We were walking and a women approached our porter / guide Jaya speaking in Nepali and speaking a lot. Before we knew it Jaya said, okay here we are. The place where we were supposed to be spending the night 1) felt like it came too soon, we’d only been walking for an hour or so 2) looked like a disaster 3) made me wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into.

We walked to the next place to check it out and see if it was on par with this one. They were about the same. Ngadi just seemed to be less than what it appears on the map.

I played football / soccer with the kids while Cori tried to read. We taught the kids how to play the card game ‘Asshole’ but called it ‘Loser’ instead. I think the women who was talking to Jaya was telling him one of the boy’s stories. She had adopted a neighbor’s boy. The boy was incredibly smart and well behaved. His English was better than her own children’s. His father was working construction in Malaysia on a highrise building and had fallen off and his mother was now unable to support him.

For pictures from day one please click HERE

Day Two: Ngadi to Ghermu

The next morning we ordered Tibetan Bread, which was incredible. Unfortunately it is usually pretty oily which doesn’t do well if you have to hike right afterwards. The second day we walked along  paths that went straight through rice farms. They were the kinds that are cut into the mountain allowing for greater flat space to farm on. It was really neat to see. Google image searches have nothing on seeing the real thing.

This was the first time on the hike that we were asked for pens by kids along the way. To whomever it was to gave the first kid the first pen on the Annapurna Circuit, you’ve created a culture of children who ask every single person passing through whether Westerner or Nepali for pens. Whether it be day 2 or day 20 children will ask for pens.

Dal Baht, I’m struggling writing about Dal Baht from so far away. “Dal Baht, big power for 24 hour.” “I like Dal Baht and I can not lie, you other brothers can’t deny.” Dal Baht is the traditional Nepali food. It consists of lentil soup, a “vegetable” sometimes this is just pickled matter, potatoes, rice- LOTS of rice, relish of some kind, and a crispy thin wafer. By the end of the trip I didn’t want to see another plate of Dal Bhat, but for the first couple of days it was a real treat.

For pictures from day two please click HERE

Day Three: Ghermu to Tal

Ghermu to Tal was supposed to be a really easy day. According to the map we were supposed to be there by lunch time without too much difficulty. It was a scorching hot day that didn’t start too early.

The scenery was great. We kept crossing back and forth over the river and saw about 20 waterfalls on the hike. We saw women carrying chickens on their backs to be sold at the markets. The first half was a great trip.

The second half, I think strictly because we were deceived by the map, was much harder. The sun was pounding down on us. the map showed that it should take an hour. After an hour Jaya said that we had about an hour to go. Tal was a very welcome sight to see.

It is a beautiful little town located on the river in a valley looking up at mountains whose peaks are 4,000 meters above it. We had some home brew that night and a long sleep.

For pictures from day three please click HERE

Day Four: Tal to Danakyu

We got in the routine of having a very plain, but good for the stomach breakfast; two hard boiled eggs and two chapattis. The walk from Tal to Danakyu was when we really started to realize where we were. The first few days we could have been in any mountainous region in Asia. But on this day we got our first glimpse of a 7,000 meter snow capped mountain smiling above the others.

We were on a teeter totter between Hindu and Buddhist religion and between Nepali and Tibetan cultures; it was starting to tip in the Tibetan Buddhist direction. The people’s facial characteristics were changing along with stature and skin color. It was amazing to see how entire ways of life could change with the change in mountain regions.

For pictures from day four please click HERE

Day Five: Danakyu to Chame

Walking out of Danakyu was the first time I’ve spun a Tibetan Prayer Wheel; I love them (and bought one for our living room). Buddhism comes in all shapes, colors, and forms, but it seems so much closer to home in the Himalayas a few hours walk from Tibet to the north and a few hundred kilometers from Lord Buddha’s birthplace in the south.

The scenery kept getting more and more incredible every day. The walking and pain from the previous days kept getting easier. Seeing beautiful mountains, surrounding myself in an amazing and foreign culture, and walking 10-20kms a day was becoming routine. This was a routine which I was very happy to have.

For pictures from day five please click HERE

Day Six: Chame to Upper Pisang

When you’re at altitude the one thing people always mention is the lack of oxygen. People usually have a vague idea that everything becomes more and more difficult, but what they don’t realize is that there is an extreme temperature variation between day andnight.

During the day it would get as high as 25 degrees so we would be in shorts and a t-shirt but as soon as we got in the shade or it was night it would plummet well below freezing (for at least 8 of the nights). The trek is the same latitude as Florida but the weather much different.

We spent the night in Upper Pisang. There were only 6 guest houses and when we looked down at Lower Pisang we’re glad we did. We had 5 more hours of sun than they did, we had an amazing gupta to visit and heard the monks praying in the afternoon, and we were in a much better position for our hardest day yet in the morning. The town itself seemed to cling to the side of the mountains and is unlike any other place in the world I’d ever been. Cars hadn’t delivered a single supply, every rock was deliberately placed, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.

That afternoon I played cards with Jaya and some extremely old and extremely drunk man. Good times.

For pictures from day six please click HERE

Day Seven: Upper Pisang to Braga

From this point until day 15 I will stop saying “this was the best day of the trek” because every day was much better than the previous.

We started the day at 3,300 meters and were climbing up the long way to Manang. We’d spoken with a few people who all said that the effort that we would need to expend would be worth it. We walked about an hour until we reached what looked like a wall, a wall going straight up where we couldn’t see the top or where we were going. Climbing up this wall was really difficult; I could see the lower trail much further below us and people moving quickly without much effort when Cori and I were struggling with each step.

After an extremely long hour and a half we’d finally reached the top. The pictures as cliché as it sounds don’t do it justice.

I can’t and won’t attempt to write about how incredible the view was. Everyone was right; the extra effort was absolutely worth it.

Today was a 20 kilometer day which was expected to take between 6-8 hours. We did it in six knowing that the next day was a rest day. Exhausted and ready to collapse I took my first (and not knowing it then) my last hot shower in days.

That night we learned how to play Shithead from a couple, Lisa and Ian from England. So now our two favorite card games are Asshole and Shithead…classy.

For pictures from day seven please click HERE

Day Eight: Rest Day

Rest day is actually acclimatization day. When a person gets above 3,000 meters it is advisable for them not to spend the night more than 300 meters higher than they were the night before. A well-known and damn near proven acclimatization technique is to climb more than 300 meters in a day and sleep back down where you did the night before. Example: In Braga since we were sleeping at 3,500 meters we decided to do a day hike up to 4,100 meters to have our bodies produce more red-blood cells and then climb back down to sleep again at 3,500 meters.

We took a walk with Jaya to a glacial lake and to overlook the valley. Stunning but it was getting difficult to do much without putting forth twice the effort. I remembered being out of breath brushing my teeth. I was getting nervous that I wasn’t going to make it because of the difficulties doing the simplest of tasks.

For pictures from day eight please click HERE

Day Nine: Braga to Khangsar

The town that we stayed at wasn’t on any map that we could find, including the official map, our topographical map, google, or any map online. The sign on the guest house didn’t say the town name either. It wasn’t really a town, rather just two guest houses next to one another between Manang and Tilicho Lake Base Camp.

The walk was fine; it wasn’t hard on the lungs or legs. We were starting to get above the tree line. Trees stop growing at a certain altitude. This is important to know because things start getting more expensive, it starts getting much colder, and when at that altitude, warmth smells like yak dung.

One of my favorite pictures of the entire trek was taken that day with Jaya and I playing cards (by Cori, who has a real eye for photos).

For pictures from day nine please click HERE

Day Ten: Khangsar to Tilicho Lake then to TL Base Camp

Day 10 was definitely the most difficult thus far. We were to go from around 3,600 meters to over 5,000 meters and back down in a single agonizing day. We woke up early, before anyone else because we had to get to Tilicho Base Camp before the other porters because there were only 50 beds between the two guest houses.

Jaya told me, “you go ahead, get a room, don’t run otherwise your head will hurt with the altitude.” I made the walk in just under 2:30 through some of the scariest terrain that I’ve even seen. Doing it alone freaked me out because if I fell in the landslide area I’d be a thousand meters down and nobody would know.

I ran into the owner of one of the guest houses along the way. He told me that he was sold out that night, but that the other one may be open. He was smoking a cigarette and yelling into the mountain to see if there were landslides ahead. Crazy man.

I arrived at the base camp and both guest houses were sold out. We had the option of sleeping on the floor in the restaurant with the porters and other guests who didn’t get a room, OR, we could sleep in a tent. I chose the tent after the man working said that the porters could be drinking and gambling into the night.

Cori and Jaya arrived about 30-45 minutes behind me. We had a quick lunch, put our things into the tent for safe keeping and started up the mountain. The walk itself was stunning. Mountains assaulting our senses and humbling us with their gigantic stature.

Walking slow decreases the chance of brain swelling and altitude sickness. Our hearts were pounding and it was the only sound we could hear. One foot in front of the other bistaarai, bistaarai, slowly slowly in Nepali.

We were the very last group to go up. People around noon were already starting to come down as they’d gone up to the lake for sunrise after spending the night at the base camp. Everyone we talked to said, “you’ve still got about another 1-2 hours.” This was being said to us from the time we left base camp until we really were 1-2 hours away.

There was a group of younger Israelis in front of us. One of the girls was having a really rough go at it. She was on the side of the trail breathing heavily asking us for water. Water is another key to not getting altitude sickness. I was drinking at least four liters of water a day even if I wasn’t thirsty, just to stave off headaches and other warning signs of altitude sickness. This woman didn’t bring water with her, what the hell was she thinking?

There’s one picture of Cori with Jaya that sums up the hike pretty well. Absolutely beautiful landscape in the background, Cori’s face bordering misery, and Jaya just having another day at the office. Here’s a link to the picture.

We finally arrived. My mind was playing tricks on me. I thought that I was having a panic attack because my heart was beating so fast and I couldn’t regulate it even when sitting still. My mind kept telling me that we were going to get stranded. Snow was on it’s way, I couldn’t breathe, the lake was beautiful, but I needed some sweet, sweet oxygen and was ready to go back down. At this point the girl who was in bad shape came up and she was in such pain she was crying like crazy, dehydrated, and we thought that she could die given the shape she was in.

We hopped, we ran, we did everything we could to preserve our knees but get down before the storm came. We got dinner and stewed in the dining hall with the musky smell of burning dung.

On our way back to the tent we saw the sick girl being carried down. She had some shots to stop her brain from swelling too bad.

Someone had a thermometer and it said -20 degrees. We camped in -20 with a broken zipper. Snow had gotten into our tent and our breath had made ice on the inside of the tent. Our muscles felt atrophied the next morning because of our shivering.

For pictures from day ten please click HERE

Day Eleven: Tilicho Lake Base Camp to Khangsar

It took about an hour to thaw out. My fingers felt so much pain and my toes didn’t exist that morning. We ate quickly and got on the road. The hike on the way back seemed much more difficult than the way there. I think it was just because the day before was such hell.

Jaya went ahead and got us the same room we’d slept the night before. I immediately took a nap and sat in my sleeping bag for most of the day. We drank at least six liters of hot tea while waiting for bed time.

We saw the sick girl that night. She showed up with a really sour attitude when we asked her genuinely how she was and if she’d continue. She said, I’m this close, it would be stupid for me not to go. The pass is 400 meters higher than the lake. I thought it would be stupid for her to continue. That was the last we ever saw or heard from her.

For pictures from day eleven please click HERE

Day Twelve: Khangsar to Yak Karka

We met a few American women that were staying at Celesty Inn before our trip and said that when a Nepali person says that the trail is flat; not to trust them. Today was the reason why.

We left the no-named town for Yak Karka, aptly named because of the high yak population. The map showed that it was flat, Jaya said that it was flat, and we expected it to be flat. The Americans’ voices rang in my head. After passing though what looked like a ghost town we were staring down a cliff.

We had to climb down 400 meters which meant that shortly after that we’d have to climb up 400 meters. We were offered hash along the way by some young guys selling supplies on the side of the trail. We turned them down but talked to them for a few minutes about America, bowling, and music. I have no idea how they know what bowling is but, sure enough, they did.

Yak Karka was a small place with about 10 guest houses which were all serving yak burgers. We declined the opportunity to add yak to a list of new meats we’ve tried on this trip. Meat is also supposed to be bad and contribute to altitude sickness.

We ate pasta and went to bed early and were kept up half the night by a noisy group below us. Half the night meaning until about 10pm.

For pictures from day twelve please click HERE

Day Thirteen: Yak Karka to Thorung Phedi

The hike from Yak Karka to Thorung Phedi was fairly simple. Hordes of people littered the trails on the way up. I was a little fed up with being around so many people so I wanted to walk ahead at a much faster pace. Walking fast at this altitude was no problem for me. I think that the walk to Tilicho Lake had further helped my acclimatization. I felt like I was ready for anything the trail could throw at me.

We arrived early, around 10:30 in the morning. We debated going up to the high camp and gaining another 400 meters in altitude. After talking with the man who owned the guest house and Jaya, we opted to stay at the low camp. If we were to feel the signs of altitude sickness we’d have to go back down anyways. We set the alarm to wake up at 3AM and be on our way by 3:30AM.

We met a really nice guy named Julian whose guide was getting sick. Later that night he would keep the other guides awake with diarrhea and vomiting from altitude sickness. We talked and invited him to join us for what was supposed to be the toughest day of the trek.

We went to bed shortly after dark with anticipation making it difficult to sleep.

For pictures from day thirteen please click HERE

Day Fourteen: PASS DAY Thorung Phedi to Muktinath

3AM came quick. I was ready to conquer the pass. I woke with no signs of headache, body ache, nor fatigue. Cori told me that while training for triathlons and her marathon that the coaches would always say the same thing, “nothing new on race day.” We had the same breakfast, two hard boiled eggs and two chapattis.

Julian, Jaya, Cori, and I started walking with our headlamps on slowly up the hill. We were told that the first couple of kilometers were the most difficult and once we reached high camp it would be simple from there. We kept a pace faster than most up the first part so that we wouldn’t bottle neck and we’d be in the front so our view would be unobstructed.

We passed high camp with little difficulty. The sun was coming out and it was absolutely gorgeous. The stars faded away with the coming of dawn and I felt great. Cori was having a difficult time breathing and her heart was pounding. I was worried for her but knew that the pass was only a few kilometers from where we were. Turning around wasn’t an option.

We started to get passed by people riding up on mules. They were having the mule guide stop so that they could take pictures. It was almost comical to see these people riding mules to the top of the mountain while we were huffing and puffing and having difficulties walking. We’d reached the pass and seen the famous sign that everyone gets their picture taken with.

There was much fanfare and I felt really proud of me and Cori. We had one of the best cups of tea that I can remember at the top. We took about 50 pictures, ate a Snickers bar and a few Hobnobs and began what I was dreading most, the 1,700 meter descent.

The landscape changed to a very barren, dry, desolate scene that reminded me of some of the hikes in Arizona. The walk down seemed to take forever. We were playing games to keep our minds occupied so that boredom wouldn’t make us trip up and fall. Cori and I were trying to remember every movie we’d ever seen with one another. Julian and I were naming 80’s movies in alphabetical order. After we finished we went through capitals of countries in alphabetical order.

We reached Muktinath in the early afternoon, had the best dal baht I’d ever had, invested very wisely in a hot shower, and took a much deserved nap. That night we went out with a couple we’d met in Yak Kharka who we ran into again at our guest house.

We had a few $5 beers, watched while everyone was smoking hashish in and around the Bob Marley Bar, and I bought Cori an amazing wool big scarf /small blanket. Sleep came easy and hit me hard. It was the first night in a while where we didn’t set the alarm.

For pictures from day fourteen please click HERE

Day Fifteen: Muktinath to Kagbeni

We’d heard about Kagbeni and the Dragon Hotel before we left. It was rumored to have an owner who ran a guest house in Japan and knew what Westerners wanted; which included bathtubs in the rooms, hot apple pie, and a common area to watch television. We were dying to get there but Jaya was eager to first show us one of the holiest sites in Nepal.

It was both a Hindu temple and a Buddhist Gupta as well. Once we crossed the pass there was a road all the way from Muktinath into civilization. It was at times the worst road that I’ve ever seen, albeit it was a road and many Hindu people from all over India and Nepal make a pilgrimage to this temple. One thing of interest was 108 fountains that were supposed to be for long life. We all splashed some water on our heads and went on. We saw an eternal flame that came from an underground stream making it look a little like the water was on fire. Jaya was excited to show us the Hindu temple and told Cori to join him. When Cori took off her shoes and tried to walk in the woman at the door shoved Cori and told her it was for Hindus only. The bathtubs in Kagbeni sounded better and better.

The walk was along the road for the most part and very bland. We were in a high desert that would be amazing had we not just hiked 14 days through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.

The rumors were true. We took baths, had apple pie, and watched cable TV!

For pictures from day fifteen please click HERE

Day Sixteen: Kagbeni to Tatopani

We woke up and walked to Jomsom, walking again on the road for the most part. It felt like a different hike than we had started. We opted to take the bus from Jomsom to Tatopani meaning hot water because of it’s hot springs. For me the bus ride was uneventful. For Cori it was a terrifying experience of being trapped in a death-machine with bald tires while being breathed on by a red-headed Israeli kid.

We decided that going to the hot springs wasn’t for us and instead talked with a lovely German couple for a few hours about different places to visit and not to visit. This conversation was the second in as many days where we’d been warned about the perils of Vietnamese scam artists.

For pictures from day sixteen please click HERE

Day Seventeen: Tatopani to Ghara

The walk from Tatopani to Ghara was covered by lush vegetation and kept us relatively cool in the lower altitude. There was apparently a race going on that was 150 miles over 6 days. We hadn’t seen anyone yet but the trail was covered in bright pink rubber bows marking the trail.

The view from where we stayed was pretty incredible. We didn’t want to look at it from the roof because there was an extremely sick woman in the fetal position up there. The highlight of this day was meeting the craziest old woman we’d ever met. She was in her mid 60’s, had no guide, ordered roksi first thing which is like Nepali everclear, served warm, and told us all about how she tried to go to Poon Hill the week before but it was too cloudy so she was trying again. Also mentioned that she’d met a really nice Icelandic woman from the race and hoped to see her again the next day. We later found out there were no Icelandic people in the race…too much roksi?

For pictures from day seventeen please click HERE

Day Eighteen: Ghara to Ghorepani

The walk to Ghorepani was easy. We were there in a few hours and had a whole lot of time to kill. I read The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev; it was a good read but kind of eerie because we could see the mountain he died climbing on the horizon. Ghorepani was a larger place with some cool things to look at.

It was very busy because it was the jumping off place to go to Poon Hill. Poon Hill is comparatively an easy hike to a peak of around 3,300 meters to see the sunrise with 2 of the world’s tallest mountains and an incredible panorama of the Himalayas.

For pictures from day eighteen please click HERE

Day Nineteen: Poon Hill and the long way down

We walked up Poon Hill before the sun came up and ran into our friend Julian that we crossed Thorong Pass with. The view was spectacular but nothing special compared to what we’d already seen. My stomach was a little upset and I keep thinking about the woman on the roof who was hunched over the day before.

We got some pictures and headed back to the guest house for breakfast. We had to descend around 2,000 meters down steep steps to get where we were sleeping that night. Again the tediousness of going downhill was getting to me.

My stomach was gurgling and I knew I’d had it.

We arrived in the afternoon and until the next morning I couldn’t be more than a few meters from the toilet.

For pictures from day nineteen please click HERE

Day Twenty: Back to Pokhara

After having a really crappy night, we walked as fast as I could, but my strength had been zapped by whatever parasitic bastard that was living inside of me. We finally arrived back in Pokhara at the Celesty Inn. It was the most anti-climactic finish to one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life, the goodbye with Jaya was nothing more than a wave as I ran upstairs to spend the next few days by the toilet.

For pictures from day twenty please click HERE

If you have any questions please feel free to email me. I’ll also be happy to give you Jaya’s information as I would recommend him and trust him with my life.

Nepal Everything but the Annapurna Circuit

Jan 25, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Nepal, Uncategorized, Where we've been

This blog is about everything in Nepal with the exception of the Annapurna Circuit which I will write a day-by-day account of.

After being in India for 7 LONG weeks we were ecstatic by the peaceful serenity that just crossing a border could provide. I will write extensively about India in the coming months, I just don’t know how to construct it quite yet. I’m not sure if I’m going to do a week by week account of what we did or if I’m going to steal Cori’s idea and do a ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ type of a blog. Anyways, this blog isn’t about India this is about Nepal. Glorious, beautiful, stunning, peaceful, Nepal. As the T-Shirts say, Never Ending Peace And Love.

In order to fully appreciate Nepal we have to back track a minute to Africa. I saw six of the big seven in Africa and needed to see a rhino. Seeing a rhino for me wasn’t simply a ‘check mark’ like seeing a buffalo or a wildebeest I always thought they looked like prehistoric mammals and thought they were really cool looking.

I read an article when we were holed up in a hotel room in India about things to do in Nepal and stumbled upon a site where the author had ridden an elephant though the jungle and got to see rhinos. I never thought that I would spend close to four months in Africa not seeing a single rhino and could come to Nepal and ride elephants to see one…AWESOME!

After the train ride from hell coming from Varanasi to Gorakpur, India (which should have taken 6-7 hours but took us 11) we with our new Chinese friend Xhen got a taxi to the India /Nepal border. They dropped us off about a kilometer away from the actual frontier so that we could be assaulted by people trying to change money at terrible rates, sell us things, have us ride in their rickshaw/ tuk tuks that extra kilometer, and a litany of other scams you’d expect in the worst place of any country (the border).

We arrived the next morning after hiring a taxi for less than $25 to take us 4 hours to Chitwan. We checked into our hotel and experienced our first scam in Nepal. I won’t get into it but I will say that if you go to Chitwan DO NOT BOOK A THREE DAY TOUR WITH YOUR HOTELS. It is a scam to get you to do what they want you to, to see what they want you to see and for you to pay twice as much as you can if you book the activities on your own.

I went out in the morning with my amazing guide Doma, some old guide who was kind of belligerent, and a really great guy named Mark. We signed up for a 10 hour walk through the jungle to see some rhinos up close and on foot. The safety briefing was 50% hysterical 50% terrifying. It went something like this: Mind you I’m paraphrasing

  • Sloth bears are one of the most dangerous animals in the forest. Which is why we have these sticks, to beat them off of one another should they attack. If they attack hide your face because they don’t like human eyes and will attack them. One guide last month was attacked by a sloth bear and no longer has a muscle in his leg.
  • Tigers, tigers know where you are before you know where they are. They don’t often attack, but there is nothing we can do if they do attack us.
  • Rhinos, if a rhino comes charging climb a tree. You must get to at least two meters above the ground so that they cannot reach you with their horns. When they are charging you and you must look for a tree, make sure that said tree is thick enough to handle the blunt force trauma that an adult male rhino can inflict.
  • Cover your arms because the grass can cut you
  • Look after your feet because there are leaches
  • Any questions? No, good, let’s go!

They’re building a road through Chitwan National Park so the first couple hours of us walking were interrupted by tractors carrying stone to make the road. This road is the reason why we had to trek so far into the jungle to see animals. On the walk Mark and I had an opportunity to really vent about India and how much different the overall feeling of Nepal was in comparison. To not get into horrific detail or make you think that all we did was gripe about India I will summarize what Doma said, “I really like when people visiting Nepal come from India, they really seem to appreciate our effort in tourism.” When she said this I didn’t really grasp it until almost a month later when I learned that 2011 or 2068 on the Nepalese calendar was Nepal Tourism Year. Tourist class busses were fined heavily for striking this year. There were multiple billboards up saying “Guests are gods.” It was so welcoming and just the first taste of true Nepalese hospitality and warmth.

After walking nonstop for about 4 hours we came across a friendly elephant which I got to feed a banana to. An hour later, we finally spotted a mama and baby rhino. It was weird; we put forth so much effort and sweat to see an animal who wanted to protect her young from the noises of tourists and tractors.

We had lunch and talked. On the way back, I talked with Doma for an hour or two of the walk about some of her accomplishments. She has been honored by multiple organizations about her efforts in rhino conservation and wildlife conservation in general. She mentioned that she was more of a bird person than a rhino person and that she usually goes out with bird watchers.

Doma has a huge leg up on the old grumpy man who took us around because she and the other younger guides rather than depending on a hunch will text one another where the rhinos are if they have spotted one. She got the call and we were off to see another more friendly (used to people) rhino on the outskirts of town. These things are massive beasts which funny ears. I’m really glad and think that everything that we did to see a rhino was totally worth it.

The next morning we took an elephant ride though the jungle. Didn’t see any rhinos but it was beautiful nonetheless. We got to the bus only to realize that the bus ticket we had wasn’t a ticket but only a voucher. After some screaming, begging, and puppy dog eyes, we were allowed to get on to go to Pokhara. We took the advice of some travelers we met in Varanasi and stayed at the Celesty Inn. I would suggest for anyone going to Pokhara to do the same. The staff was amazing, the rooms were clean, and it has a beautiful location.

Funky Toe:

Our plan was to do some trekking but on the ten hour walk through the jungle my toe was hurting more and more. It had gotten infected and ingrown.  Upon our arrival in Pokhara I went to a pharmacist to see what they could do. I dodged a bullet by leaving when I saw the “doctor” dipping what looked like office scissors into alcohol. After telling him that we were going to go to the hospital instead of him hacking me up, he looked relieved, not a look you want from someone who was about ready to scissor you open.

Narayan from the Celesty Inn took me to the hospital, I paid the equivalent of $5 to skip ahead of everyone and see the doctor immediately. He told me it was going to be 5,000 Nepalese Rupees to operate on my toe (about $60). Narayan, the amazing man he is, starts talking to him in Nepali and knocks the price down to 3,000 NPR! I still owe him one for that one. Hopefully we will steer enough business his way to clear my conscience.

I paid my bill in advance, went into the ER, and had a doctor, two nurses, and four people looking at me talking in Nepali about me for about 30 minutes until it was time to leave. This was Wednesday, we wanted to start our hike on Sunday.

We had to get supplies for our trek with thanks to Carmel and Ally we got HOBNOBS. Best UK food EVER. Now the Hobnob with peanut butter is a whole another delight in and of itself. We bought knock off North Face jackets, some wool footies to keep them warm, and in hindsight what may have been my best purchase (because of my bad knees) walking sticks.

Pokhara is a great town to do as little or as much as you want. Before our trek because of my toe it was in the little category.

Sunday we left for the Annapurna Circuit for 20 days of excellence. There is a blog about that as well.

Boom, we’re back in Pokhara, what an amazing trip the Annapurna Circuit was. I came back with some absolutely terrible food poisoning. The first multiple day bout of it I’ve had on this entire trip. So I hung out in the room for a few days and didn’t eat a single thing. Cori was amazing and tried her best to console me with saltines which were greeted with, “are you out of your mind, I’m dying!” I love you honey!

We took a few long walks around the lake to see the paragliders landing; we walked up to the top of the mountain to see the Peace Pagoda, and took a bike ride to a Tibetan refugee village where we had the worst Tibetan food we’ve ever had. The trip was difficult because it was entirely uphill on the way there and the roads were littered with traffic. The village was quaint, touristy, and we bought a hand held prayer wheel and were forced to buy who bracelets by pushy Tibetan women.

About five days after finishing the trek we left for Kathmandu. What a shocking experience. Going from a place as peaceful as Pokhara to Kathmandu was an assaulting change. We saw all the things you’d expect us to see. We went to the Monkey Temple, the Old City, Freak Street, and the backpacker area. The town is extremely polluted and hectic.

We left for Nagarkot to see if we could get a glimpse of Everest. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see much of anything. It was still nice to get out of town before heading off to Thailand.

Nepal is an absolutely amazing country with incredible people. The scenery is spectacular. It is some place I know that I will return.



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