Leaving Tibet, we did have a bit of a nightmare trying to get on our flight as no-one seems to understand our round the world ticket – the ‘Star Alliance’ has obviously just been thought up by the CEOs – the ‘alliance’ concept is yet to be communicated to the airline staff on the ground. Eventually Fi had to take snaps of everyone involved and Bryn had to raise his voice for about a hour, quite interesting when the Air China staff spoke no English, but it made Bryn feel better – they only let us on at the last minute.
We did arrive in Nepal though after a lovely mountain flight from Lhasa, getting a great view of Everest.
It’s not quite the same though as staring up from base camp
After a bit of research in the LP we checked into a nice hotel in Kathmandu to ‘celebrate’ Bryn’s 30th birthday, and treated him to a slap-up Italian meal with a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse – god we miss wine – after a walk around Durbar Square.
After a couple of days in Kathmandu, catching up on some western food....including the biggest steaks in the world....
....and getting some shopping done we had to get out. It really is hectic, dirty, and in the tourist area, quite a sleazy city. The hash boys and tiger balm salesman whispering in your ear every five minutes does wear you down quite quickly. Although it is sad to see kids rummaging through the piles of litter left on the street for collection each evening, before the dogs come and take anything remaining that is even slightly edible.
Now it was time to move on to the main event – the 2 week Annapurna circuit trek. We had been preparing for months, three summits, carrying full packs, humid and cold conditions….we were ready. We decided against porters and guides as we had never felt in better shape. We packed the slabs of Dairy Milk and headed off. Testing out our new fake Arcteryx waterproofs right from the start which didn't turn out to be that waterproof
We met a nice pair of French guys, Christian and Ben, and a pair of Canadians (not Americans Bryn), Chris and Sheryl on the bus to the start point. From this point on these would be our hiking buddies.
The trek didn’t start off well for Bryn as he had the squips and was sick at the side of the trail twice on day one. But in the blistering lowland heat we pushed on. It was cool being able to get cups of tea at the teahouses every hour - unique.
These little places all had strangely similar, yet varied menus – be careful when ordering western food though as a ‘Lasagne’ failed to contain pasta and none of the ingredients were cooked. They also often contained sweet little playful children….
We started to find our rhythm after a tough first couple of days, and with the aid of cooler climate each day of ascending we were walking at a good pace and had already gained a day on the book’s walking itinerary after 4 days.
Passing by the local weed plantations.....
At the village of Upper Pisang we got our first really good view of the snow-capped Annapurna peaks – time for photos at our well positioned lodge for the night.
The sun was really hot in the day so, as Bryn forgot his hat, he had to improvise the headgear!
Once we got to the village of Manang at 3,500m we stopped for a day to acclimatize, as Bryn had been altitude sick in Tibet at Everest and we didn’t want any repeat.
Some local apple crumble helped make us feel comfortable It was starting to get pretty darn cold in the evenings though and this would be our last shower for 4 days!
The days started to get very easy for hiking now as we were limited by the amount of altitude we could sensibly cover in a day – trying to keep it less than 500m per day. We were now leaving at 9am and finishing at 2pm even with lunch and tea breaks.
The lodges were now putting charcoal burners under the tables which was a godsend as it was starting to get damn cold!
Finally, the time had come for the most challenging day of the trek, climbing from 4,500m to 5,500m over the Thorong La pass and then back down to 3,800m to Muktinath. You have to get over before the strong winds come in, so given the ascent coupled with the inability to walk to the loo without losing breath at this altitude we headed off at 6.15am after a bowl of apple porridge and pot of mint tea.
The walk was incredible – we were walking on our own up a mountain with practically zero visibility and snow everywhere – a real sense of mystique and adventure.
By 10am we had reached the pass and felt a real sense of achievement and a little relief that after thinking about the trek for 6 months we had completed it.
Our weary lungs and legs were pleased it would be downhill from hereon in and we vowed to relax and focus on enjoying the villages were walking through and the people we would meet.
Fi's new temple buddies from Muktinath...
Highlights included Kagbeni, a little traditional village, set in the middle of the rainshadow desert....appearing like an oasis to us....
We stayed in a little place run by three Nuns, complete with private chapel and a monk chanting outside our room. The village felt like a medieval film, with its ramshackle stone housing, narrow lanes and free-roaming livestock…
Passed up a visit to the well known ‘YakDonalds’..
We also really liked Marpha – the home of the Nepalese apple – an experiment founded by the King after a visit to France – the apple juice is amazing – quite a few litres consumed!
The further we descended the more rain we were walking in with no decent waterproofs. The clouds were now covering all the mountain peak vistas by about 7am each day. Also, unfortunately for tourists, a jeep track has now been established for virtually the entire route once over the pass, which for us took away the magic of walking in the Annapurnas.
We therefore decided to stop at Tukuche and head back to Jomsom and fly to Pokhara and use the the remaining three days better elsewhere. The Annapurna Circuit completed for us in 11 days.
On the bus back from Pokhara to Kathmandu we caught up in one of the seemingly regular Nepalese strikes. We don’t quite understand what these are about, but they do cause gridlock. We joined a queue of traffic 40km outside of Kathmandu that was not allowed to enter the city for a further 5 hours. So we all sat in midday heat, packed on buses with no aircon and no water. Ambulances could not get through the traffic to help people. People were taking refuge wherever they could find shade…. It was chaos.
Back in Kathmandu we headed off for another one of our Wedding presents – a Meditation and Yoga retreat courtesy of Mike and Alex. We had three days in a lovely secluded retreat learning how to try and achieve balance between our mind, body and soul. We got quite into it…..ohm, ohm, ohm, ohm, ohm! Even Bryn managed to keep the sarcastic comments at a minimum. We also enjoyed treatments as part of the package - Ayervedic massage, oil dripping on the head thing, and steam bath….!
Fully mentally and physically reinvigorated we now caught a bus to Royal Chitwan National Park – where Bryn had struck a great off-season deal on a luxury lodge in the park, Temple Tiger, as few visitors go when it is so hot and wet – didn’t deter us though!
It is amazing to be able to go from the Himalayas to a lowland jungle in less than a day’s driving – Nepal is a lot more geographically diverse than we had imagined. We had an amazing time, a real highlight of our trip. We went on 5 elephant safaris, jungle walks and a boat trip in only 4 days. We saw loads of Rhinos up close and personal, four types of deer, a monitor lizard, 18ft Python, wild pigs, a flying squirrel, jackals and Langur and Rhesus Monkeys.
It really must be one of the best places outside of Africa for remote and natural wildlife. For most of the time we were the only guests and so received totally personal service – a real treat after backpacking for so long. It was great to be able to sit back and relax in the evening on the viewing deck and watch the Rhinos wallowing in the mud with a drink in hand – paradise. We got lucky with the weather in that it was baking hot but bone dry.
In addition, we were able to include another wedding present – from Katie – where we spent an afternoon with all the elephants, learned about them, got to play with them, and most importantly, helped to wash them!
After a great month in Nepal, we are now ready (?) to step over the border into blistering summer heat of northern India. Let the fun continue!