About 7.30 in Pokhara Nepal, was up about 6am to go and take photos of the sunrise by the lake, now really better get this blog on the go. My last day in Pokhara, Nepal before heading to the chaos of India tomorrow, want to get everything I need to do sorted so I can go and chill for the rest of the day. So, this is what's been going on since my last update…
3rd - 7th October
Mostly relaxing in Pokhara and making preparations for the trek. Met Chris Fleet (Fleetwood, naturally) on the 3rd, good lad with some cool stories from 6 years in the army, and a sister in a band who are just breaking through with appearances at Reading / Leeds etc and getting some airplay on the radio. Kasms, I'll keep my eye on them. Went for a bit of a session in town that night, Pokhara's a buzzing little place with some wicked covers bands, although unfortunately the nightlife does tend to start and finish early.
First taste of 'Delhi belly' the next day, which at least distracted me from a slight hangover. Hired a canoe to take us over to the opposite shore of the lake to the foot of a trail that led to the World Peace Pagoda. First mini-trek in Nepal and it felt good to get out there and leave the town for a while. Beautiful up at the top, looking back out over the lake, Pokhara and the mountains, kicking back by the pagoda as the sun went down… As we came back across the lake we passed a canoe of local women singing, sounded cool, kind of like those samples you hear on chill out or dance tracks, only this time it was just locals doing it for their own enjoyment…
Chatted to Chris about plans, I was keen to get out into the mountains asap, but he wanted to spend a few days chilling, and wait for a few people he'd met to arrive. Although I was itching to get started, it worked out well as we hooked up with some quality people. Meant I had to drop Royal Chitwan National Park from my plans, but oh well, another time. The issue of me wanting to crack on with things may be a reoccurring theme in my travels though due to my RTW ticket, the people I've been traveling with so far have just set off with no fixed tickets or set plans, so they're free to go where the mood takes them, and spend extra days here and there. I'm a bit envious as there's certain flight dates I need to try and keep to and places I need to be….. still, I'm not in a bad position…….everyone loving work and the shortening nights at home?!
In the intervening time before heading off on the 8th, met Poppy, Luke, Ben and Karnit. Poppy, a 30 year old Greek girl, full of attitude and interesting girl. Luke, mid thirties but acts mid twenties, who Chris had met in Kashmir and was heading to Nepal too so came to join us. 1.5 years on the road so loads of good travel stories and advice to pass on, and always ready with a smile and to share a joke. Then we hooked up with Ben and Karnit, who Chris and Luke had met briefly in Agra, India. Ben, a chilled out Aussie (but you'd never know it after living in England for 4/5 years), same age as me and a wicked sense of humour. Good music taste too. And then there was Ben's girlfriend Karnit, 24, pretty ½ Israeli/English girl, really easy to get along with and gave us all a laugh.
Spent the rest of the time relaxing, playing cards and making final preparations for the trek - buying equipment, clothing etc, getting trek permits, sorting out maps and all that sort of shiz. Had a memorable lunch, as we sat by the lake, mist rising around the surrounding mountains, and eagles flying around over the trees (which were at our eye level) only about 100 metres from where we were sitting. Big, graceful, impressive creatures… We were due to start trekking on the 7th, but incessant tropical rain, constant for almost 24 hours, put paid to that. Instead we spent the day in a cool little café, playing cards and chatting to an awesome soundtrack of Bob Dylan, the Stones, various chill-out and dub compilations etc. The delay did mean that the 4 guys could go for a group shave at one of the many local barbers. For once, when they leant out of their shops saying "you want shave?" they were right, and we strapped ourselves in to get shaved by a cutthroat razor for the first time. Mine went well, even quite enjoyed it, although Fleetwood's barber seemed to draw some inspiration from Sweeney Todd. He wasn't best pleased.
Oct 8th - 16th - Annapurna Base Camp / Sanctuary trek
"Annapurna base camp trek is a classic trek into the heart of the impressive Annapurna Himalayas with unsurpassed views surrounded by enormous glaciers, along with an exceptional culture experience into the modern hill life of west Nepal. Even in a country whose horizons overflow with crystalline Himalayan ranges, trekkers consider the intense beauty of the Annapurna Sanctuary with a unique reverence."
The six of us set out on the Annapurna Base Camp trek (otherwise known as Annapurna Sanctuary trek) after breakfast on the 8th. First day started well, the rain from the previous day had cleared although it was still overcast. As we worked our way up the trail though we got further into the clouds and the mist, until we were walking in light rain that just got heavier. I got my first leech, which Luke jumped on in a Ray Mears-like flash. As it turned out, this was our worst day of weather, we woke early the next morning to an awesome sunrise, after staying the night in a quiet mountainside village. Impressive snow-capped mountain vistas, it was pretty inspiring thinking that's what we'd be walking into.
We set of on the second day, pretty buzzing after the sunrise, and were passed shortly by a team of 10 to 15 local Nepalese porters, who were flying, almost bouncing down the trail, singing, whistling and shouting as they went. You can only stand back in admiritation for the porters along the trail (mostly men but some women too), the loads they carry, all by a strip of cloth around their heads, is incredible. And while we're kitted out in full North face gore tex super grip footwear, they're just wearing flip flops or some simlarly flimsy trainers. These guys are true grafters, lugging 3 or 4 peoples luggage at a time, or food to feed those people for a week. Not sure a chiropracter would agree with their working practices though.
Highlights of day 2 included sunbathing in a riverside village over lunch, and discovering a huge marijuana plant growing right next to our dining area in the evening. If anyone wants some cheap weed (of the pick-your-own variety) Nepal's the place to go. The following day we woke and made our way down to the natural hot springs by the river that ran down through one of the valleys. Was awesome just relaxing in the hot springs, chatting amongst ourselves and also with other travelers that were in there, taking time out from their treks. Day 3 ended with Poppy telling us she'd be leaving us to head back as the trek was too hard for her. It was a shame to lose her, but the best decision for everyone in the end as she was going through hell and it was affecting the progress we were making.
Another great sunrise on day 4, up about 6am as we were most days. After a few photos I went up and round the corner from our lodge to make a sketch of the much revered Machapuchre (Fish Tail mountain). The mountain's considered sacred by the locals, and it's been closed to climbers since the 50's after several deaths and freak accidents during failed ascent attempts. A couple of local kids, about 5 or 6 years old, were buzzing round me, leaning on me etc while I was making the sketch, but rather than being annoying it was all good, good to mix with the locals.
From Chhomrong where we'd stayed overnight we made our way up through the day to another village, Dovan, higher up the trail. By now we were walking in two groups - Chris, Luke and I out front and Ben and Karnit further behind. This seemed to suit everyone better as we could all waklk at our own pace, which is important if you're on a big trek. We'd still meet for lunch, and at the end of the day at whichever lodge we were staying at.
Lodges weren't luxurious, and got colder and danker as we headed up the trail. They were clean though, all run by friendly and helpful locals, and we weren't complaining, each new and unique lodge we stayed at along the trek was part of the experience. Initially I shared a room with Poppy, then moved in with Chris and Luke when she turned back. We were joined some nights by more room guests in the form of resident mice. We had some interesting neighbours along the way, judging by accounts from Ben & Karnit the next day, my earplugs were the best thing I could have ever packed after the night rooming next to the two Israeli guides who were rather more than just trekking partners…
The weather got colder and more misty and murky as we headed up. On day 5 we set off early and made our way to Machapuchare Base Camp, all of us feeling some effects of the altitude on the way. Nothing a quick stop, drink and snickers wouldn't sort though. Got to MBC and found our lodge for the night, and Chris Luke and I got the hot drinks in, and cards out, waiting for Ben and Karnit to arrive.
Late afternoons and evenings on the trek, when we were holed up in our lodges, were a great craic. As a group we spent a lot of time together; chatting, playing cards, eating, laughing at eachother etc, we became good friends. Good times all round. It was also good chatting to other trekkers from around the world in the dining rooms of the lodges (where everyone would hang out), and also interesting chatting to locals and proters (or at least trying to) who were also there.
The usual early start / awesome sunrise at MBC on day 6, then we headed off in great weather to ABC, at the top of the trail. Although it's sub zero until the sun's out (about -10 overnight and -1/-2 in the day when it's overcast) when the sun was out and you were trekking you soon got warm. We reached ABC, took a load of pictures at the summit (or at least the summit of the trail), found our lodge and room for the night, before clouds rolled in early afternoon. Then we just sat it out, really just waiting for the sunrise the following morning when we'd really see the ampitheatre of the Annapurna region in it's full glory. Later in the afternoon I struggled, really struggled, with the altitude. My brain was functioning super slowly, I felt woozy and not with it, and bloody freezing, despite wearing 4 t-shirts, a hoodie, rainjacket, beanie, long johns, trekking trousers, and double layered waterproof trousers over that to boot! I was in a bad way, but improved as the heater came on and I ate.
Woke at 5am the next day, Had to step outside to use the toilet and the scene outside was epic. The sky was pitch black, but the moon was out and the stars were shining brightly, and the light from the moon and stars were lighting the 360 degree snow-capped mountains that completely surrounded us. I just stood there in my long-johns for a few minutes taking it all in, the trek up there had been completekly worth it. Went back to bed for a while and rose with everyone to see the sunrise and illuminate the mountains.
After the sunrise and breakfast at ABC, we set off back down the mountains, this time all 5 of us walking together for a while. Good banter walking together, but we were making slow and frustrating progress. I wanted to crack on and get down, firstly as I was more constrained by time than the others as I needed to get to India, and also as I was walking at a quicker pace and really wanted to test myself and push it, and see how much progress I could make.
After a short and easy days's trekking on day 7, we stopped and I still felt fresh, so I decided to have one last night with the guys, then go out front by myself and get back to Pokhara in 2 days. It was a hard decision as I was having a great time with the group, but at the same time I was getting frustrated too. Sometimes when you're travelling I guess you just need to do what you want to do. So I set off early on day 8, hoping that I'd see the guys back in Pokhara for a few beers and a catch up before I made my way to India.
Day 8 & 9 were good fun, a bit crazy, a bit stupid, but a good buzz. I pushed myself massively on day, even drawing some respect from the locals with the distance I was covering. In the midday heat and on a massive incline, I think I was even close to fainting at one point, so I stopped for a lunch and to get out of the sun. Good feeling of achievement when I reached my lodge for the night on the 8th day, and spent the evening chatting to cool Canadian girl about travelling, budhism, mediation, and her life in Bangok where she'd been working for a year and a half. She gave me good info about SE Asia that could prove useful in the next few months. Alarmingly, Melissa had been attacked by two Nepalese/Indian men on the trail 5 days previously, being wrapped round the head with a metal bar. She was travelling solo, and on the day I met her had hired a guide to accompany her to re-start her trek and exercise her demons. I had much admiration for her bravery, whilst at the same time I made me question my decision top strike out alone. Still, after trekking from about 8 till 2 on day 9, I made it back to our welcoming guest house ('Giri') in Pokhara ok, delighted to see a nice comfy double bed and hot shower! The others made it back the following day, and it was great to see them and catch up.
The trek was awesome, a good physical challenge, good time socially if you're in a good group, and culturally you get an insight in to how the locals live up in the mountains. The scenery is varied and ever impressive - rivers, streams, forest, rice fields, [pockets of bamboo and with the skyline mostly dominated by the snowcaps when the weather's clear. I was pleased how I took to the trek physically, I was dubious about taking on such a long trek due to fitness and frankly, pretty sh*te knees, but as it turned out I was setting the pace out front and the old knees stood up to it admirably. The trek's left me with a taste for more, maybe back in Nepal one day or perhaps somewhere else. Will have to try and get some on the go with Lacey too when we hook up in SE Asia, should be a similar pace.
Spent a few days back in Pokhara after the trek, enjoying some luxuries of being back in town, and getting stuff sorted out for heading down into India. The day i left the others hired motorbikes for a 4-5 day tour in Nepal, and I was torn whether to join them as I've been itching to get on a bike since being on the Subcontinent for a few days. But.....there's plenty of time for all that while I'm away, I was massively keen to get into India , and it just felt time to move on. Hanging out in a group's cool, particularly when you get on well with them all, but at the same time you can end up sacrificing some of the stuff you want to do, and it can all get a bit too comfortable at the expense of fully taking in what's around you.
I write this now from India (had to re-do some of this blog after it posted a load of scotch mist online - painful!!!), and it's on a whole new level to Nepal. It's bloody insane, a shock to the senses. It stinks, it's sweltering, and there's people EVERYWHERE. Nonetheless, I'm loving it. But, that's all for the next update (which i promise will be shorter, as frankly this must be boring you all as well as me to tears!).
Hope all's good at home. The Indian adventure's begun!