12 April: Kalopani (2550m) to Tatopani (1190m)
MI: today is the last of our trekking days with a short couple of hours walking mainly on the Nat trails (red and whites). We move below to magic height of 2500m (above which altitude sickness can occur) for the first time since 27 March.
Unfortunately it had started to rain not long after we arrived last night so we didn't get views of any significance. When we woke up the views were also short lived but we did get brief clear vistas as the sun rose to Annapurna 1 and Dhaulagiri, two further 8000m peaks, to add to Manaslu from earlier in the trek. Cool to have added three more of the big 14 peaks to Everest, Lhotse and Makalu.
The highlight of today is that gorge that we walk through, the Kali Gandaki Gorge, is the worlds deepest gorge, being flanked by both Annapurna 1 and Dhaulagiri. From where we were standing the river is a couple of hundred meters below us (not so deep really!) but the top of Annapurna 1 is over 18,000 feet above us. Sort of stretches your neck!
JB: A bit sorry today being the last day of trekking, the realisation that such an amazing journey was coming to an end. We had decided that we would trek to Ghasa then get a jeep to Talopani as it was unclear how long the trek all the way to Talopani was and we needed to ensure we were there tonight to ensure we got back to Pokhara the next day.
We followed the red and white alternative trails as has been our preference and although they didn't stray far from the road we were able to remain off the road and enjoy a very pleasant walk through pine and bamboo forest.
I should clarify the term "road" that we have used throughout this blog. The Nepalese have been constructing a road around both sides of the Annapurna circuit for a few years now. On the eastern side it runs as far as Manang (albeit with an impassable section north of Chame, which results in them having vehicles on both sides and transferring across a swing/foot bridge). The road on the Western side goes as far as Jomsom although again there seems to be a section in Miktinath. In all the cases we saw the road was of a very poor standard. Hard to describe how poor but makes the New Zealand forestry track look like a highway, the average speed of vehicles is about 15km/hr and at that speed the vehicles are really shaking around!
MI: Chris and I were giving John a hard time about his red/whites, saying we were missing all the colourful pilgrim holy men trekking to Muktinath on the flat roads with beautiful views and the odd vehicle. Bit of a wind up really, as the alternative routes have been sensational!
So we arrived at Ghasa , a one horse and one bus station town, after an uneventful walk. Such a shame the big peaks were hidden. Entering Ghasa there was another checkpoint and this took no time to sign in, or out maybe! I have to say the boys have become pretty slack at their behaviour regarding peeing, snotting, coughing and burping. Chris did go about 20 meters down the track to take a pee but still in sight of the police and other tourists waiting a the check point. I wonder if these habits will be like the increased red blood cells we now have from being at sustained altitude .... It will take three months to return to normal!
The Ghasa bus park was a hive of activity. Some quick decision making, and the fact I pointed out we were sweating over $20 between a squashed bus trip versus a private jeep trip, we organised a jeep and to on the road. Within 10 minutes the bus overtook us, although we were very comfortable:)
We estimated the average speed of the jeep was 12.5k/hr, all to do with the lack of road. Cliff/ shear drop on the side of long legged Harm in the front and John in the back, with Chris in the middle and me on the bank side enjoying the ride in ignorant comfort! As John mentioned above the word road is used very liberally, some may say loosely.
JB: arrived in Tatopani just as heavy rain and thunder started. The lodge that our alternative trail guide recommended had rooms but not of the standard we have become accustomed over the last couple of days. Mark and Harm swapped their room for another after discovering a large puddle on the floor and an even bigger spider on the roof. Chris and I chose to stay. A questionable decision if the rain had of continued all night as the room had a couple of major leaks, luckily each just on either side of my bed, the bathroom may as well have hade no roof it had so many leaks and Chris' bed needed to be braced against the wall with a trekking pole as it was coming into three pieces. It was almost as if the trekking gods had determined the worst accommodation would be the first and last nights!
During the afternoon the rain continued, we went for a walk in the village and decided the town had no redeeming features whatsoever. mark described it as being a bit like Ghasa without the horse and with a dodgier bus station. There are hot pools which a lot of the trekkers seemed to be attracted to, after a brief inspection we decided they also weren't to our standard (which by now is pretty low!) and decided to spend the afternoon in the dining room playing cards and talking.
MI: Again in the afternoon we watched as people arrived to no vacancies and were sent back out into the rain to find a bed for the night. We felt like frauds as we had pulled out of walking the full way to Tatopani, and with almost all others arriving drenched from a full day walking in the rain, we kept a low profile. Guilt was however short lived as we became distracted by the delicious flavours of Khukri Rum and coke.
Some of the same faces from the past weeks accommodation rolled into town mid afternoon (German Girls, Swiss Girls, Belgian couple and others). Chris and I hit the rums, John the coke and beers, Harm everything. Good night, cards with the Katrin and Susanne (the German sisters), in bed by 10 still though.