Now then everyone, I cannot believe we are here in Nepal with just 1 week to go of our ten and a half month trip. Such a lot has happened and yet it seems to have been just a blink of an eye!
Last time Zoe wrote to you we were in Bangkok staying in an apartment in the complex where Giles and his fiancée Natalya (sp?) live. As Zoe said it was a lazy time just splashing in the pool and reading in the sunshine. Monday was our long awaited departure from Bangkok to Hong Kong at 17.55 and as such we were in a car driving to the airport at 2.30pm so that we would be at the airport in plenty of time - until I checked our tickets! Our 17.55 flight was actually at 16.05 and we were against the clock to get to the airport and check in before they closed the desk. We got to the desk at ten past three and the girl there did not seem bothered at all, we had worried for nothing.
The flight was uneventful apart from the captain mentioning at the start about the wild weather at the other end which might make the landing "fun". The landing was alright but when we got to the info desk at the airport we had some interesting findings. In Hong Kong typhoons are given a rating according to their severity and the potential they have for wreaking havoc. The wild weather seemingly mentioned in passing by our captain was in fact a number 8 typhoon and I think the scale goes up to 8! Our plan of getting the MRT into the city, finding a hostel and then heading for the peak to see the view was well and truly scuppered by this as both the Star Ferry across the harbour and the Peak Tram had been closed due to the weather. All we could do was go into the city (we got the bus which is slower but with the peak closed to us time was no longer important), find a hostel, eat and then see what was going on before going to bed. The streets were empty in the city and every window had a big cross of tape on it to minimize flying glass in the event of breakage. The harbour was rough with really choppy waves and trees being blown about all over the place so we got a couple of photos and then headed for our hostel.
Tuesday morning we looked out upon a relatively calm scene with little evidence of the anticipated devastation. Turns out the #8 typhoon was a bit of a storm in a tea cup. We were able to stroll the streets, cross the harbour and go up the peak on the furnicular tram with no problems. When we got up the peak we discovered that there has been a change since I was there 2 years ago, you now need to pay extra to go up to the viewing platform at the top and we didn't have enough cash with us. We managed to get access to a good free viewing area and got some good shots of the city before descending from the peak to go to the airport for our flight to Kathmandu. This flight was Cathay Pacific operated by Dragonair and the facilities offered to us would have made Easyjet look plush - 5 hour flight with no in flight entertainment (except beer). The flight was not devoid of fun though; when the food was being served the guy across the isle from me told the hostess he didn't want anything so of course I asked him if he wouldn't mind getting a meal so that I could eat it. He obliged and so I had my tray in front of me and his in front of him. While I was still tucking in to my meal he said he was going to have a sleep and that I should just help myself - which I did, swapping my empty dishes for his full ones and eating everything. The funny thing was the two Nepalese people sat the other side of him were looking at me like I was a real to$$er stealing food off another passenger while he slept completely unaware. When he woke up and I told him he laughed his co*k off! We landed in Kathmandu International (which Zoe said is like Ronaldsway Airport used to be over 10 years ago) and we cleared immigration by about 9.30pm. We were met by a car and driver from the guest house and we headed back there experiencing our first taste of Nepal on the way. The streets were rutted and ruined and covered in litter every step of the way, there were armed soldiers at regular intervals and we were a little apprehensive about what the next days would bring.
Our first and only full day in Kathmandu was Wednesday and we had only one real objective for the day - sort out our trip to Pokhara and the trekking we wanted to do there. With the help of the travel desk in our guest house we quickly found ourselves in possession of bus tickets to Pokhara and trekking permits and a map for the Annapurna region and so our objective had been achieved. We spent the rest of the day wandering the bustling streets of the city (unfortunately all completely covered in litter). We walked out to the monkey temple as well and watched the antics of the monkeys and got a terrific view out over the city. That night we had the longest wait ever for a meal in a restaurant only to be served distinctly average food. Oh well, off to bed!
The next day was our 7 hour journey to Pokhara. We had scorned the $18US AC tourist bus in favour of the $6 economy tourist bus and the journey was alright. The roads are bumpy and the drivers are manic but we survived and the scenery was amazing. We arrived in Pokhara at about 3pm, right on schedule and got driven back to the guest house. The rest of the afternoon was spent checking out the Lakeside (tourist) area of town and buying last minute supplies for our planned 8 day trek to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). We also spoke to a number of guides who tried to convince us to hire them for the duration of our hike (at 10 to 15 quid per day there was never any danger of this happening). Whilst not hiring them we were able to pick their brains about the route and times between places so that we could try to plan our stops for food and sleep.
After a hearty trekkers breakfast at the guest house on Friday morning we got in out taxi to the village of Phedi to begin our trek. We had planned to take 4 days to get up to ABC and then 3 and a half to get back along the same route so that we would be back in Pokhara the following Friday, however, we soon found that we could cover significantly more ground per day than the guides and the Lonely Planet had said we would be able to. We were at ABC at 6.45am on the 4th day meaning we had saved a whole day already. Also, we met the guy whose food I ate on the plane, he's Canadien and was doing a similar trek to ours. The views from ABC were just magical and we spent about an hour just sitting and looking out over the vista before the cloud started to roll in and we decided to start our descent. With the extra day in hand it meant that we were able to extend our proposed route to include the Deurali Pass and Poon Hill for another famous view over the majestic Annapurna skyline. Unfortunately the cloud stayed ever present for the next few days and the view did not appear which was a real shame, but we had the view at ABC and we were told that is the real prize. Our rapid descent matched our ascent and so we got to Nayapul on Thursday lunchtime instead of Friday. The upshot of this is that we will have an extra day in India.
The bus journey from Nayapul to Pokhara was on the local bus, famous for having passengers on the roof - so guess where I sat? After about half an hour I had been nearly bounced off many times and then it started raining so the driver pulled over and me and the 4 locals clambered down and into the bus. Inside I was greeted by staring locals, inquisitive kids and two goats on their way for slaughter for the festival. It was an experience for sure. The bus dropped us off some way from our guest house but luckily one of the staring inquisitive local kids from the bus was going to Lakeside and offered to show us the way. Whilst Zoe and I just wanted a shower and clean clothes at the hostel the girl insisted on taking us to her house to meet her whole family. Anyone not present was fetched from wherever they happened to be and we ended up sitting at her house for half an hour or so before she eventually showed us the way to our guest house. When we were cleaned up we headed out to a place called the New Everest Steak House. Zoe had been told about this place when we were on Ko Tao and the thought of delicious beef had kept us going through all of our 7 days of beer free vegetarian trekking. The food lived up to its reputation, we each had a 14oz steak cooked to perfection with chunky chips and beer and it came to the princely sum pf 14 quid - such a result that we're going there again tonight! On the way home from the restaurant we bumped into Elliot Jones who is an old mate from SURL club. He is now a Ghurka (entry qualifications include carrying 30kg load carried over a 5 mile uphill course in under 48 minutes - Elliot was 6 seconds off the record at 39 minutes) and we're meeting for beers before we leave Pokhara. The rather weird icing on the cake of a great day was back at the guest house when we found our next door neighbour needs the TV on maximum volume - even at 3.45am!
Today was our last day in Pokhara, and we spent it walking up to the World Peace Pagoda on the hill. The walk was eventful involving scrambling up and down through the jungle in flip-flops with millions of leeches sucking gallons of blood from our feet. The view from the top was well worth it and the journey down the hill was infinitely easier as we found the path!
I will now sign off as I have been writing for ages. I have a load of videos to add to the blog but I can't be bothered doing it now. As I mentioned earlier, we are going for steak and beers with Elliot and then early bed ready for our early bus to the Indian border tomorrow.
We will be home in 1 week and 1 day so the next blog is likely to be from England and may well be the final one. Hope you are all well and see you next weekend.