The Daily Explorer

December 2, 2008

Around Annapurna in 18 Days (Part One)

Nepal: December 2008

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MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): Welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. To our regulars, many thanks for reading our online publication and for giving us your feedback.  You have helped us reach a new viewing benchmark, with over 5,500 visitors coming to our site since we went live with our new format in February this year. We now receive an average of around 1,000 visitors every month. We aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation at The Daily Explorer, so please keep sending us your feedback to help us improve future issues. You can use the comments box online, or email ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at thedailyexplorer@gmail.com

This issue is the first of a two part feature from Nepal, which has been compiled for us by our new guest correspondent, Seymour Peaks (above). He is a very experienced Alpine journalist of the highest calibre and makes his debut on the team. We were delighted when he accepted our invitation to join The Daily Explorer and accompany Ray and Nikki on their first high altitude trek around the Himalayas.

Before you hear from Seymour about what our two trekkers have been up to since they arrived in Nepal, you may want to take a look at our last issue. After his departure from Australia, Ray spent a week in Bali, meeting up with Nikki to explore the beautiful Indonesian island and begin the research and planning for their trekking adventure. They also made a whirlwind, two day stop over in Singapore prior to their arrival in Kathmandu. If you missed it, you can read it now at: From Sandpaper to Silk

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Above: Sunset over Lovina beach on the north shore of Bali. You can read all about Ray’s recent visit to the beautiful Indonesian island and his two day, whirlwind tour of Singapore en route to Kathmandu, in From Sandpaper to Silk

In this issue, Seymour goes with Ray and Nikki as they explore Nepal’s capital and finalise their plans to access the awe inspiring Himalayan mountains. He then follows them around the Annapurna circuit – one of the top ten most popular treks in the world. Ray and Nikki have selected pictures for us that will enable you to share the experience, day by day, as they ascend the first part of their 200 mile, 18 day route through one of the highest regions on earth. (The second part of our feature, in which our two trekkers triumphantly conquer the world’s biggest mountain pass at Thorung La and complete the Annapurna circuit will be online in a few days). Last but not least, you will see that we have a new caption competition and a winner for the best caption to the photograph in our last issue.

Flying into Kathmandu from Delhi, the route takes travellers directly over the Himalayas. When I met them at the airport on their arrival, I wondered if Ray and Nikki had caught their first glimpse of the mountains from the air. “Fortunately for us, we were sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft from Delhi, which meant that we got an absolutely superb ‘birds eye’ introduction to the snowy white peaks” Ray told me. “And it was a major consolation after a really long, boring and uncomfortable ten hour stopover in the transit lounge in Delhi airport” added Nikki. “It has to be one of most uncomfortable, inhospitable airports in the world – if you can avoid going through there, I would strongly recommend you do” she told me.

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Above: Take a close look at the horizon and you will see the snowy white peaks of the mighty Himalayas, as Ray and Nikki did from their aircraft window when they flew into Kathmandu from Delhi – “It was a truly unforgettable sight and it got us even more excited about our trek” said Ray

Below: Map showing the location of Nepal in Asia (right) and the location of the Himalayan range running west to east along the northern border of Nepal with China/Tibet (left) – “The Annapurna circuit starts mid way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, which are visible in the centre of the map (left)” said Ray. There are 14 mountains higher than 8,000 metres in the entire world and eight of them are in the Himalayas. Mount Everest is to the North East of Kathmandu and is the tallest of them all at 29,029 feet

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Although they were motivated to visit Nepal by the trekking opportunities, Ray and Nikki decided they would spend some time familiarising themselves with Nepali life in Kathmandu and get used to the culture and atmosphere before leaving the busy capital for the mountains. “We met quite a lot of people who had come here with limited time and when they described their experience of Nepal, it was all a bit of a blur as they had rushed through the place like a whirlwind” recalled Ray. “We were very fortunate to have hardly any time constraints and having purchased 90 day visas on entry, felt very relaxed about taking out time and really getting a good feel for the place and the people in our first few days” he told me. “As it was our first time here, I think the prospect of organising our trek was also a little bit daunting, so we were happy to avoid it initially and just enjoy ourselves” he added.

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Above: Nikki gets an early taste of Kathmandu life as she stops to talk to a market trader in one of the city’s very busy, dusty and colourful street markets

Below: The bustling scene in Durbar Square, one of Kathmandu’s most famous landmarks, is like something directly out of the middle ages, except for the motorcycles!

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So what were Ray’s first impressions of Kathmandu? “Friends who had been here before had told me that it was one of the most polluted cities in the world, yet there was a vibe and energy that was very special indeed and I think largely this is true” observed Ray. “After a couple of days walking through the old city and the Thamel area, where most of the trekking companies are based, I was struck by how filthy the place was, but not in a bad way as to me, this is a key part of it’s charm and character” Ray told me. “The people here have beautiful souls and many have old, very wrinkled, bronzed faces that are so interesting to look at” said our global nomad. “It was a great privilige to be able to just sit on the steps of the temples and watch life going on in front of us” he said.

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Above: “There are hundreds of temples like this in Kathmandu, which give the city this timeless, medieval feel” observed Ray (left). “We just happened to be lucky enough to arrive in town at the time of a religious festival so there was more than the usual amount going on in the already chaotic centre of the city” said Ray. This picture of a goddess (right) has been painstakingly made on the pavement by a group of people who use tea strainers to sprinkle coloured powders in exactly the right places to form the entire image – “It is a bit like a gigantic paint by numbers picture” said Ray. “The result is quite incredible” he added

Below: Nikki makes friends with a group of street kids – “There are notices displayed everywhere asking tourists to not give these very poor, homeless kids food or money, on the grounds that it just attracts thousands more poor children to come to the capital and hang around there” Ray told me. “We found it heartbreaking to see the (very bad) physical state of them and used up half of our supply of ‘wet wipes’ cleaning their hands and faces, before Nikki put her considerable teaching experience to good use by singing songs with them” recalled Ray. “Despite their less than ideal physical conditions, these kids exuded energy, charm and friendliness and they immediately warmed to Nikki. She was dispensing her special brand of loving attention on them – perhaps the first time anyone had for a while – and they would not let her leave” Ray told me

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Above: Fuelled largely by the tourist industry, Kathmandu continues to grow but little or no investment is going into desperately needed infrastructure to sustain this growth in a way that is ecologically sound – “We experienced the pollution first hand” said Ray, “from the heaps of rubbish which is discarded on every street, to the animals that defecate everywhere and the dust in the air wherever you go from unsealed, potholed, badly decaying roads. For the first time in quite a while, I had a persistent eye infection as a result” said our traveller

Below: Westerners have been coming to Kathmandu for years, many of them most probably with the dream of climbing, or at least seeing, the mighty Mount Everest. Consequently, it is probably the most popular name in Kathmandu, adorning many shops, hotels, guest houses and other products – “We saw the world famous Everest Steak House and although we did not eat there, we could easily imagine many groups of hungry mountaineers returning exhausted from their expeditions over the last fifty years coming here to revive themselves with thick juicy steaks (left) and drinking the local beer (right)

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Needing to get organised and equipped around telecommunications, our traveller acquired a Nepalese SIM card shortly after his arrival in the city. “Nikki and I had arranged to stay at the Amrit Guest House run by a friend of a friend, just outside the main city area” Ray told me. “I am glad we did, because there was a major kefuffle involved in getting me set up on the local mobile phone network – apparently it is very difficult for foreigners to get a number” he explained. “After three years of travelling, I have grown to become much more trusting in these situations and when someone at the guest house offerred to sort it out for me, I happily gave him my passport and 1,500 Nepalese Rupees and watched him promptly disappear with them without any further information” recalled Ray. A few minutes later, he returned, requiring my signature on a couple of forms and two photographs for ID purposes and within half an hour, I was up and running on the Nepal Telecom mobile network. It is a basic service and there is not even a voicemail facility. But all we needed was an emergency contact number for people overseas and a way of staying in communication with the local people involved in setting up our trek, so we were quite happy with it” Ray told me.

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Above: There are plenty of little shops that sell mobile phones, although buying one if you are a foreigner can be difficult without a little help from the ‘Lord’ (left). However, if you find yourself exhausted from trying, you can always make a stop a the local three star restaurant, where Ray discovers that the food is so fresh, it actually greets you personally as you step through the door (right)

The great Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, on the top of a hill west of Kathmandu, is one of the most popular and instantly recognisable symbols of Nepal. “Our guest house was located in a small village called Sitapaila, just outside the centre of Kathmandu and about a ten minute walk from the temple” said Ray. “We discovered that most people refer to it as the ‘monkey temple’ due to the numerous – and sometimes quite aggressive – four legged primates running around” he added.

Swayambhunath is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. It was founded by King Vosadeva, around the beginning of the 5th century CE. This seems to be confirmed by a damaged stone inscription found at the site, which indicates that King Mānadeva ordered work done in 640 CE. However, Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BCE and built a temple on the hill which was later destroyed. Legend has it that the Buddha himself visited Swayambhunath and gave teachings there two hundred years earlier.

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Above: This beautiful Buddha figure adorns the entrance to the temple at Swayambhunath

Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous King Hindu followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful King of Kantipur, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century. 85% of Nepal’s population are followers of Hinduism and it is also the official religion of Nepal.

Ray and Nikki spent a few hours exploring the site. “The Swayambunath temple complex is quite unique” said Nikki. “Not only is it one of the three holiest places in Nepal for Buddhists, but the two main religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) are in total harmony with each other here” she observed. “There are even some small statues, which are devoted to both of them simultaneously. Maybe Christianity and Islam can go on tolerance classes here?” added our astute traveller. The temple is built on a hill, with 365 steps that will take you to the huge stupa at the top and a great viewpoint over the Kathmandu valley. “If you go, bear in mind the monasteries and temples get no financial support and all are open without admission fees, so a donation is well appreciated” said Ray.

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Above: “The view over Kathmandu Valley, where the city is located, from the top of the 365 steps is absolutely stunning and worth the effort to get there” said Ray

Below: Swayambunath is often referred to as the ‘monkey temple’, due to the numerous four legged primates running around (left). The magnificent stupa is the centrepiece of the temple (right). The dome at the base represents the entire world. When a person awakes from the bonds of the world, the person reaches an energy state a bit higher, represented by the bronze rings (pinacles). There are thirteen pinacles on the top, which symbolise that sensient beings have to go through the thirteen stages of enlightenment to reach Buddhahood. On each of the four sides of the main stupa there are a pair of big eyes which represent wisdom and compassion. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye. Saying goes that when Buddha preaches, cosmic rays emanate from the third eye which acts as a message to heavenly beings, so that those interested can come down to earth to listen to the Buddha. The hellish beings and beings below the human realm cannot come to earth to listen to the Buddha’s teaching. However, the cosmic ray relieves their suffering when Buddha preaches

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Interested to know how our global travellers were doing, I checked in with Ray and Nikki after a couple of days to find out how they were enjoying the capital and to see what progress they were making with their trek into the mountains. “We have had a great time exploring the city on foot” said Ray. “As our guest house is just out of town, we walk into the centre every day which takes about forty five minutes each way” he told me. “Walking means we get to see the ‘real’ Kathmandu, which is always best and there is the added bonus that we are also clocking up about ten kilometres a day which is great training for our trek” explained Ray, “although the trek will obviously be much tougher as it is mainly going up for the first few days. But it will be great to get away from the dust and pollution and breathe the fresh mountain air” added our traveller.

“We have also been to the parts of the city that were traditionally favourite haunts of the hippie community over the many years they have been coming here” said Nikki. “In fact, a few of them are still here, although they are pretty old hippies now” she joked. “Lured by the laid back atmosphere and the abundance of cheap drugs, I can really see why this place became a mecca for the loving and the free. We met a few older travellers who were coming here during the sixties and seventies and have continued to come back here year after year. They told us their personal stories of what the place ws like back then – no maps, guest houses, telephones, computers, even roads – we were both fascinated and in some ways wished we could have transported ourselves back to that era!” she recalled.

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Above: Over the years, Kathmandu has been a destination of choice for mountaineers, trekkers and hippies alike, with each finding what they need in different parts of the chaotic, dirty and charming city, which in many ways has remained pretty much the same as it was fifty years ago

Below: Take any of the very narrow, low, dark alleyways to the left or the right of any street in Kathmandu and within seconds, you will emerge into a hidden courtyard like this one below – “Exploring the city was a bit like scurrying around in a labyrinth of secret places” said Ray, “and we were often surprised by what we found if we were prepared to get ‘lost’ and just follow our noses for a few minutes” he told me

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Amongst all of the chaos, noise, pollution and crowds, there is one place in the city which Ray and Nikki discovered that they thought was very special and well worth knowing about if you are planning to spend any time in Kathmandu. “The Garden of Dreams was one of our favourite places” said Nikki. “It is right in the centre of town and if you didn’t know about it, you would probably never see it as it is surrounded by very high, whitewashed walls. Inside, it is like an oasis of tranquility and beauty and for an entry fee of around a pound, you can stay in the garden all day!” said our well informed visitor. “The garden also has a wi-fi network, a cafe and a museum so it is ideal for connected travellers like me who need to get online and would rather do it in a cool place like this” added Ray.

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Above: The gateway to the Garden of Dreams – “Once you enter, it is like being in another world, at least a million miles away from the hustle, bustle, noise and chaos of the city outside” said Nikki

The history of the Garden of Dreams is quite interesting – it is situated within the premises of what used to be a palace (Kaiser Mahal), which was built in 1895 by the then Prime Minister Bir SJB Rana. The palace was later inherited by his son Chandra SJB Rana who created the garden and presented it to his son Kaiser SJB Rana as his wedding gift. Being a man of great essence, his extensive landscape program for the garden included a huge lawn, wooded and cultivated areas and a duck pond. “We discovered that he was an impassioned traveller, especially to European countries and the Garden of Dreams was an inspiration he received from the many gardens he saw in Europe” Ray told me.

Within the garden wall, Kaiser Shumsher created an exquisite ensemble of pavilions, fountains and European inspired features such as verandas, pergolas, balustrades, urns and birdhouses. He erected six impressive freestanding pavilions, each dedicated to one of the six seasons of Nepal. However, after the death of Kaiser Shumsher in 1965, his family bequeathed some portion of the palace, including his Dream Garden and the Kaiser Library to the government.  After this, the garden became dilapidated and overgrown with weeds for several decades. “Its structural disfigurement caught the sight of some of the national and international environmentalists and it was renovated in 1998” Ray told me. “To create awareness about the heritage preservation within the metropolis, the plan to preserve the Dream Garden continued until 2001, when a million dollar project was born and funded by the Austrian government in co-operation with the Ministry of Education & Sports” he added.

After almost six years of restoration, the garden re-opened to the public in 2007. “Although the garden has lost half of its original size to the development of Thamel, it still retains three of its neo-classical pavilions, its central lotus pond and many of the architectural and sculptural elements have survived, securing the legacy of Kaiser Shumsher’s creation for future generations” said Nikki.

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Above: Nikki explores the Pagoda and the beautiful water features surrounding it. To maintain the standard, the renovated garden has become self-sustaining through entrance fees, café, bar and cultural programs, corporate events, private functions, etc. To uphold the architectural beauty of the garden, it has been decided that the garden will be non-commercial i.e. free from advertisements, posters and banners

Below: The Garden of Dreams is an oasis of peace and tranquility (left). A small amphitheatre has been created for open-air cultural programs and many of the original sculptures have been preserved, like this beautiful statue of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth (right)

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So what progress had Ray and Nikki made with their mountain trekking? “Well Seymour, now that we have been here a few days, it is definitely time to get ourselves organised and get going” said Ray emphatically. “This is the best time of the year to be doing it and it will start to get colder soon, so we have to get going now. The first decision we have to make is where – there are so many different treks one can do, to different mountains, in different conditions and with varying levels of difficulty depending on your experience. Each of the established treks can take anything from 7-21 days and many of them will be very busy at this time of year. Naturally, Everest Base Camp is a big candidate but we have to weigh it up against the huge crowds that will inevitably be going there. We are going to meet with a company called Asian Heritage Treks, who have lots of experience with folks like us and who have been highly recommended by a fellow traveller. I am sure they will help us answer many of our questions” recalled Ray.

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Above: Nikki meets Rajkumar Rai (Raj) of Asian Heritage Treks – “It is quite overwhelming when you get here” she told me. “There are over 600 hundred small trekking companies just in the Thamel area of Kathmandu alone so there are a huge number of choices and possibilities. After speaking with a handful, we felt very comfortable with Raj and his company, so decided that we would ask them to provide a Nepalese guide and porter for our trek” explained Nikki

The next thing I wanted to find out was which trek Ray and Nikki decided to do. “It’s a tough choice, but we are going to pass up the Everest Base Camp trek this time in favour of the much longer and more scenic Annapurna circuit – mainly because we heard from many trekkers that the Annapurna circuit is rapidly eroding, with the construction of new roads evaporating parts of the traditional trekking routes” explained Ray. “The thinking behind this is to bring more and more time starved tourists (who are not really into trekking) as close to the mountains as possible by bus or luxury coach. This will definitely alter the feel of the whole place and it will probably never be the same again, whereas the trek to Everest Base Camp is far more remote and therefore less likely to change in the same way in the near future. So the urgency is to experience the Annapurna circuit while it still remains more or less intact. Completing it should take us around 18 days” he told me.

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Above: The Annapurna range from the northeast. The Annapurna region is the area north of Pokhara in central Nepal, and includes some of the world’s highest and most beautiful mountains. These include the Annapurna range, Dhaulagiri and Machhapuchhre (the famous fish-tail mountain) that dominates the skyline above Pokhara. In addition, this area boasts the Kali Gandaki, the world’s deepest gorge. From left to right: Annapurna II and IV (close together); a major col; Annapurna III and Gangapurna; Annapurna I

Below: Map showing the Annapurna circuit, which starts in the bottom right hand corner at Besisahar (circled), ascends through Syanje, Tal, Chame and Manang and continues up to the highest point – the Thorung La Pass (circled) at 5,416 metres. After Thorung La, there is a steep descent to Muktinath and then the trail leads to Jomsom, Tukuche, Tatopani and eventually ends in the city of Pokhara (circled). We track Ray and Nikki’s progress for the first five days in this issue and will bring you news and pictures of the rest of their trek in our next issue – “Neither of us has ever attempted a prolonged, high altitude trek in which there is significant oxygen depletion” said Ray. Above 5,000 metres (16,500 feet), there is only 50% oxygen so it will most likely be quite tough. We are going to find out more about the dangers of altitude sickness before we leave to make sure we minimise our risks. We are really thrilled to be doing this” he told me

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With the route decided and dates confirmed, the next task for our two trekkers was to meet their guide and porter. “Raj at Asian Heritage selected a chap called Madan Gurung to be our guide and we instantly liked him when we met him” recalled Ray. “Very experienced and very friendly, we felt confident we would be in safe hands with him guiding us and he assured us that we would remain in total control of en route decisions about schedules and stopovers. Madan also suggested his colleague Kamal be our porter, as the two of them knew each other from previous treks” explained Ray. “Madan is from the Everest region and has led treks around the Annapurna circuit many times. It was invaluable to sit down with him and look at all of the different options for our route” said Nikki. “We chose what is commonly referred to as a ‘Tea House’ trek, because we would be sleeping in small lodges dotted around the trails in the mountains, as opposed to sleeping outside in tents” she added.

After a manic day spent buying or hiring essential equipment, stocking up the first aid kit and making sure they had withdrawn sufficient cash to last nearly three weeks in the mountains, Ray and Nikki were more or less ready to go. “We had one final piece of research to do, at the Himalayan Rescue Association in Kathmandu” said Ray. “The Himalayas begin where other mountain ranges leave off” explained Ray. “The Thorung La Pass, which is around half the height of Mount Everest, is about 1,000 metres above the highest peak in Europe. Your body can adjust to these altitudes, but only if given enough time. We soon realised that being in a hurry in the mountains of Nepal could be deadly and listened carefully to understand the subtle hazards of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)” said our safety conscious trekker.

Acclimatisation is the word used to describe the adjustments your body makes as it ascends. “We realised that we were going to have to pay close attention to this issue as we would be required to make sure our sleeping altitude (above 3,000 metres) was always no more than 300 meters to 400 metres higher than the previous day’s sleeping altitude” said Ray. “Fortunately for us, as a result of the growing awareness of altitude problems, there is only one death from AMS in Nepal out of every 30,000 trekkers. Even these deaths would be avoidable if everyone knew how to respond to the early symptoms of AMS” he added.

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Above: Ray and Nikki were teamed up with Madan Gurung as their guide (left). From the Everest region, Madan has lots of experience of the Annapurna circuit – “We were very happy with Madan” said our trekkers. “He also introduced us to our porter, Kamal (right) who was going to carry our 16 kilo’s of luggage (plus their own) for the entire duration of the trek. In retrospect, I am very pleased we decided to hire a porter as it was bloody hard work without having anything to carry! I am amazed how strong the Nepalese porters are” observed Ray. These pictures were taken in Manang, which will be featured in the second part of our ‘Around Annapurna in 18 Days’ issue, due online in a few days

Below: Ray gets to grips with the dangers of Altitude Sickness (AMS) at the office of the Himalayan Rescue Association in Kathmandu. Travellers are drawn to high altitude places in ever increasing numbers. Nepal alone now receives more than 100,000 trekkers from around the world every year. “It can be easy to under-estimate the dangers of altitude illness; deaths from these conditions are all the more tragic because they are entirely preventable” discovered Ray. “Mountain climbers, serious trekkers, romantics sauntering through the foothills of the Himalayas, native porters, skiers in North America and Europe, pilgrims to high altitude shrines, diplomats posted to La Paz or Lhasa, miners in South America, and Everest marathon runners have something in common: they are all exposed to the effects of high altitude, and anyone may be at risk, irrespective of age, health, fitness level or gender. It is well worth knowing what the symptoms are and how to effectively respond to them if they appear” said our knowledgable nomad

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Above: What else could possibly be necessary before setting off? For Ray, it is a final shave; the last one for some time – and for Nikki, an opportunity to try and blend in with the locals by visiting the Nepalese beauty parlour next door to the barber for a makeover

Below: Trekkers are Go! Ray and Nikki proudly display their newly acquired trekking permits and registration cards for TIMS – a computerised system that helps to track the whereabouts of the thousands of visitors who trek in the Himalayas every year – “Asian Heritage, our trekking company, obtained all of the necessary permits for us, saving us heaps of time and hassle” said Ray. “We have both waited many years for this moment – we can’t wait to start!” added our excited traveller

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As they were leaving Kathmandu for Besisahar and the start of the circuit, I caught up with Nikki to find out if she was ready for the journey ahead. “Yes I am” she replied confidently. “We are really well planned, well set up and have a great support team in place. I will miss everyone at the Amrit Resort, which has been like a home to us whilst we have been in Kathmandu. The owner, who is a friend of my yoga teacher (Anna Suvorova) said that his aim was to make his guest house like a family home, rather than a hotel and I think he has managed to achieve it” she told me. “I have really enjoyed meeting everyone there, including his daughter Lakshmi who has a fantastic spirit and who has treated me like an older sister during my stay. We will definitely come back here when we return to Kathmandu in December” said Nikki.

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Above: Nikki says a fond farewell to Lakshmi (centre) and Karesh (left) at the Amrit Resort, where her and Ray had been staying during their few days in Kathmandu – “This has been a real home from home for us” she told me

Around the Annapurna Circuit: 9th – 26th November 2008

 

Day One: Kathmandu to Besisahar

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Above: Ray and Nikki departed from Kathmandu from the local bus station at around 7am for the five hour bus journey to Besisahar (see map above) and the start of the Annapurna circuit – “We knew that we were not really going to do much walking today” said Ray, “so we just sat back and enjoyed the journey, hoping that our lodge in Besisahar would be as nice as the place we had been staying in Kathmandu, but really not expecting it” added our trekker

Below: Nikki stops for a refreshing cup of chai on the bus journey (left). A couple of hours later, Ray and Nikki arrive at the Hotel S’Annapurna (right) – “Unfortunately, our worst expectations were met as we discovered that the place was a dump, but at £1.50 a night for a room, it is hard to complain!” said Ray. “The worst thing was that the doors were all designed for Nepalese men i.e. very low and I banged my head on the doorway three or four times during our stay” he told me. “We also discovered that one of our sleeping bags was broken and quickly arranged to have it repaired before we set off the next morning”

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Above: The view from the rooftop ‘restaurant”, which was more like a rooftop storage room, was encouraging – “It was our first glimpse of snowy white mountain tops from the ground” said Nikki, “and although they were an awfully long way away, we could see the direction we would be going in and knew it would not be too long before we could get a much closer view”

Below: Nikki went for a wander through Besisahar in the afternoon, coming across the local school – “These kids were marvellous and I had a lot of fun talking to them and watching them practise their dancing before going back to the hotel for an early supper and the first chance to try out our sleeping bags” she told me

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Day Two: Besisahar to Bahundanda (22 kilometres)

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Above: “Head for the mountains!” Madan leads the way out of Besisahar, closely followed by Nikki and our global nomad – “This was our first day of trekking and we were really excited” recalled Ray. “Our route for the day would take us round the first 22 kilometres of the 330 kilometre circuit (about 6-7 hours) and get us used to the way things would feel over the coming days” explained Ray

Below: Ray checks in with the TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) representative in Besisahar (left) and then again a couple of hours later at the first of many police checkpoints on the circuit (right) – “It is necessary to obtain all of the correct permits before you leave” he told me. “Fortunately, we did not have any issues as we progressed around the circuit” added our traveller

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Above: This lodge, at Nagdi, is a typical example of the kind of accommodation you can find on the trail around Annapurna. The snow covered mountains, of which only a small tip is visible, are still some distance away – “The silver dish is for heating water” said Ray. “Increasingly, lodge owners are investing in solar power to prolong the number of hours they have electricity each day and be able to offer little luxuries like hot showers to guests – something unheard of even ten years ago” he told me

Below: The first of many suspension bridges crossing the Marsyangdi river on the way to Bhulbule – “All the trails in the mountains follow rivers, for obvious reasons” said Ray. “Village communities cannot survive without water and it all has to be carried, so all dwellings get built as close to the water as possible” explained Ray. “It had been explained to us that the higher we ascended into the mountains, the more expensive everything would become, bottles of water and toilet rolls included. This is because anything which you can buy on the circuit has to be carried all the way up by a person or more typically, a mule” explained our high altitude trekker

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Above: The village at the top of the hill that Ray is pointing to is called Bahundanda and was camp for their second night – “This was a lovely place, run by two brothers who talked with us for hours, trying to improve their (pretty good) English and broaden their perspective on the world” recalled Nikki. “We were also able to get our first hot shower and sample our first taste of Dal Baht – the tasty local dish which everyone in the mountains eats. It is made up of lentils, rice and curried potato and spices – delicious with a glass of red wine” added Nikki

Below: The accommodation at Bahundanda was typical for a ‘tea house’ lodge i.e. clean and basic – By the end of day two, we had climbed to 1,310 metres elevation – about 400 metres higher than our start point in Besisahar” said Ray. “It probably doesn’t sound very much, but most of the change in height came in the last one or two hours of the day so we were pretty tired by the time we arrived” he added. “If we are going to encounter altitude problems, we knew they would not really start until we reached the 2,500 metre level” he told me, “so we were deifinitely OK for a couple more days”

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Day Three – Bahundanda to Chyamche (20 kilometres)

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Above: Nikki takes in the breathtaking scenery and her first view of this valley just minutes after leaving Bahundanda – “After we left, the trail dropped to eventually cross a stream which you can see in the distance and we then climbed to the settlement of Lili Bir” she told me

Below: “The trail continued above the river (left), eventually crossing to the western side of the Marsyangdi at Syanje (right – elevation 1,190 metres)

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Above: Ray keeps a careful record of their track and studies the chart to see what is coming next (left). Beyond Syanje (see map above), the trail became steep in parts (right) – “We reached the ancient village of Jagat (at a height of 1, 250 metres) and stopped for lunch, giving us a chance to dry out some of the clothes we had hurriedly washed the previous night” said Ray. “From Jagat, the trail descended again to the Marsyangdi, and followed the riverbank before climbing up through forests to our resting place in Chamche (Elevation: 1,430 metres)

Below: Ray and Nikki’s guide Madan (left) and their porter Kamal (right) take a well earned rest in Jagat at lunchtime

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Above: The end of day three, at least as far as the trekking goes and Nikki stands on the balcony at the ‘Suberb Rainbow View’ Tea House lodge – “Have you seen the owner?” asks Ray. “I think he has gone for a ‘P'” says Nikki as she points to the sign outside

 

Day Four: Chamche to Bagarchhap (23 kilometres)

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Above: One of the challenges that all trekkers have is making sure that they have access to at least three or four litres of drinking water every day. It is too heavy to take with you so it has to be obtained on the way – “There are two huge disadvantages with buying bottled mineral water” Ray told me. “Firstly it is really expensive to purchase as every single bottle has to be hauled up by mules – we were paying 15-20 rupees in Kathmandu and the price on the circuit can be as much as 160 rupees a bottle in the higher, more remote places. But the second and perhaps more important issue is one of pollution of the environment – 68,000 trekkers visit the Annapurna conservation area every year and if each person drinks two or three bottles per day, you can easily imagine how many empty plastic bottles get left behind. They do not de-compose and cannot be re-cycled in Nepal so it is a serious problem. To counter this, the government (with financial support from New Zealand) have introduced ‘Safe Drinking Water Stations (left) and we saw our first one in Tal, on the way to Bagarchhap (right). They have all of the filtration equipment needed to produce enough safe drinking water to meet the needs of trekkers and at considerably less cost” explained Ray

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Above: Ray passes through a huge gateway on his way to the the large settlement of Tal at 1,675 metres, where there are many shops and lodges

Below: Leaving the settlement of Tal – “Look closely and you will see a couple of mules on the left hand side carrying provisions on the trail to villages and settlements higher up – we saw many of them most days” Ray told me. “From Tal, the trail crosses and then re-crosses the river as it makes its way to Karte, and finally crosses again to the west bank before continuing through the village of Dharapani at 1,920 metres, and on to Bagarchhap at 2,160 metres. This was very exciting for me and Nikki as we passed the 2,000 metre (6,500 feet) mark for the first time, giving us a tiny sense of achievement after four days” said our excited traveller

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Above: Ray and Nikki actually discovered marijuana growing in the wild along the trail on the way to Bagarchhap – “Now I can really see why this place has been so popular with hippies all these years” said Ray

Below: Ray stops for a moment en route to take in village life in the Annapurna region (left) – “I really love the basic simplicity of it” he told me. Minutes later, he was a tad sheepish as he skuttled past the police checkpoint (right) – “Honestly Seymour, Nikki and I never touched any of those marijuana plants we passed earlier – how very dare you?”

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Above: With four days completed and a total distance of 65 kilometres covered, Ray and Nikki and their crew held up for the night at this charming little lodge in Bagarchhap (left) – “Unfortunately, I was a bit slow off the mark when we arrived and missed the limited supply of hot water in the shower” said Ray. “So I ended up taking a cold one which was a huge mistake – the ambient temperature had already dropped considerably and I caught a really bad chill, which persistently bothered me until the end of the trek. From this experience, I learnt that it is better to be dirty and/or smelly, rather than cold and only took showers if there was hot water after this” he explained. “It was actually our first really cold night, and I went to bed with most of my clothes on, including my hat” said Ray (right)

 

Day Five: Bagarchhap to Chame (19 kilometres)

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Above: “On day five, we started to get some exceptional views of the mountains which were becoming closer all of the time” said Nikki. “We left early in the morning and there was ice around, indicating that we had experienced our first zero degree (or lower) temperature during the night. Our overall ascent that day was about 500 metres, which was only moderately difficult as we were now getting used to the climbing and starting to find it easier. However, we would be ending the day at a height of 2,670 metres so were curious to see if either of us would notice any symptons of altitude sickness” she recalled

Below: Climb Every Mountain! From Bagarchhap, the trail continued in a westward direction up the Manang valley, following the Marsyangdi river. Throughout the day, Ray and Nikki were treated to views of Annapurna II (7,937 metres) and Annapurna IV to the west. “Initially the trail climbed through forests to Dhanakyu at 2,290 metres, and continued steadily to the settlement of Lattemarang at 2,360 metres. The track then climbed over several forested ridges to reach the village of Kotho at 2,590 metres and from there it was a short half-hour walk to Chame. “Our guide Madan was being quite cautious” said Ray. “Staying in Chame at 2,670 metres, which is above the ‘altitude’ level for AMS, he wanted us to have as much time as possible to acclimatise and rest before setting off early the next day, so he made sure we reached Chame by lunchtime and used the rest of the day to rest and recuperate” he explained

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Above: Nikki captured this wonderful shot as the sun was setting over Chame. With both of them now at 8,811 feet, they had roughly reached the halfway point in terms of elevation – “So far, so good” was our thought” they told me

Below: Ray sits quietly and contemplates life in the mountains – “Whilst I am obviously very excited about our progress and about getting to Thorung La to experience the thrill of crossing the biggest pass in the world, it is important to me that I just enjoy and fully experience this beautiful, serene moment here and try not to mentally rush too far into the future” said our very grounded traveller

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Editors Note: After five days of trekking around the Annapurna circuit, Ray and Nikki have completed 84 of the 330 kilometres of their journey and have reached a height of nearly 9,000 feet without any problems. The yellow line on the map below illustrates their progress to date. Our thanks to Seymour Peaks for bringing us the story and the fantastic pictures. We look forward to the second part of ‘Around Annapurna in 18 Days’, which will be online in a few days.

We aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation at The Daily Explorer, so please keep sending us your feedback to help us improve future issues. You can use the comments box online, or email ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at thedailyexplorer@gmail.com

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Caption Competition

Here is our latest caption competition (below), which is a picture of Nikki taken in The Dream Garden in Kathmandu. What do you think they are saying to each other? Please send your answers in an email to thedailyexplorer@gmail.com

There will be a prize for the winner, which will be announced in our next issue!

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Our last caption competition (in our From Sandpaper to Silk issue) was won by Karla Portch, who lives in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. She came up with the following caption:

“So are you on the new Jennifer Aniston coconut diet?”

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Congratulations to Karla and special thanks to all of our readers who sent in captions to us. We look forward to receiving many more of your emails in the next few days.

MOZZIE BYTE

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Above: In our next issue… Ray and Nikki triumphantly cross the world’s biggest pass at Thorung La in the Himalayas – read how they did it exclusively in The Daily Explorer in ‘Around Annapurna in 18 Days (Part Two)’, due online in a few days. We will keep you posted!

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10 Comments »

  1. Hi Ray and Nikki,

    Still a big pleasure to see your smiles on these pictures. And good memories from the time I was on Thurong La Pass (without guides or porters). Surely the toughest thing I had done and I get great memories when seeing your pictures. We are really living in the Kingdom of God / pure land of the Buddha. Nepal shows that very clearly. We simply need to open ourselves to taste real life. It seems you are well on your way 🙂

    Hope to see you some time.

    Cheers from Chiang Mai,
    Gaston

    Comment by Gaston — December 3, 2008 @ 4:51 am

  2. Hi Ray and Nikki,

    Wow, Annapurna looks beautiful! We are planning to be in the far north of India or maybe Nepal in April or May. Your blog certainly got me excited and that’s even before the ‘snow’. Enjoy!

    With love from Pune (India),

    Jeroen

    Comment by Jeroen — December 3, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  3. Ray and Nikki
    Thanks so much for such an inspiring and informative issue of the Blog. I was fascinated by wonderful, colourful Bali and got so absorbed I spent another hour reading through your first 9,000 feet of Around Annapurna in 18 days. Wow! I am so impressed and it is lovely to experience it at least a tiny bit vicariously – although my current surroundings are so different! (I am reading this sitting in a plush Executive Room of the Europa Hotel in a Christmassy Belfast with below freezing conditions outside and snow on the way). So, thanks for making the world feel smaller, remind me of our humaness and to keep a state of wonder at our marvellous world. Big hugs to you both. Looking forward to the next installment. Helen xxxxxxxx

    Comment by Helen Chilvers — December 3, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  4. Hey there you intrepid travellers – so good to share your adventure.
    Cal (Sunny Melbourne, Australia)

    Comment by Cal Tod — December 4, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  5. Hey Ray and Nikki,
    Really great blog! Thank you for sharing your experiences. Both of you look very happy.
    Cheers!
    MS (Chiang Mai)

    Comment by MS — December 4, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  6. What a fantastic blog posting. It’s your best one yet. I thought Kathmandu was a small hilltop town but seeing your photos from the Swayambunath Temple made me see that it’s a big city! I think one day you should write a book, not so much from a travelogue point of view, but more about the insights on humanity and cultures you’ve gleaned from all the places you’ve visited. You’ve got something to say.

    Comment by Jez Walters — December 5, 2008 @ 9:14 am

  7. Thank you for the opportunity to share in some small way yours and Nikki’s wonderful adventure. Your description and photos brings it all vividly to life and helps so many of we city bound people to experience a little of the excitement and wonder. Congratulations.

    Comment by Shirley Gould — December 8, 2008 @ 3:15 am

  8. Wow Ray,

    What a great issue! You guys look fantastic, and what beautiful scenery. It really is pretty amazing what you’re doing. Thanks to Seymour as well for all the hard work! Looking forward to your next issue.

    With Love, Stuart.

    Comment by Stuart — December 10, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  9. Hello Trekkers! How wonderful to read your stories. The photos are just beautiful…. although it can’t be a patch on how amazing it must be to be there. I still think I got a small taste, especially from Nikki’s picture of the sun going down behind the snow swept mountains. I loved the picture of the cow outside the restaurant! I hope he wasn’t really on the menu….
    Thanks for the time and effort. 5,000 visitors, wow!
    Charlie

    Comment by Charlie — December 10, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  10. Wow guys, it looks absolutely amazing. I am really jealous. Be great to see you both back in Oz sometime soon. Love Kate xxxx

    Comment by Kate Bartlett — December 12, 2008 @ 3:07 am


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