The Daily Explorer

December 13, 2008

Around Annapurna in 18 Days (Part Two)

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.  Since we went live with our new format in February this year, over 6,000 visitors have come to see our site and get the latest information about Ray as he travels around the world. 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 second 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 we were delighted when he accepted our invitation to join The Daily Explorer team and accompany Ray and Nikki on their first high altitude trek around the Himalayas.

In Part One,  Seymour followed our two adventurers during their initial visit to Nepal’s colourful capital, Kathmandu. He then monitored their progress at the start of their trek around the Annapurna circuit, as they ascended to a height of around 9,000 feet during the first five days of the challenging 200 mile, 18 day journey. If you missed it, you can read it now at: Around Annapurna in 18 Days (Part One)

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Above: The breathtaking mountains of Nepal have been attracting visitors to the region for years. You can read all about Ray and Nikki’s arrival in Kathmandu and the first five days of their epic journey, in Around Annapurna in 18 Days (Part One)

In this issue, Seymour brings us more news and pictures from the Annapurna circuit  – one of the top ten most popular treks in the world – as Ray and Nikki complete the remaining 13 days of their 200 mile, 18 day route through one of the highest regions on earth. Find out what happens as our two trekkers triumphantly conquer the world’s biggest mountain pass at Thorung La at an altitude of nearly 18,000 feet, and then descend from the mountains to complete their trip in Pokhara. Ray has also sent us a couple of video clips for you to enjoy!

Last but not least there is an important announcement for all readers of The Daily Explorer who may be interested in trekking in the Himalayas with Ray in 2009. Make sure you take a look at my comments at the end of this issue.

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Above: Map showing the famous ‘Annapurna Circuit’. In our last issue, Ray and Nikki had started the 200 mile, 18 day journey in Besisahar (bottom, right) and had reached Chame (at a height of around 9,000 feet) by the end of Day Five (see yellow line, right). In this issue, Seymour Peaks takes us through the highlights of the remaining 13 days of their challenging trek

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

Day Six: Chame to Lower Pisang (19 kilometres)

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Above: Ray stops for a breather along the trail and takes in the awe inspiring scenery – “From Chame (at 2,700 metres), we crossed to the northern side of the river and travelled west to the village of Bhratang. From there, the valley was steep and narrow, leading us through dense forests. By this stage, going uphill was becoming harder” recalled Ray. “When we left Chame in the morning, our aim was to reach Lower Pisang by the end of the day (at 3,200 metres). The oxygen level in the atmosphere starts to drop at around 3,000 metres and breathing becomes more difficult, making everything feel like it requires more effort” explained our traveller

Below: Nikki does not appear to have any problems at this stage as she makes progress along the trail towards Lower Pisang

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Above: A big moment for our two trekkers (left) – “Before this trip, neither of us had ever experienced oxygen depletion and the effects it might have on our bodies” said Ray. “And we had never, ever climbed to a height of 10,000 feet! So when we reached it, we had a celebration coffee and cake at the appropriately named “Heaven View Bakery” said our excited trekker. “To acclimatise properly as you ascend (to combat the effects of altitude, preventing altitude sickness), you generally have to sleep at a lower altitude than the highest point reached on any given day” explained Ray. “So when we got to Lower Pisang (3,200 metres), we left our kit at the lodge and walked another two kilometres to Upper Pisang (100 metres higher up at 11,000 feet). This enabled us to visit the small temple there (right) and then descend to a lower height that evening” added our increasingly more experienced alpine trekker

Below: Nikki enjoys a hearty serving of Dal Baht (left) – the tasty local dish which is very popular with people who live in the mountains – “It is made up of lentils, rice and curried potato and spices” said Nikki, “and I just love the taste of it. It is easy to make with limited facilities and provides a very well balanced meal that supplies plenty of energy and nutrients” added our hungry trekker. Although the temperature in the mountains during the day is relatively warm, it drops dramatically once the sun has gone down, which is usually around 4pm – “After sunset, it was fleece, scarf and hat wearing time and wherever possible, a front row seat next to the wood burning stoves (right) that were common in the ‘tea houses’ (lodges) along the trail” said Ray (right of picture) as he and his guide Madan (centre) warmed themselves up. “This was also the point where we stopped taking daily showers, partly due to the inconsistent availability of hot water but mainly because it was just too damn cold to get our clothes off and we thought we would rather be a bit smelly and stay warm!” added Ray

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Day Seven: Lower Pisang to Manang (27 kilometres)

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Above: The ancient village of Ghyaru (3,670 metres) – “Departing from Lower Pisang, there were two routes to our next stop at Manang – the lower (easier) trail or the upper (harder) trail” recalled Ray. “Our guide Madan gave us the option and naturally, we chose the upper trail because we knew we would see better views of the valley and mountains. The route took us past this amazing little village where it appears that life has literally stood still for hundreds of years. But all was not well for me that particular day” recalled Ray. “A couple of days earlier, there was no hot water when I took my shower and I was now suffering from a very bad cold – consequently, I found the upper trail physically exhausting” said Ray. “I discovered that your body needs to work extra hard to shake off any illness where there is depleted oxygen, and with the increased exertion, I simply did not have the resources to cope” said our global explorer. “It was one of my most challenging days on the trek, or ever for that matter” he admitted

Below: Ray sent us these pictures, taken from two of the highest points along the trail. In the photograph on the left, the small town you can see in the distance, at the foot of the grey mountain in the centre, is Lower Pisang – “It gave us an incredible perspective on our journey that day as we were looking back at where we started from only a couple of hours earlier. It made me consider that when people set ambitious goals in life, just taking one small, solid step at a time can take you a long way very quickly” said Ray philosophically. There was plenty of time for our trekkers to reflect on life during their trek – “High up in the mountains is a wonderful space to sit and contemplate, unlike any other place I have experienced” said Ray as he took a few minutes to rest and enjoy just being there (right). “If anyone is considering this trek, taking the upper trail means you also avoid all of the traffic you might encounter on the lower trail – people, mule trains and the occasional motor cycle – which gave us a more serene experience” observed Nikki

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Above: Nikki (centre) is thrilled to be alive as she is totally engulfed, both physically and emotionally, by the huge, wonderful mountains and beautiful landscape in the Annapurna region – “This was the first day we were able to get a really panoramic view of the snow covered peaks, having had to settle for sneak glimpses until now” added our excited trekker

Below: The view changes quite suddenly and the temperature drops dramatically after sunset

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Day Eight: Acclimitisation in Manang (Rest Day)

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Above: What a view to wake up to! The rooftop of the fabulous Tilicho Hotel in Manang (3,540 metres) – “Having arrived quite late the previous afternoon as the light was fading, I went straight to bed” said Ray. “I was really feeling the effects of over exertion and was starting to experience some of the mild AMS symptoms we had been told about. This concerned me as we were still four days away from crossing the pass at Thorung La” said Ray. “Nikki woke me up later that evening so that I could eat something, replenishing my body with a much needed energy supply. Against the advice of my guide, I chose the high protein Yak steak, which was delicious and (fortunately) did not cause any problems for my ‘unconditioned’ western digestive system” recalled our global nomad. “This lodge was one of the best on the circuit” said Nikki, “with a great menu that included burrito’s, apple pie and custard and filter coffee – they even had a laundry service” said our surprised trekker

Below: Having reached Manang at a height of around 11,700 feet, an ‘acclimatisation’ day had been scheduled to allow Ray and Nikki to become adjusted to the thinning air and lessening pressure as they progressed towards the Thorung La Pass. “At this altitude, there is only 75% oxygen in the atmosphere. To assist the acclimatisation process, Madan (our guide) recommended we rested here for the day and do a short, local climb so that we could return to the hotel at the lower altitude to sleep that evening” recalled Ray. “So we decided we would visit the tiny Buddhist monastery at Praga Gunpa, nestled high up in the surrounding hills (circled). This meant a climb of about 300 metres, taking us around one and a half hours to get there” added our trekker

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Above: To reach the Buddhist monastery at Praga Gunpa meant Ray and Nikki had to first walk through the winding alleyways of Manang, where they were able to experience authentic, Nepalese village life (left). “We were motivated to visit the resident Lama in the monastery (right), because we wanted to receive his blessing” said Nikki. “We discovered that he was 92 years old and had been living up in that tiny little place in the mountains for over 50 years” she told me

Below: Ray sits down in front of the Lama and gets ready to receive his blessing – “It was a very surreal and profound experience” said our traveller. “I couldn’t understand what he was saying as he only knew a few words in English, but I felt the compassion and kindness as he washed my head with some kind of holy water and looked deep into my eyes as he spoke to me, before tying a shred of yellow prayer flag around my neck” he recalled. “This is exactly the kind of unexpected event which I would have had great difficulty imagining when I was running my business in London four years ago and one of the reasons that I love being a nomad so much” said Ray

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Above: Looking down at the view of Manang from the tiny Buddhist temple on the hillside (left). The lake is formed from melting glacier water off the mountain directly above the village. Everyone who visited the monastery with Ray and Nikki received a blessing from the Lama (right). From left to right: Ray and Nikki’s porter Kamal, their guide Madan, Ray, Nikki and a couple of trekkers from Holland – “We met them along the trail and struck up a great friendship” said Ray. “But we lost track of them a couple of days later and heard that they had both turned back because they were suffering from altitude problems. We have no way of getting in touch with them, so we just hope they are OK and can access The Daily Explorer to read this” said a hopeful Ray

Day Nine: Manang to Yak Kharka (15 kilometres)

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Above: Manang fades into the distance as Ray and Nikki make an early departure to continue on their journey around the circuit – “We loved our acclimatisation/rest day in Manang – we even went to see a movie at the local ‘cinema’ – a converted cow shed with a burner full of Yak dung for warmth and a home movie projector!” laughed Ray

Below: The ascent continues. Nikki (left) and Madan (right) do a little bit of posing for our photographer as they stop for a break along the way at Ghusang (3,900 metres) and a glass of Seabuck Thorn juice – a highly nutritious drink made from local berries. Whilst it is possible to reach Thorung Phedi in one day from Manang, Ray and Nikki split the journey over two days to aid acclimatisation and headed for Yak Kharka. “The trail there is distinctly alpine in appearance, with the vegetation consisting of scrub juniper and alpine grasses” said Ray. “The views en route across to the immense peaks of Gangapurna (7,454 metres) and Annapurna III (7,555 metres) are fantastic” he added

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If you would like to see a short video of Ray and Nikki on the trail to Yak Kharka, then watch the clip below:

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Above: Ray and Nikki’s destination (Yak Kharka) means “Sleeping place for Yaks” in Nepalese – “We were ascending to 13,200 feet during the day and as we climbed, the views became more and more dramatic and spectacular, like this one” observed Ray. “We even started to encounter our first ice on the trail” he added, “experiencing night time temperatures between -5 and -10 degrees”

Below: Nikki relaxes at the lodge in Yak Kharka, in the ‘lounge’ for guests (left). Ray and Nikki arrived in the early afternoon, giving them plenty of time to rest and get ready for a steep climb the following day – “Madan (our guide) was taking no chances and making our days quite a bit shorter to prepare us for crossing the pass at Thorung La without any altitude problems” explained Ray, who took the opportunity to read a few more pages of  “The Road Less Travelled” – “One of the benefits of this life is that I get huge amounts of time to read, which is something I never did enough of in my ‘old’ life” said Ray. “It is very important to me that I spend as much time exploring and reaching new understanding about myself as I do the physical world” he told me

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Day Ten: Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi (10 kilometres)

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Above: The last stop before crossing the pass at Thorung La! Madan leads Ray and Nikki to the lower Base Camp at Thorung Phedi (at 14,685 feet) – “phedi” means “foot of the hill” and this is the starting point the next day for the long trek up to the pass at 5,416 metres. “The lodge was very crowded and there was an air of excitement and a lot of activity, as most trekkers had arrived here by lunchtime” said Ray. “I was feeling a little bit rough as I had not slept well in Yak Kharka” recalled Ray. “Suffering from a slight, but ongoing headache, I decided I would try a drug called ‘Diamox’ which is designed to help the body acclimatise. At altitude, it is very normal for your sleep to become disrupted and Diamox can be taken as a kind of sleeping pill by some people, although there can be side effects, like increased urination. Unfortunately for me, it did not work and I ended up going for a pee eight times during the night! In the mountains, that means leaving your really warm and cosy sleeping bag, going outside with a headtorch in -5 degrees to relieve yourself in a hole in the ground about 20 metres away and getting absolutely freezing in the process” said Ray as he recalled the experience. “I did not take any more Diamox after that” he added

Below: How the Lower Base Camp at Thorung Phedi might have looked many years ago (left). Ray and Nikki stayed in Room 9, which came complete with one broken bed and an ‘attached’ bathroom, at an extra cost of 50 rupees (about 45 pence) – “After a night like the one I had previously, I was almost willing to pay any price to get a loo in our room, rather than have to go outside” said Ray. “After all, why go outside to pee in a hole in the ground when you can have your own hole in the ground in your room?” he joked, as Nikki gave the place a bit of a clean up on arrival (right)

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Above: The sign (right) outside Thorung Phedi Lower Base Camp gives a little bit of extra guidance for first time trekkers of the circuit

Below: Some trekkers do not stay at Lower Base Camp the night before crossing Thorung La, preferring instead to climb for one more hour the day before to reach ‘High Camp’ – “The lower camp is at 14,685 feet and the high camp is another 1,500 feet further up” explained Ray. “If you start from the lower camp on the day you attempt to cross the pass, you have to leave in the dark at 5am in order to make it to Thorung La by around nine, otherwise you may not be able to make the descent in daylight. Alternatively, if you start from the high camp, you can leave a bit later in the morning, but you have to do more climbing the day before to get there” he explained. “We decided to spend the night at the lower camp, but we had arrived so early, we had 3-4 hours of daylight left. We decided to make the steep one hour climb up to the high camp and then come back again, just so we could see the trail in daylight, knowing it would be pitch black the following morning and we would effectively ‘miss’ the beauty surrounding us” added our alpine trekker, who sent us this photograph of the lower camp, taken from the high camp (left). Ray and Nikki also got a sneak preview of the trail leading over the mountains towards the Thorung La pass and the highest point on the circuit (right)

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If you would like to see a short video of Ray and Nikki at the High Camp, then watch the clip below:

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Above: Ray and Nikki were very fortunate to have made the trip to High Camp (4,941 metres) in daylight as the views of the surrounding mountains were unlike any they had seen up to this point – “We were so excited” recalled Ray. We knew we were just hours away from reaching the pass and couldn’t wait to come back past here the next day” said our excited trekker. “We chatted with a couple of Spanish moutaineers, who had just summitted one of the high peaks in the area and who were also planning to cross the pass the following day – you can see them out on the ridge in the centre of this picture” added Ray

Below: “Our Spanish moutaineering friends were very well equipped” said Ray. “Their altimeter showed us that we were standing at a height of 4,941 metres, which amused us because our travel insurance policy only covers us for trekking at heights of up to 5,000 metres” said Nikki. “This meant we were still about 180 feet below the limit, but we would be uninsured the following day for three or four short hours as we crossed the pass at 5,416 metres” she explained

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Day Eleven: Thorung Phedi to Muktinath via Thorung La Pass (27 kilometres)

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Above: The day to ‘go over the top’ arrives! – “We set off in the dark from lower base camp at 5am, for our monumental 27 kilometre hike over the pass to Muktinath. Much to our surprise, we discovered it was snowing” recalled Ray. “It was something we were not expecting, but it definitely increased our sense of excitement and adventure. Using our head torches to find our way, it took us about an hour to reach the high camp, as it had during our ‘rehearsal climb’ the previous day, but the deteriorating weather conditions gave us such a different experience. About twenty minutes after we had passed the high camp, the sun was up and we could now see things a bit more easily in the daylight” he told me. “We looked behind us and saw the high camp in the distance (left) and could not believe how different the landscape looked from our views the previous day. The snow was a bit disorientating – at one point, we even wondered if Madan knew which way to go (right), but of course, we had no need to be concerned and he remained confidently in control all the way

Below: Nikki makes the long, slow climb up to the Thorung La Pass, which meant ascending another 500 metres from the high camp – “It is the hardest trek I have ever undertaken” she told me. “The nearer we got to the top, the more effort each step seemed to take and I had to stop every couple of minutes or so to catch my breath. There is only 50% oxygen above 5,000 metres so you can probably imagine how hard it is to maintain a regular breathing pattern, in the cold and climbing uphill” explained Nikki

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Above: Just a few minutes away from the pass and over 5,000 metres up, uninsured and breathless, Nikki (left) and Ray (right) stop regularly to catch their breath and take in the unforgettable landscape. The views from the pass can only be described as breathtaking, and take in a panorama of Himalayan giants, as well as providing our trekking duo with their first view of the immense Kali Gandaki valley – the world’s deepest river gorge

Below: Made it! Ray and Nikki finally arrive at Thorung La on schedule at around 9am, to stand in front of the traditional chorten and prayer flags. They made the ascent in four hours after leaving the lower Base Camp around 1,000 metres below. I asked them how they felt about their achievement – “I am absolutely delighted” said Ray. “We are standing at 17,872 feet – the highest point I have ever stood on this planet and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked all the way here myself, although someone has carried my pack for me which has definitely made it easier” he told me. “I don’t seem to have sufferred from the lack of oxygen, although Nikki had one or two slight problems, experiencing a fair degree of disoerientation and breathlessness at the top” recalled Ray. “As a result, we did not stay at the pass very long and left after a few minutes to start the long, steep 1,600 metre descent into Muktinath below” said our triumphant trekker

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Above: Madan starts the long, steep descent into Muktinath with Nikki following closely behind – “It is amazing how much the view changes in just a few hundred metres” said Ray. “As we descended, we got some great views of Dhaulagiri to the south-west, and Tukuche Peak at 6,920 metres” said our alpine trekker

Below: The descent into Muktinath was long and tiring – “As anyone who treks will know, in some ways going down is harder than going up, as it requires considerably more control and puts a huge amount of pressure on your knees and thighs” said Ray. “By the time we reached Phedi at noon over 1,000 metres below, I had bruises under my toenails from them constantly being squeezed inside my trek shoes as my feet pressed forward. It was rather painful!” he told me

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Above: Ray and Madan take a rest on the descent from Thorung La (left). On their arrival in Muktinath, which is a very holy place for Hindu’s, they caught their first glimpse of the huge temple complex that draws thousands of visitors on pilgrimages from neighbouring India and all over the world (right)

Day Twelve: Muktinath to Jomsom (26 kilometres)

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Above: After descending into Muktinath, the general flavour of the trek around the circuit changes and becomes much more about the culture than the landscape. Before leaving Muktinath for the long walk to Jomsom, Madan took Ray and Nikki for a closer look at the temple complex in the small but very significant town for people of the Hindu faith

Below: With temperatures still hovering around freezing point overnight, there was some ice around (left). This was the case inside the temple as Nikki inspected the walkway which all Hindu’s normally pass under to cleanse themselves before entering the temple (right) – “I am not sure what they do when the water is frozen” said our puzzled traveller

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Above: Madan and Kamal lead the way along the very dusty road between Muktinath and Jomsom – “The local businessmen want to see more investment being made into building roads that are traversible by Jeep, so that more tourists can get in and out of the area more easily” explained Ray. “This is at odds with the view held by traditionalists, who would like to stop any roadbuilding in order to preserve the heritage of the area and the authenticity of the trekking routes which is the main reason that people have historically come to the region. It’s a difficult issue with no clear winners either way” added our traveller

Below: Passing these two Yaks along the way (left), Nikki swore she overheard the following conversation: “Hey Martha – we better get back to work, or else we are going to end up in…. Yacdonalds! (spotted in nearby Kagbeni) (right)

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Above: To protect herself from the dust, Nikki does her impersonation of  ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on the way to Kagbeni, which at 2,800 metres is the northernmost village that can be visited in this region with a normal trekking permit. If you want to go further north from here, the trail to Mustang begins and trekkers must have the correct documentation if they wish to go there – “It is definitely worth spending some time to look around Kagbeni” said Ray. “There are plenty of narrow alley ways and an ancient Tibetan Buddhist Temple” he told me

Below: This valley is the gateway to the heavily restricted Mustang region – “Many people who have not been able to enter Tibet because of the recent troubles there have come here instead, as there are still many Buddhist temples to see that are hundreds of years old and in excellent condition. Consequently, the authorities charge around 500 US dollars for a visa. Maybe I will come back another time” said Ray

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Above: The Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Kagbeni was established in 1429 – “It contains a great number of rare pieces of statues and other ritual artifacts and is well worth seeing if you visit the town” said Nikki. “I discovered that until the mid 18th century, hundreds of monks would assemble here from over twelve neighbouring villages. This number has reduced over time and the present strength of the monk population is down to around 35. There are not enough facilities for them to be trained here so they are sent as far as India or Kathmandu for their spiritual studies. Many of them do not return after their studies and there is the possibility that the monk community may eventually become extinct. So they are trying to establish a monastic school in the town to prevent this from happening. Our donations, as well as all of those from other trekkers who come here are helping them to realise this goal” said our considerate traveller

Below: “Nikki and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the monastery, largely due to this very friendly and informative monk who was able to explain much about the place and it’s contents to us in pretty good spoken English” said Ray. “He even gave us a demonstration of blowing this ancient horn, which has two tones and is used to summon the monks in the town to the monastery” explained Ray

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Day Thirteen: Jomsom to Kalopani (26 kilometres)

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Above: If anywhere around the circuit reflects the fast pace of change, then it is Jomson – “We couldn’t believe it when we got here” said Ray. “There is an airport, a five star hotel and many other fancy guesthouses, bakeries and restaurants. People can fly in and out of here and reach the pass in a day or two with very little effort, if they can afford it” said Ray.  “But the feel and the character of the whole experience is really going to alter as many trekking paths make way for roads and people find themselves walking along the edge of them watching traffic, as opposed to being able to enjoy the unspoilt beauty of the region. Get out here fast before it disappears for ever” said Ray

Below: From Jomsom, Ray and Nikki continued to descend the Kali Gandaki valley, passing through the very old settlement of Marpha at 2,665 metres (left) – “We were fascinated by this place and in hindsight, would have liked to have spent more time here rather than Jomson where we stayed the previous night” said Nikki. “It hasn’t changed very much and still feels like it is a really ancient place. For example, Madan took us to a local shop to buy some fresh apples. We bought one kilo of the freshest, juiciest organic apples you could imagine eating for 20 rupees (about 15 pence)” said our food lover (right)

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Above: Meat is still prepared in the old fashioned way, as you can see from the picture of this goat which Ray took in Marpha (left), while the young boy in an upstairs window opposite (right) looked on with great interest as our trekkers got a taste of old style Nepalese village life

Below: Further down the route, at the beautiful Thakali village of Tukuche (2,590 metres), all thoughts of how wonderful the old, authentic Nepal villages are were tossed straight out of the window as Nikki rushed towards the modern Dutch bakery for her first cup of freshly brewed, real cappucino in two weeks! After Tukuche, the trail goes through the villages of Khobang and Larjung and eventually reaches Kalopani (2,560 metres)

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Day Fourteen & Fifteen (Rest Day): Kalopani to Tatopani (27 kilometres)

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Above: As the snowy white mountain peaks start to fade into the distance, Nikki continues with her dust protection gear as she walks with Madan on the route to Tatopani, which goes back into the more subtropical part of Nepal – “We continued along the river, passing through Lete at 2,470 metres and Ghasa at 2,080 metres and the trip at this point had quite a different feel” said Nikki. “The trail crossed the river numerous times during the day and we lost a lot of height – the altitude of Tatopani is only 1,180 metres. Tatopani, means “hot water” in Nepali and it is named after the hot springs near the village” she told me

Below: Once again, on the way to Tatopani, Ray and Nikki were able to witness first hand how road-building is changing the character of the trekking around the Annapurna circuit

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Above: This road where Nikki is pictured was once just a narrow, muddy trail – “I feel really sorry for the guys who have to clear the way, using only basic tools and carrying everything by hand” observed Nikki

Below: The village of Tatopani, with it’s wonderful hot springs, was the perfect place for a rest day after three very long days of trekking covering 25 kilometres each day – “We all definitely needed a break by this point” said Ray

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Day Sixteen: Tatopani to Ghorepani (23 kilometres)

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Above: Nikki takes a breather during the very steep ascent from Tatopani. The journey to Ghorepani means a huge climb from 1,190 metres to 2,860 metres; an ascent of around 5,500 feet in one day – “I am really glad we had a good rest in Tatopani before we did this” said Ray. “Ever since we came over the pass a few days ago, we have more or less been descending which requires less exertion but more control – still, I think it’s a lot easier than going up” he told me. “Now, we are going steeply up again so that we will be adjacent to the famous ‘Poon Hill’, which is traditionally where trekkers go for a final view of the Annapurna range before they descend for the last time and leave the circuit” explained Ray

Below: Back up in the hills again, there are plenty of small, homely villages like this one that provide food and lodging for weary trekkers

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Above: One of the great things about the Annapurna circuit is the opportunity to walk through remote mountain villages where the inhabitants rarely see tourists or know anything of their largely western, affluent lifestyles – “Some villages have a school and whenever we met them, the children (left) were absolutely wonderful” observed Ray and Nikki. Many of the local characters we have seen on our trip are really colourful, charming people (right) and have been very friendly towards us, even though we are strangers” she told me

Below: Ray (right) enjoys a traditional Nepalese lunch at this typical mountain village guest house, which is very popular with trekkers on the circuit

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Above: Ray discovers his favourite fig roll biscuits for sale in a mountain village shop. He may be 48 years old but he still hasn’t learnt mother’s golden rule – do not eat snacks between meals – “I just love a fig roll with my tea and this is the first time I have been able to buy them since I left Kathmandu” said Ray. “Anyway, all the money goes to support the local community so it is all in a good cause!” joked our traveller

Below: The last, and steepest, part of the day to Ghorepani was through this enchanting forested part of the trail – “We have been really surprised about how much variety there has been in the nature and landscapes around the circuit” observed Ray

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Day Seventeen: Ghorepani to Hile via ‘Poon Hill’ (24 kilometres)

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Above: Starting out at 5am, Ray and Nikki made the 3.5 kilometre journey from their lodge in Ghorepani to Poon Hill (3,200 metres), which has become a favourite viewpoint for trekkers just starting or finishing the circuit – “We made our way up there in the dark and waited for the sun to rise, just hoping that there would be no clouds so that we could take the beautiful view away in our minds” said Nikki

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Above and Below: There may be a few clouds, but Ray and Nikki were still treated to these striking views of the mountains in the Annapurna range, which provided a wonderful visual finale and hopefully, a brilliant lasting memory for our two trekkers. The remainder of the day was easy on the lungs, but hard on the knees, as they descended to the village of Hile (1,430 metres) for their final night’s rest – a steep descent of over 5,800 feet in just a few hours

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Day Eighteen: Hile to Nayapul (11 kilometres) – then by bus to Pokhara

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Above: The final day of Ray and Nikki’s trek around the Annapurna circuit gave them one last chance to experience the peacefulness of the countryside before returning to the bustling, lively city of Pokhara some 70 kilometres away – “Once again, we were reminded what a beautiful country Nepal is and how the gentle but hard working way of life here is something everyone should experience first hand if they get the opportunity” said Ray, as he passed this family preparing wheat from the harvest

Below: Ray makes friends with this young Buffalo on the final leg of his epic 200 mile, 18 day journey through the Annapurna region

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Above: Madan and Nikki, tired and very satisfied, sit and wait at Nayapul for the bus that will take them to Pokhara – “We could not have asked for a better guide” said Nikki. “Madan is an exceptional man, very friendly and gentle and he always makes sure that every decision we take works for us. I would definitely recommend him to anyone” she said confidently

Below: The bus arrives, which means it is the end of the trek and a return to civilisation for our two travellers…..

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Above: …. and the return to civilisation in Pokhara means one thing to our trekkers – an opportunity to make their first visit to the Everest Steak House and treat their guide Madan and Kamal (and themselves) to a well earned, sumptuous, juicy thick steak!

Below: “We did it!” The map that Ray and Nikki are holding below shows where they had reached after the first five days of trekking around the circuit (circled in red, right). The black line continues all the way round to Nayapul in the bottom left corner, which is a total distance of around 200 miles! The yellow line tracks the final bus journey to Pokhara (circled in red, bottom) for a well earned rest by the lakeside

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Editors Note: First of all, our sincere thanks to Seymour Peaks for producing one of the best features we have ever published at The Daily Explorer. Judging by some of the comments we received after Part One went online a few days ago, it appears that many of you have really enjoyed reading about Ray and Nikki’s adventure in Annapurna. As you know, 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 is the last issue of The Daily Explorer in 2008. We are all taking a break for Christmas and will be back online with our next issue during January 2009.

Caption Competition

We are extending 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 in January 2009!

caption-1

Our last caption competition (in our From Sandpaper to Silk issue in November) 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 over the next couple of weeks.

Trekking in the Himalayas in 2009

For readers who may be interested in experiencing the Annapurna circuit for themselves, Ray is considering the possibility of organising another expedition there in 2009. I spoke with him in Pokhara as we published this issue of The Daily Explorer, to find out more about his thoughts at this stage.

“Trekking in the Himalayas has probably been the most outstanding experience I have had since I started travelling in 2005” he told me. “When I was compiling my pictures and information for Seymour at The Daily Explorer, I was thinking how great it would be to share this experience with others, and it suddenly occurred to me that some of our readers might want the opportunity to come here and do this for themselves. I discussed this possibility with my Nepalese guide and we came to the conclusion that we could organise a trek in 2009 if some people were interested” said Ray. “Now that I have been through the experience, I think I have all of the information and contacts to put everything together for a small group. We would be able to organise everything from here – anyone who might be interested would just have to get themselves to Kathmandu – everything else would be taken care of making it very easy and convenient, especially for people with limited time” explained Ray.

“At this stage, I guess I would like to see a ‘show of hands’ to find out who may be interested. The timing would most likely be sometime between the end of September and the middle of November, mainly governed by the weather in Nepal and dependent on when people might be free to come. The Annapurna circuit takes around 18 days to complete and if you add on a couple of days either end for preparation and sightseeing, it would mean that anyone who is interested in doing the circuit would have to be available for about three and a half weeks in total. If there are readers who are interested in doing an alpine trek in the Himalayas but do not have this much time available, there are two other options: The Everest Base Camp trek and The Annapurna Base Camp Trek. The former is a 14 day trek, requiring three weeks in total and the latter is a 12 day trek requiring two and half weeks in total – I have also done the Annapurna Base Camp trek so I can tell people about it if they would like more information and will probably make further mention of it in the next issue which will come out in the New Year”.

I asked Ray if there were any physical criteria that interested readers should bear in mind? “Yes there are Mozzie. I think you need to be physically fit and free from any injury that might cause problems for you. It is popular with both men and women and some children do trek out here, although I think that it is really only suitable for those that are 14 years of age or older, although there may be someone who is an exception”.

And what about the likely costs? “It is impossible to say at this stage without knowing how many people may be interested or how much the currency values may change over the next couple of months. But I can refer to my own recent experience to give readers an idea.  The Annapurna Base Camp is likely to cost somewhere between £700-800 per person, whilst Everest Base Camp or the slightly longer Annapurna Circuit would be somewhere between £800-£900 per person. These are for guidance only as I have had no discussions regarding the costs with my guide here, but I can tell you that these prices would include everything except flights to and from Nepal and equipment hire if people need it” Ray told me.

So if there is anyone who is interested in the possibility of trekking in the Himalayas with Ray in 2009, please send an email to thedailyexplorer@gmail.com, letting us know your thoughts, or stating any questions you may have. Please would you also let us know if you would like Ray to contact you early in the New Year to give you further information.

That’s it for 2008. The only thing left to do before we sign off is to wish every single one of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

MOZZIE BYTE

xmas-2008

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7 Comments »

  1. Hi Ray and Nikki – truly well done. I will show your blog to Gila and who knows – maybe next year we may come along. Very well done. For high altitude trekking next time, take high mountain Oolong tea with you as it is a blood adaptogen, or I will come as the ‘teamaster’. Your travel blog is amazing. It was great what you wrote when you met my friend Gary in Australia. Hopefully, I will serve you Oolong tea soon here in Samui again, or in Chiangmai one day next year. All the very best to both of you . San-bao

    Comment by San-bao from Samui Spa — December 14, 2008 @ 9:51 am

  2. Breathtaking, absolutely stunning. I am very impressed that you have completed the journey, it looked gruelling in parts, but also absolutely beautiful and peaceful. Fascinating also to see the little communities of people who are so remote and live such simple lives. Very inspiring. Magnificent photography too, as is becoming the norm from you now! Thanks for the report, Seymour! Lots of love, Charlie xxxx

    Comment by Charlie — December 14, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  3. Wow, it really makes me wanna go to Nepal. Amazing! I’m thinking about both of you and hope you’ll be back soon in Chiangmai… In the meantime, continue to enjoy.

    Life is wonderful, isn’t it?

    Laurence

    Comment by Laurence — December 15, 2008 @ 8:10 am

  4. Brilliant. Thank you so much for your recent stories and pictures. Australia and Bali were great and reminded me of my own experiences in those places. Nepal has been on my mind for a while as somewhere I would like to go and you and Nikki, Madan and Kamal have inspired me. Yes, I actually could do that. Wow!
    Good on you Ray, love Jenny

    Comment by Jenny Leigh — December 15, 2008 @ 11:35 am

  5. Your photos and words are a wonderful recap of what seems to be one of the most incredible experiences two people can share together. And, I think you’re glowing because of it! Well done and very inspiring!

    Happy holidays to both you and Nikki, look forward to catching up in the new year…

    xo~
    Angela

    Comment by Angela — December 26, 2008 @ 4:12 am

  6. Dear Ray
    Happy New Year to you and Nikki – what beautiful views you are seeing. I am quite jealous. We have minus 10 degrees and Britain can barely cope! Lots of love
    Annaxx

    Comment by Anna Roberts — January 7, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  7. Hey,
    You have really a lot of information in your blog. It’s great.. I can do a ’round the world’ tour without getting up from my computer! I especially liked the blog about the Annapurna curcuit, because I can look at all the pictures and say “Cool – I’ve been there”. It’s really great with all these pictures. I am lookig forward to the Seven Days in Tibet issue.
    Franzi

    Comment by Franzi — January 31, 2009 @ 10:43 am


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