Nepal diary: Kathmandu, trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary and Khopra Ridge

It started with the idea to do some multiday walking/trekking and Nepal seemed like a good choice, with the massive mountains, happy people, and comfortable tea houses to stay in. Turkish airlines had the best value flights so we booked them and had ten days to generate trekking plans. Before leaving Germany we weighed each piece of our gear taking the lightest stuff, mostly wool socks, some insulation pieces, rain and wind jackets, light approach shoes and sun protection gear. Our backpacks weighed 12kg, mine had 40 litres of volume while Kathi chose the 50 litre Arc’teryx Bora trekking pack.

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After an easy flight, we spent two days in Boudnath/Kathmandu to indulge in Nepali culture and enjoy the Buddhist vibes. From there we went on a small six day trek through the Kathmandu valley & Helambu region. Our highlights were an invitation from a monk to spend a night at the Thupten Hoezer Ling Nunnery, the four hour jeep ride with Golpal and his wife who picked us up hitch-hiking and invited us into their house for the night, the solitude of the trails, the afternoon naps in the sun under the rhododendron flowers, the food, especially the addictive masala milk tea, sil roti, dal bat, momos and delicious yak cheese. 

Back in the city, we spent three days getting the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) permit and the TIMS pass, shopping for snacks, various medications for emergencies, washing clothes, posing as buddhist wannabes and an absolute highlight: the fabulous, colourful and positive Holi festival.

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The next step was to get to the trail head, which involved a seven hour minivan ride to Pokhara, and an overnight there. At 9am we left on a bus from Baglung bus station (Pokhara) to Kande only 30km away but ninety minutes of hell. The bus driver was an utter nut job, fueled with caffeine, rage and testosterone. He honked, swerved, bumped past jeeps, goats, children, porters, trees, and dump trucks. After thirty terrifying minutes I noticed he had the telling long finger nail (on the pinky finger) of the egocentric big man. In Asia this is the sure sign that your taxi, mini bus or bus driver will be an absolute asshole, that drives with no regard for anyone’s life on the road including his and the passengers.

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From Kande the trail was well marked with village signs, and we briskly walked 4km till stopping at the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) park entrance to sign in. The day continued with another 5km of trekking before we stopped at Archana guest house, run by friendly Shanti and her husband. The walls and floors had hardened mud smeared over stone walls, the room was lite by a tiny bulb, and had two hard beds with warm blankets. As most Nepali eat dal bhat twice a day at 11am and 7pm, dinner was dal bhat.

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The next morning there was a fantastic view of Annapurna South and Hiun Chuli. The trail lead us above and then along the Modi Khola (river) to climb up stairs and back down, then over bridges, past tea shops and on to the Annapurna Santuary track. We came past the Gurung villages of Tolka, Landruck, and Jhinudanda.

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At Chomrong we entered the Santuary proper and the settlements beyond were built purposely for trekkers in these next few days, the rhythm of life was similar. Waking up at 6am, making an instant coffee, Kathi had herbal tea, eating fried eggs and chapati for breakfast, then sugar crackers with peanut butter for lunch and then boiled potatoes for dinner. While walking we saw many varieties of colorful birds, lots of bridges, massive stone stair cases and the hilariously outfitted trekkers: one porter had leather moccasins, one trekker looked right out of downtown Shanghai, lots of pole-ish people, the chemical induced raver who stopped every five minutes to take ten selfies. Each night I would meditate, stretch, brush my teeth and fall asleep by 8pm. There were not so many showers for me but Kathi insisted she needed a cold bucket wash each night.

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Finally after seven days of trekking, one shower, 32 eggs, eight packs of coconut biscuits, two cans off tuna, ten chocolate bars, 500 grams of peanut butter, a big bag of masala peas, ten cups of hot water, enough chlorine to kill a tiny mouse and too much instant coffee we arrived at ABC (Annapurna Base Camp).

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It was noon and the clouds were already eerily swirling around, so we walked behind the lodges to see the massive glaciers of Annapurna I and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail). We went back outside at sunset, to see the clouds had mostly cleared and the ranges were lit up in the suns soft glow. We had a plain dinner of boiled potatoes and a celebratory American style chocolate bar in our small fridge like room. I am sure the bed sheets never get washed, just wiped with a dirty hand. The following morning at 6am the skies were clear, the toilet water frozen and the Annapurnas glowed majestically.

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We began our trek back down the Sanctuary trail past Deurali, Bamboo and Sinewa. It took two slow days (Kathi had a nasty stomach bug), passing trekkers, being passed by trekkers, porters all the time greeting people with ‘namaste’. Finally we arrived at Chomrong and were able to have our first luke warm solar shower in days, devour yummy french fries and enjoy another ten hour sleep. In the morning Annapurna South loomed high in the sky and looked as if it would fall on top of us if it was uprooted by another horrendous earthquake. The next five days the trails were much quieter, almost empty of forgein trekkers, we only saw a handful of people. The spring rhododendrons were blooming in vibrant pinks and reds. The forest areas took on an auspicious magical air because they were full of moss, bamboo, loudly singing birds, insects and fragrant flowers (mountain orchids and daphine). We stopped for lunch at Tadapani and ran into the three French trekkers Dominique, Francois, Lodu and their porter Suresh whom we had first met on the bus from Pokhara to Kande. We had been bumping into them every day or two up the Santuary trail and now they were headed up to Khopra ridge as well. Francois was in the kitchen showing the one to two head shorter Nepali cooks how to make French fries and proper sunny side up eggs.

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After a long lunch break we continued on the trail solo until seeing a small dirty old man in gum boots walking towards us, he mumbled and slurred ‘Namaste…. Where are you going? Meshar? Meshar? I have a lodge, you come’, and he hurried off towards Tadapani. I thought this guy was crazy, and the Meshar lodge must be avoided but half an hour later he came up from behind mumbling, ‘ Hallo, there are three porters coming’ and with the usual Nepali walking speed was gone in a few minutes. We marched on towards Meshar, then paused thinking he was talking about the French group and the magic of the forest engulfed us again, so we watched the water Buffalo.

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An hour later we were in Meshar, a storm was building, Kathi still felt weak and ill (now four days). Gum boot guy (Mim) was smiling and welcoming us to his lodge, Heaven Viewtop Lodge. Loic and Suresh were there I thought it must be okay. We unpacked and sat down to chat with Mim and noticed he had a hearing aid and was using some weird sign language to converse with a deafish porter, both men had slurring speech. Mim turned out to be charismatic, yet eccentric, entertaining, and a good humoured character. He had his lodge in Meshar for ten years while his wife and three daughters lived in Pokhara. Mim also made the bamboo doko that the porters use to carry things. It took him a day to make one and there were various sizes in the lodge. Nepali people stopped in all afternoon and surprisingly the three porters came by, one of them needed a new doko and bought it from Mim for twenty euro. I had some near new alpine gloves that were to small so I traded them for a beautiful Mim-made mini doko the next morning. Mim had told me it was good for my ‘tooth paste, toothbrush and things’, as he filled it up to demonstrate.

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Kathi had been persuaded to take some strong medication the night before, for her digestion problems and was feeling better. We finally left at 10am and Mim hiked with us to the next village for an early lunch together. Here just Kathi and I continued on to Dobato. Kathi was feeling normal and was able to enjoy food again and learned two French dice games that evening.

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The next morning we left at 7am and were treated to views of Dhaulagiri. After hiking an hour we stopped at Bayeli for a quick fried eggs and chapati. I noticed on the trekking map a short cut that avoided a 700m descent and 600m uphill to Khopra ridge. I asked the young guy working at the Bayeli hut how to find the trail. He replied, ‘first turn go up, then you come to open field, second turn go down, then at the saddle go up, the rest of trail you can not see but it is marked (blue/white stripe)’. It seemed simple to me. The first three hours the trail had ankle-deep snow, with some steep sections through a bamboo forest and a few old stone houses. The trail finding was a bit difficult here because there were no footprints to follow. The next three hours followed through dry grasses traversing steep hillside and fresh creeks. Hiking along the single track trail reminded me of a harder track in New Zealand until seeing the herd of yaks. Here we stopped for half an hour to watch the hairy and gentle beasts, play, eat and grunt.

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Six hours later, the short cut (seasonal) trail brought us to the Khopra Ridge community hut. It was a lonely place shroud in a cold swirling mist. The stoned guy Nabinpoon who was running the hut (mostly playing video games on his computer) finally realized after the third time we asked him to light the fire, that we were cold. Poon put some yak dung in the old oil barrel and dosed it with white gas and in twenty minutes it was warm. 

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The next day we awoke at our normal time 6am to the fantastic views of Dhaulagiri across the valley, Thule Peak, gentle ridge lines, the Niligiris, Fang, open snow fields, glaciers, aretes, and Annapurna South. After spending the morning wandering around the barren ridge, eating some over cooked eggs and cold chapatis in the warm sun, we packed our bags. The fantastically near mountains kissed our cheeks and the days walk from 3600m down to Swanta at 2200m began. The weather was clear and sunny, Kathi and I were happy, healthy and looking forward to seeing more yaks on the way. 

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The long day brought us to the surprisingly beautiful Magar village in Swanta where we meet Francois, Dominique, Loic and Surash. This brought smiles to our faces, the warm/cold shower of the Kandali Inn (Candle Inn) washed all the dust, sweat and exhaustion away. The setting sun had a soft orange glow reflected on Dhaulagiri creating an aura of evening peacefulness and contentment in my universe.

The next day was the 14th day of trekking, we felt worn out and hungry for fruit or salad. When some kids asked us for chocolate and we jokingly replied, ‘Can’t you see I’m trekking!’ and, ‘Have you seen the menu on the ACAP!’, it was clear to us, that we needed a break. That night in Tatopani, Kathi had a dream of shopping in a German market for strawberries, vegetables and having a BBQ (although while in Nepal we are strictly vegetarian). At 6:30am after grooggily telling me her dream, a new plan was made. It involved a bus ride to Pokhara for fresh fruit, veggies, and general laziness in the warm sun. After three crowded, bumpy, dusty bus rides (ten hours) we were showered, unpacked and sitting in Friendly Restaurant (Pokhara) eating a veggie burger with chips. Five days later we are brown energized, full of watermelon, curd, banana, apple, fresh water and making plans for another two week trek in Nepal.


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