Reflections and images from my travels

I awoke November 3, 2011 with every intention of flying out to start my Everest base camp trek. However, we knew we were in trouble when we arrived at the airport and met another couple who were there for the third consecutive day also trying to get a flight out to Lukla. Alas, it was not to be. I subsequently found out that no flights in or out of Lukla had occurred since October 31, 2011. The weather did not look like it was going to clear. After waiting in the airport until 10:30 AM I had a brief discussion with Ramesh by cell phone and we decided to switch our plans. I would start with the Annapurna Sanctuary base camp trek first. Because we had already missed the tourist bus from Kathmandu which leaves early in the morning to Pokhara, a private hire car was arranged (believe me, this is much preferable to the tourist bus) and after four hours we arrived in Pokhara where I would overnight prior to starting the trek the following day. I was actually quite happy to leave Kathmandu and as we drove further away from this sprawling metropolis I felt better and better. The air was cleaner and the views became increasingly beautiful. The condition of the road to Pokhara was another matter. The roads in Nepal are in the atrocious shape. They are quite unsafe. Luckily we had a superb driver who was very careful. On the way to Pokhara we picked up our porter Krishna who was quite a slight young man of 22 years of age. He did not seem to know a lot of English and was quite quiet on the drive up. About two hours into the drive he suddenly rolled down the window and proceeded to vomit. Unfortunately a lot of it ended up in the vehicle. He did not say anything to the driver or our guide so I informed them and we stopped the vehicle and cleaned him up. I was wondering how he would do for the next 12 days on this relatively gruelling trek. He stated he was okay and only had some car motion sickness as the roads are very serpentine.

November 4, 2011 at 0945 H after a taxi drive of two hours from Pokhara to our starting point for the trek of Nayapul, 1070 m, we were on our way. I was very excited. Initially, the trek seemed quite easy. Then, we started with the stone steps numbering approximately 3400 to our initial destination of Ulleri. Who needs a stair-master? I was not really used to this type of hiking. Initially, I wondered if I would be able to complete the trek if this was what it entailed. However it is amazing what the body adapts to and after several hundred one does get into a rhythm of sorts. We eventually ended up at our first guest house at Ulleri, 1960 m, where I met a very pleasant couple from England, Sam and Vanessa, and spent the afternoon chatting with them. This would be a recurrent theme. When you travel solo you tend to meet people at the guest houses in the evening over tea or dinner. Conversations naturally start-up. The guest houses were very basic, made with clapboard, with no heating and usually just a simple wood plank bed with thin mattress and table were provided. There was usually a shared squat toilet. Separate indoor and outdoor dining areas were provided for meals. Usually at night the temperature got relatively cold so indoor dining was the way to go. The meals were basic but more than adequate. I am very happy I decided to bring that down air mattress as it made for a much more comfortable sleep. As there was not much to do at the guest houses bedtime usually occurred at 7:30 PM. Unbelievable. However, over time, this proved to be a sensible bedtime in order to get enough sleep to recover from the days trekking.

November 5, 2011 we trekked to Ghorepani, 2860 m, which included more stone steps but eventually switched to a forest trail which was much more pleasant. The trek was only about three hours. There was a beautiful stream with small waterfalls along the way which made the trek very pleasant. The weather continued to be quite overcast and one could not see the surrounding Himalayan mountains. It seems our decision to proceed with the Annapurna trek was a wise one. It seemed unlikely that flights were going to Lukla. As it was quite overcast, we decided not to hike up to Poon Hill, 3198 m, in the afternoon. We would complete the hike to Poon Hill the following morning getting up at 4:30 AM in order to do this. This side trek was also important for acclimatization. This location affords a wonderful view of the Annapurna Sanctuary when the weather is clear. Many people actually just hike up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill and skip the Annapurna Sanctuary altogether for an easier trek. That evening I met some pleasant gentleman, Tim and Larry, who were coming down from the Annapurna Sanctuary. They had clear skies up at the sanctuary which encouraged me.

November 6, 2011 we awoke at 4:30 AM and started the trek up to Poon Hill. I knew it was not going to be a pleasant experience when I walked out of the guesthouse and saw a line of approximately 30 hikers with headlamps on proceeding up the trail. We set a furious pace to bypass all of the people going up the trail ahead of us but when we arrived at the top of Poon Hill we were were greeted by approximately 200 other hikers! On top of this the sky did not clear and there were no views at all of the Annapurna Sanctuary. The only good thing was the vendor who provided a wonderful cup of hot milk tea to enjoy encompassed by the throngs. We quickly hiked down back to the guesthouse had breakfast and proceeded onwards to our destination of Tadapani,  2630 m. There was a relatively steep hike up through Deurali Pass but then a very steep descent through an absolutely gorgeous slash of a canyon with a beautiful stream running down beside the trail. The colors of the surrounding vegetation was amazing. I really enjoyed this stretch as it was much less traveled as many people from Ghorepani would not be proceeding onwards up to the sanctuary. We then had a lovely lateral traverse with a shorter climb up to our eventual destination. The guesthouse at Tadapani was probably the worst guest house on this trek. Most of the guest houses were quite acceptable, although basic, but this one seemed particularly rundown and shabby. My room was no bigger than a standard closet. My saving grace at dinner was to meet another Canadian couple Barbara and Paul who were actually from Okotoks, Alberta. Imagine coming all of this way to Nepal and when you meet fellow Canadians they happen to live where you do! We had a lovely dinner conversation and played cards with some of the Nepalese porters who particularly seem to enjoy this form of recreation. They were very animated.

November 7, 2011 we had a later start because of the particularly long day yesterday and enjoyed a lovely trek of approximately 3 hours to probably my favourite village on this particular trek Chhomrong, 2170 m. The guesthouse was lovely and very inviting and the actual village was larger and just seemed to have a much better feel to it. There were more services and this was also the location where our weather started to clear and we got our first views of the Annapurna Sanctuary mountains poking through the clearing cloud. Fantastic! There was also a Nepalese bakery with wonderful chocolate rolls that I purchased for myself the guide and porter as a treat. I was also able to have the true hot shower and shave which does seem to make all of the difference. I felt completely refreshed after visiting this lovely village. Would it last?

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