Quite a challenge as Zoe takes on the Annapurna.

Join me as I follow her amazing journey through the daily recollection of her adventures as she courageously climbs the Everest.

She offers us a taste of what she sees and experiences with beautiful pictures.

She left in October 2019 and spent four months hiking the mountains.

As she crosses over to India, Covid19 forces her to cut her trip short and make it back to the UK.


October 28, 2019 – Holy shit.. it’s finally happening! I’m setting sail on a karmic wave of freedom to the cacophony of Kathmandu!


October 29 – I imagined endless hours in the shabby old terminal I passed through two years ago.

Thanks Oman for the retro leatherette lounges, the fake palm trees, the neon blue desert garden, miles of travelators, perfumed air humidifiers and the silent space to relax and recline in.

Perfect for my seven hour layover, which I managed to laze away quite easily!


October 30 – Kathmandu, Nepal

Flying into Kathmandu last night was spectacular – the whole city was lit up like a giant Santa’s grotto with almost every building draped in twinkling fairy lights for Diwali. Rangoli decorations have been created in doorways and signify good fortune coming into the home. It was my good luck to time my arrival with an auspicious festival!

I try and be open to random encounters on my travels.

Today I met two strangers:
The first person thought that my shoes would benefit from a bit of tailoring, I said I liked them like that and was looking for lunch.
He showed me a really cheap and tasty local restaurant and was very charming for 17.

I had to politely decline buying the paintings from his mandala ‘school’ and when he asked for a gift, looked non too chuffed with his Cambridge postcard!

I met the second person at the monkey temple.

He was a nice older chap, his shop was still awaiting repair post earthquake.

It turns out he was a sound healer and plays Tibetan singing bowls, even a session for Miss Nepal!

I ended up in his home with a bowl on my head, a cup of tea and a packet of digestives (his wife was taking the photos).
I’m hoping to take a course with him, so watch out for bowls on your bonce at my next party!

“To travel is the experience of ceasing to be the person you are trying to be, and becoming the person you really are.”
― Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light


Trekking permit obtained and tourist tax paid…

I’m ready to roll! Just the small matter of packing my bag with the least amount of necessary items for up to six weeks in the mountains!

At least I know the ’emergency snack pile’ will gradually decrease in weight, as will I do no doubt!

There is intermittent WiFi even in the Himalayas so posts will be sketchy from now on but I’ll update as and when I can

Day 1 on the annapurna circuit

The bus lurched to a halt in Besisar from where it was a short 3 hour stroll to Bhulebule and the Heaven guest house.

Locals were threshing the rice harvest, children called Namaste and old ladies sat smoking, wrinkled faces turned up to the sun.

Buildings are painted in sometimes garish colours and decorated with fresh flower bunting.

Heaven’s kitchen was spotless and neatly arranged – I was most impressed and yours truly couldn’t resist a quick swing! ??

Day 4 -

Day four has been a steep ascent through the Marsyangdi river gorge from the Lamjung region into the Tibetan influenced Manang district.

The paddy fields and plantations of millet and lentils have been left behind and sheer cliff faces dominate, hemming in life with their vastness.

Paths have been laboured through the ravines and roads blasted from rock but the regular landslides demonstrate that the mountain will always dominate man’s attempts to conquer it.

I avoided the donkey trains on the road by taking the trekking route but it seems cows are herded on the forest paths for grazing.

Much smaller than the inquisitive and untrustworthy British sort, they were quite up for a stroke on the head but I always took the inside lane just in case they decided to nudge me over the edge!

The night is quieter without the cicadas rasping symphony but the roar of the river relentlessly echoes from far below.

Sleep comes easily with weary bones..

Day 5 - koto near chame, nepal

A big altitude gain from 1900 meters in Dharapani to 2620 in Koto, up near the Tibetan border.

Took the small detour to Odar village perched high on a high under a gigantic boulder.

The villagers had fixed metal steps up to the summit giving incredible views to us and a perfect site for a religious monument for them.

The route traversed lush forest and apple orchards, across hairy suspension bridges and gave views of the mighty Manaslu and Annapurna ii.

It’s pretty chilly here and the unique selling point of lodges from now on is a log burner in the dining room.
The kitchen’s are glorious dens of shining bronze platters and giant teapots.

Veg is home grown in a plot behind the house, cabbages and broccoli are in season and are giant organic specimens.

Day 6 -

I have reached Upper Pisang at 3300 masl. There are views to Annapurna ii and iv from here and the nights are getting decidedly chilly.

This is a medieval village with ancient wooden structures. The architecture is now primarily Tibetan in style and the rooves are flat and stacked with wood as rain is rare.

Pine forests are giving way to barren rock as life clings to the sheer mountainside. Yet life is everywhere.. tasks herded across the river, cows roaming villages, sleeping dogs, cheerful children, men and women hard at work or carrying great loads on the trail.

Villages are colourful with lodges painted bright rainbow colours and prayer flags adorning bridges, gompas, trees and village entrances.

Every turn the mountains share a little more grandeur and beauty, it’s an incredible journey.

Day 7 - upper pisang to braka

Upper Pisang to Braka (3520) via the high route.

Today the warm sun of autumn gave way to the biting chill of winter. The clouds were heavy in the morning for the long, steep slog up to Gyaru.

The locals were really swift at providing weary trekkers with hot tea and apple pies (this is a prime apple growing region!).

Snow began to sprinkle the trail as the high path passed a ruined monastery and a shiny new one, perched high on a windswept plateau.

A distant rumble and a snowy explosion; a far off avalanche was a reminder of the power of the mountains.

The path through the sparse forest turned into a dusty road with passing tractors kicking up a storm.

There was nothing more welcoming than the sign for the Trekkers Bakery at Mugji, which served up peanut cookies and cinnamon rolls to the weary.

Finally arriving at Braka after a very long day tired but awestruck by the mountains.

Day 8 -

A ‘rest’ day to acclimate at high altitude in Braka

The saying goes “climb high and sleep low” – Braka is at 3520 meters so a hike up to Milarepa’s Cave tucked in an overhang below Annapurna ii at 4200 was perfect.

A dog and a monk were company on the path that made it’s way steeply up the mountain face, passing two deserted villages and several chortens before emerging out to a building site at the top!

Industrious Nepal’s were busy constructing walls and buildings, I imagine for monk pilgrimages to the sacred site.

In the 11th century the sage Milarepa meditated there on a bed of nettles, and also are nothing but nettles until he turned green!

Braka village over the other side of the valley is medieval and built up against the pillars of erosion.

Evidently erosion does not happen that fast as it is also home to a 500 year old Gompa perched above the houses.

It was an atmospheric chamber smeared with butter, stacked high with prayer boxes and crammed with hundreds of statues of Buddha.

Day 9 - ice lake, manang

Another acclimatization day from Braka.

Today to the Ice Lake at 4650 meters. I think this is the highest I’ve ever been. It was a tough climb up a dusty track. Mostly in rolled up shirt sleeves until the top where there was an icy wind contrasted by bright sun.

The lake was partially frozen and patches of snow circled the banks. I saw one idiot braving a quick splash in his shorts.

The mountains showed there power once again with an avalanche on Annapurna I.

Views stretched for miles from Chulu East behind the lake to Annapurna ii, iv and iii and Tilicho Peak.

The almost extinct glacier of Gangapurna visible from this height.

On the way back elusive blue sheep made an appearance. They’re sadly not actually blue!

Days 10 and 11

The journey to Tilicho Lake began in Braka and climbed to one of the highest lakes in the world at 5013 meters.

See that faint line across the very steep slope? That was the path to Tilicho Base Camp.

I overnighted at The Blue Sheep Hotel at Upper Shree Kharka, which wasn’t as cool as it sounded.

The advice is to walk across the landslide zone early in the morning while it was still frozen in case the hot sun released some rocks on inadvertent trekkers. In reality the biggest danger were the tourists on ponies and porters with their heavy loads coming the other way.

Leaving at 7 am meant I got to Base Camp at 9:30 and there was another three hours climb from there.

At this altitude, getting enough oxygen to feed exertion is quite a struggle but a slow tortoise eventually wins the race.

The path eventually leveled in a snowy plateau leading to the beautiful turquoise lake and a view of the Grande Barrier and Tilicho Peak.

A reward well deserved. I ate two Mars Bars today but I think that can be justified!

Days 12, 13, 14

The return from Tilicho Base Camp was physically exhausting, not to mention the adrenalin depletion from crossing the landslide zone again!

I decided to have a couple of rest days in Manang and this time properly rest and have a lie in. Bed is the best place to be when it’s -8 outside!

I rose yesterday when all the other trekkers had packed up and gone and took a stroll up beyond the Gangapurna Lake and Chongkar viewpoint.

It was an epic view down the valley to Pisang Peak, Annapurna ii and across to Manang perched on the cliff at the other side of the valley.

Encountering a bubbling spring in the ground I filled my water bottle with fresh mountain water. The glacial wall is so monstrously precipitous that it was just a matter of time before a chunk thundered off, feeding the turquoise pool below.

Today I wandered up the other side of the valley to Praken Gompa at least 600 years old.

Three elderly sisters (67, 71 and 73) live up there without electricity, one of them a monk who gives blessings for the Thorong La in return for donations.

The youngest and oldest two were carrying up heavy baskets of sticks with a head strap from the valley floor.

They were fascinated with my long black hair in plaits and offered me a cup of tea and some apple slices whilst I sat on their kitchen floor as they gabbled and gossiped in a language I couldn’t understand but felt connected in some way to these women through our smiles.

Day 15 -

It’s time to move onwards and upwards.

The weather had taken a turn; without the sun it is hovering just above freezing.

With no thermals to soar on the vultures are circling low, so close I can hear the wind through their feathers.

In this region with the climate so dry and the wood so sparse, it is common for the dead to be offered to the sky and the Himalayan Griffon helps in that organic process.

As I walk or starts to snow. Not the settling kind, just snizzle. There’s no point stopping, it’s warmer to walk on until Churi Ledar. I sup on garlic soup to help thin my blood as tonight I’m sleeping at 4230 meters.
It’s only 3:30 pm but I’m going to have to get into bed to stay warm!

Day 16 - thorang phedi, manang

The sun has returned.

The yaks yawn lazily as I pass, the one with black circles around his eyes looks like a bovine panda.

Climbing higher out of the ravine a yellow stoaty creature darts across the path, through the bushes and into the wood stack. A young Himalayan weasel perhaps?

Above 4500 meters the terrain is pretty much bare and desolate. Some small grasses and lichen grow here and there.

At High Camp (4900) it seems that nothing is alive. A cute babbling noise draws my attention and a group of Himalayan Snowcocks waddle through the camp fanning their tales.

Night is bitterly cold up here yet they manage to muster up homemade pasta with yak cheese so I am happy.

The talk of the evening is what time are people leaving for the pass in the morning. Most think 4 am will be fantastic to see the sunrise. I think not. It’s at least -15°. I order breakfast for 5:30 am, that’s bad enough.

Day 17 - thorong la pass - 5416 meters

The occasion the past two weeks have been building up to.

To be honest the hardest part of the day was getting out of bed, it was baltic and my breakfast was half an hour late. Still at least dawn had broke and I could see the ice underfoot when I set off at 7:00 am.

It took 3.5 hours to climb to the pass. Every step was like wading through honey.

I’d already scoffed a Mars Bar and an energy gel by 9 am.

Men with horses waited at strategic points for the weary (and rich) trekker. No cheating for the likes of me obviously.

The summit eventually revealed itself.. elated I ate more chocolate and had a little Om

Now for the truly hard part, the walk down to Ranipauwa (known as Muktinath) 1600 meters below.

Bare glacial moraine eventually started to show some life again.

The aroma of juniper at 4000 meters was a signal altitude was dropping and ‘normality’ was returning.

It took 5.5 hours of knee jarring descent to reach a mirage known as the Bob Marley hotel.

A day off tomorrow to explore the temples I think…

Day 18 - muktinath, mustang, himalaya

Pilgrims on horses fill the main street with dust as they make their way to Muktinath.

They mostly wear puffa jackets and sunglasses and say hello in English.

The temple site is a combination of Buddhist and Hindu deities as they tend to be in Nepal.

Natural gas flames, holy dunking ponds and 108 golden boar head water spouts feature in the religious attractions. There was still ice around the spouts yet devotees walked round getting a purifying soaking from each one.

I met a group of government officials who’d finished ‘business’ in the morning and come up here to enjoy the afternoon.

In my lodgings I’d managed to avoid the big groups of westerners Andy’s filled the other hotels and spent the evening huddled around a gas fire with Nepali youngsters, laughing and sharing a bit of ourselves with each other.

As the sun set in Mustang I reflected on what a great day it has been to have genuine interactions with locals who are not busy guest house owners and look forward to more days like these that make traveling the soul enriching experience it should be.

Day 19 - kagbeni, nepal

The very name Mustang conjures up images of empty, dusty roads in wide, open mountain scape.

It is very much like this.

Add to this some demonic afternoon winds and you have Mustang.

This is as far north as I’m allowed on my permit. The tourist tax for going further into these protected lands is a hefty $500 for 10 days!

Today’s hike to Kagbeni took me through the villages of Chhongyur and Jhong.

The first with incredible painted buildings, using natural colours to reflect those typical of the Sakyapa sect of Buddhism. Jhong’s crumbling mud fortress and ancient monastery perched high on a rocky outcrop could signalling l once have signal across to it’s sister communities across the valley.

More on Kagbeni tomorrow, I’m staying an extra day to soak up the medieval atmosphere of crumbling lanes and courtyards and have an appointment with some chanting monks at 6:30 am tomorrow.

Saw this little fella in a shop window today making a nest for himself from a woolly hat! ?

Day 20 - kagbeni, nepal
At 6:30 am young monks blew conch shells to summon the burgundy-robed boys to the gompa.
Without a Lama onsite, prayers were broadcast in and the trainees could get away with fidgeting and yawning their way through.
The youngest boys had to sweep the floor and clean the surfaces whilst some blew trumpets, chimed bells and thumped drums. It was quite an experience.

On the journey out of Kagbeni towards Lupra, farmers tilled the fields with cattle, they sang as they ploughed; the same chant resounding across the Kali Gandaki valley.

Lupra is a Bon settlement, a pre-Tibetan animistic religion. A village that time has forgotten, the tumble of houses perched up the hillside full of life and locals offering apples for sale.

Kagbeni is a mystical place, the old town being a tangle of narrow lanes, courtyards, stables, haylofts, tiny doorways, prayer wheels, water-ways and ‘ghost eaters’.

The ghost eaters marked the place where sentries once stood when this village was an important trading post in the salt trade from Tibet.
As the fierce winds whip up the dust the sky takes on a opaque blueness, imitating the sea that once covered Mustang millennia ago.

Day 21 - jomsom, mustang

The stretch from Kagbeni to Jomsom (2740 meters) is the most unattractive yet. A long dusty road carved into the hillside, the only alternative option being to walk on the river bed, but here too construction was taking place to avoid erosion of the new and expensive road.

Every time a vehicle passed, up went the buff over my face as a filter Ninja style. The ‘road’ is basically a wide track of dust and stones, no tarmac.

For some it brings progress, for others it has killed business.

Guest houses used to see trekkers walk all the way back to Pokhara, now most take a bus, jeep or even a flight from Jomsom.

I, of course, progress onwards on foot.

Staying in old Jomsom, away from the airport and modernization it felt authentic.

The town is full of shops with bags of apples piled high, a specialty of the region, along with dried apples, apple brandy and apple pie!

The Himalayan Mountain Warfare School are based here, they look like they’re having a good time building stone defense lines and parading their arsenal.
I took a walk to Thini and visited the Bon Gompa with it’s fearsome blue, 18-armed, 9-headed deity of Welse Ngampa.

The village also had a small meditation chamber known as the Leopard Cave, locked unfortunately.

Beyond was the emerald green Dumba lake, considered sacred but it attracted a lot of posing teenagers drinking Cola in the afternoon.

Day 22 - jomsom to tukuche

Braving the dust road once more, the walk to Marpha is brief.

The student monk lets me into the Gompa, he’s been busy researching bottle to make bottle lamps to light the monastery.

Above the town a giant boulder is painted white and orange and the rocks are worshipped to keep them happy and discourage a land-slide. I had plans to stay here but the main street is blighted with gift shops and persuasive shop keepers so I move on.

There is a Tibetan camp outside of town where refugees have made a permanent settlement, I buy apples and a bag of apricot kernels, resisting trinkets.

The old part of Tukuche village is very different to previous villages despite also being Thakali.The stone house fronts are whitewashed and lead into flowered courtyards. I choose Sunil guesthouse, I am the only one there.

It wasn’t until later I read in my guide book it is famous for Mustang apple pie, an invention by the owner, and delicious it was too. Puna and Som are so cheerful – I usually choose a place to stay on the affability of the hosts. The courtyard is full of sparrows and tomato plants with the solar oven heating a kettle of water.

Som was the school teacher for 20 years, he knows everyone in the village.

This is the first time I have seen the traditional hot table – a table with a blanket overhang above a pit where hot coals are placed in a metal hearth.

I acquire the key for the Gompa and am invited into the caretaker’s home for a cup of tea; Mani went to America 19 years ago to work as an accountant and this is the first time he’s been back.

Over-excited small children plead for a photo and jump maniacally in front of my lens, marijuana grows wild on the footpath mingled with the nettles.

Day 23 - kalapani

I was woken at midnight by a rustling mouse. I shoved in my earplugs but in the morning found that the plastic bag I use for my flip-flops had ended up nibbled and half-way down a hole in the floorboards.

Fortunately the mouse had cheap taste and refrained from munching on my RAB down or Merino.

I bid farewell to the wonderful Som and Puna who had hosted me last night, I am furnished with a small posy, two apples and many hugs as I leave.

A diversion from the Circuit to the community of Naurikot perched high on a buttress and then a hot, sweaty climb to Guru Sangpo Cave, in a ravine below the Dhaulgiri Icefall.

I was expecting to find brain-shaped rocks, maybe they were hidden under the green slime. The views of Nilgiri from underneath the curtain of dripping water and reams of prayer flags was sensational.

There were footprints in the dust but no sign of any other hikers today so I trod carefully, especially when the path was only as wide as my shoe!
Back onto the road and joining the proper trail, the elusive Annapurna i appeared above Kalapani.

Here the wide river bed is suddenly channelled into a narrow gorge and the meandering stream becomes a torrent.

Chancing across the hospitality and catering school’s Pine Tree Hotel, I am the only guest for the formally-dressed students to practice on.

The service is attentive but slow but they’ve put they’ve put the food channel on in English to entertain me whilst I wait.

I order the four-course set menu for less than £5 (aloo chop, bean and palm heart soup, dal bhat and rice pudding), it is the tastiest food I have eaten in the last four weeks!

Day 24 -

In Kalopani, Harry offers me a tour of the campus.

Students here can study hotel management, catering, agriculture and livestock management.

At only 10,000 rupees for a year’s course it is a popular place and they are building more accommodation to keep up with demand; the girls’ block is ominously surrounded with barbed wire.

The route to Ghasa meanders through pine forest, I keep my eyes peeled for pheasants.

I’m glad to be back in green fertile land once more; back to a more comforting form of nature.

The Annapurna Lodge at Kochepani is very basic but there are Poinsettas and orange flowers, ragged parasols and besides, it is too far to Tatopani for one day.

The lady is sweet and busy drying grains for the winter, the men folk are sat in the garden playing cards.

I sit in the garden too with a pot of tea and rest my legs in the sunshine, listening to the cicadas.

Day 25 - kachopani to tatopani, myagdi

A very short four hour trek down the narrowing Kali Gandaki gorge but the hot springs await.

This is the reason I’ve carried a swimsuit around for the last four weeks; though the local ladies simply wrap a sarong around. The pensioners boil themselves in the hot pool, I opt for a gentle steam.

Loud hip hop is playing, it reminds me of Venezuela not Nepal.

It’s subtropical down here at 1220m and I buy a bag of oranges to top up my vitamins. Resisting the advert for ‘space bread’ at Baba Bar.

There is a distinct holiday vibe here.

For me, this marks the end of one trail and the start of another.

Tomorrow I will head East and up again, joining the Circuit to the Sanctuary trail via Poon Hill.

Day 26 -

A torturous 1600m climb from Tadapani to Ghorepani (2882).

The route was mainly up rough hewn stone steps, circuiting agricultural land; neat terraces of millet that look like ornamental gardens draped with bougainvillea. On and on it went, incessant in it’s ascent.

Ghorepani is a soulless little place, mainly consisting of structures made from royal blue steel sheeting.

The larger hotels cater to to big groups and here there are plenty. It feels very much like package tour land and not discovering the Himalayas.

The saving grace, and the reason most people come here, is the spectacular sunset overland sunrise over Dhaulgiri.

Day 27 - Tadapani-9, ghandruk

Waking early for a pre- dawn hike up Poon Hill I’m slightly disgruntled that the paper-thin walls of the hotel felt like I had a lot of nocturnal activity in my room last night.

Knowing that there were at least 100 people in town last night making this same excursion, I hold back from the summit and choose to view below the summit.

If heading to Tadopani, then there are equally good views from this route I discover in retrospect.
The cloud inversion is indeed beautiful but now it’s time to continue the march to Tadopani through beautiful Rhodedendron forest, sadly losing a good portion of the height gained yesterday.

This village in the forest is essentially pit-stop for trekkers, the cluster of lodges enjoy morning sun before the clouds envelop the forest in the afternoon.

Day 28 -

Dawn glows beautifully on the cloud layer shrouding the sacred mountain, Macchupuchre.
The steep steps continue relentlessly – what happened to the good old fashioned slope?

The rhodedendron forest thins beyond Tadapani, sharing space with clusters of bamboo. I look out for mountain pheasants but the call of the porter’s radio precedes me and warns them off.

Lunch in Chhomrong was disheartening so I move on in search of a bed in Bhanuwa (2340). The villages here mainly consist of lodges and some vegetable patches to support them.

Gone are the interesting gompas, prayer wheels and chortens of the Circuit route. Prayer flags still feature despite the population here being predominantly Hindu. 

The thick clouds look ominous and there is snow high up on the mountains. The ACAP man assures me that there is no avalanche risk and the next few days will be sunny again. 

I meet teachers from the school, they are collecting firewood to heat the classrooms with some of the older girls. He said there would be thick snow here in one or two months and they need to get ready for winter is coming.

Day 29 -

I can see dawn breaking from my bed; today is clear, the snow clouds have gone. It’s going to be a beautiful day! Macchupuchre is resplendent in the clear morning light.

A sacred mountain, the last summit attempt was in 1957, the team was 50m below the peak. Climbing was then banned from 1965. The ‘fishtail’ as it is affectionately known is connected to Lord Shiva and is most unique in it’s formation.
What joy – the path builders have taken a break from step-building and there is rocky terrain to negotiate and even a few ‘flat’ sections.

Stations are named ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Himalaya’, I lunch at the latter. I see pizza and can’t resist, it’s surprisingly tasty for being rustled up in the middle of nowhere.
Gaining 800 meters, I sleep at Deurali (3230) at the Shangri La; a paradise it is not. Hoteliers have lost their joie de vivre up here.

It seems they are just in it for the money. Usually a group of teenage boys are sitting round playing cards, they can’t really be bothered to say hello, never mind sell their rooms.

I imagine they are mostly interested in groups and rather disinterested in a single person to negotiate with.

Still, they made a pasty sized spring roll that wasn’t half bad!

Day 30 - Pokhara - nepal
The journey into the heart of brightness; to the inner sanctum, the Sanctuary of the God’s.
The snow is blinding, I stand in awe.

Having completed the Circuit, I am now in the amphitheatre of the inner horseshoe at 4120m.

Surrounded by peaks that dwarf me with their 8000m stature: Hiuchuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna i, Annapurna iii and Macchupuchre pull me spiritually closer with their immense gravity.

I have no desire to climb them; the memorials to lost climbers ward me off such risk but I feel at one here.

After 2.30 the sun falls behind the snow-capped peaks.

Suddenly it is bone-chillingly cold, the icicles freeze up again as the temperature drops to around -16.

I’m wearing all my down, merino and fluffy stuff, including my sleeping bag. Drinking tea and waiting for bedtime; it’s going to be a long night…

Day 31 -

My window is frosted over when I wake.

The dawn light gives a luminescent aura to the mountains.

The water of the bucket-flush is frozen and the ground slippy round the squat toilet. I shiver and return to bed.

Outside everyone is busy preparing for descent but I have my own agenda; that of doing what I feel like.

Today I feel like setting off a bit later. A wise choice as it means I get the Sanctuary almost to myself in the almost quiet; save for the whir of the chopper blades and the dogs barking.

A last look round to etch the memory firmly in my mind; and then I too must turn my back on the frozen paradise and descend. 

Despite being knee torture, going down is rapid: MBC, Deurali, Himalaya, Dovan, Bamboo (2300).. this is good enough for today.

Dusk quickly approaches under the canopy. It feels thrilling to be in the forest at this time, the shrill call of the pheasant and the crash of the Gray Langur monkey making the evening anything but silent.

Day 32 - Jhinu Danda
The descent continues until reaching Chhomrong where it is a necessary evil to climb up before dropping down into the next valley.
The rising heat hits new full on and a Himalayan Griffon takes advantage of the thermals.
Silky sacks of giant caterpillars hang from a tree.
Some tame baby goats suffer my affections.

This area is Gurung, traditionally a man here wears a Bhagra – a cloth bag that crosses around the front.

I spot a few of the older folk with one of these handy items of functional clothing.
The mule trains churn up the dust and the descent finally reaches Jhinu Danda (1740m), famous for its hot springs.

This is day five without a shower (too damn cold and expensive) and I’m desperate to get under that water spout. What a treat to soak the body and soul in a hot tub again. My skin turns wrinkly; a sign to drag myself back up the hill and order dinner.

Day 33 - Dhampush
This is longest suspension bridge I’ve encountered on the whole trip.
Thank goodness there’s no wind but I can’t help think of the Billy Goats Gruff and what size the troll might be as I trip trap across it.

It’s a long walk to Dhampus (1660m) today but the end is in sight and I feel elated at the achievement.

Every time I think my bag is heavy to carry, I take a look at the porters who are carrying up to four rucksacks at a time!

The vistas keep on giving and the Gurung village of Landruk is no exception, nature has a wonderful way of arranging everything just so.

This is my last day on the official route but I have no heart to take a bus now and will keep going until foot until I reach Pokhara.

Day 34 - sarankot
Everything looks so glorious this morning, it feels like summer.
Perhaps it is the unusual sensation of warmth instead of the biting chill of altitude.
The rural settlements are rustic and quaint.
Homes are self sufficient with livestock and vegetable plots to sustain the families.
Millet is spread out to dry and the chickens are happy as they peck away.
A most random walk today as the official trail ended yesterday.
I surprise a fair few Nepali’s as I turn up in their back gardens.
I meet some rude little blighters who have their fingers the wrong way round.. or perhaps not. I tell them ‘no chocolate’ but you can pose for a photo if you like.
My legs are ready for a rest, when I start to lose interest in the long road stretch a black dog joins me for the last 5k and lifts my spirits.
I spend my last night in Sarangkot (1600m), a splendid view of Pokhara and Phewa Lake below. Paragliders sail on the currents and a hot air balloon takes to the skies.
It is hazy with pollution from the big city but as lights twinkle in the night sky it looks like a zillion fireflies are crawling below

Blimey. That was a good beer. 34 days trekking and no booze! Actually make that 38 days as my last drink was courtesy of Oman Air on the flight here. I abstained for health reasons and also the exorbitant price of the heavily taxed alcohol. Needless to say I felt quite squiffy after a big bottle of Ghurka… happy days!

Day 35 - Pokhara
It is with a twinge of sadness mixed with relief that I see dawn breaking over Pokhara, the final destination of my Annapurna adventure.
Calculating the entire circuit plus side trips, the Ghorepani link and the Annapurna Base Camp route.. my travels have taken me an epic 314 mountain miles during 35 continuous days trekking.
When I started I had no idea how challenging it would really be or how long it would take.
But with gusto in my stride the start is always easier.
I was lucky to spend the first 12 days in the company of others and we explored the high lakes together. Achieving the high pass of Thorong La meant anxiety about AMS was over and the other side offered magnificent temples and more ancient villages to explore… and then it was time to go up again and visit the Sanctuary of the God’s.
My heart is hanging onto the wonderful memories but my knees are crying out for rest.. and a lie-in is most certainly in order
langtang national park
It only took a few days in the cities of Pokhara and Kathmandu to feel agitated by the human hum.
The auric invasion sapping my mountain calm.
After walking 14km around town to buy a bus ticket and a trekking permit I had to sit in a park and feel space again; to lie on the sparse grass and connect with the earth.
I read somewhere recently that we build glorious places of worship to replace the lost connection with nature.
To nature I must return…8 hours of hellish bus torment later and I’ve arrived in Syabru Besi, the gateway to the Langtang National Park.
Tomorrow I will start the Tamang Heritage Trail and connect to the Langtang Valley…space to breathe again…
Day 1 - tamang Heritage trail
Day one of the Tamang Heritage Trail begins with a sharp climb out of the Trishuli River valley towards Gatlang. The trail quite dull until I encounter old ladies with huge disc-shaped earrings.

The Tamang ethnic group are Tibetan in origin and have a unique language and heritage kept alive in these border lands. Traditional dress is still worn here, the hats are hand embroidered in bright colours.

The ladies seem to have a particularly strong temperament. Sarki runs the Paldor Peak Guest House singlehandedly with a three year old whilst her husband is away in France.

She’s very funny and calls me sister.
The village was badly hit in the 2015 earthquake, the government have provided corrugated steel instead of traditional materials for reconstruction which the locals are covering in wooden slates.

The children literally grab onto me desperate for chocolate or a balloon; having no space for such luxuries I try and appease them with a silly face and a loud laugh. I escape without torment so it must have worked.

Day 2 - tamang Heritage trail

I’d love to comment on the magnificent views but all I can see is looming cloud.

The rain starts early morning and falls with increasing density.
I take an alternative trail, it’s ‘still the way to Tatopani’ shout workers who are sheltering from the rain whilst I am out with my brolly.

I am much lower than the trail I need to be on so wind my way up through the stepped farm land.

The freezing fog ascends faster than I can and I call out to goat herders for the way.

My GPS is sending me on a merry trail.
The Eco Lodge is warm and welcoming and soon my socks and soaking clothes are festooned along the tables.
As dusk falls it begins to snow; proper heavy flakes that stick.

I sing a couple of carols to the children sat round the fire, they’re not that impressed.

Day 3 - tamang Heritage trail - thuman
Day three of the Tamang Heritage Trail and I am rather reluctant to get out of bed this morning.
I sneak a peek behind the curtain.
It is bad. Lots of snow and ominous cloud.
By 9.30 there is some semblance of sun so I take my chances.
The trees are dripping as the snow melts, it seems odd to be in a tropical forest in this weather.
It is only 7.4km from Tatopani to Thuman but it takes me 6.5 hrs.
After yesterday’s detour I check my GPS every 10 minutes.
At one point it becomes obscure but there are paw prints in the snow guiding me on. Dog I believe, not Red Panda sadly.
As I ascend the snow gets gradually deeper until am knee deep in powdery crystals.
At Nagthali I stop for Thukpa, it’s tempting to stay here by the fire but at 3300m it’s cold and I’d rather descend to warmer climes.
I follow the footsteps of earlier trekkers, slipping and sliding through the woods.
I see a musk deer surprised at the sight. It was a wise move, it will be worse tomorrow and Thuman has no snow but a log fire and a warm welcome.
Day 4 - tamang Heritage trail - briddhim
Day 4 of the Tamang Heritage Trail, the plan was to walk to Timure, 9k from the Tibetan border and then up through the forest to Briddim on the opposite side of the valley.
From my vantage point I could see a landslide on what looked like the trail and started formulating plan B. Below that, another landslide had formed a muddy blockade and trucks were struggling to get through. The suspension bridge I wanted to cross was also broken, a large rock seemed to have landed on the other side. I was beckoned by some ladies who I followed through the hydropower construction plant to the next bridge, getting some very odd looks from the construction workers.
So it was back to the road where everyone wanted to say hello and ask where I was going, lone tourists evidently being something of a novelty here. Ascending to Lingling, the lady at peaceful restaurant made me lunch and told me how she’d lost her husband and eldest daughter in the earthquake, they were crossing the suspension bridge at the time.
Briddim is a Tamang village geared for home stays. Letting fate take it’s course I met the owner of Red Panda wheeling a home made wheelbarrow with flip flops nailed on instead of a tyre. He had a genuinely warm smile and whilst basic, the establishment offered a hot bucket shower – a major treat after three days without. His wife made the best dal bhat with a freshly pulverized chilli pickle. The son wants to study for his bachelors in travel and tourism but can’t afford to continue right now, all their money has gone on rebuilding after the earthquake. the financial tremors still hitting four years later
Day 5 - tamang Heritage trail - lama hotel
Day 5 of the Tamang Heritage Trail, joining with the Langtang Valley trek.
It’s a ding dong merrily on high type of day as opposed to the bleak mid-winter I’ve been hiking along to the last three days.
I meet a charming young man called Ang on the trail. He has a gentle aura and perfect English and tells me his guest house ‘Hello Trekkers’ is just ahead and his parents will make me a delicious lunch.
Turns out he was a child monk and returned to help rebuild after the earthquake. He is now a trekking guide and runs a small charity for supporting impoverished but gifted children to get an education.
His Dad has a vengeance against the monkeys who are stealing his cabbages.
There are slices of stinking turnip drying on the patio.
He lifts a basket and shows me a sad looking hawk. His son had rescued it from some cruel boys who had injured it’s eye with a sling-shot.
They had been administering eye drops over the last ten days, it showed no interest in flying away.
He also told me horror stories of savage bears nearby at dawn and dusk, an unsuspecting wood collector had his face ripped off a few days ago. A pleasant piece of information.

Descending down to the Langtang Khola the Langtang Himal emerged in all it’s glory, including Baden Powell Peak.
The curiously named village of Lama Hotel was my abode for the evening. It’s only now that I share the path with donkeys, tourists and porters after the solitude of the Tamang Heritage Trail but everyone is decidedly friendly.
Sat around the wood-burning stove in the lodge, I meet a lady who had just been to Kathmandu to visit her children. She runs a guest house further up the valley and as serendipity would have it, it’s the exact same one I book-marked on my map app because of its funny name ‘Me Very Happy’.

Day 6 - tamang Heritage trail - dhunche - nepal
Day 6 of the Langtang Valley trek, the route is a 900m ascent but gradually over seven hours. It begins in the forest, skirting boulders and tracking the river.
My new ‘sister’ is feeling better and is joined by her husband. He is a teacher in Kangjim, which is a two day trek from his home to teach a tiny school of eight children.
Young men are doubled over carrying ten bits of 2×4″ using head straps.
How they manage such a weight is incredible but it is the only way to bring materials to the remote settlements, they get paid by the kilo and once young chap had over-burdened himself somewhat.
 
The original Ghoda Tabela is ruined, the large boulders crushing corrugated steel serve as a reminder of the unforgiving forces of nature. Langtang village itself was completely wiped out, the whole village and all it’s inhabitants were swept over the cliff into the valley.
With foreign aid, houses have been rebuilt and lives have carried on but the memories and memorials are still there.
 
‘Me Very Happy’ (in Sindum, 3550) turns out to be a very homely place to stay.
Also here are two Nepali guys, one a surgeon and the other a post-doc researcher based in Minneapolis. The couple cook the most amazing Sherpa stew for us with hand-made pasta shells.. making my tummy very happy.
The owner shows us his stash of Yarsagumba, a prized medicine found here in spring time.
Also known as Himalayan Viagra. A predatory fungus implants itself in a caterpillar’s brain, slowly killing it and growing a stem of it’s own ripe for plucking.
Day 7 - kathmandu - nepal
Day 7 of the Langtang Valley trek; a short two hours through the snow to Kyangjin Gompa at 3871 m.
At this last settlement, the valley widens and the surrounding peaks stand resplendent.
Not as high and densely packed as the Annapurna Sanctuary, it does feel a lot more tranquil though.
A remote monastery and a yak cheese factory add to the guest houses as the town’s attractions.
From here there are a couple of small peaks with viewpoints or it can be a jumping off point for more ambitious passes and higher pinnacles.
 

I head up the mountainside for an hour and find myself a sunny rock from which I can bask and admire the shaggy yaks.

My guest house owner is the brother of last night’s stay.
He lost his wife and parents in the earthquake and is running the place by himself whilst his children are at school in Dunche.
 
I buy some yak cheese. The cheese man is particularly keen on swapping my cap for 100g cheese –
I explain how I need it to shield my face and eyes from the sun, so sorry but no, my youthful looks are worth more than a slice of cheese.
 

There’s a bakery with exceedingly good chocolate cake and commendations from visitors stuck all around the room; including once from the Spanish ambassador to Nepal do I indulge on his commendation

Day 8 - kyangjin gumba - langtang - nepal
Day 8 on the Langtang Valley trek, the snow lies roundabout, deep and crisp and even.
I decide to have an easy day and take a walk down the valley rather than attempting any summits.
It’s relatively flat and feet have already stomped out a path in the snow to follow.
The valley floor widens and narrows again; prime grazing pasture for yaks and naks (female of the species) in the warmer months.
Above me in the jumble of boulders are musk deer eyeing me suspiciously.
Waterfalls are frozen and occasionally send a clump of icicles crashing.
The river runs fast but the ice holds to boulders competing for territory.
I dine on yak cheese with digestives and contemplate how beautiful everything looks with the sun shining and the snowy blanket.
Day 9 - langtang valley trek - nepal

Day 9 of the Langtang Valley trek, I’m on the downward descent and aiming for a little lodge in the forest at Gumnachok to avoid the crowds at Lama Hotel.

Stopping for lunch at the Potala Hotel in Thangchyap I meet Pasang who was forced to give up his travel and tourism degree just before his final year exams and take over the business when his parents were lost. He is very keen on environmental issues and concerned about the plastic waste in the mountains.
He has built his own wind powered purification system and has a bio gas system he needs help with installing to convert human, animal and food waste into cooking gas and avoid the dependency on natural resources.
Commendable actions from a young man I was pleased to meet.
Riverside Lodge does not disappoint; a cosy dining room with log burner and the owner made the most amazing steamed buns with veg curry for dinner.
The roar of the river lulled me to sleep.
Day 10 - thulo syabru - langtang valley trek- nepal
Day 10 of the Langtang Valley trek – linking with the Gosainkund Trek; I had a change of heart last night. The plan was to return to Syabru Besi and take a bus back to Kathmandu and start the horseshoe Helambu trek but I couldn’t face the eight hour dusty and bumpy journey after all this clean air.
I have continued instead to the Holy lakes of Gosainkund and from there I have two choices to go on and upwards or take the bus from a slightly lower place.
Leaving Langtang means a steep climb from the river to the ridge of Thulo Syābru.
A monkey hollers threateningly in the forest. I make myself more of a threat by throwing stones into bushes and clanking my poles together to scare it away.
 
Earlier in the day I meet a lady touching up her roots with henna. We commiserate on our greying hair.
Her son owns the Tom & Jerry Lodge and promises free room and WiFi – only the network is still struggling with the weather.
It’s been six days since being online and I’m getting twitchy.
The signal only works when the owner hangs out of the window with their mobile and then I only get five minutes to message my Mum.
Mostly I have heard of men going abroad to work and not met any women who have done the same.
The lodge owner is only 27 yet she’s worked for more years than I have.
Sent away at nine to work in a wool factory in Kathmandu, at eleven working in domestic service in India, followed by Kuwait then Cyprus before returning to get married and have a child and run a guest house.
gosainkund- nepal
Day 10 and it’s a steep climb in store today from Thulo Syābru to Laurebina, a gruelling 8km of up 1700m. Not advisable for the unacclimatised; Laurebina’s at a parky 3900m.
The trail up through the forest quickly gets dull, it’s slow going with snow underfoot.
I amuse myself looking for Red Panda tracks.
On the advice of the lodge owner last night, Laurebina is preferable to Cholongpaty for sleeping as the mountain views are better.
The last climb up the prayer-flagged point does not disappoint as leaving the forest the views become clearer and more spectacular.
From this vantage point I can see the peaks I circumnavigated a few weeks ago; distinctive Machupuchare 150km away is unmistakable (and Peakfinder proves me right).
It is one of the best sunsets I have ever seen, the pollution from Kathmandu adding to the glorious red glow. A cloud inversion seeps down the mountain like dragon’s breath.
Day 11 - gosainkund - nepal
Day 11, on the Gosainkund Trek.
A short hop of 500m and I’m at the famous Holy lakes at 4380m.
Legend has it that Shiva stuck his trident in the ground here to quench his thirst after drinking poison. They’re frozen over but look stunning nonetheless, surrounded by snow. 
The path here was short but epic, curling around the mountain between boulders studded with yellow and red lichen.
The occasional deity blessing the path with a small shrine. 
Only one lodge is open up at the lakes during winter time, the families take it in turns to keep open until the tourists dwindle to a halt. 
The only sound breaking the silence is the lake surface splintering in the sun.
Until that is a helicopter pilot in training uses the heli-pad to practice his landing technique.
Day 12 - langtang gosainkund trekking- nepal
Day 12 on the Gosainkund Trek, it’s Christmas Eve.
The frozen urine around the squatter turns the toilet into a stinking ice rink.
At least the barrel of flush water is big enough not to have frozen over, unlike my packet of baby wipes that is like a brick and my water bladder that is now solid.
As I was so deeply buried in my sleeping bag, it was all damp around the edge where my breath has escaped during the night.
I’ve decided to trek over the Laurebina La pass (4610m) it takes me closer to Kathmandu via the Helambu region.
The snowy trail snakes through a land of frozen lakes.
Tapping my trekking poles on the snow reveals a good place to tread where the crispy crust supports my weight, at other times I sink knee deep into the powder.
It is so bright my eyes are strained but are rewarded with a misty view of Nagarkot and surrounding peaks through the Kathmandu pollution layer, which lends a romantic glow to the scene.
The aromatics of the pine forest are intoxicating.
This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the whole hike, up and down gullies, over streams, traversing the mountainside.
 
Hotel Mendu at Gopte (3430) not only has a fluffy white dog, a small child that sounds like Pingu but also Raksi.
Since it’s Christmas, I treat myself to a cup of fermented millet liquor; it’s a little like a clear, weak brandy.
 
The double sock layers are not only wet but also smell bad.
Everyone’s socks are strung up above the log burner Santa style, perfuming the dining room with cheesy fust.
A delicious complement to dinner
Day 13 - kutumsang - helambu - langtang gosainkund trekking- nepal
Day 13, Gosainkund leading to Helambu trek.
It’s Christmas Day, Santa hasn’t been to the Himalayas but at least my socks are dry.
It should be a pleasant day’s hike from Gopte but in the snow I miss a turning and head down a steep path through the forest instead of up.
An Italian chap behind me also makes the same mistake and it takes an hour to correct ourselves and rejoin the right one.
It’s a tough climb through shin-deep powdery snow to Thadepati at 3640m but from the ridge the Everest range is visible (not Everest itself though).
Descending down again to Magingoth; I order veg fried rice for Xmas lunch.
From here it’s other knee-crushing, slush slipping further 800m to Kutumsang (2470m) but finally the snow recedes to dirt again and birds are singing in the trees.
By now the sun has just set and it’s too cold for a shower.
Namaste Lodge offers free rooms so I indulge in chips and spring roll for Xmas dinner washed down by Everest beer and fermented millet juice.

Happy Christmas one and all – I hope your day was more relaxing than mine!

Day 14 - chisapani
Day 14, Boxing Day – no rush to the sales for me but I do purchase a toilet roll at vast expense, 98p for a poor quality roll (everything is more expensive in the mountains due to transportation costs).
Lunch is noticeably cheaper though and dining with me at the Lama Guest House is a real Lama (as in the Dalai “Lama”, a Bhuddist spiritual leader).

It’s a nice hike through rolling hills and Rhodedendron forest today.
Signs of civilisation emerge: schools, motor vehicles, shops; it makes me nostalgic for the tranquillity of the mountains again.

Evidence of the earth quake is starkly apparent with tumble down tea-shacks and lodges en-route but none more so than in Chisapani (2165m) where the hotels remnants are literally hanging in the balance.
Goats play in the ruins as I creep past and find a bed out of falling range.
Day 15 - boudhanath temple
Day 15, Chisapani to Sundarijal and the end of the trek.
This short stretch goes through the Shivapuri National Park – heavy military presence is found here, I assume to prevent poaching and other unsalubrious activities.
There’s also a lot of litter, something that angers me a lot.
Especially as for the extortionate entry fee of 1000 NRP per foreigner they could employ a litter picker and tackle the problem.
Naturally occurring mica glitters the soil and can be found in seam
At Sundarijal I dithered on where to go next..I couldn’t face too long on the bus and walking from here meant dusty roads so settled on Boudhha.
With its giant 6th century stupa, the biggest in Nepal, it’s a pilgrimage site for Tibetans and Buddhists the world over.
The streets are lined with shops selling all sorts of monk paraphernalia, Tibetan clothing, butter candles, drums, temple silks, brassware, paintings and incense interspersed with momo restaurants galore.
It has only been a mere 173 kilometres, or 107 miles over two weeks but they have been tough ones.
One day spent in the rain, five days tramping through snow, sub-zero temperatures, over 4600 metres in altitude.
None of these things a walk in the park but then it was never meant to be easy – where would be the fun in that?
pashupatinath - nepal
Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple complex dedicated to Lord Shiva.
At the time of the Shivaratri festival in spring, over a million people flock here to join the pilgrimage of the Sadhus smoking chillums filled with marijuana.
It is believed that those that die here are guaranteed to be reincarnated as a human regardless of karmic actions in this world.
A plethora of fortune tellers will help you predict the day you will pass over to time your final visit correctly. Ambulances bring bodies for cremation on the banks of the Holy Bagmati river where very public ceremonies take place.
Remains are washed into the already extremely polluted trickle of a river, rich finally joins the Ganges in India.
This Sadhu said he’d been growing his hair for 57 years.
I received a tika on my forehead, a blessing and a selfie – he wanted thirty dollars for the privelage, I gave him twenty rupees, saying sorry and scuttling off.
Two bus loads of religious tourists arrived from India on a three week tour of the top Hindu temples, I met three of the group who insisted on befriending me on Facebook and taking photos.
The complex is huge but foreigners are not allowed inside any of the temples, despite paying a hefty 1000NRP entry fee.
Many buildings are still derelict post earthquake.
Nevertheless, there is plenty going on outside: dancing, devotions, puja, cremations, monkeys, a glimpse into the zoo next door, Sadhus and many stone Shiva linghams to admire.

By a strange twist of fate, I began and ended 2019 in the foothills of the Himalayas; from the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh, India to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Be careful what you wish for… when the mountains called me back the universe answered; however twisted the manoeuvre was to change the course of personal history, it’s only on retrospect that the path becomes clear.
With those eyes of clarity I am setting forth on an inward journey tomorrow.
With my eyes closed I’ll be seeing in the first ten days of the new year doing Vipassana meditation here in Kathmandu… see you in the other side!

Happy New Year everybody… may your decade be full of beauty, wisdom and love…I look forward to sharing it with you

dhamma shringa vipassana meditation centre - nepal
This picture sums up how I felt after ending 10 days of noble silence – coming out of the meditation hall into bright sunlight and having the freedom of speech again was a revelation.
The most exciting thing was being able to look my fellow female meditators in the eye and share our experiences; the suffering and the elations, the funny moments and those of despair.
But we survived, it was something to be proud of and the valuable insights into the workings of my mind will stay with me forever…Be Happy 😊
 

>>The full story is posted here:
https://daydreamsanddharma.wordpress.com/…/vipassana-a-jou…/

kirtipur - nepal
A jaunt to Kirtipur, one of the four ancient cities of the Kathmandu valley that makes up the sprawl of the modern day metropolis.
No hefty entrance fees here, just an authentic Newari town with a vantage point of the whole city and the Langtang range subtley visible through the smog.
The stone deities were well fed and plates of food were left out as gifts to the God’s – good news for dogs and pigeons.
The plate pictured was served at the famous ‘must-go’ Newari restaurant Newa Lahana.
It looks fantastic but was served cold, the potato was ultra spicy, the black beans crispy and the dry beaten rice a novel way of getting a carb fix, not to my taste but typical of the culture.
The 16th century Bagh Bhairab temple, dedicated to a tongueless bloodthirsty tiger, sports weapons from the last conquest.
Tucked in a corner is the idol of the goddess Kirtimata giving birth to a being with its hands in namaste. Local women come here to pray for fertility or safe birth.
Even more curiously, the Uma Maheshwar temple’s roof supports have a unique display of tantric positions carved into them.
kathmandu - nepal
Transport in Kathmandu ranges from the rickety to the rapid.
The eco-friendly cycle rickshaw festooned with plastic flowers will transport you around Thamel and down to Durbar Square.
The three wheeled micro-bus, basically a sardine tin attached to a motorbike is the local’s way to get round town.
For the narrow lanes, then a moped traverses the parts others can’t.
You can even dial a motorbike ride Uber style.

Me? I prefer Shanks’ pony – a better chance to observe life at walking speed.

dhulikhel - nepal
A bit of a jaunt out of Kathmandu to the ancient Newari town of Dhulikhel.
It’s a laid back sort of place and people were sitting in the weak winter sun glad of a break from the heavy rain we’ve had over the last couple of days.
The temple tank with Shiva’s head rising from the murky depths had been topped up in the rain and shone like a mirror in the sunlight.
The four story mansions here stand in crumbling testament to a once glorious past. Curious to see a foreigner, the children peek through doorways as I pass.
namo buddha - nepal

The walk to Namobuddha through verdant countryside was made all the more special by meeting Tara and her lovely family en-route where I stopped for tea.

The chance to sleep at the monastery in Namobuddha was a novelty.
The guest house was pretty nice, supper and breakfast was served with the monks over prayers in this beautiful hall.
It was funny to see them wearing bunny slippers and misbehaving when they were supposed to be chanting!
panauti

The sky was so clear from Namobuddha I got an epic view of Langtang Himal and to the East, the tiny speck of Everest.
To make my day even better, the route to Panauti was full of baby goats with the longest, floppiest ears I’ve ever seen!
Panauti was a huge surprise. A Newari town of living history.

Far better in my opinion than Kathmandu Durbar Square or Bhaktapur.

Narrow lanes led to small courtyards and grand mansions.

The original architects had also done well to site the buildings on a solid rock plateau, making it earthquake proof.

Built in a triangle formation at the confluence of two Holy rivers with a third only visible to seers.

kathmandu - nepal
Kathmandu, a crazy city that certainly grows on you over time.
Despite the narrow lanes snarled up with motor bikes, the lack of pavements the pollution and general madness, it is a place so steeped in history, colour and friendliness.
Today a young lad watched me struggling to get a city bus from the wrong place and drove me to the right junction on his motorbike.
The people in the snack shop had obviously never had a foreigner eat there before and were delighted I liked their deep fried cauliflower and aloo chop.
Thousands of shops sell shiny copper pans, Ghurka knives, bright satins, glass beads, Nepali hats, dried lentils, you name it, it is piled highand temptingly displayed.

 

Farewell Kathmandu – see you again soon!

cherrapunjee - meghalaya - dispur - india
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, when I was offered a free lift to Meghalaya’s capital Shillong I accepted with glee.
It’s a couple of hours south over the Assam state line, bordering Bangladesh. Travelling inter-state in India feels like exploring a new country each time.
The Lonely Planet describes Meghalayans as fanatical about rock music and obsessed about pimping up their motors.
True to form, within a few minutes I spotted a tiny Suzuki modified so that the doors opened upward like bat wings plus extra fat wheels fitted.
Despite it’s elevation, Shillong was polluted and trying to get a shared taxi from the stinking, fume-ridden multi-storey was impossible.
Every vehicle was overladen to the brim with people and goods, no space for a backpacker.
Salvation came in the form of an English-speaking taxi driver offering a reasonable rate for a private cab to my Cherrapunjee destination as long as we could pick up a few people along the way.
I didn’t mind as I had the front seat all to myself whereas five were in the back at one point.
One bus lurched down the road full of parcels inside and more stacked high on the roof, apparently they were for small shops in remote villages and the bus would drop them off like an informal delivery service.

Cherrapunjee is a sprawling sort of place, arriving after dark in a remote spot I was grateful to my host for cooking rice, dal and an omelette for supper and bringing it to my room.

Waking early I got to Mawsmai caves two hours before they were due to open; only the restaurants were populated, blaring out Guns n’ Roses.
The cave wasn’t secured very well so I left 20 rupees on the counter and hopped over the fence.
There were two short systems involving a bit of scrambling, normally lit with electric but I only had the the light of my head torch to see by, the solitude adding to the sense of adventure.
Children in smart blazers were walking to school on the way back, shouting good morning politely, proffering cheeky grins, I loved it already!
nongriat - Cherrapunji - india
Hidden deep in a canyon, lies the secret paradise of Nongriat, part of a network of tiny remote villages in the jungle.
It feels far from India, I had recollections of Ecuador and Guatemala as I was descending the 2600 steps to the valley floor below.
The air is humid and sweet, small children offer pineapple and honey for sale.
Soft rock plays from bamboo huts amid the palm trees. People smile the blood-red grin of betel nut vampires with their wads of ‘paan’ tucked into their cheeks. A myriad of distinctly patterned butterflies adds to the magic.

Over hundreds of years the local people have trained the roots of the rubber fig across the boulder strewn rivers to form living root bridges, a maze of botanical fingers slowly creeping accross.
the jungle seems surreal, as if Disney made jungles.

Rainbow Falls is a steep hour’s climb from Nongriat, first crossing an ingenious double-decker root bridge, made over thirty plus years.
The falls are mild in this season but are still magical. The humidity gets to me a little and I crave a cool swim in the pure turquoise waters; it is chilly but oh so cleansing.
 
Serene homestay is owned by affable Byron.
He is an egalitarian type of chap, hosting a kids disco every evening and sharing spare food with the villagers.
Sunday is party night with rice wine but sadly I miss that. Dinner is vegan, served buffet style, especially good to find in a state that loves to eat meat.
It’s a delight to get my fill of vegetables as I feel a sore throat coming on.
Here I meet an arty, English friend, Stacey; we share scrambling adventures, butterfly chasing and natural mandala making together.
shnongpdeng

Meghalaya rocks; literally. Around a hundred trucks loaded with limestone lined the road near the border. They were exporting to Bangladesh who are apparently short on building materials.

Shnongpdeng is curious sounding place, the pronunciation causing much hilarity.
At dusk the river bank was busy with tents pitched between the boulders; bonfires smouldering.
A bamboo bridge snakes to the other side with tents pitched on the edge of the jungle, a view of the twinkling lights of the village. When the rains come, the bridge will be washed away and the tents moved to higher ground.

On Sunday a vast congregation of 12 churches join together for an outside service with a gospel choir, the girls wearing glitzy princess dresses. There are strict rules about drinking and proper conduct displayed at the village ‘defence line’.

Walking through the forest, we encounter another double-decker root bridge and a tree house.
The villagers do not seem to see many foreign tourists and families wave a greeting, kids shyly flock, hiding behind each other to get a closer look.
Puppies bathe in the hazy sun.
Long grasses harvested for brooms are stacked to dry.
We see shoes lined up on the roadside outside an opening in the rock face, lads emerge with torches. A couple of men are carrying rifles, we feel sorry for the birds.
Groups of men and women poke the betel crop with sticks. Apparently the best in India, the current market rate is 10 rupees per nut, quite a cash crop.
shnongpdeng
The Umngot river water is so clear it can look like boats are suspended in mid air in the right light. Reflecting the forested ravine, it shines green and looks oh so inviting.
Taking a boat upstream, a scramble leads to a magnificent pool perfect for swimming.
The campsite owner Nang and his cousin Remanki want to take us to the Sacred Forest, the site of the first Khasi village.
Remanki takes a small scenic detour in the forest, we a perilous scramble over vine strewn boulders like forest pirates.
Minutes away from the summit, Nang receives a warning from the chief that we are not to enter the sacred area without following the proper rituals.
That puts an end to that adventure but leads us to the site of the second village before they finally settled near the river bank.
It saddens me to hear that land has been sold to build a four-lane highway to Bangladesh through this peaceful, pristine environment.
Passing through another village at sunset, we are waved over to join the family for a mutual smiling contest.
After politely declining paan, we are kindly offered tea and biscuits.
There’s no proper word for ‘hello’ so people say ‘oy’ instead.
People here are incredibly warm and welcoming, I will miss Meghalaya 💚
Guwahati

Guwahati is more of a stepping stone than a destination in it’s own right. Though it does seem to have the cleanest train station in the whole of India.

A Sunday afternoon stroll led me to me watching a Tunisian reel at the film festival, a game of cricket, an interview for someone’s YouTube channel, a show at the planetarium and a gay pride march.

The vast Bhramaputra river bed is partially dry at this time, a lantern festival held in it’s basin celebrates the season.
I try sweet paan to see what all the fuss is about, it’s a minty leaf full of sweet stuff and woody slices of nut and a silver leaf coating; pretty horrible.
 
Upon returning to the city after Meghalaya, the smell of drains is an assault on the senses after such pure nature.
There are few pockets of green in the city, remnants of grand buildings in the old town and a boating lake that used to be a dock yet it is a rather relaxed sort of place.
 
After Shakti died, her body was cut up and scattered all over India.
A temple in the centre marks where her navel fell and the Kamakyha hill is where her yoni landed.
People wait for hours in specially built queuing cages to get into the inner sanctum.
Glimpses can be caught from the outside through railings.
I’m most disturbed by the number of sacrificial goats and pigeons waiting for their life to be taken.
They are weirdly coloured pink from rolling in all the red powder daubed on shrines.
majuli - assam - india

The bus to Jorhat passes Kaziranga National Park, I can see slumbering rhinos from the bus.

The passenger ferry sits low to the water line, loaded with cars and motorbikes.
Sat on the roof, the 45m ride across the Bhramaputra to Majuli, the world’s largest river island rekindled memories of a much longer and perilous journey up the Rio Paraguay.
I find a bamboo hut on stilts to stay in. Everything is raised above ground as the whole island floods when the monsoon comes, the cows and goats have to stand on the raised roads.
As the Himalayan glaciers melt at an ever increasing rate, land loss is occurring rapidly and this island is predicted to disappear within 10-15 years time.
It’s a lot like the Cambridgeshire fens; completely flat agricultural land, reeds used for thatching, tapered baskets used to fish. Infinitely more populated though with children waving hello and shouting greetings every few minutes. The majority cycle or drive a tractor.
I hire a bike and suffer two days of bumpy roads on a bike that’s too small for me. I’m saddle sore and my knees are wrecked.

The island is culturally rich. Inhabited originally by the Mising tribal people, they still adhere to traditional ways of farming and living with nature, fishing through the floors of their huts in the floods. Rice of many varieties is a main crop and mustard seed for oil.

The other distinct group are the Vaishnavite monks who live in the ‘Satra’ communities.
Some marry, others are celibate but all recognise Vishnu as one God and worship through dance, music and drama.
I was lucky enough to encounter a small performance using incredible masks at the Garamor Satra. At the Uttar Kamalabari Satra the monks performed their elegant prayer ritual of drumming and dancing. Samugari Satra are the mask makers, using a bamboo basket structure overlaid with mud and cow dung to create characterful models.
It’s a perfect migratory spot for birds including the massive Adjutant Stork almost as big as an Emu, grey herons and the Siberian Crane plus I spotted kingfishers, black cormorants and all manner of ducks and geese.
At dusk giant fruit bats darken the sky
ziro - arunachai pradesh - india

At one point there were 15 adults, 4 kids and a duck in the Tata Magic to North Lakhimpur. NL is nothing to write home about except for the fact my hotel was over a Massey Ferguson showroom and they have electric rickshaws called Tom Tom’s.
The Sumo to Ziro Valley was in the usual decrepid state and sported re-soled tyres. Even these lacked tread. Luckily he picked up a spare as we got a flat within seconds of crossing the state line into Arunachal Pradesh.

The Himalayan foothills rise out of the steamy Assam plains, the jeep climbing 1500m to the Ziro Valley. A UNESCO site due to the Apatani culture and their unique farming methods cultivating fish in the rice paddies, bare and brown out of season.
Skies grey and heavy with rain clouds. The solid overnight rain turning the road into quagmires.
 

The single stem bamboo grows rapidly in gardens, the perfect size for construction. I brandish a stick in case of mithuns (giant semi-wild mountain bovines).

Elderly men tie their hair in a frontal top knot and tattooed chins. Their traditional hat is woven bamboo with hornbill and squirrel tail, the modern version uses wood and wool replicas. Old ladies have tattooed faces and cane nasal plugs.
Apparently to prevent other tribes from running off with their wives. It hasn’t hampered their looks but was banned I’m the 70s due to the pain inflicted.
 
Wandering the villages the different faiths are evident; Christian or indigenous Donyi Polo, sun and moon worship. These houses fly a white flag with a red sun.
Each village has platforms and T-shaped poles, raised at the annual Myoko festival when mithuns are slaughtered.
Small huts house monkey skulls, apparently part of the sacrificial tradition.
 
The homestay grandmas were lovely, one sold me some lovely blue glass beads and the other was always giggling and making the dog dance.
There was some bemusement as to what to feed a vegetarian but they did an excellent job with mountains of fresh greens, delicious dhal and one night, eggs baked on the fire in a piece of bamboo, which I ate sat on a midget stool at a tiny table by the fire.
mechuka - arunachai pradesh

It takes three days to get from Ziro to Mechuka. I did question my sanity of spending 19 hours on a jeep. The route is either directly but infinitely more uncomfortably on the unpaved Daporijo road or via Itanagar, dropping back into Assam and cruising down the highway and up to Aalo. I chose the latter.
The road north from Aalo winds through incredible jungle gullies of giant tree ferns, palm trees and creepers dripping with the dew of low lying cloud. Eventually the greenery gives way to the Mechuka plateau where deforestation has left the hills bare. It’s a little like the Cairngorms, wild and windswept. There are trees on distant slopes and snowy mountains behind whispering of adventure. If it wasn’t for a lack of fellow tourists, transport or an English speaking guide I might have been able to discover more. As it was I had to make do with a walk to Dorjeeling, well actually only as far as the dilapidated bridge then the river got in the way. A peer through the window at the gompa and most excitingly, observing the welcoming committee for the chief of police’s visit. There’s a big police and military presence for a quiet mountain town thanks to it’s proximity to the Tibet border. The Chinese last invaded in 1962 and there’s an air of paranoia about the defence line.
The local people are Memba, a tribe split across the frontier line. Regional clothes are Tibetan and the language related, religion is Buddhist or Donyi Polo. I go in search of toilet paper, shopkeepers are hosting bingo or card games for cash. They laugh at my request. There’s a lot of ‘wine shops’ in town, I buy a can of Simba, it’s 50p duty free. The Mum in my homestay is drinking Bacardi Breezer and offers me some rice beer. Everyone’s sat around the fire watching a Hindi horror film on Sky. It’s not how I imagined it to be.
The clouds have obscured the mountains all day and by 4.00 it is pouring again. With more rain forecast, the vertical drops and risk of landslide prey on my mind and I decide to escape the wet, cold weather and head south to warmer climes.

sivasagar

Sivasagar, once the capital city of the Ahom kingdom. The crumbling palaces and temples stand testament to a more mighty era where the soldiers fought the Moghul empire on elephants until eventually succumbing to the Burmese and being annexed to India when the British arrived. The Siva Dol cone like structure, is a pilgrimage site to this day and is backed by a 246 acre water tank, attracting migrating birds to it’s murky waters. The oval, upturned boat-shaped Rang Ghar was a royal sports pavilion for observing bull and cock fighting, wrestling and elephant fights. The squat Gola Ghar is where they produced and stored gunpowder, making the potassium nitrate from cattle dung and ash. Today the monuments are festering in the humidity, along with the rubbish piled high in the streets.

longwa - nagaland
‘Nagaland’, the very name conjours up images of tribal hunters and steamy hills.
In the Konyak heartland surrounding the northern state of Mon I found exactly that.

The bus driver was maniacal and his swerving threw me violently as I swapped seats with an old man who wanted to spit out of the window. A torn chest muscle sustained to my peril.
Mon sprawls over a hill top. Concrete buildings interspersed with bamboo cottages with thatched roofs and giant Baptist churches.
The tribal elders of this region sport facial and body tattoos, devoting their proficiency at head hunting and demonstrating virility to potential suitors. This practice was banned in 1935 but I hear the last head taken was in 1989. Once displayed outside their houses on a ‘head-tree’, now just mithun and monkey skulls adorn the smoky interior.
The head hunters are jovial and happy to pose for a tip. Tiger teeth and brass skulls adorn necks – the number of skulls denoting the number of decapitations. I meet the King, he is not so delighted to see me, though I invite him to come and meet Liz. I meet the gunmaker, he has a brisk trade as shooting is a favourite pastime.
Nagas are fond of meat. A cloven foot hangs above the fire in my homestay and dried fish smoke in the basket above the fire. They chew on crackling after dinner, I decline. There is no flue so they are also smoking themselves, it feels toxic to me after an hour, yet people live to their late 90s around here so life can’t be that bad.
Longwa straddles Myanmar and I walk in both countries. Rolling hills romantic in the haze and subtle light of sunset. Border soldiers are delighted to chat and wave.
Another two nights are spent on a tea plantation with the author of a book documenting the dying tattooed culture of the Konyaks, learning the life of a more modern society.

kohima
As the last person boarded the jeep leaving Longwa the driver switched off the engine and the oldest man said a prayer; Amen responded all the passengers.
I wish the coach driver a few days before had done the same, driving at such speeds on unpaved roads was type 2 fun.
I thought a sleeper would be the comfiest way to travel, yet as I clung to the bars of my narrow bed on the second deck above the seated passengers, gritting my teeth and despairing that there was 18 hours of this torture, I said my own prayer.
 
Kohima snakes along a forested ridge.
As cities go it is remarkably green and does it’s best to stay clean. Possibly one of the quietest places to spend an evening, everything shuts down by 8pm.
A dry state, I seek out traditional rice beer as the only legal option to soothe my post night bus nerves.
 
Dominated by the WWII cemetery on Garrison Hill. Over 1000 graves of Allied troops, predominantly British and Indian, mark one of the fiercest battles fought in the war. The Japanese advance on India was thwarted at this point, on the tennis court.
An excellent museum in the Naga Heritage Village tells the stories of the brave. A monolith was erected when the troops left engraved with the words: “When you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today”. A very moving sentiment.
 
Up until WWII the fierce Naga warriors had resisted the colonialists but joined the fight bringing their jungle skills; accepting gifts such as safety pins in return as they had no use for money.
In the traditional village of Khonoma, they are proud of their heritage, monoliths mark tribal and British battles. Painted wooden facades and fire pits front modern buildings.
Three forts still remain, rebuilt and used for Bible meetings.

A peek around the market reveals the true extent of the lust for meat: buckets of dirty snails, live white rats in cages, mystery meat (could be dog or cat), I don’t seek out the local delicacies of tadpoles and silk worm pupae.

March 19, 2020 - Victoria memorial - kolkata - india
Calcutta (now Kolkata), once the greatest outpost of the British Empire, still a magnificent and seemingly prosperous city.
The streets are wide, lined with banyan trees eating crumbling colonial buildings.
The days of the Raj have long fine but the grandeur is evident in the central districts.
The magnificent Victoria Memorial stands proud.
Beautifully planted parks provide green lungs for the city. The Maidan is bigger than Hyde Park and hosts sports clubs, the cricket stadium, men bowling for wickets, joggers, grazing goats and horses all find leisure here.
The South Park Street cemetery is a jungle haven, full of birds and Indian palm squirrels.
The tropical trees threatening the 300 year old sarcophegai into their own demise.

Sadly doors are now closing and tourist activities are limited for public health.

With limited options, ridiculous rumours and so many uncertainties I will be flying home this weekend, bidding au revoir to India! Om shanti.

FAREWELL kolkata - india
In Kolkata, food stalls line every pavement, daily life spilling onto the street: men take public showers from water pipes, an ironing service uses a charcoal brazier to heat the iron, barbers trim and shave their mirrors nailed to walls, sugar cane vendors grind and crush their sweet nectar, chai is served in disposable pottery bowls, samosas sizzle in hot oil.
It’s a fascinating city with a great vibe. Now though there is one word on the street.. even the mannequins are wearing masks and upmarket shopping centers have installed sinks on the street. I will see you again in better times Kolkata… may your citizens fare well!

 

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