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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Day 1 - tamang Heritage trail
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 4 - tamang Heritage trail - briddhim
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
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 7 - kathmandu - nepal
I head up the mountainside for an hour and find myself a sunny rock from which I can bask and admire the shaggy yaks.
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 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.
Day 10 - thulo syabru - langtang valley trek- nepal
The trail up through the forest quickly gets dull, it’s slow going with snow underfoot.
On the advice of the lodge owner last night, Laurebina is preferable to Cholongpaty for sleeping as the mountain views are better.
Day 11 - gosainkund - nepal
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.
Day 12 - langtang gosainkund trekking- nepal
Day 13 - kutumsang - helambu - langtang gosainkund trekking- nepal
Happy Christmas one and all – I hope your day was more relaxing than mine!
Day 14 - chisapani
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.
Day 15 - boudhanath temple
Naturally occurring mica glitters the soil and can be found in seam
pashupatinath - nepal
It is believed that those that die here are guaranteed to be reincarnated as a human regardless of karmic actions in this world.
This Sadhu said he’d been growing his hair for 57 years.
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.
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.
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
>>The full story is posted here:
kirtipur - nepal
Even more curiously, the Uma Maheshwar temple’s roof supports have a unique display of tantric positions carved into them.
kathmandu - nepal
Me? I prefer Shanks’ pony – a better chance to observe life at walking speed.
dhulikhel - nepal
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 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
Farewell Kathmandu – see you again soon!
cherrapunjee - meghalaya - dispur - india
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.
nongriat - Cherrapunji - india
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.
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.
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’.
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.
majuli - assam - india
The bus to Jorhat passes Kaziranga National Park, I can see slumbering rhinos from the bus.
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.
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 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).
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, 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
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.
A dry state, I seek out traditional rice beer as the only legal option to soothe my post night bus nerves.
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
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