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Kathmandu and Annapurna Trek 18-28 November

18 November. Our trekking guide and organizer Bir Singh Tamang and his brother-in-law Krishna (who was our porter during the trek) were waiting for us at Kathmandu with big smiles and a large sign 'Angela PEDERSEN'. Namaste!! Namaste!! We felt much more welcome than during the meeting with the handling agent. A family relation of Bir Singh drove Angela and Ray to Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel while I drove with Moham ACHARYA, director of   'Prasant Tour & Travels' (the greedy flight permit agent) to his office in town to make a phone call to Mr. Graumann at FSI in Germany to discuss the amount and mode of payment for his fees. I did not really want to get involved and the detailed discussion was postponed until Monday when Mr. Chabani was back at FSI.

In the evening we had a superb Thai dinner in the Yin Yang restaurant also in Thamel.

19 November. After breakfast, Bir Singh came to the Kathmandu Guest House (a really nice mid-range hotel, worthwhile recommending) to pick up our passport so he could get our ACAP  (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) permits. They are much cheaper in Kathmandu (27 US$ per person) than in Pokhara.  After that, we all rushed to the Myanmar embassy with our passports as the consulate in Geneva would not issue the visas that far ahead of time. The visas were promised for the following day. Fortunately they did not ask for the flight permit number as we had not yet got it. After filling out the application forms in numerous copies (carbon paper was not allowed!) we visited the nearby Patan Durbar Square with lots of nice old Buddhist temples and Stupas and ancient royal palaces. Before lunch at the Kathmandu Guest House, we met up with our trekking guide Bir Singh to confirm schedule, routing and payments for airline tickets and trekking.

In spite of the considerable amount paid to the local flight permit agent, we did not obtain permission to fly to Pokhara -probably due to security worries, as technically it was not a difficult flight for somebody used to flying around in the Swiss and French Alps, and easy flying compared with the much more demanding French altiports I am used to and certified for back home. This refusal did not come as a surprise as we knew from aviator friends that such permits are extremely difficult to obtain.

20 November. Bir Singh arranged a city tour with a family friend of his as our driver and also picked a very good tour guide, a Brahman called Sirish Regmi. He is also a professor at the Department of Political Sciences in Thamel, Kathmandu. He told us a lot about Nepal history and political changes, and was very knowledgeable about Hindu and Buddhist religions. We visited the most important Buddhist Stupas and monasteries and the holy Hindu temples at Pashupati Nath by the river, where both common and royal Hindus get cremated over an outdoor wood fire next to the river. After this, the ashes are spread out on the river and carried downstream. In the evening we were invited to Sebastien and Nathalie Autin's house for dinner. Sebastien teaches at the French School of Kathmandu and Natalie works at the French Embassy. There we also met another Frenchman, Henri SYGAIRET, a keen and competent mountain climber, who was married to a Sherpa woman. In spite of being small and slim, Henri told us that she was capable of carrying 38 kg loads on her back up to altitudes of 5500 meters!

21 November. In the morning we flew to Pokhara. However this time not with Honey Mooney, as the Nepalese do not give internal flight permits to foreign registered aircrafts. We had to pay USD 414.- for the three round trip tickets with Cosmic Air, about 3 times as much as it would have cost us to fly there with Honey Mooney.   I showed the Nepalese captain my crew card and told him that I was the captain of the little Swiss Mooney parked over there. So it was a small consolation that they let me sit in the jump seat of the Saab 340.  They even gave me a headset so I could follow the intercom and radio conversations.We had a long chat during the flight about flying Saabs and about Honey Mooney's itinerary and special fuel tanks.

Angela's input.
We had lunch by the Pokhara lake, and then Bir Singh took us on a short boat ride to a small island in the middle of the lake where there is another of the many temples that are to be found in Nepal.

Then it was about an hour's drive to Naya Pul where our trek started.  The village (Birethanti) where we were to stay the night was only a half-hour walk away.  I insisted on staying at the most upmarket lodge available, called Laxmi, which had been started by an English poet and kept squeaky clean and well maintained by the ex-gurkhas who run it.  I didn't mind paying a supplement for that.   Ray preferred to stay at the lodge Bir Singh chose, so we met up for dinner and breakfast.

22-23 November. Birethani - Banthanti - Ghorepani. Our routine was early to rise early to bed.  There was very little to do after we'd finished dinner, particularly as there was no computer to work on, so we appreciated getting 9 to 10 hours sleep a night.  The first couple of days the going was comparatively easy.  Our muscles didn't seem to complain and I just had to make frequent pauses once we reached a height of about 2,500 meters to avoid giddiness.   It was misty in the mornings and generally quite cloudy until we reached the pass at Ghorepani on the third night.  So the views weren't as clear as they might have been, but we still had plenty to see as there were many villages on our route.  There had just been harvests for millet and rice so we saw women  winnowing.  The men used oxen to plough the fields and sow the new crops.  Due to the steep terrain, most of the agricultural land was terraced.  The Jomsom trail is much frequented by trekkers and they provide a major source of revenue for the villagers.  They use donkeys to carry all the supplies (including Danish/Nepalese Tuborg beer!) up the mountains and we often had to stand to one side to let them pass, taking care to stand on the mountain side rather than the edge as they brushed past us.

24 November. Ghorepani - Tatopani. 

Poon Hill at 3200 m. (250 m.above Ghorepani) is the best place for a panoramic view of the Annapurna range and the clearest time of day is at sunrise.   Before we retired for the night, Bir Singh said he would check the weather the following morning at 4.30 am and only wake us if the stars were twinkling.  Flemming actually woke at that time and looked out to a thick fog.  We were just dropping off to sleep again when Bir Singh knocked on our door fifteen minutes later to say that the sky had cleared. A miracle!  We hastily dressed in our warmest clothing including ski hats and gloves and, armed with torches, started the ascent.  Ray had been sick all night and hardly slept a wink, but he was determined not to miss out.  I was still getting dizzy from the altitude so made frequent stops as we climbed the hill.   Clouds started coming in from the East and we were concerned that the whole view would have disappeared by the time we got to the top.  But we were in luck - it wasn't a cloudless sky, but the views were still spectacular.  The 3 previous days, we were told, conditions had been pretty bad so we felt particularly fortunate.

We breakfasted back at the lodge and then headed off downhill... and downhill... and downhill.  Our destination, Tatopani, was 2000 m. below Poon Hill at 1200 m.  I no longer had breathing problems but my right knee complained and I wished I'd brought a knee support.  Ray was feeling pretty bad and had to make frequent stops.  Flemming was way ahead of us (as usual!) and he just made it to the Dhaulagiri lodge in Tatopani before dark. They have a lovely tropical garden with poinsettias and orange trees and there we enjoyed a well deserved cool Tuborg beer. Ray totally collapsed minutes after arrival due to the 13 hours on the trails, Delhi belly problems and lack of sleep.

25 November: Tatopani - Ghasa (1200 to 2010 m.)

Having descended a total of 2000 m. the day before, we now had to climb 800 meters.  Sounds like masochism, doesn't it!  But before breakfast we enjoyed a dip in the hot springs a couple of minutes' walk from the lodge. (Tatopani means "hot water").  It made up somewhat for the cold shower only in our attached bathroom.

From this day on, it was brilliant blue skies all the way.   There were superb views of Tukuche, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna mountains as we ascended out of the narrow part of the Kali Gandaki valley.  The suspension bridge just before Ghasa was being rebuilt, so we made a detour down to the river bed to cross on a temporary bridge made of wooden planks.  Actually, I found that less scary than the normal suspension bridges which were "see through"at the bottom.  I always had to take care not to look down!

The temperature plummeted every night, even at lower altitudes, so we welcomed the charcoal foot warmer under the dining table at the Kali Gandaki lodge that evening.

26 November: Ghasa - Khobang  (2010 to 2560 m.)

Up at sunrise as usual.  Now the vegetation became much less tropical: barley replaced rice and millet and we started to see pine trees.  The other side of the Kali Gandaki river was dominated by a huge landslide.  We stopped for mid-morning tea in Lete, just past the suspension bridge near a huge waterfall.   Lunch was in Kalopani (2530 m.) at the See You Lodge, where we met an English Ozzie, Alex Andrews from Brisbane.  There were great views from the terrace of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche and Annapurna.  Kalopani means "black water".  The Kali Gandaki river bed now became very wide and less steep.  Houses now had flat roofs - the style of the Thakali people that live in the valley.  We were heading for Tukuche and as we walked along the wide, flat, mostly dry river bed, there were gorgeous views of the Nilgiri peaks.  Out there on the river bed, I spotted a sign "Musk Deer Valley Resort", which advertised attached bathrooms, and - what is more - 24 hour hot water.  So far, we had only had both attached bathroom and hot water up at Ghorepani, so this was going to be a treat.  The lodge was also brand new with pine walls - rather chalet-like.

But, as it turned out, to our great disappointment, the solar hot water system was already in need of repair, so there was no hot shower after all.   However, the bedroom was pleasant and warm and there was a wood burning stove in the middle of the dining area, where we could put our feet up and warm our weary muscles.

27 November: Khabang - Jomsom (2560 m to 2710 m)

There was frost on everything early in the morning, and even inside the lodge it was close to freezing.  It helped that they lit the wood stove before we had breakfast. Flemming had brought his short-wave radio along and we listened to BBC World Service.  They announced that King Gyanendra of Nepal had declared a state of emergency in the whole country, following the weekend's unrest.  150 were reported dead, mostly Maoists.

In Tukuche we visited a local distillery where they make apple, apricot and orange brandy.  I thought it pretty rough, but Flemming was quite partial to it.  We both enjoyed the local apple cider with our lunch in Marpha at Neeru Restaurant, where we were served by the very friendly young woman who ran it.  She also spoke exceptionally good English.  In Marpha, we also visited an interesting old Buddhist monastery with colourful statues and paintings that had been partially restored. The houses in Marpha had logs stacked on the roofs.  Bir Singh told us this was a sign of prosperity.  The more logs you had on your roof, the better off you were.

In the afternoon, the daily mountain wind thermals had increased to some 30-40 knots, stirring up clouds of dust in the now arid landscape.  Jomsom is the administrative centre of the Mustang district, and not nearly as charming as Marpha.   We checked into the Xanadu hotel near the airport, clean and tidy with attached bathroom and hot showers, although the plumbing was a bit erratic: sometimes it was hot water that flushed the loo... sometimes there was no water at all!

Altogether the Birethani to Jomsom trek was a wonderful experience. It was fascinating to watch relatively unspoiled Nepalese village life, interact with the always friendly and smiling Nepalese and learn a few mottos:



Nepal is there to change you, you are not here to change Nepal.

Unfortunately the never ending peace and love got a bit disturbed during the last week we were there. By the time we left Nepal

28 November: Jomsom - Pokhara - Kathmandu

We had booked our return flights for the 29th, but decided to try and get back to Kathmandu a day early.  We still didn't have overflight permission for India en route to Dhaka (Bangladesh) and authorizations for Myanmar and wanted time to contact our agent from Kathmandu and make sure they sent us the faxes.  Bir Singh managed to get us booked on the third and last flight of the morning from Jomsom to Pokhara.  After that there are "windy problems", as Bir Singh put it, i.e. the uphill mountain winds get too strong (30 - 40 Knots) as the Mustang high plains heat up and pulls air up through the Kali Gandaki valley.  We took off at 09.50 am in a Dornier 228 (Cosmic Air).  There were fantastic views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges as we flew at 10,000 ft down the Kali Gandaki valley.  It took us 20 minutes to fly over the same route that it had taken us 6 days to walk!


Sebastien and Nathalie AUTIN

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Pashupati temples near the river. The dead body on the steps will soon be cremated

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Namaste! Flemming at Patan Durbar square

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Public toilet in Pokhara. Put money in the box after use!

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Captain Bir Singh paddling us to a Hindu temple on a small island at Pokhara lake.

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Poon Hill at sunrise. Annapurna 1 and Annapurna South behind.

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Dhaulagiri seen behind

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Flemming Sherpa. Unbelievable what real porters can carry

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Annapurna South seen from Dana.

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Our porter Krishna and Ray. Dhaulagiri to the left and Tukuche mountain to the right

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Tibetan family.

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The Nilgiri peaks seen from near Kokhethanti

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Approaching Marpha with Dhaulagiri behind

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