Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Annapurna Circuit

Boatman, Pokhara

Morning frost
Returning for breakfast after watching the sunrise
Annapurna 1, 8093 m (I think)

Annapurna 1
"The Fishtail"
A cold dip in the river after the hot pool
The hot pool at Tatopani
Fertilising the fields
Chicken transport
Water transport... ;)
Donkey transport
Nepali tractor
Crossing the river plains out of the high mountains

Thorung La pass in the middle
The holy city of Muktinath on the right
Preperation of Yak for the winter
Porters heading down from the pass
On to of the pass at 8 am
Climbing to the pass
Some time after leaving camp at 5 am
This is actually one of the wealthiest villages in Nepal!
The frozen lake in Manang
The frozen lake with the Annapurna range behind
A very "kanny" prayer wheel
Mountain village at 3600 m
More mountain transport
Upper Pisang with Pisang behind
Tibetan monastery with Annapurnas behind

Swing bridge with manual road constrction to the right
A friend, Chame
Collecting fuel, Tal
Read carefully!
Rice production

Skipping the first day sitting in the back of a jeep we set off with our guide (required as of a month ago for all treks in Nepal) to complete the Annapurna circuit in 16 days. The plan being to drop Johan (a friend from Sweden) off halfway so that he can return to work.
The jeep road took us to the end of the road, this left us walking with only porters and donkey trains for the remainder of the trip! Quite an unusual feeling to only see silent forms of transport for such a long time! This isolation, however did not make for a lack of people or tea houses supplying tired trekkers with good food and shelter, the locals also growing whatever will grow all the way up to 4000 m.
Finally, a peace treaty has been signed in Nepal that means that future trekkers will not have to pay the "tourist tax" that we were obliged to pay, and more importantly will put a stop to the bitter political dispute that has majorly affected life for all of Nepal and killed their biggest export, tourism, for the past 7 years.

The rest can be seen in the photos!
(after two power cuts and one blown up computer I have finally gotten this one online! Hopefully I won't have so many problems next time...)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

9 Porters, 2 Locals and a Horse

Langtang to the left, 7200 m
The village people with the children showing off their new outfits
Mother and daughter in her new outfit
Village boy with his new ball
Kaynjen Gompa from 4330 m
Prayer flags with 7000 m peaks in the background
Our 24 year old host and her two beautiful children
Fuel must be carried from lower down in the valley
A typical kitchen in the area
My new found friend
Crossing a swing bridge with the horse
An army check point high in the valley
Sunset from one of the tea houses
Village boy escorting us across one of many swing bridges
Village women
Women carrying firewood over great distances for cooking
Terraced crop land
Three local children greeting us as we pass
A village women winnowing her crops
Some of the porters carrying the things for the children
The town of Dunche, with the crops drying on the roofs
Maoist checkpoint, the sign reads: "Welcome to the tourist"

Sitting in one of the many good bakeries in Kathmandu to plan my week long trek, I happen to sit down next to a rather enthusiastic Italian (nothing unusual, I guess?) that happens to be heading int he same direction on his fourth trip to the mountain village to supply cloths, shoes, hats, vitamins and sun screen to the children. A short conversation later and we are off to the travel agency to sort out a permit and things for me to join the party! I am relieved because on that day a new permit system was introduced which means that all trekkers must be accompanied by a guide or porter!
In Nepal trekking is not like conventional tramping or hiking, there are so called "Tea houses" everywhere which provide at least a bed and a reasonable menu offering western food as well as the local lentil and curry with nice known as dal baht. On top of this many of the tea houses have solar hot water and some even have electricity and western toilets! The tracks are generally well defined and easy to follow making a guide a source of information rather than a necessity. This is quite a contrast to packing food for many days and often a tent also! Basically, trekking in Nepal is easy! (when disregarding the extreme altitudes, monsoon rains, tainted water and Maoist check points). So the reality is that with a pack on your pack containing little more than a few cloths, sleeping, snacks and toilet paper, one can hardly justify paying someone else carry the load for you, even if the daily wadge is a mere $10 USD!
Rolling out of the bus station at 8 am, we make all of 300 m before the Maoist rebels (that are trying to turn Nepal into a communist state with a disturbing supporters!) set up road blocks across the entire city by placing burning tyres across all the roads. We are informed that it will be a two hour wait!
Finally leaving the bus station at 10 am we weave in and out on the precarious single lane road at break neck speeds! The horn being the only thing between us and oncoming traffic on the thousands of blinds corners. Each encounter with an oncoming vehicle involves the enthusiastic young conductor jumping out and using a system of: two taps - go, one tap - stop, to reverse the bus into a position suitable for passing. This usually leaves just centimeters between the wheels and the dizzying drop alongside.
After 4 hours the sealed road ends and the driving process continues along a now unsealed road which snakes back and worth up high above the valley floor, crossing slips which occurred during the monsoon and other things which make you wish you hadn't looked out the window in the first place! The consolation to all this is that one is free to ride on the roof! This makes the ride a lot more interesting, though regular low hanging power lines and trees perhaps make this a more dangerous option, although one is forced to contemplate the possibility of being saved by a lucky jump in the case of the bus going over the side, who knows?
Anyway, so after 10 hours from our initial departure we arrive! Just 110 km from Kathmandu!
First dropping back down to the valley floor to pick up some more supplies and to meet our two local guides (both of whom are friends of the Italian) and a horse before then climbing a side valley slowly, to cover the 27 km and 2300 vertical meter journey in three days. Some of the porters from Kathmandu struggle to carry the 30+ kg loads up the steep inclines. The local porters, however, take it in their stride, some carry an amazing 90 kg, in flip flops! Puts us to shame...
Climbing the final terminal moraine we see the beautiful vistas of Kaynjen Gompa, a village only accessible on foot (or by helicopter if you are a rich tourist) at an altitude of 3800 m. All the residents have their roots in Tibet which they fled after the Chinese invasion in 1959. Still with only refugee status, these people have no passports. They live from subsistence farming of barley, buck wheat, potatoes and yak products, plus the all important tourism which has declined drastically since the Maoists began their campaign in 1999.
Early the following morning the kids are taken two by two for fitting of their new cloths. After all 20 or so children are fitted they strut around proudly outside, showing off their new wares. An amazing scene!
After getting pretty sick in the mountains I managed to do the walk out in one day and the long bus trip the next, now back in Kathmandu I await the next adventure and try to recover by eating lots and taking it easy!