Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Nepal 2004 - First instalment

Expedition Team:

Judy Backwell
Richard Backwell
Clive Davies
Ruth Davies
Angela White
Richard White
Keith Diment
Sandra Jones
Howard Legg
Cathy Pressley
Mike Pressley
Paul Nicholson
Frank Swinton
Louise Bainbridge
Judith Townsend
Keith Tubbs
Jo Wright
Ros Evans
Des Evans
Richard Jones

Thursday 21 October

I can’t believe that for the second time this year we have to get up at some unearthly hour – 0330 for our coach to Heathrow!! Golly, it’s here – no waiting. “Morning” – says everyone as they board and “Did you get any sleep?” Good journey – how does everyone do the motorway run daily? – a nightmare of traffic.
Gulf Air have just herded us through and number 13 was not the best desk to choose as we certainly confused the desk ‘lady’ with two group bags and will we ever see our bags again? Loads of expensive and very smart shops to visit – where is W. H. Smiths? – We want a Telegraph. Plane overbooked as usual, but hopefully we have seats – we’ll go and find out…. Good flight and lovely curry – bit of ‘shut eye’ – quite roomy at rear end of plane really. Leg 2 from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi only 40 minutes but still managed a light snack - not very full though - time to spare at Abu Dhabi airport – gold by weight – few other trips visible – Explore, KO Adventure – Everest Base Camp and Annapurna in evidence. Managing to stay awake and sign off at same time – not much to say for first day, except - isn’t it great to be here and everyone is looking forward to a super trip.

Friday 22 October

Abu Dhabi. First time flying what an experience. Thought I would be nervous but enjoyed every moment. Agony hours in the air but so much to take in. Too much of everything including food. Looking forward to arrival in Kathmandu.

Arriving at Kathmandu we found that some of our baggage had not made the arduous journey with us and remained in Heathrow. Never mind it would catch us up tomorrow and Bimal was there to greet us with garlands and whisk us off to our hotel. Showing great resilience we were down hitting the streets of Kathmandu after only a quick shower. We soon found the friendly Kathmandu Guest House and ground to a halt drinking tea in their garden whilst waiting for prodigious amounts of cheese on toast to arrive. The town was actually quiet because it was festival time, all the locals were celebrating the throwing out of demons, seemingly both Hindu and Buddhists joined in.
After a few beers at the KGH we gave into a short sleep only to be revived by Howard’s offer of gin and tonics. After dinner at the hotel only a few stalwarts (led by Clive) made it back to the bars. Some of us thought we had had quite a long day.

Saturday 23 October

Quite a busy day! Four world heritage sites in one tour. First it was a Buddhist Temple high on a hill. It seemed to be commonly known as the Monkey Temple and we saw why. It was magnificent with all the flags fluttering. We learnt about Stupas and the significance of the Buddhas. It was good to see the Hindu Temple alongside coexisting peacefully.
Next we were off to a Hindu temple (Pashputirath), centre of much celebration for the festival today. We could only peer inside to see the huge holy bull. We saw the funeral pyres along the river and the (Sadhus) Holy Men posing for their photos.
Then on to Bhaktapur and the Durbar Square temples with their amazing wood carvings, before a much-needed lunch. We ate more curry and looked at the view over the square before completing our tour through some of the backstreets. Many houses were so cracked and broken down we felt we should wear hard hats especially as occasionally ‘substances’ (were thrown) fell from the upstairs windows.
Back on the bus to Kathmandu, we dropped off those stoic few who had to collect luggage – successfully thank goodness. Then as the sun sank we walked the pilgrims’ circuit around the largest Buddhist stupa (Boudha) and climbed to the top. Having turned a few prayer wheels we felt we had earned our dinner at Kathmandu Guest House.

Sunday 24th October

Today we leave the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, not without a few traffic problems. We make the long (8 hour/200km) journey to Pokhara through numerous checkpoints. Through wonderful scenery our driver steers us safely passed avalanches and crashed vehicles.
We have pleasant stops for drinks and lunch in shady gardens of wayside restaurants. What a relief to arrive in Pokhara though after passing the first views of the Annapurnas. Pokhara is pleasant and relaxed after Kathmandu and we enjoy a wander along the lakeside through the shops. Dinner in town is multinational to make a change from curry. At least Richard got his mo-mos at lunchtime.

Monday 25th October

An early breakfast for some was superseded by those who took a walk to the lakeside and saw a cloudless Annapurna range behind Pokhara.
A rickety twenty two seater took thirty of us into the foothills and deposited us at Nayapul where our trek began.
Through villages with shops on either side, we made our way downwards until crossing a river by suspension bridge we turned left and followed the Bhuring Khoda upstream in blazing hot sunshine.
For ever having to look down because of the varying nature of the footpath, it was sometimes difficult to take in the marvellous scenery and lush vegetation around without stopping.
We stopped at Ramgai hot and thirsty and were greeted with all the fresh green oranges we wanted. This was followed by spinach pasties and then fresh fruit and Nak cheese.
Just as we were ready to depart, we experienced wet rain! (Des should be fired, he was the only one without his wet gear in his day pack).
Walking and climbing further was trying as it was humid and sweaty.
Finally, we arrived at the Indra Guest House where we were pleasantly surprised to find the showers were both solar and gas powered. A convivial queue developed outside since there were only two.
Beer and games were followed by dinner with porters playing their drums and singing in the yard outside, the weather having cleared.
Our first day on the trek and no Delhi bellies or broken bones. We are raring to go!

Tuesday 26th October

It wasn’t too cold for our first night sleeping in a tea house. Most people seemed to have had a disturbed sleep because of dogs barking and mule trains coming up and down the nearby path.
At 0700 we had our first taste of porridge and trekking honey. We were all packed and we left Tirkedhunga Lodge at 0800. The path led down at first over a fast flowing river and then climbed steeply from then on. We passed by a number of tea houses painted in bright colours with colourful gardens. Coming down the hill were many young children presumably going to school. After two hours trekking we stopped at Ulleri (2000m) for a well-earned cup of lemon tea. It was very hot at this point and we were in need of refreshment and a rest. Soon after we left Ulleri we came across a group of men dragging a dead horse down the path.
It started raining about an hour before we stopped for lunch. We had lunch at Nayathanti (2450m) where we had a vegetable soup followed by mo mos and chips, then fruit salad and yoghurt:- all washed down with lemon tea.
It was raining hard when we left so we all put on waterproofs again. It was noticeable that the vegetation was changing. The terraced rice and maize fields gave way to very mature woodlands of rhododendron trees festooned in moss.
Still we climbed until we reached out overnight stop in Ghorepani (3000m). Boiling hot showers were available to the first few customers. When it got dark we realised that the village had no electricity and hadn’t had any for about two years, since a transformer became defective. Despite this head torches were switched on and candles lit to illuminate the card and domino games that have become a feature every evening. The evening meal was produced in a freezing cold kitchen lit be candles. We are always amazed at the quality and diversity of the food provided under such adverse conditions.
It was noticeably colder this evening and most people had several layers on. There was a wood stove in the centre of the dining room, but it could only warm the people sitting nearest to it.
Bimal told us that “wakey wakey” would be at 0445 tomorrow so we all had an early night.

Wednesday 27th October

Although it was very cold night everyone seemed to be quite warm. Sleep was intermittent owing to the swillings of toilets, raucous coughing and the occasional snoring. We expected a 4.45 a.m. call from Bimal. The plan was to leave at 5 a.m. to climb Poon Hill, to see the sun rise over the mountains. However, too much cloud gave us a good excuse for another hour or so in bed.
We ate breakfast outside and set off at 8.30 a.m. The sun was out and we were in high spirits. We had not had a meeting with the Maoists (which had been expected yesterday) but I think many of us had forgotten about it. Within half an hour of walking we were approached by a young man. Some of the group had already walked on but a few people remained behind whilst Bimal paid over 1000 rupees for each of us. However that wasn’t enough on this occasion. After listening the Maoist talking at Bimal, we understood that not only did he want money but also any binoculars and mobiles in our possession. Des had admitted at the outset that he had a pair of binoculars. At this point all but Des, Clive, Richard 1st and Bimal walked on higher up the track. We waited about 1 mile away for them to return. One hour later they rejoined us (Bimal last). They told us that other Maoists had appeared to join their junior member (one of whom was carrying a machine gun!) Des was forced to give up his binoculars, which will apparently be posted back to him to England! … and then they were allowed to continue up the track. Bimal was annoyed at the whole event but did point out that we were not, at any point in danger.
Our trek continued uneventfully although the weather changed drastically. Sleet started to fall as we entered beautiful woodland. Lichen and moss adorned trees alongside streams, dramatic waterfalls and steep sided gorges. The path was muddy and steep but we were travelling downhill. Lunch was spent at Sun Lodge Banthiti – veg soup and a spinach pasty with pasta.
As we continued our afternoon walk the sun came out again as we began the final slog uphill to Tadapani. We encountered a screeching Japanese girl by the side of the track. She had been separated from her guide for 2 hours, but turned down Bimal’s offer to walk with us – very odd! He assured her that she would find him at the top of the track.
Cups of lemon tea greeted us on arrival.

p.s. Wednesday continued
The village W.I. arrived to dance for us – pretty cool and Paul wins the prize for meanest mover in our group (we had to join in!)

Thursday 28th October

Woke to the best view of the trek. Annapurna, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhre were free of mist and looked amazing. (You could even see why Machhapuchhre is called “fish tail”).
The trek today appeared easier to me – though I prefer downhill and there was plenty of that. Lovely scenery today – we could really see the views today – could see where we trekked from yesterday and where we were going to for lunch.
I could really see why I came today and felt ashamed at my “what am I doing here?” remarks.
Super stops for lemon tea and lunch and much excitement at lunch at a visit from another Maoist. Unfortunately not in uniform but very intense. Bimal was in long conversation with him and we feared the worst (more rupees that is). But no – he was ashamed at his master whipping our binos and would see what he could do. Fat chance!
After lunch we would have had about an hour’s trek but it was longer because of a landslide. We had to climb above the slide and down to the path. (no ropes or crampons required)
I’ll now write how we are all doing:-
1) Judith and Cathy have suffered slight altitude sickness – dizzy and faint but are better now we have gone lower.
2) Judy’s knee (previous injury through scrubbing floor at home) is amazing. Though her optimism quaked slightly today at all the downhill – she was in “and another thing Richard” mood which was quite entertaining to all except Richard!
3) I have a cold which I know is boring (perhaps it is SARS) but not really what you need with all the climbing.
4) Howard trekked today with spare underpants and trousers in his bag. Say no more!
Arrived at Jninudandy about 2.30 which gave time for us to revive before our trek to the hot springs. Worth the walk – watched over by head porter Umm (Jo reckons his Mum had already had many children so when he arrived she said “what shall we call him? – Umm!!”)
Nice rooms with electric light but Judith, H, and Louise and Frank stay at a lower lodge.
6 pm – off to dinner ………..

Thursday evening

A pleasant sit on the balcony with a beer for some. Most went to the hot springs and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.
One hot shower was available but not for me.
A very nice three course meal again followed by the usual dominoes etc.
Another long night – not so cold at this level and more comfortable for me at this altitude. Lots of waking up and clock watching to see when I could get up. One of those wakeful times was punctuated by some happy soul shouting out that I could see Puure Thikey (spelling?) with the sunlight on it – I could hardly get out of bed quick enough! No I turned over – then I did leap out of bed for an urgent need only to find the queue two deep already. Luckily the Whites were fairly quick so there is nothing worse to write in the diary!
A pleasant walk today. Really enjoyed the real Nepal with the fields being worked by the villagers with their oxen. Richard 1st saved a villager’s life when he fell off his ox plough at 2 mph and grazed his leg. However when another villager with a real injury took off his sawn off wellies Richard gave him a cotton bandage and beat a hasty retreat.
Early arrival at Ghandruk making it a fairly short day.
Judy Backwell discovered some condoms but as there were only 9 said it was not fair to share them out as we needed 10. Judy has asked me to say that they were under the cushions on a chair.
Further highlights of the day included the visit by candlelight to the museum, Richard locking the key inside the room (not opened at the time of writing and the author snoring away in bed at 3 p.m.) Paul would like to say that he had a hot shower, big Keith would like to say he didn’t. Furthermore big Keith says that as he’s had a cold shower he doesn’t actually need a condom now and 9 would be enough!

Saturday 30th October

I sneaked off to bed at 8.30 last night intending to have a good read but must have dropped off at 9.00 in my lovely warm sleeping bag – what would we do without them, our personal retreat? Woke at 6.00 to a disappointing view of the mountains – dull and cloudy – nobody about taking photos. Happily about 1 hour later we all went down to breakfast and the sun had broken through. The lady of the lodge had picked fresh marigolds and decorated the entrance to the dining room (though we ate outside on the patio). Also placed josh sticks in old bean tins around patio and lit them – to welcome us to breakfast or to say “goodbye” to us. A very well-taken-care of lodge – lots of flowers and fresh veg growing around and a beautiful view of the mountains. 7.15 and breakfast is ready. A beautiful and quite easy walk down the hillside – until we arrived for lunch at Birethanti. The terraces of millet giving way to rice as the climate became warmer.
Flora and Fauna seen:- Ageratum, Busy Lizzies, Bourganvillea, Banana trees Coleus, Fuschias, Dahlias, Rhododendrons, Canna Lilies!
Lunch was enjoyed overlooking the Fiver – Khola Bhurengdi and seeing the new visitors to the area coming over the metal bridge.
A short walk back to the road and bus at Nayapul. The boys seemed happy to sing about returning to Pokhara and hopefully their wages and tips!
Hotel Bedrock – a hot shower and hair wash and a quick hour shopping with Judy. Richard warmly thanked all the boys for their hard work and courtesy and gave them a tip each and money for an evening meal. We all went to the Lakeside Restaurant – very atmospheric with Nepali dancing but the service was very slow. Richard White missed the meal due to a cold and sore throat, hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow. Bye


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