Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tiger Hunting out in India

Tiger hunting out in India (Bonzo Doodah Band, Circa '69)
Nov 29-Dec 4
Travel adventures Katmandu to Corbett Tiger Sanctuary, Ramnagar, Utarkhand

My friend Nuri Sherpa (one of Bill Kite's trekking guides who guides the dental/med groups on treks in Ladakh and Nepal.) flew on my Spicejet flight to Delhi

(He is headed to Leh to pick up T and Lamo-2 of my students from Lamdon and bring them back to KTM for optometry training so they can work in Bill Kite's new eye clinic at Lamdon. Since they have no identity papers they can not go by air and Nuri will escort them overland by bus from Delhi.)

Nuri agreed to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport in exchange for carrying to Dental team parkas home to my dentist, friend and former next door neighbor Dave Cauble. They were to pick me up at 3 for the <10k drive to the airport for our 6:40 flight (SOP in KTM). Good plan, since because of traffic they did not make it to pick me up until after 4:30! To even get onto the road to the airport we had to go in the opposite direction to get to the end of the line of traffic and then sat in gridlock. A wedding party with brass band dressed in red suits kept walking by us. After lots of anxiety and my heart beating at level 4, we did make it to the airport by 5:30 (pretty tight) and luckily our flight was delayed an hour. The nice thing about having Nuri there was he got us checked in together and with our combined baggage I did not have to pay any excess baggage fee. Unfortunately, that meant I had the Nepali rupees I had saved to pay it and since they are worthless and unchangeable out of Nepal I had to spend them. Bought a bunch of chocolates that I will leave in Delhi with CJ (see later) and his family in thanks for keeping my luggage and getting me a SIM card when I go home next next week.  

Spent the night on the 19th floor of a high rise hotel in Connaught Place near what I thought was the railway station and watched American movies on TV (for the first time) and the Pariah Kites picking off pigeons out the window of my room. Waiting around until about 1 for CJ (Yangchan's daughter's friend I met in Leh) to show up. he was supposed to come around 11, pick up my extra luggage and help me get a prepaid SIM card. His car broke down and he showed up in a Tuktuk with the SIM card. His brother came and picked him up with my extra suitcase, which I will hopefully get next Saturday before I go to the airport.

Had lunch and got a cab to the train station at 3 for my 4:10 train to Ramnagar. Except when I got to the station I could not find my train. Turns out I' m at the wrong station and have to get to Old Delhi station about 3 k away (that can be an hour in Delhi traffic). Luckily Delhi now has a fast efficient metro. Ran to the train, paid 8 rupees, squeezed into the over-full train with my big pack and made it to my train by 4- sweaty but relieved!

Had a pleasant 4 hr ride seated with a young English teacher at the Gov't Central School (same as I went to in 65) in the town before my stop. She is a bit frustrated as a teacher, having received a MS in e-education in UK. And now teaching in a school that has no computers or electricity in the classrooms!

Arrived at Corbett Motel (a very nice little family enclave nestled in an orchard with over a hundred mango trees) a few minutes from the train station and finally met Karan ( the naturalist/owner I have been emailing for a few months) and his brother. Turns out Karan's wife and kids were the ones I had been playing peek a boo with on the train. Made arrangements with the brother for my safari into the park the next day, had dinner and sleep- longest in awhile, even with all the loud noise from the other Indian guests.

Dec 1
The SIM card is still not activated. CJ said it might take 24 hrs but it is now past that....?

Sent the morning doing the Indian permit dance and shelling out cash. Spent about 2 hrs at the permit office making arrangements for all the permits I would need to get me, the driver and jeep (Maruti open safari vehicle) into the park and arranging my lodging in the Loghut dormitory in Dhikala (4000 rupees- and as Lonely Planet says everything including guide, driver and car costs are set and no bargaining). Back to the motel, lunch and then back into the jeep with my guide Chotu (working in the park for 20 yrs) and off we go- back to the permit office to pick up the required sticker (another 20 min) and then finally out of town and on the road with a passenger- the oldest Mahoot (elephant man) in the park, and hopefully my guide on my elephant safari.

It's about 30 km to the entrance to the park (actually there are 4 entrances) passing by lots of Tiger resorts on the edge of the park. Of course, entering the park involved showing the permits and filling out more multiple copies of the same paperwork (that's India) and receiving a lecture about everything I can't do (including, but not limited to no smoking, honking horns, littering, drinking, cell phones).

It was about a 4 hr slow wildlife watching ride to go the 30 km out to Dhikala and well worth it!  No tigers yet, although we did find fresh tiger tracks! But, I have seen 3 of the 4 deer species (spotted, barking (small dog sized primitive deer with an unusual tusk for a tooth) and Sambar (elk size and saw 2 gigantic stags), elephants, both crocodiles (muggers and the famed gavial of my sea monster site ing in Kanpur in 1965), red macaques and tons of birds (including a huge brown fish owl, Pallas's fish eagle, changeable hawk eagle, osprey, crested kingfisher, laughing thrush, bulbul). Also could see gigantic catfish and HUGE golden Mahanseer (a giant game species only found in this region and no fishing allowed inside the park).

Arrived at Dhikala to millions of macaques and a ton of Indian tourists with cameras with huge lenses (so far I have only seen one other non-Indian couple from the UK-and a family of 5 Swedes). Found my bed in the Loghut- I was the first one there and chose a bottom bunk of the 3-tiered beds.

The plan is 2 jeep-safaris a day (one at 7 AM and one at 3:30PM) each day for the 2 more days (except tomorrow afternoon when I do an elephant safari) and then drive out Tuesday morning. Hopefully we will find tigers and leopards!

This is definitely a great relaxing place and an awesome place to see Indian wildlife and I can not understand why we never came here in 65/66. Seems like a place Ruthie would have loved and I know we came to the hill station 30 km away at Nanital at least once (and I think twice). I also know that at the time or before, I had been hooked on the series of books (Man-eaters of Kumaon) written by Jim Corbett (the former tiger hunter turned conservationist) the founder of the park and would have thought I would have wanted to come......?

Dec 2
Safari 1: 7AM-10AM
Animals: More of the same species, including large herds of Cheetal (spotted deer) in the grasslands along the river. In addition: langur (black-faced) monkey, wild boar and jackal and a large(12) herd of wild elephants with a number of babies across the river from the guesthouse

Tiger: fresh tracks (pugmarks) and fresh scat in a large scratch pit in the sand (like a cat in a litter box)

Birds: tons and probably >20 new species if I was a "lister". Luckily, Chotu is not only an excellent tracker and spotter but also knows most birds by their calls.
New Species (that I can remember) included: huge flock of rose ringed parakeets, 3-4 species of kingfishers, 3 species of woodpeckers, black hooded oriole, red jungle fowl (big flock), cormorant, wooly-necked and black-necked storks, purple and grey heron, white bellied sea eagle, some kind of sandpiper, hoopoe, oriental white-eye, rufous treeline and baya weaver (actually just the characteristic hanging nests).

Elephant Safari
3-5 PM
Rode 4 people to an elephant and I rode in a group of 3 elephants with a large extended family from Mumbai (who when they saw me were certain their uncle had shown up).

Rode through various ecosystems from grasslands to huge Sal and Teak forests with dense undergrowth. One section of about 20 min was a dense understory of 10-20' tall cannabis plants laden with buds and seeds mixed with many shrubs with small bright orange, yellow and purple flowers and some colorful hanging fruits and gord-like things. Saw a Langur and huge flock of jungle fowl (wild chickens). It was interesting watching the elephants rip large leaves off of plants or rip out big bunches of elephant grass and clean it by swiping and banging it against the ground with the trunk.

So yes we did find a tiger (4 yr old male)! Unfortunately I was not on the elephant that got the really good view of it, but did get 3 views of its butt in the jungle as the elephants chased it. And then one more as it streaked across the road behind us as we all gathered together again. Maybe the coolest part was after he streaked behind us and we could follow his progress through the jungle by listening to the alarm calls of the birds, barking deer and langurs.

Hopefully tomorrow Chotu will find us an even better view and I can get a picture.

Sleeping with (or near) young Indians and Monkeys: After suffering through the noise and rudeness of monkeys and young Indian tourists last night and early this morning I was going to rant about how inconsiderate and self centered the latter are, but luckily I had many good interactions with a number of very nice and helpful Indians later and I can now just write the large rowdy bunch of assholes who occupied the room next door as a  bunch of,thugs and their girlfriends who hollered and laughed uncontrollably (for those who know- think Bob Burgess or Whit Ross) late at night and at 5AM without any thought that anyone else was trying to sleep. They are the same ones who are currently smoking, drinking beer, littering and feeding chips to the monkeys. Add in the 3 snoring Indians occupying my room and needless to say, I did not sleep well.

The positive interactions included a group of 4 young Indian guys-one wearing a CU sweatshirt! Turns out 2 of them just completed MSs there and are working for Intel in Austin.

Monkey Business: As far as the monkeys go- guess I can't blame them for screaming, fighting and copulating outside the room all night. There are about 20 males, females and babies that hang out on the wall and in the trees in front of the Loghut dormitory-thus the need to always keep the door secured. There is one couple (a young male with a seemingly permanent erection) that sit directly in front of the door. Normally she is grooming him, but every time he thinks I'm looking at them he grunts, gets aggressive and a threatening look on his face and mounts her. I think he is threatened by me and now I am entertaining myself by egging him on a bit by grunting back and waving my arms.

Later, another large male, who had been being fed by the thugs, tried to steal my water bottle and knocked it over a cliff. When I tried to retrieve it he got nasty and threatened me. Eventually he stole a bunch of food from the thugs and while he was doing that I got the water bottle.

Travel concerns: the SIM card is still not activated, but I just spoke to someone else who told me that Vodafone is taking up to 4-5 days to activate the cards. Guess I will just keep trying.

Last night I read in Lonely Planet that the train from Kathgodam to Delhi is an overnight train leaving at 8PM and arriving at 3AM-my plane is at 2 AM. Got concerned(!) and checked my ticket- LP is wrong it does leave at 8 AM and arrives at 3 PM-phew!
But, I then noticed that the ticket I printed in August says I am wait listed (which I either did not know or forgot) and I don't know if I have a seat yet or what car I am in. You definitely need to know the car number before boarding or you will never find the right one and I obviously need to find out if I have a seat! Unfortunately, there is no Internet out here and no way to check until my phone starts working or I get back to town on Tuesday. Or, I think CJ may be able to check it and get back to me tomorrow.

CJ did check and I am still wait listed, but according to a number of people I have talked to here they don't update the status list until 3 days before the train. So, when I get to Nanital I should be able to figure it out. If nothing else, I can always take the 8 hr bus ride on Saturday and still make my plane.

Dec 3
Safari 1: 7AM-10AM
Animals: pair of mongoose

Tiger: 0

Birds: new- white-necked stork,Eurasian marsh harrier, red-headed and white-rumpled vultures, Indian peafowl (peacock), plum-headed parakeets, long-tailed shrike, black-hooded oriole, jungle babbler, plain prinia

The thugs left so sleeping was easier, but they were replaced by a large group of forestry students from the Indian Institute of Forestry in Bhopla and a lot of them snored- wish I had some earplugs!

Whack-a-Mole with Tigers: Looking for tigers is a lot like fishing for tuna (or hunting elk for that matter), except instead of looking for and chasing baitfish and working terns and gulls you look for pug marks, drive to wear you think they may be heading, listen for deer, monkey and bird alert calls and wait and hope the tiger comes out of the jungle somewhere within site. Repeat. The other way to see them is to just drive around a lot and hope you intersect one by accident.

Watch Tower:11AM-2PM
Animals: wild boar, elephants, jackal
No new birds or tigers

Chotu dropped me off at a watchtower overlooking the river. At first I had it to myself, but 2 other parties of Indians showed up. One group was 3 amateur naturalists with large lenses cameras from Delhi who come here a lot and new quite a bit about the animals. The other group was 2 couple from Mumbai who could not keep quiet and one of the women was an ignorant wildlife "expert". Every bird we saw was some species from Siberia-annoying!

Safari 2
3-5 PM
Animals: elephants, all 4 deer (sambar, Cheetal, barking and hog)

Tiger: 0

New Birds: Common Kingfisher, Black-rumpled flameback woodpecker, red-headed green woodpecker, emerald dove, white crested laughing thrush, scaly-breasted Muniz

Heard some Sambar alerts that Chotu says we're "100% tiger". Watched some ver talent sambar and waited for over an hour but the Tiger never came out where we could see.

On the way back a couple of wild elephants crossed the road I front of us. Chotu somehow saw them way before they were visible and sped up to intersect- no idea how he knew.....

Dec 4
Safari: 7AM-9am (then head to Ramnagar and buses to Haldwani and then Nanital.
One last chance to see tiger/leopard.

Animals: same same and elephant and a jackal

Tiger: YES!

New Birds: scarlet minivet and Kalin pheasant(2 best of all!)

Early morning mist- drove around in the jungle for about 30 min with no signs or sounds and then out to the grassland where someone went by who had heard alarms. Waited about 30 min and the tiger ram across the road about 50 meters from us and disappeared into the grass. But, it was long enough to see the entire tiger including stripes, but not enough to get a picture. Success! It's funny, when you return to camp you are now a celebrity and everyone wants to know details and it is posted on the blackboard and recorded.

Also had a close up/photo-op of a jackal and some elephants and the 2 new birds may have been the best yet! Finally, got to observe huge herd of Cheetal and watch sme of the stats sparring at the start of rut!

Sleeping with Indians Part 2: Sleeping in the Loghut dormitory is definitely an experience but if you want a good night sleep bring earplugs (toilet paper works pretty well) and eyeshades (or shell out the money for one of the nice rooms)! After 3 nights sharing sleeping quarters with Indians, I can see that while the "thugs" were thugs, the general sleeping behavior of "normal" Indians is far different than we are used to! They all seem to snore loudly and produce other loud noises and eruptions throughout the night and really do not seem to have any concept of whispering or quiet! As soon as they wake up- it seems 5AM is normal- they start talking and laughing very loudly!  They also don't seem to mind falling asleep with the lights on and apparently don't realize that other people might be sleeping and not appreciate lights early in the morning! As soon as they wake up and start hollering and laughing the lights go on!

Last night I shared with 5 cousins from Delhi- one who claims his name is Yassar Arafat....?! , One of whom sounded like he was dyeing of consumption and besides snoring coughed and hacked all night. Even though there were many empty beds available 3 of them crowded into a single berth sized single bed!? Their English is not very good and I could not find out why they chose to sleep this way.

Corbett overall: Definitely a place to come for any wildlife or especially bird enthusiasts! Don't come if riding around in an open jeep for 6-7 hrs a day, sitting quietly listening and observing for 30-60 min at a time and never getting to walk around, except in the compound, sounds boring, but if you want to see tons of new Asian birds and a lot of cool wildlife and habitat this place is out of this world!

If you choose to come, definitely stat at the Corbett Motel, a few minutes from the train in Ramnagar, nestled in Karan's grandfather's mango orchard with great food(see Lonely Planet). And use Karan to organize your trip to Corbett. He is a great naturalist and a very nice person. if you can not get Karan as your guide, then definitely ask for Chotu as your guide. Even though his English is not great (understandable) he knows every bird and their call in the sanctuary and a ton about animal behavior and is an awesome tiger tracker If he stops and waits for a long it e while everyone else drives off- don't worry, he knows what he is doing.

Nanital: Chotu dropped me off at the bus station in Ramnagar around 10:30 for the public bus to Haldiwal (home of Jim Cobett). Waited around until 12:30 eating peanuts and oranges and bananas until the people told me the bus arrived (the signs are all in Hindi) and rode to Haldiwal where I changed buses for Nanital ( each bus about 40 km and 51 Ruppees) and arrived in Nanital around 4:30. Someone took me to a hotel at the Talital end of the lake but I wanted to go to the other end (Manital) to find the Hotel City Center (Lonely Planet recommendation) and took a bike rickshaw for 10 Ruppees- a bit more expensIve but nicer and at the better end of the lake. First shower/beer in 4 days and will eat and head to town to see if I can get my phone activated and send some emails.

I am in Nanital- A small city of around 40,000 with the regional high court (interesting seeing the barristers heading to court with their funny little collars- I thought the first one I saw was a minister)  and originally built as an old British summer hill station located at 2000 m around Naini Lake (said to be one of Shiva's wife's Sati's emerald eyes)  in the foothills of the Himalayas- because it is a place I came to with my parents  to escape the heat of Kanpur at least 2 times in '65-66 and I have fond memories. The road to Nanital is still the twisty 40 km climb from 100 to 2000 meters that I remember except instead of a single lane partially paved with steep unprotected drop offs (I have thought a lot about how daring Louie was to do the driving he did here!) it now is a modern 2 lane road completely paved with no potholes or cracks (perhaps the best road I have ever seen in India) with large cement guard rails protecting the edge and it even has white lines down the middle (not that anyone pays attention!).  The city is much the same as I remember but maybe on steroids (more hotels and shops): rowboats on the lake, many hotels in terraces going up the steep hills along the shore (kind of reminds me of how Kechikan is built into the hills) and a nice road around the lake. Lots of British colonial influences in many of the older Victorian style buildings from the 1850s, the Nanital Yacht Club and particularly in the number of churches! I will have to find out if there is actually a large Christian population here (apparently yes- in all the hill communities). There are also 3 prominent Indian religious sites on the north end of the lake- a large mosque, the Naina Devi Temple and a large Sikh Gurdwaras (temple)- all surrounding the large cricket field in the "Flats"-a memorial area to the people killed in a large mudslide in 1880. Will be interesting to explore tomorrow.

Public Buses: Everyone should ride a public bus in India- quite an experience! If you want the full affect be sure to ride in the front seat behind the driver. However, if a clear view of weaving through children riding bikes home from school and bands of monkeys in the road, or watching the driver pass a slow line of trucks around a blind corner makes you nervous you might want a seat further back. Also, you may want some earplugs if you don't want your ears blasted every 1-2 minutes by the air horn, seemingly mounted inside the bus by the steering wheel. And, don't forget to stay away from the window to avoid the red spray when the driver spits paan out his window! Oh yeah, and be prepared for some breakdown- we ran out of gas 8 km from Nanital. I couldn't really tell what was going on, but for awhile I thought the passengers were going to beat the driver up! Fortunately, we only waited about 25 min before 2 other buses came by that we could all fit in. No big deal.

Dec 5
The good news: my train seat is confirmed for Saturday, so I will make it to Delhi for my plane home-assuming no bus or train breakdowns.

Spent the day taking care of errands (train, phone, etc) and walking around and exploring and trying to recall things we did here in 65/66. Did walk way up to the top of the hill to the zoo. A pretty lame place and even after you walk way up to it- it is built into the hill as terraces and requires even more climbing-not a place to take your old grandma!

 So many questions it would be nice to ask my parents..... Was able to make arrangements to go kayaking on the lake Friday morning and to take a horse ride into the hills tomorrow morning (it will probably be pretty tame and  lame, but I fondly remember doing it before and want to repeat it. Will probably also take the tram to Snowview and do some walking on the trails up there tomorrow or Friday afternoon.

It is definitely past the main tourist season and things are winding down for winter. Many of the tourist businesses are cutting back or are closed and except for a handful of Indian tourists it's pretty quiet. I am pretty certain I am the only non-Indian here!  A very different tourist scene than that of Leh, Pokarah and the Thamel district of Katmandu, which are all geared towards western Trekkers. Here, the shops tend to be more aimed at Indian tourists and are mainly Indian outlets or trashy tourist stuff you might find in Wall Drug or Niagara Falls and the restaurants are mostly Indian and very little in the way of real coffee or "German Bakeries". There are also 2 or 3 trashy amusement park/arcades at the tourist attractions.

Had one interesting interaction with an elderly, patriotic, educated Indian from another hill town about 20 km away while waiting to check my train ticket. It started  out quite friendly, but then he began to lecture me about the evils of America and all the terrible things we have done (America is the biggest terrorist) and how badly we treat India- I really couldn't argue with him much and could just say that not all Americans agree with many policies. He did start to go a little overboard when telling me how great and inclusive India is....?, but I held my tongue and didn't bring up the castes, corruption, filthy cities and slums or how pushy and rude Indians can be, or..... and let him go on.

Ended the day by buying a day membership to the "exclusive" Nanital Boat Club and watched the sunset over the lake while having a drink on the deck and then made full use by going back for dinner and a beer on the deck.

Dec 6
Now I am no longer the only non-Indian here. Woke up this morning to a young American girl,from Jackson Hole playing guitar outside my room on the roof-top restaurant. We had coffee together and a nice visit-she is volunteering for 5 months helping to run an organic farm about 40 Km from Haldwani on the edge of Corbett Sanctuary. After awhile another American couple (middle-aged Missourians living in Pokara and running an English language school. How unusual to have 4 Americans be the only westerners in town and to be in the same hotel (I guess the hotel part is not as unusual as it may seem as it is the Lonely Planet's top choice).

I am definitely ready to be out of here and on my way home. Even if I hadn't been gone for over 3 months, 4 days in Nanital is way too much. One day and 2 nights is plenty to see and do everything worth doing here! The horse ride was even lamer than I had thought (after doing it, I think the ride I have been remembering was actually in Kashmir!) and the cable car to Snowview was also pretty lame. I did seems few more animals and birds and decent views of the Indian Himalayas, including Nanda Devi, but the views are not even close to Nepal! My suggestion is not to even come here. If you are going to be in this part of India definitely go to Corbett and then head further into the mountains where you can trek (Pindari Glacier or the Nanda Devi Sanctuary)  or at least see them better.

Dec 8- Heading Home!
left the hotel at 5:30, Bus to Katghodam 6 AM
Train to Delhi 9 AM-3 PM
PLANE HOME 2 AM (now delayed until 4:20- guess it's a good thing I have a 4 hr delay in Seoul)

Maybe I am just tired and ready to be home, but I am so fed up with the unsmiling and unfriendly ( so different than the Ladakhis,Nepalese and Tibetan) pushy Indians shoving in queues (have become an expert at taking up a lot of space and being aggressive in lines)  and the in efficient security and immigration people (took 1.5 hrs to get into the boarding area!). And, this very fancy new airport with nonfunctional wifi and no place to even connect to Internet in a cafe.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bouddanath Stupa!, Or am I that gullible?

Interesting visit to Bouddhanath today and I hope I wasn't taken advantage of....

Bouddhanath stupa Bouddhanath is One of the largest in the world and the holiest to Tibetan Buddhists. It is filled with Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world and tourists and ringed by many monasteries, temples and tourist shops and cafe's.

It is a fun and interesting place for people watching- especially all the Buddhist groups from all over the world in their different outfits- and observing people praying and chanting.

After walking around watching the normal tourist stuff I heard some drumming, horns and chanting from upstairs above one of the hundreds of tourist shops and cafe's ringing the outside of the stupa and left the main stupa area to follow the drums upstairs. I ended up in a room full of monks and a lama performing the 28(?) day puja for an old lady. I sat down and listened for about 30 min and had tea and talked to one of the younger monks for awhile. I was invited to stay for their lunch but didn't.

As I left the puja, a middle-aged Tibetan refugee (recent- last 2-3 years),Tsering Norbu, came up to me and recognized me from Lamdon School! Not sure why, but he had been there while I was. He invited me to a monastery he was staying at. As we walked together to the monastery he told me the horrific tale of his father and young son (a monk) who were still in Tibet and had recently been shot and killed (his dad) and had his hands cut off (son) by the Chinese! I believe he said it was for trying to protect their yaks. He is trying to go back (with support of the monks) to bring his son out to Ladakh and send him to Lamdon School! It all seemed so real and he did recognize me, and did know the names of the Tibetan teachers.....? I gave him 1000 NPR ($10) to help. He gave me a string blessed by the Dalai Lama and a million hugs and blessings. Either he is a super con or I'm a gullible fool. I hope the first.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sailing the Himalayas

This morning I decided to rent one of the 4 little sailing dinghies and cruise around the lake. The choices were some clunky old wooden sloops or a smaller patched up glass dinghy- something like a Flying Junior or a Firefly-picked the firefly and had a great 2 hrs darting around the tourist canoes and the few  kayakers!

Eating and trekking: I must admit that I thought I ate reasonably well and enough (although I can't remember ever feeling full) during the trek, but last night after eating my 4th complete meal (and second dinner!) of the day and still not feeling bloatedI realized I must have been using burning  more calories than I thought. I have lost weight and my body must be compensating for the tiredness and lack of nutrients by making me lie around and eat-Cool!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chilling by Phewa Lake in Pokarah

Well, yesterday I had the best of intentions to actually do something....ended up getting as far as doing a couple of errands, a walk along the waterfront of the touristy Lakeside area near my hotel, drinking coffee, eating at a waterfront cafe, watching  the awesome performance of the US women in the opening world cup race, posting blogs and pictures and people watching (mostly). Met Mike for dinner and then a visit to the Old Blues Bar to listen to a local Nepalese Blues band.  Kind of nice to relax and not walk 7 hrs with apace on!

Funny mix of tourists here in Lakeside. 1) the trekkers- 2 kinds: the well dressed ones from the big organized groups going around in herds and the 1-4 dirt sacks (now relatively clean) wandering around meeting up with old friends from the trail.

2) old (and some young replacements) hippies and misfits who may have been stranded here since the 60s
3) middle age western tourists, not trekking but here as part of a our of Nepal- some obviously wealthy, others expat wamderers
4) Nepali families at the lake to shop, stroll, get paddled around in boats and go to the temples

And they all mix together amidst the Nepalese music and trinket shops, tons of restaurants and guesthouses and trekking supply stores selling fake North Face and Mammut gear (by the way- my 400 Ruppee North Face pants finally split in half when I got here, but they lasted 3 months) and bars and dance clubs. All packed into about 1 km of lakefront real estate.

As an example- last night in about a 1 hr span I had an interesting conversation with a retired middle aged expat American couple from Kentucky and Hawaii who travel around for about 5 months and then settle somewhere for 6-12 months and are not very adventurous (non-Trekkers). An hour later I ws in the Ole Blues Bar having an interesting conversation with a scary looking, but friendly middle aged GIGANTIC, tattooed, biker with long straggly hair and beard from Jackson, Mississippi who has settled in here for the last 2 months and found a home and people he likes and respects.

Today I was a bit less of a slug. I was going to take a yoga class this mornong, but instead Had breakfast in the room while streaming the Notre Dame game and watching for,Shannon and the boys until they shut the power off at halftime. Found a coffee place with a generator to run the wifi (but not the coffee machines) and watched the second half drinking instant Nescafé

After the game I rented a piece o'crap Nepali mtn bike and rode an hour (10k) NE and out of of town past the end of Phewa Lake and down the river that drains the lake into the country. It took about 10 min to reach the end of the lake and the few fancy"beach resorts" and landing areas for all the paragliding tourists  and then suddenly you are on terrible roads, along a lazy river biking through peaceful villages with women in red saris and gold jewelry tending water buffaloes and the rice paddies and men fishing with nets in dugout canoes or from the riverbank! AND almost no westerners. Was very similar to Sunderbans on the Bay of Bengal where I was with  S, W and I last year-except there are no crocodiles or tigers to eat the villagers here!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Packing list and tips for trekking the Annapurna Circuit

Here are my suggestions for a packing list and other tips if you plan to go.

Personal Trekking gear for Nepal

1  pr quick dry pants w/zip off legs
1 pr heavy wind proof pants
2 pr hiking socks
2 tec t-shirts
2 pr quick dry underwear
2 warm long sleeve tec/ski shirts w/zip
Columbia button fishing shirt
Down jacket
Rain jacket
Light baseball/running hat w/brim
2 warm thin Hats
Liner gloves
Outer gloves
Running shorts/swim suit (for hot pools)
Hiking shoes
Chacos (or lighter slip on sandals that you can wear with socks)

Water purifier (steripen and tablets)
1st aid kit
1.5 liter Camelbak bladder ( Emergen-C electrolyte packets-1/day)
1 Liter nalgene bottle
*Small thermos
Knife (I brought a leatherman)
GPS  with maps
* compass
*small solar battery and iPhone charger
Mobile Phone w/Nepali SIM card
iPad (mini*)
iPod (shuffle)
AAA and AA batteries (extra for torch, steripen, GPS)
*2cameras with spare battery
*Zip ties
*Duct tape
*Hand warmers
Candle and lighter/matches
Watch (*an altimeter/thermometer would be nice)

Meds (include Diamox for altitude and probiotics-no idea if it did anything but I have taken 2/day-1 in morning and one at night- and except for a minor bout, have had no stomach issues)
Toiletries (TP and baby wipes)
Earplugs (walls of lodges are thin and people tend to snore more at high altitude!)
Quick dry campTowel
Sleeping bag (warm!)
Sleeping bag liner
Day pack
Contact stuff
Sunglasses (I only brought dark lenses, but would add *amber or yellow so you can see going in and out of shade and still have UV protection)
Food/snack stuff- gels, shots, justins maple almond butter packets, etc: you can buy candy bars, cookies, etc along trail
Survival stuff: space blanket, matches, lighter, candles
*Tea bags and Starbucks instant coffee

Budget: NPR 2500/day x 20= NPR 50,000 (~$600)- gives some emergency padding

* big supply of cheap "school pens" or maybe toothbrushes to give to the kids asking for pens and "sweets" along the trail.

*= things I would add next time

Thoughts for anyone planning to to "the Circuit"

1. Book: Lonely Planet: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya
This is a great book with great advice about trails, and alternative routes, but the 2009 version is a bit outdated and many of the alternate trails that were just being developed to avoid the road are now continuous. There is supposed to be a new edition in 2014.

The trekking times he gives for going from one place to another were perfect for me, but  seem fast and overly optimistic for the average trekker.

2. Bring a GPS with open source maps for Nepal. I have I clouded a number of the village waypoints ( but not tracks)  for coming down the east side from Muktinath and can share.

3. Start walking at Besi Shahar- the start. DO NOT take a bus or jeep up the road.

4. DO NOT take a jeep or bus from Muktinath or Jomson- walk the east side trails. It may be the best part!

5. If you are at all fit and can find your way in the mountains/forests of the US and can carry 30 lbs on your back-DO NOT hire a guide or porter. No need, and you are not tied down to another person and what they think you should do or where to stay. Of course, use good sense and you can hire a guide or porter as needed (see day 20!)

6. DO NOT go with an organized (by a company) group of people you do not know well! I have seen to many arguments and conflicts in groups like this and it would not be fun. The biggest issue seems to be differences in fitness and experience.

7. Travel Insurance: be sure your insurance covers helicopter evacuation- it costs about $20K and they only will accept MC. If you do fall, get injured or have altitude problems getting out or, helped could be a problem!

8. Stay away from RUDE French groups!

9. Bistare Bistare! (Slowly, slowly) as they say- or at least at your own appropriate pace

10. Do it And enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bistare Bistare

3 Nov
Day 1 Annapurna Circuit
Drive KTM to Baehishahar: 4:30 hrs
Trek 13 km Besishahar to Ngadi 4 hrs
Staying with Hori Krisha and his family at the Hotel Hilton Guest House with a view of Manasalu to the northeast.

Pandi arrived late last night (around midnight), checked in and went to sleep until our 5AM wake up. Nuri and our driver Ghokal arrived before 6 and by 6:30 we had breakfast, said goodbye to Nuri and hit the road. As we emerged from the city and headed along the river I was overwhelmed by the green vegetation and riotous golds, reds and yellows of all the tropical flowers as we eased to.the mountains. After Ladakh the warmth colors are breathtaking. Put on top of that the enormous white peaks towering in the distance and it's hard to describe.

In Besishahar we decided the road was too rough for the little Toyota, said goodbye to Ghokal and put on our packs and headed up the dusty road on the trek. My pack is very heavy: I think too,many books, snacks, electronics and may be the 2.5 liters of water and 1.5 liters of vodka Pandie brought! The road wasn't as bad as people made it seem and the hike to the beginning of the trail was quite pleasant. Had lunch at Bhulbhule and crossed the river on a swinging suspension bridge and hit the real trail. A lovely walk along the river to Nhadi through forests of giant rhododendron poinsettia trees and millions of tropical wildflowers, varied species of colorful butterflies and the annoying sounds of the locusts.  Passed a lovely guest house too near Bhulbhule with a view of a beautiful waterfall and the promise of good coffee. Then we met Hori and walked with him and his wife to the guest house. Nice to take off the pack and shoes and then enjoyed a cup of sweet lemon grass tea with some of the vodka watching the sun set over Mansalu. Lovely day and start to the trek. Shared some vodka with Hori and his wife and they drank a lot! (next morning Hori says, that was strong! But then asked for some more as we left!)

Thali dinner,  raksi (local distiller millet) and then the local kids showed up and we danced and sang local Nepali songs and dances for quite awhile under the stars in the yard. Hori and all his family are very welcoming and fun and want us to stay an extra day for free. His son also wants us to hire him as a porter guide. He would be great, but not in the plans.

Early to bed and an early rise tomorrow- hope to make it to Chamje tomorrow.

5 Nov
Day 2: Ngadi to Shrechaur
Boomerang Guest House
Bad news: my camera is broken! Luckily I have the iPhone and hopefully will find something to buy that will use my card and batteries when I get to Manang. Bring 2 cameras.....
Pleasant and relatively easy walking along the Marsyangadi through flowers ( white daturas, red hibiscus) and large tropical trees including bananas and tons of multicolored and varied butterflies. Left around 7:30 after a nice breakfast and pictures with Hori's family. As we walked through the village we picked up the first of our new party, Ayul- 23 yr old Israeli just out of the army spending the typical year in Asia. His father is a physics prof at the Weitzman and probably lows Dad or other family friends....Great kid and fun to spend the day with. Stopped for tea near Bhahundana and picked up our next member: Mike, a talkative 51 year old retiree from Galway, Ireland doing the circuit and has never backpacked! The tea shop owner showed us his garden with orange, lemon and banana trees and his stash of marijuana.

Had a nice lunch of beers and noodles  at the Crystal Guest House in Germu and then off to Shrechaur (Hori's recommendation) where we stayed at the Boomerang Guesthouse. Took a disappointing trip to the local hot springs. The 15 minute walk turned into a 50 min adventure and ended up at a warm pipe down by the river. Don't go...

Had a nice dinner and visit from the owner and his son- both teachers: the father primary and the son English and maths and getting his MEd. Interesting discussions about the impact of the road (the locals down low don't like it because the Trekkers will by pass) and the history of this region where most are Tibetan refugees who arrived 50 yrs ago (not the 500 we initially were told).

Day 3:   Shrechaur to Tal (1700)
Paradise Guest House in deep canyon in shadow of 2 huge waterfalls.

Today Ayul left us to push on faster than the old folks and the three of us (mike and Pandie) headed off around 7:30 heading towards Dharapani. Steep canyons and lots of steep climbing. Somewhat sparser vegetation but still plenty of flowers and butterflies! Met Yevgeny, a sailor from Ukraine who knows Umun! Tea in Chamje and then crossed the river on a long suspension bridge.

Here is where the trail started a steep and long ascent up stone stairs towards Tal. Mike and I started out at a steady pace and Pandie fell quickly behind. We just kept pressing on assuming she would catch up later. Stopped every so often to see if we could spot her (didn't) and then continued on assuming we would wait in Tal.... Arrived in  Tal (ran into Ayul who had taken a wrong trail and bee lost for 1.5 hrs! And was heading out again) and ordered lunch at the Paradise and waited. Suddenly my phone rings-Pandie! She had borrowed someone's phone and was calling to look for us. Apparently she had also wandered off the trail and been lost for an hour. She finally arrived 2 hrs after us and we decided to stay in this lovely little village along the river with 2 incredible waterfalls out our window. The plan is to head out early tomorrow morning and make it to Koto at 2640 meters....assuming nobody gets lost.

6 Nov
Day 4 Tal to Chame (2650 meters, 9 hrs)
Tea in Dharapani
Lunch in Timang
Guesthouse: Manaslu View - hot shower,wash clothes and a proper crapper -no squatting tonight!
Dinner: Yak Curry (not certain if it is really yak, since I have not seen any yet, also they seem to cook it by drying it over the open cook stove)
Left Tal at 6:30 and made good easy progress along the river slowly gaining altitude. Leaving Tal we passed through fields of marijuana along the river. The vegetation slowly changed from the tropical to subalpine through oak deciduous forest with acorns on the trail and apple orchards (bought a few from a man walking down the trail also trying to sell his apple brandy for 500NPR) to pine and hemlock and cooling temperatures. Some very steep climbs up many stone stairs, but "slowly slowly" gets it done. Eventually turned the corner and the Annapurnas appear towering over us.  We picked up a new partner early this morning, Zhong a chinese secretary from Beijing trekking on her own. Pandie is practicing her chinese on her. Our entourage now includes Pandie, me, Irish Mike, the Chinese secretary, Ayul (if we ever run into him again) and occasionally a young swiss/kiwi (marcel and?) couple from Davos.

An amazing lunch on the roof of a restaurant with the Masalu range in the background. At lunch we met 2 separate Swiss groups mtn biking the entire circuit!

A slight mishap when Pandie slipped on a downhill outside the village of Thyanchowk and it literally knocked the shit out of her (actually brought on a diarrhea bout) and she now has a swollen ankle.
I also almost got knocked off a cliff by a wild Himalayan cowboy galloping on a horse. The horse didn't want to go where he wanted and backed up into me.....
BTW: my pack is definitely heavier than it needs to be ( and about 3x Pandie's), but you can't complain when the little porters in flip flops carry 50+kilos with a tump line (head strap) pass by easily)!

Reached Chame, the administrative center of the Manang District, about 4 and chose the Manaslu View hotel. Lovely views of Manasalu and the Annapurnas out our window. They have Internet here so will send some emails in a bit and find put election results tomorrow morning. Also, Pemba, the owner agreed to sell me his camera! And there is a bank here where I can get cash to pay. So, will wait until the bank opens and  get some money before.  leaving for Pesang.

Pandie will stay here tomorrow, explore the area and then take a jeep all the way  back to Besishahar on Thursday and a bus to Katmandu. I know she wanted to get to Upper Pesang but with her ankle and making sure she gets back to catch her plane in time she really has no choice. It's been a good easy trek with her, but starting tomorrow I will probably speed things up a bit as I head to Pasang and then to Manang on Thursday.

Disappointing, but not unexpected, to not see any wildlife so far. Basically, cows, water buffalo, horse and donkeys, goats and chickens. Not even a yak or dzo yet. Birds pretty much limited to crows and various dove and pigeons. The occasional small wren or warbler whistles a pretty tune and we did see a dipper in the river. Have seen a few colorful katydids, prey manti and some crazy huge bees with giant orange heads.
Keeping my eye out for a yeti or snow leopard-always!

The human crowds are really not bad and way less than I had understood. The books describe Oct/Nov as the high season for trekking this route but the real high season must be Oct. most of the crowds have been larger parties going the other way on their return from the 17 day Manasalu trek, but we passed that intersection yesterday and they have disappeared.

Also, the new road is really not as bad for trekking as we had read and heard. It is a bit dusty when jeeps pass, but the traffic is light and the hiking easy. The scenery is still great. Anyway, the road ends from here on until Jomson.

In the Snow Leopard, PM describes the biologist, George Schaller's (UAF /IAB alumnus) first attempts at writing haiku along this route. Here is my first attempt:

An undulating trail
Follows green river
Arrive at Annapurna

7 Nov
Day 5: Chame to Upper Pisang (3300 meters, 5:30 hr, 15 km)
Elevation Gain: 700 meters
Lunch: Bhratang
Guesthouse: Annapurna
Dinner: Mixed fried spaghetti
Peaks out the window: Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II and IV, Manasalu

Cold morning (laundry frozen), Late start, bye bye Pandie.
Up early and watching election returns on CNN (until the power went out) drinking coffee and eating our porridge. Called S and had a nice talk until the SIM card ran out. Turns out it is about 4x more to call from here than from India. Will have to make them shorter (maybe more often though). Hopefully S will text the election results this evening when she gets up. It was close when the power cut!

Bought the camera from Pemba and then had to wait until the bank (the only one for over a week) opened at 10 to get replacement cash. In the meantime recharged the phone and bought a liter of agua from the clean water refill station. Realized the bank was open when a tall guard carry a shotgun walked out. Went in and he followed us...
Turns out the bank doesn't do cash advances (no ATMs until the end), but the place I recharged the phone has Western Union cash advances with a 10% fee. At least I have enough for the trip AND a camera!

We (Irish Mike) left Pandie in the middle of Chame a little after 10 trying to decide whether to take the jeep at 11 today or tomorrow morning.......? Hope whatever she makes it back safely and in time.

Not super long, but the hardest day yet with lots of steep climbing continuing up the Marsyangdi closer to its source at Manang. 5 suspension bridge crossings high above the river, some the new metal ones and 2 older wooden ones (not sure how someone with fear of heights would do on this trek). Good hour break for lunch (fried potato/vege/egg) under Annapurna II. Lunch always takes at least an hour, but at least it is made fresh and I guess the break is good. Then another long hard climb up to10,000' to U Pesang arriving at around 4. Today the cars ended on the road. There is no bridge past Chame even though the road is finished to the next village. Even after that, except for a few places the road seems to be mostly ready to Lower Pesang and beyond. We actually spent a lit more time off the road now and the final 2k climb to Upper Pesang is totally on trails and will continue that way tomorrow.

We are now almost at treeline and the forest is definitely alpine conifers-mostly smaller pines, larch and cedar and looks much like the high alpine Rockies, except the peaks are twice as high and steeper. Even the horses and cattle and local Nepalis could fit right in- the people could easily be mistaken for native Americans. A strange sight was the appearance along the trail (for the first time) of people selling local trinkets, and sometimes not even very close to a village. There is also a very cold stiff breeze and I know it will be cold tonight (even saw some ice along the trail in the shady areas this afternoon). The wood fire in the dining area is much appreciated right now!

Wandered into the village and up steep winding paths past a number of primitive, but nice, guesthouses  to the monastery at the top. Amazing view of Annapurna II, and free tea from the monks. Never saw a Buddha statue with flashing Xmas lights around his head before! When we arrived at the monastery there was Ayul. We walked back down and found a reasonable room. I discovered my only warm hat had fallen out of my pocket someplace. Walked back and ran into a Swiss couple who had picked it up!

8 Nov- Obama wins, the world is safe!
Day 6
 Upper Pisang to Manang (upper trail, 7 hrs, 3540 meters)
Tea: Ghyaru (3730 m)
Lunch: Ngawal, vege/fried noodle atPeaceful Guesthouse
Guesthouse: Hotel Yeti- room with attached toilet.
Dinner: Yak fajitas

Up at 6:30, breakfast (apple porridge and weak coffee)  at 7 and trekking by 7:30.
Long hard climb up to the village and small Gompa in Ghyaru (Mike did well but definitely slower and feeling the height), a cup of tea and visit with fellow Trekkers for a bit and off along the ridge line to Ngawal. Much easier! And a bunch of eagles and lammergeier ( bearded vulture) soaring below us.
Early lunch at the Peaceful Guesthouse in Ngawal and Ayul caught up. The proprietor informed me of election results and I hugged him (guess I can come home before 4 years!). Herds of yak and great views of Annapurna II, IV, III and a number of other peaks towering over.

Ancient Tibetan Village
Fifty wooly yak
Annapurna II,IV, III


Ancient Tibetan Village
Fifty wooly yak
Obama is president

Then another relatively easy walk back down to the river and about 3 hrs to the BIG village of Manang. Very cold here and a biting wind. Checked into the large Hotel Yeti and got a double room with attached bath and very nice beds! Got here at 2:45, hot water lasts til 3, so a quick shower, washed some clothes, and then checked email, election results, a cup of real coffee and an apple Danish. Checked out the town with Ayul, and made plans to watch Into Thin Air at the theater tonight at 7.

Today's trek was the first totally away from roads and through more traditional Tibetan type villages and quite delightful.

Tomorrow will be a rest day here for Mike and Ayul to acclimate- maybe a local trek, and then Saturday will take. 2-3 day side trek to Tilicho Lake at 4000 meters, before heading over the Thorung La.

The yak fajita was a treat and then everyone came out of Thin Air depressed and scared of the mountains. A good deal though, 200 NPR for a seat next to the wood stove , a bag of popcorn and cup of tea. Did meet a young UK doctor, Tom, volunteering for the season (12 weeks) with the Himalayan Medical team that runs trekker and local clinics here and one near Everest.

9 Nov
Day 7: Rest day in Manang
Up by 7 and wandered down to a bakery that served real coffee, then came back and had breakfast (eggs, real fresh baked bread/toast and hash browns!) at the hotel (the rooms are always very cheap, but if you don't eat breakfast and dinner at the hotel/ guesthouse they raise the price 2-4x-food is how they make money here). At breakfast I met a young US couple (there are very few Americans here- mostly German, French, Swiss) traveling and trying to work in India/Nepal for a couple of years. Anyway, it turned out they have 2 Garmin GPS with memory chips with all of Asia and Russia including ALL of the trails here on them. I am carrying a GPS. With no maps. They sold me one of the chips and now we will be able to use the GPS for more than an altimeter! This will be useful in the next few days as there are some shortcuts that are on the GPS maps that will mean we don't have to backtrack to Manang after Tilicho Lake.

Nice, but short talk with S.

Then went to find Ayul to head to a hike 500 meters above town to the Prakep Gompa. I think he is feeling the altitude and stayed behind. mile and I made the pilgrimage up with about 40 other Trekkers. Beautiful views of the village, lake and mountains. Very nice walking without my pack! The draw of the Gompa is the 94 yr old Tashi Lama who lives there with his daughter and blesses the Trekkers for a safe crossing of the pass and a blessing string for 100 NPR (you also get tea, or for 500 you getrayer beads). On the way back down, I figured out he probably makes about $7000 during the 12 weeks trekking season (average Nepali makes about $2000/ yr)- not bad work!

On the way up to the Gompa we were behind a group,of Trekkers with 2 young Nepali girls. Turns out the Trekkers were Dutch, but the 2 girls were there porters from the 6 Sisters Trekking Company, which hires only women guides and porters. They were 20 yrs old cute small and when trekking carried 40 kg! They were also very fun and giggly and a bit mischievous- running down the trail and then stopping and. Pretending to block. I town I was looking at some  trinkets and one jokingly tried to get me to buy her one.

Lunch at Mavis' Kitchen (Mavis is half Chinese, but went to catholic school and was given the name- keeps it because it is easier for the Trekkers) with Mike and Ayul. After lunch Mike and I had pastries (incredible apple pie) and another cup of jo before going to Dr Tom's talk on high altitude sickness. Turns out one thing that adds to the chances of getting HAS is being under 50. When I asked why, he enjoyed (and so did the audience) telling me that over 50 our brains shrink enough that you don't feel the pressure as much and thus less chance of headaches! After the talk Mike spoke to the doctor and decided to start taking preventive dose(half) of diamox.

At 5 we plan to watch 7 years in Tibet and then dinner at 7:30. Saw the end of the movie  last night before Thin Air and realized now after living it in Ladakh it would be fun to watch again.

10 Nov
Day 8: Manang to Tilicho Lake Basecamp (side trip) 4150 meters (600 meter climb), 5:20, 14.5 km
Breakfast: muesli, toast and coffee
Tea: Shree Karka
Lunch: at Tilichco Basecamp: fried noodles w/vege,egg, cheese
Guesthouse:Hotel New Tilichco Basecamp (brand new, opened Oct 8), 100 NPR
Trek:WOW- enough said
Animals: yak, small herd of blue sheep and a few eagles
Depart Manang: 7:30, arrive Basecamp at 12:50, Mike arrived about 30 min behind me.
Up at 6:30, breakfast at 7 (as usual) and hit the trail by 7:30 in lots of clothes, but stripped down 30 min later as the sun came up and we were working. Ayul wasn't quite ready and said he would meet us at Basecamp-'we will see...

Wasn't positive how things would go as Mike had a bout of the trots last night, but Imodium seemed to work wonders and he trudged along coming in to the hotel about 30 min after I arrived while I was eating lunch. Unfortunately he had a mishap and one of the straps on his pack is ripped. We will have to figure how to mend it. (borrowed some zip ties and that seems to be a solution-future trekking:bring zip ties in addition to duct tape) I also had a minor equipment failure- my belt broke, but so far a little duct tape is working.

Beautiful trek all on trails with very few other Trekkers until we got near the end and passed a number of people returning to Shree Karka or another 4 hrs further to Yak Karka on the way up to Thorung La Pass after doing Tilicho Lake from Basecamp early this morning (probably our plan for tomorrow). Incredible views and very steep climbs, including about 5 km along the contours in the middle of huge, steep scree slopes with numerous slide areas. A bit treacherous, but not terrible. The GPS was definitely iseful in finding trails today.

Got a room in a brand new hotel with a very open sunny dining area for 100 NPR. There is a giant solar cooker outside the window cooking up a pot of boiling water-nice. After scarfing down a hearty noodle lunch, I cleaned up with some baby wipes (no shower or electricity here), changed and washed out my socks and underwear in the freezing stream. May take a little walk up the trail towards Tilicho Lake (5000 meters) in a bit. Others say the hike up to the worlds highest lake early in the morning is well worth it and a couple of Germans described seeing what sounds like a herd of Tibetan antelope yesterday. There is a 74 year old German man here doing the trek. He got lost this morning on the way up to the lake and did not make it. I also met another single Chinese woman who got lost on her way up to Basecamp a couple of days ago and had to spend a night out! Also ran into our Chinese friend Zhou who had been to the lake today and was headed to Shree Karka tomorrow (will probably see her there)

As I sit here in the lodge the immense and monstrous Annapurna Himal ridge towers above us at 7000 meters. It is a daunting high, long ridge which I believe is what Herzog called the Great Barrier and was one of the big obstacles they had to surmount and figure how to get around in order to even figure out where Annapurna I was and if it was possible to climb. I also finally was able to figure out that what he called the Giant Ice Lake is Tilicho.  Reading the book in Ladakh was a bit confusing, but now rereading it with the map and the mountains right in front of me it all starts to make sense!

11 Nov (Veterans Day in the US, and Independence Day in Poland)
Day 8
Tilicho Base Camp- Tilicho Lake (5000 meters- worlds highest lake, 4 hrs total, 2 up, 1 down, 1 hr,for pictures and tea)-back to Base Camp-Shree Karka

Guesthouse: Hotel Tilicho Peak

Depart: 6:30 back to BC by 10:30, second breakfast (apple pancake and fried eggs), pack up and off  to Shree Karka at 11.

There is no electricity up here so, after dinner headed to the room and spent until 7:30 reading with headlamp in sleeping bag and then an early sleep- pretty fitful and awake around 3 and read some more. Up in the cold and dark by 5:30 (did a little surgery on the dead dry skin on my left little toe- feels much better now), breakfast at 6 and started up the trail by 6:30 in the cold. Lots of layers. More incredible scenery and steep climbs, but actually relatively easy going, especially with only a light daypack. Saw a small band of blue sheep (all ewes), more eagles and yaks. Caught up to the few who had started before me, including 2 young German mountain bikers. Made it to the lake by 8:30, before the wind started, and had amazing views of the lake, surrounding glaciers and peaks. I was met at the small tea house with a high five by Ramesh (Chandra= moon, nickname Cycle Jackson), the guide for the 2 mtn bikers, Florian (air traffic controller) and Dominique(physiotherapist, but now a med student). He had walked up a bit before me and we struck up a nice conversation. He told me some good information about places to go and stay from here on out. Also turns out he has finished in the top 10 of  the Everest Marathon 5 times and races mtn bikes (has completed the 11 stage Yak Attack mtn bike race from Katmandu over the Thorung La Pass) and mtn unicycles ( the only Nepali). When the bikers arrived at the top the wind had come up and one of them had frozen fingers and only bike gloves-leant him my ski gloves (I was wearing liners and was OK). Had some tea, took pictures and headed down before Mike arrived. One hour down and went most of the way with Ramesh.

At the Basecamp, changed, had lunch and when Mike arrived we set out for Shree Karka, back along the steep scree. Arrived at the guesthouse around 1:30 and got the last room! Recharged camera and iPod (although it doesn't really charge quickly in the cold). Sat around in the nice sunroom and finished a book. Meeting more Trekkers. There is a big Polish group, with one young talkative high school kid. Also met a young PhD student from Boulder dong her project on the economic effects of the new road on the area. Turns out she might have been Emily's TA....?

Very cold here and seems as if clouds are moving in tonight for the first time. Hope they blow out tonight and we don't get any snow.

Training and walking at altitude: been thinking a lot about the effects of the acclimatization I did living at 3500 meters for 2 months and it's affects on my ability to trek here and also about what effects slow trekking 7 hrs a day with 15-20 kilos on my back at these altitudes  will have on racing this winter.

I am definitely not racing, but am also clearly walking far faster than almost all of the other Trekkers, especially when climbing. It is more pronounced the steeper the trail and also seems to be a bigger difference as we get higher. I am sure that living at altitude with multiple excursions to 5 and 6000 meters has helped and been responsible for the lack of any altitude symptoms. I will bet my hematocrit is close to that of dope Lance by now. When we get to the steep stuff and slow down, I can't imagine walking any slower without stopping, but obviously most are. I think it is partly due to technique. I have been  mainly doing a version of ski walking and also use my walking poles a lot when climbing. I have noticed that most people have no idea how to use them efficiently ( I gave Mike a few lessons) and I think the combination of ski walking with pole use gives me much more distance  up for each step....

As far as training for skiing, I definitely am getting a huge base, and because of using the poles I think I am keeping my upper body strong. Obviously, I am also building up RBCs.  I think I will probably have great endurance, but It will be interesting to see whether I can develop speed and how long it will take with intervals once I return to snow at home and lower elevation.

12 Nov
Day 9
Shree Karka to Thoren Pedi (Pedi= foot of the hill- just below the Thorang La, 4540 meters, 7:20-1:20, 16.5 km)
Lunch: Yak Karka
Guesthouse: Thorung Basecamp Lodge
Woke up to find my water and contact solution frozen, but at least the clouds were gone and no wind yet.
Trek: left Shree Karka at 7:20 in multilayers which were removed after 30 min of climbing. Ramesh, Florian and Dominique caught up around the same time on their bikes and Ramesh offered to get us a room at  TP for tonight. He seems to have latched onto and sort of adopted me and is sort of acting like my guide....?
Rather quickly left Mile behind on the climb up past Upper Karsang (a deserted Yak camp) and actually never saw him after that (we agreed to meet at TP and I would get a room). After a climb and over a ridge the valley opened up towards the main valley and regular  trail from Manang to the pass. Over the top was a nasty steep 30 min descent which did a number on the knees. Then another hour climb up to the main trail and into Yak Karka where I had lunch with the bikers. Again Ramesh got my order and they gave me some of their thermos of tea. Ate and waited about 45 min but no Mike, so headed up the trail to Thoren Phedi. After about an hour and a half Ramesh caught me- amazing watching him ride, but even more amazing is watching him climb with his bike balanced on his head-no hands! Another hour slog up to TP. About 1PM the afternoon cold valley wind came up and I changed back into layers for the last 20 min. Arrived, and Ramesh had a big sunny room for us (not sure why but he gave us the bigger nicer one than his clients- and told me not to tell them....? No shower but a nice large cozy dining hall with real coffee and great chocolate pastries. I did wash myself of with banyan wipes and put on my clean clothes, tended to my little toe and  ordered dinner for tonight (you need to order when you arrive with a desired time or your dinner gets backed up behind everyone else). Got some of my gear organized and water ready and purified so I can just hop out of bed throw on some clothes and shoes and hit the trail at 4. You need to leave so early to miss the winds at the top.  Now I am  lying around in our sunny room (except the afternoon clouds are coming in) waiting for Mike to show- so far it has been 2 hrs and I sure hope he makes it and nothing happened. If he does not get here tonight, I will plan to leave anyway by myself. (mike rolled in around 4-everything OK)

Tons of people, mostly groups with guides, here tonight preparing for the big slog over the pass tomorrow. It was a fun evening in the main lodge watching group politics. First we were sitting at a table with a mixed group (not previous friends) of Brits, a scot and an older gentleman from Bolzano with lots of mountain experience. They had a big argue net about when to leave in the morning with the Sud Tyrolian being the dissenter. It was getting pretty heated as I excused us. Guess they sorted it out. The dining area is huge and divided into 3 areas with one being nearer the kitchen and warmer. We were sitting at one of these tables with Florian a Chinese fellow and a fun Polish mother and daughter when a Frenchman that we had met a couple of nights ago in Manang came by and pulled a piece of paper from under a glass that said reserved for 9 (these tables can easily hold14-16) and told us to leave. We ended up in the cold room doing a lot of trashing of the stereotypical rude French and it made the evening very entertaining.
Everything is paid up and we are mostly packed so getting out in the morning will be fast.

13 Nov
Day 10
Thoren Pedi (4540) to Thorung La (5416) to Muktinath (3800) (13.3 km)
Departure:4AM (-10C)
Arrive Muktinath: 1:30
Guesthouse: Royal Mustang
Muktinath is the holiest pilgrimage in the Himalayas for both Hindus and Buddhists but also has the Bob Marley guesthouse and offers an amazing view of the immense Dhaulagiri  and the smaller Nilgiri.

Very cold night and a crazy early wake up at 3:40 to get dressed in multilayers and double gloves, grab coffee and head up the trail for the 1000 m climb to Thorung La in the dark. The dining area was filled with Trekkers and their guides and porters getting their breakfasts. It was hard to get anything if you didn't have a guide, but I managed and we actually started climbing with headlights under a clear star filled sky on time. Joined the long line of headlights, which eventually stretched with hundreds of Trekkers over about 5 km! A crazy sight.  Quickly started overtaking long lines of 15-30 Trekkers with their noses up each other' s arse and stopping about every 10 meters. Passing on the narrow trail in the dark was a bit tricky, but definitely worth the effort. Once past each group it was just the trail, music (first use of the iPod and it was wonderful), and Orion's belt directly overhead, until you reached the next group. Took off a couple of upper layers after 30 min and then had overtaken everyone leaving Thoren Pedi by the time we reached High Camp an hour later. A large number of groups had overnighted at high camp and were starting from there as, or just before I arrived and another set of long lines of headlights to pass. Eventually, within about 30 min of the summit I had nobody to pass and was on my own as the sun started rising behind turning the peaks lavender and pink. Luckily, by now I could turn off my headlight as the battery was starting to run out from the cold. The cold had  also frozen the tube of my Camelback and my other water bottle (was able to break through the ice on top and  open with my walking stick tip) and seems to have nipped the tip of one finger a bit). I was the first trekker to arrive, with a few porters at the summit and had tea and bought warm water (also was offered to buy hashish!), hung around for about 30 min and then started the long 1600 meter descent to Muktinath with a stop at a tea stall about 1 hr from Muktinath where I had fresh apple juice and Swiss Rosti with a bunch of Israelis. Then walked the rest of the way to town and the hotel. Showered, had clothes washed and checked and sent emails.  Nice to be clean and hear news after 4 days away from civilization.

The bikers arrived awhile a couple of hours later (Mike about 2.5) and I had a cafe latte and apple pie with them while they ate yak burgers (they continued on down to Kagbeni after) and told me their unfortunate story of helping a porter with pulmonary edema and bringing him down from the top on their bikes. Dominique, the med student, was still pretty upset and pissed off because of the all of the other Trekkers who refused to help!
It also, obviously ruined their big downhill ride, but they should score lots of karma points! Mike arrived, I showed him the room, and we bid farewell to the bikers.

I walked up to the Hindu/Buddhist temple above town and now am sitting outside the room in the sun. Will head to the restaurant for a beer and yak burger soon.

Actually ended up having a beer at the Bob Marley Hotel with a couple of young Germans who had helped Mike fix his pack and then came back and had another beer and a yak burger at our guesthouse and an interesting conversation with Malcolm from Wales (my age) and Walter, an older,retired,very interesting Sud Tyrolian  from Bolzano, living in Wales.

Tomorrow will be a latish start and we will head off the main trail to go through one of the last remaining villages that still observes the ancient Bonpo religion and then onto Khagnbeni for the night.

Today I decided it is stupid to keep saying Namaste to non-Nepalis ( Everyone does as they pass) and will now greet them with an American greeting and reserve Namaste for locals.

14 Nov
Day 12
Muktinath to Lubre (or Lupra) to Kagbeni (5.5 hrs)
Beautiful, mixed day and an adventure-hardest day for me yet!
Woke up at 6 in a cold room to Dhaulagiri looming out the window next to my bed in the sunrise!

Breakfast in the dining room and goodbyes to Walter and others. Walked To the tourist office to find out about the trail we intended to take but it was closed- the man went on Holiday starting today, but found out where the trail started.

Tried to call Shannon, but the phones that were working last night were not today. Set off at 9 (relatively late) and easily found the trail to Lubre on the west of town near the jeep stand where many groups were finishing their treks and getting rides out to Pokhara. The rest of the Trekkers seemed to be heading down the road, either to the big city of Jomson or to Kagbeni. We seemed to be the only ones taking the side ( and longer trek to Lubre) and were definitely alone, except for 4 other Trekkers we could see ahead. A steep climb of about an hour over alpine tundra/desert (much like Ladakh now) and then the absolutely hardest part of the trek for me so far- 1600 m down to the river and into Lubre. I did have one slip and was worried about overextending my knee, but it seems to be OK-phew!

We arrived in the center of the small village just as all the local school kids were dancing and singing in costume to celebrate the beginning of Dewali (Nepalis biggest holiday)! The main reason for going there was to see the only remaining monastery of the Bonpo, animistic religion on the circuit. There is a pre12th century Gompa - we waited around for the lama (not wearing any special robes and did not make us take shoes off?) to finish lunch. He took us up and unlocked the door and showed us around for 100 NPR. Except for the one statue of Shiva, I couldn't really tell any difference between this Gompa and all the other Buddhist ones I've been too... Anyway, it was pretty cool to go to a village that it seems hardly any other Trekkers go to and to avoid the road which almost everyone else went down. From Lubre to Kagbeni was a bit of an adventure and we were not quite certain where we were going, but trusted the locals and the GPS. We ended up walking down the wide, deep stream bed of a tributary to the Kali Gandaki against a 30-40 MPH dusty headwind- not fun. Eventually intersected the main road/trail to Jomson with Trekkers and jeeps heading down. We turned right and headed NE with a tailwind to Ekle Bhatti (a late lunch of Maggi) and then to Kagbeni. The tailwind was even nasty-strong enough to push you sideways when it pushes for the side. Saw 2 eagles and a lammergeier along the river. Room at New Annapurna Guesthouse-free if we buy dinner and breakfast. Supposedly free wifi! But the Internet is down, and I do seem to have phone service, so will call Shannon when she wakes up Wednesday morning.
Nice dinner of chicken spaghetti with mushroom sauce and half a Tuborg.
After dinner the kids from the local school and all the teachers were here in costumes to celebrate Diwali and we had a fun time dancing and singing together.

Thought about staying here 2 nights and walking into the restricted Mustang as far as you can, but it seems you can only go 1.5 km from here. It would maybe be an interesting trip into the Mustang area someday. It takes a $500 permit/person, guide and a max of 10 days and I believe they only issue a few thousand permits/ yr. It seems to be a pretty traditional area with more wildlife.....

15 Nov
Day 13
Kagbeni to Jomson to Marpha 

21 days, 200+ miles, Thousands of stone steps and smiles

15 Nov
Day 13
Kagbeni to Jomson to Marpha
A relatively warm pleasant night at these lower altitudes-didn't freeze during the nightly excursions to the toilet. Departed Kagbeni at 7:30, walking on the road along the river back the way we came yesterday afternoon, but with no wind and little traffic. Saw a heron of some sort on the riverbank where we saw the eagles yesterday. Arrive in Jomson after about 2 hrs. It is a BIG city with an airport, army base and most importantly the only ATM  on the trek. Amazing how you can go from pauper to rich in minutes! Also recharged phone, replaced the map I lost yesterday and had a croissant at the German bakery. Ran into Malcolm and his crew trying to catch a jeep to Taopani, said goodbye and headed off across the river and away from the road. Took a nice 3 hr trek through a bucolic village with people plowing the barley fields with dzo and wooden plow (thousand yr old technology) singing. Followed a couple of dzo heading home from the fields on their own through the village of Thini (oldest village in this river valley). Continued on past a pretty blue lake by the village of Dhumba- except for the barbed wire fence around it...? And up to a monastery with great views of  the Nil Giris. Then had to head down and across the river as the afternoon winds came up around noon for the last 30 min walk down the road to Marpha. As we walked into town we were about to check I to a guesthouse near the beginning, but ran into our friend Walter on his way out .  He told us to stay at the Dhauligiri Hotel and so continued further into town and found it. Lunch with a half beer in the sun on the roof, a warm solar shower, washed clothes and then discovered free wifi. Have been posting the blog, catching up on email, etc.

16 Nov
Day 14
Marpha to Sauru ro Sirkung to Kokethani to Titi lake to Konjo to Chhoyo to Lehte
9 hrs, ?km
Guesthouse: Old Namaste- nice room with attached western toilet and a hot shower!
Views: Nil Giris and Dhauligiri
Animals: today I saw the national bird of Nepal, a Hoopoe flying away from me,through the forest along the river! Also, yesterday so e other trekkers at our GH are absolutely certain a Snow Leopard ran across the path in front of them near Kagbeni....?

Attrition since Muktinath: since Muktinath the numbers of Trekkers has decreased by 90%. From Muktinathn to Jomson to Marpha more and more people have taken jeeps or buses to Taopani, Ghorapani or even all the way to Naya Pul/Pokhara. Granted some  have injuries or limited time, but the majority of these Trekkers are abandoning because they have heard that the road has ruined this section for trekking. In fact, ACAP has produced wonderful alternate routes running down the east side of the Kali Gandaki (the  road is on the west side) so that there is almost no reason to know that the road is there  (except for the occasional bus horn). In fact, this section from Muktinath downriver may be the best section of trekking on the whole circuit. Today, besides Nepalis in villages and on the trail, we probably only saw a total of 12 Trekkers all day over 20+ km and 9 hrs and went through some of the prettiest country I've seen yet and  were not on the actual road for more than 30 min! So, if you do the circuit, don't skip this section!

Last night the wind howled out of the north all night and I was worried today would be a nasty one. It was still blowing pretty hard when we started at 7AM, but as soon as we crossed the river and headed into the woods we really didn't notice it much.

Long and hard with lots of ups and downs, but well worth it. Today we walked along the river (wishing I had a flyrod), in alpine juniper/ pine forests, saw the highest breeding lake for mallards, down into temperate deciduous forests (I saw chestnuts on the trail), and eventually back into areas with flowering plants, butterflies, lizards and green vegetable- even heard a few cicadas again.

A wonderful simple lunch of Maggi with fresh veggies  in the tiny village of Sauru in a tiny little restaurant on the banks of the Kali Gandaki with a Neplai man, his Tibetan wife and there 12 yr old daughter. Everyone laughing and joking and it felt so much like being with the Oktolliks in Pt Hope! The father had spent 6 yrs in Japan: 2 yrs learning Japanese and 4 working as an electrician for Hitachi and Sanyo....weird! Had also met the Dalai Lama in Japan and in Dharmsala.

17 Nov
Day 15
Lete to Tatopani (=hot water) (2480 to 1200 meters), 6 hrs
Guesthouse:Dhauligiri - 2 minute walk down the steps to the hot springs (60NPR) along the river, with a beautiful garden filled with orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime and guava trees (all filled with ripe fruits!)

 Guesthouse in Lete had good food and a nice room but the mattress was the hardest I've had the whole trip. Up at 6, breakfast and pay (they tried to charge us for a 3rd beer- the little girl claimed I had one before breakfast!) and off by 7. Made it down the road to to Ghasa by 8:20, before,any traffic. From Ghasa to Tatopani was again almost entirely on trails on the east side of the river, with almost no Trekkers and more small villages. Unfortunately, I gave Mike the option to cross over to the road  3 km before we needed to and so had a dusty 30 min into Tatopani behind a herd of about 100 pack horses.

Today met a 79 yr old Finnish cross-country skier doing the circuit- slow but steady. And, met the usual suspects we've been seeing for the last 2 weeks.

Incredible walk again through ever-changing biomes- started in juniper/pine forests and ended up back in the tropics over six hours! It,was amazing watching the vegetation and fauna change so rapidly to flowering trees with fruit, and hibiscus and poinsettias and so many lizards, small birds and butterflies, and of course the loud cicadas (the iPod did help drown out there noise). And warmth- by 10 I was down to t-shirt and pants rolled to above the knees- hard to believe we were in a place with icy streams and where the water froze 2 days ago!   And also, the return of amazing waterfalls everywhere. We are now down in the region where we should see monkeys, and  I met a man in the hot pool who did see a Langur this morning. Will need to keep my eyes peeled tomorrow.
We have also now left the Tibetan and Buddhist areas of the circuit and are solidly back into the Hindu section which seems to also match the transition back from yaks to water buffaloes.

We arrived in Tatopani by 1. Got the nicest room we have had so far in a little cabin in the amazing citrus orchard  2 min above the hot pools. This time it is a real hot pool! Headed down and soaked for an hour and had a beer and visited other Trekkers. Back up to the room. Washed out some clothes, had a cheese and tomato sandwich and walked around town and did some shopping for a few necessaries. - one of the pleasures of trekking is the daily getting rid of even the tiniest items (even scraps of paper you no longer need) decreasing the weight on your back and it is mentally hard to  replace them- even with something as light as a roll of TP or a couple of Snickers bars!

Now waiting for dinner. Heaven! Just wish Shannon was here with me, but at least she has been here and remembers it well.

Tomorrow is a huge climb (biggest of the circuit) to Ghorapani where we have to make a decision about going to Annapurna Base Camp. We could be in Pokhara in 2 days from here, but we both have 8 days before we planned to be there. Talked to a Brit this afternoon ( and more this evening at dinner) who thinks we can get all the way up and down in that amount of time, or even a day to spare. I think we (or at least I)  will probably try it.....

18 Nov
Day 16
Tatopani to Ghorepani (=horse water, 2870 meter- climb of 1670 meters)
Time: 6 hrs
Guesthouse: Dhauligiri View (proprietor- Om)
Fauna: Himalayan Bulbul, and one green parrot (blossom-headed parakeet?)- no monkeys or red panda
Flora: tropical mountain jungle(?)- huge bamboo, mandarin oranges, limes and lemons, guava and bananas, hibiscus, rhododendron

Bit of a rough night sleep-wise. I was stuffed up and sneezing and eventually took a sudafed, which worked. I think it was a combo of the dust I breathed in following the herd of horses into town and the cigarette smoke I breathed in from all the Euros and Nepalis smoking in the courtyard last night at dinner. Also had some tenderness in the front tendons of my left ankle, but IB-P seems to have fixed that. Sure hope so- except for my little toe blister, my still cold-nipped ring finger and a few stinging nettles it's the first time I haven't felt great....

BTW: during this entire trip in India and Nepal I have taken 2 probiotic capsules/day and have had practically zero stomach issues. Not sure if it really did anything, but.....

HARD DAY and I am a bit knackered! Left Tatopani at 7. Walked the road for 20 minutes, crossed 2 rivers on suspension bridges (one a sketchy wooden one) and started climbing and never stopped for 6 hrs! Passed through the villages of Ghara, Sikrah, Phalante and Chitre. All of which pretty much blended together with bits of jungles and terraced fields between. As you pass through villages and collections of houses you walk under occasional garlands of dried marigolds, chilies and other flowers like poinsettia, etc strung across the path (for good luck?)

Had a slight mishap after about 30 min. As soon as we started the climb I noticed the back of my legs getting wet and thought it odd that I was sweating so much. Turns out the hose on my camelback came off and a liter of water leaked. Luckily it somehow didn't get any of my stuff wet including my sleeping bag at the bottom....? Around then, I bought a banana and 3 mandarins off a little girl and then that was the last time I saw Mike until he showed up 90 min after I got a room ate lunch and had a shower. Also stopped in Chitre about an hour out for a piece of warm, fresh apple pie and a coke. Met a couple of young Belgian dentists doing a 2 week dental clinic in the village. Can finally see Annapurna I from here and in fact there are six 7000+ meter peaks out the window of our room, including two 8000 meter (Dhauligiri and A-I).

There is supposed to be Internet here but apparently the line to the entire region is out somewhere in Pakistan!

Today's Haiku (no music and by myself almost all day, so more time to observe and process)

Brilliant red poinsettia
Golden marigolds
Cerulean butterfly

(at least I think cerulean is a color and the correct one....?)

This evening as the sun sets and the temp drops all the peaks  turn pink and then lavender and the place is crawling with tourists (Japanese, Koreans, Euros). Where did they suddenly come from? They certainly weren't trekking the circuit with us. I think they have done a one or 2 day trek from Pokhara to come to Ghorepani and hike up to the top of Poon Hill for the sunrise view and then head back to Pokhara. Will have to ask at dinner tonight.

Spoke to Nuri this afternoon to see if he thinks we have enough time to make it to ABC and back to Pokhara in 7 days. At first he didn't, but when I told him how long it took from Tatopani today he said yes. Anyway, we will head to Chomrong tomorrow morning and see what progress we make. If it looks dubious we can always turn around early.

Ran into our Welsh friend, Malcolm, last night. They had some adventurous jeep rides down and now his French friends had left him in Ghorepani to head up to ABC while he tries to get over a nasty chest cold.

19 Nov
Day 17
Ghorepani to Chomrong (2185 meters,  15.7 km)
Time: 7 hrs
Guesthouse: Chomrong Cottage -amazing views is Annapurna South andFishtail
Dinner: rice,bean,cheese burrito and what Time magazine claimed is the best chocolate cake in Nepal: verdict- good Cake but I have had better and since it is the first chocolate cake I have had on the trek I can't compare. Up til now I've been sticking mostly to apple pies! Also, apparently the real cook, the mom, is now a science teacher in Pokhara and not here. I helped the 2nd grader son with his science homework while waiting for dessert.
Fauna: no mammals ( except humans and cows, horses and dogs, but tons of birds singing in the trees. Could not identify many. Did hear a woodpecker and could issue a scarlet minivet. One bird had a very loud and melodious 4 note song that it kept repeating for about 3 min and seemed to respond if you sang it back ( maybe an Indian Cuckoo)
Flora: so many Biomes, including a NW old growth rainforest with firs, ferns, moss and rhododendron bushes- I came over a ridge from a southern exposed bamboo/rhododendron TREE forest to a northern exposure and was suddenly hiking around Mt Hood!

Fell asleep by 7:30 and slept hard, except for the loud obnoxious Koreans next door. Woke up at 4 to loud cockadoodledoos, clicking of horses hooves on the stone steps and lines of Trekkers with headlights filing past the hotel on the way up to Poon Hill for sunrise. We got up and left by 6:30 in the opposite direction of the crowds towards Chomrong and the Annapurna Base Camp. Apparently the views we got from the ridge we went up were just as magnificent.

We have decided to make an "alpine style assault" on ABC, trying double days to get up and down in 5  days what most take 10-12.

Holy shit! I thought yesterday was hard with a steady 6 hr climb- nothing compared to the 7 hrs of UP over a ridge, DOWN endless stone steps into a steep river valley and then up and down again and again and again. It was a total drop of about 600 meters but I bet we actually climbed more than yesterday's 1600! On top of the climbing and descending it got pretty hot by 11 and the last hour was pretty painful for me. The first half of the day was pretty uninhibited and except for the Trekkers doing the short trek to Poon Hill I was mostly alone. The second half of the day wound through many little villages with unbelievably step and endless terraced fields in terrain you would think it impossible to farm in.

And the mountains! A lot of the time they were shielded by the jungle and forests, but when you emerged on a ridge suddenly Annapurna I (the big 'un) and Fishtail (Machapuchhre) and a whole ring of others are towering right over you and seem so close-Amazing!

Right now I am still waiting for Mike to show up-it's been an hour and a half. I hope he makes it and is still up for trying the blitz- but if not I plan to go still. (Arrived 2.5 hrs later)

I keep having visions of the descriptions of the filthy villages and especially the filthy children that both Herzog (1958) and Matthiessen (1975?) described. The contrast is pretty amazing between then and now. The kids are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen and they mostly seem very clean (except for the occasional snotty nose) and extremely well dressed.

20 Nov (Happy Birthday SMS!)
Day 18
Chomrong to Himalaya Hotel (2840 meters, ~12 km)
Time: 5.3 hrs
Guesthouse: Himalaya Guesthouse (in a steep river valley with high walls blocking any views of the mountains)
Flora: wet Bamboo forests (in the monsoon season there are lots of leeches on this part of the trail)
Fauna: lots of singing jungle birds. I did not see any, but not far behind me some folks saw a large troop of Langurs (monkeys) right on the trail.
Dogs: I had heard and read (and from Leh experience expected the same) about the vicious dogs on the trail and was a bit worried about rabies, etc. however, the Tibetan or Nepali shepherd type dogs seem very pretty and well cared for and even quite friendly. Just in case, I avoid trying to pet them, but it is tempting, especially when one joins you for a 5-10 min jaunt along the trail.

Did not sleep well last night. After dinner, I tried calling Shannon a few times since I had service and wasn't sure after this (turns out none). I kept missing her and leaving messages and hoping she would call back when she was free (she calls and I dismiss and them call back). I never received any calls (it seems that besides not receiving texts, I also now am not receiving incoming calls). Although she did try. I kept my phone on until late and started to worry that maybe something had happened on their trip to Portland over the weekend. Eventually fell asleep but woke up from a scary dream at 3 and called and got through and was able to get back to sleep for a bit.

Up at 6 and off by 7 again arrived here before 12:30 to get one of the last non-dorm rooms in the 3 lodges (tomorrow to be sure we get one- the owner here is calling to make us a reservation at the Gangapurna lodge in Machhupuchhare (MBC))

The trek today started out wrong-30 min down steep stone stairs is hard on these non-warmed up knees- followed by lots of climbing the rest of the day. After the long descent, getting my knees going for the up was a bit hard and I had the first knee real knee pain of the trip. Luckily after about 30 more min it mostly disappeared.

I admit it, I have officially turned into a trekking snob: I almost turned around during the first 3 hrs and abandoned the trek to ABC and headed to Pokhara! Not because of the knee. After almost 3 weeks of solitude (except for going over the pass) and hiking through quiet areas without few others, the assault of the masses on the Sanctuary trek is hard to take. There are MANY more groups making this much shorter trek, and it is in and out, so you see everyone and their porters and guides! I am sick of lines of overweight Americans, Koreans and their mobiles, and rude French groups carrying light day packs! Even passed a line of Frenchies, with full knee length gaiters (no snow for them for at least 3 days at their pace) and walking poles set to shoulder height! The masses were more than you see on a summer holiday weekend at Green Lakes. Not what I was expecting. It seems that they come in waves, and luckily after 3 hrs I was able to have the trail mostly to myself for most of the last 2 hrs to HH. I also rand into a Finnish couple we had spent time with in Manang returning from ABC, and they convinced me the view was worth it. So, on I go. I almost changed my mind again when I arrived at HH at lunch time to crowds of people. But they were mostly having lunch on their way down and the place is quiet now. The evening actually turned out to be quite pleasant, visiting with a young Dutch couple I have been seeing on the trail, a few Germans and a young Chinese guy until late (almost 8!)

Small world stuff: met a couple last night and today from Vernon BC who know Becky Scotts mom, and then in a group of fourteen 20-something Trekkers from all over I met an Aussie who had been housemates in OZ with the Vordenberg brothers (Bend skiers)
21 Nov
Day 19
Himalaya Hotel to MBC (3700 meters, ?km) ABC (4095 meters, no pack) to MBC
Time: 2:10 (HH to MBC)
Guesthouse: Gangapurna
Fauna: giant beehive that they harvest the comb for honey in a cliff above the lodge, looking for Thaar ( mtn goat like with long sweeping horns) and pheasants - saw herd of 7 Thaar on a ridge on way to MBC and a  pika at ABC. Also, what the owner said was a mongoose that ran out of the guesthouse (all I saw was a brown rodent like streak.
Flora: started in a bit of a bamboo shrub forest and climbed to tree-line. Mostly high steep rocky cliffs with bits of snow. Grasses and shrubs. Walked through one field of blue poppies all gone to seed.

Up at 6 and tried to call S for her birthday. The cell battery was almost dead and there was no place to charge. There was a small place on a cliff that got intermittent coverage-enough to get her voicemail but then cut out. Was able to send a short text.
Headed out at 7. Today started with a climb, which was nice for me. Spent the first hour to Dheurali mostly alone. Stopped in Dheurali to charge the mobile for 20 min(but no service) until Mike showed up. Then another hour climb to MBC and arrived before 10:30. Beautiful views of the mountains. Mike came in about 30 min later and said he was going to eat and head to ABC and back today. I will hang out here, take a hike, look for Thaar and pheasants, wash,etc and do it early tomorrow for sunrise. I should be back by 7:30 and then we will head out/down.

New plan: on my walk I ended up heading towards ABC and it was such an easy pleasant walk without a pack and the views were so awesome so I just kept going. On the way I ran into Mike on his way down and he decided to just keep going and not stay. He seems to be getting tired of trekking and getting even slower and the constant climbing has seemed to have gotten  to him. Maybe we will meet in Katmandu for a beer.

Most of the way up to ABC I saw 2 Nepalis behind a rock on a ridge  looking at something so I climbed the ridge and they were watching a herd of 7 Himalayan Thaar across the river climbing another ridge- 6 tan females and one large black male. Unfortunately they  we're too far to see the large swept back horns. As we were watching them, a wind blew a stream from a waterfall and it made an amazing rainbow against the rocks. I continued up the ridge with the guide and he pointed out all the climbing routes on the various peaks. At ABC I walked past the lodges to the viewpoint on the ridge and the Anatoli Boukerev memorial (died climbing A1 in 1997 a year after the Everest disaster). On the way a little grey pika ran in front of me and grazed for awhile. The view from ABC is definitely worth the trek and even more worthwhile watching the changing light and listening to the rock and icefalls off the huge ice fields. However, I won't go back up for the sunrise.

On the way up I spent a little time talking to Einer, a German circuited we got to know, and he convinced me that the idea I had been floating in my head to hire a porter to carry my pack down the long descent back to Chomrong would definitely be a worthwhile investment to save my knee! When I got back to the ABC lodge, I went in and met the Dutch and Canadian couple we had been meeting with on the Sanctuary trek. Last night we had gotten friendly with the Dutch couples guide and he found me a porter to carry my pack back to Chomrong tomorrow. From there I will be down the steepest stuff and will finish off carrying the pack again for one more day to the bus to Pokhara. I think I am ready to be done.

When I got back I went through my wallet to make sure I have enough for the porter, lodging,etc and somehow my wallet fell behind a table in a dark corner. Spent a frantic 15 minutes going through all my stuff multiple times. The owners were going through everything also, and even had the 3 young Swiss empty their packs (I felt bad). Eventually the owner found it-phew! Relief but I sure felt stupid.

How many young Nepalese from Pokhara are doing the Sanctuary trek. Largish groups of 4-15, and it seems for the first time. I just have a diamox tab to one of them having headaches and didn't sleep well. He should be OK, since ABC is just 400 meters up and then he will head back down.
How many guides and guesthouse owners are well educated and know multiple languages besides Nepali and English-French, German, Japanese , etc. and how many have family or have been to the west and now are back here guiding or running a guesthouse. The current guesthouse owner has 2 brothers and his parents (dad a retired Gurkha) living in US. Sometimes I get the same disconnect  here as I did sitting on the ice in Pt Hope in caribou skins, waiting for whales and having an Eskimo hunter tell me stories about Vietnam and Haight Ashbury during the 60s.

22 Nov (Happy Turkey Day to all!)
Day 20- heading home (sort of)
MCB to Chomrong (16.5 km)
Time: 6.5 hr
Guesthouse: Chomrong Cottage (again because of the great hot shower-first since last here)
Fauna: One Thaar (just after starting came around a corner and there were people stopped looking across the valley. A guide said there was a bear but nobody else could see it. I found it and identified it as a Thaar with my binocs and of course I had to wait around while,everyone looked) Did not see any Langurs again, but everyone else here at the GH did right behind me-jealous.
Flora: same as going up

Was up and ready to go early but the guide, Dutch couple and my porter didn't show up until 8:30. I paid 2500NPR for the one day of a porter and I can only say even if I overpaid-it was absolutely worth it! The porter was a little guy (as are most) who,didn't speak English, but except for one long uphill stuck with me like glue. We started out in rush hour traffic of people leaving ABC and MBC, but quickly made our way through and left everyone else far behind. With only a small day pack I,could easily make my way rather nimbly down the steepest stairs and without the extra weight pounding on my knee we were able to complete 2 days worth in less than one whole day. I quickly discovered, that the porter (with 2 or 3x my weight) could easily go faster than me on all but the steepest and longest uphill stairs. He would sometimes stop to rest or talk and fall back and  then suddenly and effortlessly be on my heels again.

I was curious why he wouldn't just use my pack, but instead put it in his basket with a head-strap. I realized that he must be taking the basket so he has something to carry supplies back up to MBC so he isn't just earning money in one direction.

Tonight I have cell service again and will try to make a short call to Shannon for her late Birthday/thanksgiving. I booked a room in Pokhara at the Hotel Stupa- recommended by  my Sherpa friends in Katmandu and will have wifi there so can FaceTime with S and the kids!

Interesting evening. Somehow there ended up being 7 Americans staying at the same hotel(probably the first time "we" have been a majority) so we had a mini-Thanksgiving. 2 of us even had the fried chicken, potatoes and veggies. Fun conversation and the latest I've been up in awhile.

Best sleep in ages! Probably the combination of being alone (no snoring in the room or coming through the walls) and being back down at lower altitude- the kidneys can slow down their acclimatization work! and a lot warmer.

23 Nov MBC to ABC (4095 meters, no packs) to MBC
Day 21
Chomrong to Siwau (~7km, 4 hrs) and Bus to Pokhara (4hrs)
Fauna: lots of wrens and  some green warblers that I could actually see today (not sure kind) and a huge flock (50-100?) of parakeets. But, no langurs or Himalayan pheasants. Tons of singing birds in the jungle all morning- sure would be nice to have, old friend Philip Martin here. He could probably ID them all.

Flora: back to jungle and big sections of flowering: Strobilanthes wallichii, commonly known as Kashmir Acanthus, Hardy Persian Shield, Wild Petunia, or Kandali, is a herbaceous perennial which is native to the Himalayas. In its natural habitat, it purple blooms appear only once every twelve years.

Hotel: Hotel Stupa

Best sleep in weeks last night and up and off before 7. Up the stairs for 30 min and then down thousands of steps to the banks of the Modi Kola past the Hot Springs (I hear they are very nice, and I was actually hoping to get there last night) and on to the village of Siwau where the road starts. The early start beat most of the rush hour trekking, and I only had a few large groups to make my way through today. The bigger problem today, as we descended more into village farms were the water buffalo on the narrow trail who did not want to get out of the way.

Walking through the jungle this morning was a symphony of many bird songs, locusts and river sounds. As one species or groups of birds would die out or quiet a new one would chime in. It just would have been nice to be able to see and identify more of them. Unfortunately, watching them meant taking your eyes off of the many uneven descending steps and rocks, but at telecast the sound was pleasant, soothing and distracting.

Early on in the morning I ran into the young Spanish couple I met on the way out of Ghorepani. They had been told that you could get a taxi/jeep in Siwau, and we agreed to share a cab if they were running from Siwau, instead of walking the extra 2 hrs down the dusty road. They arrived first and were negotiating a fare which started at 8000NPR! As soon as I arrived a bus pulled in and the price immediately dropped to 6000. The bus cost 400 and the decision was easy. And what a ride! Luckily we got on here, because we had our choice of seats (not the most luxurious, comfortable or even very padded to be sure!) at the beginning of the road and later people ended up standing (nobody on the roof or hanging on the sides though), or at least trying to! We quickly took important stuff out of our packs and they were thrown onto the roof and tied down and off we went down the narrow, windy and extremely uneven "road"- I've been stuck with DA in a big 4WD out hunting on roads better than this!  Bouncing along, I suddenly realized the GPS was strapped onto the outside of my pack on the roof, and when we stopped to pick up  new passengers I quickly climbed onto the roof and rescued it- it was fine and turns out the packs were secured very safely. At the next stop I bought 2 mandarins off the tree and out the window for 20 NPR. The young Tibetan refugee from the refugee community in Pokara, sitting in front of me, made the woman give me another-apparently I had overpaid. We quickly became friends as he tried to tell me his history and names of places over the noise.

The bus was a typical Asian affair with decorations and mirrors all over the inside and loud Nepali/Bollywood music blaring out of the speaker under my seat. It takes 3 people to run the bus- the driver and 2 helpers. The helpers take care of things like showing our permits at the checkpoints, collecting tickets, loading and unloading luggage and handing out "plastic" (barf bags). But their most important jobs involve hanging onto the outside and jumping off, running ahead of the bus and moving boulders, etc. They also direct traffic, maneuvering other buses and cars that we meet on the narrow one lane road so nobody ends up over the cliff in the river!

It took about 2 hrs to go about 10 km to reach Nayapul, where the "paved" road starts and then another 2 hrs to go the 40 km and reach lakeside in Pokara. Passing all the trekkers walking down the dusty road made us glad to be bouncing along. In the village just before Nayapul a young Nepali grad student from Katmandu sat with me. He had  done a short trek into Gandruk and was returning to Pokara to hang out and try paragliding(big attraction here). He was quite entertained by my GPS and gave me a lot of information and help about getting around Pokara and where to get off.  Just before coming into the sprawl of urban Pokara, the young Tibetan (born in Nepal, parents came in 59) suddenly banged on the outside of the bus and as it rolled to a partial stop, he said goodbye and jumped out the window to climb the hill to the Tibetan Village.

We arrived at Lakeside, got out and in front of tons of knockoff trekking gear stores, restaurants, clothing, etc and immediately were inundated with hotel people trying to book us. Said goodbye to the Spanish and not knowing where my hotel was I began wandering down the street. Eventually I called the hotel and told him where I was- he said wait there. Suddenly a young man appears on a motorcycle and I hop on the back with my big pack and ride 3 min to the hotel. Just as we were turning into the hotel, there is Irish Mike talking to some people! He had just arrived that morning and was looking for a place (ended up staying across the street from my hotel).

Hotel is relatively luxurious, compared to the last 3 weeks: fast wifi, TV, real shower, clean sheets and towels, breakfast,etc for $20/night. Unpacked, showered, dropped off laundry, checked emails,had a beer and some food and headed into town. Found an ATM and finally have some cash, recharged the phone, and bought some cotton Nepal clothes (maroon hoodie and drawstring pants) for $15-all my other clothes are getting washed!

Later, met Mike for a drink, and the special Shashlik dinner at Zorbas and caught up. Met a few of our former fellow Trekkers and shared stories and then wandered around town checking out bars , music and other restaurants for awhile before returning to hotel. Talked to S. on FT and eventually went to sleep. Lakeside in Pokara is a lot like the touristy Thamel section of Katmandu, and so different from the last 3 weeks!

Will probably stay here for 3 days and then head to Katmandu to go back to Delhi and Corbett Sanctuary on the 29th and then HOME on the 8th! Not sure what I will do here, besides not carry a pack and walk up and down steps for awhile-maybe rent a kayak on the lake or a bike and ride around. The rafting is supposed to be great here.....

Small World: just before arriving in Siwau, I passed a group of older (than me) Trekkers  going over the last suspension bridge and for some reason asked one couple where they were from. They were from NY. When I told them that I was from Oregon, the woman said, "we know someone from Oregon. Oh yes, our guide is from Bend, Oregon!
Their guides name is Leighla Thompson. She came by just as the bus was pulling out and we chatted for a bit through the window. She recognized my PPP shirt and we both recognize each other but couldn't place how....Anyone know her?