aka ‘Marks First Walk in Nepal’
Entry number 1 6th January 2009 (Drive from Pokhara to Phedi and then walk to Dhampus)
At long last (and after a month of preparation in Kathmandu, well shopping, eating and drinking if I am being honest, there was no physical preparation apart from a couple of strolls) I have started my first trek. My companion from the office is called Gautam and we both headed to Pokhara and from there into the Annapurna region (there are quite a few trekking regions in Nepal but the 2 most famous are Annapurna and Everest).
Gautam is a decent chap, his English is excellent and he was a trekking guide before joining the office to start this venture so he knows the mountains and trekking routes very well. He is 30 years old, not married (much to the frustration of his mother) and lives in Kathmandu. I also have 2 porters (get me!) called Kanchha Tamang and Santosh Tamang (not related) and my sherpa (oh yes, there is more) is Nanda Lal Rai (but his knick name is Nabin).
Just a brief explanation of what a porter and a sherpa is; porters basically carry things, be it westerner’s gear or crates of beer, basically anything that needs to be transported into the mountains. A sherpa basically knows the trails (trekking routes) and leads people from one place to the next. There are 2 types of sherpas, the straight forward ‘get you from A to B’ type and the sherpa guide who will speak another language (Nabin speaks English and Japanese) and act as a tour leader as well. The Sherpa is also responsible for the trekking crew when on a tented trek (I will go into the different types of treks later on); this will include a cook, cook assistant, a small army of porters and even security guides.
Anyway, back to my day, we walked for about 2.5 hours today, not much I know but you ease yourselves into these things and the first 30 minutes was straight up!. I was quite happy as I shaved an hour off the allotted time but I am sure I will slow down as time goes on. My lodge is very nice and I had a hot shower this afternoon and washed a few clothes and then went exploring in the village. You order dinner mid afternoon (so they can prepare it); if you are interested I am having veg. spring rolls and chips (well you eat the local crap every night??). I will have this at 7.30pm and be in bed by 8pm with either my book or ipod. This place has electricity that works better than in Kathmandu so I will take advantage of that until it is turned off.
View report; not bad this morning and again at sunset I had a nice view of Dhalaguri and Fishtail mountains but cloudy during the day. Gautam says it needs to snow to clear away the clouds, great, even colder (see footnote below)
Footnote; I am only at 1700m and already I am sitting in my room freezing cold with 2 pairs of trousers (both skin tight) on plus my thermal top and fleece as well as my down boots that you wear kind of like slippers; a real nice look and I will more than likely go to dinner dressed like it, there is no shame or fashion police when trekking!
Entry number 2 7th January 2009 (walk from Dhampus to Landruk)
Had a good night’s sleep after watching an episode of Phoenix Nights and the Simpsons on my ipod touch, which I cannot praise enough, everyone should have one, you don’t even need light to read a book as you can listen to it instead!
Yesterday was a bit of a killer for the 1st hour or so (getting into the swing of it I suppose) but today was a pleasant stroll. Woke up to fantastic views of the mountains and it wasn’t really too cold although I need to keep reminding myself that it is going to get colder and colder the higher we go. Gautam doesn’t use his really warm gear yet, he says it is better to try and get used to the cold lower down in order to get the benefit higher up; he isn’t wrong but the theory (well for me anyway) is easier than the practice and I am already wearing 2 layers at 1700m! In quite a basic tea house tonight but I prefer these to the ‘hotel’ type lodges. The shower was hot (ish) and they don’t provide bedding which means I have no choice but to use my -40c sleeping bag so I know I will be warm in bed (when blankets and duvets are provided you try and adopt the ‘Gautam’ theory above but it is much better when they provide nothing.
Had to use my pack away towel for the 1st time tonight, it’s about the size of a postage stamp and dries about a quarter of your body before it is socking wet but looking on the plus side, it dries real quick!
I have never seen anyone eat as much as porters. I know they work hard, carrying an average of 30kg each (they can carry up to 100kg apparently which is madness) but most are about 4ft nothing and weigh about 8 stone but they pack away lunch and dinner like you wouldn’t believe. All meals for them (and there doesn’t seem to be any variation) is dal bhat which is basically rice, vegetable curry, dal and chapatti and the restaurant will keep filling your plate until you have had enough (all you can eat in other words) and the porters get through about 3 portions each for both lunch and dinner before saying stop. Apparently some cooks on tented treks refuse to cook for porters because they eat so much and complain there is never enough.
Day 2 of my trek and I have worked out that all the tea houses and lodges have exactly the same menu, not a variation on a theme but exactly the same menu; the only thing that changes is the price, the higher you go, the more expensive things become. So it is lemon sugar pancake for breakfast and dal bhat for lunch and dinner for the next 6 months of trekking then!
Tip of the day; don’t get caught down wind of a porter, these boys work hard and deodorant is not a regular commodity in the mountains (nor something they would waste their money on).
Entry number 3 8th January 2009 (walk from Landruk to Chhomrong)
Getting into the swing of it now. Similar morning routine; wake up at 7am with hot lemon, quick wash (if it is not too cold), lemon and sugar pancake for breakfast, pack up kit bag and hand over to the porters and then it is off. Walk today was about 5 hours and when we arrived at our teahouse I washed some clothes, put them on the line and promptly watched the sun disappear. I therefore walked to the top of the hill with my wet clothes for a very pleasant hour in the sun whilst they partly dried.
Had a steak for dinner and had my first experience of a naked gas heater being placed under the table for warmth. A health and safety nightmare but who cares, it stops you from freezing!
Worry of the day; for years I have not taken sugar in anything, but when trekking you slap it in anything going (tea, hot lemon, coffee etc). It gives you the extra energy boost that you need but after 6 months trekking am I going to be able to go back to sugarless drinks????
Entry number 4 9th January 2009 (walk from Chhomrong to Himalaya)
Not a bad day’s walk today, by the end of it I had hit the snow line and by 6pm it was very cold indeed. Glad my sleeping bag goes down to -40c. Meet 2 nice Americans and a Czech today. Making good pace every day and beating the suggested trekking time by at least an hour every day so I am pleased about that. Also had a good brain storming session with Gautam as we were walking along the trail, came up with several ideas that will hopefully make our treks different from everybody else’s. In bed by 8pm tonight.
Entry number 5 10th January 2009 (walk from Himalaya to Annapurna Base Camp)
Had to get up once in the night for a pee. You lie in your sleeping bag, all nice and warm and try to fall back asleep, hoping the feeling will go away. Sometimes it does but tonight it didn’t and what started as a quick dash to the bog turned into a slow and careful ‘slide’ once I realised the route was completely iced over!
Really awesome (only been with the Yanks for one day) walk today. You basically walk up the valley and then take a left and walk right into the Annapurna Sanctuary, which gives you 360 degree views of the mountains. By the time we got there the cloud was in and it had started to snow (pretty much after leaving Himalaya we were trekking through deep snow, although there was a trail so it was OK walking although a little icy in parts). At over 4000m in elevation, the base camp is very very cold indeed at the best of times and I was there in early January, smart. Enjoyed spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner and followed this with a sneaker roll and custard; this can best be described as a sneaker bar deep fried in bread; one word describes it, horrible although the custard was very nice (made from a packet). Went to bed feeling very cold indeed and looking forward to the view in the morning.
Entry number 6 11th January 2009 (walk from Annapurna Base Camp to Doban)
And what a view it was, you are so close to the mountains and the sky was so clear I nearly forgot how absolutely frozen I was when I woke up at 7am for sunrise. Inside the sleeping bag was fine but it had snowed in the night and it was really hard to take my gloves off to take photos and drink my hot drink. It must rank among one of the coldest I have ever been.
The walk down from base camp was tricky; a fresh layer of snow on top of the ice from the day before. Walking the 2 hours up didn’t seem half as bad and at one point both Gautam and Nabin just slide down on their backs through the fresh snow, big boulders and rocks were their biggest problem. Mine was getting wet boots, after a couple of hours they were pretty wet indeed (not just mine but everyone’s) but luckily my feet stayed warm because of the walking so it wasn’t too much of a pain. Ended the day around 3pm with a hot shower. Met a young American lad at dinner who was heading up to the Base Camp but without a sleeping bag; I wished him all the best and told him he was mad……
Kanchha has been sick for a few days and so we sent him down early and Santosh carried pretty much both loads. It is nice to see that the porters look after each other and we also had medicine for him. They are both great and I am pleased they will be my porters for the next 6 months. Kanchha is very shy and doesn’t speak any English but Santosh has pretty good English and a really cheeky smile. He likes Man United so I will ask Kirsty to bring back something from the UK but I need to think of something for Kanchha. They like to sit and watch me type on the computer so I show them what I am doing every now and then.
Had 2 cans of beers with dinner to celebrate reaching the base camp successfully.
Problem of the day; trying using an Asian style toilet when the floor slopes and is completely iced over and you need a Barry White??
Entry number 7 12th January 2009 (walk from Doban to Chhomrong)
Today’s trek was supposed to take 5-6 hours, I don’t like to brag but I did it in 3 and arrived at the same time as the porters! Nabin says he doesn’t want to trek with me anymore!!! He normally keeps up but got through a bottle of local hooch last night and so was not up to his usual speed. So basically I arrived at 12 noon and wanted to move on to the next place but I was in the minority and so the compromise was that we stayed here tonight but we did extra tomorrow. I took the time to do some laundry and when I just went to check on it, some Indian labourers had lit a nice smoky fire right next to it so it now all sticks, tossers! Also had a shave which was a bit rough after 7 days or so and yet another very nice hot shower. Looking forward to my sweet and sour Chicken with rice and then its early to bed for a change (the ipod is fully charged and there is a Father Ted with my name on it).
Just been speaking to Santosh and he has been telling me he has one son of 6 and a daughter of 3. He is 22.
Entry number 8 13th January 2009 (walk from Chhomrong to Tadopani)
Did 2 days in one today as my original destination was only 5 hours away and so we walked for about 8 hours today which I prefer to arriving early and sitting around in the cold. The heater tonight was actually a BBQ put under the table, after about half an hour I had to lift my computer off the table because it was getting rather hot. Ordered spring rolls for dinner and got what can only be described as a calzone full of spinach; it was pretty rough and I went to bed feeling a bit peckish. Talk of bed, a record tonight, in bed by 7pm and asleep by 8pm.
Entry number 9 14th January 2009 (walk from Tadopani to Ulleri)
Work up to superb views of the mountains and for once it was quite warm (by comparison) as Tadopani gets the run in the morning and so I even managed to have breakfast sitting outside. Had the mother of all climbs today, I prefer going up to going down but even I wondered when it was ever going to end. Once up on the ridge though it was worth it as we had views of the mountains to our right and the valley to our left and it was a nice flat walk to boot so made it even pleasant. We had lunch (excellent homemade chicken soup) in Ghorepani and I spent some time talking to my porters; Kanchha is very shy and speaks little English so he is going to take longer to get to know but Santosh is always happy and friendly and is already calling me Mark rather than Sir. This evening I had a fantastic hot shower and I asked Santosh if he had had one to which he replied no; 5 minutes later he knocked on my door with towel and soap in hand and asked if he could use mine! Of course I didn’t mind and told him to go right ahead, I offered the same to Kanchha but he declined.
Had 3 big bottles of beer tonight, my first to note on the whole trek and Nabin and Gautam tucked into a couple of bottles of homemade wine. This is much cheaper than my beer (60rs a bottle vs 240rs for my beer) but I cannot stomach the taste of the local hooch and so it’s either expensive beer or nothing! Didn’t go to bed until 10pm, wild man!
Entry number 10 15th January 2009 (walk from Ulleri to Naya Pul and onto to Pokhara by car)
Felt a little rough on my 3 beers and also my knees were hurting a bit after yesterday (as the final couple of hours were down, down, down). The 1st hour today didn’t help matters either as this was also down but after this it flattened out into a pleasant walk; no mountains today but instead pleasant views of the river and the villages & terraces beyond. We arrived around 1130am and had an early lunch before walking the last 30 minutes to where our car was picking us. We arrived in Pokhara around 2pm and checked in to our nice 5 star hotel and that’s the end of my first trek.
Footnote: you wash everyday and try and rinse out your tops and socks etc but it isn’t until you get into a fresh smelling room (my 5 star hotel) that you realise how much you and your kit stink with body odour and fire wood being the 2 main culprits; good job everyone else is in the same boat!