aka ‘Marks Fifth (and Final) Walk in Nepal’

Entry number 42 23rd April 2009 (drive from Kathmandu to Besidahar and trek walk to Bhulbhuli)
Dad arrived on schedule with a big bag of trekking gear for himself plus two boxes of toys and clothes kindly donated by the girls that we will pass onto one of the local charities. Kirsty was in India when he arrived so we happily spent the couple of days prior to our trek walking around Thamel looking at trekking gear and making the odd purchase.

We were picked up from the apartment early this morning and taken up to our bus where we were greeted by our crew. Keep in mind I normally travel with Gautam, a Sherpa and two porters (one each for Gautam and I) so by applying logic you would think by adding Dad you would increase the team by one more porter. Not so, we were looking at a bus load of 14 crew plus Gautam, Dad and myself! Why? Because this time we are undertaking a camping trek as opposed to a teahouse trek. So, we had a tent crew and a cooking crew as well as our regular bag-carrying crew.

The afternoon’s walk was pretty straightforward and in fact we spent the first night in a teahouse as the campsite was full by the time we arrived. We did however, get to experience our first camping trek meal which was a lot tastier than the usual stuff I eat on the trail. The only problem we had was in the fact that we ate in the lodge but were getting the camping experience so Santosh (who has been given the role of Sherpa on this trek in order to gain experience and better himself) did everything the right way and placed a red-and-white gingham table-cloth on our table and offered us hot water and a towel to wash our hands prior to the meal. All good stuff and I am pleased he is taking his new role seriously but we looked a right couple of Charlies in front of all the other trekkers so later on (after a discussion with Dad) I plucked up enough courage to tell Gautam we were not too happy with the attention this attracted and could it stop. Whether our request is adhered to or not is a different matter, we will wait and see?

Dad’s comment: it was adhered to. We saw the gingham tablecloth no more.

Entry number 43 24th April (walk to Gherma)
Had one of the trickiest days I have had so far in five months of trekking. Nothing to do with the hardship of the day, altitude sickness or anything like that but for the first time I had management issues. We started the day fine, chef (we have our own chef on this trek) cooked us breakfast and as we were eating it we watched the bulk of the crew head off up the trail. This is fine and how it should be but what we didn’t bank on was catching them up some 30 minutes later and then spending yet another hour waiting for them to catch up having only recently passed them and then another hour waiting for them to turn up at the designated place for lunch. By this point we were getting very frustrated and I decided I had to do something about it. Negotiations started at lunchtime between myself, Gautam and Kage (our Sherpa for this trek). Dad for the best part stayed out of it and let me get on with it. I explained what the problem was and put my solution on the table, which was for us four plus a couple of porters to speed up and gain a day and then take a two-day side trip in order to allow the rest of the crew to catch up and overtake us. Of course this would mean we would not be able to camp and so would use teahouses as far as Kagbeni (the entrance to Mustang where you have to take a full support crew). This was not rejected out of hand but everyone on the `other side of the table` were worried about the extra cost so this I solved by saying it would be fine, Dad could pay! Then I had a brain wave. Why didn’t we stay in the tents as per our schedule but allow the crew to get up early, feed themselves (but not us) and then head off. We could then have breakfast at our own expense and head off, having given the crew a good head start. Furthermore we could then get our own lunch at a time convenient to us. This would mean that in effect we would not see the crew until the evening. This went down OK and Gautam suggested that breakfast was prepared and left ready for us by the cook before he left in the morning. Dad and I were happy with this and as a result we had a win win situation. Overall I was pretty happy with myself and that night we had a couple of beers to celebrate and Gautam bought some local brew for the crew which tasted like sour milk!

Entry number 44 25 April 2009 (walk to Tal)
I also found out last night that it was not just our pace that was causing problems for the porters. I also discovered that in fact the heat was giving them a hard time plus they were carrying more than they should as the cook had miscalculated how many porters he would need to carry the food plus cooking equipment. Our solution was to hire a pony to carry some of the supplies as far as Manang and we also sold some of our provisions in order to make the overall loads lighter.

In the morning, in keeping with the agreed deal, apart from Santosh, Kanchha and Neema, our regular three porters, there was no other member of the crew in sight (and we were up by 06.15am) and our breakfast was waiting for us. We also didn’t see them at lunchtime (well not strictly true, they were leaving just as we were arriving but this was fine with me) and I am sure they would have had our camp all set up by the time we arrived but they were held up for one hour on the trail due to blasting on the mountain side so again we caught up with them.

We spent our first night in a tent, pitching camp inside the grounds of a monastery. Dad did well in his first day of proper trekking and after a shower (via our newly installed shower tent!), a beer and a good dinner of Buff (buffalo) curry with rice and rosti potatoes we both hit the sack around 7.30pm!

Problem of the day: what do you do with a 67-year-old grandfather who cannot use squat down toilets anymore? Simple! You get one if the boys to attach a rope to the roof of the can for support and Bob’s your uncle!

Dad’s comment: I had been somewhat fearful of my ability to use the Asian squat toilets as my knee joints do not allow me to assume the full squat position when the time comes. The use of the rope certainly helped, both as a stabilizer whilst in the half-squat position and as a hoist when all’s done and finished. I carried the rope with me for the rest of the trek! But, this is probably more than enough information for you.

 

Entry number 45 26 April 2009 (walk to Thanchok)
I was the last one up today at 06.30am and Santosh was chomping at the bit to pack away my tent. As a result we were on the road by 07.30am which is a lot earlier than our usual trekking departure time. As soon as we got going Dad`s breathing became really bad because of asthma and we couldn’t work out why, especially as he had been fine and keeping good pace for the previous few days. By the time we stopped for tea he was in a very bad way and his Ventolin was not working so I got into my kitbag and found my super turbo Symbicort inhaler which very quickly solved the immediate problem. However, we wanted to know what the cause was and as we were thinking about it a pony train went past. Then it suddenly came to both of us at once; we had been stuck behind some ponies for at least 30 minutes with Dad immediately behind them and so when he remembered that he was allergic to horses/ponies it was obvious what the problem was. So within the space of half an hour we had worked out not only what the problem was but how to solve it. Yet again I was pleased with myself! Yours truly, Dr. Mark.

He was fine for the rest of the trek and we covered good distance, ending up pitching our tents (*) in a nice spot which promised good views of the mountains in the morning. After a cold wash under the water hose and a tasty dinner we climbed into our tents and promptly fell asleep.

(*) I need to add at this point that our contribution to pitching camp amounts to bugger all. We tend to sit around and watch our army of porters put everything up whilst we drink tea, eat biscuits (that Santosh brings to us on a silver tray) and offer the odd bit of advice . We would only get in the way any way!!

Dad’s comment: the asthma caught me by surprise and, at one point, I thought I would have to return to the start point. But, Mark’s Symbicort inhaler did the trick and there were no further problems once I’d learnt to avoid the pony trains. But, I did find the Ventolin useful when we got to higher altitudes as it helped open the airways in the lungs to increase the ability to absorb oxygen.

These first few days have also been very hot and I had white salt sweat lines on my T-shirt and at the back of my trousers. Gautam had never seen that before.

Entry number 46 27 April 2009 (walk to Pisang)
I slept well and woke up at 06.45am (15 minutes ahead of the agreed time for bed tea I hasten to add) to find everything packed up and Santosh and Kanchha literally standing outside my tent waiting for me to vacate. Was I late? Indeed not. Did I feel like I was being evicted? Yes I did! Anyway we had breakfast and set off through the village en route to Chame, the district HQ for the region.

Dad’s breathing was fine, so fingers crossed we had solved that little problem and we made good pace as far as lunchtime. On top of this the scenery was starting to become far more dramatic and the mountains were starting to appear on both sides of the trail. You would therefore think that Dad would have his camera out, snapping away at some of the largest bits of rock on the planet?? Indeed he did have his camera out but it wasn’t to photograph the fantastic mountain views that still never ceased to amaze me even though I have been trekking in Nepal for nearly 5 months now. No, he was photographing sign boards put up by the teahouses to advertise what they offer and in particular he was photographing the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (*). Now, for those that know him, this will come as no great surprise. For those that don`t, is he slightly mad? You be the judge??

(*) Examples that have so far tickled him include “dinning room”, “comfartable” and “facilitis”.

Dad’s comments: others I spotted included “Enjoy the lovely from the viewpoint” (Hotel North Pole), “Not recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide Book” (Hotel Superb View), “Fresh fooding and lodging attach bathroom” (Tibetan Hotel), “Room to room soundless and comfortable bed”(Hotel The Seven), “Dyining room” (a variant on Dinning Room) “Clean and Quite Room …” (quite what I couldn’t figure out) “…specially food, hot sower, hitter with laundry services” (Everest Hotel), “Loundry Service” (Kailash Guest House), “Horse and Potter Service” (I assume potter should be porter), “Clean and Testy Food” (Hotel Mountain View), “24 hours raning hot shower” (Hotel 4 Seasons), “Rooms well furnished with attached modern ammonites” (Snow Leopard Guest House) “Please, write down yourself all your food and drinks, make your bill yourself, and show it to host while paying” (Laxmi Lodge, a DIY restaurant?), and one for Lynne Truss “Guide’s are also available here” (Tibetan Guest House).

Trying not to pick on Dad too much, but for his own amusement, he spent his down time after lunch throwing bits of apple in the road in order attract a wandering cow who then acted like a Hoover and went up and down clearing it all up. I read my book and spoke to some Yank about Shanghai.

We arrived at our destination around 3pm only to find that there was no suitable campsite (which was fine with both of us) and we promptly checked into a teahouse. For dinner we had pasta with tomato sauce plus a mutton curry and rice. Strange I know but often our meals are a fusion of east and west and to be frank, you are far too hungry to
question it and demolish all that is put in front of you.

Dad’s comments: I started off the trek by eating lightly, partly because I wasn’t that hungry and partly because my stomach was a little dodgy (I was on Imodium sandwiches for a time). But, by Day 5, I was feeling the need for more fuel and ate whatever the chef put in front of me even though the combinations were a little strange. One meal we had later on into the trek was: spinach curry, roast potatoes, sardines and chapatis. Sounds awful but it hardly touched the sides on its way down! I also enjoyed the Tibetan Thukpa, a combination of noodles and cabbage.

Entry number 47 28 April 2009 (rest day in Pisang)
As we are currently one day ahead of schedule we decided to rest for the day. Dad took it easy, read his book, did some washing (yes mum, you read correctly, he even did some of mine!) and explored the village. I, on the other hand took a side excursion to the base camp for Pisang Peak. The whole trip took about 5 hours (3.5 hours up, 1.5 hours down) and took me to an elevation of 4200m. The views were incredible, especially of Annapurna II (*) and we both spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading.

(*) Annapurna II is over 8000m, there are only 14 such mountains in the world, 8 of which are in Nepal. Dad called it a big hill and took a picture only because he was worried I would have a go at him if he didn’t!

Entry number 48 29 April 2009 (walk to Manang)
We had a superb day of trekking today. There are two routes to Manang; the shorter 4/5 hour walk through the valley or the slightly longer (and harder) trek via the remote villages of Ghyaru and Ngawal. We chose the latter because it means you are walking at a slightly higher elevation and so, as well as getting to visit the two villages mentioned above, you also get better views of the mountains. We both really enjoyed all aspects of today and it was only marred when we arrived in Manang to discover that Santosh was not very well and may have to go back to Kathmandu. He woke up yesterday morning not feeling himself and stayed in bed pretty much most of the day and this morning he wasn’t feeling any better and so took the short route with the rest of the crew to Manang (he normally always walks with me/us). We knew he still wasn’t well when we arrived as he normally is laughing and smiling and generally making a fuss of us but again he went to bed and Gautam was talking about getting him on a flight back home so fingers crossed he is better in the morning.

Entry number 49 30 April 2009 (rest day in Manang)
I know this is our second rest day in as many days but after the Everest nastiness, I am not taking any chances as we have a 5416m pass to get over in a couple of days time and so acclimatization is essential.

 

Woke up to stunning mountain views at around 05.30am and so headed out with my camera for 10 minutes or so and then promptly got back into bed. Unfortunately Santosh was not any better this morning so Gautam`s initial thought was to get him on a flight but now he is thinking that he sees a doctor who is going to turn up this afternoon.

Dad and I took a walk up to a ridge close to the village for crystal clear views of Annapurna IV and II as well as Tarke Kang. We also had a clear view of the pass we will be heading over in a couple of days time; Dad couldn’t think of how to express himself without using expletives so he just kept quiet!

Dad’s comments: by now, we were up at 3500m and I was beginning to feel the lack of oxygen, especially while walking uphill. I found I needed frequent 15-second stops to recover my breath. The recovery was extremely rapid, which was good news, and 15 seconds was ample time to pluck up the courage to get started again. But, some of the uphill walks seemed to go on forever! There are big hills in Nepal.

I noticed other interesting phenomena as we progressed into the higher altitudes. We usually stopped walking around 3 PM to 4 PM and I found that my body temperature dropped rapidly, so much so, that I needed to put on several layers of warm clothes to stop the shivers. Mark’s recommendation was to have a shower, or wash, immediately you stop and put several layers of clean “evening wear” clothes on to conserve the body warmth. My inclination was to have a rest first but, in the end, I accepted Mark’s advice. He was certainly more knowledgeable than me about these things.

Entry number 50 1 May 2009 (walk to Letdar)
I cannot remember if I have really mentioned the additional issues we are having with the porters up until now but today it got really bad and Gautam opened up to me about general problems with employing porters and ours in particular. Basically these days there is a demand and supply issue where porters are concerned in that there are not enough porters to cope with the demand for trekking in the high season and this puts them in a strong position. So basically the Sherpa has to keep them happy or they will either blackmail for more money half way through the trek or more than likely go on a “go slow” in order to show their value and make a point. Of course normally the paying clients know nothing of these shenanigans but of course I do and so in turn so does Dad. Today, the younger ones (who we have nicknamed the ‘embryos`) and the ring leaders of the `mutiny` took 8 hours to cover what we did in about 4. Now even taking into account the load they are carrying, it shouldn’t have taken this long and in theory they should have arrived before us and had the tents set up so they were definitely out to prove a point.
All this is stressing Gautam very much and he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He cannot afford to alienate them but equally we shouldn’t have to put up with this sort of behaviour so what to do and this is Gautam`s dilemma?? Changing the subject completely, we had a good dinner of Sherpa stew and popcorn and were asleep in the tents by 19.30pm.

Dad’s comments: this was the first time I’ve slept on the ground in a sleeping bag in a tent for at least 30 years. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and, to be honest, I slept very well. The lightweight Thermarest sleeping mats between you and the ground are quite comfortable (or should that be “quiet comfartable”?) and, apart from the occasional nocturnal visit to a nearby big tree, I slept the sleep of the dead, probably because I was knackered from the day’s walking. I usually sleep between 61/2 and 7 hours a night at home. Here, up in the mountains, I was sleeping at least 9 hours a night.

Entry number 51 2 May 2009 (walk to Thorung High Camp)
We had a superb morning of walking today. I say morning because we only trekked for about 4 hours as we went up as far as Thorung High Camp (4700m), the last place to stay before heading over the actual pass and so we needed to rest and adjust to the altitude before attempting this. It was a great morning because the views were stunning and at one point I had to chuckle to myself as we crossed an area of about 500m which was sign posted as a `landslide danger zone`. As I crossed it my iPod started to play ‘Bela Lugosi`s dead’ by Bauhaus. Now for those that know the song, they will know it is not the best song to be listening to as you cross a landslide; Pete Murphy screaming `he`s dead, he`s dead` doesn’t inspire confidence as I looked down on a sheer drop of well over 150 metres!!

Dad made it up to High Camp with confidence which was good and so we are both fully set for the challenge ahead!

Porter update; I think Gautam and Kage are cooking up a plan to get rid of the troublesome porters but I am not sure of the details yet.

Entry number 52 3 May 2009 (walk to Muktinath, 3800m, via the Thorung La high pass)
Today was the ‘big push’ as we were heading over one of the highest non-technical (no mountaineering gear required) passes in the world, the Thorong La (5416m). I had a terrible nights sleep on three accounts;

1) I knew I had to get up at 4.00am and so I never sleep well when I know I have to get up this early;
2) We were sleeping at 4800m and by the time we retired for the night (19.30pm) it had started to snow really heavily and I knew that if the snowfall kept up the crossing over the pass would be much harder than it already is; and
3) Dad was up every 5 minutes and heading out the door for a pee plus his breathing was short due to the altitude and this kept me awake all night (with worry naturally!).

So when Santosh bought us a bowl of garlic soup at 04.30am instead of a cup of coffee and told us we must eat it I was a bit short with him to say the least!

Dad’s comments: apparently, garlic is supposed to combat altitude sickness but, like Mark, I couldn’t stomach noodles and garlic at that time of the morning. I assume that the porters consumed the soup.

Anyway, the snow had settled and Dad put his frequent visits to the ‘bathroom’ down to worry about tackling such a big pass (fair enough says I) and by 05.15am we were heading up the mother of all hills, very cold and covered in snow but determined to get up and over the other side. The climb up seemed to go on for ever but by 07.45am we
were at the top having beaten a German group that had set out one hour before us (which pleased us no end). After manly hugs all round and a few photos (unfortunately the views were terrible due to the snow) we started the climb down, which in my opinion was tougher than the climb up and by the time we arrived in Muktinath we were all completely shattered. Dad had eaten his packed lunch on the trail but I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch and so asked for egg and chips which Santosh kindly delivered as room service! It was then time for the first shower in three days and a reorganization of the bags before a well deserved beer.

Hats off of the day; Dad making up to the pass in little over two hours at his age!

Dad’s comments: crossing the Thorung La pass was by far the hardest part of the trek and, in retrospect, one of the hardest physical and mental things I have ever done. There are many false summits on the way up to the pass i.e. you think you’re at the top but you’re not, and the 1800m descent down the other side was both treacherous because of the snow and painful on the knees. But, we beat the Germans and placed our towels in the teahouse before they could place their towels! And, joy of joys, the teahouse had a western-style sit-down toilet – my first in 11 days. I was moved to take a photograph of this delightful pink-coloured commodity (used in the sense of `something useful or valued`) which I am willing to share with any interested reader on request (the photograph, that is, not the toilet).

Entry number 53 4 May 2009 (walk to Kagbeni)
Porter update; during the evening it was decided that we no longer needed the tent and cooking porters and they kind of decided that our pace was too fast for them and so they were in fact not keen to continue anyway so all that was left was to negotiate how much severance money they should be paid. This was left to Kage, the chef and the head porter (I prefer to call him the union rep) to sort between themselves so Dad and I got out of the way and headed to the Bob Marley Bar where we had a beer and listened to the Sex Pistols (don`t ask!). Needless to say by the time we returned for dinner there were smiles all round and a deal had been struck so after dinner we said goodbye to all bar Santosh, Neema and Kanchha, gave them a tip each and headed off to bed.

With the crew now out the way we were hoping to walk to Kagbeni, which is only 3 hours away and then head straight on into the Upper Mustang Valley but our permit was valid only from tomorrow onwards and we were not allowed to enter the Valley. So after a very nice morning`s walk (providing the tremendous views we should have got when crossing the pass the previous day), we spent the afternoon looking around Kagbeni, relaxing and doing a bit of washing before heading north.

I need to add that we drank in the Bob Marley bar last night but that is nothing compared to eating in Kagbeni’s Yac Donalds restaurant at lunchtime. The menu includes a McYac special meal and the place is even painted in the same colours as their more famous counterpart. The same family also owns the Seven Eleven next door!

Around Annapurna. Kagbeni 16

Entry number 54 5 May 2009 (walk to Samar)
After 15 years of waiting to trek into Upper Mustang, today we set off nice and fresh into what is called `The last forbidden kingdom`. Even as you cross the border (Mustang is part of Nepal but you still need to have a permit and in effect pass through a border) you immediately feel as if you are entering a different world. Gone are the hordes of trekkers, teahouses every hour or so and `civilization` and in return you enter a land that is more like Tibet than Nepal with nothing to offer except for desolate desert, the huge Kali Gandaki Gorge (one of the largest in the world) and (from about 10am onwards) a relentless wind that howls for the rest of the day. I am probably not selling it to anyone but believe me it is stunning and only gets about 2000 visitors per year.

We walked for about 7 hours today, keen to get some miles behind us after some relatively short days and also gain a bit of time in order to try and finish off the Annapurna circuit. So by the time we arrived at our destination we were tired, wind-beaten and certainly impressed with our first day in Mustang. I wasn’t expecting much from the
teahouses in this part of the world but this one had a fantastic hot shower (you even needed to use the cold!) and Chinese Lhasa beer which, at 3.8% in volume is much better than the stronger local brew (5% plus) when you are knackered and your capacity for alcohol has fallen to near enough zero (no comments please!).

Had dinner at 7pm and were ready for bed thereafter.

Dad’s comments: in general, during the trek we drank mostly warm beer (Mark more so than me), black tea, hot lemon, hot chocolate, coffee, ginger tea and flavoured water. Wine was not available and, to be honest, not missed by me. There are other home-made alcoholic drinks, such as raksi and chhaang, available in the teahouses but as Mark said earlier, they taste foul and certainly not to my liking. By the end of the trek, my alcohol tolerance was almost zero.

Around Annapurna. Kagbeni (mountain views from) - Version 2

Entry number 55 6 May 2009 (walk to Ghemi)
If yesterday was a good day of trekking, today was a tough one. Again we walked for about 8 hours but for the first 5 of these we didn’t seem to get anywhere and spent nearly all of this time walking up, then walking down and then walking up again and when we got to our designated lunch spot completely knackered we discovered there was no
food and had to walk for another 30 minutes until we finally found somewhere. (Upper Mustang is unlike any other trekking route. Places to rest and eat are few and far between and the area is far less developed than, say, the Annapurna route.) We were also properly introduced to the unrelenting wind, plus associated dust, and I am sure we have worse to come as at the moment we are travelling north and the wind is behind us but we have to come back the same way which means we are going to feel the full force of it! That is not to say I am not enjoying the trek. So far Upper Mustang is living up to expectations and the scenery is stunning plus the villages are very interesting but to date this has been a tough old trek and I think going back down is going to be a lot harder.

Phoned Kirsty twice today as it was her birthday (and a big one at that – her 40th !) and I was feeling rotten about not being there so the pressure is on to make it up to her when I get back to Kathmandu.

Upper Mustang. Ghemi 5

Upper Mustang. Ghemi 2 (1)

Had dinner at 7pm and then went to bed, normal routine in other words!

Dad’s comments: It was here that Mark asked to borrow my very best Bart Simpson face flannel to wipe the dust off his trekking trousers. I hesitated but, in the end agreed as long as he washed it properly afterwards. Well, he went off and washed it OK but then threw it away with the dirty water down the Asian squat toilet. Apparently, he did put his hand down the toilet and around the U bend to try and find it (that took real courage) but, alas, the flannel had gone to that great big place in the sky where all Bart Simpson flannels finish up. He returned, suitably contrite and in need of some sterilizing hand cleanser. I suggested that he not pick his nose for at least three days!

Footnote: two days later, he bought me a tea-towel which I cut in half and used to fashion a replacement face flannel. It worked fine for the rest of the trek.

Entry number 56 7 May 2009 (walk to Lo Manthang)
Another tough day of walking that took us up and over a couple of 4000+ metre passes and of course (from 10am onwards) as usual we had the wind for company for much of the journey. Lo Manthang is the capital of Upper Mustang and the largest town in the area with a population of 1200 people. In fact Mustang used to be its own country and still has a Royal Palace, government and a Raja (who sensibly spends most of his time in Kathmandu).

We arrived about 4.30pm and after a good hot shower we has a couple of beers to technically celebrate the `end` of the trek (we have at least one more week to go but Lo Manthang is our ultimate northerly goal and from here on we head back south). Before dinner we made a visit to the monastery to witness the opening ceremony of the Tiji festival. Don`t ask me what this is but it was interesting anyway and Dad got to see his first bunch of monks singing, drinking large amounts of Tibetan butter tea (based on tea leaves, yak butter, and salt – ugh!) and playing their instruments out of tune!

Interesting fact of the day (or boring one, whichever way you look at it?); Mustang is pronounced `Moo-stang` and has nothing to do with the song (*) or the car or the horse of the same name.
(*) anyone get it????

Upper Mustang. En route Syangboche to Ghemi 7

Entry number 57 8 May 2009 (rest day in Lo-Manthang)
As usual, a rest day doesn’t mean that you sit on your arse around the pool sipping pina coladas! Instead we did a nice five hour hike up the valley north of Lo-Manthang to a monastery cut into the cliff face at Garphu. From this point we were only about 15km from the border with Tibet and wandering across (even by accident) would be a big no-no and could end up with a bullet! We saw a Himalayan marmot as well today. The marmot is a large rodent that dwells in the trans-Himalayan zone and looks a bit like a large guinea pig; this one was backed into a hole in the wall of the local school being terrorized by a bunch of school kids with a great big stick until the teacher came out and gave them hell (for not being in lessons rather than hassling the poor little marmot me thinks??).

Interesting fact of the day; Because of its proximity to China (well Tibet), Mustang used to be crawling with CIA and it was only in the 70s when Nixon decided the USA should have relations with the Chinese that the agency left. It also used to be the base for Tibetan guerrillas known as Khampas who fled after the Chinese invasion in 1959. Some Khampas were even trained by the CIA. Dad is convinced that three Yanks we keep bumping into on the trek are CIA! They looked too clean and tidy to be trekkers!

Dad’s comments: we also bumped into some noisy, burly and half-naked male Russians earlier on, complete with their much-younger female “Natasha” companions, as Mark calls them. (They were not half-naked unfortunately.) I reckon that there are still clandestine US and Soviet operations going on close to the Tibetan border but I didn’t feel a James Bond moment coming on.

Entry number 58 9 May 2009 (walk back to Ghemi) 

Today was a vicious day of too many ups, pointless downs, howling wind, cold followed by hot followed by cold again, ear ache, sunburn, cloud, no decent lunch stop and a snotty, runny nose. Enough said.

Rotten windup of the day. I convinced Dad that I had ordered fish and chips for myself for dinner and that he could do the same if he liked. I told him the fish was from a local lake (there wasn’t one) so I will see what he asks for when he goes down to the kitchen and hopefully he will make a berk of himself for the amusement of myself and the boys!

Update on rotten windup of the day; he fell for it hook, line and sinker and what`s more he actually ordered it in front of the boys and they nearly died with laughter! One nil to me, I think???

Dad’s comments: yes, I fell for it. Fortunately, my beard was sufficiently developed to hide the burning colour of my cheeks but I got my revenge – see below.

Entry number 59 10 May 2009 (walk back to Samar, 3660m)
A much better day today for two principal reasons 1) the wind wasn’t half as bad and 2) I found an old hay fever pill that helped to stop my nose running like a dripping tap. We walked for about 7 hours today, plenty of ups and downs as usual but you cannot imagine how tolerable this is when there is no wind and no nose nastiness!

Final update on rotten windup of the day; The scores were levelled today! The boys were carrying a few tins of canned fish (namely tuna and sardines) and Dad convinced Neema to cook him fish and chips and me a crappy old Dhal Bhat which of course Neema did. So when dinner turned up the tables were turned and the boys were killing themselves with laughter yet again. I know, I know, you had to be there and all that but there is no telly in the mountains so you need to amuse yourselves somehow!

Dad’s comments: I hatched the plot with the help of Gautam, who set it up, and Neema who was cooking for us this evening. I think that this was a better revenge than striking Mark’s legacy out of my will. (I’d thought about this solution but decided it was too harsh!)

Upper Mustang. Samar (mountain views) 4

Entry number 60 11 April 2009 (walk to Jomson, 2720m)
This was an absolute killer of a day (yet another one!) that involved a great deal of the morning walking along a dry, uneven riverbed head strong into a 90 mile an hour wind (I kid you not). To add to our woes, as we were about to reach Kagbeni it also started to rain and turned very cold so by the time we reached where we were to have lunch we were wet, cold, wind beaten and completely void of any energy; in fact it needed a serious effort to order my Chilly Yak and rice plus a bottle of Sprite before falling into recovery mode for the next 40 minutes or so until lunch turned up.

The afternoon was also tough and the wind was joined by its good friend the rain which put me in a great mood by the time we reached Jomson. I was ready to cheer up by the time we arrived until I found out the hotel (yes hotel, see below) we were staying at was another 15 minute trek up a dirty great big hill. We had been booked in what is
probably the best hotel in the Himalayas, the Jomson Mountain Resort. Now to put this hotel into perspective, not only do you get bathrobes, slippers, cable TV etc but the property also had an indoor swimming pool. OK, it wasn’t heated but none the less, an indoor pool??? The only killer was that you had to walk up about 150m from the town to reach the hotel. You really do not want a steep climb at the end of a hard day’s trekking. I was not a happy chappie when I saw the location of the hotel.

Dad’s comments: walking on the river bed has its problems (lots of rocks making it very uneven) but also its consolations (a possibility to find ammonite fossils aged somewhere between 100 and 400 million years old). Kage, the Sherpa, found a small fossil on the way up the Valley which he gave to me and I found a much larger one on the way back, suitable for use as a paper weight. Mark wasn’t interested in looking for fossils. He just complained about the wind, the dust, the rain and anything else that kept him from his lunch.

Entry number 61 12 May 2009 (walk to Kalopani, 2530m)
After a very pleasant breakfast, seated around the pool, we headed off on our penultimate day of trekking. Still heading into the wind (which we were starting to get used to), the day started fine but within the hour it had started to rain and soon after that it was really pelting it down and we spent the rest of the day in full waterproof gear marching on and trying to go as fast as possible. The boredom of trekking in such crappy weather with no views was only broken by meeting a mad old Nepalese guy who had been to the Netherlands for a potato conference , then onto the UK and what was then West Germany. Dad put his foot down and surged on ahead, leaving me listening to the old sod droning on about potatoes and other equally fascinating vegetable crops.

We were cold and wet when we arrived so we quickly had dinner and disappeared into the warmth of our sleeping bags.

Entry number 62 13 May 2009 (walk to Tatopani, 1190m)
We woke up around 5.30am to the most fantastic views of the Annapurna Massif and the Dhauliguri mountain. I got up and went onto the roof to take some shots. Dad just lay in bed and said he would look at mine! This is technically my last day of trekking so I was pleased to have such great views and we set off at 8am for a nice easy, downhill trek that
would take around 7 hours and take us down to an elevation of just under 1300m, which is less than Kathmandu and therefore positively tropical. We completed the days walk in 4.5 hours, well Gautam and Dad did. The rest of us took about 5 hours. For some reason they were both on a mission to out walk each other and were going like bats out of
hell. For once I couldn’t be bothered to race (in fact my legs couldn’t have done it anyway) and I took my time, although I hasten to point out that I still beat the recommended trekking time by 2 hours!

Dad’s comments. Gautam is a fast walker and usually would be way out in front while we were walking. Today, as we were back down at a lower altitude where the oxygen is plentiful and because the walk was slightly downhill all the way, I decided to see if I could keep up with him. I used him as a pace-maker and kept about 4 metres behind him all the way for about 4 hours. He didn’t shake me off and we both finished in Tatopani, neck-and-neck, about 20 minutes before the rest of the crew. I was probably looking a bit smug but the beard covered all that.

We ordered lunch when we arrived and had a beer each to celebrate finishing the trek. We were feeling very happy with ourselves and this was enhanced when the heavens opened up just as lunch arrived, safe in the knowledge that if we would have been any slower we would have arrived drenched (*). Lunch was followed by a cold shower and a little lay down, both deserved in my opinion.

(*) If I had arrived drenched in Tatopani it would have been quite ironic as Kirsty and I came to this place about 10 years ago and en route got caught on the mother of all storms and arrived at the same teahouse completely soaked and freezing cold.

Around Annapurna. Tatopani 1Mandatory group shot

Dad’s final comments: this was the end of the trek and before Mark gets into his eulogy below, here is a summary of my feelings:

I now have a fund of stories to tell about the trek for years to come: of crossing over many long oscillating suspension bridges over raging torrents and deep gorges (I walked slowly and carefully!); of scrambling up mountainsides to get around a river; of rediscovering the “joys” of sleeping under canvas on stony ground; of learning how to use the hole-in-the-ground Asian squat toilets (ugh!); of getting up at 4:30 AM to leave camp at 5:30 AM in falling snow to climb 700m to cross over the 5416m/17,769 ft Thorung La high pass at 7:15 AM (that’s higher than any mountain in Europe and also in the United States, with two exceptions – Mt. McKinley and Mt. Saint Elias) and then descending 1800m to avoid any altitude sickness problems and also to get out of the cold; of being conned by Mark to ask for fish and chips in a teahouse in the remote Upper Mustang Valley region of Nepal, much to the amusement of the porters and the Sherpa (I got my revenge the day after); of crossing a very fast-flowing river on a very rickety wooden bridge with high risk of falling into the river (I needed a helping hand); of having cold showers whilst already freezing cold; of getting serious asthma from the passing mule and donkey trains (Mark’s Symbicort steroid inhaler sorted me out, thank goodness, plus I used a face mask from then on while passing the mule trains); of battling the arthritis in one of my big toes whilst walking (I needed painkillers on two occasions); of finding a decent sized ammonite fossil (between 100 and 400 million years old) in the Upper Mustang Valley riverbed; of coming across a western-style toilet on Day 10 (such joy, such bliss); of negotiating some very narrow and sloping mountain paths with precipitous drops similar to those in Madeira except there was no turning back (the Sherpa helped me over the sections where the path had been obliterated by landslides); of desperately “grabbing oxygen” and trying not to look like a goldfish whilst walking up the hills at the higher altitudes (anything over 4000m); of spectacular scenery all the way; and so on.
As I said, many stories, but what an experience!

Some statistics:
– We walked for 21 days: 19 walking days and 2 acclimatization rest days where we still walked but only “out and back” circulars. We walked north up the whole of the eastern side of the Annapurna Massif, through the Thorung La pass into The Upper Mustang Valley to reach Lo Manthang, the Forbidden City (about 23 km from the Nepal – Tibet border). Then we retraced our steps back down the Upper Mustang Valley and walked back along part of the western side of the Annapurna Massif.
– The total “as the crow flies” walking distance was estimated to be 470 km (290 miles). The actual “feet on the ground” walking distance will be greater because we rarely walked at a constant altitude. It’s either up or down but seldom flat.
– We started on Day 1 at an altitude of 700m and climbed up to the 5416m Thorung La pass on Day 11 – an up/down up/down vertical ascent of 4700m (nearly 3 miles) over 11 days. From then on, most of the walking was at 3500m – 4000m in the Upper Mustang Valley.
– The average walking hours per day was 6 to 7 hours plus resting time plus lunch time.
– My weight loss over the duration of the trek was around 7kg (around 15 lbs). My winter budding Buddha tummy has gone! I`m down to 81 kg (178 lb). Mark is down to 65 kg (143 lb). He needs fattening up!

In summary, this trek has been one of the hardest physical, and mental, things I have ever done but immensely enjoyable and satisfying.

During the trek, I grew a beard. I e-mailed a photograph home and received strict orders from one wife, one daughter-in-law and two granddaughters to remove it before I returned to the UK. Needless to say, I obeyed the female Mafia. I went to a barber in Kathmandu and had it shaved off. (That`s another story – it`s the first time I’ve ever let anyone shave off my beard!)

I recommend such a trek (a) if you want to lose weight and get fit, (b) if you want a physical and mental challenge, and (c) if you`re a masochist!

My thanks to Mark for all the planning before the trek, support during the trek, and many, many helpful tips including how to stuff an over-sized sleeping bag into an under-sized stuff bag. (I never did learn how to do it properly.) I forgive you for losing my very best face flannel and I suspect it’s now OK to pick your nose!

Thanks for putting up with me and for making the trek such an enjoyable experience.

Entry number 63 14 May 2009 (drive to Pokhara)
We started the day at 07.30am with a ride to Beni in the oldest and most knackered looking taxi you could imagine. It was sliding all over the mountain roads to begin with but then we worked out the little car was top heavy at the back due to two westerners and all the luggage in the boot so this was quickly put on the roof (the luggage, not us) and, apart from the odd smacking of the head on the roof, we arrived in Beni an hour and a half later without further incident. The final journey from Beni onwards to Pokhara also started off fine until we hit roadworks about an hour out of the town. We then had to sit in the searing heat for 2 hours whilst some ********* played around on a digger that he quite frankly didn’t know how to use. There was nothing we could do and finally we checked into our deluxe hotel in Pokhara around 3pm and met with Kirsty who coincidently arrived at the same time (much to her frustration as I think she was hoping to meet with two clean trekkers who would have showered by the time she arrived instead of two that stunk to high heaven). We were sitting in Boomerang, one of the best restaurants in town by 7pm enjoying cold beer, good food and ice cream which Dad had been craving for at least a couple of weeks (I crave TGI Friday’s rack of ribs and fries so I have longer to wait).

Well this is it, the end of my trekking and the end of the marathon blogs (hurrah I hear you cry!). On the whole Dad was a great trekking partner. I say on the whole as there were certain annoyances which I will not go into right now (OK, briefly; snoring/weird noises whilst sleeping, not being able to undo the Velcro on his sleeping bag quietly, not carrying air freshener (I will let you work this one out for yourselves) and assuming I want to wake up when he does at 05.15am every morning) but as I say, on the whole not bad at all and I would happily do another one with him so thanks Dad for the company and for the odd beer you bought for me on the route!

As for me, 60 odd days of trekking is enough for one year (it has to be anyway, I am being booted out soon due to visa regulations). I have covered 9 treks and completed all bar one (the Everest nastiness), lost at least one stone in weight, seen seven of the eight 8000m+ peaks that are on Nepalese soil (*), slept (badly) at 4930m, been to a maximum elevation of 5416m , trekked through two snow storms, covered at least (by my reckoning) 750km of trekking trail, had altitude sickness and frostbite (well nearly, in the words of Andrew Cryer ‘never let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story`), had two beards, 400 head wobbles and eaten at least 35 Dhal Bhat (that is enough, believe me!).

I want to thank Gautam, Santosh, Kanchha and Neema (especially Gautam for getting me down from Everest when I had AMS and Santosh because he is a great guy and I will miss him loads) plus my lovely wife for moving out here to allow me to do this, my agent (????), my fans (?????), my family and friends, anyone else that knows me and last but not least my iPod Touch which has given me hours of amusement over the past 6 months and not packed up ever 5 minutes like my stupid computer did.

(*) Name them I hear you cry; Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Dhaulagriri, Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Annapurna. The other one is Kanchenjunga (which I have also seen but not this time around).

The end. No more tedious ramblings from me until I find something else to do…


 

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