Archive for November, 2011

Pokhara chill out

We have spent the last couple of days relaxing in the best place to relax of the whole Nepal: the city of Pokhara!

Pokhara, or more specifically, the area of Pokhara called Lakeside, is the perfect place for chilling out after a trek. The relaxed atmosphere created by the Phewa lake creates the idillic conditions to enjoy its cool restaurants and cafes. They offer all kind of delicacies of excellent quality at very reasonable prices and beautiful gardens and terraces where to let the time pass.


Boats at the shore of Phewa Tal, Lakeside Pokhara

After spending the last couple of weeks in simple mountain lodges with basic services, we feel really spoilt with all this luxury! We have enjoyed the best pizzas in Nepal so far in the Italian restaurant Caffé Concerto, the best thali (Nepali dish) at the Pokhara Thakali Restaurant and the best breakfast of the trip at Mike’s Restaurant.

In Pokhara there is also a wide range of massage places which aim to relieve the pain of the tired muscles of trekkers returning from the mountains. Among them, we chose the Seeing Hands Clinic, a UK Charity which aims to give bling people in Nepal a brighter future. In the Nepali society, blind people are marginalized because of traditional beliefs that blindness is a curse or penance for sins in a previous life. The Seeing Hands project creates an opportunity for blind people in Nepal. We read about the project in the internet and we decided that we wanted to contribute to it. So we booked a time yesterday evening and we enjoyed one hour of massage by the hands of a couple of young and friendly blind Nepalese masseurs.


Seeing Hands Clinic in Pokhara (there is another clinic in Kathmandu)

After spoiling ourselves so much yesterday with food and massages, today we felt like we wanted to see Pokhara outside of Lakeside.

We read that there was a Tibetan settlement at the South of the city and we decided to visit it. A couple of local buses drove us to the suburbs of Pokhara and we followed the locals’ indications until we found the Tibetan camp. The settement is a nice green area with Tibetan flags, a modern monastery and several stalls selling Tibetan souvenirs. The ladies there try to attract you to their all stall with all kind of tricks, but they are all really kind and sweet and we bought several items at different stalls: earrings made of diverse precious stones such as turquoise, coral, tiger eye, lapislazuli and amber, silver necklaces with Tibetan symbols (Om, Bhudda face, etc) and hand woven clothes, among others. We also visited the carpet factory where Tibetan women weave carpets with beautiful motifs of tigers, bears and Tibetan vilages. We had a pleasant stroll around the village and all the Tibetans that we met received us with a broad smile.


Tibetan woman weaving a belt in the Tibetan settlement at the South of Pokhara

Finally, we went to the old part of town: the area called Bazar. We really loved it here! It was like travelling to India, but without all the hazzle. The bazar is a broad street with little traffic, but many, many people, some selling and some buying all kind of products: clothes, kitchen utensils, vegetables, toys, tools…It was really fun to see the Nepali making their bussiness, checking the quality of the products, negoziating the price, etc. And above all, Iván and I really enjoyed the food stalls!! We tried it all: the momos, the samosas and pakodas, the peanuts, the local bakery, the fruits…We ate so many of these delicious snacks that when we arrived to the hotel around 19:00, we didn’t feel like having dinner or like going anywhere else. Our day have already been full of great experiences and tomorrow morning we will take the early bus to Kathmandu. Our next post will actually be about the capital of Nepal. Post you soon!


Street lentils vendors in the Bazar area of Pokhara

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Tea house trekking in the Annapurna Region (07th to 24th Nov.2011)

Today it has been exactly three weeks since we arrived to Nepal! And today is the first day with internet connection since we left Kathmandu the 7th of November, so we are really excited for being able to finally post something in the blog!

We are writing these lines from Pokhara, the second largest city in the country, where we have arrived this afternoon. Pokhara is strategically located close enough to the mountains and it is the beginning or/and the ending point of many trekking trips in Nepal. For us, Pokhara is the end of our trekking and it means a few relaxing days after two weeks of trekking in the Himalayas.

The concept of tea house trekking is very popular in Nepal. In the Annapurna Region, there are always villages every 2-3 hours and there are usually a number of tea houses which are able to accommodate you for the night. This makes the trek really easy because nothing has to be booked in advance. Even though we did the trekking in high season, we never had a problem to find a bed (though the earlier you arrive to the village, the bigger choice of free places). A responsible trekking involves sustainable activities such as solar showers, kerosene-based cooking instead of wood-based cooking, and traditional tea houses rather than newer concrete buildings. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) promotes these activities and we always tried to stay in tea houses offering these sustainable services.

During our first day in Kathmandu, we got the two permits which are necessary for trekking in the Annapurna Region: the TIMS card (25 US$) and the ACAP permit (2000 NPR) by the Nepal Tourist Board, next to Ratna Park. It was a fast and smooth process and after one hour and four passport photos each, we got both permits. We stayed a couple of days more in Kathmandu in order to deal with a few matters (getting the second shoots of rabies vaccine at the CIWEC clinic, finding a couple of good sleeping bags to rent and solving money issues) and we also did some sightseeing, which we will explain in another post later this month.

Our initial plan was to trek the Annapurna Circuit from Bhulbhule to Nayapul in 18-20 days. This is one of the most popular treks in the world and definitely one of the most trekked in Nepal. Its highlights are the environmental and cultural diversity that you can experience during the trek. First of all you pass through different climatic zones ranging from 840 m to 5416 m of altitude, which allows drastic landscape changes from tropical jungle to rhododendron forests. Moreover you find diverse ethnic groups, from Nepalese Hindu to Tibetan Buddhist, which allows getting to know the different local cultures, as well as to visit amazing monasteries and attending its ceremonies. Besides that, the views of the mountains from this trek are breathtaking. However, because of the construction of a road on the eastern part of the circuit (between Muktinath and Nayapul), we decided to take a bus on day 13 in order to avoid trekking on the road. Moreover, this allowed us to save some days and to trek a part of the Annapurna Sanctuary trek instead.

On Monday the 7th of November, we took a local bus from Kathmandu to a village called Bhulbhule, which was the starting point of our trek. Taking a local bus in Nepal is an experience by itself and we enjoyed it a lot! The bus was supposed to depart at 06:45 a.m. and according to the personnel at the ticket office, the bus ride would take between 7 and 8 hours to drive the 180 Km. We do not even know when the bus really departed, because local people kept getting on and off the bus until we left Kathmandu. It seemed that the bus driver and the “boys” managing the tickets were making some extra money with selling tickets to local people who were going to their villages outside Kathmandu. This people didn’t have official tickets not either assigned seats, so they just got on the bus with all their luggage/children/animals and they tried to squeeze somewhere in the bus, sometimes on the floor, sometimes standing, sometimes on your lap :o) As it couldn’t be in another way in a mainly Hindu country, the mood was liven up by Bollywood music videos during the whole bus ride. Finally, the bus ride took more than 10 hours and by the time we reached Bhulbhule, we didn’t feel like hiking that day as we had initially planned, so we decided to stay in Bhulbhule that first night.

During the trekking, we had the following daily routine: we got up early, between 5 and 6 a.m. We packed our bags and we either ate breakfast at the tea house where we had spent the night or we started trekking and then we stopped for breakfast at the next village. Then we continued trekking until lunch, we had a lunch break at a tea house and we continued trekking until the day’s destination. Once at the village, we found a nice tea house where to spend the night. Most of the days we arrived to the destination between noon and three o’clock and we had time to do some laundry, walking through the village or just relaxing in the tea house’s garden. We usually had dinner between 18 and 19:00 and after chatting and playing cards with the other trekkers, we were usually in bed by 21:00.

Some people had guides and porters for the trek, but we decided not to use them because we wanted to be more independent and to be able to decide our own pace, where to eat, where to stay, etc. We found many people who were happy with their guides, but also some others who were annoyed because of their guide’s behaviour. Even though having a guide can be a really positive experience, we were happy to do it without. I carried the photo backpack with the netbook and the books (6-7 Kg) and Iván basically carried the stuff of both of us (14-15 Kg).

In this type of trip, one could expect the food to be boring due to the lack of diversity or creativity. This is totally normal and understandable. No many vegetables grow at high altitudes and everything has to be carried by porters or donkeys…really hard work! However, it seems that all tea house owners have taken a cooking course, because they all offer the same menus including both Nepalese dishes such as momos (Tibetan raviolis), dal bhat (rice with lentils and veg), fried noodles or rice and even Western delicacies such as pizzas, lasagnes, burritos, enchiladas and musakas!!

Our budget for the trekking was 20 US$/person/day. That is around 3200 Nepalese rupees (NPR) for both of us per day. The prices of the rooms at the tea houses were between 50 and 300 NPR per double room. And the deal was that you ate both dinner and breakfast there, which is where the tea house owners make their business. As some examples, a meal could cost between 200 and 500 NPR, a beer around 350 NPR and a medium tea top around 250 NPR.

Below it is a summary of our itinerary and a short journal of each day on the trek. At the end of the post, we have listed the highlights of the trek and the things that we would have done differently. We hope that this will help people who might do this trekking route in the future. Finally, you can see some of the best pictures by following the Flickr link at the bottom right end of this page.

Our trek in numbers:
Total no. of days: 18
Total distance: 142 Km (Annapurna Circuit) + 67 Km (Annapurna Sanctuary)
Total no. of hours of trekking: 52 hrs (Annapurna Circuit) + 25 hrs (Annapurna Sanctuary)
Max. elevation: 5416m
Itinerary: bus to Bhulbhule – Jagat – Tal – Chame – Upper Pisang – Bhraga – Manang – Yak Kharka – Thorung Phedi – Muktinath – Kagbeni – Marpha – bus to Tatopani – Ghorepani – Tadapani – Chhomrong – Ghandruk – Nayapul

Annapurnas at sunrise from Poonhill

Day 1 (07.11.11) – Kathmandu to Bhulbhule: 180 Km, 10 hrs by bus
Today was spent in getting to Bhulbhule, a village which is the starting point to the trekking. We got there by 15:00 and we got a room with fantastic views of the surrounding hills and the river at Thorong La Hotel.

Nepalese woman weaving a basket in Bhulbhule

Before dinner, we go for a walk and we find a beautiful waterfall and a typical Nepalese swing, where Sonsoles have a lot of fun:

Sonsoles in a typical Nepalese swing

Waiting for the shower, we met a group of very nice people, who will become our trekking companions for the following day/s: Pru (New Zealand) and her husband Dennis (Germany), Théssé (France) and Nour (Egypt). We also meet a couple of young Canadian girls (Crystal and Ali) and even though they trek at their own pace, we kept meeting them along the way.

Day 2 (08.11.11) – Bhulbhule (840 m) to Jagat (1300 m): 16 Km, 5.5 hrs
Today we start to trek!! The weather since we arrive to Nepal has been cloudy and foggy so far, but from today the weather gets clear and sunny for the first time in like 3 weeks (according to the locals). We are lucky to get an amazing view of the first high peaks from Bhulbhule!! During the trek, we pass though the beautiful villages of Bahundanda, where we make a break at the wonderful Mountain View Hotel (in this hotel they will charge extra according to your snoring level!!) and Ghermu, where we have lunch with views at the village and a waterfall.

Girls in school break in Ghermu village

We sleep at the unpleasant village of Jagat, but we all get rooms in the River View Hotel with hot showers! This evening we meet a nice group of three Germans (Anika, Achim and Chris) who will eventually be part of our “trekking group”.

Day 3 (09.11.11) – Jagat (1300 m) to Tal (1700 m): 9 km, 3.5 hrs
Today is our second day on the road. We get a nice breakfast of porridge with apple and banana and ginger and honey tea. We start at 08:30 a.m. because today we want to take it easy. We walk from Jagat to Tal without long breaks. We pass the nice village of Chamche where we see that the Tibetan Hotel would have been a much nicer option to spend the night than Jagat. The views from here are exceptional!!

Suspension bridge at Chamche

Today was supposed to be a relaxed day, with only about 2-3 hours of trekking, but the way was really steep and hard to trek. We decided to stay in Tal because it is a nice village in a valley, with a glacial river, a waterfall and nice guesthouses. Upon arrival to the guesthouse we have a lot of fun with the stretching sessions taught by Théssé! When we are having lunch we meet the Canadian girls again and we have lunch with them. Then they continue to the following town, so does Nour (the only night that he stays at a different place than the rest of us). We all go for a walk to the waterfall and the glacial river. Iván and I buy two woollen Nepalese hats which will protect us from the cold evenings. For dinner, we try the local pumpkin curry and corn bread. We also try the local beer made of fermented millet which looks like lemonade and tastes like a strong brew, but not like beer at all!! During dinner, we meet a really funny big guy from Hong Kong (Willie Booker) who tells us that he just published a book to help women to understand the Hongkonese men! We have a really fun conversation with him and his Nepalese friend about between relationships between women and men in the West and in the East.

Day 4 (10.11.11) – Tal (1700 m) to Chame (2710 m): 22 km, 7 hrs
Today is a very long day so we start really early in the morning (6 a.m.) after a breakfast made of porridge and ginger tea. We see a really funny incident with a cow which doesn’t want to cross one of the suspension bridges, crazy!! We took the upper path from Danaqyu, because the lower path is closed because of landslides. The area around Thanchowk is amazing.

A grandma resting at Thanchowk

And her lovely grandaugther

Lunch break at Thanchowk Mountain Hotel: beautiful location overlooking the mountains. We finally reach Chame at 15:00. There we re-meet Nour again and we see “Hong Kong” man and the “German team”. Our team (Pru, Dennis, Théssé, Nour, Iván and I) try the lodges at the end of the village (crossing the bridge), but all of them are full. We end up at the Trekkers Holiday Inn, with just fine rooms but a really nice kitchen and dinning room with fireplace. We get a bit angry during the night because of some noisy neighbours…which happened to be rats!! This place was definitively not the best.

Day 5 (11.11.11) – Chame (2710 m) to Upper Pisang (3310 m): 14.5 km, 5 hrs
The scenery is getting more and more beautiful everyday, as we get deeper into the valley towards Manang. We get up quite early again (6 a.m.) in order to reach Upper Pisang by noon. We do not get breakfast in our guesthouse, but we have a tea with biscuits in the village after Chame (Bhratang), in a nice tea-house managed by a young couple with a lovely little girl. We continue through forests of conifers in an amazing landscape. After a steep hill, we find three street stores with local guys selling souvenirs. We buy a nice little souvenir to put perfume in.

Curio seller holding the perfume bottle that I just bought to him

After that we continue to Lower Pisang and then the fantastic village of Upper Pisang. This is the most authentic village that we have seen so far! When you see it from Lower Pisang, you seem to be transported to the medieval ages and when you get closer it is not disappointing at all.

Upper Pisang, a medieval looking village

In the village there is a nice Mani wall (Buddhist monument) and a monastery with a beautiful temple. We find a hotel at the entrance of Upper Pisang (Hilltop Hotel) with a nice terrace overlooking the mountains and we decide to stay there instead of in any of the other three guesthouses in the top of the village (too small common areas).

With our trekking friends in the tea house terrace in Upper Pisang

We have some lunch and we head to the monastery, from where we have an awesome view of Annapurna II. There we are offered lemon tea by the monks and we have a great time visiting the temple. It is a quiet place with music and beautiful paintings of Buddha in the walls. There are four monks studying when we arrive and I talked to them a little bit. They tell me that there are eight monks living in this monastery and that they stay here for six months before going to their permanent destination in Kathmandu. After the visit we talk with a nice French couple that we met yesterday while we trekked and they tell us that they have studied in DTU for 3 months! We stayed a little longer in the temple and we are lucky to see the Buddhist chanting ceremony that the monks do every day at 16:30. It is a nice ceremony which starts when one monk does the “dong” and then continues inside the temple where four monks sing and play instruments and another monk walk around with something like a “botafumeiro” for about 30 min. After that we rejoin Pru, Dennis, Théssé, Nour and the “German team” in the dinning area of the hotel. For dinner we have Tibetan Thentuk with veg. and egg (thick noodle soup).

Day 6 (12.11.11) – Upper Pisang (3310 m) to Bhraga (3450 m): 17.5 km, 7 hrs
We start to walk at 06:30 a.m. together with Pru, Dennis, Nour and Théssé, but on the way we meet the two Canadian girls (Crystal and Ali) and the German team (Chris, Achim and Anika). The first part of the trek is flat through a very beautiful pine forest. But right across the suspension bridge after a Mani wall, the path becomes a really steep zig-zag to the top of the hill. It takes us one hour to climb to Ghyaru, with constant stops because of the steepness of the path. Once on the top, we have breakfast (several cups of lemon tea, masala tea and ginger tea with biscuits) at the Yak Ru Mount View, a really nice guesthouse and restaurant at the entrance of Ghyaru. The sky is all covered by clouds since we start to trek, but when we arrive to this place, the clouds “open up” to show the white giants behind them. I think that this might be one of the best places to have breakfast in the world!!

Breakfast break at wonderful Ghyaru

After breakfast, we trek together with the German team until lunch. The upper route to Manang has amazing scenery of forests and mountains. We have garlic noodle soup for lunch at Ngawal (another medieval village) before heading to Manang. On a break in Mugje, the Canadian girls and we decide that maybe we will stay in Bhraga instead of Manang, because it seems that Manang is quite crowded. This proved to be a good decision, because in Bhraga we got a room in a very nice hotel (Buddha Hotel) with amazing views to the mountains and the river in the outdoor terrace. Unfortunately, Pru, Dennis, Théssé, Nour and the “German team” were ahead of us and already got a room in Manang by the time that the Canadian girls and I get there. Iván decides to stay in the hotel because he is really tired and already feeling the effects of the altitude. When the Canadian girls and I come back to the hotel, Iván and I have dinner at the common room and go to bed shortly after, as we are really tired and I feel sick from my cold.

Day 7 (13.11.11) – Bhraga (3450 m) and Manang (3540 m) – Acclimatization day: 2 km, 0.30 hrs + acclimation hike to monastery (5 Km, 2 hrs)¨
Today it is an acclimatization day in Manang, as we are in an altitude above 3500 m. In the morning we have a nice breakfast made of lemon tea and fresh cakes made at the bakery next door at the outdoor terrace. Then we go to the Bhraga Gompa, a really old Buddhist monastery at the top of the hill, and finally we meet the others in Manang. Nour gets a room for us in Manang, just for this night, at Marsyangdi Hotel. It is a quite basic hotel, but the room is ok for the price. Together with out trekking companions, we decide to make an “acclimatization trip” to the top of a hill, where a 95-years old Lama tells a prayer for the trekkers to the Thorung La for 100 NPR. This trip lasts around 2 hours (back and forth), but it is a quite steep slope, so we are pretty tired when we get back to Manang. We arrive just with enough time to go the lecture about high altitude sickness given by a doctor from the NGO Himalayan Rescue Association. It is a really good lecture where we learn about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonar Edema). After the lecture, we talked to the doctor and get some tips about Diamox, blisters, etc, and got measured our oxygen levels in blood (it has to be above 82% and we get around 92-95%). Then, Iván and I have a cup of hot chocolate with chocolate cake and apple cake at the Nilgiri Bakery and in the evening, the whole group (our + German team) have dinner at Mavi’s restaurant (really nice pizzas with yak cheese, veg. lasagnes, yak burgers and Nepalese dishes). Before going to bed, we all play cards games in our friends’ hotel (Tilicho Hotel) until the lights go off around 9 p.m. From this evening Iván and I start taking half a pill of Diamox (125 mg) every 12 hours in order to help acclimatizing to the altitude, as recommended by the doctor of the Himalayan Rescue Association. And we can definitely tell that it helps us: we sleep better and our headaches go away, but it makes you pee like crazy :o)

Day 8 (14.11.11) – Manang (3540 m) to Yak Kharta (4050 m): 9 km, 3 hrs
Today Iván and I start earlier than the others. We trek from 07:15 to 10:15 a.m. It is a quite easy trek slightly uphill from Manang to Gunsang, but mostly flat from Gunsang to Yak Kharta. In Gunsang we have a ginger lemon honey tea with biscuits in Marsyangdi Hotel, a beautiful hotel with wonderful mountain views. When we arrive to Yak Kharta the hotels are still not full, so we check three hotels before we decide. Finally we take three double rooms (for Pru and Dennis, Nour and Théssé and Iván and I) and one triple room (for Anika, Chris and Achim) in Nyeshyang Hotel, at the end of the town. It is the best value for money, with spacious double rooms and good common areas (an outdoor terrace, an indoor glass dinning room in the upper floor and an indoor dinning room with stove in the ground floor). We spend the rest of the day eating, reading and relaxing in the common areas.

Day 9 (15.11.11) – Yak Kharta (4050 m) to Thorung Phedi (4450 m): 6 km, 3 hrs
Today the whole group, including the three Germans, starts around 7:15 a.m., after having breakfast together. We try champa porridge, a kind of “papilla” made of local flour. It is very, very cold and just after few meters we have to face some frozen water streams. It seems like the day will not be piece of cake. Indeed, soon Sonsoles and I are left behind by the others. Sonsoles is having some difficulties to breathe, probably due to altitude, cold, etc. After an hour or so, the sun starts heating up our bodies and we feel better. We find our pace and slowly catch up with the others, they are not far. Today’s trek is not too difficult, only three ours, but still, we need to gain about 450 meters and the altitude is taking some of our strength left. Only a couple of km before reaching our destination a “trap” has “been set up for us”. A very, very sinuous down hill with very loose ground let us to a small bridge. After the bridge, a steep hill leads us to the last flat 30 minutes to Thorung Phedi. The location is windy and cold as we have never experienced before during the trek. We stay at New Phedi lodge which is one of the (only) two lodges here. The day is long, and somehow the anxiety for the next day builds up in everybody. The evening gets colder and colder and the enclosed location is totally foggy. Tea is your best friend and we enjoy the evening with our friends again. Tomorrow is the big day.

Day 10 (16.11.11) – Thorung Phedi (4450 m) to Muktinath (3800 m) via the Thorung La Pass (5416 m): 16 km, 8 hrs
Today is the BIG DAY. We trek for 10 hours (with 1.5 hour lunch break at Charabu) from Thorung Phedi to Muktinath. We go through the World’s highest pass of Thorung La at 5416 m. The night before everybody is a little nervous and the magnitude of the next day trek sinks deep in our subconscious. We start very early in the morning, get up at 4 a.m. and have breakfast at 4:30 a.m. Nobody is late today, and at 5 a.m. we are all ready to go. Very few dare to make jokes this morning. We have all been warned, the first climb to High Camp is really, really hard. Today we say: No one is left behind. For the first time we work like a pro team and as soon as somebody has to stop, the whole group call out each other till everybody notices. It is dark and only our head torches allow us find our way in the rather steep climb. The climb is almost as hard as beautiful, the sky is 100% clear and the moonlight cheers us up too. I can not stop saying: this is so beautiful!! People feel still the tension and very few dare following the comment. Maybe because the cold equally wakes you up and it is easier to stand than the intense heat of the noon, the climb to High Camp does not feel that bad and we complete it in little less than an hour. The team is really excited since the hardest part seems to be over. We take a short break and continue to keep the great momentum. To be honest, I though that Sonsoles would have it very tough through this section, but she did very well and kept the pace of the team on this fearsome climb. Our next stop is the pass after two to three hours of less steep climb. We continue the climb for another one and a half hours till a tea house that helps us warm up our bodies. The sun is coming out, but temperature feels way below 0 degrees. So far, so good, the team keeps up the spirit. From the tea house, only one hour climb is in between us and the pass.

Sunrise in the way to Thorung La Pass

The Thorung La Pass, the highest pass in the world, and almost the only thing we have been talking about for the last 10 days!!! We are starting to feel very confident, and not signs of AMS have appeared so far in the team. We all even carry our back packs and turned down the possibility to use a porter!! There is only about thirty minutes to the top when something happens. I feel a little tired, I am in the back of the group and only Sonsoles and Achim are behind me. The rest seems to feel ok and go ahead. I turned back and I see that Sonsoles is seating on the path and Achim is trying to warm her hands up. It looks like she needs a break or something and I watched from the distance (20-30 meters) waiting till she decides to continue. She is taking her time, maybe to much. I do not want to come back because it is steep and difficult to walk back. It is taking to long. I decide to come back to them and when I meet them I can not believe what I see. Sonsoles is in real trouble. She can not walk, almost can not talk properly, she keeps saying that she is fine, but she is obviously not. We try to warm her up because it is so cold, give her some water and some sugar, but none of these things she can do on her own. The world falls apart for me. I get really scared because she is at the brink of collapse. I try to kiss her to see how she is and I can feel that she is freezing cold. She can not move and almost see anything the situation gets dangerous because we are so far from everywhere and it is freezing cold; there is no time for rest either. Slowly Sonsoles gets a bit better and she even attempts to get to the pass by herself but I can understand that the situation is very dangerous, it does not look totally clear to me. After 100 meters or so, it happens again. This time the whole team is reunited and everybody understand the gravity of the situation. And then is when one of those things that make you believe happened. Two guides/porters just appeared with their robust horses asking if we needed any help. Sonsoles is loosing consciousness and seems to be left to her own devices again. I start to get desperate again too. The bargain is anxious and needs to be quick…Finally we get a horse to carry Sonsoles to the top of the pass (30-40 min. away) for 2000 NPR. The owner of the horse happens to be called Karma, which in Nepali means “luck”. Karma is a 26 years old Tibetan (Sherpa) from Manang. He speaks little English but he is extremely kind to Sonso helping her keeping her freezing hands a little warmer. His horse is a handsome brown 16 years old male called “Jossi”, which climbs at 5000 m like a walk in the forest!

Sonsoles arriving to Thorung La with the help of Karma and his horse "Jossi"

For some reason I can not explain, Sonsoles weakness gave incredible strength and I started feeling like I could almost run to the top. I just wanted to keep up with the horse and make sure she was fine. After half an hour or so I can see Sonso on the horse getting to a little tea house with some colourful prayer flags…there it is, the pass, I can not believe my eyes!! The whole team is very excited, although some of us are starting to feel some of the consequences of the altitude and the intense effort. We get a revitalizing tea and take some of the pictures that we will never forget.

After the pass, the descent is long and it takes us around four hours more to arrive to Muktinath. The way downhill is almost even harder than the climb to the top and it is quite hard on our knees and ankles. However, with each step the pass is left farther behind and we are happy to be able to complete the most difficult day of the trek!

Donkey caravan between Thorung La Pass and Muktinath

From the distance, Muktinath is a modern and dusty town, not so appealing to us. But apparently, it is a religious centre for both Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims and it has many important temples. However, we arrive at 16:00, it is getting dark and the day has been really long, so we go directly to the hotel without visiting any of them, which is a pity. In Muktinath, we stay at Hotel Monalisa, a cheap option in the middle of the main road, with simple rooms, but a cosy common room, hot showers (gas) and good food. We bargain to get free rooms and cheap beers that we deserve!

Day 11 (17.11.11) – Muktinath (3800 m) to Kagbeni (2800 m): 10 Km, 3 hrs
Today everybody is very relaxed because we already passed the hardest part of the trek. So we wake up late and we leave the hotel at 09:30 a.m. We say goodbye to Nour, who is taking a jeep to Jomsom to leave the country in two days. Chris and I take it really easy and walk at a leisure pace, stopping to take pictures, etc.

A grandma with her grandaugther weaving a piece of cloth

Kali Gandaki Valley (the deepest valley in the World) at Kagbeni

At some point we meet Iván, who is waiting for us before entering Kagbeni. The others have already entered the village, but we take the wrong path and it takes longer for us to arrive. When we arrive to Kagbeni, we go directly to the hotel recommended by our guidebook (The Red House Lodge Hotel) and the three of us love it! It is an old traditional house in two floors where we each get a double room in the top floor. The Hotel even has a private temple inside the house, with a 2.5 m Buddha sculpture! Then we go to find the others, who have already got rooms at the newer Hotel Shangri-La. We agree on meeting again in the evening, and Iván, Chris and I go for lunch at the Yak Donnalds, that despite its name it is a family-run restaurant where all food except cans and bottles is organic and delicious. We have a yak burger with yak cheese, French fries and seabuck juice (local juice from seabuck thorn which only grows above 3500 m altitude). A really good place! Then Iván and I come back to the hotel, take a revitalizing shower (very hot water at high pressure!!) and do the laundry. When we finish it is around 15:00 and we have time to walk around the village and to see the animist sculptures of the 11-12th century, the pure (not mules) and friendly donkeys, the Mani wall, the entrance to Mustang Protected Area, and the crazy herd of goats! It is getting dark, so we go for a couple of “café latte” at the German Bakery, where we meet a Spanish woman (Susana) which is travelling alone with a guide and a porter (his son). She is going to trek the Western side of the Annapurna trek and the Annapurna Sanctuary. We have a nice chat, but it is getting late, so we come back to the hotel to order dinner with Chris. In the hotel, we meet really interesting people: a couple of Americans who are travelling with rented motorbikes together with his guides, and a guy from Scotland who is travelling alone. For dinner, Iván eats a mushrooms lasagne and I have, after a recommendation of the hotel owner, a local burrito with veggies, beans and cheese. The food is really nice and the place is excellent. Iván and Chris come to meet the others, but their hotel is locked and they cannot come in. So finally they come back and we spend the rest of the evening chatting in our hotel with the other guests.

Day 12 (18.11.11) – Kagbeni (2800 m) to Marpha (2670 m): 15 km, 4 hrs
Today the trek goes through the world’s deepest valley (Kali Gandaki) in between two 8000 peaks. However, the construction of the road and the transit of motorbikes and jeeps makes the trail dusty and ugly. We pass through Jomsom, which is a ghost village, and we do not even stop here, but continue to Marpha. A couple of German guys (Ben and Torben) whom we met in Yak Donnalds in Kagbeni yesterday have recommended us to stay in Marpha instead of Jomsom. They are working as volunteers in a local apple juice factory and they promise to show us around the factory when we get to Marpha. The rest of the group stays in Jomsom for lunch, but Iván and I kept trekking to Marpha since we want to arrive as soon as possible. The whole trek today is ugly, dusty and through the rocky and sandy road, so it is not a nice or recommended experience. However, Marpha is a nice and clean village with white stone houses, red wooden windows and wood piled on the roofs. The big monastery and meditation centre, it is the first thing which gets your attention when arriving to the village. It somehow resembles Lhasa at small scale. Following the recommendation of our book, we stay at the Neernu Guesthouse, which is also the nicest place of the six or so that we check before deciding. This guesthouse is managed by a really sweet and attentive woman, and it has a really beautiful garden and a cosy common room with stove under some tables for the evening. We get a warm solar shower and we taste our best curries of the trip so far. While we are eating, the others arrive and check in at the guest house. They seem quite happy with the choice. Iván and I go for a walk and visit the monastery. Then we meet the two German guys and they agree on showing the apple factory to us and to the rest of the group. The project was started by one of his teachers in Munich. He was trekking in Nepal and he really liked Marpha and decided to do something for the local people. The factory is just a courtyard and an attached building where farmers go with their apples and make juice out of them. They pay 6 NPR per bottle and then they usually sell the juice for 100 NPR. After the interesting tour through the factory, Ben and Torben sold us three bottles for us to taste the juice and we invite them to our hotel later in the evening. We buy the bus tickets for the trip Marpha – Ghasa tomorrow and then we spend the rest of the evening at the hotel, where we eat delicious enchiladas made by the nice owner, “señora Camela”.

Day 13 (19.11.11) – Marpha to Tatopani: 4 hrs by bus
Most of the day is spent in two buses: bus Marpha – Ghasa from 07:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and bus Ghasa – Tatopani from 12:00 to 13:00. Tatopani is at around 1000 m and the weather here is almost tropical, quite hot and humid. We stay in a hotel recommended by the guide book: Hotel Dhaulaghiri, with nice gardens and just 2 min. from the hot springs. We get a room upstairs with big windows and splendid views of the river and the valley. The boss and waiters are attentive and nice and the food is ok. We spend about two hours relaxing in the hot springs combined with cold baths at the adjacent Kali Gandaki river and after dinner we say goodbye to the group them since they are heading to Pokhara and we are continuing with the trek.

Day 14 (20.11.11) – Tatopani (1200 m) to Ghorepani (2870 m): 15 Km, 7 hrs
Today we start the second part of the trek. While our trekking companions decided to get back to Pokhara, Iván and I chose to continue trekking. Partly because we had planned to trek the whole Annapurna circuit and we have done half way due to the new road and partly because we have heard that the villages in the Annapurna Sanctuary trek are very beautiful, we decide to trek from Tatopani to Ghorepani, then to Tadapani, then to Chhomrong and finally to Ghandruk before heading to Pokhara the 24th of November. Today we start early (07:30 a.m.) from Tatopani because it is a big trekking day to Ghorepani. The trek starts with a steep climb, but after it the views are really rewarding. The landscape is quite different to what we have seen till now: much greener scenery, much more plant diversity, Nepali houses scattered all around the way, children going to school, etc. Iván starts to feel pain in one of his heels (Achilles’ tendon) and we take it easy, stopping a few times to have a break, drink a cup of tea, etc. Finally I decide to carry the big bag for a while and oh my God…it is soooo heavy!! I walk like an old woman, totally bended, and I can only carry it for like one hour before Iván has to take over again :o( At some point before Phalate, we get lost and end up in a steep muddy truck trail that seems to never end. Local people are cutting wood in the forest nearby and the path is tedious. We almost desperate because we do not find the village, but suddenly we realize that we are already in Chitre, the next village! We find a cute restaurant (Mike’s restaurant) with stunning views to the valley and the mountains and we decide to have lunch there. The woman who owns the restaurant prepares two enormous dishes of delicious fried noodles, which we cannot even finish. After lunch we continue the steep climb for about one and a half hours to Ghorepani. The village is pretty crowded, but we manage to find a room with great views of the Annapurna South in the Snowland Hotel. The room is simple, but we love the views, and there is a stove in the dinning room, so we stay here. We watch the movie Mononoke Princess before dinner (chicken burger and (boring) mushroom curry rice). We go to bed early because tomorrow morning we want to visit Poon Hill for sunrise.

Day 15 (21.11.11) – Poon Hill (3200 m) and Ghorepani (2870 m) to Tadapani (2600 m): 18 Km, 6.5 hrs
Today we get up at 04:45 a.m. because we want to see the sunrise at Poon Hill. We dress up in the darkness and start the 45 min. walk to the top of the hill with many other trekkers. The sky is totally clear and the starts are stunning. There are so many people climbing to Poon Hill that the trek is slow, but we manage to get there by 05:45 a.m. The views from the top are breathtaking: from left to right, we can see the Dhaulagiri range (Dhaulagiri is the 7th highest peak in the World), the Annapurna I and Annapurna South and the Machhpuchhre, among other peaks. We stay until 07:30 a.m. and we are almost the last people to leave the place. Back in Ghorepani, we eat an earthly breakfast and we head to the trail. After a pleasant walk through the forest, we reach the Deurali pass at almost 3000 m. The views are great again!! We continue to Deurali village, Banthanti village, where we have lunch at Sankar restaurant by the river, and after a final descent and ascent, we reach Tadapani. The village is crowded again because of organized groups, and the only room that we can find is a tiny and very basic room at Panorama Point Hotel. The views from the village and especially from this hotel are incredible!! We enjoy the pink sunset outside with a small pot of hot milk tea before moving to the warmer dinning room with the rest of the guests (a group from Australia and a group of Koreans).

Poon Hill

Day 16 (22.11.11) – Tadapani (2600 m) to Chhomrong (2340 m): 10 Km, 3.5 hrs
Today the trek starts with a steep descent through a forest and after a couple of clearings and some lodges, the descent continues through rice terraces until reaching a suspension bridge. After the bridge, the path goes up through a series of steeps and then it becomes more or less flat until Chhomrong. We enjoy the whole trek a lot, the views are fantastic and we feel very strong today. Chhomrong grows along a hill and it consists only on one “street”. This street is actually a long stairway with lodges that look across the valley to the 7000 + peaks. When we get to Chhomrong, we are so tired that we decided to split tasks. I will keep the bags and Iván will try to find a nice room. After last night experience with the group travellers, we are keen to find a room in a hotel without groups. After 10 minutes, Iván comes back and shows me the way to the Chhomrong Cottage Hotel (old Hiunchuli guesthouse). He has got an amazing corner room upstairs with stunning views of the mountains, especially Machhpuchhre, which seems so close as if we could reach it with our hands. We take a revitalizing hot shower and we go for lunch at a restaurant down the stairway. We get two nice pizzas and a chocolate cake back in our room for dessert. Apparently, the chocolate cake that the owner of our hotel makes is as famous as it is mentioned in the Lonely Planet. And it is actually a really yummy cake with hot chocolate sauce on top :o) While Iván relaxes in the room, I come back to a curio shop that I saw on the way to our hotel. The owner seemed really kind and I would like to buy some souvenirs from him. When I get in the stall, he recognizes me (“hello again”) and he tells me that his name is Dawa and he comes from Tibet to sell his souvenirs during the peak trekking season. He tells me that he will come back home around Christmas. He offers me a seat to look at his collection of souvenirs. Everything is really beautiful! I end up buying a couple of turquoise earrings for me and a small prayer wheel necklace for Iván. We spend the rest of the evening relaxing in our room and in the common dinning room. For dinner, we get egg noodle soup, noodles, fried snickers bar and chocolate cake (again!). Today in the hotel we meet a retired couple from England, an American/Australian couple and a group of Russians.

Day 17 (23.11.11) – Chhomrong (2340 m) to Ghandruk (1940 m): 12 Km, 4 hrs
Today the trek starts with undoing the last 45 minutes that we trek yesterday in order to get to the intersection Chhomrong- Ghandruk. Then the trail descends steeply to the river and then it ascends steeply again to the top of the next hill. We stop to drink a juice and a coke at the top, where the views are superb! From there it is another hour or so through a flat and pleasant trail until Ghandruk. Once in Ghandruk, we check different lodges and we choose the Excellent view hotel because of the beautiful gardens and views and the kind Gurung family running it. In all this second part of the trek, we cannot believe our eyes! The scenery is so beautiful, the villages so charming and the mountains seem so close that we feel that we can touch them with our fingertips. The weather is amazing everyday and we enjoy wonderful sunrises and sunsets from our hotel rooms. All this area is still pristine and untouched. There are no roads or vehicles and the life goes on as for the last decades.

Ghandruk village

Day 18 (24.11.11) – Ghandruk (1940 m) to Nayapul (1070 m): 12 Km, 4 hrs
Today we wake up early as usual, but today we take it easy because we want to enjoy the morning at our beautiful hotel. Teresa, a middle-age traveller from Barcelona joins us for breakfast. We eat our banana and apple pancakes and drink our milk tea outside in order to enjoy the fantastic morning sun! After breakfast, we take a picture to the very kind owner of the hotel, say goodbye to them and to Teresa, and start the last trek. The trek to Nayapul takes us approximately four hours (from 09:00 to 13:00). It is a relatively easy trek (almost all the way down), but we are tired and looking forward to come to Pokhara, so it feels a little hard. We eat samosas, pakoras and an omelette at a local stall in Nayapul, and we hop into a local bus to Pokhara. The ride takes nearly two hours and at 15:00 we finally arrive to the second biggest town in Nepal. A short taxi ride brings us to the hotel that we had reserved, Hotel Karma, right in the middle of town and in front of the Royal Palace. When the kind owner shows us our room, Iván and I are really impressed: a huge and bright room with a double bed, a single bed, a sofa and an in-suite bathroom!! The common areas of the hotel are also really nice: few tables and chairs scattered around two patios, and there is even wifi in any part of the hotel! It seems like we are back into civilization.

Well, after all, we are sure that we will miss the mountains!!

Highlights:
– Scenery during all the trek, specially spectacular in the routes from Chame to Upper Pisang and from Upper Pisang to Manang
– Monastery in Upper Pisang. Attending the chanting ceremony at 16:30
– Staying in Bhraga one night and in Manang one night instead of two nights in Manang.
– Visiting the old monastery in Bhraga
– Visiting the initiative of the local apple juice factory in Marpha
– Villages of Upper Pisang (Tibetan fortress-like village), Kagbeni (Medieval village with little alleys, gateway to Upper Mustang) and Marpha (spotless village with beautiful white washed houses)
– Hot springs in Tatopani (paradise for your muscles after exhausting trekking)
– Trek Tatopani to Ghorepani and to Tadapani: greener scenery, rice terraces, local life
– Sunrise from Poon Hill: it is indeed quite crowded and touristy, but still remains a must for its stunning views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges, among others.
– Deurali pass: almost as breathtaking as Poon Hill, but less crowded!
– Villages of Chhomrong (colourful “stairway” village, gateway to the Annapurna Sanctuary) and Ghandruk (the most beautiful village of the whole trek!).

Things that we would have done differently:– Avoiding staying in Jagat. It is a dirty and claustrophobic village. Knowing it, we would have stayed in Ghermu (before Jagat) or in Chamche (after Jagat) instead.
– Staying a few hours in Muktinath in the morning in order to see some of the temples. We were so tired from the day of the pass that we ignored Muktinath (the dusty and industrial look of Muktinath didn’t help to make us becoming interested in it)
– Trying to arrive earlier to Tapadani, as the accommodation is scarce and it gets booked with groups.
– Having the time and the energy to trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary (4-5 more days and a down jacket away!).

First sight of the white giants

Hello from Asia!!!

First of all thank you new followers to the blog! And thanks Charly and Ian for being the first contributors to it. By the way, do not hesitate to write in other languages than English: Spanish, Danish and French are well understood and welcome 😮

This afternoon we arrived to our first destination: Nepal!!

The long trip included 3 flights, but everything went really smooth and we were very well taken care of with the Indian company Kingfisher.

Besides, as an appetizer for what we will see in a few days when we trek the Annapurna circuit, we already had a glimpse at the white giants: the mountains of the Himalayas! It was truly amazing to see the high peaks above the clouds as the plane descended to Kathmandu:

The Himalayas captured from the plane

A close up of the Himalayas above the clouds

As far as we have seen, Kathmandu could be a typical Indian town with heavy and crazy traffic, dusty roads and vehicles that challenge physics and mechanics when moving. However, never tell this to the Nepalese! At least our taxi driver, a nice and talkative guy, didn’t seem very happy with the comparison.

We are staying in a family Tibetan hotel in the centre of town for a few days. And when we get all the necessary trekking permits we will head to the mountains!