I’m back after 4 weeks of whirlwind flights, climbing 5418 metres, riding atop elephants and having one of the most challenging and exciting holidays I have ever taken.
Below are the email updates that I posted to my friends while I was away – they are the best round up that I can make as they are from the source of the moment, now that I am home it all feels like a dream to be honest.
Big hugs and kisses from the far-flung travelers.
I am writing to you from the office of our trekking company in Thamel, Nepal. The office is on the top story of one of the tiny cobbled and busy streets of Thamel, outside I can hear the whirring of the generator, the crows insistently squawking and the beeping of horns the soundtrack of the roads here and a Bollywood soundtrack playing nearby high-pitched and old worldly some how.
We arrived in India like shell-shocked refugees – 20 hours in transit and 39 hours of no sleep (G did the maths – the doubters can check with him). We showered and tucked into bed at an early 3.30am, only to be woken to soundtrack of the mosque across the road which broadcasts its prayers just so everyone is adequately woken up. Chennai proved to be everything we expected dusty, ugly and totally without inspiration. We immediately took comfort in food and placed ourselves in the Bhavan across the road and gorged on Potato + Poori’s (spicy potatoes scooped up with deep-fried bread), Dosai (rice pancake served with delicious coconut chutneys) and the sweetest, milkiest coffees you have ever tasted. We spent the next two days visiting with family and generally being stuffed with more food than a football team could handle.
I saw my grandmother for what I think will be the last time, unless she lives to be a hundred which may well happen. Although she has been very sick she was able to sit up and she held my hand tightly for the first hour that we were at my aunt and uncles house. Then we did the rounds and met the charming Sharwani my second cousin – who is a bold and funny 14 year old with the same longings and curiosities as her western counter parts. I have a video of her singing the Titanic song (for those of you who followed Bollywood Dreaming you may remember Reggie from Munnar serenading us with this song 5 years ago – so it seems nothing much has changed). We got a quick lesson in Tamal and know enough greetings to make friends and enough bad words to get us in a bar brawl. We ate spicy squid with my cousin Donnie whose little daughter Natasha moved in on G with haste (he can certainly charm the ladies). It was really lovely to see the family they are so loving and curious and despite understanding little of what each other said (yes we all spoke English!) we found ourselves laughing a lot.
After a weekend of eating and talking we woke at 4.30am to start our trip to Kathmandu. We arrived at Delhi’s new airport with 3 hours before our flight to Nepal. We were told by various staff that it was in the top 5 of all airports, then it went to top 3 and there was even a mention of number 1 in the world. Last time we were in Delhi airport I could only describe it as a hole, within a hole, within another hole. So greeted by cafe’s, steak houses and clothing shops we were very impressed. But India being India I saw a pigeon fly across the new roof and perch on one of the advertisements (for the airport of course) and Greg had a rat run across his foot on route to the bathroom. In my humble opinion too much wildlife for an airport – so it seems you can bring in the Starbucks but India will always be India. Delhi was so hazy as we flew out we could barely make out the city.
We arrived in Nepal to air that was noticeable alpine. We were picked up in style by the manager of our hotel (Prakash) the sweetest and most efficient person I think I have met. Driving through Kathmandu from the airport I was drinking in the small moments of the city. A sadhu dressed in saffron and white robes causally taking a flip mobile phone from his pocket and carrying on what looked like friendly banter. A tiny school girl dressed in a jumper, beanie and gray stockings (it was 24 degrees), crisscrossing power and telephone lines that would baffle the best of Australian utility workers, fresh meat being cut up on stalls on the road side. And everywhere beautiful, trendy Nepalese people who looked like they had recently been in an MTV video and then randomly dropped on the quaint cobbled streets of Thamel. They have an air of effortless cool that is utterly charming. The women are stunning a combination of Indian and Chinese, smooth creamy skin, with blood flushed pink lips and light brown caramel eyes. There is an air of calm here that is palpable – there are no touts shouting out inanely to tourists, no auto drivers pestering to give you a ride and blissfully they keep the honking to a minimum.
We set of on our trek tomorrow a 21 day, 300km experience. We met our guide/porter this morning a beautiful, kind eyed man name Humesh who has been a porter/guide for 15 years, we planned our trek and settled all the details. We will be walking the full Annapurna circuit with several side trips – mostly this will be moderate to hard walking conditions for 3-7 hours a day with one long day of 9-10 hour walking with an ascent to above 5000 feet. Today we buy supplies, re-pack our stuff into one bag and take in a little of Kathmandu.
Well so far that is all I have to report – Internet can be very expensive as you get deeper into the walk, but I will try to send more updates if I can. For those interested we got our first head wobble at the airport and then G was stocking them up, heads were ranging from side to side everywhere for him, while most of the men I met acted as if I was some strange smell trailing Greg, something you register but don’t acknowledge. However at the slightest mention of the cricket faces lit up like Christmas trees there has never a better time to be a loser in a foreign country (for those of you that don’t follow cricket like us – we lost – badly and our captain was a grumpy arse for most of the game – so you can imagine the unparalleled joy of the Indians who love cricket more than anything else.)
G and T
We are finally back in civilization and I am kissing the ground with relish and excitement. What a trip!
Let me give you the stats first, G and I have just completed the first part of the Annapurna circuit we walked 125 KM, scaled 5418 metres in elevation (18000 feet), slept on hard beds and even harder pillows that would cause casualties in a pillow fight, ate untold amounts of Dhal Bhat (dhal, rice and vegetables) and generally had the time of our lives.
We started our trek with a bone shattering bus trip from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar on a local bus – this trip is meant to take about 6 hours – 10 hours later after 4 flat tires and many, many stops to try to convince people to board an already overflowing bus – we were spewed out at Besi Sahar a dusty town which was to be the start of our adventure. It was on this bus that we were to meet our companions for the rest of the trip an unlikely duo from Israel – Dana and Lee. Two 23-year-old girls who charmed us with their laughter and stories and lured us with the kilo’s worth of chocolate they had stored in their pack. They were actually to save our lives later in the trip…stay posted.
Our first few day’s walking was everything you would want it to be – warm sunshine, verdant green fields of rice and vegetables, passing through tiny townships with houses made of thatching and stone. All along the path children raced up to meet us asking for balloons, chocolates and sweets – we took so many photo’s of the sweet little things and only had cashews to give them and only a small box at that, so each child received 1, you can picture the disappointment. I imagine it something like getting dental floss for your birthday. Needles to say word spread and soon they stopped asking.
Our days averaged about 15 km of walking, we started our days walking at 7am, would stop for lunch around 12pm and then finish by about 4 or 5pm. All was going pretty well until it started snowing at day 4. I am not talking soft flutterings that lasted a few minutes I am talking driving snow that left us soaked and freezing by the time we reached the lodge. Now every time I consulted G about the weather conditions I was told that it would be spring and not that cold. Clearly something got lost in translation. Coping with the snow and the freezing cold it was at this point that we started to notice that something was wrong with our guide/porter. He was acting a little strange, being very demanding about where we stayed and who we talked with, was generally irritating everyone around us by giving confusing and unsolicited advice and was ending every day with blood-shot eyes.
However through snow and climbing greater and greater elevations everyday we persisted. On our rest day we decided it would be a good idea to climb a 1000 metres to visit the ice lake (yes you did read rest day correctly). It took us four hours to climb up to see magnificent views of the Annapurna range at a height of 4600 metres elevation. On the way down the views were quickly forgotten and slight altitude sickness had set in, largely due to the fact our porter/guide had drunk most of our water (things were getting stranger by the minute). Exhausted and honestly not all that enthralled by the views we had just seen we struggled onto Manang to have an actual rest day. When we woke up in the morning we were greeted by a German guy who proceeded to tell us that he had met our porter in a bar at 11pm the previous night and realized that he had ice blindness from his visit to Ice Lake and had taken him to the doctor – he would need 2 days complete bed rest. It was at this point that it all started to make sense – the outbursts, the strange behavior, intruding on other people’s conversations – our kind eyed Humesh was a drinker and an arrogant and annoying one at that.
With 2 days before we crossed the pass we needed to organize a new porter (drinking at elevation can be deadly – and besides can you trust a drunk to walk you up to 5418 metres?). As luck would have it we were in Manang for its annual bow and arrow festival where all men were requested to participate and shoot arrows for prizes and accolades. All good fun except that not participating resulted in a 1000 rupee fine – so although it was great to witness this ancient festival and ritual we were shit out of luck on the porter front. It was at 10pm at night after trying desperately to secure someone with no luck that our friends Dana and Lee agreed to let their porter carry our bag to the next town so we could scout out some talent there. Thus off we traveled with 3 days to the big crossing. You may be thinking why not just carry your own bags – well; 1. The bag was really heavy 2. We were instructed to put everything into a duffel bag with one strap (the Nepalese set up their own rope and hessian contraption to carry the bag on their heads) you try carrying 15 kilo’s for 15 km with one strap 3. We were walking up hill (like really uphill) and 4. the bag was really heavy.
Our next 2 days before the pass crossing were cold, uncomfortable and nerve fraying – it kind of felt like you had a huge maths test hanging over your head for which you were totally unprepared. As the elevation rose we found it harder to sleep, eat and stay warm – crossing the pass was our only salvation. Did I mention at this point the only options are crossing the pass or walking back the way you just came. We met a french couple on our way up who had to turn back because they got altitude sickness at 5100 metres – only 318 before they crossed over! Altitude sickness is a bit of a shady sucker as all the symptoms are exactly what you would feel after walking uphill in the freezing cold. Headache, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite. So you are constantly checking yourself for symptoms and frankly feeling them at different times – the thing is altitude sickness is relatively easy to cure you just go back down – but ignored can be deadly. At least 3 people a year die from it in Nepal. Have I scarred the underpants off you yet?
Speaking of underpants – remember way back at day 4 when it started snowing this is when we stopped showering and eventually by 7 we stopped changing our clothes – we were rather ripe underpants and all at this point.
On the day of the pass crossing for those who want the exact details we were crossing from Throng Pedi (elevation 4450m) to Thorong Pass (elevation 5418m) and then coming down to Mukinathn (elevation 3800m) all this over 15km. We started our climb at 5am in the dark when it was frankly too cold for God even and already snowing. In fact it snowed for the entire 11 hours of our crossing (if I never see snow again it will be too soon). The walk was the hardest thing that I have ever had to do physically – the air is so thin we were breathing like a buffalo the whole time, moving so slowly that you would be standing still were it any slower and yet feeling so exhausted. You would think that you would feel a huge sense of celebration when you get to the top – but the altitude just makes you feel sick and I wanted to throw up as soon as we got to the little tea stand at the top. (Tea here costs 200 rupees a cup – normally its about 30-40 rupees). As it was snowing so heavily sadly we did not get any views – but we made it and the relief was immense. The walk down felt like the best walk of my life.
Anyway you are probably exhausted from just reading this so I will sign off – all this to say we are safe – in one piece and only a day or so away from remembering this walk sans all the pain the freezing conditions.
Big love from G and T
Well – when you are at home in the comfort and relative warmth of your lounge room a 21 day trek sounds like a great idea – however after crossing the pass we quickly decided that 125 km and 5418 metres was enough, we headed to the beautiful lakeside city of Pokhara to relax and revive. After another harrowing 11 hour bus ride we spent the next 4 days sleeping, eating and reading. I am ashamed to say that we did not even go out on the lake or up to the peace pagoda.
We did however catch up with Dana and Lee and even partied like it was 2068 – that’s right G and I travelled forward in time as for some strange reason that we are yet to decode the Nepalese celebrated 2068 this year. New Years eve consisted of a drunken pub crawl through the live music scene of Nepal – if it can be described that way. Mostly it was middle-aged men butchering western music so loudly at times we thought our ears would bleed. At the second bar we went to everyone – the band, bar staff and patrons were so drunk they could barely stand. The band members would each start their favourite songs only to be usurped mid song by another member starting a totally different song. They missed the New Years countdown all together and I think if we had stayed another 10 mins or so people would have been vomiting violently all over the floor.
After our sloth like behaviour we packed off for 3 days in Chitwan National Park. Chitwan means the ‘heart of the jungle’ and it certainly felt that way to get to the park we took 3 buses, a boat and a jeep but what we found was amazing. Thatched huts tucked discreetly so far into the jungle and we had a huge Rhino on the path to our room, and a tiger was tracking a deer not 20 metres from our little hut. We seemed to be right in the middle of Rhino town as on our elephant and jeep safari’s we spotted at least 5 or more a day. There are 400 Rhino’s in the park at present and only 1800 throughout the world. We saw males fighting, mothers with their babies and pregnant Rhino’s. There were also monkeys, deer, wild boar and although the park boasts 100 tigers sadly we did not see one, but their tracks were certainly very close by.
The elephant safari’s were definitely the best part and made me feel like I was in colonial times. Most of the time we rode Lucky Kali a 40-year-old female who had a cheeky 2-year-old – Bircha who followed mum everywhere, its remarkable how like human children the elephants baby was. One day she would be all smiles and showing off by walking ahead and throwing herself into the lake and spraying us all with water. The next day she was a true little shit lagging behind, wanting to go with her aunty and just plain sulking. I could just imagine mum’s lecture when they got back to the stables ‘I am working – how dare you embarrass me like that’.
We are back in Kathmandu now for a few days before we fly out to Delhi so this is the last trip side email – this trip has been amazing with more up’s and down’s than a Bold and Beautiful episode. We have met so many people from different parts of the world doing the most fascinating jobs and travels and we feel pretty blessed about it all. I think my body knows its nearly time to go home and back to work as I have a cold!
Can’t wait to see you all and bore you to death with a slide show of our photo’s.
G and t