Sorry for the silence, we’ve been far away from internet, and otherwise too exhausted to post! Today we are two months in, I can’t believe it! Hopefully now we’re back in India we’ll have a chance to fill in some gaps and maybe post some of the bits that were written but never uploaded...
We’re on the road from Jaipur to Bikaner now, in the luxury of a private car arranged by Destination India (see www.indiatripmakers.com). Having been misdirected by an autorickshaw and a passerby to various ‘Government Tourism Offices’ which weren’t the Government Tourism Office we appreciated all the more that to get the best of our final 20 days or so in India we’d be better off to arrange our transport and accommodation in advance and save ourselves much confusion and scamming!
Delhi was loud and chaotic & we were glad to have been ‘warmed up’ for it by our brief stints in Kolkata and Darjeeling/West Bengal. Nepal is also very similar to India in some ways, (I think some say it has India’s nice bits!) but keen to emphasise their difference they insisted on having a 15minute time difference!
Having taken the slow slow slow (12hrs journey rather than ~1hr 45!) route out of Bhutan as a result of the national airline’s having changed the flight time without advising us, we opted to fly from Eastern Nepal to Kathmandu. It was incredible to arrive there – somewhere we’d heard so much about over the years and that had always seemed so exotic. We spent our first night at the very luxurious Hotel Sankar (arranged by Pradip from www.MountainMonarch.com) and it all seemed like the hippy dream – incense, ohms, beads etc. The next day we moved to our more budget accommodation and it suddenly seemed like Kathmandu was full of scammers. Having spoken to Pradip in more detail about our plans we decided to ditch the trek we’d originally hoped to do (Jomson to Pokhara, 9 days, not too strenuous, now has a road through it), for the other half of the Annapurna circuit (Bubule to Jomson, 11 days, ascent up to 5400m). On meeting our guide we realised that we would need to get some more kit. On speaking to some of the shopkeepers we realised we’d need more kit than the guide had said.
Of course the nature of the mountains is unpredictable, but it did feel very much like we were launching ourselves into the unknown. We weren’t really sure what we’d need or what to expect, or what we should be paying for things. Shop space in the Tourist centre of Kathmandu seems to be at a premium – any request for anything not on show resulted in bags being dug out of bags or people darting off to retrieve more stock, which then left you feeling guilty or confused if the ‘north face’ item or whatever was not what you’d hoped for.
Finally we figured that at most places you’d pay around 60% of the asking price, and with some stern words from a grumpy brum shopkeeper we bought more than we thought we’d need & finally set off on our way.
The group we joined was of two English couples and a lovely Canadian Lady, Ahn. Spirits were high as we left the dust and plastic smoke of Kathmandu and joined the traffic jam of buses and coaches on the road East. Six hours later we were still chipper, and the final hugely bumpy stretch on a public bus still didn’t manage to knock our cheer. A 45 minute walk on through the drizzle took us to our first tea house stop for the night – a basic place with wooden rooms & a metal roof for the rain to bounce off all night, but with electricity & apple pie!
Day two: rain. We were still chipper – disappointed to be unable to enjoy the mountain views, but from what we could see the scenery was very nice. It rained and rained and rained though, and after a very long morning walking continuously through flooded paths, being attacked by leeches and generally feeling v sodden the cheer began to fade. The ‘45minutes’ our guide had said we were from lunch turned into more like two hours as the paths were washed out. We finally arrived at lunch and were parked outside with a lovely view of the waterfall. If there’s one thing we didn’t need it was a view of a waterfall! Just before we began to turn hypothermic we managed to move ourselves into the kitchen & dried out a bit around the fire. When we moved on we found that the rains had washed out some of the briges, and we were very grateful for the help of the guides leading us through fast flowing waterfalls & on exhausted to our tea house and rest.
I can’t tell you how pleased we were the next day to wake to blue skies and finally, mountain views. Our rainy start helped us appreciate all the more the good weather we had & thankfully the rest of the trek passed without major incident. We covered a tremendous amount of ‘Nepali flat’ – a little bit up, a little bit down & were all tremendously grateful and pleased on the tenth day to warm up and start our descent from Throng La pass at 5400m. The days trek had begun at 4am, following the procession of headlamps up the incline to the pass. The temperature was -15 celcius, before the windchill.
A few days later we left the other members of the group to press on for our flight from Jomson. We were sent off in great style with Yak steak and cider (yes, cider!!!). The yak steak was so good I tried it again in the evening and had something v different tasting. I will have to keep sampling yak wherever I can to try and find out which steak was the imposter.
From Jomson our flight to Pokhara took 20 minutes, it will take the rest of the group a further 8 days. Pokhara was great though – a really nice town on a lake & we enjoyed nosing around and some of the best Momos we’d had (a great plate of Tibetan steamed dumplings with spicy soup, v delicious, 60nrp approx 50p). Then, in my wisdom, I suggested we hire bikes to visit the bat caves. The bikes were rubbish, and after more than an hour of uphill cycle with paul feeling full of cold we still seemed to be miles away so returned, dusty to the tourist side of town. Diwali celebrations were really warming up & we passed through areas of frenzied celebration shopping & many areas where people were dancing in the street by enormous speakers. It was really interesting to see the non traveller side of town, but we were back by the lake and the happy hour beer deals for sunset and enjoyed the open views of the mountains as the light faded.
Bumpy arduous buses took us from Pokhara, to Chitwan, and on to Kathmandu. In Chitwan we also managed to enjoy dugout canoe, hiking, elephant and jeep modes of transport. Elephant was definitely the best fun – taking us upclose to 2 enormous adult one horn rhino and one baby. Our safari was at sunset too, and we were thrilled when we finished that our jeep was nowhere to be seen so we were returned to our lodge on elephant back.
Elephant bathtime was tremendous fun too. I was concerned about elephant welfare, but as well as a successful elephant breeding centre many of the lodges produce baby eles too. They were pretty frank about the methods and process of ‘training’ the elephant. While it can’t be anything like the freedom they’d like, they were pretty happy. Helping our scrubbed ele scratch his leg after his riverbath felt good. He’d used a branch in his trunk until i volunteered my services.
During the day one the guides took us to his home to share the tiko ceremony. It was the brothers and sisters day, so the women then the men in turn scattered petals over then painted the forehead of the other with colourful powder. It was a very special experience and we felt very privileged to participate.