Muktinah was the place where our group of 10 finally split ways. After crossing the pass, we were officially into part two of the Annapurna circuit, which has been affected most by the development of new roads, meaning hikers have many more options of how to complete the circuit.
Rosie, Emilia and I felt that we’d earned another rest day, so planned to explore Muktinah for a day and then Jeep to Johmson. We weren’t ready to leave the mountains, but also weren’t ready for more long days of hiking either! Chad was struggling with an old knee injury, so decided to ditch the boys and stick with us for the rest of the way back. Paul and Adrien had previously booked flights from Johmson back to Pokoraha. The mountain goats; Dan, Thomas, Sean and Brian, were determined to complete the circuit which included another day that was rumoured to be even harder than the pass day….we happily let them go on that adventure on their own!
Emilia. Rosie. Chad. Muktinah.
View towards Muktinah
The monastery in muktinah
Our day in Mukitinah was everything rest day should be…eating, lazing in the sun and some strolling around the local monastery again, and even some Christmas shopping! We were basically the only westerners in the village during the day, not many people hang around, and so we had plenty of bargaining power with the local ladies selling beautifully warm yak scarves. I bought a bunch which should now be safely sitting under the Christmas tree in Albury…merry Christmas everyone!
After much debate about how we’d get to Johmson, we all bundled into the most crowded jeep I’ve ever been in for the extremely bumpy, dusty and slightly dangerous drive. A lot of hikers opt out of this bit, because of the dust and winds that whip up the valley, and when I saw the look on the hikers we drove past along the way, as they tried in vain to cover their faces with scarves to protect from the dust, I was pretty happy with our decision! The landscape in this area was dramatically different to what we’d come through, it’s the most southern part of the Mustang region you can enter without expensive permits, and becomes extremely desolate and dry.
Ladies washing in the river in Johmson
After the jeep ride to Johmson, and another bus ride to Ghasa, we stayed the night in a lovely guest house surrounded by marigolds’, chickens, tamarillo trees, bee hives and vegetable gardens, and for the first time in far too long had a fantastically hot shower (We’d never seen Chad as happy as when he came out of the shower to meet us for dinner!) Ghasa is the point where the valley starts to narrow, and as it drops in altitude becomes much lusher and forested again. We had planned one more day of walking to Tatopani where we could end the hike by soaking in the hot springs that flow out of the mountains there.
The route we took from Ghasa to Tatopani was the road much less travelled, and took us most of the day rather than the lonely planet’s suggested 5 hours, but it was well worth it. We followed a series of small trails that took us high up into the valleys that overlooked the villages, and gave us amazing views all day. At some point, a german (?) guy had gone along with red and white paint and marked out trails which take you away from the new and boring road, so we were thanking this guy and his little flags all day as they led us along beautiful and much less walked routes.
The way to Tatopani…
At one point, the track seemed to lead straight through a school. We were about to turn around when one, and then all of the teachers, came out of their classrooms to speak with us. “Where are you going?” they asked. When we said ‘Tatopani’, they motioned for us to go straight through the tiny school, so we did, and were waved onwards by every single little head poking out of their classrooms trying to get a glimpse of us and yelling at us ‘Namaste! Namaste!”.
We were well and truly exhausted when we got to Tatopani, but were encouraged by the sight of the pretty village nestled into the valley walls and overlooking the river. After finding a guesthouse, we headed for the hot springs where we soaked for hours in the hot water, celebrating the official end of our hike!
I know that I’m yet to finish writing about my Nepalese travels, but I thought I’d have a brief interlude of some things I’ve been thinking about and some lessons learnt in the first few weeks of backpacking in India. Seeing I’m currently sitting on a train that is taking 16 hours longer than the expected 8 hours of travel, I’ve got plenty of time to think about these things! May update this list along the way…
1. There’s no such thing as a perfect hot shower in India. Yes, hot showers are something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It’s the first question asked at every guest house, and of course the answer is always ‘yes of course! 24 hour hot water!” Yeah right. I was thinking about this last night, when I thought I’d finally found it. After days of dreaming of feeling the rush of hot water streaming over my body, not being poured from a bucket, not a light, lukewarm spray that hits everything but you, not a hot shower that turns icy cold without warning, I was finally standing under a gushing steaming stream of water so hot that I actually had to add cold, that seemed like it was going to last forever. My dream came crashing down with the cracked and decaying plastic shower head that suddenly fell on me, smashing on the bathroom tiles and with that I realised I’m never going to find it, the perfect shower is going to elude me for some time I think…
2. To trust or not to trust? That is the question. I would under normal circumstances, consider myself a pretty trusting person. Every day in India, I’ve had to constantly reassess my concept of who to trust and why. Sadly, my initial reaction to every new person I meet is ‘are they trying to rip me off? Why are they telling me this? What do they want in return for their help?” It’s a sad thing to think, because overall Indian’s do genuinely do want to help you, they are incredibly friendly and always wanting to chat, but in the nature of what I like to think of as ‘self preservation’, I feel that as a young western girl in this crazy country, I have to not trust before I can trust.
Whilst still in Nepal, I met a British guy with a lot of love for India, who warned me that I’ve got to ‘be a little bit hard, to look after myself’, and it’s something that I keep hearing again and again.It’s true, but I always feel a little bit ashamed every time I think the worst of someone who is really trying to help.
I experienced a classic case of this last night, when Shah and I arrived at the train station, running a little bit late and determined to get to the platform without anyone hassling us or telling us where to go. A little guy dressed in red and with a yellow turban started following us, asking what out train number was and trying to help us. Of course, we tried our best to ignore him, but he finally got the message through to us, after showing us his ‘gold porter badge’ that our 9pm train wouldn’t be leaving until 1am at the earliest, and he had a first class room for us to wait in with other stranded passengers (complete with rats running under out feet to entertain us). “My train, my platform, my problem”, he kept saying to us. Of course, he wanted to look after us with the promise of a big tip when he finally loaded us onto the train, but with a train that ended up being 8 hours delayed, trusting this little porter guy for the cost of $2 each at least got us a bit of ‘comfort’ in our first class waiting room, someone to go out into the freezing cold to get us hot chai, and regular updates of how much longer out train would be delayed.
There is a line in Shantaram, the book I’m reading at the moment, that keeps coming back to me, and it’s when Karla says to Lin “Sometimes in India, you have to surrender before you win”, and I think it’s very true. Sometimes you don’t know what the plan is, where you’re going, if your rickshaw driver understood your directions of even if he ever intends to take you to the right place, but if you never surrender and are always thinking the worst of people who usually have your best intentions at heart, then I think you’ll never enjoy India and never understand the people. Sometimes, a little bit of surrender and a bit of trust goes a long way.
3. Read Shantaram..and carry it around with you, and even if you aren’t reading it, carry it around with you anyway, instant backpacker cred! So many people I’ve met are reading it, and it’s a good talking point! (I ‘m loving this book a little too much i think..Can’t stop reading it).
4. In India, from now on, I’m a married woman. This somewhat comes back to the point about trust…if someone asks a question, why wouldn’t you tell the truth? Once again, I’d had many sage words of advice to wear a wedding ring, or at least telling everyone that I’m married, but clearly I’m not very good at lying. I’ll endeavour to improve that after Shah nearly left me in the desert wed to a local after an afternoon that went something like this:
We had arrived at the tiny village of Khuri, about an hour out of Jaisalmer, in the Thar Desert, for the beginning of our two night camel safari. After showering and enjoying a local lunch of Thali, we still had a few hours until our camel driver was picking us up in the afternoon, so one of the young guys from the Krishina guest house our safari was organised through offered to show us around the local village.
Of course as we set off down the dusty main road, the first question from him was, “so, you have boyfriend?”
“Shah does, I don’t”, I replied..
“What? No boyfriend?!”
“No. No boyfriend”
“Because I just don’t”
“Really?? No boyfriend??”
…this continued for about 10 mins, then some silent thinking on his behalf, then resumed with;
“So, I be your boyfriend then?”
“No, I don’t think so”
“Yes, why not? I be your boyfriend!”
“No thank you”
“Because. I don’t want to be your girlfriend”
…also continued along this line for about another 10 mins, and when fed up with the conversation I switched to the sarcastic approach (Shah and I have learnt not to do this again).
“So. I be your boyfriend?”
“Ok! Fine! Let’s get married then!! I’ll stay here, we’ll have a big wedding, my parents might not be so impressed with me living in the desert in a remote village on the border of India and Pakistan, buy, hey, why not!”
“Really? Ok? Really??”
We realised that our sarcasms wasn’t fully appreciated, when the conversation then switched to offers of accompanying us in the desert.
“So, I come with you? So you’re not lonely?”
“No. No thankyou”
You get the picture…
We thought it might end when we set off on our camels into the desert, until later that night, when we were snugly wrapped up in our beds, sleeping under the stars, when the camel drivers phone rings (who gets reception in the desert?), and I hear the soft padding of his sandals on the sand coming towards me, and his voice saying “madam..For you”
I extract myself from out of my sleeping bag, to see him holding the mobile phone out towards me, and reluctantly reach out for it.
“Hello”, I groggily say.
It’s my fiancé, of course.
“How are you, everything ok?”
“Yes. Thank you”
“Yes. Good camels”
“Yes. Good dinner”
“So you want me to come out then??”
Ohhh dear, “No. We’re fine thank you. Good night!”
Surely that would end it? No?
No. The phone rings at lunch then next day, while we’re all sitting on a sand dune, relaxing for our extended, lazy lunch. I dread that it’s for me again, and when the camel driver holds the phone out towards me again, Shah and I look at each other and vigorously shake our heads.
The camel driver, even with his extremely limited english, catches on very quickly. “No Problem” he says, and with two words to my fiancé, hangs up the phone. Finally, we thought, he’d get the picture. Finally, he had. He looked a little dejected when we got back to the village, poor guy.
So, I learnt the long and entertaining way, from now on, if anyone asks, I’m a married woman. To a very big, very strong, very jealous and extremely good looking man!
After our spectacular high pass day, we arrived in Manang, one of the larger towns we would stay at, for a well deserved rest day. Manang was a town full of weary hikers, and finding accommodation here proved a little difficult as everyone has the same idea of using it as their ’acclimatisation day’. Luckily, it’s also full of amazing ‘German’ bakeries, which I soon realised was a huge weakness of mine…in one day I think I managed to down a cinnamon roll, chocolate roll, black forest cake and an apple pie (hiking at altitude makes you hungry!).
Our rest day was a pretty lazy day, we had good intentions of doing a few walks around the area, even contemplated adding an extra 3 days to our walk and hiking up to Tilichlo Lake, but in the end all we could muster up the energy to do was a half an hour stroll to a nearby monastery, where we were blessed with a red dot on a foreheads by a local lady (the Lama was having a day off). We had a touch of civilisation in Manang when we all headed off to the local ‘cinema’ to watch Seven Years in Tibet, sitting in a little tin shed on yak skin covered seats enjoying pop corn and tea. It was fantastic to watch that particular movie whilst being surrounded by the landscapes it was shot in.
The view from the monastery
From Manang, we would have a steady climb of around 400m each day until we got to the pass. Each day was only a few hours of walking, but at that altitude every step starts to count, so we were happy to walk in the mornings and enjoy some recovery time in the afternoons.
I had my highest altitude birthday every at Yak Khaka, at 4020m, and was lucky enough to be presented with the most amazingly luscious chocolate complete with birthday candles you could ever find in the mountains, by the fantastic group of friends I had met along the way.
Along the way to Yak Khaka, we met an Australian man from Tennant Creak who first did the hike back in ‘79, just a year after it was opened to tourists. He now comes up every year, and spends a few months living in the mountains with local families, helping them out with the running of their tea houses and just enjoying the mountain lifestyle. I think he’s seen massive changes in all the years he’s been going up, the first time he did it there were hardly any tea houses to stay in and you had to find a local family to stay with, it would have been amazing to have been travelling through Nepal back then.
Morning tea stop
We spent our highest (4450m) and coldest night in Throng Pedi (which means foot of the mountain or something), in little stone huts with frozen outdoor toilets. The scariest bit of the hike was on the way here, through an area with a big sign with a landslide warning…I walked pretty dam fast through this bit, not planning on stopping for anyone or anything! One of the guides behind me from a large group was scaring Rosie, telling her “If I tell you to run, Run! if I tell you to stop, Stop!”…pretty glad I didn’t hear that!
somewhere along the way…
Throng Pedi and the frozen toilet
Hanging out in Throng Pedi
After an early night we all went to bed in Throng Pedi, dreaming and dreading the day to come…the pass day. We knew it would be a long and steel climb, but I think at the same time everyone was looking forward to conquering the challenge that we’d been walking towards for so many days.
Early start up the pass
We awoke at 5am, and for the first time the 3 girls were the first at breakfast and the first to leave (we figured we needed the head start!) By 6am, we had started to climb; the sun was just starting to come up but the path was still covered with ice. It took us around 1.5hrs to reach the high camp, the last place you can sleep before the pass, getting colder and windier as we climbed until we were walking headfirst into gale force winds that threatened to blow us over. After the high camp, we continued to climb; reaching way to many false summits that disappointed us at every corner…we just wanted to arrive so badly to get out of the horrible freezing wind! We could see where the pass should be, and it looked soooo close, but we just never seemed to be able to reach it. Our steps became so slow and laboured, just one step at a time dragging ourselves and our packs up the mountain and hoping soon we’d see the set of prayer flags that would tell us we were close.
The never ending climb
Eventually we saw the flags, and took a few minutes to shelter behind a 2m high cairn before summoning the last of our energy to walk those last few meters. We reached the pass around noon, and even though we knew we had a very long walk still ahead of us to get down the other side, we sheltered in the tiny hut drinking hot lemon tea and eating snickers for around an hour before we could once again find the energy to face the winds, take some photos and head down the other side.
The Throng La Pass! We made it!!
really windy, really cold
The crazy prayer flags marking the Throng La pass
Our shelter on top of the pass..tea and snickers
From the pass, the decent was long and steep, but the further we went down the less sever the winds became and the easier it got. We just had to deal with crazy clouds that kept chasing us as we went down…rising to completely engulf us and then as quickly as they came, changing directions to flow back down into the valley and leave us with clear skies again. It was like there was a giant down in the valley below us, breathing the clouds in and out…just to play with us.
The clouds that chased us..they were beautiful though
down down down
Frozen muesli bar lunch spot
into the clouds
that’s the path we came down…
There were no villages until we got way down into the valley, which wasn’t until 4pm, so we had to survive off our frozen muesli bars and some sesame snacks that an old Japanese man who spoke no english generously gave us handfuls of.
We eventually made it to Muktinah after an epic 11 hour day of walking, just as the sun was starting to set. We were cold, hungry and very exhausted, so luckily the boys had saved us a fantastic room at the Bob Marley guest house, complete with lukewarm showers, a fire and delicious food.
Part 1. Pokhaha to Upper Pisang
Where to start?! Its already been a month in Nepal, but feels like we’ve been here forever. Such a small country, but so much to see.
Up in the mountains, you feel like you’re completely removed from the rest of the world, and could easily loose track of the days spent up there, almost on top of the world.
After an interesting flight to Kathmandhu on Southern China Airlines, Rosie and I arrived to hetic Kathmandhu for one day of wandering the narrow streets and hunting through the many many camping stores for last minitue supplys for the treck, and trying to not be temped by the many beautiful things to buy…seeing it was only the first day afterall.
From Kathmandu we jumped on the first of our long and bumpy bus rides to Pokoraha, only around 200km away, but 7hours by bus.
We arrived to Pokoraha to unseasonal rain, the clouds had apparently been hovering the city for weeks, and after questioning several of the locals if that meant it would be raining/snowing in the mountains as well, we gave up trying to get a solid answer after every time we heard “yes, definitely, and snow as well”, left us feeling more and more uncertain about what we were getting ourselves into, and wondering what else we needed to add to our ever expanding packs to keep us warm and dry in the mountains.
Our first glimpse of the Annapurna’s through the hazy Pokhara sky
When we finally arrived in Besi Sahar, our first stop on the journey into the Himalayas (“its the Himalaaaayas, how long I’ve been talking about the Himalaaayas?? [Brad Pitt; Seven years in Tibet]), our fears were put to rest finally when we jumped out of the bus to hot and sunny weather. Luckily this stayed with us, untill we climer higher and it turned to freezing cold and sunny.
We were really lucky along the way to form an awesome group of 10 or us, all doing the circuit independently. The first of our little grouup we met only 5 mins after setting out, Daan and Thomas, to Dutchies who were trying to lead us astray over a bridge and on a ‘cultural rout’ which was never an option because the locals made sure they pointed us in the only direction they thought we should walk, and Brian, an Irish mountain goat who had planned to walk on his own and got stuck us for the next two weeks.
Day one, somewhere in between Besi Sahar and Nagadi
Night one…our tin sheds at the ‘Peace and Love hotel’
Rosie, overcoming her #1 fear of suspension bridges.
By lunch the next day, we had met the next additions to expanding group, Chad (the
water purifier) and Sean (the post production film maker/ walking chemist) from the states, and Paul and Adrien, the singing Frenchmen. We met these four at lunch, while the other three boys had gone ahead, and by the time we arrived at the village for the night they were all staying at the same lodge, were by now best buddies, had bargained us a free room, and even found us a hot shower.
This was pretty much the routine for the next two weeks, the speedier boys walking on ahead, finding us a (usually free) place to stay for the night, where we would eventually turn up and spend the evenings eating, talking about all the food we were missing, reading, writing in our journals, playing cards or being entertained by Daan’s unending repertoire of card tricks.
As we gradually climber higher and higher each day, the lush green valleys we were walking through gradually became rockier, more barren and colder every night as we followed the river up the valleys and towards the more rewarding mountain views.
Night 3; Dharapani
Prayer wheels: Always walk to the left and spin anti clockwise…my daily prayer: “please let us make it over the pass!”
Prayer flags marking the entrance to Chame
One of the most amazing days of the walk was around a week into the hike, where we had the choice of the much tougher but more scenic road from Upper Pisang, or the low road which followed the river along the valley floor. As we climbed the steep switch back paths that led from Upper Pisang, we quickly realised why the upper road is the recommended one, the views as we climbed further away from the valley floor below looked straight across to Annapurna II. It was incredible to see how a mountain could rise so far up into the sky, when we were already at 4000m to begin with. The base the mountain was only around 800m from where we were walking, and to stare up to a soaring mountain of over 8000m from so close was unbeliavable. We were so lucky with the weather on this day, crystal clear skies, and only a calm breeze, and even though we were all struggling with the climb at this altitude, we were more than happy to take out time and soak up the amazing country we were walking in.
The night in Upper Pisang was where we met the final member of our group (we decide after that we’d have to start capping membership…numbers were getting out of hand!) Emilia is a very tall blond 21 year old German who was walking by herself, so Rosie and I decided to claim her to add another girl to the group, told her “ok, tomorrow you’re walking with us”, and from then on our numbers stuck at 10.
The high road…
Arriving into Manang, for a much needed rest day.