Monday, June 2, 2008

Hiking in Nepal: Annapurna, Dhampus, Pothana, Deurali, Ghandruk, Kmrong Pana, Chomrong, Kulditigar (Part III)

Tuesday, March 12

Bill and Gene walked to the nearby German Bakery for cinnamon rolls for breakfast. They also got mini-bananas and oranges. The travel arrangements have gone very smoothly. Natang was at our hotel this morning at 9:00 AM to get us on our 10:00 flight to Pokhara. The only difficulty was getting through the streets of Nepal during rush hour. The guide who took us on a tour of Kathmandu yesterday mailed our postcards. Everyone received them the week before we returned.

At the airport Natang got us to the head of the line. All our luggage was searched by hand before the "gents" and "ladies" were separated for carry-on luggage and body searches. They only checked my backpack briefly, but Gene's pants pockets were searched. No lighters or knives (including Swiss Army knives) were allowed to be carried aboard. We had to transfer our supplies from the first aid kit into the duffel bags.

Natang arranged for window seats on the right side of the plane so we could see the mountains. The flight was only 25 minutes but they served hard candies and cotton (for ear plugs), plus a boxed lunch! The mountains were impressive, but it was very overcast when we landed in Pokhara.

Our camp was already set up by the Phewa Tal (lake) when we arrived. It was cloudy and we couldn't see the famous reflection of the mountains in the lake. Sean played Frisbee and we watched the water buffaloes in the lake. As the water buffaloes came out of the water, they rolled in giant mud puddles and covered themselves with mud. They really seemed to enjoy it.

This campsite is used by lots of groups starting and ending their trek. It is equipped with cement cooking shelters and electric lights. Most houses here don't have electric lights, but some of the stores and restaurants do.

Before lunch, an assistant cook provided fresh water, soap, and a towel for us to wash with. We were then served lemonade and a lunch of baked beans, a type of coleslaw salad, French fries, yak cheese, toast, and tea. Contrary to our expectations, the food was delicious! While we were eating, the assistant guides customized a basket for carrying Sean on the trek. After lunch we met our guides and cooks.

Natang Sherpa (sirdar)
Dev Kumer
Wandi Sherpa
Pharendra Rai

Balaram KC (head cook)
Lakba Sherpa
Krishna Harka
Dasarad KC

We walked around town where there were lots of cows and water buffaloes wandering about. They don't seem to mind the honking horns. If they don't want to move - they don't! One of the calves was quite interested in Sean and followed him around for a while, much to Sean's delight. This town is definitely more modern and designed with the trekker's needs in mind. There are lots of mountaineering clothing shops, travel & tour guides, grocery stores (one even had a computerized register), banks, and you could send e-mail from here! The 500R bills (~$10.00) are extremely large and no one seems to have change for them. They have trouble changing a 50R bill! Pokhara's population grew from 5,400 in 1961 to its current population of close to 1 million after a road to the outside world was built in 1973.

After returning to camp, Sean worked on his journal. The guides and cooks were impressed when he wanted their names in his journal. It will help us learn how to pronounce their names and remember them, too! It started to pour and we headed to the dining tent, which we discovered wasn't very waterproof.

For dinner we ate: lo mein, water buffalo stuffed dumplings (momo), vegetarian momo for Gene, pepper bread (a tortilla-like bread that is wafer thin), mushroom soup, and fruit cocktail. Sean stayed up through dinner, but it was a struggle.

Natang explained that we had a large number of guides and cooks for the 4 of us so they could take turns standing guard over the campsite. Each guide has a 2 hour shift around the clock. He also explained the daily schedule. We will be awakened between 5:30 and 6:00 AM with hot tea. Then water basins will be supplied so we can wash. We need to pack our gear and remove our packs from the tents before breakfast. While we eat breakfast, the assistant guides will take down and pack the tents. The porters will secure their loads and start hiking. After we finish breakfast, we will begin hiking with the guides. A different assistant guide will be in charge of attending to Sean daily. The cooks will clean up, pack their gear, and pass us along the trail so they can prepare for lunch at 11:00. The Nepalese do not eat breakfast. They eat a meal of dal bhat (rice with a creamed lentil sauce) for brunch. After a break of several hours for lunch, we resume hiking and arrive in camp in the afternoon. At 4:00 tea with cookies and/or crackers will be served. Dinner usually begins at 7:30. We explained that Sean is fast asleep by 7:00 and dinner time was moved to 6:00.

We went to bed right after dinner (~8:00 PM). Dogs were howling all night. I awoke at 3:00 AM and had trouble getting back to sleep. Bill had been up writing his journal by the glow of the campground's electric lights illuminating our tent.

Wednesday, March 13

Since we had a short hike today, the cook brought hot tea to our tent at 6:30 AM. It was followed by 3 pans of warm water to wash with. After cleaning, we packed our bags and went to breakfast. While we were eating, the guides took down the tents and the porters prepared their loads. Only one porter was at the campsite and he wore a pair of flip-flops. He elected to carry 2 of our duffel bags (~35 pounds each) plus a tent and the pads.

For breakfast we had eggs and toast, with hot chocolate, Muselix, and tea. Hot water was available for refilling our water bottles. We won't have to get used to the taste of iodine water on this trek!

An old rickety city bus pulled into the campsite and all of our gear was stowed in it. Along the drive to Phedi (3,707') we stopped and picked up 8 more porters, including a husband and wife team. Since it was not the peak trekking time, Natang said that he paid the porters 120 - 150R per day. That comes to less than $3 per day and includes money for meals. Lodging is their own responsibility.

This is Nepal's dry season and the riverbeds are practically dry. Several places along the river served as truck washes - the trucks parked right in the river. The hauling trucks were decorated with colorful tinsel, pictures, lights and ornaments.

It took an hour to get to the trail head. Many entrepreneurs attempted to sell us bamboo walking sticks as we began our ascent. The trail consisted of a series of rock steps climbing steeply uphill. We only hiked for an hour before we reached our lunch spot. The cooks had spread out a picnic tarp and served us a lunch of tuna fish sandwiches, salad, lemonade, tea, French fries, lettuce/tomato/onion, and oranges for dessert. While they were preparing the meal we explored the neighboring terraces. I purchased a small snuff/perfume bottle made from a Tibetan coin from a Tibetan woman for 300R.

We climbed the rest of the 1,700 feet to Dhampus (5,413') in an hour and reached our campsite which was behind the Bandarama Hotel. Sean hiked the whole way and I think Pharendra was disappointed, since it was his turn to carry him. After setting up camp we walked to a nearby high school. Sean sat by himself at the top of the hill watching the kids below play volleyball. Soon he was surrounded by kids and he quickly became overwhelmed. Their English was limited to "Where are you from?" and "How old are you?" which isn't enough to carry on a conversation. Not knowing what to do with all the kids, Sean took out his winged action figure and let them try it. Once they realized what it was and how it worked they were quite entertained. Most were content to watch a few kids play with it - they seemed slightly scared of it, never seeing anything like it before. The Transformers he brought along were also a big hit with both the children and the adults.

We watched the roosters engaged in numerous cock fights. Some Tibetan men followed Gene and Bill home from the school and laid out their wares in the front yard of the hotel. Bill purchased a salt shaker (150R) and Gene bought lots of pendants and a necklace. Sean fell in love with a yak bone box that had a silver snake pendant inside. We explained that we would see lots of things for sale along the way and we weren't buying the box now. He spent the rest of the trip looking for a snake in a box - but didn't find one.

It rained lightly so we used the enclosed hotel dining room to eat our dinner: popcorn, Dal Bhat, curried cauliflower and potatoes, bitter celery greens, and pineapple. Sean ate some popcorn before he begged to go to sleep at 6:30, even after napping from 4:30 till 5:30. We played cards after dinner, but retired by 8:30. You couldn't hear the honking horns, but several dogs provided an evening serenade.

The Asian toilets are interesting - a porcelain hole with 2 porcelain foot markers. The one at this hotel is on a concrete pedestal (we can't understand why). Some are equipped with a faucet for rinsing. Something I ate didn't agree with me, but it went through my system before we went to bed. Bill's cold is getting worse and Gene is starting to get it. We also forgot to put sunscreen on. Some parts (noses and necks) are red and tender - but not burned too badly.

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