"Over the mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley”
2015 had been a busy year. We had spent Songkran in Spain and a week in May diving Raja Ampat. We travelled to Australia for Fatheads 50th and Belinda had learnt to do a double axel over her bike’s handle bars in Bangkok. I had spent months in the Maldives trying to open the Outrigger resort and Belinda travelled to Japan for a baseball game. We were both getting used to weekly flights between Phuket and Bangkok. Despite the travels, by the beginning of December, we still had vacation allowance and both companies had a ‘use it or loose it policy’ .... bugger that, where should we go?
Pouring over map, third Gin and Tonic in hand, we discussed options- Europe?- that was April, South America?- too far, China? India?- been there done that.... actually whats that between those two? Nepal.
Earlier in the year Nepal had been devastated by an enormous earthquake and while millions of dollars in aid had poured in, after the Thailand tsunami and the Bangkok floods, we were aware that the locals would just want to get normality back in their lives.
Travelling to Nepal would not only allow us to see what we had heard was a beautiful country but also, in a small way help local tourism.
The plan was to pop over to Nepal, visit Kathmandu then head out to Pokhara for a few days walking in the hills!! Fathead, had been there a couple of times before and put us in touch with Vishnu, a guiding friend of his. As we developed our plans in more detail we realised just what a ‘walk in the hills’ meant when you’re talking about the Himalayas!!!
25th to the 27th of December 2015
Thai Airways flight 319 landed at Tribhuvan International in the early afternoon of Christmas day 2015. After passing through customs and collecting our luggage we were met by Fat’s mate, Vishnu, who would be our guide for the next 8 days.
Sitting in the back of Vishnu’s brother’s car we threaded our way through the streets of Kathmandu heading to the Kathmandu Guest House. Even in the relatively short drive the devastation that remained from April’s earthquake was still clearly visible. It would become even more stark and confronting as we walked the streets over the coming days.
The Kathmandu Guest House is a converted Rana dynasty mansion with fragrant gardens and airy corridors. It has provided the peaceful refuge from the bustle of the Thamel district since it opened in 1967 and has become an institution, hosting many celebrities including the Beatles in 1968.
Our third floor room was lovely and, if the lift had been operational, easily accessible however as a reminder to the work still remaining after the quake it was not and the flight of stairs were a good, if not late, workout for what was to come!!
That evening, after a short stroll around the local area, we crossed the road to a wonderful little restaurant that was serving Christmas dinner in their attractive courtyard where we were warmed by a log fire (and mulled wine).
Over the next days, and on our return from Pokhara, we had the opportunity to wander the streets, visiting the heritage listed temples, see the devastation , and meeting the wonderful people.
After the quake
At 11.56 on April 2015 Nepal was hit by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people and injuring 22,000. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened across many districts of the country. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Changu Narayan Temple, the Boudhanath Stupa and the Swayambhunath Stupa. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 21, making April 25, 2015 the deadliest day on the mountain in history. While millions of dollars poured into the country the devastation was still starkly obvious and the day to day struggles of life amongst the ruins was clearly evident as we walked the streets. Despite the obvious hardship, the people of Kathmandu were doing their best to bring normality back to their daily life and were genuinely welcoming.
Nepal is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and religiously diverse nation. It's a secular state in which its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Prior to the move toward democracy in early 2006 and the sacking of King Gyanendra in 2008, the country was officially a Hindu kingdom. Hinduism is still the major religion in the state and profoundly influences its social structure, while Tibetan Buddhism is practiced by some ethnic groups in forms that are heavily influenced by Hinduism. Smaller populations identify with Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Jainism. Hindu and Buddhist temples abound throughout Kathmandu and Nepal. Of these the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the biggest Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva in the world. It is the holiest Hindu temple in all of Nepal and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with a few other legendary temples in Kathmandu. Pashupatinath is celebrated for its cremations that take place on the Ghats of the Bagmati River in eastern Kathmandu. The river is considered sacred because it eventually flows into the Ganges River in India, ultimately reaching the holy city of Varanasi.We were lucky enough to visit during the cremation of a significant person who drew crowds of onlookers to the temple river bank.
Poon Hill Trek
27th to the 30th of December 2015
“Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek of Nepal is one of the most popular and easiest treks in Annapurna region. Situated at an altitude of 3200m and just beneath the greatest Himalayan range, the area is famous for fascinating traditional villages, ethnic communities, rhododendron forests and magnificent 360-degree views of more than 10 snowcapped mountains. It is the easiest and shortest trek that doesn’t require any experience in trekking. Poon Hill is possible to trek anytime of the year. The Ghorepani Poon Hill trek starts from Nayapul in Pokhara with 4-5 days of moderate walking.”
Well that what the guide books say... What bollocks..... 2000 vertical metres up then down the other side in four days, moderate walk my ass!!
After spending the day before flying to Pokhara and buying & hiring last minute provisions we headed out of Pokhara in a dodgy minivan, past the mile long queues for petrol, on a wild ride up the crumbling, one and a half lane track that is highway 1 to China. An hour or so later we bumped our way into the town of Nayapul the starting point of the trek. Over the next 4 days we trekked the magnificent mountains of the lower Annapurna region, along stunning river valleys, through picturesque rural villages and up winding hillside steps. We would walk for a couple of hours then break for tea and snacks often on sun-drenched terrace of a teahouse before setting off again. As it was the start of winter, the days were short so we aimed to arrive at our accommodation by 4.00pm. Even at minus 10 degrees ice cold Nepalese beers were a relaxingly welcome end to a days trekking and a great motivation to haul our ass up the last few K’s. Evenings were spent around the open fires or wood stoves in one of the small family run tea houses that dotted the village paths. Meals were basic but delicious, Dal Bhat, Momos and Pasta along with coffee and the odd shot of Nepalese rum!! The beds are simple and relatively comfortable, in a minus 10 degree rated sleeping bag and all our thermals. Showers were sparse and in freezing conditions not all that inviting, packet of wet ones and deoder-wipes being a preferred alternative for most trekkers!
We arrived the picturesque village of Ghorepani late in the afternoon having dragged ourselves up the 1,600 vertical metres to its, hill top, elevation of 2874 m. Here numerous guest houses provide lodging and meals to mountain trekkers who, like us, would be making the pre-dawn ascent of nearby Poon Hill (3210m) to watch the sunrise. Poon Hill and the sunrise. Funnily enough Poon Hill was the main goal of the ‘Poon Hill Trek’ and there was a pilgrimage like atmosphere in the village that evening.
Vishnu woke us at the ungodly hour of 4.00am and, after a quick snack, we joined the slow procession as throngs of trekkers headed to the peak, the bobbing headlamps like fire flies in the darkness.
Half way up Belinda ‘s legs had a severe allergic reaction to the stairs!! Luckily, after passing several other trekkers relieving themselves of their breakfast by the side of path, her leg’s allergy passed and our small party arrived the peak with plenty of time to spare. The early start and steep climb were well and truly worth it as dawn broke over the magnificent peaks of the Himalayas, it was certainly a sight to behold. Unfortunately the descent proved more difficult than the ascent with Pete’s knees suffering a similar allergic reaction
almost immediately and, with no more vomiting on the side of the path, the remaining two days of descending was
not going to be an easy stroll down!!
Having trekked down from 3,200 m to the town of Sayauli at 1200m we took the minibus back through Nayapul and onto Pokhara. It was in the hills on the outskirts of Pokhara that we noticed all the para-gliding.....after the trek what agreat way to make the final decent into Pokhara. Having strapped into the gliders we and our pilots ran, actually stumbled, to the edge of the hill and were suddenly air-born. It was and incredibly exhilarating finish to the trek.
31st to the 2nd of January 2016
While we had spent a day in Pokhara stocking up (and buying a new camera) on the way to the start of the Poon Hill Trek, new years eve and new years day were a chance for us to explore this fascinating city, on the shores of Phewa Lake, that is the gateway to the Annapurna ranges. We ‘landed’ in Pokhara in the afternoon of new years eve and the town was preparing for their celebrations. We checked back into the rather posh Temple Tree Hotel and jumped straight into the bath for a long luxurious soak... just what the muscles needed. Cleaned and refreshed we took an evening stroll down to the lake and along it’s edge to the centre of town where we checked out the action and got into the festive mood. In fact the new year celebration was the culmination of a week long street festival designed to draw tourist in during this off peak period. Later in the evening we headed back to the hotel where they had their own party going on. Our intention was to have some dinner then nap reappearing just before midnight to welcome the new year, unfortunately, as we were about to leave the courtyard fire, we met Sawati and Jacob who, as it happened, also lived in Bangkok. Well one more drink turned into many more drinks which turned into a full new years party. Nursing a small hangover, we headed out early New years day to visit Tashiling, one of many Tibetan refugee communities established in Nepal after China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet. Given the time of year the weather was amazing. Bright, clear, blue sky’s and delightfully warm in the sun. Taking advantage of this we spent the afternoon back by the lake, chilling out, watching the world go by and enjoying a very well deserved beer or two.
* Note- like all good movies, filming isn’t linear and neither was this. , In fact we did the glide later in the afternoon having already checked into our accommodation and getting advise on reputable operators