We chilled out again at the Flying Yak hotel in the middle of Thamal. This is the backpackers area of Kathmandu although I think I saw more locals speeding around on motorbikes than I saw backpackers.
Originally I was planning to do another 21 day trek going over 5 passes greater than 5,000 metres. Five more of what I had already done!!! Why?
So after much thought , I decided to walk the first 8 days with the Kiwi group, then see how I feel. This will be a nice walk through the lowlands meandering along up and down between 2,000 metres and 4,000 metres of altitude.
I will leave them in Lukla where they can continue onto the higher alttides without me. Unless I change my mind, which I seem to feel free to do at any time, these days.
Kay goes home tomorrow and I will move to the hotel the Kiwis are staying at.
The shops sell treking gear that is knockoffs of all the famous brands. North Face, Kathmandu, Marmot, Leki, Osprey, Salomon, Mountain Hardware etc. . You can buy jackets, sleeping bags, packs, headlamps, cookers, fleece tops, shirts, shorts, all sorts of ski and mountaineering gear. The gear is usually made in the same factories as the stuff we get back at home. However, all the fancy marketing, transportation, and profit structure are missing. Therefore the prices are only about 10% – 20% of what we pay at home. There are hundreds of these little shops and I wonder how they make a living.
I do wonder how any of these shop owners can make a living. There are hundreds of shops selling the same stuff and there is seldom anyone in the shops. Bargaining is the way to go.
We got a bit lost and found the food stalls
We paid for a full day tour of some of the UNESCO Heritage sites.
Our guide and driver were good but most of what we saw and heard was religious history. Fantasy stories about the 30,000 different Hindu gods, Buddhas from different countries, one born from the armpits of his mother. About as likely as the Virgin Mary, I suppose.
They are not stories about the real people of Nepal, It seems that the people and their religions can not be separated.
I must say that the reconstruction after the major earthquakes in 2015 has been done amazingly quickly. Christchurch took about 10 years to decide whether to reconstruct the cathedral, while Nepal just seemed to get on with it.
Anyway, I have seen my full of temples once again.
We stayed in our nice hotel for 4 days, hiding out from the sun and people, while our sunburned faces healed. After a full breakfast at the hotel we would cover up and go out for a bit of a walk around before the sun got too strong and the young ones emerged. Then we retreated to our room to catch up on media and reading or watching some sky movies on the big TV.
Our coughs had cleared up as we descended from the mountains, and we weren’t sore, other than our faces. Our bodies are used to long walks and steep climbs, so we fared better than many others. I am sure my legs just think ” Here she goes again ” and get on with it.
In New Zealand, I pay $32 NZD at the cheapest chain of hairdressers. Here, for $30, I had a haircut, a scalp, head, neck shoulders, and back massage. I really needed that after the bumpy bus trip as my poor head had bopped and bumped around for hours. When he had finished, my neck felt better than it had for many months, and my sinuses were clear.
Pokhara is the Queenstown or Taupo of Nepal. Being a land locked country, the huge lake is a real attraction for Nepalese. The rich have holiday homes here, and it is a quick flight from India. There are a lot of different treks around the area so most overseas visitors come here too.
One day, we walked for about an hour across the city to the National Mountaineering Museum. It was very interesting and well set out, taking about 2.5 hours to look around. Well worth the visit.
Again, I was quite disappointed with the rubbish situation. The lake had garbage floating in it, and drains were full of plastic rubbish. The man at the hotel told us that there were some collections from the businesses, but he doubted if it was disposed of properly.
After three days we were both feeling better so we took a 25 minute Buddha Airlines flight back to Kathmandu. Their safety record isn’t the best, but we decided we had pushed our luck on the buses. The flight was uneventful with no real views of the mountains because of the smog.
With very sore faces, we were on the bus at 7 am. Basu ushered us into the front seats, but this caused a bit of an argument. Eventually, we were sent back to the rear of the bus. Bless Basu, I think he was trying to play the poor, sore, old ladies’ card for us.
Here is a link to my video of the bus trip. I am not a filmmaker, so the filming is not very good, nor is the commentary. I have made it not suitable for children as my language is a bit colorful. (You may have already seen this on my Facebook page)
To be fair to the roads in Nepal, there are a lot of challenges they face. The country is mostly mountains with 8 of the highest peaks in the world. Working at high altitudes is hard. Just walking us hard let alone actually doing anything more physical. Helicopters can’t be used because of the thin air.
The monsoon rains and snow melt create massive water flows, which wash away the work that has been done.
Nepal is extremely poor, so China and India are doing most of the road construction. The trade routes are important to them. Still more than 30% of Nepalese live more than 3 hours walk from any road. When I washete last time most goods moved by donkey or porter on narrow walking trails.
Before we went to sleep we agreed to wake the other one if we thought we were dying.
We both woke through the night coughing like a couple of dying sheep. I wondered if the altitude had finally gotten to me but did not have the energy nor inclination to do much about it.
Altitude illness is divided into 3 syndromes:
acute mountain sickness (AMS), (like having a bad hangover)
high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) (the brain swells, so you begin to act drunk – confused, unsteady, and stupid)
high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). (Lungs fill with fluid, and you sound like a dying 90 year old. Breathless on excersion, a cough and weakness.)
They usually come into play a few hours after the high altitude is reached, i.e. during the night and should be treated with a quick decent.
We both made it through to the morning alive , but Kay nearly had a heart attack when she looked in the mirror.
Her face was red and swollen, her eyes could hardly open, and her lips looked like botox gone wrong. And I wasn’t much better. I looked like a Panda Bear on steroids. (Kay wouldn’t let me post her photo, understandably)
We should have used sunscreen regularly throughout the day as we saw the young ones doing. But we didn’t have the energy to do so, and now, we are paying for it. Two days later, we are still blistered, sore, and peeling.
Basu came in to take our breakfast order and took one look at us and decided we would take the bus today instead of walking to Jomson. We did not argue with him.
The main attraction in Mukintath is a Hindu Temple high on a hill at the edge of town. There were a lot of pilgrims heading towards it as we walked to get our 8am bus. Some walking, many on the back of small horses, the sick and elderly being carried on stretchers.
We walked to the bus depot with Kay hardly able to see out of her burnt eyes. I won’t be complaining about the pot holes around my home after navigating the main streets of Nepali towns.
The bus trip to Jomsom was only an hour or so of terror.
I have since read that one of the causes of excessive wear and tear on roads and bridges is the overloading of vehicles. Every bus we went on was filled to the brim with more people than seats, bags and boxes up the isles and roofs overflowing with stuff. However, I have not yet had to share a bus with a goat, pig, or cages of chickens as I did on my previous trip through Asia.
Arriving at Jomsom, we were treated to another nice room that backed onto the airport. The flights come in very quickly in the mornings while the air is clear. This is one of the shortest runways in the world, and the planes can’t fly over the mountains because of the altitude, so swoop between them. We decided it was safer to take the bus to Pokhara the next day.
We were both feeling a bit miserable, still coughing, and our faces were getting worse by the hour. We were cold and shivering, so we climbed into bed to rest under orders from Basu.
We had dinner with two trekkers who had gone over the pass the same day as us. One from Jordan and the other Canadian.
I didn’t sleep all night as my mind was racing through many things, so I was up before our 3.20 am alarm.
Looking outside, I could see that it had not snowed overnight and the sky was clear. There was a lot of action going on at the hotel down below, so we presumed the day would go ahead as planned. We put on all our layers and opened our chocolate bars, knowing we would not be able to do this with double gloves on.
With our microspikes on over our boots, we somberly ate breakfast. Kay looked very frightened, and I tried to put on a brave face although my stomach was churning. Nerves and too much dal bhart meant I had already had three trips to the outside squat and knew there was no way I would be able to manage undressing with all the gear and gloves, let alone have the energy with the lack of oxygen. So I took 2 Diastops to bung me up. (It worked)
We left at about 4.30 am. with our head torches on, following a trail of trekkers slowly up the switch back track. I am not sure how the first party worked out where to go, but I didn’t see any sign of bodies having slid off the track. All good, keep going, Karen.
I was really puffing, and each step took a lot of energy. I wondered how I could keep it up for another 6 -8 hours. Looking down behind us, there was a steady line of torch lights crawling up the track. I am not the only mad one!
Kay (69) and I (64) are by far the eldest of the trekkers. We are always getting asked how old we are, and they all say we are such an inspiration to them. They come to us for advice on what to wear, eat, and for some motherly comfort and encouragement.
We took 1.5 hours of steep climbing to get to High Camp. The last 100 metres was hell. 8 steps then stop and try and get my breath, then another 8 steps.
We went into the cave like shelter for hot tea, and Kay used the toilet, arriving back with severe pain in her hands, having taken off her gloves. She was terrified, but Basu warmed her hands on her tea cup, and she eventually relaxed.
A young guy came in wearing a pair of Chucks boots and in awful pain. He was worried he would lose his feet to frost bite. What was he thinking? It was -15°! He asked me if I thought he could run over the pass to Mukintath in the 2 hours that he thought he had left before frost bite set in. Again, what was he thinking? I said definitely not, so off he went back down. With all the internet information around, there should be no reason to come up here so unprepared.
Ram, our Porter, was not wearing gloves when we started out. His reason was that he needed to have full use of his hands so he could help us: grab us if we fell and help with our gear. He was mountain born, and his hands seemed to function well in the freezing temperatures.
Ram was my personal dresser for the day. I felt like I was a model. Hat on, hat off, jacket zip down, not that far, jacket zip up, gloves tighter, gloves looser, sleeves over gloves, pack straps undone, pack straps done up, water bottle out and lid opened, glasses taken off and cleaned and put back on, chocolate out, unzip front bag to get camera out, take photo (no turn it around!) Poor Ram, he was my hands for the day and I was very pleased to be paying him about $20 for the day. I really didn’t care that he had bare hands at this stage.
After the High Camp, the track wasn’t so steep, but it was relentless. The increase in altitude that day was nearly 1,000 metres, up to 5,416 metres.
There were dozens of false summits. Just keep going to that flat bit, Karen. But when I get there, it is not flat at all. The track just winds up again and again.
We were both pleased to have our microspikes as these meant we did not slip at all.
We were being overtaken by groups, but they all looked as bad as us and gave us Grannies lots of encouragement. Everyone was in awe of us old ladies.
Horses can be hired at a number of places on the climb, and I was seriously contemplating getting on one except the last horse had been taken by a young Israeli girl. I had had a few conversations with her over the previous days, encouraging her to keep going as she was finding it hard going. She gave me a big wave and smile as she went past me. So the only thing I could do was keep on plodding.
Never the less I am very happy to say I made it under my own very slow steam to the top.
About 50 metres from the Summitt, I came across a young woman, kneeling in the snow, in tears. Glad for the excuse to stop, I knelt down and gave her a big cuddle and some words of encouragement. I was crying with her.
Really, I was doing it for me because that was just what I needed. I was damn near spent. Eventually, we both got to our feet and made it to the top.
We spent about half an hour there before being ushered on by Basu. The weather changes at about 2 pm, so he wanted us down off the mountain by then.
So down we went. Firstly through snow, then ice, then slush and gravel. The microspikes saved the day as I saw Basu slip many times without them. Kay was much more confident than the previous day and required Ram’s assistance rarely.
Even though we were going down, we were still at high altitude, and our lungs were struggling to give us enough oxygen. Our oxygen saturation on the summit would have been about 70%. If I was at home, I would have been in intensive care unit.
At about 2pm and 8 hours after we began, we were sitting in a little tea house ordering our lunch, with it snowing lightly outside. We really didn’t have much of an appetite, but we knew we needed to eat as we still had another hour and a half to go. Soup seemed the best idea.
We carried on to Mukintath where Basu had booked us another lovely room with inside bathroom but 2 floors up. Gosh, we moaned about those 2 flights of stairs!!!
Basu says, “Shower and get into bed, and I will bring you your dinner.” That is all we had the energy to do. We were being looked after so well.
Even though it was a hard day, it was also beautiful and a real achievement. Not many people are able to walk over a remote mountain pass like we did. I am sure that in a few days time the memory of the hardship will be gone and I will be see it as an awesome day.
I am grateful that my sense of adventure is still alive and that I am too.
510 metres of ascent over 12km. Slowly, slowly in snow all day.
It started to snow lightly and continued all of the 4 hours we were out on the track today.
At first, it was lovely, but we needed to stop and get our rain coats and over gloves on as it didn’t look like it was going to let up. It really was a beautiful sight to see the bushes and hills being covered in snow.
Each time stopped we cleared the snow off eachother.
Kay was quite out of her comfort zone as the track got narrower and steeper. I was feeling quite confident although I was very cautious. The boys looked after Kay well, although I am sure she was cursing me for bringing her here.
We had to go down a steep part that was icy and slippery, which meant we were not daring to look more than a metre ahead. When it flattened out, we were horrifiednly to see a snow-covered swing bridge that we needed to cross. Ram went first and kicked away snow, I was next and did the same. I actually felt okay about it. Kay was coming behind with Basu close by her. She was terrified, but she is a strong old duck and had no choice but to carry on over. The look on her face in this photo shows it all.
The day went from bad to worse. Steep drop offs and narrow slippery paths took a lot of concentration but I was feeling good, if not puffed. Kay was way put of her comfort zone.
At one point I slipped, landing very heavily on my bum. It hurt, and I was surprised that I didn’t get a bit more protection from the good amount of fat I carry in that area.
I stayed on my bum for about 20 metres, sliding along listening to the boys, helping Kay slide along behind me. Everyone else got down and followed suit.
We couldn’t afford to muck around as we were in an avalanche area. The altitude made it hard to go fast, but eventually, we were at the Tea house at Thorong Pedi. Some people were going another 60 -90 minutes up to High Camp, but we had always planned to stay here.
Hugs, high 5’s, warm clothes and lunch around the fire, a Nana nap, and we were all feeling better.
The big question is what we will do tomorrow. Go ahead, as the snow is supposed to stop or stay a day. I think most of us just want yo call a helicopter to get us out of here.
After dinner Kay and I put on our microspikes and had a wander around. They really take away the slip and slide and made us feel better about tomorrow. We went down the hill a bit to another hotel where we caught up with some other trekking friends, including the Aussie family. Everyone was pleased to see us and their guides have similar plan to ours. They will see what it looks at 3am with a 4 am. start if there has been no more snowfall overnight.. They have some experienced parties to send out first to make a path for us to follow.
7.30 pm and I will now read a bit then get some sleep. I hope this is not my last blog
We went to bed listening to thunder and the rain on the roof but woke to see it had snowed overnight down to where the old monk lady lives. I hope she had her winter nighty on.
After our breakfast of porridge and apple and a coffee we were ready to leave by 7.15. I managed to resist the pastries on shop next door to our hotel.
We walked slowly up hill and soon came across a site I don’t think I will ever see again. There was 2 very thick wire ropes snaking up the hill for about 300 metres. About every three metres there was a young man tying a piece of wood across the two wires and wrapping it in pieces of rag.
Basu asks the questions for us, and we find out that it is for a new swing bridge that will be constructed up by the Pass. They will carry it for 24km with an increase in altitude of about 1,000 metres.
I tried to pick up the thick wire rope and really struggled to do so. I really cannot fathom how they can coordinate 80 people to carry such a weight on a narrow track a steep hill at over 4, 000 metres above sea level. We are struggling to carry our jacket and water for the day!
The thought of what those poor young men will go through really upset me. It reminded me of the slave days or how people were treated on concentration camps. Basu assured me that they would be well paid for their work.
The Aussie family who were behind us took this photo of them on the move.
We had a lovely slow walk up 510 metres over 9 km, with a few flat and easy decents. At last, we had seen the end of the road, and the true Annapurna Trail emerged.
Some lads on horses played leap frog with us all day as they rested their loaded up horses regularly.
The sound of many bells alerted us to a huge herd of yaks that were coming down off the mountain and crossing the track. Kay and I waited until there was a decent gap before we sneaked through to catch up with Basu and Ram. The yaks were off the be milked for making the local delicacy of Yak Cheese. We haven’t tried any yet as Basu says the cheese is hard to digest if you are not used to it. We are best to wait until we get over the pass.
It was cold when we arrived with snow patches around our hotel. We were lucky to get a room with an inside bathroom, However it was a squat job that backed on to another squat toilet. This meant we could hear the person grunting and grading through the single plank wooden walls. It was the first smelly toilet we had encso couldn’t really complain. What do you expect for $12.
We had a lunch of noodle soup to warm up then climbed into our beds with all our warm dry clothes on. Read a bit, then both fell into very deep sleeps. Basu comes at 4.30pm with the menus so we can order dinner. We really do get waited on hand and foot by our boys. They can’t do enough for the 2 Madames.
We get up half an hour before dinner and prepare our gear for tomorrow as it will be dark and cold when we get back from dinner.
Dinner time is a social time with the other trekkers as we sit at tables around the big pot belly stove, which is fueled with Yak dung. This is collected through the summer and dried on the sides of the houses. It doesn’t smell
The Aussie family with 2 girls are friendly and tonight we talk with a woman from Jordan. She is a bit concerned because her guide is not giving her any advice or care like ours is.
Basu has been taking our oxygen levels 3 times a day since Manang. Kay and I are both sitting at about 85 which is good for this altitude. Neither of us have headaches, so far so good.
There is 2 ways to get to Manang. One that goes up really high and takes about 7 hours or a lower way mostly along the road. Kay and I decided we did not need to put our old bodies through any more climbing than necessary so we took the low road.
This was definitely the right decision as Kay had a hard day of it. I had had my hard time on the first day and was feeling really good today as a lot of the road was flatish.
We met a couple of women who recognized more people and buildings in my photos
However, when I needed to run up a hill looking for an emergency toilet, I really felt the full effects of the altitude. I wasn’t sure whether I would die from embarrassment from shitting my pants or having a heart attack. Luckily, a little old lady let me use her toilet so a disaster was avoided.
It was another basic squat job with a bucket of water for cleansing the bum. So my quads are getting a work out. My aim is getting better.
I walked a bit with a woman from Brusselton, Western Australia, who was here on her 6th visit to Nepal with hubby and 2 small girls, 12 and 14 years old. She walked, but the others took a jeep because the kids both had snotty noses. They are heading to the Thorong La Pass the same as us.
Piles of firewood was stacked up along all the fences and we saw an old fella ploughing his little field. Basu said most people have rotary hoes now.
We also saw a group of very dusty young people breaking rocks by hand. Last time I was here there was hundreds of young, single women with their babies on their backs doing this work. This was all they could get as single mothers: living under tarpaulins with their kids. So things have changed as we have walked through a number of large queries with mechanical machinery doing the work. Never the less I wonder where the single mums are nowadays.
Not everything has changed though. I came across the little old man who I am am quite sure I bought a hat from 17 years ago. He continues to live in a very basic abode selling beads and artifacts to us trekkers.
The hat I bought in 2006 made it back to New Zealand despite being fox fur. She has been my stand-in pet and is named Annapurna, of course. Anyone who has been to my house will have met her and given her a pat.
We arrived at about noon and had, yet again, to bear the indignity of looking horrified at having to climb 2 flights of stairs to our room. Basu keeps getting us the best rooms with the nicest views. We shouldn’t complain!
Now it is important that you understand that a rest day, whilst on a damn long walk, is not like a Sunday sprawled on the couch, with a bag of chippies, a beer, and Netflix.
First thing to do is hike about 350 metres up a hill at absolute snails pace, one slow step after the other. This is necessary to assist with acclimatization. We need to have been higher during than we are to sleep at night.
This arduous walk was well worth it for the views of the mountains and the valley below. We stopped at a stupor, which is built to honor the dead and for a break at a wee tea house. We didn’t buy anything as we had bottles of electrolyte solution that we had to drink. We need to have a litre of that a day and another 3 litres of fluid. Obviously, I did need to use his toilet.
The hard walk was well worth it as at the top was a one woman monastery. We were shown around her home, which was built in a cave on a steep cliff. Then we were invited in for a ceremony and received a blessing to give us luck going over the pass. A necklace was put around our neck, and then she asked for 100 rupee donation. So another scramble through the money bag in the dark. I hope her blessing works.
She is 75 year old female monk, and we were told that she was completely snowed in for 21 days straight last winter. But it wasn’t so bad this year as she had a solar powered battery and a light bulb. Tough lady.
After that wee jaunt we have jobs to do. Clothes are washed.
The first cycle is stomping on them on the floor while having a just-warm shower
The second cycle is a rinse in the bucket that provides clean water to wash your bum with.
Then wring out as much water as you can by hand
Find a line in the sun with a breeze and hang up with the 5 pegs I have brought from home. Sometimes lucky enough to supplement with pegs provided.
Other jobs include tipping everything out of my pack to find the one item I have lost. Kay and I both seem to lose something that we have put in a safe place on a regular basis.
Updating our social media, attending to feet, reading and chatting with other trekkers, and shopping takes up time, too. We bought chocolate, sweets and biscuits for the Pass day as we will be about 10 hours before a tea house.
A large family group was staying here. One was a Nepalese man who lived in the next village until he was 9 years old. He then moved to Switzerland. He had brought back about 12 members of his family to see his birth place. Having arrived by Jeep, they were celebrating with bottles of the local whiskey. They were a fun lot.
To Pasang nice day some track some road. We walk very slow on the uphill sections, but I find I speed up naturally on the downhills.
Before we left we found The teahouse I stayed in last time and showed the owner my photos. She recognized people and dragged us up 2 steep flights of stairs to show me the additions they had recently built. The family and staff now lived in the rooms I used last time. She recognized people in the photos, but again I am told that the mothers were dead and their children have moved away.
The steep climb up the stairs first thing in the morning Sent my heart into a real spin. So a few metres along yhe street I was puffing into my syringe and throwing my legs up into the air. This gave my guide and porter a bit of a fright, but the method works to bring my heart rhythm back to normal. We were by a sign that pointed to the Medical Centre so it was close to help if needed. No need for a helicopter ride to hospital this time.
We follow the river through gorges with views of mountains all the way.
This is a forestry area and we see signs of logging some kind of pine trees. There was a large established apple orchard with a quite modern processing plant. This provides employment for locals and a good profit for the owners I expect. We stopped for a coffee and apple donut at the very modern shop and I popped into their Farmstay Lodge to use their toilet. (10 stars)
Jeeps going past full of trekkers who don’t want to walk. They come up and have a look around and go back down again with bad backs and blisters on their bums from the bumpy ride.
The air is cooler but the sun is hot and the pollution haze has nearly disappeared. Each jeep and motorbike that passes us puffs out clouds of black smoke and stirs up the dust, so I presume we will only be clear of the pollution when we get above Manang, where there is no road. We have joined the locals with the sniffing and throat clearing as our body tried to rid us of it all. People die early from lung disease here.