Friday, November 12, 2010

Hey Toto! . . . We're Not In Kansas Anymore!! - Trekking in Nepal

Toto trekking the Annapurna Circuit

(I took photo of "Toto" strutting down the trail in Manang)

I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, with Mick Bromley, our trek leader, playing the Wizard. As we trekked the Yellow Brick Road, the Wizard would open up a magic door, suddenly revealing some incredible view. We would refer to these events as a Shangri-La Moment.

The 18-day trek to the Himalayas, the Annapurnas to be exact, has been one of the most extraordinary journeys of my life. And that is no exaggeration.

Initially, my motivation for visiting Nepal was to see the biggest mountains in the world, one of my life-long dreams. I saw them and I was not disappointed. They are as grand and stunning as I imagined. Any of the oft-used superlatives do not do these mountains justice.

What was an unexpected surprise were the other natural and cultural wonders of Nepal. Places that receive little or no play in the media.

From the low-land valleys, I saw beautiful terraced fields, and as we gained elevation, lush forests, plunging waterfalls, raging rivers, deep gorges and grand canyons with striking geology.

Crossing the tumultuous streams and rivers on foot bridges were exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Walking the tight-rope trails carved into the mountain sides with certain death if you plunged over the edge was another white knuckle experience. Facing these nail-biting challenges made me feel like a teenager again. It was so much fun!

Viewing the ancient stone villages of Phu and Nar, opened to trekkers just 3 years ago, was a special treat. We were lucky and privileged to see village life as they lived for nearly a thousand years. In a year or two, this will all change with the villagers building accomodations for outsiders and gaining modern amenities like electricity.

My blog for the Nepal trip is extensive. If you have the patience and interest to see it all, you can plow through the 13 entries. If you want to just see the trek blogs, scroll through the first section which is organized by trek days.

The entries are as follows:

1. Trekking the Annapurnas
2. Porters and Sherpas
3. Trek Meals
4. Trail-side Attractions, Revelations and Other Funky Stuff
5. Post Trek Days in Pokhara and Kathmandu
6. Krazy Kathmandu
7. Umbrella Foundation Orphanage
8. Boudanath (Buddhist Monastery)
9. Pashupati (Hindu Temple)
10. Monkey Temple (Buddhist)
11. Scattering Patti's Spirit in the Himalayas
12. Bangkok
13. Flying Biz and First Class

Scroll down or click on "Older Post" below and begin the journey

Trekking Annapurna - - Days 1 - 2

The Trekkers

Back - Arjun, Amar, Kate, Dawa, Jo, Mick, Mike, Jack, Mary Ann, Sue, Leo
Front - Pat, Angela, Geno
(Phil taking pic)

I joined eleven other hikers for the 18 day trek around the Annapurna Mountains. Our group consisted of 9 members from Canada, all from British Columbia; 2 fellas from the UK; and I was the lone American.

Our group was supported by five sherpas (guides), twelve porters, one porter guide, six kitchen staff, one donkey driver, and ten donkeys. It was a literal safari in the mountains.

Note: Click on any pic once/twice for enlarged view

The first bridge we crossed was quite rickety. What an exciting and precarious way to start a trek.

Jack doing the crawl

Sue walking the tight-rope

A funky bamboo bridge . . .what a cool way to start the trek.

I luv'd it . . . crossing bridges were exciting . . . good thing most were made of steel unlike this one

Golly! . . .The 2nd bridge was not much better

Broken boards and tumultuous river made for white knuckle crossings

Cof-feee Reaaady!

Every morning at 6 a.m., the sherpas brought coffee or tea to our tents . . . how lux!

Here's how our 6-7-8 daily routine worked:

Up at 6 and coffee/tea brought to our tent
Pan of hot water also brought to wash up
Breakfast at 7 a.m.
We hit the trail at 8 a.m.

Our first campground in Bhulbbule. That's Jack, my tentmate, a great guy from Vancouver BC. Our tents were 4 season expedition models.

Kool Kute Kids

We started the trek at around 2400' elevation and followed the Marsyangdi River up a valley rich in agriculture and forests

It's quite green and lush at the lower elevations

It wasn't long before we caught sight of the big snow capped peaks of the Annapurnas . . . an awesome sight. First of many Shangri-La moments.

Mick, our trek leader, set an example for the porters/sherpas and picked up litter. He was passionate about keeping Nepal clean and beautiful.

The heavy load of the porters was astonishing, especially Table Man. See blog entry on "Porters/Sherpas."

Jack and Mick on litter patrol

With limited electricity, solar ovens were common

People watching was fascinating . . . or were they watching us?

Dawa, the head sherpa, was a sharp, fun guy. He was also fluent in Japanese and I had a hoot bantering with him through out the trek.

These concrete water spigot stands were common and source of fresh water

"Little Sister" was our only female porter but she carried the same load as the guys. She was very shy.

Terraced rice patties were the main agriculture in the lower part of the valley

A rustic farm house

The aesthetics of terraced mountain sides were sublime (above and below)

I wasn't expecting this

Family doing the wash

Jack, Jo, and Dawa serving hot water for tea or coffee.

Lunch time at a trail-side eatery. Our kitchen staff would take over the kitchen and prepare our lunch.

Phil, Mary Ann, and Sue

Phil, Kate, and Mick

Pat and Jo

Everest, the most popular local beer

I kept running into this nice couple from Singapore (sitting with their sherpa guide in white shirt) for the first 4-5 days. They were doing an independent trek of the Circuit using one porter and sherpa and staying in Tea Houses.

Another Shangri-La Moment. Cresting a hill, we encounter a beautiful river valley.

More vast terraced mountain-side. Which brings up the question: who in the heck built all these, when and how long did it take?

Zig-zagging our way down into the valley

Another neat bridge crossing

Gushing waterfalls were everywhere

Taking a break

Crossing our first gateway chorten signals we're in Buddhist country

Approaching our 2nd night's destination

Trekking Annapurna - - Days 3 - 5

The 2nd night, we stayed in a guesthouse (hotel)

Time to take off the boots and relax after a long day on the trail

Early morning sun lights up a village on other side of the valley

A river-side cafe cantilevers over the river

The donkey is the primary beast of burden in Nepal. We encountered many donkey trains on the trails.

A funny donkey tale. Seems like there is always one donkey lolly-gagging behind the main group. I followed this guy for quite a long time. He stopped often munching on the weeds.

The lolly-gagger on the right . . . marched to its own drummer

Stopping off to admire a beautiful rainbow waterfall

China cabinet at a local eatery

Amar, the "sherpa trainee" who Mick brought from the Umbrella Orphanage. See blog entry of "Umbrella Foundation Ophanage."

A bridge crossing a raging river

Don't look down!!

Totally Awesome!

Tumultuous cascading waterfall. Note blue building to right. This comparison gives you an idea of the size and magnitude of raging waterfall.

Click on pic once/twice for great close up view.

Kate and Ubang letting donkey train go by

View of Tal Village where we camped at Buddhist Temple grounds

Our donkeys climbing cliff-side trail to Tal

Cresting last big hill before dropping into Tal

Our campground in Tal

Jo's house

Neat head dress on one of our donkeys

Passing waterfall blasting trail

Two mountain bikers riding across bridge

Click on pic for enlargement

Talk about gnarly. Two fully-loaded cyclists riding the entire Annapurna Circuit. An amazing feat.

Trail passing through many villages

We visited an ancient Buddhist Monastery in a mountain village. The color scheme used on building details were rich and colorful. See following pics for details of buildings.

Mick climbing log ladder at monastery

We set up camp in school yard in village of Danakyu

Dawa serving tea/coffee at 6 a.m. in our tent

Donkey feed bags

Shama getting ready to load the donkeys

Upward and onward

Clouds part revealing another big peak

Trail takes us through thick forest

At campground in Koto, Mike plays patty-cake with local boy

Our campground in yard of guesthouse in Koto

Click on "Older Post" below to continue