Archive for May, 2014

The day of the serpentine climb — onwards to Manang (AC Day 5)

Posted in Annapurna Circuit, from Upper Pisang to Manang, Ghyaru, Ngawal, professional tourist in the making, through the lens on May 18, 2014 by twotwoeight

Day 5 — Destination : Manang, 3500m

Bbrrrr…the night was reeeeeally cold even though we were snuggled up inside our sleeping bags AND with the blanket on top.  Didn’t manage to sleep well – woke up at 12.40am and thereafter only slept periodically.  Finally dawn came, and after suiting ourselves up to beat the cold, we walked up to the monastery at 6am to catch the sun’s rays on the mountain peaks.

sunrise in manang

When we reached the monastery, there were already a couple of other trekkers there (some who had come up from Lower Pisang) and the caretaker of the monastery was just getting ready for the day.  The sun had risen and its reflection off the snow-capped mountain peaks gradually intensified.

Pisang monastery

We were still freezing cold despite the sun being up and even the caretaker’s dog was curled up into a furry ball to keep himself warm!  We took some snapshots with our freezing fingers and were beaming with happiness when the caretaker came and offered us a cup of hot lemon!

Sunrise at monastery

We wanted to take a selfie with the gorgeous backdrop and while we were laughing and struggling to keep our fingers still, a nice tourist came to our rescue and snapped a picture for us.  We sat around for a little while more, and then we made our way back to the guesthouse to freshen up and pack up.  Teeth-brushing and face-washing left our hands numb and painful at the same time from the freezing cold water!  Breakfast was vegetable noodle soup and boiled egg…and hot coffee of course.  And then we set off at 8am.

Mani wall

After leaving the village of Upper Pisang, we passed the big prayer wheel wall and headed towards Ghyaru.

wise mountain goat

The small mountain path coursed through plantations of local crops on the steep mountain face where the locals and their jobkes were hard at work.  We stopped for awhile when we came across a herd of mountain goats…from wise old goat…

mountain kid

to cheeky young kid! 😉

etched prayer

We reached a long mani wall after about half an hour, and what came up next was described in the NATT as “…the trail climbs up in many serpentines near the electric poles which are going up in the direct line.  And yes, you have to climb till the last of the poles! 😦 “.  And boy, was the description accurate!!! The serpentine climb looked endless and we stopped so many times to take a breather!  At one point I was feeling light headed and got a little worried if it was worsening altitude sickness.  But luckily after resting and an energy bar, I felt better and managed to reach the top.

on the way to Ghyaru

Gah…..can’t believe we were all the way down there earlier!!

Ghyaru

We stopped for a break at Ghyaru — a small village with only a few lodges surrounded by fields and offering gorgeous views of the Annapurna range.  We had a hot drink and some biscuits and also walked to the look-out point in front of the Gompa.  After a good rest and feeling refreshed, we were on our way to the next stop where lunch beckons!

Ghyaru for lunch

Reached Ngawal for lunch at about 12.45pm and by then, it was starting to drizzle and the temperature was dipping!  We were famished by the time the dahl baht came…and hungrily gobbled it up.  The three local trekkers from Kathmandu whom we met earlier also reached Ngawal shortly after we arrived so we all had lunch together, while listening to Bon Jovi songs!  Dev asked if we wanted to stop here for the day or continue on to Manang as we were due to have an acclimatization day at Manang the following day anyway, but PW and I decided we could still walk (despite looking like we were ready to hibernate) and so we decided to continue on.

we have bread

Thankfully, the walk after lunch was much easier than the earlier serpentine climb – a lot of descents though.  But nothing a little Jacky Cheung music couldn’t pull me through. 😉

Manang gate

After about 3 hours, we finally saw the entrance gate to Manang! Whee….legs were screaming by now.

sunset

Got our room at the guesthouse and then had a quick walk around the village, which was by far the biggest and most well-equipped village on the trek with temptations of Lavazza coffee and cinnamon rolls beckoning.  None of that for tonight — we retreated to the dining hall where there was a fireplace fueled by yak dung, and had soup and a yak steak for dinner.  It was too dark for pictures of the yak steak – the taste was good but the meat was quite tough (very good jaw exercise!).

After dinner, had a chit chat with Dev and Mr.Limbu about Nepal history…the assassination of the royal family…trekking accidents…and plans for the next day.  And then, it was time to call it a day.  Snuggled into our sleeping bags and layers and layers of clothing…and it was time for lights out.

Shuvarathri. 🙂

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It’s snowing in Upper Pisang! (AC Day 4)

Posted in Annapurna Circuit, from Chame to Upper Pisang, professional tourist in the making, through the lens on May 13, 2014 by twotwoeight

Day 4 — Destination : Upper Pisang, 3320m

Rambro shutno boh?

Hajur..

Have been having mild symptoms of altitude sickness — a mild but persistent headache which I couldn’t quite differentiate from my usual migraine attacks and sleep has been interrupted.  But on a whole, still managed to get quite a good amount of sleep throughout the night.  Blankets as usual were fantastic!  Breakfast was vegetable momo and vegetable noodle soup, the latter which soon became one of our staple breakfast meals as there was nothing better than a hot bowl of broth on a cold morning.  (But Dev calls noodles fake carbohydrates though 😉 )  We set off at 7.45am and made a short detour to buy Paracetamol (which was known as Evamol in Nepal) for PW as our stock was running low.  Luckily, we managed to find some in a roadside stall which was a pharmacy and I was amazed at the variety of medications they had!

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The road today was pretty easy — most of the parts were rather flat, with no crazy rocky ascents like the days before so we walked at a better pace today.

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Passed a Mani wall shortly after we set off from Chame and this is a common sight near most villages.

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We also passed vibrant green fields, which we thought was grass fields, but turned out it was actually local crops.

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Our mid-morning rest stop was gorgeous beyond words — beautiful flowers, grazing horses walking about, with a backdrop of pine trees and snowy peaks.

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After that, we walked through a tree-dense area which exudes an enchanted-forest feeling.

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More gorgeous views at a place where we stopped for rest and coconut biscuits, courtesy of Dev and Mr.Limbu.  I wonder if they were worried we would be hungry as we always couldn’t finish our breakfast!  But they were right…and the biscuits always come at just the right time!

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Met another donkey train on the road today, this one carrying essentials…even a cylinder or two of gas tanks!  Very strong indeed!!

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We stopped for lunch at Dhukur Pokhari at noon, where we had dahl baht and pancake with honey. The elderly Korean singing Korean gentleman was also there, this time not singing though. 😉 It was beginning to get cold as the day became more cloudy.

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After lunch in Dhukur Pokhari, we walked together parts of the way with 3 local trekkers from Kathmandu, all of whom were photography enthusiasts!  We crossed a flatland where there were beautiful horses grazing quietly and stopped there for some pictures.  After that, it started to drizzle and we made haste.

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Reached Upper Pisang at about 2pm and after a fairly steep climb up past the village of Upper Pisang weaving between the typical flat-roofed local houses, we finally arrived at our guesthouse, which was the highest one in the village!

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A view from outside our room overlooking the village of Upper Pisang and Lower Pisang across the river.  Trekkers can choose to stay in Lower Pisang which was an easier trek but we were glad Dev decided we could make it to Upper Pisang!

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The highest guest house of the village was indeed worth the hike — the rooms were new and had a very log-cabin feeling to it, the dining room was small but cosy and most importantly, there was a fireplace in the middle of the dining room which kept us warm and comfy.  PW was immediately enamoured by the owner’s puppy which he had just brought up from town and it was happily lapping up the attention from us.

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After a hot drink, we walked up to the monastery which was a short walk up behind our guesthouse.  Visited the interior of the monastery and afterwards, we sat around outside and took in the gorgeous breathtaking panorama in front of our eyes.  With unbelievable views of the Annapurna range in plain sight and a cup of hot lemon tea in our hands, what more can one ask for?

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And then, just when you thought things couldn’t get any better than this, it started snowing!!! 🙂

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Alhough we had gone skiing in Korea before, we never experienced snowfall before and with this magnificent surroundings, and the feeling of the snow lightly touching your face….sigh….I wish time could come to a standstill.

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After it got too cold to handle, we huddled around the fireplace inside the dining room with the other trekkers and chatted before it was time for dinner. By now, we were scratching our heads over what to eat for dinner so we decided to have a change from our usual dahl baht. I ordered fried rice and PW ordered boiled potatoes and we were slightly shocked when her boiled potatoes came as it was literally a mountain of plain boiled potatoes! Nevertheless, it was still good with salt and pepper.

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After dinner, it was time for bed as wanted to wake up early to see sunrise at the monastery the next day.  It was very very cold!!  And for the first time on the trek, we needed to dig out our sleeping bags! Bbbrrrrr!!!

Shuvarathri!

 

Timang, my favourite village (AC Day 3)

Posted in Annapurna Circuit, from Dharapani to Chame, professional tourist in the making, through the lens, Timang on May 11, 2014 by twotwoeight

Day 3 — Destination : Chame, 2620m

We had a good night’s sleep thanks to the extremely warm homemade blankets even though it was really cold outside.  Woke up at 6am plus and shivered all the way to the toilet only to find both the common toilets occupied.  Saw the didi owner of the teahouse and happily greeted her Shuvarathri and she kindly pointed me to the toilet in the open yard next to the teahouse.  Later, I realized that I had mistakenly greeted her Goodnight…no wonder she didn’t respond nor return my greeting!  Had breakfast of Tibetan bread and cheese chappati which we had pre-ordered the night before as the teahouse was quite packed.

morning in Dharapani

We started trekking at 7.50am, and the morning views in Dharapani were gorgeous.  The mountain peaks were getting closer and the scenery constantly changing as we climbed higher and higher.

Timang clouds

The path started off nice and flat and we still had time and energy to take photographs.  But we should have learned from the day before, never rejoice for long on a flat stretch…the difficult parts are up ahead!  True enough, the path soon turned into a long (and what seemed like a never ending) stretch of winding rocky steps uphill!  Knees were screaming…lungs were bursting and it was just a vicious cycle of hypoxia and pain!  Needless to say, no time for photos of the never ending rocky steps at all!

after the crazy climb up

Luckily, all things come to an end…and after an eternity, the rocky steps finally dwindled and subsided into a flat but uphill gradient.  Despite feeling like crap on the inside, we could still muster a smile and pose for a victory shot! 😉

photo 2-1

All hard work is always rewarded — we came around the bend and found ourselves awestruck with the magnificent vista that greeted us.  Timang — which became my all time favourite village of the whole trek.

green pastures in Timang

Green pastures with grazing animals against a backdrop of magnificent snow-capped mountain peaks.  A panaromic view.  It was just mind blowing to stand there and absorb the magic of the moment.  If time wasn’t a consideration, I would gladly stay here, indefinitely.

lunch in Timang

We stopped for lunch at about noon here and the rooftop view was indescribable.  Recalling how excited we were on our first day when we saw glimpses of the snowy peaks in the distance, it felt surreal to be so close to them now…as if, you can just reach out and feel the snow in your hands. Unfortunately, PW was feeling under the weather since the night before, with headache and a mild fever so even the splendid views surrounding her couldn’t pique her interest. 😦 I had dahl baht for lunch (no surprises!) and PW had mushroom soup.

bird in flight

While waiting for the food to come, I soaked up the sun and paparazzi-ed the birds in flight.

 

enchanted forest feeling

After lunch, the trek became easier…no more crazy uphill steps!! And there was a stark change in the landscape too – we started seeing more pine trees and trails carpeted with pine needles.

landscape change

The earlier more barren looking rocky landscape gave way to fertile green pastures which was a welcome change.

Gompa

We also walked together with a couple from Israeli and an elderly gentleman from South Korea some parts of the way.  The South Korean man was very very entertaining!! He was trekking alone but he had done this circuit many times and hence he was faster than any of us.  He sang and danced and did the Oppa Gangnam on request! He was either in a manic phase, or I suspect the hint of alcohol in his breath was a contributing factor!  😉  Nevertheless, he made the walk seem less strenous and soon we reached our next rest stop.

mule headdress

Bumped into a donkey/horse/mule train…and after what we read about them from blogs, we were a bit cautious!

donkey warning

mule

We could not really tell the horse and mule apart initially, and only learned later that mules have short mane as opposed to horses.  Also learned that horse + donkey = mule.  And yak + local cow = ? jobke (they are called dzo according to wikipedia)

Chame at last

We reached Chame at about 4pm and got our room at MonaLisa Guest House.  It was beginning to get really cold as evening came and luckily the guesthouse had a working gas shower!!  Yay….hot shower!

around Chame

Leg muscles were screaming by now, but I wanted to seize whatever light left of the day and as PW could not peel herself off the bed, I took a stroll around the village on my own.

going ons of Chame

Walked around a bit and watched the going-ons of the villagers and the animals.  Took some photos and then I just sat and absorbed the surroundings — bustling…yet there was a peaceful air to the scene.

buffalo jerky

Then it was time for dinner — candlelit dinner, as the electricity had gone off.  We had noodle soup and a mushroom pizza, and hot lemon tea never tasted this good in the freezing cold!  We also tried buffalo jerky, a local snack, courtesy of Dev and Mr.Limbu.

New words learned today :

Rambro shutno boh? – Did you sleep well?

Hajur – Yes

Hainak – No

Rambroso! – Good!

And then, it was time for bed.  Shuvarathri! 🙂

 

Malai sahayog garnuhos! (AC Day 2)

Posted in Annapurna Circuit, from Jagat to Dharapani, professional tourist in the making, through the lens with tags , , on May 8, 2014 by twotwoeight

That means “Help me!” in Nepali.  And this is one of the phrases which we felt compelled to learn after our first real day of trekking!

😉

Day 2 — Destination : Dharapani, 1900m

First night of sleeping in the mountains…woke up on and off in the middle of the night as it was quite chilly.  Finally, when the sky was bright, we got out of bed at about 6am.  Packed up our backpacks and went down to the dining hall for breakfast.

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Feeling excited to be on our feet for our first real day of trekking!!

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We had Tibetan bread with cheese and egg for breakfast (carbo loading as advised) which reminded us of ham chin beng (a variation of a type of local snack we have back home called Chinese crullers) which came to us piping hot and crispy — yums! The cook and owner of the teahouse was so amused when we flipped the egg over to check if it was also shaped like a huge doughnut AND proceeded to take photos of his Tibetan bread that he went to tell the others how amused we were and everybody laughed (hopefully with us, and not AT us)!!

After a satisfying breakfast, we were off! We left Jagat at 7.45am with the aim of reaching Tal by lunch.  The weather was good, the views were spectacular, the path was flat and easy — ‘Hey, this is not too bad!’, we thought to ourselves.  Little did we know, the harrowing ascents were just up ahead.

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Dev pointed out a cluster of beehives at the face of the mountain which we wouldn’t even have noticed had we been on our own.  PW immediately thought about a career change to become a Himalayan Honey Hunter after learning how precious this commodity was in Nepal. Ermm, maybe after reading this article you will think twice, PW 😉

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After a nice and easy flat stretch, we crossed our first hanging bridge across the Marsyangdi river — and stopped for the obligatory bridge-crossing photo.  Nice and sturdy, as compared to some of the rickety old wooden structures still surviving.

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Gorgeous views of the Marsyangdi as we continued trekking.

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As we continued on, the views became more and more spectacular.  But so did the path.  After awhile, the nice flat path became more rocky and the flat part was no longer applicable.  The walk became more inclined and even though the elevation gained was not that much, we started to feel the lactate building up in the leg muscles and the breathing more laboured.  Gosh, and this is just day 1!!!

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Some parts were just incredibly breathtaking — and by that, I mean the climb literally took our breath away!! We stopped for a short rest just before this harrowing rocky climb and thought we’d never make it all the way up — but looking back now, this was a piece of cake compared to the days to come!  During the climb, I kept thinking to myself ‘Should have gone to the gym more often before this!’

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Luckily after all the hard work and lungs-almost-exploding moments, we were rewarded with gorgeous views —  I wouldn’t be surprised if a Hobbit popped out of the hut and greeted me!

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Shortly after, we saw a village in the distance — Tal was visible!!!  Yay, lunch beckons!

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As we neared Tal, started thinking about what to have for lunch although it almost seems like a no-brainer since “Dahl baht power, 24 hour”, remember?  And we certainly look like we need all the power we can get.

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Reached Tal at about 12pm.  PW and I shared a dahl baht and fried noodles and while waiting for our food to come (it really takes quite abit of time for your food to be ready so patience is a virtue…), we watched Tom and Jerry in Hindi with the teahouse owner’s son.  Also walked around the compound and visited the outdoor toilet.

After lunch, it started to drizzle and then continued on to a steady pour so we waited awhile for the rain to subside.  Saw a trekker walking past with his backpack and camera pouch and holding an umbrella!  Well prepared indeed!  Luckily the rain did not last long, and as Dev said, condition in the mountain is always changing…we set off at about 2pm for Dharapani.

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The walk after lunch was very…wet.  Not sure if this was because of the rain earlier, but some parts of the path was literally a flowing stream.  And occasionally, the path is crossed by the flow of water from the mountain face cutting directly across the path and continuing its path downhill.  This same path is also shared with jeeps and other vehicles and looking at the road conditions, I can only conclude that your driving skill has to be top notch to not die in the mountains!

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We also ran into some animals – goats, dogs, cows, horses.  I think after awhile, Dev and Mr.Limbu began to realize that we were easily distracted by animals and that their presence (especially if they are cute) usually means ‘rest stop’.  This group of baby goats were the most distracting as they were bleating continuously and they all looked like they have a smile plastered on their faces!  Mind you, we were not the only ones who succumbed to their cries, other trekkers also did and some even stopped to carry them and have pictures taken with them!  However, this particular white kid seems to be a little crazy as it was emitting high pitched and loud bleats continuously! (Don’t be deceived by its gentle appearance…)

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After the baby goats, at our next rest stop, we encountered three gorgeous dogs, and they seemed to be fully enjoying the magic of the mountains as much as we did.  You know how in cartoons it is frequently portrayed that when you get to the top of the mountain, you will find a yogi sitting cross legged, meditating exuding calmness and inner peace?  Well, seeing this dog gives me the exact same feeling.

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Occasionally, Dev will point to a speck on the mountain and tell us there are blue sheeps there…and after scanning the mountain for a long time, we’d be able to make out the shape of an animal there.  This, I honestly cannot remember whether it’s really a blue sheep or not.  But, I learned that they are neither blue nor do they look like sheeps.

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We finally reached Dharapani at 4.15pm — earlier than we expected, which was a relief as we were beginning to get worried that our pace was too slow.  We had wanted to ask Dev if he thought we were going too slow, but decided that ignorance is bliss… 😉

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Got our rooms in Eco House and then went outside to catch some photos before it was too dark.  The skies were overcast and it was becoming increasingly cloudy and cold as the day grew on.

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We followed a goat whisperer around…while he tended to his herd.

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These mountain goats are quite adorable, I must say. And they always look so pleasant.

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Thereafter, we all went four-leaves-clover hunting in a clover patch inside the teahouse’s compound.  Dev and Mr.Limbu were the champions — I don’t know how they managed to spot so many! By the time it started to rain again, PW and I had found none!

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A gorgeous dusk and end to the day before we went inside to freshen up and had dinner.  It was beginning to get cold, and we started drinking hot honey lemon, which was soon to be our favourite drink!  Had fried macaroni and potatoes for dinner.  We also had a taste of local beer — which was white and opaque in colour and had bits floating in it — I can only conclude that it’s an acquired taste! Learned some new Nepali words today…

Subar-prabhat – Good morning

Perry-bhatongla – See you

Didi – elder sister

Behini – younger sister

Eik, dui, thin, cha, panch, cho, shat, aath, nau, das (1 – 10)

Mitho chaa – It’s delicious

Shauzhalaiya kancha? – Toilet where?

Tapai lai kastho chaa? – How are you?

Malai thik chaa – I am okay

Ani tapai lai? – And you?

Malai pani thik chaa – I am okay too

(This how-are-you conversation became our routine morning conversation subsequently as practice makes perfect!)

Oh and of course not forgetting MALAI SAHAYOG GARNUHOS!!! (HELP ME!).  After going through some parts of the trek which seemed abit hazardous and the morbid me saw many potential falling-off-the-cliff moments, I decided I needed to learn that!  But after learning the phrase in Nepali, we decided in our times of need, we probably wouldn’t be able to remember the 8 syllables in the correct order anyway.  Hhmmm.  Better pray ‘Help’ is universally understood.

😉

Top of the World begins with jeeping (Day 1)

Posted in Annapurna Circuit, from Besisahar to Jagat, professional tourist in the making, radio in my head, through the lens on May 4, 2014 by twotwoeight

Day 1 — Destination : Jagat, 1300m

We woke up bright and early…maybe not so bright as we were still half-awake and packed our backpacks.  Went down for an early breakfast, luckily the staff at Ambassador Garden Home were nice enough to make us breakfast before 7am even though it was not the official breakfast time yet.  We opted for a lighter version of the set breakfast since there was a long drive ahead — of course we still had the herby-octopus-like sausages!  Have not had sausages like that since we were kids!!

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Dev, our guide came and met us at about 7am with the other people who would be sharing the transport with us to Besisahar, 3 Koreans — a Korean monk, a man in his 40s who had started trekking in Nepal since he was 22 years old and “Korean Guy”, a solo trekker who we met up with in the days to come.

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The drive from Thamel to Besisahar took us 5 and a half hours, but luckily the weather was nice and chilly, and despite the roads being incredibly bumpy some parts of the way, the trip was generally pleasant.

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As we left the city and headed towards the outskirts, the views grew incredibly more alluring, and we started seeing a hint of the snowy peaks!

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There were some parts of the road that was under major construction and the long train of vehicles created massive dust clouds!

It was also during this ride that random songs started popping into my head – She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes…Top of the world…and many more.  And this is also when I started changing the lyrics to Top of the World in my head!

 

Such a feeling’s coming over me,

All the vehicles are veering dangerously,

Lots of dust in the air, got the grime in my hair,

But I can’t believe it, we’re here finally.

 

There is only one trip on my mind,

When this day is through I hope that I will find,

That I’ve conquered the Pass,

Din’ end up in a mess,

There’s a pleasing sense of happiness in me.

 

I’m at the top of the Thorung-La Pass,

Knowing that this won’t be the last adventure in this present life,

It’s a love that I’ve found, ever since we came around,

Annapurna, the top of my world.

 

I had created another 2 verses but the ride became too bumpy to write anything down.  We reached Besisahar at about 12.30pm and met Mr.Limbu, our porter there.  After a quick lunch and securing transportation to our next destination, we set off for Jagat in the back of a local jeep.

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And that’s when we knew what the true meaning of ‘a bumpy ride’ was!


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There were 8 of us seated in the back and another 2 guys standing at the rear!

 

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The journey on the harrowing narrow rocky path that was hugging the cliffs and at times looked impossible for oncoming vehicles to pass by successfully was made all the more incredible being packed in the back of the jeep!

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Finally, after about 3 hours we reached Jagat! Woohoooo!!

We stayed a a teahouse called Eco Home and learned that we were the only guests there for the night, and our timing was perfect as they were fully booked the following night with a big group scheduled to arrive.  The room was simple with just the bare necessities — 2 single beds and a low table in between, but it was clean.

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After we put our things down, we took a stroll down the main street of Jagat.  The weather was perfect — chilly, but not too cold.

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We saw a group of local children who were having a ball with a baby goat!  They were carrying it around, walking it like a pet dog and the baby goat seemed to enjoy the attention it got.

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Well, better than being on a plate I say!!

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Animals always make us trigger-happy and after awhile, we attracted the attention of some of the local kids who wanted to get in on the action too.

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Buildings were generally very brightly coloured, as we would come to realize later.

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After our first gas shower (almost got a mini heart attack when I turned on the heater and saw the flames lit up in the heater!), we went to the dining hall for dinner.  We had our first of many dahl bahts as promoted by Dev and we were introduced to the mountain slogan of “Dahl baht power, 24 hour!”.  We had a chat with Dev while waiting for dinner and learned some Nepali words.

Dhanya baad – Thank you

Suvarathri – Good night

*spelled as how I interpreted it

And then, it was time to call it a day, and say Suvarathri.  Tomorrow will be the first real day of trekking, and as Dev put it, a day to gauge our trekking skills! *gulp!* 😉