Friday, October 24

Seti River and Chitwan National Park, Nepal

(see maptrin: River rafting was next on our itinerary and we debated between the adrenalin packed Kali Gandaki (four days) and the mellow Seti River (two days). We opted for the easy route down the Seti which would also give us time to visit nearby Chitwan National Park.

Getting ready to depart followed by waiting to depart. There was some sort of hold up (we never really understood what) and we got a late start down the river. While waiting, I took a little nap in the raft.

Sometimes it is such a small world. A few days back on the trek we met Jonathan and Brenda from San Mateo. We were happily surprised when they joined our river rafting trip as well. It's rare that we meet other Americans but when we do they're usually from Northern California.

Our camp on the river bank. On the second day we went through a series of five or six rapids and were done by lunch time.

We caught a ride with Jonathan and Brenda towards Chitwan National Park and were dropped in a town somewhere nearby. From there we took a horse drawn carriage the remainder of the way to Hotel Parkside

Included in our stay were outings and safaris. The first morning our guide took us down a much calmer river in a carved out canoe.

From the boat we spotted one gharial crocodile warming itself in the morning sun.

On the walking safari we passed through grassland and forest. We saw a group of monkeys and a tiger's territory marking claw marks on a tree. Our guide spotted a sloth bear and was more than a little annoyed when both Mike and I failed to see it.

Rhinoceros are the main attraction of the park and you're nearly guaranteed a sighting on our next stop, the Elephant Safari. It was us and a hundred other tourists riding in little wooden boxes on the top of elephants.  We quickly came across three Rhinoceroses with a baby.

The skin is so trippy. It really looks like plates of armour.

During the safari the elephants feed in the grassy areas while the tourist have their pictures taken.

Our elephant was small compared to the others but his tail packed a punch. He would occasionally give my feet a whip. I think they had clipped his tail to keep him from seriously hurting the tourists.

On the way back we stopped at the riverside to see the sunset over the jungle.

The following morning we were up early for the jeep safari. On that trip we spotted wild boars, different types of deer, an owl and two eagles.

Our final outing was the Elephant Breeding Sanctuary where all of the elephants are chained with the exception of the small babies who are coaxed by the guides over to the tourists. Most people seemed to be enjoying themselves but we thought it was sad.

Mike and I already knew we don't do well on guided tours. Now, we've discovered that we lack both the patience and interest to be good wildlife observers. Maybe it is something we'll mature into.

Thursday, October 16

Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

(see map) trin: There are many trekking options in Nepal ranging from one to twenty-one days. We considered a few options but after talking with Ramez, another guest in Bandipur, we decided on the ten day trek to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) with a side trip to Poon Hill on the way.

ABC is a teahouse trek meaning we would eat and sleep at guesthouses. Not having to carry food or camping gear gave us the courage to tackle the ten day itinerary. Through our hotel in Pokhara we hired our guide, Ganga Tamang.

The plan was to hike approx. 70 miles, climb to 13,629 feet and sleep in nine different villages in the process.

And we're off

The permit checkpoint in Nayapul has yet to enter the computer age.

Villagers working together to butcher a buffalo for Dasain. Meat was being thrown onto several piles that would be distributed to the different families. I was taken aback by the amount of meat that just one animal provides.

Attacked by small children asking for sweets while climbing from Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani.

Mike became a walking clothesline after we would wash key items at night.

Our guide, Ganga, waiting for us to catch up. He always wanted to swap bags with Mike to give him a break saying, "don't worry, be happy." Mike never gave into temptation and carried his large pack the whole way.

All of the teahouses are pretty basic. Most of the time the wall that divided us from our neighbor was a single sheet of plywood. When the guy next door snored or coughed it was like he was right there in bed with us.

Our lodge in Ghorepani felt a bit like a fun house. The hallway had a strange tilt to it.

On our third morning we woke up early and hiked up to Poon Hill in the dark.

Seeing the sunrise light up the entire Annapurna Mountain Range was well worth the effort.

The monsoon trickled into October this year and on the first few days we had cloudy skies and rain in the afternoons.

Hiking through the clouds.

A typical guesthouse exterior. On the patio or in dining hall trekkers would gather and share stories. It was common to see the same people each night.

A clear morning in Chhomrong followed by a rainy afternoon in Bamboo.

Taking refuge and having lunch. I guess the baby goats had the same idea.

The bridges became more and more primitive as we progressed up the trail.

A couple days into the trek, we realized there weren't going to be any "easy days." We were either going up or we were going down. There was no such thing as flat.

The day we hiked to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC), Mike suffered from fatigue and the altitude. At lunch I made the call to stop for the night and proceed to Annapurna Base Camp at dawn.

Feeling better but still a little loopy.

Despite the freezing temperatures at MBC we chose flip flops over our stinky boots.

It's embarrassing. We're twins right down to our socks.

It was still dark out when Ganga woke us for the final 1400 foot climb to Annapurna Base Camp.

ABC, We made it!

Sun beams breaking over the top of Machhapuchhre onto ABC.

Annapurna South (left) and Annapurna 1 (right).

A rescue helicopter that crashed a few months ago when it missed the small landing pad. We asked around but no one seemed to know what they were going to do with it.

Volleyball at ABC. I am jumping in the top photo. Don't you think I am higher than Mike?

Reaching the camp felt like a big accomplishment but we were careful not to congratulate ourselves too much. We still had four days to go.

Seasonal shelter for the local shepherds.

Sheep and goats causing a traffic jam on the trail.

A porter carrying supplies. We never ceased to be amazed by the loads these guys carry.

Our longest cable bridge. Every time I have to cross one of these things, I can't help but think of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Millet.  A main crop in the Annapurna area but we never figured out how it is prepared as food. We tried the millet wine and it wasn't that bad.

Sharing the trail with a local woman carrying water from the well.

Nepal's national dish, Dal Baht. All you can eat rice, lentils, veggies and spicy pickle. Good energy food.

We're almost done. Sunrise in Pothana on our last morning.

Machhapuchhre from the trail as we descended to Phedi.  We were rewarded with an excellent view on our final day.

Tuesday, October 7

Bandipur & Pokhara, Nepal

(see map) trin: We traveled from Kathmandu to Bandipur to Pokhara on the days leading up to the Hindu holiday Dasain. The buses and roads were full of people on their way to celebrate with family and animals on their way to be sacrificed.

The bus dropped us off in the town of Dumre where we took a jeep up the hill to Bandipur.

The village is high on a ridge and the houses are still constructed in the traditional Nepali style. With no cars and the main street full of playing children, we were immediately taken by the town.

We could just see the peaks of the Annapurna range breaking through the clouds. Even from a distance the size was amazing.

We did a long day hike from Bandipur to Damauli. Along the way we stopped at Ramkot, a remote mountaintop village. We both agree the visit is one of the highlights of our trip, probably due to the authenticity of the experience. Nothing was set up for tourism, we were just visitors passing through and the residents made us feel welcome.

Mike getting a lesson in hulling rice on one family's front porch. There were also women grinding corn using hand grinders made from two large stones.

There are so many children in Nepal, particularly in the villages. I bent down to show these three their photo and was immediately surround by another dozen. All of them smiling and pushing in to get a look. It was one of those special moments.

Visiting a traditional round house constructed from stone and mud. We sat on handwoven cushions made from corn stocks. Most things are grown or made in the village. There are no roads so anything else has to be carried in on someone's back.

Another stop in the village was our guide's best friend's house. He wasn't at home but that didn't stop his mom from serving us pumpkin curry and a fresh batch of chang (a drink made from millet & corn).

Her outdoor kitchen is rustic to say the least but the food was good. Mike had seconds.

As we rested on the sidewalk in Damauli the locals took quite a bit of interest in us (always a good sign that you're off the well established tourist path).  I spotted a man across the street taking our photo. It was a little unsettling to be on the other side of the camera but I gave him a big smile which he seemed to appreciate.

A vendor selling vibrant powders for tilakas, colorful markings applied to Hindu's foreheads.

Crowded local transportation.

From Bandipur we bused to Pokhara where we spent two days sightseeing and arranging our trek. As a warm up, we hiked up to Sarangkot at 5280 feet. On a clear day there is an excellent view of the Annapurna Mountain Range. We weren't that lucky and settled for a view back down to Phewa Lake and Pokhara. Clouds were rolling in so we hurried back ahead of the afternoon rain.

No matter how remote, each village builds a bamboo swing for the children to play on during Dasain.

Rice paddies at Lakeside, the tourist area of Pokhara.

Canoe ride across the lake.

The World Peace Pagoda that overlooks Pokhara and Phewa Lake.

In both Kathmandu and Pokhara the streets are lined with trekking supply shops selling imitation North Face. The shop owners took a special interest in our legitimate North Face gear. "Where did you get this jacket? Good quality. How much did it cost?" I think they were worried one of their competitors found a better supplier.

Packing for the trek. We are always concerned with weight and space but when you need to carry a bag for ten days it becomes a much bigger issue.

How did this happen? Can you guess which bag is Mike's?