30 September 2009

The Jomsom Trek - Day 2

For the second day of our trek the scenery changed from desert plains to pine forests as we descended further from Jomsom.

We didn't have quite so good views as yesterday as the cloud moved in later in the morning obscuring the higher peaks. We still got some good views of Nilgiri as we set out from Tukuche.

We covered another 12km but the route today proved a little more challenging than yesterday. We somehow found ourselves fording knee deep through several streams of Himalaya glacial melt water when we ended up a long way downstream of a bridge. Liz suggested that we just wade through them rather that back track to the bridge. It wasn't particularly easy wading across a rocky river bed with fast flowing water when you've got a 10kilo back pack on. It's normally me who comes up with the stupid ideas so I was pleased for it to be Liz for a change!

One of the stranger things we saw today was a man parading through the main street of the village of Kokhethanti with a freshly severed goats head with all sorts of entrails hanging out of it. I thought better than to take a picture for the blog! We also met a grubby child who we took pity on and gave some apples to. He looked thoroughly disappointed and demanded money or sweets instead. Cheeky little bleeder!

We ended the day in the tiny village of Kalopani where we stayed at the Kalopani Guest House. Once again it was a fantastic hotel for £4 without a yak blanket in sight. We also got visited by this little fellow, a hoopoe . . .

The reward that awaits after a hard days trek . . .

29 September 2009

The Jomsom Trek - Day 1

The 20 minute flight from Pokhara to Jomsom was probably the most thrilling plane ride we've ever taken. You fly up the Kali Gandaki river, skimming the valley floor and weaving beneath the peaks of the surrounding mountains.

The takeoff and landing were particularly hairy as both runways felt a little bit too short for comfort.

The Jomsom Trek follows one of the old trade routes between Nepal and Tibet. Because of this the route is peppered with lots of small villages that have lodges and shops. This means that you don't need to employ an army of porters to carry a tent, cooking gear and supplies for you.

After our early morning flight we walked out of Jomsom and headed 6km down the valley to Marpha to grab some brunch. The scenery en route was pretty stunning. We were hiking through high altitude desert with the snow capped 7km high peak of Tilicho looming overhead.

Marpha is the self proclaimed "delightful apple capital of Nepal".

It was a stunningly pretty little village that had the feel of one of those wonky old Cornish fishing villages.

From there it was another 6km to Tukuchi where we were planning to spend our first night. Having heard stories of having to sleep under a grubby yak blanket on a dining room table we weren't sure what the lodge accommodation would be like on route. However; we were pleasantly surprised by our first nights accommodation at the High Plains Inn at Tukuche. We had a lovely clean room, which was styled like a log cabin, en suite bathroom and a hot water shower for relieving those aching limbs. It was quite possibly the best hotel we've ever stayed in for £4 a night!

28 September 2009

Pokhara part 1

Pokhara is the gateway town to the central region of the Nepali Himalaya. The town is situated along the side of the Phewa Tal lake and is really picturesque. The are supposed to be some stunning views of the Himalayas from around Pokhara but because we're here at the tail end of the monsoon we only get the odd tantalising glimpse.

In between sorting out the last of our trekking gear, arranging permits and booking flights we've sampled a few of Pokhara's tourist attractions.

For some inexplicable reason the International Mountain Museum is located in a new building 5km from town in the middle of no where, a bit like Millenium Point in Birmingham. It was an interesting museum to visit but the displays looked a little like something that the local primary school had thrown together. The yeti display was unbelievably crap.

The yeti is the one on the right!

We also had a go at rowing an unfeasibly large boat around Phewa Tal lake. This proved quite hard work in the 30 degree heat and 80% humidity, not one of our better ideas!

Tomorrow we fly to Jomsom, a small village in the central Himalaya. From there we will do the Jomsom Trek, a week long hike which will bring us through part of the Annapurna range back towards Pokhara. We'll be keeping 'em peeled for any yetis.

25 September 2009

Snakes on a Plane (Part 2) - Goats on a bus!

In this part of the world you quite often see groups of people riding along on the tops of buses. Hanging on the roof bars as the buses pick their way through the city streets or hurtle along the dangerous mountain roads.

However we've still not got used to the fairly regular sight of half a flock of goats surfing on the roof of a speeding bus.

24 September 2009

Kathmandu cough

We both really like Kathmandu, after the reserved atmosphere that you get in the Middle East it's great to be somewhere that is a little more lively. However there are a couple of things we're not so keen on when in the Nepali capital.

The first is the traffic. In most of Asia the traffic is pretty bad and crossing the road on foot is fairly challenging. Here it just seems downright dangerous.

Vietnam always felt a little risky as the traffic never seemed to stop. The guide books recommended that you just step confidently into the road and stride across at a constant, steady pace (whatever you do don't suddenly stop or run). If you do this the millions of mopeds that are hurtling past will just swerve and swarm around you.

The traffic never seems to stop in Kathmandu either. However; the Vietnamese (or any other) method of crossing the road doesn't work as no one seems to be fully in control of their vehicle. Even if you think that you're safely across the road and out of harms way, some bicycle, moped or taxi (usually all three) will make some improbable out of control maneuver and end up running over your feet or hitting you with a wing mirror. On the narrow, pavement-less streets around Thamel you need to have eyes in the back and sides of your head to avoid the constant threat of a mangling.

The other thing we're not too keen on is the pollution. Kathmandu is situated in a bowl shaped valley which traps the fumes from the vehicles and makes the air thick, gray and soupy. We're now both afflicted with deep, hacking, Kathmandu cough which would give a 60 a day smoker a run for their money.

We've not had any time for sightseeing since we returned to Kathmandu from the Chitwan. We've wasted yet more countless hours at the Indian embassy attempting to collect our visas. When we've not been slowly aging at the embassy we've been trying to get kitted out for a Himalaya trek. The streets around Thamel are great for getting knock off climbing gear. I managed to pick up a pair of Salomon climbing boots that cost £89 at home for the princely price of 1500 Nepali Rupes, about 12 quid!

After months of pestering and badgering I've finally managed to cajole Liz into a bit of mountain hiking. She still steadfastly refuses to discuss the 16 day climb to Everest Base Camp but has agreed to something a bit less strenuous.

Please remain seated . . .

22 September 2009

Going wild in the Chitwan

We've just arrived back in Kathmandu after 4 days out of town at the Royal Chitwan National Park. The park is the former hunting reserve for the nobles of Nepal and sits in the South of the country on the border with India.

The journey to and from Chitwan was a bit of a pain as it involved spending far too much time on a clapped out old bus on dangerous twisting roads.

The journey is only about 150km but took 7 hours to get there. However, the journey back managed to take 9 hours when we got stuck in a jam in the mountains when a bus went off the road. Although the delay was more than a little annoying we were just thankful that it wasn't our bus that had gone AWOL.

Unfortunately we've had to back track to Kathmandu to pick up our Indian visas. It was either that or wait in town for another week until they were ready. We decided to press on anyway even though Pokhara, our next destination, is annoyingly back they way we've just come.

We stayed at great hotel in the Chitwan called Hotel Parkside which is located in the village of Sauraha right on the edge of the park. The staff were really friendly and also acted as our guides when we went out into the reserve.

Whilst we were there we visited the Elephant Breeding Centre where they breed and train Indian elephants for use in the tourist industry. Although the big adults are tethered, the babies are free roaming and came over to sniff everyone out for biscuits.

They were incredibly playful and once all the biscuits were gone proceeded to have an elephant style wrestling match, nearly squashing several people in the process!

Getting to the breeding centre was a bit of an adventure in itself. The centre is reached by taking an incredibly unstable dug out canoe across the Bhude Rapti River.

Back on the other side of the river we got to partake in the daily elephant wash where we got to play mahout and scrub 5 tons of pachyderm clean with stones out of the river.

In reality the elephants spent more time washing us as with a call of "chhop, chhop" from mahouts the elephants would fill their trunks with water and give anything in range a good soaking.

We had yet more elephant action when we took a safari on elephant back through the park.

The Chitwan is one of the few places on Earth where you can see the one-horned Indian rhino in the wild. The Indian rhino is highly endangered and 30% of the worlds remaining 2000 are found in the Chitwan.

After only seeing rhinos at a distance in Africa it was great to be able to get up closer to them, and somewhat surreal to do it whilst perched upon an elephant.

Although we were lucky enough to see a few rhinos, the other big draw of the Chitwan, the Royal Bengal Tiger, remained elusive.

It wasn't all elephant based action though. We also did a jeep safari to Bis Hajaar Tal, the so called 20,000 lakes. If there was ever a case of mis-advertising then the 20,000 lakes has to be it. Despite being there for over two hours we only saw one.

It wasn't quite the safari experience of the Serengeti but we still got to see a fair few beasties including more rhinos, snake eagles, spotted deer and the mash mugger, a sort of small crocodile.

18 September 2009


It's felt really good to be back in Asia again. Nowhere is quite so geared up for the needs of the grubby backpacker as it is here. Cheap accommodation, cheap food, cheap transport and cold beer. Good times!

Even though we've only been away from Asia for three and a half months it was still a bit of a shock to the system with all the chaos, noise and people when we stepped out of the airport. We'd also forgotten how much smaller your personal space is here compared to elsewhere, the scrum at the baggage carousel was worse than anything I'd ever seen on the rugby pitch.

The thing that you immediately notice coming here from the Middle East is women! Virtually the only women we've seen out and about in Egypt and Jordan have been tourists. The local ladies are usually hidden away out of sight and are more noticeable by their absence. It felt slightly strange to be in mixed company again.

We're staying right in the heart of central Kathmandu in an area known as Thamel. It's a little bit like the Koh San Road in Bangkok . . . only much nicer. It's a lot more civillised too as the gutters aren't overflowing with drunk kids and their vomit. Instead you have to contend with the odd hippy who's still stuck in the 60's or armies of Gore-tex clad trekkers who look like their kitted out for an attempt on the summit of Everest.

We've spent most of our time here just wandering around the streets soaking up the atmosphere and sights.

Just South of our hotel is the medieval old town. The whole area is like a set from a Dickensian film or Blackadder gone a bit wrong. Master Ploppy would certainly feel right at home here!

Looking at the buildings it's a wonder any of them are still standing as most of them appear to be at some obtuse angle with very little holding the bricks together.

Durbar square, where the Nepalese royal family lived until about 100 years ago, is the main focus of central Kathmandu. As well as the former royal palace the square is full of Hindu temples and shrines, none of which we really understand!

We also made a trip out to Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple on a hill a few kilometers from the centre of town which has great views over the Kathmandu valley.

Today we've been out to see Bodhnath Stupa, which although it is only about 4km from the centre of town takes half an hour to get to by taxi. The traffic up just appaling and barely moves above the pace of a Yak.

Bodhnath stupa is one of the biggest in the world and the most important in Nepal for the many Tibetan Buddhists who live here in exile.

We've had to spend quite a lot of our time in Kathmandu trying to plan for our next few
destinations in Nepal and beyond, including the dreaded task of trying to obtain an Indian visa. No matter where you are in the world getting a visa for India is never a straight forward task. It will usually involve having to queue at some ungodly hour of the morning and a long wait. We only have to wait a week! It doesn't even take that long in the bizarre land that is Burma/Myanmar.