Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Day 5

DAY 5: Chame to Pisang

The start of day 5 was another late one. Are you noticing a trend, here? Unfortunately, I have a habit of being late, quite often. The day was "short" relative to the day before, at only around 14 to 15 kilometers. Before I left the Manaslu View, I gave another set of crayons and a memo pad to the owners' little one. My right shoulder was, by this point, blistered and very sore. Trying to find a good way to carry my pack without it really digging into my shoulder became pretty hard. This would eventually not be a bother, but at the moment? It was not fun!

The day ended up quite good, as I was able to take in some excellent views of Lamjung, Annapurna II, and Pisang Peak. A little ways into the day, trekkers are treated to their first views of the Paungda Danda, which is a 1500 meter high curved cliff face that you see for what seems like forever. Below you will see what is just before this area. To give it perspective, if you look very closely, you can even see people that chose to hike along the road that they've built along this intimidating structure!

At the very bottom, there are actually people, there!

The next area was a steep ascent, with a brief stop at an area porters typically use, also. After going up the remaining steep ascent through some of the most beautiful forestry, I emerged onto the crude road, which would lead me through the following day, also. The roads being built do help in some ways, but I never lost the sense that it was also damaging to the environment, too. There is always a give and take with our decisions, and this was one example.

After stopping in Dhukur Pokhari for a little snack, it was only another hour until I reached Lower Pisang, which I chose to stay in. There is another route to take to Upper Pisang, but in my opinion, people should really only stay up there if you're either wanting the much better views of the peaks, or you're taking the route to Manang via Ngawal the following day. I chose to stay in Lower Pisang, and wasn't disappointed!

I wandered the road through Lower Pisang, trying to decide where to stay. Finally, I saw what looked to be a new guesthouse - the Hotel Bajra. When I asked how much for a room, I was shocked to be asked for only 50 Rs! That's about 68 cents! Now three meals and gratuity will add onto that, but it was still a bargain! I was given the choice of rooms, and opted for one with a shared balcony. The view outside of it was amazing. The aforementioned Paungda Danda was clearly within view, and you can see why it is such a revered structure! The picture below was taken the following morning, as it had snowed in the upper reaches. None of the snow reached our elevation. After a filling Dal Bhat dinner, it was off to bed!

A gorgeous view to start my morning!

Cost: 2180Rs
Approx. distance trekked: 14-15 km

Next up: Day 6 to Manang and day 7 as the acclimatization day!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Day 4

DAY 4: Tal to Chame

The fourth day of the trek from Tal to Chame was the longest, at approximately 22-23 km, but was well worth it. After having breakfast, I gave another set of crayons and a notepad to the children at the Dragon Guesthouse. The mother beamed and seemed genuinely happy, as did the kids. Again, if it helps push a sense of creativity? I consider it as a win. I won't ever say that people in that situation have "nothing" and need a sense of "hope". I think I could give the same small gift to the child of wealthy parents here, and if the parents allow the child to express creativity, then the background becomes a very minor point, if even one at all.

Setting out at about 8:20 AM, I instantly began to understand the wonder of the environment around me. A number of small birds that looked like the one below were all around just after Tal. If anyone can help me ID what species? Please leave a comment below!

One of many birds seen of this subspecies around Tal

Continuing on, I was rewarded after a couple of hours of some more avian wildlife seen in Dharapani. Originally, I assumed that perhaps it was the famed golden eagle, but after arriving home, and cropping the picture you see below, I'm almost certain that I saw a large number of Himalayan griffon vultures that live in the area. The photos have been cropped to give a closer look, and I feel lucky to have been able to get these shots while they were airborne!

Himalayan griffon vulture just outside of Dharapani

Another vulture (maybe the same?), in the same area as the above

Although I was amazed to see this wildlife, the locals seemed annoyed by them, as they would try to shoo them away if they got too close. They seemed puzzled as to why I took such an interest in them, but I completely understand. Once you become used to seeing something, you sometimes lose sight of how that 'something' may seem to be wonderful to others.

After spending close to 20 minutes trying to snap pictures of these amazing birds, I continued on. About an hour or so later, I arrived in Bagarchap, where I had a light lunch. Here I ran into a younger Belgian couple and made some small talk with a young Israeli man. Earlier on, as I entered the village, one of my first summit sights since the second day came into view. Below you will see Annapurna II and the kani (or chorten) as I entered Bagarchap. These are stupa shaped arches that typically are at the entrances of villages. Many have elaborate paintings, as well as sets of Buddhist prayer wheels built on the inside walls. As with everything else in the region, it is an amazing thing to see to understand and envelop yourself in the culture.

The kani entering Bagarchap. In the back: Annapurna II

Understanding that I still had a few hours to go, I continued on. After Danaque, I ran into what was almost a bad problem, last year. When I did this same trek a year ago, I took what would now be considered a wrong turn. I arrived at a small river, and on a huge rock, spotted a handpainted "Manang", with an arrow pointing across the river. It wasn't uncommon to see this along the trails. The problem? No bridge in sight. It took me a half an hour to figure out a way to get across, but not before almost falling into the water. Had I fallen in - and one of my legs did nearly to my right knee! - I would have been in serious trouble. This year?

I took the road, and eventually crossed a bridge. As I was crossing, last year, I even spotted said bridge, but was already 15 minutes into this, and turning back would have been just as hard as what laid ahead. Once across, I stopped to prep for a serious climb that went up approximately 500 meters (approx. 1600+ feet). When I reached the top, I ran into the same Belgian couple. What amazed me is that they had left Bagarchap about 15 to 20 minutes before I had. It turns out that they unfortunately made the same mistake I had made last year, and crossed the river. Thankfully, without getting wet, like I did!

I pressed on, and spotted the continuing building of roads, in the region. I find this to be a bit unfortunate, as it takes away from the trekking trails, but understand it's needed for some. It comes as a blessing is disguise. While it helps the villages that have remained so remote and allows easier access to supplies, it potentially hurts the tourism appeal of villages farther south, as some may opt to skip this. To understand the sort of environment these roads are being built in, just check out the picture below, which was taken the day before, before reaching Tal.

Yes, they built a road, here! On the lower left, there's a construction vehicle!

The remainder of the day, I tagged along with the Belgian couple. It turns out, they lived a pretty simple life. They worked as fruit pickers in France, and lived out of a caravan during this time. They had no real bills, to speak of, so they spent three months working, with the remainder of the year trying to travel. That sounds like a good life, to me! This couple ended up being my hiking companions, for the day, and this is one of the best parts of trekking - meeting people from around the globe.

After reaching Timang, we ended up going back down a couple hundred meters and had to cross one of the many suspension bridges. These are seen throughout the region, and the Swiss are actually responsible for helping to build these. I guess they're good at making watches, as well as bridges! These bridges can be a bit much for some, and that was the case for the young Belgian woman. After crossing, we went back up that two hundred meters, and for the rest of the day, smooth sailing.

Don't look down!

Just over an hour later, we would arrive in Chame. Beforehand, minutes before the previous village of Koto, we ran into a vendor that was selling samosas. Big ones, at that! For only 25 rupees, I couldn't pass it up. 30 cents US gave me an awesome little snack to help give me that little bit of energy. Entering Chame, I decided to stay at the Manaslu View, where I stayed, last year. After a hearty dinner - and checking e-mail for the first time in four days! - it was time for bed.

Cost: 2125Rs (four day cost - approx. $98 US!)
Approx. distance trekked: 23 km

Next up: Day 5 to Pisang.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Day 3

DAY 3: Ghermu to Tal

The third day saw me leave at around 8am to end up at the village of Tal. After a hearty breakfast of a simple omelet and some oatmeal with fresh apples and black tea, I began. It was another very warm day, but this would be the last one for quite a while, as the altitude would go up a lot over the next few days.

The day remained a bit uneventful, with very little in the way of wildlife seen, save for many lizards and a few smaller birds. In Jagat, I stopped for a much needed cold beverage, and continued. While in Jagat, saw a school that was working to raise the money to buy a computer, and donated 100Rs (approx. $1.25), and continued on.

The way from Jagat to Tal is only just over one-third of the day's travels, but it's quite easily the hardest stretch. After plunging down a good 70-80 meters to get to a very shaky suspension bridge, there was a series of switchbacks that went back up twice that. After getting through this rise, there would be two more major climbs left. Upon reaching the top of the first, I could see the second climb - and the last obstacle of the day! In the picture below, you can see the trail. From the point where I took this picture, it took me around one hour and fifteen minutes to reach the top.

It seems so close!

Once I reached the top, it was about another fifteen to twenty minutes to actually reach Tal. Good thing, too, as during that final climb, the weather started to turn and it sprinkled lightly. Thankfully, it held off, and I arrived at my day's destination dry. I stayed at the Dragon Guesthouse, that evening, and do recommend staying there, if you do go. It is one of the first guesthouses you will pass, and has very good food and is extremely hospitable.

Cost: 1,950Rs
Approx. distance trekked: 13 km

Next up: Day 4 and the longest trek of the trip!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blogger On The Go!

I've just downloaded the Blogger app onto my Galaxy Tab, and this post is part test / part new posts soon announcement on my tablet!

First, I have to apologize for the lack of updates. I've been playing catch-up with many friends that I haven't seen in some time, so the posts have been slow to come along. The next few days of the trek should be up quite soon, though, so do check back often!

Also, while the idea of this blog was to use my Nepal trip to help out, I've already begun looking at the costs for a trip to South America and the likelihood of trekking in the Patagonian Andes. Since the title of this blog is "trek" in the general sense, why not try to use my growing fascination with nature and wildlife as a whole to help continue raising money for the World Wildlife Fund?

Please, if you can, click here to donate! As of today, you have contributed over $1,300 to help not me, but the WWF and the wildlife and habitats that need it. Everyone that has given? I seriously can't thank you enough.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Day 2

DAY 2: Buhlbhule to Ghermu

Getting somewhat of a late start at 8:00 AM, I set off after a light breakfast and good views of one of the ten tallest mountains in the world - Manaslu. Just before my trip, there, there was an unfortunate accident to several that were trying to scale the peak of Manaslu. Avalanches that were likely to soon be attributed to climate change, in some form, were triggered and the last I had heard, eight or nine had perished with the same number missing. It's nature's way of fighting back, I suppose.

After heading out to start the day, I was almost immediately reminded of a problem that I would run into frequently last year, also: begging children. While the way it sounds may seem harsh, it is a problem in many areas of the world, like this. Just a kilometer or so into the trek, a young boy gives the "Namaste!" call, and when responding in kind, he immediately says, "Sweets?" If you are reading this and you plan on visiting Nepal, you should be advised not to give sweets. You would unfortunately be enabling a growing problem.

Unfortunately, the couple that was ahead of me did give in and give him a chocolate. I watched the young boy proceed to rip the wrapping off of the chocolate into pieces and simply throw it onto the ground. Not only does it provide no help to the young boy, but he had also just shown disregard for the environment he lives in. This is also a growing problem. All along the trek, I would see garbage that ruined what was otherwise a pristine environment.

Continuing on, I soon came out of the valley area and lost sight of the snow capped peaks. It would be another two days before I would set sight on any of them during my approach to Chame. When leaving the valley, the sun then prompted me to stop and remove the layers and apply sunscreen and insect repellent. It would be a fairly long day, and unfortunately even with sunscreen, I would end up burnt to a crisp.

There are a few areas of the trek that are particularly challenging. The area leading up to Bahundanda is one of the first. It's one of the first of several extremely steep climbs on the trek. Add to it that the temperature had hit around 80 F, it was around noon, and I am still getting used to the weight I was carrying? Well, once I reached the top, I was quite ready for a bite to eat and some cold water.

Before I left on the trip, I had actually purchased a bunch of boxes of crayons and some memo pads. In Bahundanda, I gave the first set of these to a youngster that I assume was the child of the owner of where I had lunch. I explicitly gave these to children that wouldn't beg. My thought was that it would possibly spark creativity and help with literacy issues - be it in whatever language they so choose.

After this, the trek continued on an up and down route until I arrived in Ghermu at around 2:30 PM. I stayed at the Crystal Guest House at the beginning of the village, and immediately went to purchase some flip-flops. The bad part is that as large as my feet are, I had to accept a size too small - I wear US 13s. This let me leave my shoes - which were soaked - out to dry a bit, overnight.

The next morning, I filled my water bottles and, as a precaution, treated them. After making sure everything was in order and talking a bit with a few folks from Belgium and Germany, I set off for Tal.

Cost: 1,900 Rs
Approx. distance trekked: 13 km

Next up: Day 2 from Ghermu to Tal!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Day 1

DAY 1: Besi Sehar to Buhlbhule

The first day of the trek was one of the shortest. The day before, I had taken a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The trip either to or from Kathmandu takes about seven to eight hours, and is about 150 miles. After checking into my room, I requested a ticket for a tourist bus to Besi Sehar, which is typically where the Annapurna Circuit Trek begins. After paying the 600 rupees, I wandered around Lakeside and after a nap, had a quick dinner and went to bed fairly early. When electricity was working, I worked to charge any piece of electronics that needed it.

The next morning, I was up at 5:30 AM. I showered, packed, and took a taxi to the tourist bus station. We departed at approximately 7:00 AM, and the bus arrived in Besi Sehar at about noon. The buses - especially the tourist buses - will occasionally pick up native Nepalis, along the way. The buses, as you can imagine, get very crowded. At one point, a female Tibetan Buddhist monk sat on the bus.

When we were only about a half an hour from our destination, our bus actually broke down. Considering the narrow and rocky roads, the road is not a place to be stranded, believe it or not. Our driver even had to put the bus in reverse, at one point, and we rolled backwards a bit so as to allow an oncoming bus to pass by.

After about ten to fifteen minutes, many on the bus became restless and hopped off. At this point, the female monk was sitting next to me in the last row of the bus. Just as a good 80 percent of the passengers had exited, our driver again put the bus in reverse, let the bus roll a bit, and worked the engine enough to get it started. It was pretty startling, but also pretty funny, and I had to just laugh, and the monk did exactly the same. Despite the lack of a common language, we both could see the humor in what had happened.

After finally arriving in Besi Sehar, I had a quick lunch and began my first day of trekking. Many people have decided to take a bus all the way to the first day's destination, Buhlbhule (pronounced BUL-boo-lay), but just as I did last year, I walked the approximately nine kilometers. After getting horribly lost through the trail, I managed to find my way through a series of rice paddies and down to the road, which I wanted to avoid. I likely added an extra kilometer or two from this, and considering the time of day and that I was just getting used to hiking with 15 kg on my back, I frequently would stop for a few minutes.

Around 3:00 PM, I reached my first day's destination and stayed at the Hotel Arjun. After napping for about two hours, I had dinner of roast chicken, fries, and salad (which was actually cole slaw - with green beans in it, too!), and went back to bed. The early night in would be the norm throughout the trek. I would leave to begin day two at about 8:00 AM and all told, my first day's accomodations and meals would set me back about 2,000 Rs, or approximately 24 US dollars. All for a place to stay and three meals!

Cost: 2,000 Rs
Approx. distance trekked: 10 km

Next up: Day 2 from Buhlbhule to Ghermu!

Friday, November 9, 2012

A few pictures posted. More to come!

Keep an eye on the new tab, above! 2012 pics are being uploaded, with more to come, soon! The daily notes/diary posts will be posted tomorrow night!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Updates coming soon!

So I am now back in the States. The election is over (thank goodness!), and here in the northeast, we're getting smacked with another major storm. Ouch.

I spent my first day back sleeping almost the entire day away, and the last two working. Today I am digging through the notes I wrote while on the trek, and will soon be updating the blog with a diary of the 16 days I walked the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Next week, I will focus on filing through all of the video I took and creating a video diary accompanied by music. This will be somewhat of a chore, and may take some time. Best possible scenario? It will be up within two weeks. In the meantime, check the blog within the next couple of days. I will be posting updates, soon!