2 day Independent village motorbike trek from Kyaukme
More on our Myanmar trip Most of the village trekking in separatist Shan State of Myanmar is done out of Hsipaw. We heard that a town just before Hsipaw - Kyaukme is a viable and less touristy alternative.
Kyaukme itself is a very lively town on the Mandalay - Lashio trade route from China. There is a buzzing market where you can get all sorts of Burmese street-food and one Beer station that we found by following this instructions from Wikitravel: (From A yone oo guesthouse turn left, then left again at the end of the street. walk for a few minutes til you go over the canal and the take another left, a few meters along is beer and BBQ!).
We quickly found Northern Rock hotel, which is made up of few large colonial rooms being partitioned into small, cozy and windowless box rooms. We got a double for $12. A charming house and a nice family, but cheep and cheerful rooms. However, since you won't be staying there any longer than a day it's not a big of a deal.
They guesthouse owner said that they can help us with a trek and put us in touch with Jay. Jay is a 20-something chap, who sometimes works as an English school teacher, grows corn to sell to China and doubles up as a cultural trekking guide. Jay came back at 7ish bringing 2 girls back from a trek, who were very happy with their experience and highly recommended the motor-bike trek! Until this point we never heard of moto-trekking, and were more in favor of using our legs as you do. There are a couple of options where you can do a fairly short overnight trek along tea growing villages ($20) being dropped off and picked up in the hills, or to take a motorbike a do a much larger loop visiting several villages ($25). The second option sounded more adventures! Jay asked us about how confident we were on semi-auto motorbikes, by that point none of us had any motorbiking experience and driving it on steep mountain trails sounded like a suicide. For $10 we got drivers who were effectively Jay's students and grew up in highlands riding motorbikes since they were 5.
Next day we all met up, stocked up on water and petrol and hit the road.
Very quickly we left the road and hit a dusty trail, and when I say trail I actually mean quite literally a cattle trail! Our first point of call was a fairly large village sporting a local school. Out first point of call was
All the adults were away away, either in field a working elsewhere until the dry season ends. A guy showed up selling ice lollies from the back of his motorbikes, Jay bought a whole bunch for all the kids, who were needless to say, happy to have their lesson interrupted.
And as a gratitude they sand us a song. I included it into this short video which should give you an idea of what we encountered on the road.
And in case you wonder - it's dusty - very dusty!
After riding for another hour or so we arrived at a small roadside village to grab some Shan noodles for lunch!
Than we arrived at a more substantial village featuring a pagoda, school and communal hole.
It's worth to mention here that Shan is a separatist state, there are still occasional skirmishes between Shan army and the government troops. In fact Jay had to adjust our route as there were some reported fighting on one of roads. People are quite open about supporting independence, in almost every house you will see pictures and calendars featuring Shan army Burmese opposition leader - Aung San Suu Kyi, who at that time was still under house arrest.
Us having an afternno nap through the sticky March heat.
Our moto-drivers having a tea break
We were very happy that we decided to take drivers and didn't try to wing it and learn riding a semi-auto on this mountain trails. Most trails are as narrow as the one below, plus a lot of them pass along steep cliffs and sharp turns.
As we were approaching our overnight stop, one of the motorbikes broke down. These were unbranded Chinese 125 semi-auto bikes, a brand new one costed only $300 and could be bought in any town. Apparently they were not half bad, to be ridden by two people up and down the hills on nothing more than a hiking trail is a lot of punishment to take. Next time I'm in Myanmar for a month or so I may just buy one for me. The kids spend about half an hour trying to fix, than Jay took a second Argentinian girl on his bike and we left for the village leaving one of them behind. After dropping us of at the home-stay and introducing to the hosts Jay with one of his students went to his man's rescue.
The home-stay was very basic but comfortable enough, we had a nice vegy dinner and a couple of Chinese beers for $1. My favorite moment when I told our host that this is beer from China, and he said it wasn't. I was like common it has Chinese written all over it, it's from China to what he responded - no it's from Lasio!
Later on the guys brought back the broken motorbike. Turns out that one of the kids forgot to top up oil and the engine simply burned out. So one more point for the Chinese bile, after all it hasn't simply died on us.
As a way of entertaining themselves and us, Jay and his kids engaged into improvised karaoke performance. It's so popular over there that every self respecting Burmese teenager has a Karaoke up on his smartphone.
Next morning we left one of the kids with a broken motorbike, the plan was for him to push it downhill to the next small town where there is a garage. He told Jay if I haven't called by end of the day please come and find me...
We rented a really shitty, oil leaking bike from one of the local guys. That guy wouldn't rent us his good bike even if it was for a half of a day, instead he gave us the shitty one and asked for $20. Jay said it was a really dick move, as the guy new we were desperate and in Kyaukme you could buy a used bike like that for $50.
We were off to the tea plantations...
In the next village we visited Jay's family. He sent one of his cousins to drop off the rented bike and got the the other one to take a position of substitute driver with his good bike.
After that we came down towards rice fields, which gave us a very welcome change to lush green from the gray dusty hills.
By 5 pm we were dropped of at the highway bus station to catch a bus for Inle Lake.
Great trip, great value for money, the fee we payed included everything we had on the trek (except $1 beer obviously). Jay and his kids are very keen and sincere and I would definitely recommend them.
Not many people, even in India, heard of Nagalend. As a matter of fact it was almost impossible for a foreigner to visit Nagalend until 2011, when an incredibly bureaucratic and restrictive entry permit was scrapped. Tucked away in India's North East on Burmese border Nagalend was truly cut off from the rest of the world. This is just to give you an idea of where the place is.
A few words about Nagas. Nagas are not Indians. They look nothing like Indians, don't speak Hindi, don't practice Hinduism and don't regard themselves as Indians whatsoever. They are tribal people of Mongolian origin, made up of 16 independent tribes who speak mutually unintelligible languages. Most of the Nagas have been converted to Christianity and Nagalend is the only state in India where English is official language. We visited Nagalend late November, and it was an odd filling to see shops selling Xmas decorations. I think if we didn't pay in rupees we would not known that we were still in India.
We red about Dzukou Valley and it being a place of great significance. But it was hard to find much else. A starting point for Dzukou valley trek is on Kohima to Manipur "highway" 20 km away from Kohima and just past Zakhama village. We couldn't find a bus or a jeep going over there, and decided to start walking and hail a transport once we were out of the town. Well that didn't work out well, we only saw two buses passing by and non of them stopped. Hence we ended up walking the entire 20km stretch on a dusty road. We stopped at a few places for tea, and every time when we said that we were going to Dzukou valley we were told "it's very far, don't go there".
It took us about 4 hours to reach a trail head at Zakhama. As soon as we started walking we got lost. It's really hard to navigate as there isn't a reliable offline map of this trail. I normally use Maps Me, which served me well all around the world, but Nagalend is really poorly mapped out. Add to this numerous trails which crisscross and not having many people around and it becomes really easy to stray off course. Your best bet is to keep finding people and asking them to put you in the right direction. Once we passed the first section of the trail (with all those other crisscrossing trails) the way became quite obvious.
It's a very steep trail through a rhododendron forest. I have messed up my knee a couple of weeks earlier during a jeep ride around Sikkim, and it quickly became a very painful climb. It takes about 2 hours to reach the top of the ridge and get out of the rhododendron forest. You can't really see anything during the climb, and it builds a suspense. What is so special about that valley anyway? You think that until you get to the top and this just opens up in front of you...
Endless, gentle, rolling hills covered by a carpet of dwarf bamboo create a surreal feeling of being in a movie like Lord of The Rings. Dzukou is a valley on the top of the mountain plateau and it looks nothing like the Naga hills it's surrounded by. A few years earlier there was a massive fire raging for several days which destroyed most of the trees.
It took us another hour to get to the shelter which is made up of 2 solid building, an outdoor kitchen and a gazebo. There is water source right next to the shelter. While the buildings are solid from outside, there is nothing more than a concrete floor is inside. If you are planning to sleep there, you will need a sleeping bag and a mat, other-vice you will freeze to death on the concrete floor. Especially if you do it in late November, and don't be fulled by thinking it's India it's hot. At an altitude of 2400 meters night temperatures drop below zero.
One negative thing I have to say is about the amount of garbage which is dumped into a hole at the back of the shelter. And the number of rats that come with it. They really need to workout a better system.
I believe you pay 100 rupees per person to use the shelter, but the keeper wasn't there so we were up for a free night.
An hour later a group of about 20 local village youngsters turned up. They were laying a 10 km pipe from a water source up on the mountains down to their village. They scooped some water in the shallow well and boiled a tea, which they kindly offered to us. We had a little chat. They explained that this was a very Naga thing. They generally have a very strong sense of community. It's normal for a whole village to do things together for common benefit.
They decide to push on to the next village and sleep there in a community hall.
We went to the kitchen, restarted the fire and boiled us some instant noodles. We quickly ran out of wood and had to resort to burning some of the timber logs stocked around. I felt quite bad about it, but in a way it was a matter of survival. It was far too cold to sleep on the concrete floor. In a hind-side we could have used timber planks to build a sleeping platform raised from the concrete floor. But we decided our best bet was to spend the night in the kitchen, keeping the fire going and trying to get some sleep. That could have been the case, if it wasn't for the bloody rats. God they were freaking us out, those things don't sleep.
We were looking forward to sunrise and much welcomed rise in the temperature. And when the sun finally shed some light on the valley that what was saw....
We decided to go back a different way following the trail where the village guys came from. This would take us back to the main road just outside of Viswema.
A half way through I felt sick and started puking my guts out. My first thought was it must have been that tea they shared with us. The water well look very dodgy, but I saw the water boiling, could it be toxin poisoning? You can get poisoning from boiled water if there is a high level of toxin already built up there. I freaked a little, found an abandoned fireplace and started eating charcoal. Man... that stuff is gross, it's like eating sand and aftertaste won't go away for hours. I than figured out that it must have been a Lychee flavored soft drink I just had. Dovile had only a sip and I downed the entire bottle, hence she felt a bit funny and I was well messed up. Not sure if eating feast full of charcoal helped, but I like to think it wasn't in vein.
We reached Viswema in under 4 hours, and were told that if we walk back to Zakhama we should be able to catch a jeep to Kohima.
Not many people know that Sikkim was an independent kingdom until 1975. It was jammed in a limbo between monarchy and communist tendencies coming from both India and China. Still it's a very shake state. China is next door, and even if no one in the western world heard a word of it there are some serious tensions there. Foreigners need a permit to enter Sikkim and if you want ti visit upper Sikkim then you will need to guide up and get another permit in the top of that. Sikkim fills more like Nepal rather than India. People are Nepali, the language is Nepali, not many folks wanna hug and take your picture that is definitely more Nepali then Indian. Any one who spent an hour in India would understand.
Tea, train, town On this trip to India I came with a bucket list, and since I never met anyone been to Sikkim it was surely on the list!
There are two ways of getting into Sikkim; one is via Rangpo checkpoint if you are going to Gangtok; another one is via a windy secondary road to Jorethang, if you are planning to to go towards Yuksom the ancient capital of Sikkim kingdom. If you chose the former you can get your permit at the check point (DO have your passport pic and a cope of your passport) the latter requires you getting a permit in Darjeeling . Of course we had to go the hard way.
Well, if bureaucracy wasn't invented in India it was surely perfected there; and Sikkim permit will make you believe that... big time!
First you need to go to a "Sikkim Travel Desk" at the immigration office, your hotel will be able to point you there. It's just apposite SBI (State Bank of India). Enter one dull, dark building ... find the desk where they process foreigners... tell them that you want to go to Sikkim (NO SHIT!), and wait to have your permit written out. Actually not as leniently as I made it sound. At the end you get your Sikkim permit written it out to you! Bingo... Well not quite, it still needs to be stamped by a magistrate to become valid. They tell you that you have to, and i quote - "get out of the building, turn left, walk down the stairs and turn right". That is about right apart from the fact that Magistrates office is about 2 miles away towards the Zoo. You have o keep asking the shop owners how to get there. Once you inside keep on asking as there is naturally nothing there to help you point the right way. The good news is that once you have stamped your permit you are pretty much set to enter mystical kingdom of Sikkim.
You need to be at the jeep stand as early as possible. The way the system operates; when you buy a ticket you get allocated a seat. The earlier you buy the ticket the better the place you get. And in Sikkim the place you get on a 3 hour jeep ride is a big deal. We got two sits on very back and braced ourselves for the next 3 hours to Jorethang. It's a really bad road, a lot of serpentine, and some really crazy driving too. We crossed the river and stopped at the checkpoint. At that point Dovile was about to faint, so she welcomed the break. We got of the jeep and went into the office, they checked our permits and stamped our passports just as if we were crossing an international border. Once we arrived at Jorethang we were told that next jeep to Pelling was not until 3pm. We went to have lunch and popped into pharmacy to buy some motion sickness pills - VOMITSTOP. That was a brilliant idea and made our life so much easier over the next two weeks.
Halfway through the ride we had to stop at a small village and were explained that the jeep broke down. Suddenly a ring of experts gathered around the jeep, with everyone taking turns at giving their expert opinion. Every passerby felt obligated to stop and chip in, which in turn would trigger a wider discussion. There was no way we were getting to Pelling that day... Well the tides have turned. The consortium of automotive experts managed to figure out the problem. It was a wire connecting accelerator pedal that snapped. Our driver managed to pull the wire out through the front and lead it back through the front window. In this way he could accelerate by pulling the wire with his hand. I never seen a man more pleased with his engineering! And he did get us to Pelling that night after all. We stayed at a basic hotel where the jeep dropped us off. I don't remember the name of the place but it's the first one as you enter the town. We payed 500 INR, which was a good value considering everything is slightly more expensive in Sikkim.
Not the worst terrace view...
Trekking to Khechiberi Lake
The next day we set off to explore rural Sikkim by trekking 15 km towards secluded and holy Khechiberi Lake. You start by descending from Pelling towards the river. There isn't much in a way of signs or markings and maps are not supper handy either. Generally because Sikkim is so isolated and of high military importance it's not very well mapped out comparing to the rest of India or Nepal. Using the latest version of MAPS ME app that allows you pre-load offline maps is probably best. Prepare to get lost and be put back on the trail by friendly locals.
Once we crossed the river we bumped into a couple of wild orange trees where we stocked up on some under-ripe oranges. Than we crossed a road, at which point the map told us we had to pic up a trail up through the forest. We quickly found a trail and went up just to realize that it lead to a clearing for grassing cattle. We went down, walked along the road and picked up another trail up which half an hour later got us up to a bunch of houses where we managed to find one soul who told us we were way of mark and had to go back to the road.
At this point we decided that we lost far too much time and energy trying to find that forest trail and our best bet was to follow the jeep road all the way to the lake.
We were recommended to stay at a place called Pala's Home Stay which is located on the top of the hill on the left hand side as you approach the lake. There are a few signs pointing you to Pala's and you have to climb some steep steps for 20-30 minutes before you reach the ridge. Pala is a super-delightful 70+ grandpa, and the place is run by his daughters. They charge only 500 INR per person which includes all your meals. And the meals are supper delicious.
The next day we decided to stay put and explore a holy cave. The cave is located on the top of the hill overlooking Pala's place. We walk through a very primitive village, which despite being on the top of the hill and right in the middle of Indian nowhere had a little shop and was fully electrified. Check out this picture of a mum and a kid turning big stones into small. And you thought your childhood sucked...
It takes about an hour to hike up to the cave. The trail is well walked and obvious. Do take plenty of water with you as you will have to walk through some very hot and humid jungle.
Way to Yuksum
Yuksum is an ancient capital of Sikkim, place of King's coronation, major pilgrimage site and a starting point of Kanchenjunga trek. It's also as far as you can go without obtaining a special permit given only to guided groups.
It's only a 10 km hike, but it's made much difficult by the fact that the trail is not on a map and there are no signs whatsoever.
First we came down to the holy Khechiberi Lake.
We walked on the paved road back towards the junction until we saw first and only sign on the right hand side pointing to Yuksum. You have to follow a general bearing towards Yuksum, passing a lot of local villages and keep asking for directions. Prepare to get lost and a lot.
We saw a lot of boards describing various investment projects into the local infrastructure. Seems like Indian government puts a lot of money into the region to keep separatist at bay and prevent locals from looking towards China.
We reached the town by late afternoon. There are a few sights that you have to see such as coronation place, a monastery and a temple with some massive prayer drums!
TIMS card (need a picture) - 2000 npr Everest National Park permit - 3000 npr Both permits can be acquired in tourist office in Kathmandu or at a checkpoint in Mojo (Just before Namche Bazar)
Cheese Circuit Conservation Area Permit - 2000 npr. If you are planning to walk in from Jiri you will need this one too. Cheese Circuit captures a small section of Jiri-EBC trek between Shivalaya and Bhandar, literally 3-4 hours. There is a permit office in Shivalaya which opens at 8 am, if you avoid it or pass through Shivalaya when the office is closed you won't be asked for that permit again, and you will be out of permit area within a few hours anyway.
Airports: Lukla - up to 20 flights from Kathmandu Phaplu - 2 weekly flights from Kathmandu
Bus/Jeep To/From Jiri - 1 bus a day leaving 5 am from Purano/Old bus stand in KTM downtown. Takes about 10 hours. Get tickets at least 2 days in advance. We had to ride on the roof and it's not as fun as it sounds! 550 npr From Phaplu/Salleri - 1 jeep leaving Salleri at 5 am, takes about 14 hours to reach KTM. It doesn't go to downtown and will drop you on the circuit road. Any guest house in Salleri will be able to book you a ticket for it. I don't know how to book a ticket for this jeep in KTM, my guess is that you will have to use a travel agent. 1200 npr.
From Lukla to EBC the trail is quite obvious, it's not marked, but it's impossible to get it wrong unless you stray of for side trips. From Jiri to Lukla it's much less obvious, there some markings but they are sparse and faded. There are a lot of villages on this stretch and your biggest danger is picking up a trail leading you to a near by village or a farm. Be prepared to stray of course a few times, as always friendly locals will see you heading in wrong direction and will point you to the right pass.
GPS is only useful to track your progress and occasionally checking where you. You don't really need it for navigation. I would advise to buy a large-scale map of Everest from Jiri, which is available from any shop in KTM for 300 npr. It's a good map with a lot of additional information such as distances between the villages in walking hours. A really good way of planning your trek based on the number of hours you would like to do a day. We planned to do up to 10 hours in the lower sections, than reducing it to 5-6 when we get over the 3500 meter threshold in Namche.
We didn't take neither a guide nor a porter, and I can't see why would we want one. The trails are obvious, there are no technically difficult places, you only carry your personal possessions (leave the rest in KTM), it gives you more freedom, keeps your costs really low. Having said that, if you are planning to deviate from the main trail and go on exploring the places where there is no lodging, need to cross glaciers or attempt summits, having a guide/porter is a good idea if not necessity.
Putting transportation and permits aside, food and lodging are your only costs. To give you an idea: Jiri-Lukla stretch: Room: 100 per person or free Noodle soup: 100-150 Dal Bhat: 250-350 Tea: 30-60 Momo: 200-300
Lukla-EBC stretch: Room: 100 per person, (200 at Gorak Shep). Noodle soup: 200 - 300 Dal Bhat: 450 - 650 (650 at Gorak Shep) Tea: 80-100 Momo: 400-600
I excluded things such as biscuits, chocolates, bottled water, beer etc, you could buy those at more affordable prices in places that are connected by road, all prices go up the higher you go. You can save a lot of money by buying water purification drops (20-50 npr) and they will last you for ages.
Our budget was 3000 per couple per day. I think we hardly ever went over 2000.==
Local Ncell sim card will give you connection in some areas, signal quality really varies. Lukla and Namche seem to be connected by cable, and generally have good and affordable wifi. From Namche to EBC almost every place will have a satellite phone and satellite internet. Internet costs go as high as $10 per 10 min.
All the places on EBC trail are supplied either with hydro or solar power. Until Lukla the electricity is generated by hydro-power and it is usually free to recharge your stuff. From Lukla to EBC you are normally charged about 100 npr per our to charge your stuff, and the charging rate is really slow.
How are the crowds?
Well this depends on the season. We did our trek early October. General impression: Jiri to Lukla - hardly anyone (Lukla to Jiri no one at all), Lukla to Namche - a bloody highway (horrible), Namche to EBC - OK actually, few people but well space out.
Hard to comment on this one for 2 reasons: 1-we did EBC straight after Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp and were well acclimatized. 2-the Jiri-Lukla stretch takes you over three 3500m+ passes, hence providing some acclimatization. We were also taking Diamox...
A general rule of thumb is that you should not pic up more than 500m of altitude gain a day. You also should plan for at least 2 acclimatization days: one at 3500m and one at 4500m. Also there is another rule to follow which is -DO NOT BE STUPID. It gets bad before it gets terrible. If you feel it getting you don't try to suck it up! Just descend! See this post for an itinerary Read about our EBC adventure here
Doing Everest Base Camp (EBC) - walk in from Jiri and walk out via Phaplu/Salleri - no flights
Normally when you do an Everest Bace Camp trek the plan is simple. You take a flight to Lukla hike up to Namche Bazar then to EBC and back to Lukla to catch your flight to Kathmandu.
Well this looked far to easy. We decided we just take a bus... The way sir Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did! Well to be fair some people still walk in from Jiri, but then they take a flight back, Hillary and Norgay didn't do that and neither would we!
Permits You need: TIMS card - 2,000, Everest National Park Permit - 3,000. We got ours in Kathamandu, but you can get them at a checkpoint an hour past Lukla. For TIMS card you need a picture, so make sure you have one.
Transport There is one bus to Jiri leaving from Old (Purano) Bus stand, best to go at least 2 days before to get a ticket. The bus leaves at about 5am. When you get to the bus stand you will realize it's a hell on earth nothing like relatively organised Naya (New) Bus Stand or Swiss rail-type bus stands in India. Yes I do think that transport system in India is well organised. You have to ask around at different ticket stalls before someone points you to Jiri. We found our guy fairly quickly and were told that the tickets for the next day were sold out due to a festival, but not to worry we just had to show up at 5 am and they would get us on the bus somehow, easy!
Ticket Price is 550 npr
Kathamandu - Jiri - Shivalaya, 188 km on a bus and 11 km hike.
We showed up at 5 am as prescribed, were told that we will have to stand until we get out of town then we can get a seat on the roof, simples!
To say that we piled up in the bus like sardines in a can would be a classic British understatement... but I can't describe it any better... When we squeezed in we literally filled in all the empty spaces on that bus. Two kind Nepali girls let Dovile to share a quarter of their sit with so she found herself hanging halfway in the air. Still better than me being a 5-way sandwich. The key was if you breeze out you take less space!
One thing you realise really quickly is that Nepalis have weak stomach... Every 10 minutes you here someone yelling "PLASTIC!!!", a well prepared conductor would swiftly pull out a plastic bag and pass it on, a second later a puke-filled bag will be passed on to the nearest window. That system worked like a clockwork! Empty and full bags would pass back and forth right by your face. 6 hours later (once we leave the town my arse) they finally let us to get up on the roof. Oh what a treat!
While riding one roof was refreshing, to sit on a luggage rack you need an iron arse, my advise have your Lonely Planet ready, this is the best service it'll give you on this trip.
We arrived to Jiri at about 3 pm after the most enjoyable 10 hour bus ride of our lives (so far..).
We had to choose if we stay in Jiri or push on to Shivalaya. I was set on going, so I asked Dovile for second opinion and she said it was a good idea. The whole point of asking for second opinion is the chance that a voice of sanity would stop you from doing something stupid... So we pushed on.
We walked for about 1,5 hours until we joined a dirt road, I knew that Shivalaya was connected by road so that must have been the right way. Luckily soon enough we bumped into a group of 4 Americans who had the same idea until local told them otherwise and turned them around. So we decided to join the forces and find our way together. The American guys were a funny bunch. They were from Colorado, now... why 70% of all yanks that I met on the road were from Colorado? It must be the most populous state i guess...
We had to bushwhack for a few hours, soon it got very dark and we were only saved by decent headlamps of our Yankee friend. Do not buy a £5 ebay head torch, not if your life may depend on it.
We managed to get to Shivalaya by 7pm in a pitch dark, after getting lost about 7 times and almost breaking our legs on slippery rocks. We dropped at the first lodge, and went to our room for a mandatory "leach control". This is not a code word for something, literally means pulling leaches of each other. Some of them were more like blood balloons...
Shivalaya - Kinja - 27 km - 8 hours
Our first full day of trekking started with a nasty surprise. There is a conservation area called Cheese Circuit which captures Shivalaya. This means that to be in Shivalaya you need buy a 2000 npr permit. The permit office was still closed and I thought for a while if we should just go, but than I didn't know if there were any further checkpoints on our way and it was better be safe then sorry. So we bought the permits. Turns out there were no checkpoints and we left Cheese Circuit area in a matter of few hours. We should have just bounced before 8 am.
It'was a very steep climb up till Deurali, then you descend all the way down. It looked like you could take a bus or a jeep all the way to Bhandar. Since it was late September we had to deal with a bit of a funny weather. The mornings are cold, the sun comes out mid afternoon - you get really cold and sweaty , than sure as hell it starts raining by 3pm. Everyday is the same and repeats itself to the minute. I had a bit of a sniffle when I left This is one part of the trek where it's easy ti get lost, mostly because there a bunch of villeges around and a lot of trails crisscrossing, but not to worry every local knows where you supposed be going and will turn you around if you stray of course.
We got to an empty village of Kinja being socked in rain, tired and hungry.
The first lodge we asked offered us to stay for free on condition that we eat our dinner and breakfast there. Happy days! Our bill next morning only came up to 1100 npr - yes $11 for doing something that amazing.
Kinja - Jumbesi - 17 km
This probably wasn't the hardest day in my life on a trail, but it damn sure comes close. Kinja is at 1600 m and Lamjura La (the highest point) is at 3530 m, this means almost 2000 meters of vertical gain. You have to kick your knees up a lot, and it gets tiring. Also you have to deal through the whole cold-hot-wet cycle again. We managed to get to Lamjura La by 3pm.
This is me looking down on Lamjura La towards Jumbesi behind me. We really wanted the next town just to come. Every step down seemed like ages. It's a funny feeling when you finally have fought your way to the top and now you just want to roll down. We thought it took us ages to get down to Jumbesi (maybe two hours..).
What a beautiful sight!
Remember me telling you about the whole COLD-HOT-WET cycle, and the sniffles that come with it. I decided that it was a perfect recipe for pneumonia, or at least it didn't feel like it was going to get any better. So we decided to stay for a day or so until I get better. We stayed at a place of a local Medical Center girl. The Medical Center was supported bu NGOs and there were quite a few European folks coming down every couple of years. Hence the girl spoke very academically correct English. Jumbesi is a large village, it was one of the key points on EBC trek and now is one of the biggest victims of Lukla Airport. In old days flocks of trekkers would pass and provide much needed income to the locals. These days there are hardly any trekkers, we saw only two other couples. There are plenty of lodges which are almost entirely empty. Jumbesi is also connected by road, you can grab a jeep to Kathmandu, although this is something that you may need to arrange a couple of days in advance. Goods can be transported by road and not carried by porters, hence food prices are relatively low. There is a huge difference between places connected by road and not. The roads brings a lot of development and make everything twice cheaper.
Second day we decide it would be better to stay put, and recover from the cold before it turned to pneumonia. Our hostess's dad has recently decided that life in Jumbesi was far too much and enrolled into Jumbesi monastery. She was going there to visit him and offered us to join. this is one of the most respected monasteries in Nepal, this becomes clear when you see a helipad, a well honored monk wouldn't travel otherwise wood he? Sorry we couldn't take any pictures here... We were invited in for a tour and a lecture. We set through about 2 hours of Tibetan chanting, and I saw a couple of monks recording the lecture on their IPhones. Than we made a donation and managed to get out of the room. When I asked our girl about the lecture she said: "I was getting a bit bored, I don't actually speak Tibetan, but if you do than it's really powerful" Well, at least we got our fully legitimately blessed scarves!
Our 3 day stay only came to just under 3000 npr.
Jumbesi - Kharikola - 25km
Today we decided to push forward and get over the Taksindu La. I was quite looking forward to this day as this is where you get your first glimpse of Everest. It took us just under two hours to get to Salung, literally a bunch of spread-out lodges one of which was called - Everest view Point. A perfect place for a cup of tea.
You see a few old lodges which gone out of business after the airport was built. Which is a real shame as this is a beautiful part of journey.
We reached Taksindu La by mid-afternoon. The push to the pass is very steep and it's made more difficult by endless caravans of donkeys carrying supplies to Namche and upwards.
We stayed at a little guest house by the river. It is run by a lonely grandma who spoke no English and simply had to guess when we were ordering food. Both dinner and breakfast we just some random combination of potatoes, eggs and noodles. At the end of the day it didn't matter we just wanted our calories.
Kharikola - Chaurikharka - 19km
Another day that involved a lot of ups and downs and shearing the trail with endless caravans.
When you get to Surke, the trail splits. The upper trail takes you to Lukla, and we took the lower one down towards Namche. This was the last place where we got to enjoy solitude, free electricity and cheap food. The next day we were going to enter a trekkers highway, with crowds brought in by 20 flights a day from Kathmandu. Jiri to Lukla part is fairly cheap - price of Dal Bhat is 250-300 npr which is fairly good indication.
Chauriharka - Namche Bazar - 16 km
This was a very difficult day, you move constantly up having to cover 1500 m of altitude gain. We quickly realized how lucky we were to have a whole trail for ourselves over the past 7 days. Suddenly the trail turned into a tourist highway. Flocks of clean and cheerful tourists, fresh of a plane were passing by, hi-5ing and greeting everybody, such a contrast to the two of us being washed up, tired and dusty. Additionally a lot of overexcited freaks thought it's be a good idea to stop and block the entire pass for photo-session, seriously? As this wasn't enough, you get a bunch of scary Yak caravans which threaten to rum you of the road. We thought that if this how it's going to be for the rest of the trek, we may as well turn around and just go home.
We reached Namche by 3pm. It's a fairly big town complete with numerous lodges, German bakeries, shops and trekking agencies.
Namche Bazar - Rest day.
The general rule of thumb is that you do one rest day at 3500 meters and another one at 4500 meters. I don't think we actually needed an acclimatization day as we have just crossed 3 passes going over 3500 meters, and were still acclimatized from the Annapurna trek we completed a week before starting EBC. However we had the time so decided to spend a day exploring around Namche.
We decided to explore surroundings and visit Khumjung and Khunde villages.
While still being fairly cheap Namche is considerably more expensive then villages where we stayed previously. Cost of room is 200 npr and a Dal Bhat - 450.
Namche Bazar - Shomare - 15 km Luckily our worries about massive crowds didn't came true. Lukla to Namche is very busy indeed, however, then people seem to spread out, perhaps some trek to Gokyo lake. This was one of my favorite days. You start by going towards Everest with a number of 7000-8000 meter peaks towering right over you.
You descend some very steep steps towards the river bottom at Phunki Tanga, than you have a very steep climb up to Tengboche. A beautiful village with a view of snow-caped mountains and an impressive monastery.
Trekking to Tengboche is a good alternative to spending a rest day in Namche. We decided to push on and descend to a small village of Shomare (4000m) just an hour past a major village of Pangboche. There are only a couple of lodges in Shomare one of which happen to be closed. At dinner we met two other guys (Indian and Dutch) who were trekking from Jiri, although they were smart enough to hire a car and spare themselves a horror of bus ride from hell. It was their second crack at EBC. The first time was 2 years before when they got as far as Lobuche, than got snowed in for a couple of days and had to abandon the trip. Their plan was to push the next day all the way to Lobuche with an altitude gain of almost 1000 meter. I told them that it sounded too ambitious and that picking up more than 500 meters in a day is pretty dangerous. They said that they have done 1000 meter gains before and were alright. Well there is a big difference between ascending from 2000m to 3000m and ascending from 4000m to 5000m. Well best of luck guys.
Shomare - Dukla (via Dengboche)- 10 km This was going to be a quick day. Dukla is literally a guest house at a trail head. It's located at altitude of 4600m and is a good place for a second acclimatization day. We were going to take a lower trail via Periche, however, somehow we managed to miss our turn and ended up in Dengboche. We decided to cut a corner here and take a higher trail which passes right above Periche.
In a couple of hours of easy walking we reached Dukla. And guess who we saw there? The guys from the night before... Both of them got cut down by altitude sickness and they decided to take a rest day. What did I told you? Don't mess with altitude! There are a lot of people who get in trouble on EBC trek, mostly because Lukla Aiport allows you to get fairly high fairly quickly and do the whole thing in a space of a 2 week vacation. And this could really let you down. We saw about 6-7 helicopters a day flying towards Gorak Shep to pick up tourists who underestimated the effect of altitude and had to be brought down to Lukla.
Cost of Dal Bhat - 500 npr
Dukla rest day.
Today we decided to go Dzonghla at 4900 meters for an acclimatization trip. It's a beautiful hike, there aren't any people apart from occasional porter hauling supplies. And you get to pass by some amazing scenery.
Dzonghla is a base for a trek to Gokyo over Cho La Pass. This trek involves crossing a glacier, hence you are highly recommended to take a guide even if only for the 2-3 days needed to reach Gokyo.
Below is a view of Dzonghla from a ridge above.
Dukla - Gorak Shep - 7,5km
This is a short day, but altitude makes it fairly strenuous. First you have to get over the pass right above Dukla. This is a very strange place as it acts as a memorial graveyard to all those people who have died on the mountain over the years.
Shortly after the pass we reached Lobuche for a quick cup of tea moved onward to Gorak Shep. You get to walk parallel to mighty Khumbu Glacier, admiring mega-tonnes of ice slowly moving a few centimeters a day.
There are 2 large lodges at Ghorak Shep. If you would like to stay at the newer one which is more solid it's 400 npr and a cost of Dal Bhat is 650 npr. Which if you think about it should only come to $15-20 for staying at the top of the world at 5200 meters altitude.
Day 13 finished with me falling sick (again), this time I came down with a nasty stomach bug. I spent these 2 days laying down and not eating anything but tea and sugar. Not the highlight of the trip.
Gorak Shep - Kala Pattar - Lobuche
After spending 2,5 days laying down and not getting any better we have decided to abandon the trip and descend to a lower altitude for recovery. I was really gutted at the thought of us having to give up when we were literally a few hours away from the EBC and Kala Patar peak. We packed our stuff, payed our bill and were leaving when I decided - now or never! EBC wasn't such a big of a deal as there wasn't any expeditions at that time. Kala Pattar a top of the hill towering over Gorak Shep at 5550 meters was the real prize. We decided that it had to be done.
Normally it takes about 2 hours to hike to the top, altitude may make it harder though. A few minutes after we started to hike I realized that I was running out of steam. I simply couldn't make my legs move. My first reaction was- it must be the altitude. However, I was well acclimatized, spent 3 nights sleeping at 5200 meters, and haven't gone much higher than Gorak Shep. It couldn't have been altitude... Than it downed on me... I spent almost 3 days not eating, normally it's not a problem if you don't exercise you can go for several days without food just by burning your reserves. However, at an altitude of 5000m + your body burns calories at much more accelerated rate. My best guess is that, while lying down, I simply ran out of energy. We went through our backpacks and pockets trying to find anything that I could use to refuel my tank. We scored 2 dry breads, and a hand full of Halls cough-sweets, sweets - great! Than I saw them proudly stating on the pack - "Halls-sugar free only 1 calorie"! Sugar free - bastards. Well 1 calorie is better then nothing - I swallowed a whole hand-full hoping it would make any difference.
I worked out a system where I would count 20 steps than stop and count till 20. After 100 steps I'd stop and count till 100, and every 10 minutes i'd take a 5 minute break. It was very odd feeling, I didn't feel tired, didn't feel dizzy or nausea, I just simply had no energy to go as if I just finished a marathon just before that. It snowed the day before and the track was covered in fresh and soft snow. I was doing the whole thing wearing my summer trainers. Not a good idea... But with a bit of inventive engineering every problem can be solved. I got 2 stiff plastic bags, put them over my socks and tied around the ankles. And Voila! what you can see on the picture above is my improvised water and snow proof socks.
4 hours later we finally managed to get to the top for some stunning view on the Everest range.
After taking few pictures and getting our breath back we walked down to Gorak Shep in under an hour. We popped back into the guest house for a bowl of soup and some hot tea. In Gorak Shep it's very common for groups to leave some sort of memorabilia. Usually it's a signed T-shirt or a scarf, my favorite was the one below - Wexford Strawberries for Sale.
Over the next 3 days we have retraced our steps back to Lukla. This time we decided to make a detour and visit actual Lukala Airport just to see why is it being called most extreme airport on the planet.
Watch this little video. Next time I'm taking this flight.
On this day we pushed all the way back to Bupsa, it was a bit too ambitious and we had to walk the last hour in twilight stumbling over rocks, which is not the best thing when you tired and just want to get get some of that Dal Bhat. We stayed in a house of a professional mountain climbing guide. He came back home from an expedition as we were having dinner, they just had an attempt at one of the 7000m peaks, unfortunately they didn't manage to summit that time. He had a bunch of pictures with him on the summit of Everest, Annapurna and some other peaks. It was amazing to meet someone who actually been to the top of the world.
Bupsa - Ringmu - 17km This is a hard day because you have to get over Taksindu La at 3500m. Prepare for the trail to be quite busy and for numerous donkey caravans that you will have to give way to.
We have reached Ringmu by late afternoon, and asked a guest house owner to call his mate in Salleri and check if we could book a Jeep.
Ringmu - Salleri - 14km
Just over 3 hours. The road actually stretches all the way to Ringmu, however there were numerous landslides which made it impassable. We had to climb over several trees and climb up and down a hill to negotiate our was around the landslides. Once you out of the forest it's a straight pass to Phaplu airport (2 flights per week to KTM) and a couple kilometers further to Salleri. Salleri is proper town with all the standard amenities and civilization. We stayed at the place recommended by the GH owner in Ringmu, but were told that because tomorrow was Dewali there might not be a Jeep for the next couple of days. It's been long 3 weeks on the road and we were well set on going back to Kathmandu and preparing to our next adventure - India.
Luckily we got some good news! There was one Jeep going and we could get 2 sits! A ticked guy showed up at our guest house, wrote us two tickets (1200 npr each) and told us to be outside on the main road at 5am.
Salleri - Kathmandu - 272km
This was the most beautiful and most horrible ride I ever took. And that is a lot... The whole journey took us 14 hours. There was another French couple and a bunch of Nepali guys who were picked up and dropped off at various points along the way. It seemed like a new road was in process of being built. But in a sort of a funny fashion... you would be driving on a dirt track than a good road for kilometer or so than back on dirt and so on. A few times the road takes you up on a ridge and drive along the ridge with a void on both sides. I think that by now they must have finished the road which should make the journey shorter and way more pleasant.
Somewhere halfway trough the journey we came to a foot bridge where we ditched our jeep, crossed the bridge, had lunch and were picked up by another jeep. You have a guy looking after your group all the time so there is no chance you will miss a jeep. They dropped us off at Patan just on the main road to Kathmandu we were far too tired to haggle and took a first taxi to Durban Square (600npr) shearing it with the French guys. Getting to our hotel in Kathmandu was like coming home, it was so strange to hear all the noise, having warm nights and not having to dress up when going to bed. We missed civilization... 2 days later we really wished we were back on the mountain...
If you liked it please comment so I know how much effort to put in!
Reasons to visit: 1 - it is beautiful country, and one of the very few unexplored gems of Europe. 2 - it's very small and easy to travel. In 1 week you can cover cities, beautiful lakes and mountains. 3 - it's cheap. A beer for €1 in most places. 4 - budget flights from London to Skopje... and now straight to Ohrid!
For History Macedonian cultural capital and one of the most beautiful towns I ever seen. Ohrid is located on a shore of Ohrid lake, which is split in half between Macedonia and Albania. The old town is full of churches and other relics dating back to 11th century, the new town has good selection of bars and food joints for any budget.
For Beauty A small idyllic village just 30 min away from Ohrid. You can take a bus from the main street (towards St Naum Monastery), when you stand on a bus stop a taxi driver may show up and offer to take you there for price of bus ticket. This is not a scum, he will just get more people to fill up the car. Trpejca is a great place to chill for a day or two, has a few beach-side restaurants and a shop. The lake is at an altitude of 800m and up to 600m deep, and this makes it seriously cold. Every house in town doubles as a guest house, we payed €10 per person for a studio.
For views Pelister (2600m) is the highest and only peak in the center of Pelister national park. There are a few well marked trails and the views from the top are magnificent. We trekked from Brajcino to Molika hotel, 35km across the entire park, that was one of the most strenuous treks we ever done.
For cafe culture Second largest city in Macedonia. It's a home to Heraclea - ancient city and archeological site. Shirok Sokuk (Marshal Tito street) is the heart of the town, full of bubling bars and restaurants. You may also want to visist bazar for some more traditional scene. Great for people-watching.
For ease of access I love mount Vodno. It towers right over Skopje and is a perfect choice for your last day before you have to catch a flight/bus and move on. You can either hike up, take a taxi, bus or a cable car right to the top of Vodno for great panorama of Skopje. But even better is to take a 2 hour hike in an opposite direction to Matka Canyon. An artificial canyon formed in very beautiful setting, with a monastery on one side and a restaurant on the other. A great place to grab a cold beer after descending some very steep steps. Than just grab a bus back to Skopje.
The plan - to walk from Katoomba to Tarros Ladders than to Kanangaroo Clearing and double-back to Dunphy's camping area. Very easy hike which would let us to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mountains without much strain. Or was it?
We went to one of Sydney's sports superstores and made the following investments: 2 - sleeping mats @ $5 each, 2 - sleeping bags @ $20 each, 1 superior quality tent @ $20 (please don't rain!!!). We bought a large plastic sack, moved all of our non-essential stuff and left it in Elephant Hostel in Sydney. I recommend the place, they have a bar with $3 beers!
We woke up early and grabbed a train to Katoomba from Sydney Central. Katoomba is within Sydney's transport network hence you can use same pre-payed travel card to get there for under $6.
We stocked up on Aldi's finest beans, muesli, snickers, potatoes, boiled eggs and 2 liters of water each we set off on this adventure.
The first day you walk on a nice leveled fire trail, we made a couple of detours to Castle Head view point.
We met a guy who was there for a day walk with his kid, and he told us that water situation wasn't great. But we were planning to go down in the wooded area hence we were going to be ok.
We found a little trickle on a side of the road, I have topped up one of the bottles and we went onward to our camping spot. A couple of kilometers before our designated campsite there was supposed to be a creek which unfortunately happen to dry out. There was another one on the map, but it was below a steep cliff and hidden in a canopy so we have decided to move on.
What a view! I have realized we had only 2,5 litters of water to share. This was OK for the night, but when day breaks and sun goes up you start to sweat water by pint. I actually found 3 bottles of water stashed in the camp. But they were dated 3 years earlier, how long can water stay safe in a plastic bottle for? Of course its possible that bottles were reused, but you hardly ever reuse bottle more than once, and probably straight after the first use. I've decided we shouldn't risk chemical poisoning and left them alone.
And this is what we woken up to!
Next morning we were going to walk to Kanangaroo Clearing some 10km away. A really easy day. We found the trail by the info sign behind the camp and quickly reached Tarros Lader.
Good job I bought a synthetic rope a couple of weeks ago!
Climbing Tarros Lader with a backpack on your back could be a quite dangerous endeavor.
From there we hiked towards Mount Mouin. By the time we reached the hill we realized 2 things: 1-there is no water anywhere near and we are down to one litter to share. We only managed to save that much by rationing and you could seriously feel dehydration. 2-there was no trail. I mean it was on my GPS but not in the real life.
We have bushwhacked along imaginary trail, climbing over loose rocks, bushes and watching out for snakes. I remember Dovile asking "how long till the trail head" me saying "600 meters", than her asking the same thing again half an hour later and me answering "600 meters", as if we were walking backwards! Not it was only hard work to fight your way through the bush, we were also burning a lot of water. Personally I was mentally prepared to do Bear Grylls and drink my pee. I thought that would make for a great facebook video too:-)
Than after covering slightly more than a kilometer in 2 hours we have reached Mount Warrigal. We found some compressed ground at the foot of the hill, which could have been remains of a trail, or just wishful thinking?
Mount Warrigal is a square rock which you can traverse on the left side. There is some shelter from sun and or miracle ...... a small drop by drop trickle of water. I don't have a picture, but here is a video of Dovile collecting water (don't mind my commentary):
By using sardines tin, a mug, bottle caps, sweaty hut and a hanky we have managed to collect just under a liter in about an hour. Great success!
At this point it was clear that with a speed of 1 km/h there was no way we were going to reach Kanangaroo Clearing, so we decided to get to Mobbs Swamp which was marked on a map as a campsite and tomorrow reverse back to civilization.
The liter we have collected did us little good, we drunk it in an instant and were still feeling dehydrated. Hence the Bear Grylls thoughts came back.
Then by some miracle we found a trail, it's only a couple of kilometers to Mobbs Swamp, and on a trail we can make it in no time. And the place is called Mobbs Swamp so there must be water! Oh some local fauna blocking the trail...
We stayed on a trail for about 7 minutes, than it turned into proper mangrove. A waist-deep grass with god only knows what beneath. And yeh, I am afraid of snakes, there I said it! Normally I would strike me pole on the rocks and trees when I walk in a snake territory so they can get out of the way, but now I'm a waist deep.... oh just keep on bushwhacking...
At about 6 pm we reached Mobbs Swamp site just to find out that Mobbs Swamp was well a swamp.
Well, that was literally it, a meter long half-meter wide swamp, full of worms and what not unsavory... We have deliberated for about an hour. Should we drink the swamp water or should we ration the last 0.5 litter we have and walk tomorrow back to civilization dry. We had to take into account that we were hugely dehydrated, that the walk to Dunphy's camping could be much longer than we anticipated and that we can minimize the risk by doing all of the below (Here I have even narrated a little video on how we dealt with the situation):
In case my video was too shite. We have tried charcoal filtering the water (gave up right away, too slow), than boiling it and than putting 4 times the dose of chlorine tablets so it smells like swimming pool!
Than a two caps turned up. An Aussie and and his Irish mate, they asked us if there was water as they were running short. I said "sure here it is, seems alright I drunk it", they looked at the swamp and said fuck that! We still have a liter each and should make it back. They were only on an overnight trip. They came from Dunphy's camping area via Knights Deck trail which they said was completely overgrown and very difficult to navigate and fight through, so a word of warning to all brave souls out there.
We stayed up until 10 pm going through process of boiling the water in a one cup that we had than cooling it off in a Hainz beans can until it's cold enough to be put in a bottle and than chlorinated. We also filled up our 5 litter water-proof bag.
I have never ever ever ever ever ever tasted water that good!
I hate to abandon my plan, but this time we really bit more than we could chew and we definitely got more adventure than we bargained for. So we decided that it's time to go back to civilization to Dunphy's camping area. Was a pretty strait trail, but look at this baby!
Shortly we reached Black Horse Ridge. Lookout, there is a trail, but it's far too easy to lose, if you have a map on you phone or a GPS gadget, keep checking it.
Shortly after we got to, or heaven Breakfast Creek! Water - clean water...
There we had our first encounter with Kangaroo, and shortly after we reached Dunphy's camping area.
A well equipped place with a barbecue, fire places, water catcher. We boilled some pot noodles and carried on to the next camp site just an hour down the road.
Generally uneventful day, you have to walk quite a lot along the road and than you join the "Six Foot Track". You have to walk up the steps closer to Katoomba, and than we picked a place on a cliff just minutes away from the motorable road.
A final look over the Blue Mountains.... P.S. Please comment on this blog if you liked it, this will be superbly helpful!!!!! Thanks!
After spending a night in a freezing-AC Shardjah airport we finally made it to Kathmandu. First surprise was that Air Asia have lost Dovile's luggage with most of her trekking gear. We have made a report and were told to wait for the call, luggage should come on the next flight that evening, well that didn't happen. We called airport several times trying to find out what was happening and if we should wait for it at all or just get on with our trek. Finally we went back to the airport and spoke to the Air Asia rep who told us "why didn't you come to me right away?" well next time we will. Not hoping to get Dovile's gear back we have decided to withdraw some money and buy some knock-off North Fake. In Nepal you are charged for using a foreign card in an ATM, the trick is to find out which bank rips you off less. Namib bank charges 400npr and allows to draw 35000. So we went to an ATM in Thamil and as I have keyed my PIN and pressed Withdraw, I could hear the cash being counted, and than – a power cut! ATM went dead than sometime later came back to live but no cash. I have called my bank and they said that yes transaction has been processed and I need to start a dispute. Just what we needed a day before setting off.
On a positive note, the Air Asia guy called and told us they found the luggage and Dovile won't have trek in flip flops! First thing in the morning we went to the airport, than poped into the bank to file a dispute with them (the guy was very casual about it, apparently happens all the time). And we were off to Pokhara – 8 hours on a local bus listening to the best Bollywood music.
Pokhara-Bessisahar-Bahundanda – 15 km after 4 excruciating hours on a back seat of a bus we have arrived at the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit – Bessihsahar. Here you need to stamp your permit and TIMS card. I believe you can take a bus further to Bahundanda, but we decided to walk to Nadi Bazar. You do walk a lot along the jeep track, having to stop a few times to let the jeeps pass. There is a massive building side where Chinese build a new damp. Not the best day all in all, Nadi Bazar however has some pretty views. Here we had our first Dal Bhat!
Not the worst view out of our window
Bahundanda-Khorte - 23 km Ok, this is a big one. On the second day we decided to push! The idea was that while we were at the lower altitude (under 3000 m) we should be covering maximum distance so we could go slower once we reach Manang. Important point - we were trekking in mid-September, which is monsoon shoulder. This means less people on the trail, more beautiful views to ourselves, but it rains... it rains to the point when trails turn into rivers... and almost forgot - leeches, leeches are everywhere, a lot of leeches!
Here Dovile is doing mandatory leech-control session. They do piss you off and I'm not kidding. They get on your shoes and under the trousers, get on hiking poles and climb up right to your hands and higher. Basically you have to stop every hour and do a leech-control session.
It's a long but not a terribly hard day, a few hills to climb, but mostly you walk along a gorge with some beautiful waterfalls along the way. Like this one
And you cross a lot of suspension bridges
We left at about 8 am and arrived at Khorte by 6 pm. You should really plan to arrive by 5 pm, as it gets darker and way colder. You pass a village which is guaranteed to have at least one lodge every 1,5-2 hours, so it's easy to pace yourself. Most villages are not more than a few huts and fields along the road, but there are a couple quite substantial-like Tal on this picture. Based in a very beautiful valley.
We stayed at Khorte which is not more than 2-3 houses by the gorge. The lodger made an unwise mistake by leaving a honey jar on a table when we asked for honey pancake. We put a spoon-full in our tea and than swallowed a few tea spoons. You do need your calories!
Khorte-Dhikur Pokhari - 28 km
Ok, now this was a big one. The plan was to get to Chame and have an easy day. The day was really shitty (hence no pictures), it was pissing with rain, the trails turned into streams, on a few occasions I thought I'd get a trench foot (don't trek in trainers, seriously a bad idea!). Hence we decided to keep our head down and just keep moving. We got to Chame by about 2pm. Chame is a proper village with shops, pharmacy and a hot spring. We decided why not to hike to Bratang, it was only another 1,5-2 hours and 150m altitude gain, no bigy. On a way to Bratang we saw a massive red writing on a rock - YAKATTAK. Well sounded like a village name or a guesthouse or something, than we saw it again and again. Than a few local guys turned up and they were shouting - yak attack, yak attack. Turns out it's a stretch of a road where they run yaks, and those are not your friendly caravan yaks. You have to climb up the hill or they throw you right of the cliff. We were walking for quite a while and uphill, I kept saying bloody 150m I know what 150m altitude feels like... Well we missed Bratang and got all the way to Dhikur at 3100m. You could feel it was over 3000, as this is where first signs of altitude kicks in, steps become harder to take, have to take rest every 10 minutes etc. 28km-not exactly an easy day. But on a plus side we got to have a hot shower free of charge! And a free room, all on condition that we would eat in place we stayed in.
Dhikur Pokhari - Manang via Upper Pisang - 22km Quite a challenging firs half of the day, you have to climb a lot of stares all the way to Ghyaru, but the view is worth it.
This also supposed to be thre best view of the Annapurna massif, however, over the last 3 days we had low clouds covering everything above 4000m. On the left hand side you can see Humble airport, I believe there are a couple of flights a week from Pokhara. Manang is a local capital complete with lodges, bakeries, video bar, shop, and a map of day trips which you can do during your mandatory acclimatization day. As it gets colder the lodges get more solid, almost all of the buildings are stone made and well insulated. We quickly picked a lodge with a double room and an en-suit for $1.
Mandatory rest day in Manang. There was a plan to go for a day trip to a frozen lake (4200m), following the map in the village center. But it's been 4 days without anything going wrong, so something had to. I got knocked down with the weirdest ever stomach bug. I would feel nothing until a couple of hours after eating and than it would start hurting like hell. An easy way of avoiding this is not to eat. Easily said than done, at an altitude your body burns twice as many calories, you want to eat and lots. Well, garlic soup is good for me, and wide range antibiotics (picked up in KTM) in case it's bacterial. A short hike to the top of the hill across Manang and the first glimpse of glacier.
Manang - Yak Kharka - 9,5 km We paid our bill which over 2 days for two people food and room came to some 2500 npr. The best thing in this world that they are either free or really cheap. A quick day only 3,5 hours walk, accending 500m to 4000m at Yak Kharka. The general idea is that you shouldn't pick up more than 500m a day after passing 3500m mark.
Yak Kharka - Thorung Phedi (base camp) - 7 km
Another short day, only 2,5 hours and 400m accent. Thorung Phedi is the only place, but it's very large and fully supplied.
This is the first clear day with real views of Annapurna snow peaks! A lot of people start the big hike to Thorung La from here, but it does make it for a very long day. We have won a lot of time by going fast at the lower stages, so we could afford to take it slow now. And this is my 3rd day on barely any food.
Thorung Phedi - High Camp (4850m)- 1km only!
Yes, but it takes one hour! It's almost vertical, 450m accent. Well judge for yourself
This is the view of Base camp from High Camp, I told you- vertical!
And this is a view of High Camp from the nearby hill. This was the first day when we really felt the altitude. A good way to acclimatize too.
High Camp-Thorung La-Muktinath-Jhong- 17km-aka the big push.
We started really early in a morning at about 6am, put literally everything we owned and joined a line of mostly Israeli trekkers. It's only 3,8 km to Thorung La but it took us almost 3,5 hours to cover that distance. Altitude sickness feels like nothing else. You don't feel tired, your muscles don't ache, but you simply can't go. It's like a muscle car filled up with piss-diluted petrol, have all that horsepower but still can't go uphill. Now and again you forget about it and make a couple of rapid high jumps over a rock or something, it knocks you right down with a massive headache, spin and heart pounding. My technique was to count 100 steps, stop and count till 20, repeat. Eventually it goes to 50 steps 20 sec rest, 20 steps 20 sec rest. You walk at a very slow and steady pace, and there is absolutely 0 reserve of stamina. And here we are, the highest we ever been!
There is a little tea shop on the pass, it's a good idea to warm yourself up and enjoy your accomplishment. From there it's a long but easy walk down to Muktinath. You can feel getting stronger with every meter of descent. Muktinath is a city by Nepali standard, it's connected by road to Jomsom, has a bunch of 3-store buildings and a medical center where I got some more antibiotics and stomach pills. We had an apple pie in Bob Marley cafe, and used free wifi! By the way, remember the ATM that went dead on me and kept my money? I got a refund, twice! This was a welcome break of luck!
We decided to get a taste of what Upper Mustang valley is like and decided to go further to Jhong. Jhong is the furtherst place you can go without entering restricted zone, where you have to pay $50 a day for a trekking permit. Only an hour from Muktinath but it does look very different, and feels being right of the beaten track. Only one lodge in Jhong, and we had go and look for the owner around the village.
This was a long day. The first part was relatively easy, we had to walk quite level track to Kagbeni, which is right before a turn north that takes you to Upper Mustang.
Kagbeni is a lively village, full of civilization brought by proximity to a road, and one of the largest monasteries in the area. Plus some unique fast food joints!
And here is Kagbeni from above
Oh yeh, forgot to say, today is the first day I woke up without a massive stomach ache! I guess I deserve an award for doing Annapurna Circuit while fasting through the most of it!!!
4 hours lates we arrived to Jomsom. A ward of warning - it's a very exposed pass, you walk in the sun occasionally have to cross a road and deal with all dust from jeeps and trucks.
Jomsom is a city. You have 2 bus stations - one for Muktinath and one to take towards Pokhara. There is a shop and a pharmacy, and also you can fill up with purified water for about 50 npr, that is if you are sick of drinking chlorinated water.
We got our tickets at the office (800 npr for foreigners, somewhat less for locals) and where told to wait for the buss to come. The bus leaves when full, hence it worried us that there weren't may people besides us. You have to take a bus to Ghasa where you change for another Jeep/Bus to Tatopani or wherever else they feel like taking you that day.
Eventually it did come, and it was full of people. Apparently, it's a good idea to get on a bus at the bus stand (parking lot) so you are guaranteed a seat. Needless to say we got the very back seats.
I do have to say something about the road... Well, it's not built. It's carved out of the rock, it took us about 3 excruciating hours of breezing dust, swallowing own sick and praying to Buddha not to throw us of the cliff.
The entire ride I was thinking, why didn't we just walked it....?
By the way, we were told that it's not worth it hiking beyond Jomsom, mostly because of the road. Mostly by people who haven't actually done it themselves. This is not entirely true, the trail is on the other side of the gorge, and it hardly ever crosses the road. Besides you'd be very welcomed by locals who now get hardly any trade.
This is the end of chapter 1 - Annapurna Circuit, tomorrow we will commence Chapter 2 - Base Camp or as it's also known Sanctuary!
Do I need a porter/guide? You definitely don't need a guide unless you are planning to deviate from standard Circuit or Base camp route. The trails a wide and well market, they are used as supply lines by the villages, hence there is a lot of traffic. If you happen to wander off friendly locals will point you in the right direction. Having a porter could make it far more enjoyable walk. We had a backpack each 5-7KG plus water. Most hotels in Pokhara will store your luggage for you.
Costs: Room normally costs from 0-200 npr. The idea is that they normally don't charge you much for the room on the basis that you have at least 2 meals in your guesthouse. The food prices are fixed by the village and tend to rise the higher you go. In a lower areas dal bhat (ultimate mountain food that comes with a free refill) costs about 300-350, and this goes as high as 550 in the base camp. Most of our bills were 1500-2000. So I guess you can have a trip of your lifetime for $10 a person a day.
You can save a lot by purifying your water. A bottle of water can cost upwards of 100 npr, a small bottle of purifying drops is only 20 npr, and it will last you for months.
Maps – buy a good trekking map for about 300 in any bookshop in Pokhara or KTM. Don't really need it but it helps with planning your next day.
How long does it take. Well that depends... Most of the guide books say about 14 days Bessihsahar-Jomsom. However this is based on a 5-6 hour day. We have trekked 8-10 hours and got to Jomsom in 9. My advise is to cover more distance in the first days until you reach Manang and than take it easy with a mandatory rest day in Manang.
Altitude sickness Less common than in Everest region, mostly because of a very gradual altitude pick up. The big day is when you get over Thorong La at 5450m this will be hard and slow, just pace yourself and move slowly. We took Diamox, it must have helped too.
Internet Available pretty much everywhere until Thorong Phedi, at a cost though. You can get a free connection in Muktinath. In other places will have to pay from 100-500 npr.
Electricity Everywhere, most places in the lower part are supplied by local mini hydro power plants, literally small waterfalls captured into a pipe. As you go up places switch to hydro. The going rate is 100 npr per hour. Bare in mind solar doesn't charge as fast as hydro-powered.
Any more questions? Just drop me a message and I will add to the post.