Craig’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 28 Apr 2007

Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

MapWell hello again everyone!

After my long break from these new fangled typi things Iím afraid youíre in for a long blog covering my last few weeks, which I have to say have been pretty amazing!

Iíll start with the Annapurna circuit trek.

I met 3 other people in Kathmandu who I trekked the Annapurna circuit with and after knowing each other only a couple of days we set out on our 18 day adventure and we were even all still talking at the end! My companions where Ryan (Canadian), Jules (Canadian) and C.J (US) and I need to thank all these guys for helping me through the tough days! Briefly, the Annapurna circuit is a route which circles the Annapurna mountain range amongst others and starts from a place called Besisahar at 760m above sea level, peaks at the worlds biggest pass, Thorung La at 5,416m and goes right back down to Tatopani at 1,190m.

This link shows a basic map of the stops

So 3rd April we left the comforts and smog of Kathmandu for the clean air and basics of the mountains Ė a good swap. We all started well, confident with no porters or a guide, armed with our trusty map and huge packs, little did we know that by the end of the trek we would have all had to hire a porter! A few days in and I fell ill to a pretty nasty stomach bug, followed by Jules who regurgitated anything she ate and C.J a day later. So 4 turned into 7.

Iíll try and describe the scenery but the photos will do much more justice. We took the first few days slow, making our way through lush green land in a tropical climate and quaint small villages addressing locals with the customary ďNamasteĒ as we passed. As we gathered more ground the scenery starting to change into pine forests and leafy hubs. Then the terrain seems to become more and more barren, farming seems less and tourism is the only trade at these heights. At one point we arrived at a town which was like a sandy beach in the middle of the mountains, extraordinary! Itís easy to sense your getting deeper into the mountains when all you can see ahead are snow capped peaks and mountain after mountain. Suddenly youíre in a climate a complete contrast to which you set off, above 3,000m and the sleeping bag becomes your best friend at night. Accommodation is a series of tea houses which are okay, very basic stuff but all you need really and we never paid more than a pound to stay. From 3,000m upwards is where altitude becomes a major factor and you need to be really careful no to ascend to fast as people die from this every year despite the warnings. We stuck to the rule of sleeping no higher than 300m than the previous night and had a couple of acclimatization days were we would hike up a nearby mountain 200-300m and come back down to sleep in the same place. On one of our acclimatization days we were all sitting round a table drinking tea when a guy sits down gets out his several cameras, laptop and satellite for the net. We get a bit curious but with his heavily logoed jacket which we later learnt are his sponsors, we knew this was no ordinary trekker. As we got chatting we learnt that he was about to attempt the North side of Everest (the most difficult side by far) on his own, with no ropes or oxygen and will be the first person to attempt this. Listening to some of his stories about his past exhibitions was amazing, this was a brave bloke.

Finally the day we had all been waiting for was here, the day of the pass! We would set off from 4,450m, reach 5,416m over the pass and plummet back down to 3,800m all in the space of a grueling 10 hour trek. The first climb to base camp was incredibly steep and the altitude really starting getting to me, I became light headed and struggled to even walk in a straight line. At this altitude there is only 50% of oxygen as there is at sea level so breathing is difficult and you feel every inch while your heart feels like its beating in your head. Eventually after what seems like an eternity of false summits we see the top and the adrenaline kicks in and were almost running to the top. We spent a good hour at the top shaking hands, taking pictures and just trying to take in what weíve just accomplished and of course I had my customary cuppa tea! It wasnít over though, we still had 1,600m to come down but who cares as long as itís down! It was our 14th day of trekking and after all that time going up and you know its downhill from here, thatís a magical feeling! We made it down the other side (Jomson side) in good time over 4 long days as we were all pretty eager to get that long awaited shower! The scenery was equally as contrasting and beautiful turning from ice capped peaks into barren desert like plains, to pine forests, lush green apple orchids and corn fields where the farming community starts up again and finally into the tropical climate that we started Ė full circle from 17 days earlier! This is possibly the most challenging and demanding thing Iíve ever done, both physically and equally mentally but incredibly rewarding.

On our way back to civilasation, sat on the roof of a packed bus and the lashing rain giving us an early shower, it was hard to take in and appreciate the beauty of the trek and even now its not totally sunk in but its certainly something that comes highly recommended from me!

Following our trek me, Ryan and Jules all spent a couple of nights in a city called Pokhara which is a nice place, all centered around a big lake. To be honest it was a little wasted on us as our attention was focused on doing a lot of drinking for a couple of days just because we could!

Chitwan National Park

After relaxing for a few days Ryan caught a flight home so Jules and I traveled down to the South of Nepal to Chitwan National Park. This place is basically a jungle which is nearly 1,000 sq km and is home to the endangered white one horned rhino, tigers, sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants and many other animals, reptiles and birds. We managed to get somewhere to stay and arrange what we wanted to do when we arrived and got the Ďcheapestí price in town. Our hut had a straw roof that leaked (it rained at night) and as the climate is so hot and humid the mosquitoís are out in force at night, I was eaten alive! Our first day out and we started early doors with a relaxed canoe ride down the river into the jungle.....well this was nice and relaxed until someone pointed out a crocodile about 20 yards away! Sat in a wobbling wood canoe didnít fill me with confidence! Once in the jungle we were taken on jungle walk in the hope to spot some of the more rare animals. Our guide armed with a big stick gave us a brief of Ďwhat to doí if we got into any trouble with the animals. If itís a rhino we had to either climb a tree or run zig zagged as apparently they can run 40km/hr straight. Sloth bears and tigers (the most dangerous) basically thereís not a lot you can do so we were told to ďall stand together and make as much noise as possible and Iíll wave my stick aroundĒ again, my confidence levels were running low! I was almost relived the closest we came to getting mauled was spotting a few wild dear. In the afternoon we took a jeep safari which allowed us to get deeper into the jungle. This time we were lucky and got to see 4 rhinos, 1 which was very close, there bodies are like huge armor plates. It was cool to see these animals in there natural habitat with no bars or restrictions on them like Iíve seen previously. We also visited a tiger that had to be kept in a pen as its mother was a man-eater and had killed and apparently that instinct gets passed on in the generations so to be safe she had to be locked up.

Our second day was probably the most fun. First thing we took an elephant ride into the jungle. 4 of us sat in a box on top of the elephant and the elephant driver at the front. Elephants are such gentle and careful creatures, when we were walking through the jungle he would try and avoid puddles, make sure branches didnít hit us on top and happily stop when he saw an animal we might be interested in. At the end of the ride we were taken to a river where the elephant driver needs to wash the elephant and we had an opportunity to take a bath and play with the elephant. You couldnít get me in quick enough! I climbed up his trunk holding onto his ears and while sat on his back he would fill his trunk with water and spray it over his head at us. Then he would slowly tilt to the side until we eventually fell off, crazy but a lot of fun! The afternoon was spent at the elephant breeding centre where we fed the cute baby elephants biscuits. They are cheeky little things and when youíre out of biscuits there off to the next person with food. I think elephants are my new favorite animal!

I am now back in Kathmandu which is nice in one respect good food, comfy bed and hot water but at the same time being back in the busy smoggy city, Iím looking forward to leaving again! Speaking of which I should be flying into Calcutta, India tomorrow and catching a connecting flight to Bangkok the day after so hopefully Iíll be in Thailand in the next couple of days. But with this part of the world nothings certain, especially flights so watch this space!

Hope your all ok back home and no clever comments about the Chelsea game please!!!

Take care