I experienced a lot of Nepal exposure over the course of past 12 months. Different earthquake relief events, bringing Nepali runners to Hong Kong for Trailwalker and HK100 runners, the Mira movie… It seemed appropriate to finally visit the country.
While doing the HK100 podcast with Vince we somehow started to talk about Nepal trip. Each of us had it in mind and so we decided to plan in together. We came up with workable dates. I sent the dates to Ramesh in Nepal just to check we will be still OK weatherwise. At the same time I asked him for some suggestion of trek route that we could do within the time available to us. Within few days I received very detailed Annapurna Base Camp trek itinerary with a suggestion of taking Kiran, one the of Nepali trail runners, as our guide.
Vince sent our expedition plans to several other people thought to be interested in making the Nepal trip too. Within 2 weeks we had a 6 people team. Few weeks of preparations and funny pre-trip whatsapp chatter followed. On April 15 we were ready o depart.
Four of us – me, Vince, Roger and Hannes travelled from Hong Kong, Tilly from Geneva and Dom was joining us in Kathmandu after spending couple of weeks in the Everest area.
Day 1 – Travel to Kathmandu
The trip was uneventful. With boarding almost complete we still could not see Hannes but at the end he showed up. Before take off I did a final email check. I found the message from Ramesh with subject “TILLY COLLECTION” confirming that Tilly was successfully collected from the airport and delivered to the hotel. All good there.
After a movie and half we landed in Dhaka for stopover. We took few photos to prove our presence in Bangladesh and after several rounds of counting and recounting the passengers we took off for Kathmandu. Quarter of a movie later we landed in Kathmandu.
Visa on arrival and immigration procedures were surprisingly smooth. The luggage collection was not. The luggage claim area was one big mess. Small place crowded with people and lots and lots of flatscreen TV boxes. Hour and half or so later we had our bags.
Outside we saw Kiran and few other people we thought were from the hotel. They grabbed our bags and carried them to our van not too far away. Once there they revealed their identity asking for pretty significant tips for that 100m walk with our bags. Tip rate was about HKD1 per meter. Not wanting any troubles we tipped as requested and departed towards hotel.
Hotel was ready for us, Dom was waiting at the lobby and even Tilly came down to welcome us. It was pretty late, almost midnight, and we had 7am bus to take in the morning. So no special ceremonies, quick check-in and bedtime.
Day 2 – Kathmandu to Pokhara
The original plan was to fly Buddha Air to Pokhara. But just when we were planning that local air travel 2 planes went down in Nepal in a span of three days. Bus it was.
Early wake up, quick breakfast, short walk to bus departure place. Tilly attempted to buy some fruits for the ride. After discovering she was ripped off she managed to return them and get her money back – impressive. We were seven of us (including Kiran) but we occupied 8 seats – Roger paid for two to provide himself with extra space.
The bus navigated with reasonable success through pretty mad traffic on twisty, bumpy, dusty roads. It made three (?) planned stops for food and bathroom and one unplanned. The unplanned one lasted more than hour. That is how long it took to remove a bus that crashed less than a kilometer ahead of us.
We made it to Pokhara couple of hours later than we hoped. But luckily we still had about 15 minutes before the mountain permits issuing office closed. Ramesh welcomed us at the bus station and walked with us quickly to our hotel to drop the bags. The permit office was literally just across the street from the hotel. Few minutes later we had our permits.
After quick check-in in the hotel few of us decided to go for a short walk to the lake. Roger and Hannes stayed in the hotel. To make themselves useful they performed the moneychanging duties while we were away.
During our short walk Tilly managed to challenge the armed sentry at the army base insisting on getting in despite violent incoming head shaking from the armed guy at the watch tower. We saw lots of large birds, many boats and quite a few people.
We posed for some silly photos and rushed back. We did not want to be too late for the welcome to Pokhara drinks with Ramesh. Unfortunately we haven’t noticed that Vince took charge of navigation on our return journey to hotel. We were a bit late.
After few beers at the patio the rain sent us indoors. Few more beers, some Nepali snacks, casual chats and then time to retire for the night.
I must have missed something during some briefing because unlike the others I was being eaten alive by mosquitos and flies all night long. I barely slept trying repel as many airborne attacks against me as possible. I ended up wrapped head to toes in sheets. But as I could see in the morning part of my face and my right hand probably remained exposed …
Day 3 – Birethanti to Banthanti
Early breakfast, hotel check-out, loading up Jeep like Tata vehicle, byes to Ramesh and off we were towards Birethanti – the start of our trek.
The dusty, bumpy, twisty ride up to mountains took close to 2 hours I would say.
At Birethanti we applied for the TIM cards and bought some snacks and drinks for next few hours.
After crossing the bridge our permits were checked and stamped for the first time and our multi-day trek was on.
First we walked on dirt roads for a while but soon we turned on proper trek. The weather was quite stuffy and humid with cloudy skies but no rain. After about 2 hours we reached our lunch place – The Tip Top Restaurant.
It was time for my first Dal Bhat of this trip.
After lunch we crossed few suspension bridges, climbed some hills (with many steps), had few breaks, met few mules and donkeys and ponies, passed by Four Seasons Hotel and arrived at our destination for the day – the Green Hill View Lodge and Banthanti at about 2300m above sea level.
We got our rooms, made use of showers, did the laundry and got ready for some dinner prepared for us by the Tibetan lady running this lodge. It would have been nice to eat outside but the rain sent us inside. The heater was on, the clothes were drying, dinner was good. Perfect setting for heated discussion on state of Hong Kong .
The night was a bit cool so we were issued warm blankets. I decided to go for my sleeping bag instead. With no nasty insects trying to terminate me I had a good sleep.
Day 4 – Banthanti to Ghorepani + Poon Hill
Morning and blue skies. Time to re-pack the backpack and walk downstairs for breakfast.
We only had short few hours trek to Ghorepani ahead of us for the day but most of it uphill.
We planned to get up there on time for lunch. After climbing a bit and observing some nice blooming rhododendrons along the way we made it to Ghorepani (2874m) as planned – just in time for lunch.
The weather was OK, we had enough time left on the day and so we decided to climb up to Poon Hill on the same day. Poon Hill is this 3200m hill just above Ghorepani offering amazing views of the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range. So we went up, in a “race pace”, at least that is how it felt. At the end all we had up there was the amazing feeling of being up there at 3200m. But other than very brief moment when one of the peaks appeared through a gap in the clouds for few seconds we could not see much.
We posed for few photos around the Poon Hill sign and then wend back down to Ghorepani – in “race pace” again for some. We managed to split up and took several different routes down. At the end we all regrouped at our lodge.
It did not take long before the weather changed significantly. The clouds rolled in bringing a decent hail storm followed but downpour that lasted for several hours. Tilly and Dom decided the explore some more trails around but the weather cut their afternoon adventure short.
Rest of the day was spent in the common area in the lodge, hiding from the rain, chatting, reading, painting, eating. The dinner brought the most awesome food related discovery of the trip – the potato/cheese momos.
Day 5 – Poon Hill + Ghorepani to Chomrong and Lower Sinuwa
This was to be our longest trek day. The plan was to get up early and in case of clear skies to do the Poon Hill again before breakfast. Skies were clear, we went, race pace again of course. I was short of breath right away. It took me about ten minutes of climbing before my body adjusted to the pace at this slightly higher altitude. By the the time we were half the way up the hill I was OK.
The views we were treated with were spectacular. Annapurna, Dhaulagiri against the blue skies with ever changing cloud formations. Just simply awesome…
After half an hour or so we dashed back down to Ghoreapani for breakfast (I think I had a pancake with lots of peanut butter). Then the proper trek of the day begun. We were told that after the initial climb it will be mostly flattish undulating trek afterwards. Clearly “undulating” has a different meaning in Nepal
The first climb was quite a climb but the beautiful views made it feel easier than it probably was. Annapurna and Dhaulagiri on one side, green hills on the other and the blooming rhododendrons all around us. There was a hut just before the end of the climb – I decided to stock up on some portable energy – aka Bounty bars – the day was going to be long. After around 4 hours of we reached our lunch spot – Tadapani. This must have been the most scenic dining ever for me … And the food was good too.
It was the perfect place to hang out but after lunch we had to get moving. We could see our planned destination for the day in the distance – but that was still hours away.
We crossed several valleys, suspension bridges, walked through terrace fields and few villages – all under blue skies, strong Himalayan sun a with great views all around us.
My right arm was starting to hurt a little – at this time I though it is due to all the scratching by the shoulder straps on my back pack while taking the backpack off during our short breaks. As I found out later the pain was a consequence of that scratching – the shoulder strap apparently scraped all the sunblock from an area on my arm – at the end of the day the arm was properly grilled…
At one of the villages not that far from Chhomrong we had a bit of confusion. There were two ways out of the village to Chhomrong. After Kiran tried to call the 4 people ahead me back the locals very clearly said that route is also OK. So I followed while Kiran walked back to wait for Hannes who was not too far behind (I could see him). Five of us kept walking ahead encouraged by signs with arrows pointing to Chhomrong along the path.
As became a habit when we found a shaded area with comfy rocks to sit on we took a break waiting for Hannes and Kiran. When the wait became way too long we started to wonder if Hannes had some issue.
After waiting a bit longer I dropped my back pack and went back to the village where I last saw Kiran. I was expecting to see them there resting. But when I got there the two of them were not there. And neither was a large group of Koreans that we saw there when we passed the first time. None of the people there could recall seing Kiran and Hannes. But they told me that the Koreans just left towards Chhomrong. Well how, I just came from Chhomrong direction and I did not meet a single Korean … Then it occurred to me that clearly those two paths out of village to Chhomrong obviously did not rejoin after the village… Clearly Hannes and Kiran went to Chomrong on different trail…
I decided to walk back to meet the other four. I met Vince first as his curiosity sent him back too. When five of us reunited we decided to follow the path we were on hoping that we will meet the guys eventually. All the routes lead to Chhomrong after all. After few minutes when looking back we could see a different trail below us on the slope and people on it – the other trail to Chhomrong. Not long later thanks to Roger’s camera we could zoom in on Hannes and Kiran too. There was no defined trek down the hill to connect with the other trail – so we just followed our path. When we reached Chhomrong (2050m) we a) met Kiran and Hannes and b) we thought we are done for the day. While a) was correct b) was not. I guess we were aiming for a lodge further down in the valley. But when down in the valley Kiran pointed at some houses on the other side of the valley – Lower Sinuwa – and said that we better go there. Something about another 2km or 5 minutes more are the numbers I remember being mentioned. Hannes was clearly struggling with his foot but there did not seem to be another option. The already long day was about to get even longer.
We kept on going down for quite a white, then crossed another Kadoorie suspension bridge and the we had to climb lots of steps up to those houses at Lower Sinuwa (2050m). Eventually we made it there. After some searching we managed to secure some rooms at one of the lodges.
Hannes treated his infected toe with salt bath. We ordered some snacks while waiting for dinner, made use of the shower facilities and assembled for dinner and lots of crap talk in the dining hall or room or shed. To summarize what followed – dinner was good, talk was good despite Tilly desperately trying to change topic, Roger successfully resisted the lure of the toilet. And all this while we were treated to a night of Nepali party right next door.
We also found out from Kiran that there are no rooms available at Deurali (3100m) – our originally planned destination for day 6. We would have to sleep at Himalaya (2800m) – that would make our tomorrow trek shorter. That would also make our day 7 trek to Annapurna Base Camp longer and possibly impossible. We discussed some contingency plans. It looked like we had perfectly feasible plans B, C, D, E and F up in our sleeves.
Day 6 – Chomrong to Himalaya
We did not have much luck with spotting wildlife. But on this day while passing some forested areas we spotted some pretty big monkeys. Not sure what is their official name, also to my knowledge we don’t have any photo evidence – but googling the image of “annapurna monkey” brings some good photos. All we have are photos of goats:
As it turned out we were quite lucky we stopped at Himalaya (2800m) rather then Deurali. Within minutes after our arrival at Himalaya the heavens opened and treated us with yet another hail storm. Due some mix up we had to switch our rooms not long after we settled in. We also switched dining aka poker rooms. So basically on this day we trekked a bit, ate a lot and then played cards a lot.
After some debate on what to play we settled on poker once we secured enough rice grain currency to play for.
Later in the night the skies cleared. The sight of the moon and stars indicated a nice day ahead.
Day 7 – Himalaya to MBC + MBC – ABC – MBC
After the short trek day it was time for the most intense one. Plan A was to get to Macchupucchere Base Camp – MBC (3700m) first, get rooms, leave our bags there and if weather permits continue to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) right away.
It was a bit cool in the morning. Mostly because we walked through the valley in shadow on the tall mountains around us. Once we made it on the sunshine it was quite pleasant, good for short sleeves.
It took us around 3 hours of uphill hiking to make it to MBC. The skies were still clear with only a small white cloud here and there. After quick consultation among ourselves and checking he lodge owner’s view on the weather we decided to proceed quickly up to ABC.
The beginning was quite relaxing – stopping often to take photos and enjoy the beauty of majestic mountains around us. We crossed an ice field (or glacier?) and not much longer after that we could see the huts of the ABC in the distance.
They looked within our grasp and seemed like the route is quite flat from now on. I guess this is what inspired Vince’s race pace once again. I was definitely not moving slowly but Vince was out there in front steadily pulling away. The landscape reminded of our Tai Ma Shan – grassy slope with dirt trails navigating through.
Eventually I made it to that Annapurna Base Camp sign I saw on so many photos.
I wanted to take the photo of it for myself the moment I got there. But Vince and Roger were in the frame. I tried to send them away but I just could not catch a breath to get a word out of my mouth. I must have looked like a hand waving idiot … The guys got my message though and I could take that photo. After few minutes, when my lungs figured out how to work with the oxygen provided at 4100m I set of exploring the area around while watching the weather closing in. The blues skies were quickly turning white and grey …
We saw lots of memorials for climbers who never returned from Annapurna – as I found out to my surprise this is the most dangerous mountain in the world (even ahead of K2…). We also saw a camp ready to welcome Japanese Annapurna expedition due to arrive a day later. Just to remind us of the dangers of the high mountains we could hear the noise of 2 distant avalanches during those 20-30 minutes we spent at ABC area.
We walked around, looked around, posed for pictures for a while but the quickly changing weather was a solid reason for return trip to MBC. Before we made it back the blue skies disappeared totally and at some parts we walked down through low clouds. What a difference an hour can make.
We managed to beat the rain again, just about, again…
There was no hot running water in the shower at this lodge but bucket of warm water did the job as well. After the “showers” we assembled for late lunch at the dining room, just in time to observe yet another hail storm from the safety of our shelter. By this time I was beginning to notice quite some headache – partially caused by the sudden change of weather but mostly by our race pace ascent to 4100m …
It was not only me, it was all of us. But nothing that few pots of ginger tea would not solve. We had lunch, some talk, some reading, then the beans currency arrived and poker was only only briefly interrupted by dinner. The game was fun but when the local porters started to make their beds on the benches in the dining hall we realized it is time to retire to our rooms.
Day 8 – MBC to Cchomrong
None of us woke up at 4am for early morning dash up to ABC for sunrise. Instead we all assembled for breakfast and by 7:30am we were on our way back to Cchomrong.
What took us 2 days to climb was about to take us one day of descending. For most parts we followed the same way down as up.
The only difference was short a section of the valley below MBC – we took a longer route on the other bank of the stream on the way up since that is where some “avalanche danger” signs directed us. On the way back we followed the regular shorter route – with no snow at all anywhere on the slopes above us it seemed safe.
Soon we started to pass all the familiar places we remembered from our way up – Deurali, Himalaya, Sinuwa, Lower Sinuwa.
On this day we had the scare of the trip when Roger decided to show us his “don’t try this at home” stunt “How to change GoPro battery and tumble down the slope while not taking Tilly down too”. Luckily Kiran’s scream “No!” did the magic and stopped Roger’s tumble. He seemed to be OK but kind of limped from then on. What a bad timing though. As he was changing the battery at the time of his fall there is no footage of the fall on his GoPro…
We tried not to take too long breaks. The weather forecast for the area suggested the rains much earlier on the day than the usual late afternoon. Also it seemed like we are just about managing the stay ahead of the incoming black skies. We kept ourselves dry for the entire trip – the last thing I wanted was to get me and all my stuff soaking wet on the second last day of walking. But somehow the sun was still shining above us by the time we reached Lower Sinuwa. From there we could our destination, Cchomrong – at the same altitude – just around 3km further but with a deep valley in the middle of it. The descent down to the Kadoorie bridge was easier than the climb at the end of our long Day 5. The climb up to the top of the Cchomrong village was insane. The only brief break we had towards the end when we needed to have our permits stamped. Once we resumed our climb for the final few hundred steps we realized to our horror that the German bakery we have been dreaming about for few days is closed. Luckily the Swiss came to rescue – the Swiss bakery and cafe was open – worth the trip down once we settled into our Kalpana lodge.
And that is what we did. We walked back down, ordered coffees (from a proper espresso machine that Hannes refused to admit is there) and cakes and enjoyed the views.
The rain held of never reaching us on the day. Later we returned back up to our guest house, did some Tibetan shopping, ordered food and gradually switched to poker – this time with corn as our currency.
This was our last night in the mountains.
Day 9 – Cchomrong to Birethanti and Pokhara
We had the last 4 hours or so to go till we meet our Jeep-like Tata. This was the shorter direct route mainly downhill with occasional climbs.
The high peaks gradually disappeared from our view. We were back in the lush green area with reminding me of the views few days earlier on our way to Cchomrong.
Before long we were at last village of our trek. After giving way to lots of goats we reached a dirt road where cars, trucks and buses were waiting.
First sight of a motor vehicle in a week! From here were supposed to walk down for further 10 or so minutes to meet our guy with his Tata. Tok a bit longer but eventually we could see a white car with nothing on roof in the distance – that was our ride.
All the trails we walked on were very clean with very little litter. People up there clearly taking care of their mountains. What a contrast to the behaviour of people once they are outside of the protected area. The first thing the car driver did after opening the door at back the truck – picked two plastic bottles from the trunk and throwing them down the slope …
We posed for few photos to mark the end of our trail. Then we quickly boarded the car and started the wild ride on the mountain dirt road. At Birethanti we had our permits stamped for the last time. We also reported our return to civilisation to the TIM office. After that we resumed our journey to Pokhara.
We reached Pokhara in the early afternoon. We checked in into the same hotel. I bravely trusted the manager that my room is now mosquito and bug free and took the same one as the week before. We changed some more dollars to rupees. Ramesh came by to welcome us back. Then was time to head out for some lunch, sightseeing, shopping and dinner. Dom getting a shave and Vince buying big statue of buddha were the major events worth mentioning.
The cool moment of the day was when I was reading some poster with Dalailama quotes in some of the Tibetan shops pointing out to Vince that these do make sense (they really did). All of a sudden a small old Tibetan lady that obviously overheard us came to us, pointed to picture of Dalailama and said in totally unexpected style “He is cool, ha ?”
One the tasks left for Pokhara and Kathmandu was to check out all kinds of local beers. In Pokhara we managed Gorkha, Nepal Ice, Everest, the semi-local Tuborg.
The sought after Sherpa proved elusive. Instead we were offered rather interesting selection of soups for dinner.
Day 10 – Pokhara to Kathmandu
The long and winding road … although bit more dramatic than Paul McCartney’s song . This time no accidents to interrupt our journey. Instead we had to stop at some car service shop to have some belt changed in the screaming aircon system. We stopped for breaks at exactly the same places as we did on the way to Pokhara.
Just before Kathmandu we hit some traffic jam. Overall though I guess as smooth trip as can be expected on these roads.
The bus dropped us quite far from the place we boarded when we left Kathmandu. And quite some walk from our hotel. Vince obviously did not enjoy Kathmandu as much as he enjoyed the mountains. Dom on the other hand seemed perfectly at home. He navigated us through some weird half dug out streets and through the maze of Thamel right to our hotel. I would like to add “in no time” but that was not the case.
After settling in the hotel we went back to the shopping area for some, shopping, window shopping and F&B.
And we found that elusive Sherpa:
Day 11 – Kathmandu and journey home
We planned this day as a day to spare just in case. No just in case happened so we had this day to spare. I could not sleep well (thanks to some extremely loud and drunk guests from Dubai in our hotel) and I was up very early. I went out searching for cafe and coffee. Cafe I found quickly, even opened one. Unfortunately the power was out and the espresso machine therefore out too … A bit more searching lead to discovery of another cafe with a green LED on on their espresso machine. Croissants and pretty nice coffee for breakfast.
I went back to hotel on time for our original hotel breakfast time to make sure I do not miss the Tilly Deposit. Good byes and hugs from the group, see you in Chamonix from me and Roger and then we deposited Tilly into the car to the airport.
After that was time for some Kathmandu exploration – Monkey Temple, great pizza for lunch back in Thamel, then Durbar Square, then some more shopping and window shopping, then some coffees, tees etc and then it was time to head to the airport.
Besides a little buddha statue related drama for Vince all went smooth. On the flight back I did my best the watch Revenant but it was impossible, after 1+ hour I gave up. I switched to something else and successfully survived the remaining few hours of the journey back to Hong Kong.
The most useful gear I took with me:
– my Montane backpack
– the sleeping bag with liner
– my Berghaus boots
– the light quick dry easy to wash and quick to dry tees
– smaller size backpack for the side trips
– small sports towel
– power bank
What I should not take
– I really can’t think of anything. Even there was some stuff that I did not use (like the rain gear or extra base layer) it was only matter of luck we avoided the rain and cold.
What I forgot
– The backpack raincover. Luckily we did we managed to avoid the rain…