Lani Clark and I, Sunil William Savkar, planned and completed a nine-day trek from Pokhara to Jomsom. The following journal combines maps, pictures, and text in a summary presentation of our trip. I hope this proves useful for those interested in planning their own trek to Nepal, or for those simply surfing the network.
The trek really began with our bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Unlike the nice comfortable city buses around California, the "tourist bus" we'd ride was much more harrowing an experience. Waking up at 5 a.m., we rushed to greet our bus at 6:30 a.m., across from Gridley's Bank on Durbar Marg. Among all the vendors selling fruits, the hodgepodge of other travelers, and the array of packages being loaded onto the bus, it was quite a zoo.
The bus was finally on its way, carrying a mixture of foreign travelers and local people. The family next to Lani and me were from the state of Maharashtra, India, and as soon as they found out my family origins were the same, we became best friends!
Every so often, one of the men would come over, ask questions, and try to get me to eat something he was chewing on. They'd constantly be offering cookies, paan, and supari (Indian snacks). At one point I had Lani try some supari, and the whole family (and I) started laughing when she made a face at the taste!
While this was going on, we were veering around precipitous corners, taking hairpin turns, hitting potholes, and nearly hitting other buses and trucks on the road. At only 150 rupees one way, I was starting to wonder whether we'd have better spent our money on a plane.
On our trip back, Lani and I discussed the wild travel along the windy hills between Pokhara and Kathmandu. While she had total trust in our drivers, I couldn't help but feel that I wasn't quite as assured of our safety. Although we didn't have a mishap, buses and trucks overturning on these roads is not uncommon.
Seven hours later, we arrived in Pokhara, at the "bus station." This turned out to be little more than a grassy area, and as we left the bus, we were harrassed by throngs of taxi drivers attempting to get our attention. We ended up simply blowing everyone off, strapping on our packs, and walking the half hour from the station to the hotels located along the Phewa Tal lake.
After dropping off our bags at the Potala Guest House, we strode down to a local restaurant offering both good food and a great view, and indulged ourselves in the sun and the views of Machhapuchhre. Every once in a while, kingfishers came zipping by, breaking the silence. Children could be seen playing off in the surrounding fields.
We rested, packed up our things in the evening, and took one last shower before settling in for sleep.
In the morning, we made some final preparations and then left through the back of the hotel to take a road up towards the hills. We weren't completely sure of the direction to go, so every few minutes we'd stop to ask for help. Eventually the road headed into the surrounding country area, next to Phewa Tal lake.
Once the side road ended, we turned up towards Naudanda, via Sarangkot, thus circumventing the road that now has been constructed all the way to Chandrakot. We followed trails that often ended abruptly, and spent a large amount of time recovering our way. When we thought we'd finally lost the trail, we would ask the way to Sarangkot, and people would simply point up towards the tops of the hills.
About halfway up, having hit a true trail, some school children caught up with us and started to bound past. One of the young boys started chatting with us, and we finally ended up trying to quicken our pace to keep up with these lithe youngsters. We finally reached a little cool shop that happened to be owned by one boy's family, so we stopped and bought two chocolate bars and rested in the shade.
While we sat with the three boys, a whole parade of trekkers came past us. One of the gentlemen stopped for a second, and we engaged him in conversation. We asked if he had stayed in the guest houses, to which he replied with somewhat of a haughty tone, "Oh no! We do trekking the proper way, with porters and tents!" As he stated this, a number of porters carrying huge loads painfully trod by; I couldn't help but note the small little day pack he was carrying. Proper trekking indeed!
Finally we reached a ridge and continued along, with the view of the lake, Phewa Tal, to our left, while the hills blocked our view of the majestic snow-capped peaks to our right. A young boy was there to greet us, and continued to walk while we made our way to Sarangkot. He had a cheerful little smile, and sang as we walked along.
Instead of stopping in Sarangkot, we continued to move quickly on. We were now on a flat plateau of sorts, and once again we were among familiar sights of bullocks grazing and terraced paddy fields.
Around the thatched houses, people were going about their daily chores, from washing to sewing, tilling to resting.
Each town we reached always had a group of children milling about in the streets, knowing full well their village was part of a route for foreign travelers. They'd greet us at one end of the village, walk and talk and laugh and sing, and then wave goodbye as we continued past.
At the end of the day we were exhausted; as we rounded the final corner to Naudanda, our feet aching and our packs feeling heavier than at the start, the evening sun left us with a spectacular view of the Annapurnas, Macchapucchare, and surrounding peaks. I was the first to see the sight, as Lani's eyes were still centered on the path she trudged. I gently put my hand on her sweat drenched shirt, pointed towards the mountains, and watched as she quietly let out a happy sigh at the sight.
Our first day complete, we ate a quick meal of dhaal and rice. By candle light, we prepared our beds and flopped into a deep sleep, dreaming of mountains. In one day, I already felt like we'd been trekking for weeks.
The morning was spent quickly packing up, shaving, and quaffing down some hot oatmeal and dudh chia (milk tea). After taking some more morning shots of the mountains, we filled our water bottles, and started along the road to Chandrakot.
Along the way, I thought I'd show off my newly learned Nepali, and attempted to bargain the price for some nectarines. Instead of paying the price of 5 rupees being asked per fruit, I ended up confusing twenty five with five, and ended up paying over 200 rupees for five fruit! A local woman walking with us couldn't keep from laughing over the whole episode.
Thankful to finally reach Chandrakot, at around lunch time, we settled down and relaxed, as buses and local people passed along our way. Our hostess was a very sweet Nepali woman who was always shyly smiling in our direction.
After lunch, we bade farewell and continued down through the town, where Lani lost her balance and almost her camera. With two heavy packs on, it became imperative that we watch our step! We couldn't afford to get hurt so far away from proper medical facilities.
We eventually started a steep and steady descent towards the Modi Kola river and finally crossed over a suspension bridge into Birethanti.
Birethanti is perhaps the nicest-looking town we saw, with cafes and bakeries, shops, etc. It was getting late, and our original destination was to be Tirkedungha. Although we looked longingly at Birethanti, we decided to continue moving as far as we could, to reduce the next day's trekking.
We finally ended up at Ramghai before hunger and our tired bodies gave out. The town is no more than a few houses, and one guest house in particular. Like all the guest lodges we stayed in, the rooms were clean but sparse, consisting of two cots, with clay walls and shuttered windows. Every night we'd throw down our sleeping bags, put on all our clothes, and keep ourselves snug through the night.
The morning was cool and refreshing, and we sat in a side patio area, where we ate our usual breakfast of oatmeal and tea. Knowing our trek to Ghorepani would be a long one, we made haste in our packing, and once again set out upon the trail.
Before leaving, though, we did our usual preparation of filling our water bottles with boiled water, and also spent a few minutes talking with our hosts and watching them go about their chores. The youngest daughter, Supriya, was absolutely precious.
We quickly passed through the towns of Hille and Tirhedunga, and then were met by a climb that seemed to last forever. With the heat in the valley, it turned out to be one of the most treacherous days we'd experienced.
As we started the climb, a young man with sandals came rushing by, but stopped to ask us to take his picture. At first I declined, quite tired with all the requests for photos, candy, pencils, ... But, when I found out he was the postman, I started laughing, and had no choice but to take his picture! Then he was off, leaving us in the dust, as we continued to sweat our way up the hill towards Ulleri.
A most beautiful sight was two children left alone to play on top of a table, right on the edge of a ledge. They were oblivious to my camera, and continued quietly playing with each other and enjoying the beautiful day. (You may click on this picture to get a much better image! I had this one blown up).
As we continued up and up, we began to see a clear picture of one of the peaks of the Annapurnas through the "V" of the valley. It was spectacular to be seeing this fully white-clad mountain while basking in the hot winter sun.
Finally, for lunch, we reached Ulleri and sat in an enclosed area to enjoy lunch and chat with a lone Japanese trekker and his Nepalese guide. We were given names of places to stay in Ghorepani, and were told about the views of the whole mountain range that we would see from further up on Poon Hill.
The end to our day was a blessing! That night we stayed at the hotel, Lalgurash, in Ghorepani, to enjoy our New Year's Eve with travelers from all over the world. We splurged and ate apple pie, sphagetti, tea, and dhal bhaat. With full stomachs, we retired early; the next morning we'd attempt to wake at 5 a.m. to rush up Poon Hill and glimpse the full mountain range as the sun rose.
In the morning it was very difficult to pull ourselves out of bed. We were both exhausted, and it just didn't seem civil to pack our way up another hill just for a glimpse of the mountains, but in the end we pulled ourselves out of bed, and, at 6 a.m., trailed behind everyone else.
Although we'd only brought our day packs for this "quick" hike, we found the climb to be almost worse than when we carried our full packs. Although we were intent on making the top, we finally turned to look upon the view and sat down to watch the sunrise from a spot somewhat below the summit. We were also dismayed to find the clouds had already cloaked the view to a large extent. Our best view of the mountains had still been on the very first day of the trek.
On the way down the hill, we decided to stop off at another cute- looking lodge for breakfast. Inside, I went to the kitchen to chat with the women who were cooking away. I was still trying out my Nepalese, and the local folks got a kick out of my Nepalese-sounding name but totally American-sounding tongue. We all talked and laughed for a while, and then Lani and I completed our meal and headed back down to pack up.
As always, there were children everywhere. They would mill about, watch us as we went about our tasks, and, every once in a while, get into mischief.
Down we went, passing by village and person and bullock. One particular bull had a spooky look about him, and Lani and I couldn't help but try to put a little more distance between ourselves and him as quickly as possible.
Eventually we caught up with two old women, perhaps in their fifties or sixties, carrying huge baskets filled with sticks for fuel. Without shoes, they were walking down at a pace almost as fast as our own. For a while, we continued following them, before jumping ahead at a switchback.
In the beginning of our trek, we met caravans of small ponies and mules, along with flocks of sheep. As we hit Ghorepani and continued on, we started to see large caravans of horses. Continuing along a fairly erroded ledge, we passed one such herd of horses that had their saddles removed to allow them some rest.
The afternoon wore away, and we were becoming more tired by the moment. As we continued down the valley towards Tatopani, we decided to make a one day rest-over for the sake of our health. "Tato" means hot, and "pani" means water. We were looking forward to our first true bath in four days.
Arriving in Tatopani, we hit our first checkpoint along the trek. Somehow, on the previous days, we'd never come across a point where we needed our permits. The valley area was warm, and we were greated by groves of orange and apple trees! It was beautiful.
The first lodge we hit was the Trekkers' Lodge. Although it looked fancy, we couldn't stop ourselves from rolling on in and getting ourselves both a bed and evening meal. Afterwards, we walked down a steep ravine to the riverbed, where there were two hot springs. There, we waded our feet in the water, listened to an argument between a Nepali and Western trekker over marriage, and looked at the shadowed image of Nilgiri in the distance. This place just seemed unreal.
The morning came, and both Lani and I sighed with relief at the idea of not having to rush, yet, to another destination. Instead, I watched the myriad of activity around us, and sat under a veranda near a beautifully saddled pony. The bushes with the red leaves overhead are full pointsetta trees!
Next, it was time to bathe, clean up some of our clothes, and relax in the hot water! The local people would come down to do the same, and it seemed like these bathing spots were something akin to community centers! Everyone, from children to the older folks, was coming in continuous streams to go about their business next to the river.
Nilgiri was always within view from every point in the town. Although it is a slightly smaller mountain than many of the others, it was still impressive through the "V" of the hills.
This day of rest would prove to have been a lifesaver. With new resolve and energy, we again slept wonderfully, and prepared ourselves for the second half of our trek. There were four more days to go before we'd end our journey with a flight back to Pokhara.
Refreshed from our one-day layover in Tatopani, we spent the morning packing up, saying goodbye to our hosts, and moving on to our next destination of Kalopani. As always, I went inside the kitchen of the lodge to look around and talk with the family who owned the Trekkers' Lodge.
Though the packs were no lighter than on our previous days, there was something of a new bounce to our step as we moved along. We were both in an extremely good mood, and not even the packs could get in the way.
Before long we passed through the village of Dana, and then continued on behind two Tibetan women. Their hodgepodge caravan was made up of mules, a horse, a pony, and a yak. Though I wished to take their picture, they never stood still long enough for me to make an appropriate attempt.
As we slowly followed behind the two women, we also passed countless waterfalls and milling stations powered by the tears of the mountains. Another fantastic portion of the trail took us through a gorge between both Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas, where the water rushed in torrents down below.
It was also at this point that Lani and I met up with Katie McGregor and Emma. They are two women from Australia who spent 7 weeks trekking around Nepal. They had also stayed at the Trekkers' Lodge the night before, and we ended up meeting up and becoming quite good friends over our two days of traveling. We would travel together all the way to Kag Beni before separating, as they went on to Muktinath.
We now had started to pass into cooler and more alpine territory, and at this point the caravans had changed from horses to yaks! Sometimes looking extremely hostile, these strange creatures would come barreling down the path, and all we could do was to push off to the side to wait and hope there wasn't a mishap.
Since both Katie and Emma were much faster than Lani and me, we decided upon a meeting point at Ghasa, located after quite a steep climb. There, we relaxed and had lunch, and then moved on quickly towards our final destination of Kalopani.
Before reaching there, though, Lani and I stopped for a few minutes in the village of Lete, where I spent a little time trying to give some of the local children some crayons. I think they were quite at a loss to understand what these funny looking pencils were!
We met up quite late with Emma and Kate, and spent the night at the See You Guest House in Kalopani. After having gained so much altitude, Lani started feeling the effects, and, overall, neither of us received that good a sleep!
We also got our first glimpse of Dhaulagiri, the sixth largest peak in the world. Underneath its shadow did we attempt to sleep. Altitude is nothing to take too lightly!
In the morning we were off, a while after Emma and Kate, whom we agreed to meet at the Paradise Guest House in Marpha. As we started to make our way, I couldn't help but feel I could be someplace in the mountains in Colorado or Alaska. We had hit a plateau point and were walking along the bed of the Kali Gandaki river.
As we passed by Dhaulagiri and took a look back as we continued on, it seemed to almost grow in size. The further away we got, the more daunting in appearance it became.
In the village of Sokung, Lani and I stopped for lunch. The village was quite interesting, and the restaurant we found had a nice little area on top of the building itself to sit. We ordered hot chocolate and apple flambe, and just basked in the afternoon sun. We also watched a mischievous little girl on the side, as she harrassed some young kids (goats).
From Sokung, we continued to trudge along, and soon came to the village of Tukuche, where there happened to be a lodge of the same name as mine. I had to have Lani take a picture!
Finally we reached Marpha, at about 5 in the evening. There we met a large number of folks our age, including English and Australians. I took my first shower in a while (albeit cold). The Paradise Guest House is apply named! It included a satellite dish, and upstairs you could watch CNN. Very strange to find.
In the morning, we slowly awoke and prepared for our destination, Jomsom. Though we'd continue further to the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Kag Beni, Lani and I would first drop our things off at the Dancing Yak, the hotel to which we were referred by an ex-Peace Corps volunteer. Lani and I pushed on at a quick pace, and as we went I couldn't help but look around and become disconcerted as to how far we'd traveled. Because we'd reached a plateau, it didn't feel like we were very high up.
We reached Jomsom about 11 a.m., and after dropping off our packs, we pushed on with day packs towards Kag Beni. We were to rendezvous with Emma and Kate for our final meal together, before Lani and I returned to Jomsom. Along the way, the terrain became more stark and desert-like. I can't begin to describe the strange feelings I had as we walked along the barren bed of the Kali Gandaki river. Sometimes we'd see local people riding by on their horses, kicking up dust as they flew across the scene.
It was as we were trekking along this plateau that a horrible fate befell me. After completing a roll of shots, including pictures from Tatopani to this area, the camera accidentally ate the film, and I lost 36 precious shots. Thus, all the colour pictures from Days 6 to 9 are actually Lani's, not mine. It was unforunate, but gives me a good reason to return.
Kag Beni lived up to the expectations we had. It is a fantastic medieval-looking place, with parapets and little cavernous side areas in a maze-like setup!
For lunch, we joined up with Emma and Kate, and then were also joined by some other travelers who'd just flown into Jomsom. A few of them were poorly outfitted for the excursion back to Pokhara, and I felt pretty sorry for them.
Stop! This point was the furthest north we were allowed to go without a special permit. Beyond this is the ancient Tibetan region called the Mustang. It was exciting to be at this point, looking out towards the vast wasteland beyond, and something stirred in me. I hope sometime to come back and cross this border.
The wind started picking up as we prepared to leave, at around 3 p.m. Quickly, Lani and I attempted to cross back over the windy passes to Jomsom. It was sad to leave Kate and Emma behind. I was definitely feeling down, as I noted we'd pretty much ended our trek. We stopped here and there to take pictures on the way back, and watch with fear as we saw deep dark clouds approach us from behind. We strode into Jomsom a little after five, and made our way to the Dancing Yak for dinner. We'd ordered our food earlier in the day, in the hopes that we could eat and get a good night's rest.
That night, we ended up having a "quiet" dinner by candlelight. I quote "quiet," because the young gentlemen caretaker of our lodge would not stop talking, and the worst part was that his broken English was just incredibly bad. I had to do everything to stop from laughing at the cute and honest attempt he'd make at discussing his work. I ended up leaving him to Lani, as I excused myself to the restroom. Upon my return, he'd moved on to do other things, and I just ended up with a slightly stern look from Lani for slinking away.
Up early to catch our flight, Lani and I ate our breakfast and quickly rushed over to the airport, only to find it to be a bit chaotic. Although we were both cold and hungry, we thought it better to wait for the plane than risk going to find some rolls.
After going through some checks, we found ourselves waiting forever, outside in the cold, for the planes to arrive. Everyone kept looking to the right, towards Pokhara, for the sound of the plane engines. Once in a while a siren would go off from the tower, but still no planes showed up.
I was also slightly nervous of the flight because of cross-winds during takeoff. Just in October, a plane had been lost in the gorge located at the end of the runway. It would not be a great way to end a most fantastic trip.
Finally the planes arrived, one after the other. They were small props, and there just didn't seem to be any order to our boarding the planes. Eventually we were herded on, along with apples, rice, and other goods. After all the planes were filled (three in all), we took off, one plane after the other.
Right next to the mountains we flew, gaining some of the best views from up in the sky. In only twenty minutes, we covered a distance that had taken us eight days in the opposite direction. It was boggling to the mind, how quickly our journey was coming to an end. I couldn't help but look over at Lani and smile to myself, as I thought how we'd both stuck out the eight days, sometimes not in the best of conditions. Although she had some apprehension about joining me intially on this trek, I came out feeling that we could do just about anything together!
Flying into Pokhara, we were greeted with the best view of the whole mountain range. I couldn't believe it. We had traveled deep into the return, we had the clearest skies.
Although we would still spend another six days in Nepal, traveling to the Royal Chitwan National Park, and relaxing and shopping back in Kathmandu, the main purpose of our trip ended here. It was over the course of one month that Lani and I had the unique opportunity to experience a very special and personal accomplishment. Not only did we accomplish something by the sheer physical task of walking almost 60 miles over the course of 9 days, sometimes climbing to fairly high altitudes, but we tried at every point to learn more about the people around us. It was a satisfying experience, and one I have every reason to repeat.
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