Tourists photographed Mt Machhapuchhre from the Annapurna Base Camp as the last rays of sun hit the summit in a recent evening.
I went to the base camps of two of the best-known mountains– the Annapurna South and the Machhapuchhre (also known as Mt Fish Tail)– for the first time last week (11-17 March). Here’s what I saw and felt.
A Himalayan bowl: At the Annapurna Base Camp (4,130m, ABC) I felt like I was in a huge bowl. There were snowy mountains on all sides- their heights ranging from 8091 m (Annapurna-I) to 5,663 (Tharpu Chuli aka Tent Peak). They didn’t look very far. The 360-degree view of the Himals was spectacular. Mornings and late afternoons offered some of the best and dramatic views of mountains. Around noon was super hot– so much so that I encountered a bare-chested foreign trekker as I was heading up to ABC from MBC (Machhapuchhre Base Camp). It looked as if he and a bare-armed woman in shorts who was walking behind him weren’t worried about being sunburned.
Around mid-day was the time to take nap and rest as the unforgiving sun made it almost impossible to walk around and watch the mountains. Moreover, I wasn’t feeling particularly well. I had a mild headache and caught cold. Fortunately signs of altitude sickness disappeared after a couple of hours of rest. I experienced the difficulties despite spending 22 hours at MBC (3700 m).
First Rays Of the New Rising Sun on the Mighty Annapurna:
Sun caste its first rays of the day over the summit of 8091 m Annapurna I.
Moon rose from the east as sun cast its last rays of the day over the summit of Mt Machhapuchhre
Weather conditions determine view in the Himalayas.Weather was fine when I was at ABC. Same was the case in Langtang when I was there in 2003. But lack of rhododendron flowers in the ABC trail was a big disappointment.
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(Oct 22 note: Photos related to this post will be posted later this week.)
Ten minutes to the walk, I felt a pinch on my knee. Left side of the left knee.
It was 6:40 am. I was heading downhill to Kankri. I was told that the village was about 30 minutes of walk away. There was one brief moment of confusion when I couldn’t find the path that disappeared into the excess soil from the road work. I made a couple of jumps and found the path.
I felt another pinch on the same spot of left knee. I thought about yesterday’s walk. I could feel pain on calf. And on both legs. Thighs were hurting too. But this particular pinch, piercing, was different. Walking more is the way of cure for a calf or thigh pain. Muscles get used to with the process in a matter of hours. I wasn’t worried about that. But this pain had a needling effect.
And it started to grow as I continued to walk. Soon I was limping. It took me an hour and a half to cover the trail that others had said I would do in 30 minutes. I think I could have walked that distance in 45 minutes if my knee hadn’t let me down. Now I was dragging myself with great difficulty on the route stopping mainly to give the knee some rest and to take photos of two dense neighborhoods of Kankri village.
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From Nishel Dhor to Kakri via Taka Shera
(Click on the photo to enlarge.)
Waking up in Nishel Dhor: When I sleep early, like 8:30 or 9 pm, I wake up before the alarm clock comes to life. This was one of those mornings because that was one of such evenings (when I slept early and, more importantly, fell asleep early). But I remained in bed till 6:15 am, thinking about the day ahead and about those things that are not significant. I enjoy such moments- the self-imposed pressure to wake up and start the journey. To move ahead. And the desire to remain in bed, to get some more sleep. To go (back) into dream as the sun appears on the horizon.
Hunger strikes: I woke up and I paid. The lady was already awake. She was cleaning dishes with warm water. She made a cup of tea for me upon my request. I also asked for a packet of noodle and stuffed that into the side pocket of the backpack. Later in the morning, as I became hungry and thirsty and somewhat afraid of the uneasily quieter and lonely journey that witnessed me crossing one mountain after another in a thick jungle crowded by not a single human but all sorts of noise that, when combined- and that came as combined- produced one big, weird and somewhat frightening sound, I realized the importance of that substandard noodle that some profit-oriented company made especially for such rural areas where price, even by a rupee, matters a lot and the quality comes a distant third. The second, if you are interested to know, is the access to the noodle itself. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
I woke up at 8 in the morning. Unusual in normal times. Unusual when I am traveling. When I am not traveling and staying home I wake up very late. Like around 9:30. When I am traveling I generally wake up very early, like 5:30 or 6 because of the pressure involved. It’s better to walk early in the morning before sun comes up to suck up your energy.
First day’s walk had been longer than it should have actually been. That had made me more tired.
So I woke up at 8 am even though the alarm bell on my cell phone had dutifully alerted me at 6:30 am. After having a cup of tea and a Tibetan bread I was ready to explore the valley. It was my plan to explore the Dhorpatan valley in the morning before resuming the walk for a few hours to reach a place called Nishel Dhor (or Nishi Dhor). As per the suggestion of the sahuji of the hutel, I took the shortcut to reach the other side of the valley. That meant avoiding the proper trail which has a bridge to cross the river and saving myself from walking about an hour just to reach the other side where offices of the hunting reserve and a Tibetan refugee settlement are located. Both are close to the airstrip under maintenance. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
'Pinging' in Pingdanda of Baglung
(Oct 14 Note: Pics will be posted later when I reach Kathmandu. I am still on the move. Libang, Rolpa is the current location.)
A long and tiresome journey. Walked for about 10 hours to reach a place that is a small valley surrounded by jungle on all sides. The forest is where hunters come to aim at wild animals. Dhorpatan is Nepal’s only hunting reserve. You are permitted to kill animals of your choice (there are some conditions to abide by and royalty to pay). Western hunters land in helicopters to venture into the jungle. A river flows through the middle of the valley. Houses are scattered on the laps of the hills. Eastern and western parts of the valley- opposing ends of the river- have comparatively ‘densely populated’ neighborhoods. The space in the middle of the valley is empty and open. Apparently the river occupies most of that land in rainy season. In other times, however, this serves as a grazing field for horses and donkeys. River water is cold. This whole area is covered by snow- as much as two feet in the valley- in winter. Snowing will start in a couple of weeks, I am told. A small and rarely used airstrip- apparently under construction- is on the northern bank of the river (north-eastern side of the valley). The river flows from east to west. I am not sure about the altitude of this place at this point. (Added later: 2850 m to 3000 m in the valley.) The valley itself may not be that high (Poon Hill, for example, is at 3200 m.)
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Sunrise on Poon Hill, with a view of 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri. Pic: Ethan-Todras Whitehill for NYT
The New York Times and Time magazine are working closely, so to speak, to cover Nepal in the past couple of weeks. First came Jim Yardley, former Beijing bureau chief of the Times now posted in New Delhi, with an analysis titled “China Intensifies Tug of War With India on Nepal.” That was in mid-February. Two weeks later Jyoti Thottam, Time‘s woman in New Delhi, saw, from Delhi, Nepal “Caught Between China and India.” [Prithvi Narayan Shah, the king who unified Nepal some 250 years ago, had realized that long time back when he said, “नेपाल दुई ढुङ्गाबीचको तरुल हो । [Nepal is a yam between two boulders.]”
Both stories are worth reading but they are not something that we can cheer about. This week NYT and Time came out with two travel reports that are certainly helpful to promote Nepali travel and tourism industry. The Times publishes an excellent travelogue from Annapurna Circuit while Time highlights Kathmandu Valley as a weekend destination. I was particularly interested in the Times story, by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, because I have done parts of the Circuit- Ghandruk Ghorepani (which counts as separate route that passes via Poon Hill) and Nar Phu trek (that touches many parts of the Circuit including Dharapani and crosses via Kang-la Pass that is only a few meters shorter than Thorang-la). The main photo- brilliant- published alongside the story- people enjoying the view of Dhaulagiri range and the sunrise- reminded me of my own moment at Poon Hill three years ago. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
Final day (6 of 6) of the Hemalbu trek:
Om, Nama Shivaya! Are words needed to describe this photo?
24 October: We knew it was our last day of trekking. We were going back to home. We arrived in Patibhyangyang in a jiffy and from there, after eating curd and Chokofun, we started climbing up to Chisapani. Met three kids on the trail, interacted with them. It was an easy walk. Chisapani was just there, above us, waiting for us. We ate dal bhat. I liked the food but Suraj didn’t. The jungle, beautiful jungle, of Shivapuri national park started and the walking in the jungle trail was fun. I couldn’t see many birds this time as it was already afternoon when we reached the jungle. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
The faces and expressions of the trailside Nepali kids. Part II [Here is part I]
22 October: Yes, he wanted to hide his face from my camera! Actually, he was teasing me and was also challenging me to take the shot of his face. “He couldn’t, he couldn’t,” he chanted when he thought I couldn’t take the photo of his face. But then… पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
The faces and expressions of the trailside Nepali kids. Part I [Here is part II]
22 October: We met a group of kids somewhere near Chisapani who were having fun by flying kite from a small hilltop. We decided to spend a few minutes observing them, talking to them and teasing them. We got a warm response! Here are different expressions and faces from the wonderful group. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्
23 October: A girl shyly smiles as I take her photo. She was going back to Kathmandu with her relative uncle along with other friends. We met them on our way to Chisapani. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्