Wandering through forests of giant rhododendron, the snowy peaks of the Himalayan giants dominating the skyline, these trails would be our home for 8 days on our hike to Annapurna Base Camp (A.B.C.). If you love hiking and mountains, Nepal is the place to be! Not just beautiful; safe, guesthouses and camp sites everywhere and cheap! If you don’t want to carry your big backpack yourself you can easily arrange a good porter to carry it for you. Nepal (Pokara) is totally safe and totally amazing, so come to Nepal!
It took us 18 hours to get from the train station in Gorakhpur (India) to our hotel in Pokhara. We stayed next to Phewa lake, in Hotel Diplomat, a small hotel run by a very friendly family. We arrived on a day that every one in Nepal is free to celebrate the festival Dashain, so also the family of our hotel were doing there ceremonies that day. They still helped us with organising a porter (a very good one, who spoke good English) and organising our permits, as we wanted to start trekking the next day. In the meantime we walked a bit through the city centre and did some administration and other things on our laptops at our balcony with some big pots of Masala tea to help us.
Day 1 Nayapul to Tikhedunga
In the morning we tried, in vain, to get ready in time in Pokhara. Due to some last minute changes, we needed to repack gear, which took more time than imagined. Our porter arrived at the hotel, a 21yr old Nepali called Biroz. Quietly spoken, he shouldered our pack with a smile and we headed out the door.
Deciding to save some money and take the local bus, we crammed ourselves in and waited a very long time for the bus to wind its way across town. Being thrifty has its own price. We grabbed the next bus to Nayapul, the starting point for our 8 day trek, from the local busstation. We had to ride on the roof, as there was no space inside, which is exactly what we had been hoping for, as the views are second to none.
Once arrived, we wasted no time in setting off, wandering through the town and quickly out into the fields and forests. After a couple of hours, we left the road behind and started up a steep, path, fit only for donkeys and people. Excellent! Due to the Earthquake and the Fuel Crisis, the number of trekkers was much smaller than in the past. Not many people on the trail and no one else staying in the same guest house as us, actually hardly any people in the village we stopped in, Tikhedunga.
Our first evening was lovely and tranquil, a quiet meal followed by an early evening, sleep finding us easily.
Day 2 Tikhedunga to Ghorepani
Breakfast before sunrise, stunning views over the rice fields as we started to wind our way ever upwards.
For two hours we hiked up rock stairs. The scenery and the sun gave us a smile on our face and made the climb go smoothly.
After a while we caught some glimpses of Annapurna in the distance as we hiked upwards, a taste of what would take us a further 5 days of trekking to reach.
After a few hours in the forest, past mossy logs, we stopped for some lunch. Egg vegetable fried noodles, a filling midday meal, needed after hours of stairs. About an hour or so after lunch we arrived in Ghorepani, just as the clouds and fog rolled in.
This would happen everyday, amazing views until about 1pm, like clockwork. The afternoon was happily spent indoors, another early night, as the following day we planned to hike 500m higher, to see the sunrise from Poon Hill….
Day 3 Ghorepani to Tadapani
5am. Dark, cold and cloudy. Why are we hiking again? It wasn’t easy to stay motivated, especially as we couldn’t see anything of the mountains, until we suddenly arrived at the top of Poon Hill, the viewing area. We had no idea so many people were staying in Ghorepani (a pretty small village), there were a couple hundred people milling around, waiting for sunrise like us.
The clouds swirled and shifted as the sun rose, providing some of the most dramatic scenes from our whole trek. Sunlight hit the clouds clinging to the mountains, erupting in a kaleidoscopic array of colours. WORTH IT!
Back down for breakfast and then on the road again. It was a day of going up and down the mountains, through forest and small paths along the mountain.
When it was time for an early lunch, we ordered some samosa’s and Tamar bought a headband to protect her from the cold days to come at ABC. We ended the hiking day early in a little village called Tadapani.
The restaurant was a raised building, with a fire and 270° view of the mountains. Or it would have, if the famous lunchtime fog hadn’t rolled in. Ah well, a big pot of masala tea and our books provided a welcome rest… We also bought some gloves from a local woman and had some nice chats with the other hikers staying at our lodge.
Day 4 Tadapani to Bamboo
Thankfully, the morning sky was perfectly clear, giving us crystal clear views. Our favourite time of day in the Himalayas is as the first rays of sunlight turns the snow golden.
Breakfast was served for our stomachs, whilst our eyes dined on these views. Stomachs and souls sated, we set off down into the cool rhododendron forest. Winding our way over huge fallen logs, around gnarled roots. Emerging from the forest, we continued alongside terraced potato fields and through small villages, children playing and people working.
Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. To get an idea, here are the altitudes we covered in one day: 2630m down to 1830m, up to 2050m, down to 1950m, up to 2340m and down to 2190m. We arrived at the village of Bamboo, under overcast skies in the late afternoon. Settling into the dinning room with yet another large pot of masala tea (our daily indulgence) and some dinner, with the knowledge that our steepest day of trekking awaited us.
Day 5 Bamboo to M.B.C
Powered by freshly made Nepali bread and potent garlic soup, we started our day of 1500m ascent. Perhaps due to the garlic power, we made very good time. Perhaps due to the snickers bar and masala tea for morning tea as well ;-).
After a lovely walk, not as many stairs as feared, we arrived at M.B.C at 1pm. The view was gorgeous, for about 20min, until the clouds rolled in (like clockwork). Our large lunch placed us firmly in our seats and we enjoyed an afternoon of cards and yes, you guessed it: masala tea. We made some new friends, four American friends travelling together for 6 months: Wade, Travis, Kyle and Pat. They are actually planning on visiting Central Asia, so we had much to talk about. As occurs on certain sections of the trail, we would bump into them each day and share a tea and stories. Nice comradeship on the trail. We also played cards (Janiv of course) with Ola (a Russian girl) and Biroz (our porter) and a Nepali trekker. Because it was holiday and a holy time, many Nepali people were trekking themselves. Of course these are the people from the middle class, who can afford to buy the right gear and pay for the meals and accommodation in the mountains. David wandered outside just on sunset, the clouds teasing and swirling, not revealing all they had to offer.
Just as we went to bed, the sky cleared and we were offered our first view of the Himalayas under starlight…
Day 6 M.B.C. to A.B.C. to Sinuwa
Beep, beep, beep. 4am. Damn, that is early! After a restless night’s sleep (a little bit of high altitude sickness, headache, dizzy), we didn’t feel too much like hiking 1.5hrs in sub zero temps. But, we’d come all this way, so hike we did. The moonlight was strong enough to see by, as walked the path beside the partially frozen stream, upwards to A.B.C. Thin air didn’t make it any easier, as we started the 1.5hr hike at 3700m and ended at 4135m. Sleeping in our apartment in Rotterdam 5m below sea level did not prepare us for that! Arriving with a small crowd as the dawn light illuminated the amazing panorama. Sweeping views across the valleys, glaciers and snowfields…
After dawn (and the numerous photographs), David decided to setup his slackline, which he had been carrying with him the whole trek. A 4135m high slackline, in subzero temps, with boots on, wasn’t easy but totally worth.
Back down the path, delicious hot breakfast and down the valley again, 2000m of altitude as we went.
Breathing sure became easier as we came down. But then rain. Much rain. Then, after 30min of trudging through the rain, it became hail. Hmmmmm. We changed our plans and stopped a little earlier than planned, resting our bones at a lovely teahouse in lower Sinuwa for the night.
Day 7 Sinuwa to Jhinu
Heavy rain. A pause over breakfast was hopefully regarded, but turned out too good to be true. So, we decided on a shorter hiking day.
A couple of hours later (and just two towns) we arrived at Jhinu. Jhinu is special. Jhinu is special because it has HOT SPRINGS! A quick lunch and David wandered down in the rain while Tamar stayed at the guesthouse with a book and some hot tea. A 30min walk through the rainy rainforest later, David arrived at the springs. Much more beautiful than he had imagined. Only one family and they left after a few minutes, leaving him alone for several hours of quiet contemplation. Only the pure music of the rushing river and rain drops to accompany his thoughts. As you might imagine, Tamar was very excited to experience it, after hearing David’s description, so a couple hours later we headed back down again, staying as it got dark.
A delightful experience and a lovely finish to the day. Now to navigate the path back up, with one headlight to guide us…
Day 8 Jhinu to Shiwa
Last day of trekking. Mixed feelings. We left at 06:30, stopping an hour down the way, for breakfast. We wandered at a medium pace, but heard from a passing hiker (who we had met previously), that only one bus was leaving today (due to the fuel crisis) at 11am. So, we picked up the pace, Biroz took us on some shortcuts. It was truly amazing. Walking the edge of rice fields, beside waterfalls, all totally off the tourist path.
As we saw some fruit trees, we naturally climbed up to eat some of that fruit!
Grabbing some from the ground, David didn’t see the stinging bush until too late. Ouch! In the meantime also some leeches managed to get into Tamar’s trousers….
At 10.15 am posed for a photo and then heard and saw our bus in the distance.
45min too early! Argh, fast walking, we arrived just in time, were the last people on and back to Pokhara we went! Riding on the roof of the bus is an exciting and very uncomfortable experience. Worthwhile!
Back in Pokara we ordered a big pot of Masala tea and sat on our balcony again for some contact with the outside world and deciding what to do the next days. With only 5 days left until we had to fly out of Kolkata (India) we decided to spend the following days just relaxing in the lovely weather in Pokara before travelling there, instead of rushing of the Kathmandu and then head to Kolkata. This was the right decision (relaxing is always the right decision). We enjoyed two more days while strolling through the city and eating local food (Dal Bhat) and had a lovely boat ride on the lake.
Back to India
On Monday morning we took an early bus towards the border of India (same city as where we entered). The 8 hour bus ride went smoothly and we caught a taxi mini bus from the bus station to the border, sitting on, of course, the rooftop. Easy getting into India with two Chinese girls we met under way. We decided to share a taxi together to Gorakhpur. Due to the fuel crises/ closed border it was a mess with trucks at the border. It took us more than 2 hours to get out of the border town, lucky for us we had a luxurious taxi this time.
We went straight to the train station at Gorakphur, but unlucky for us, there were no trains going to Kolkata in the evening, so we had to stay a night in gross chaotic Gorakhpur. Almost all hotels were already full, but in the end we found one. It was terrible, but we did manage a few hours sleep. A memorable quote from one of the staff “One room, one towel. This is normal”.
The next morning we went early to the train station to buy some tickets. Unfortunately there were no reserved tickets available anymore for any of the trains to Kolkata. So, we bought an unreserved ticked, which means you just sit where there is space (if there is space). When the train came we thought we would try our luck first in the most expensive class, but the conductor there was unwilling to help us. He did not want to think with us and he told us to get off the train, even though the train was already slowly moving. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t take his advice and went to our usual class, second class sleeper. It was quite empty over there with at every station getting people on and off. We enjoyed our last train ride in India, looking out of the window and chatting with local people. And in the evening a friendly conductor found us an available bed in first class AC compartment, so we also had a very nice sleep.
We arrived in Kolkata early in the morning. After some breakfast and putting our luggage into storage, we took a metro to explore the city. We really liked the vibrant city, clean (for Indian standards) and nice atmosphere. We visited a memorial and went to the cinema. This time an English movie, “the Martian’. Good film, not as good as the book though.
We had a nice goodbye India dinner in the evening, took the metro back to the train station and grabbed a taxi to the airport. Looking back on our adventures in India and our beautiful hike in Nepal, we were already looking forward to meeting our friends in Bangkok.