High in the Himalayas

The 100,000 step program

Claudia, my ever intrepid travel partner, once again convinced me that it would be a fine idea to go traipsing around in the far corners of the world. Thus I found myself hunting around in vain for a decent deal on a plane ticket from Tokyo to Kathmandu, a place that's apparently "not on the way to anywhere." I spent one night in Bangkok (cue the music) and arrived bright eyed and fresh legged in Kathmandu to begin our Nepali adventures.

I arrived in Kathmandu and met Claudia at our fine accommodations. This is actually the view from the hotel, not the hotel itself, but the latter wasn't much more to speak of.

In our one day prior to heading for the hills, we happened upon this fancy tree. It seems that turning massive old trees into temples is standard practice around these parts.

After a harrowing seven hour bus ride to Pokhara we relaxed in a cafe and watched the yaks stroll idly down the street.

The following morning, we set out. Claudia was looking mighty chipper after the first fifty meters.

I, on the other hand, was perplexed by the whole affair.

The early parts of the trail were quite well maintained.

We made our first friend on the trail, but he was a bit gruff.

We were soon privy to fantastic views of terraced slopes.

The bridges were definitely of the rickety variety, but rarely spanning chasms of alarming depth.

An eventful first day included my first encounter with the business end of a leech (an unphotogenic bloody mess) and a bit of confusion about an unexpected fork in the trail. Fortunately I didn't bleed to death, nor get lost in the hills, and we eventually arrived at the "Excellent View Guest House".

From which, the view was indeed excellent. All this for a whopping $0.75 a night.

By the second day, we were well into butterfly territory.

At low altitudes, Nepal is in fact a tropical climate.

During the monsoon season, anything in the vicinity of the river is washed away, so some bridges are understandably a bit lower tech.

As you can see, essential supplies are made readily available by local entrepreneurs. Yak cheese is actually pretty tasty. I'd say in the neighborhood of a Parmesan but not quite as hard.

I frequently tried to capture the steepness of the trails on film, but it's really the legs more than the eyes that communicate that most clearly.

From time to time the trail would appear to end in a wall of stones, one is then required to climb up a vertical set of steps sticking out of the wall to make their way over. Some sort of yak containment scheme I speculate.

Claudia has lost her chipper demeanor after about 800 meters of ascent on the second day.

The end of the second day finds us at the "Excellent View Top Lodge", not to be confused with the "Excellent View Guest House". On our trail there were also two villages named Naya Pul, which made asking for directions a bit tricky when in between the two.

Fortunately, the view here was equally excellent.

After ascending 1000 meters for our excellent view, we started the next day by descending 450 meters just so we could climb right back up again on the other side of the valley.

More fine bridge work.

We would frequently round a bend after a couple of hours of strenuous hiking and be fooled into thinking that our next destination was "just around the corner." However, making it up and down and in and out of all the nooks and crannies in the hillside inevitably ended up taking another 45 minutes to an hour. This was especially encouraging later when it started hailing.

Winged creatures remained in abundance.

And there were some mighty shiny leaves.

These are called avalanche chutes and are not the sort of thing you want to witness coming into being. Along with acute mountain sickness, they are the primary cause of death among foolhardy trekkers.

After walking a half hour through this crazy hail, I waited under an awning for Claudia, who was another half an hour behind me on the trail. At least she had the rain jackets in her back pack — both of them.

The next day, we happened upon a gang of kids and handed out a few bobs. He was quickly befriended.

By now the mountains were truly looming.

One can't help but compare the size of that huge boulder with the buildings near by.

While taking a breather in Deurali, Claudia practiced her Zen photography.

Now above 3200 meters, we were out of the tropical lowlands and it was getting chilly.

I happened to spy some high-altitude Sakura. I thought fondly back to Japan and the lovely hot water that poured from the shower in my apartment there.

Our fifth day ended (once again in the hail) at Machhapuchhare Base Camp, where I came down with acute mountain sickness. Fortunately, it was not a very severe case (which tends to involve coughing up blood then going into a coma and dying). After a night of nausea and a splitting headache, I was raring to get back on the trails.

We set out for Annapurna Base Camp at 4:30am so that we could catch the spectacular sunrise. The clouds were a bit uncooperative, but I was damned if I was going to have hiked up to 4100 meters to let a few clouds get in the way of my picture taking.

Things cleared up as the morning wore on and we were presented with a spectacular panorama.

Thanks to the rapid advance in digital camera technology, you can bear witness to my wobbly video recording of said panorama.

We didn't stay overnight at the ABC lodge, but instead started our descent after having a tasty breakfast and playing around a bit in the snow.

These hardy little flowers were poking up through the snow all over.

With the sun in our eyes, we picked our way down the trail from ABC to MBC, a much easier task in the bright daylight than it was in the pitch black at 4:30 in the morning.

The terrain up here is pretty rugged.

Maybe it was the comforting ease of descent, but the scenery seemed more pleasant on the way down.

The heavy hail of the night before was rapidly melting and spilling nicely down the rocks.

We made it back through the avalanche risk area without anything falling on our wee little heads.

Here's a distinction you don't frequently see in English speaking countries. Though the right one should really be labeled, "Small bucket of hot water room".

The heavy water runoff provided us with some adventurous crossings.

The next morning we caught our final glimpse of Machhapuchhare, the mountain that won, with flying colors, the award for Most Frequently Misspelled Name.

Once again back in butterfly country, we happened upon this tragic scene.

Beware the ominous mounds of overhanging dirt.

Cabbage was about the only green vegetable that found its way onto the menus around these parts.

Once again we have the distinct pleasure of descending 500 meters and climbing right back up again. That cluster of buildings at the upper left contains the "Excellent View Top Lodge" where we spent our second night. A little past there we'll stop retracing our steps and split off onto a new trail.

At these middle altitudes, the rhododendrons were big and blooming.

At the bottom of that lovely valley, we happened upon a couple of kids walking a yak.

Over the bridge they took him...

...and up the other side. They seemed in good spirits, hitting one another with their sticks at least as often as they hit the yak.

This elderly yak gave us a stern look as we passed by about a third of the way up the hill.

At least they were kind enough to build a staircase all the way up the hill, all 2000 steps of it. I don't envy the people that carried those huge rocks up this hillside.

Later in the day, we spotted a group of terrifying Nepali rabbits. Fortunately they were caged for our protection.

This day ended at a place called Dovan where there are hot springs trapped by big sheets of plastic into pools. One cannot overstate the pleasure experienced upon sinking into piping hot water after having trekked up and halfway back down a mountain.

Before heading out the next morning, I vainly attempted to get a good photo of these peculiar butterflies that were flapping their wings just like birds.

Another nicely dressed member of the Lepidoptera order.

Given that the primary form of mobility around here is legs, I was surprised to see these funny round things lying on the side of the trail.

Claudia pointed out that they were probably used for grinding in this nearby water driven mill.

We found some juicy wild strawberries, but I wasn't brave (or hungry) enough to eat them.

I don't know what goes up (or down) this pipe, but it looked fancy, so I took a picture of it.

Things were finally starting to flatten out a little on our final day. That is if you define changes in elevation of only a few hundred meters to be flat.

We passed a guy carrying a four story box of chickens down the path. His friends were carrying loads that looked much less excitingly like small refrigerators.

We came upon this utilitarian but still impressive feat of civil engineering.

While descending into Shauli Bazaar, I was overtaken by a passing donkey.

Little did I know, he was just scouting ahead for his three fancily dressed brethren.

Who were, in turn, leading the way for a whole pack of packing pack animals.

This whole final day had been spent walking along the Modi Khola (Shining River). The last stretch of trail went right along side it in the sand.

We stopped for tea at Birethani, not but half an hour's walk from the land of roads and automobiles.

In Naya Pul (the other Naya Pul), we crossed a final bridge and climbed up the hill to catch a taxi back into town. Sweet, sweet, modern transportation.

This time it was my turn to be happy and Claudia's turn to wear a strange face.

We decided to splurge during the few days we had in Pokhara and bust the upgrade from the $5 a night hotel to the $20 a night hotel. These luxury accommodations were situated on a big lake that ran the length of town.

As I peered out the window of our comfy lodge, I witnessed something that made me think twice about Claudia's earlier claim that they were water buffalo, not yaks.

Dusk on the lake was lovely.

The next day we strolled about town and did a little shopping.

Many of the locals were lounging about by the side of the road.

Feeling the need to do a little more walking, we wandered out to the edge of town and happened upon a colorful group of people dredging some strange weeds out of the lake.

This guy had a boat full of the stuff and was later stuffing it into some sort of floating storage net. The whole affair remains a mystery.

That night I got food poisoning and, after having the unique experience of vomiting in the streets of Nepal, spent the next 24 hours lying in pain on the couch.

While I was lying around feeling sorry for myself, Pokhara had its biggest hail storm in recorded history.

The next morning, our tropical gardens needed a little weeding.

We flew back to Kathmandu later that day. Back into the mayhem of narrow streets and crazy drivers.

On my last morning we had breakfast on the rooftop cafe of a six story building. Kathmandu looks a lot like this for miles around.

And thus our adventure came to a close. I bid farewell to the land of the setting yak and returned to the land of the rising sun. Namaste.

©2004 Michael Bayne