Annapurna Circuit 3 – from Muktinath to Kathmandu

Wednesday 18 October

Today was the start of the festival of Dashain when everything closes, and the Hindi people go home to their families to celebrate. The Muktinath bus station was crowded, the short-wheel busses requiring a pre-booking. We had our seats so just sat there and watched the pantomime.

Luggage was placed on the roof from several trekking groups, then local people tied blue buckets of produce which clattered all the way to Tatopani. Sacks of crops next and then the arguments started about who had tickets and who hadn’t. People on and off like a game. The small bus must’ve had one hundred passengers. I lost count. It would have been a maximum of 40 in the UK. The bus warmed up for ten minutes with blue acrid fumes pervading the clean mountain air, everyone coughing. The first test of brakes was unnerving, like road grit had gotten into them as they screeched and slid at every turn.

The driver should have gotten a Formula One medal. He knew the route of course but he also had to know every pothole, some of which would’ve gobbled the bus. There were hundreds of zigzags, some requiring a reverse and try again. There’d been landslides a few days earlier and only some of the rocks had been cleared. Every now and again there was a cut in the road like the triangle in a block of cheese spread in from the steep edge. No police signs or tape, totally dependent on the driver’s local knowledge. The road was wide enough for two vehicles but the manoeuvering for the best path made the whole event more like a helter-skelter.

After a while we relaxed and trusted the driver. The views of villages and daily life about 20cm from the wheels down the valleys, the tilling of fields and late gathering of crops by hand was a performance. Beyond, the hills and mountains were a shadowed display and of course the river ran beside us. Six hours to Tatopani with one stop. They should charge for that drive as they do for roller-coasters.

Tatopani is a delightful town. We’d good lodgings in a hotel with hot showers and fresh towels. Such luxury. The garden had bamboo and lime trees in abundance. We’d enough time for a quick walkabout before a lovely supper, local fish and chips for me, the first non-vegetarian meal in eleven days. Who’d have thought it.

Thursday 19 October

We were back walking today. The first hour or so was on the broken main road. It could’ve been unpleasant but as only four-wheel cars and short-wheel busses are allowed up there, there was little traffic. It was also interesting to see the devastation of the road, caused by water and landslides. It’s a never-ending maintenance challenge.

It was a long slow trek to Shika and then back up to 1,935m through beautiful vegetation and forests. Jane said my photo of her was the best photo of the trek!

At one rest stop we were chatting about politics. I was encouraged to re-enact a rant I gave in Speaker’s Corner in London around 1998 on the Council Tax. A Conservative had been giving all the positives as I passed. As it happened, I’d been at a meeting that morning presenting a software specification for Council Tax and was well informed. I argued with him, an amusing exchange that gathered a crowd.

He eventually lost patience with me. “Get up here yourself, if you know so much,” he shouted. So I did and got great support from the crowd. And thus was it, in a Nepalese village in the middle of nowhere, that the trekking group asked me to re-enact what I said. I jumped up on a stone slab and went for it, starting with “Comrades. . . ” I hope  the villagers were amused.

We passed through a village where the Nepali Ghurkas train. We saw several houses built by Ghurkas who had been with the British Army. They stood out, beautifully built with the double daggers over the front door.

Friday 20 October

Simon said he felt a tremor at 7:40 that morning. He was correct, there had been a mild earthquake near Kathmandu, but nobody was hurt.

On the trek we chatted about the first books we’d read. Mine was “National Velvet” when I was around six. Soon after I read “Lost Horizons” by James Hilton. It’s amazing what you can remember when confronted by the physicality. That book was about an Englishman and a local woman escaping from Shangri-La. Thorung La felt like it might have been the same pass.

We were in beautiful country now and we stopped to watch the locals harvesting rice, millet and soya. We also saw  men building a funeral pyre by the river, though we were gone when the fire started. I saw one of a woman in Kathmandu on a previous visit. We were asked to stay as the ceremony had started and it would embarrass the family if we walked away. It was very uncomfortable.

We arrived in Ghorepani, back up to 2,860m, just as the rains came in.

Saturday 21 October

We were up at 3am for a one-hour trek to Poon Hill so we could see the high mountains at dawn. It was very cold. We asked Nigel if he was joining us. “I can see the mountains from my window,” he retorted. He missed a treat. It was a beautiful panorama of all the mountains from the west side of the Annapurna Circuit, a joy to behold as the sun rose. We descended for breakfast, energised and excited like school-kids on a day trip.

A very steep descent today to Hile for a coffee break. We saw a troop of monkeys in a wood below the path and later a funeral byre being built by the river. We also saw fields of millet, soya and rice and the locals harvesting into baskets on their backs. Theirs is a very tough life.

We had lunch in Birethanti. The porters would be dropped off when we reached Pokhara so this was our last opportunity to thank and tip them. We’d had a lot of fun with them even though we struggled with language.

We had a good hotel in Pokhara, hot showers and fresh towels, spoilt after our journey. Our evening meal was fine. We had a few beers enjoying the evening show of Nepalese singing and dancing.

It would be fair to say that the musicians were not happy. They probably put on the same performance every evening through the season. The dancers were sweet and smiley and more engaged. At the end of the evening, a lovely young dancer invited me to dance with her on the stage. How could I refuse? I assumed the Morris dancers from our group would join us, but this was probably a bit fast for them, and the steps were less random than they are used to. I was on my own and acquitted myself well. Then it went on and on, for probably twenty minutes. I should have insisted on a fee.

Sunday 22 October

After a good breakfast we broke up and made our own way around town. There was a festive air around the temples and the island on the lake, everyone happy and smiling. This is the biggest lake in Nepal and there’s a long walk around it. None of us opted for that.

I decided to get a haircut and beard trim. I found a place and the barber was delightful. With a lot of hand waving and smiles we agreed the process. It was a decent haircut. However, something went wrong in translation about the beard. He shaved off the right side in seconds and all I could do was watch the rest of it disappear.

There were limited shops and restaurants open because of Dashain but we had a good lunch and supper with DR.

 

 

Monday 23 October

The airport in Pokhara was a surprise, very modern architecture, friendly, and no bustle. We got a flight to Kathmandu which was a treat as we saw yet again the fabulous mountains of the Annapurna range in glorious sunshine.

We stayed in the Yak and Yeti, a luxurious hotel that evening. We also met DR’s wife, Sajinarai, and daughter, Elina. They joined us for supper, and we had good fun.

Tuesday 24 October

We packed our bags and left them in the hotel, then headed out to do our own thing. I went to the Garden of Dreams, a most beautiful place near the hotel. I’d been there on my last visit to Nepal so looked forward to visiting it again. I spent a few hours writing this journal and taking tea. And why not. It was a chance to reflect on a stunning three weeks which was faultlessly organised, led by a very calm leader, DR, with Mani’s quiet attention to detail. I’ve been on a lot of treks over the years in several continents so to say this was the best is the highest compliment I can give it. 10 out of 10.

After lunch we headed to the airport and said goodbye to DR, Mani and Elina. But it wasn’t a definite goodbye, more “until we see you again.” Namaste covers that as well.

And yes, we do have plans to return for another trek with DR.

You can visit DR’s web site here

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