|Ok, another trek to try to summarise and some more photographs of white pointy tall things. This trek didn't start quite as adventurously as the Everest one, same early start (not appreciated after a football evening the night before) but now a tedious bus journey instead of an incredible flight. When the Indian tourist sat next to me followed the usual starter of "what is your country?" with "what is the best university in England?" I guessed that I could be in for 5 hours of mind-numbing conversation so grabbed my book from my bag and tried to hide in it. He couldn't have been the intellectual his question tried to convey as he didn't know the golden rule about trying to talk to someone when they are reading. After 2 hours we pulled in for a 'tea and pee stop' and my friend bought enough bananas to feed a troup of gorrillas for a week. He insisted on trying to force some on me and then the rest of the bus. His standing with me went up massivly when he threw one of his banana skins in my face when trying to throw it out of the window.
Eventually the bus reached Dumre after about 5 hours. Normally all the busses stop here and lose about half of their passengers heading off to trek the Annapurna Circuit but I had to shout out for the bus to stop as it was about to sail past the town. Having done this trek before I knew where to catch the local bus to Besi Sahar however a friendly local walked with me to the bus and very kindly passed my money on to the conductor in the bus for me. He even let me have the honour of sitting on the roof. Ok, so this is the local scam and I was expecting it but for the sake of a few rupies I couldn't be bothered to argue back and I actually wanted to sit on the roof. The journey to Besi Sahar took much longer than I remembered or expected, mainly due to a few army checkposts on the way where all male passengers had to get off and walk through. All male passengers except tourists that is. I tried to get away with staying on the roof but when some guy waved a Sten Gun at me to come down I did so pretty quickly. Of course having played Return to Castle Wolfinstein often I knew that it would quickly jam if he tried to use it, just roll out of the way for a few seconds until it overheats.
Just before reaching Besi it started to rain lightly and the bus stopped to let everyone off the roof and inside the bus, just as well for as we rolled into town the heavens opened. I dived into the nearest restaurant and had lunch and lots of tea until the rain stopped. By now it was gone 3pm and I wanted to get to Bhulbule, a town 2 to 3 hours on for the night so I had to get a move on. The first section of the trail is on an old "uncompleted" roadbed. No-one had told the driver of the bus that passed me just before Khude that the road was incomplete and I'd just had to wade through a river too. The road now goes all the way to Khude and I could have saved two hours walking if someone had told me. Half an hour after Khude I reached Bhulbule, I'd escaped the traffic and air horns for the next two weeks or so. Unfortunately the hotel I stayed at was infested with mosquitos but I guess anywhere there probably was, lucky I packed some coils.
My aim for the first real day of trekking was to get to Jagat, I made it that far 4 years ago so guessed I could again. It was a long slog up and down a few hills under heavy skies. I stopped for lunch in Bahandanda where I was forced to rush my pot of tea as the owner "wanted to go dancing", it was a Hindi festival. I didn't laugh when it started to piss down as soon as I left, although I had to take shelter in a doorway for half an hour until it reduced to drizzle. I made it to Jagat fairly early but realised why I stayed here before, the climb just before the town was a kiler. For some reason I stayed at the same guest house that I did last time too, I've no idea why, it wasn't very good. In fact, that stop was just a little too close to nature for my liking. The rat in my room was quite cute looking but it was still a rat. The boards on the ceiling didn't fit together so the rat kept dropping things through, including the leg of a giant spider onto my neck in the middle of the night. I slept really well after that, not. After a great night's sleep and with another long walk ahead I needed a good breakfast, I didn't get one. The problem with porridge and maggots is that they are both white. I don't know how many maggots I ate before I realised this fact but I presume they have a good protein content.
I felt nausious most of that morning, probably more psychological than physical but it made the day's walk into a long eight-hour slog to Danaque with a lunch stop in Tal. Most notable thing to happen during the day was when I was highly offended to be spoken to in Hebrew by some girl in Tal. Even when I continued giving her blank stares she continued gabbling on for a while before eventualy saying "you're not from Israel are you?", I won't print my answer. Once again I stayed in the same Lodge in the same town as I had on the same day of the trek in 2001, at least this time I remembered that it was a good one and had a hot shower and good food. I had porridge for breakfast again but I checked every grain before eating it.
Day three started with a slight shock and then a bigger one. I hoped to get quite far today as the route in this part of the trek is generally quite flat and easy walking. Except for the standard "low route" was blocked off and a sign explained in Neplish that due to road building it was necessary to take the upper pony trail or words like that. I took it to mean that they were repairing land-slides on the lower route so headed up the hill, a 400m climb I hadn't counted on. The bigger shock was that when I neared the top of the ridge I found out that the road building was an actual road being built and that it was on that route. For the next 2 hours I had to scramble past people wielding pick-axes, shovels and sledgehammers, climb over piles of sand and rocks, find my own route where they had obliterated the trail and exchange Namastes with a few thousand workers. When I got close to Chame I was passed by a group of porters carrying big boxes of explosives being escorted by armed police. My lunch in Chame was accompanied by the percussion of dynamite but I was happy to be on that side of the blasting instead of the other. For the first time I managed to get ahead of my 2001-self and get to Bhratang 2 hours further than before. I was actually hoping to get to Pisang which to me is where the trek starts to get great, the lowland stuff is too hot and humid and although very green with lots of waterfalls too samey for 4 or 5 days trekking. Talking of waterfalls, there were so many in the first part of the trek that I thought I was going to have to call this review "101 Great Waterfalls" but I got bored of them and restricted myself to putting two photos up, nothing quite comes up to scratch after Iguazu. I gave up at 3pm when I wasn't sure if I could make it to Pisang before it got dark.
I shouldn't have worried, I got to Pisang within an hour and a half the next morning, finally passing the last of the road building sections. I got slightly lost at the last of the road building (or the start?), the forest had been decimated and I couldn't see any sign of a track and had to double back for a while until I could pick up the trail again. No-where appeared to be particularly open in Pisang and it was still early to stop for lunch so I carried on through town and up into the Manang Valley.
Passing through 3000m, there is a noticeable change of weather and geography once up into the Manang Valley, blue skies and mountain views but a huge reduction in tree cover and very dusty tracks. The start of the valley if long and flat and fairly wide and contains Honge airport which serves Manang and Pisang. The walk from the ridge past the airport and into Manang Town seems to go on forever and was baking hot but fortunately not humid. The first decent tree that I passed served as a good shade to have a picnic lunch under. Remembering that almost anything a trekker could need is available in Manang I made short work of most of my 'Emergency Food', the cashews and bar of chocolate disappearing first. I also had an excess of boiled eggs with me - I'd ordered boiled eggs for breakfast and had a numerical misunderstanding, I asked for "boiled eggs" and was asked if I wanted "one or two?", as the menu said "boiled eggs (2pc)", I said "2, 2 eggs!", of course I knew what was coming - a bowl full with 4 boiled eggs!
I realised too late that having started lower down and in cloud I hadn't put any sunblock on, by Manang I could feel my neck burning. Guess what, I went to the same guesthouse as my first visit, en-suite room with hot water and a glacier out of the window for 80Rp, and great food! I wasn't the only person here either for a change, I chatted with a Dutch couple, the first non-Israelis I'd seen in four days.
I was now a day up having missed out a night in Pisang and not needing to acclimatise I only stayed one night in Manang gaining another. Lots of people say that it's not a race, yeah right, why does everyone ask how many days it took you then? I could have headed to Thorung Phedi for the night but calculated that I would only reach Phedi itself and not get to High Camp, making the pass crossing that bit harder. After a long lunch chatting with a Kiwi couple in Yak Karka I couldn't be bothered to move on so took a room there and fund a deck-chair for the afternoon. Yak Karka is the first place where it really starts to get very cold as soon as the sun goes down so I had to abandon my deck-chair, eat my Dhal Bhat and get under the duvet early.
The final day before the pass in actually a bit of a stroll, I gave the Dutch and Kiwis a decent headstart of over an hour but overtook them on the final stretch and was well into my pot of tea by the time they rolled into Phedi. It was hear that I abandoned milk in my tea. I can justify costs going up as you get higher and further from the road but NRp100 for black tea versus NRp280 for milk tea must make the two spoons of milk power have a value on a par with saffron. I stayed for a couple of hours at Phedi summoning up the energy for the hard hour-long climb up to High Camp then excelled myself by doing it in 35 minutes with no stops - the power of good acclimatisation I suppose.