October 14, 2000

Nepalupdate I


I have completed my trek round the Annapurna Circuit, and have picked up some new souvenirs en route; an impressive collection of blisters and a pair of seriously aching knees.

While fantastic fun it turned out to be much harder work than I expected (perhaps the fact that I was walking up and down the highest mountains in the world should have been a hint.) The first day in particular was a wake-up call; first I nearly got run off a ridge by a runaway mule train, then I ended the day with a steep heartbreaker climb up a ridge which resulted in blisters on both heels. Fortunately they only bother me when going uphill, which I did for the next nine days.

It is amazing how much the altitude changes things. Started off amid rice paddies and palm trees, then climbed up through cornfields and apple orchards, then to rocky scrubland and desert, up up up and more up.

It's easy to see how Buddhism took root here; when you've climbed 200m up and then look around and realize it was only a ridge, and you now have to give back every metre you just traded blood, tears, toil, sweat, skin and muscle for, you naturally accept the first precept of Buddhism: "Hey," you think, "that Gautumha fellow was on to something. Life is suffering."

It's a fascinating place - days away from roads, all supplies carried by mule or porter (the rule seems to be; the older and more wrinkled you are, the more you carry, preferably 3x your own weight. I carried my own pack but caught myself regretting it a time or two.) Every few hours there's a tiny village, although they're not so remote as all that; trekkers are the mainstay of the local economy, and lodges dot the (stunning) landscape.

Finally you head up towards the much-discussed Thorung La, a 5400m/18000ft pass between the Manang Valley and the Tibetan Plateau. Spent a night at Thorung High Camp, 4800m, promptly christened "Death Camp" by one of the Americans I was travelling this; I think we got up here just a little too fast, and spend the day and night reeling from the lack of oxygen to our improperly-acclimatized brains. The next day, across a frost-encrusted lunar landscape to the Thorung La, which was
pretty easy; and then down more than one mile, and oh, my aching quadriceps.

I've had enough of these ups and downs; I'm going to move to a bungalow in the Great Plains and never even wear shoes with thick soles.

Actually that's not true - I'm considering going on the Langtang trek. Either that or do some white-water river rafting, after a few days chilling in Kathmandu of course.

Nepal is much less hassle than India and much easier to travel in. I took a 24-hour train-bus-foot-bus-foot trip to Pokhara and had an amusing encounter with the first backpackers I met:

They: "Did you just come from India?"
We : "Yes."
They: "Oh, we're so sorry. Don't worry, it's not like that here - you can trust some of the people..."

Also the food & beer are both of a reasonable standard.

That's enough verbiage for now; further bulletins as events warrant...