Nepal - Around Manaslu

 

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Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

Bali
Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Mon Oct 30, 2000 - Kathmandu

We woke up at 6am for a last workout in the fitness center. We enjoyed another great breakfast spread at The Imperial before checking out and going to the airport where the madness began.

Every passenger must have their luggage x-rayed and the airport authorities had one machine open for the entire terminal. In the true Asian style, there really was no semblance of a line except with the foreigners. Louisa maneuvered in that line while Tom secured a position in what looked like an equally efficient system at Royal Nepal Airlines. Finally Louisa managed to join Tom, thus jumping ahead of a bunch of people, and after another eternity, we got checked in. We did get lucky here - the bulkhead was available, and we were quite comfortable during the flight.

We read and journaled a bit in the airport, waiting for the plane to even arrive. Finally, about when we were supposed to leave, the plane landed, and over an hour later, we were aboard. Timeliness is not a strength here.

In Kathmandu, the process was slightly more efficient, with several lines open to get visas. Tom waited in line while Louisa found application forms and filled them out. We paid our $30 each and were allowed in the country. We then waited a few more minutes for our bags - why they took so long, when the airport is tiny, we have no idea..

Outside, we saw the Camp 5 sign right away, and seemingly dozens of people took our bags and steered us towards a car. We met our expedition leader, Hari, and the local manager, Sunil. After transferring passports and plane tickets to Sunil, we were bundled into a car. Before we could leave, though, the door was opened by one of the men who had wheeled one of our bags about 50 feet. He demanded a tip, and asked for $10. We gave him one, and brushed him off when he asked for more.

The ride to the Shankar Hotel rivaled anything in India but on narrower roads, and the pollution was even worse. We drove in to a huge and impressive looking hotel, but immediately upon entering the lobby noticed its dilapidated state, and checked in. The design of the hotel was strange - it seemed that they had added a few floors between the existing ones, and not bothered to redecorate. We were led to a "suite" with a sitting room and two beds pushed together - not the worst room we've seen, but certainly not the best.

We were hungry - it was about 3pm - so we went down to the hotel restaurant for some lunch. The dining room was decorated out of the thirties. We were the only ones there and they opened up the kitchen for us. The spring rolls were surprisingly delicious, while the Chinese and Indian food was fair, but filling.

We met the group on the front lawn for a briefing with the sirdar, Hari. He covered a few details, but mostly the group chatted. We discovered that there were six of us on the trek - 5 men and Louisa. The rapport started out quite well, as we ranged in age from 22 to 37. After a few minutes, we all decided to head into town together.

We needed to change some money, and Camp 5 seems to have a relationship with a certain carpet shop owner who also does other things. We all changed some money, for example, and then hung out drinking sweet black tea and chatting. He ordered some momos, which are basically Chinese steamed dumplings, and we all chowed down for a little while.

We then went next door to a reasonably fast internet place, and found that our server was still down, so we didn't have much to do there. We walked through town a bit, then headed back towards the hotel. We gathered together our laundry and sorted our gear, then went to bed early, exhausted from our early start.

 

Tue Oct 31, 2000 - Gearing up

We woke up fairly early and had a fair breakfast in the thirties-decor dining room. Les told us about an internet cafe near the hotel's driveway where we went to try to send the emails off of the Psion. Unfortunately, Tom could not get the connection to work and we returned to the hotel late to meet the rest of the group for our morning of sight-seeing.

Hari bundled us into two cars and we first stopped at Pashupatenath temple. The seven of us piled into two tiny cars for the hectic drive out of town. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple but we were fascinated with the activities around the temple. The river is considered sacred and has become the location where families cremate the dead. When we walked up to the bridge three fires were going along the shore. We were fascinated.

Above us were a line of temples to Shiva with a few token sadus (holy men). They wear loin cloths and face paint of bright colors. Many of them have incredibly long dreadlocks. They are used to tourists and make their money by posing for pictures.

As we walked around more families arrived carrying the dead. We watched with morbid fascination as they prepared the bodies.

After awhile we walked over the hill to another temple that was used by rulers as a hideout between warring factions. On the way back we watched monkeys play, some hanging on an electrical wire.

Stalls along the streets and around the temples sold bright colored dyes, wood cut blocks and string necklaces.

Next stop was the most revered Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, Boudha. A huge white stupa is hidden from the street, but fills the space behind a row of shops. The eyes of the Buddha seem to watch you wherever you stand. Buddhists spun the prayer wheels along the outside wall. A temple housed a large idol and two smaller temples had huge prayer wheels. Here we took our first group photo.

Hari took us to Mike's Breakfast for lunch. They served a variety of Tex Mex, Chinese and American food to us in their patio.

After lunch we split for last minute errands. We got money from the bank and tried a few more internet cafes with no luck to send emails. The group was supposed to congregate at New Dragon Carpet shop at 2:00pm. Thai Airlines lost Grant's bag with all of his gear with no hope of it arriving before we left. He tried to deal with that and its implications then we went to Shona's to rent gear (sleeping bag, down jacket). The seemed to have anything and everything that you might need.

The gear looked great, including a huge duffle bag in which Tom could fit. We packed up and met Les and Bill on the front lawn for a beer.

The four of us had a delicious dinner at New Orleans Cafe in Thamel. Hari joined us after awhile but the kids (John and Grant) never showed.

After dinner we purchased Louisa a skirt for the trail, traded some books for a map of Manaslu then went to internet again.

John saw us in the street and we walked back to the hotel. We re-packed and went to bed around 11:30. Louisa could hardly sleep due to her excitement.

 

Wed Nov 1, 2000 - Gorkha

Hari called us at 6am just to make sure that we were up and would be on time. We took our last shower, packed, got a safe deposit box and checked out. The rest of the group was ahead of us and eating breakfast in the dining room.

Amazingly we left the hotel on time at 7:30am. The crowd of of sherpas cooks and porters crammed onto the bus. Every seat was taken, and a few stood, making 26 people in all.

The drive through the Nepal countryside reminded us of Peru with terraced fields up the mountainsides. The curvy road followed every bend in the river. The trucks were just like in India, large Tatas with decorations and "horn please" painted on the back.

We stopped at two roadside 'restaurants' which were no more than wooden canopies with a stove. The first stop was a tea break, the second was for lunch. Camp 5 provided us bag lunches while the crew ate from the kitchen. After walking through the kitchen we were glad to be eating packed lunches. The town itself was dirty and we learned that it was mostly truck stops and brothels.

The bus drove into Gorhka's [pic -r 4681 main square] on time at 12:30. The crew unloaded the bus amazingly fast, but it took awhile for them to divvy up the bags into even loads. The amount of gear and food was incredible. The average porter stood about 5ft 6inches with a very slight build, perhaps 120lbs. The average load we calculated to be 80-100 pounds. As they took off on the trail we exclaimed at their massive loads, then we started the trek and realized the intensity of their job.

The next forty-five minutes we walked up, and up, and up. Stone stairs built into the hillside by the locals made the climb a bit easier, but it felt like a hard stairmaster session.

The Kalika Mandir temple/palace perched on the crest of the hill. It is revered as one of the holiest places in Nepal. The prince who conquered all of the land of modern day Nepal lived here during his conquest before moving the capital to Kathmandu after success in the mid eighteenth century. From here we got our first fantastic view of mighty Manaslu.

We camped just below the palace, in sight of three other groups. None of us were happy at having them with us the entire trek but Hari discovered that only one was going our way.

[pic -r 4697 We] pulled into camp about a quarter to three and relaxed for the late afternoon. Manaslu rose out of the valley in the distance. The massive size of the mountain was amazing and daunting to us. At sunset the sun glinted off of the snow turning the white snow yellow, then red. Incredible!

The kitchen staff cooked a good meal served in the dinner tent. The conversation of the group continued with no breaks and with many laughs which was great.

Local boys came by, played the drum and danced. They entertained us for awhile but gave no indication of leaving. Tom and the rest of the group contributed some small change which only seemed to encourage the boys to continue.

As we headed for the tent the path from Gorkha filled with lanterns. Hari told us this was another group coming to sing and dance. We brushed our teeth in camp as they set up and read to the sounds of both groups playing drums and singing.

Even though it was only 8:30 and the air was filled with Nepali music, we fell asleep.

 

Thu Nov 2, 2000 - First day of hiking

Some commotion woke us briefly at 2am - a grasshopper had landed on a sherpa's face and he woke shouting at it. We had no idea what was happening, only that there was much excited chattering in Nepali, and laughter. Louisa read a bit before we went back to sleep.

We woke again at 6am, and soon afterwards they brought us tea and warm washing water in our tent. We changed and packed up, and then emerged for breakfast.

The breakfast tent was already collapsed, so we ate and watched the sunlight crystallize on Manaslu in the distance. The eggs and muesli were good, but the view was incredible.

We waited around for a while as the porters packed their huge loads and staggered off. Finally Hari indicated that we too should start, and we hit the trail just before 8am.

The trail wound downhill mostly, along the ridge, and we chatted and cruised easily as the sun rose higher. We rested occasionally, eating green oranges and being gawked at by children. After an hour or so we started climbing up the next ridge, and recovered most of the altitude we had lost. The sun got pretty hot, and we started sweating pretty well at this point.

Soon one of the porters directed us through a rice field to a flat meadow where the cook was starting lunch. Although it was only 10:30am, we were pretty hungry. We relaxed on a tarp for a little while, drinking warm orange drink, waiting for the cook. Lunch was great, homemade potato chips, veggies, and spam sandwiches. We ate our fill and packed up again to hit the trail around 12:30.

The trail went up and down, but was not too difficult. We passed through quite a few small villages, and exchanged lots of "namaste" greetings. At the top of one hill we went by a school, and dozens of schoolchildren mobbed us. The polite ones would simply say "namaste" or ask "what is your name," but all too many would beseech us for a pen, pencil, or chocolate. John was mobbed by kids hanging on his backpack, and dropped his water bottle cover, which promptly disappeared.

We finally left the mob behind, after having learned "namaaga" (don't beg) and "paaga" (scram!). Soon we dropped down a bit lower, and found ourselves in a flat campsite perched on the side of a hill. It was only 2pm, and we weren't too tired, but we were glad of a short, relatively easy day to start out. We had thought we would have to share with a French group we had been playing leapfrog with all day, but fortunately they went on to a campsite further down.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and chatting. A boy was selling beer, so after a brief negotiation, we shared some bottles and enjoyed the afternoon sun. Clouds covered the Himalayas, but we still had great views of the paddy-covered hillsides. Tea was served in the dinner tent around 4, as the sun went behind the hill, and we started to cool off. Les organized a picture of the porters wearing their new hats, which provided some afternoon entertainment.

A man with a violin-like instrument played and a woman sang accompaniment to entertain us during dinner, so we tipped them a little to make them go away. Dinner was the usual excellent food, noodles with egg and veggies. We all sat around in the dinner tent chatting and relaxing in the dark.

Each time one of us would get up to go out of the tent, we would be surprised by 30 or more people sitting patiently in the dark, waiting to put on a show for us. Hari did some negotiating for us - they said they had never performed for less than 500 rupees. We declined, having had enough dancing and singing the previous evening. They moved on down the hill to the French trekkers' campsite and we heard them playing late into the evening.

Tom played guitar in the dining tent for a little while, then we retired relatively early, reading in the tent until around 9:30. Les played guitar for some kids outside, and we heard him teaching them "Green Onions" as we fell asleep.

 

Fri Nov 3, 2000 - Downhill

We were woken at the usual 6am with tea and then later warm washing water. We sipped our tea and packed up our gear, then washed our faces in the small basins under the tent fly.

The dining tent was already collapsed, so we ate our breakfast at the small table in the open. We had delicious muesli, omelets, and more tea, and left camp before 8.

The trail went down, down, down, first so wide it could have been a road except for the steps, then later a narrow winding trail steadily losing altitude.

Down in the valley, we crossed a few streams and then reached the level of the Maudi Khola river. The trail wound back and forth across the small river, avoiding the steep slopes. A few places we had to scramble a bit, and find our own way across to stay dry, although there were some bridges. Terraces walked up the steep slopes on both sides. Like clockwork, we reached the lunch spot at 10:30, and immediately looked at the inviting river to wash off some of the sweat.

The boys wore their shorts to wash but Louisa pulled her skirt to shoulder level, like a muu-muu. The cool river felt wonderful, as did having clean skin.

Tom had a headache which was helped by a short nap before lunch. The kitchen crew served another carbohydrate-filled delicious lunch next to the river. The meal consisted of potatoes in a tomato sauce, baked beans and heavy dough balls.

Louisa felt a sore throat and cold beginning, so she was trying to drink a lot. Soon it was time to pack up, and head down river more. We finally left the river, and went through a good-size town called Arughat. Hari and Ghandi (the G-man, our Liason Officer) had to stop at the police station and show our trekking permits. We sat in the street and endured the stares of the kids, exchanging occasional "namaste" greetings and chiding the kids asking for pens.

After a normal-length bureaucratic delay, we headed further through the town, and within 10 minutes dropped off the road into a soccer-field size flat area, where the porters were unloading. Dozens of kids congregated to watch us unpack and try to relax a bit. Louisa retired to the tent as soon as it was set up, to try to nap away her burgeoning cold, while Tom sat outside and tried to read, continually interrupted by kids trying to touch his shirt and asking "what is your name" about 5000 times. John tried to play guitar for a while, but got so mobbed he had to stop. Les and Grant headed into town to buy some beer and a bandanna.

Tea was served at 4:00. We supplied some chocolate covered cookies that were devoured. After awhile we retired to the tent and read a little until dinner.

Tonight the kitchen crew cooked a particularly good dinner including surprisingly tender buffalo with gravy. This novelty was served with daal on rice and spinach and potatoes.

We chatted after dinner until Louisa gave in to her cold. Tom played guitar while the rest of the group hung around the porters' fire.

Tom turned in around 9 while the others learned Nepali songs and tried to sing "House of the Rising Sun."

We learned in the morning that Hari had paid the villagers NOT to come sing and dance for us, which we appreciated greatly.

 

Sat Nov 4, 2000 - Starting up the gorge

The 6:15 tea wake-up call had started to feel normal. Today the morning started off right with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, and pancakes with honey and peanut butter. Tom tried Bill's mocha concoction which was surprisingly good.

We were on the trail before 8:00 again. Mist filled the morning air; it was not possible to see the tops of the hills. The big river was shrouded in mist making it quite picturesque. The mist kept us cool while we hiked along the good trail. It also helped that the trail was mostly level following a river upstream and up valley, with rice paddies on either side.

The sun peeked out later in the morning heating things up. We wandered through a variety of small villages with lots of kids. Some said namaste with their hands held together, especially the toddlers. The older ones (starting around six) added 'give me pen' while the teenagers by-pass the greeting and just go for the pens. The consistency of the begging astounded and saddened us.

Louisa was not feeling great, like a cold was beginning. We swapped bags so she could drink more water. After a couple of short breaks we pulled into lunch by a good creek around 10:30. We were beginning to learn the schedule.

The lunch spot was in the middle of the trail which made it quite busy and uncomfortable compared to the last few days. We scouted the creek next to the lunch.

A small waterfall fell into a pool which was perfect. Today, however, a few Nepali women were on the far shore as an audience. They tried to pantomime to us that there was better swimming up river, but once they understood that we wanted to shower they agreed that we were in the best spot.

They were funny, making a few exclamations, especially when Les pulled his shorts forward into the stream of the waterfall - not that they could see, but the action made them laugh.

We felt clean and great and returned to the trail lunch spot to hang out. After another filling lunch we headed out again. We trekked through a nice canyon with pretty steep walls. Lots of small and high waterfalls fell hundreds of feet into the river, and we crossed several streams.

The trail led us up and up after lunch. We were kinda tired and were glad that the trail was pretty good. At one point it turned fairly woodsy and steep, and we saw a small village perched on the side of the cliff. We made our way through it, thinking we had at least a half our left. We were surprised when we saw the porters setting up camp just on the other side.

Louisa was very tired, with her cold getting to her, and Tom was sweating a lot in the hot afternoon sun, so we were pretty happy to stop at 2pm just before Liding.

We set and rested for a while, then had an early tea. Louisa took a nap while Tom went down to the waterfall to do laundry. John had told us about a small pool below the bridge, so Tom, Les, and Bill went to wash themselves and some clothing.

Tom hung the clothesline and the clothes, but they didn't really have much time to dry. We had to bring them into the tent so nobody would steal them, so we moved the clothesline inside, but they still didn't get very dry.

A nearby family was husking rice manually, using a heavy wooden post to pound the rice. Tom tried his hand at it, and it wasn't as easy as it looked. Kids were playing all around the campsite.

We read a little bit before dinner, then had a feast of good pasta with eggs and tomatoes, spinach, and cauliflower. Yam the chef topped it off with an awesome dessert of fried apple rings.

Everyone went to bed after dinner - no guitar, no beer, no cards. Louisa went right to sleep, but Tom read a bit, falling asleep at 9 or so.

 

Sun Nov 5, 2000 - Continuing up the gorge

We were up at usual at 6 with tea and washing water. We packed and emerged for a great breakfast of fried bread, eggs, and homemade corn flakes with hot milk. The routine is falling in to place, and we were on the trail at 7:40.

The trail was up and up some more. The sun took a little while to get over the hill, but once it did, the canyon heated up pretty quickly, and we took a few breaks. As we rose, the canyon narrowed, and the trail clung to the cliff side. We went up a lot of steep steps, and tried not to look down.

We crossed the occasional rock fall and stream, and went through some small villages. At one point we were shadowed by a posse of children incessantly screaming "give me pen" as we climbed towards a school. We were gratified to see that the teacher had some good discipline - as soon as he rang the bell and appeared, they all scampered for the classrooms - but these kids were incredibly persistent in asking for pens.

We descended down to the riverside scree for lunch, taking the "winter" trail down next to the river, instead of the summer trail up along the cliff (the river floods in summer). Tom braved the high waterfall shower, which pounded into his back like bullets, before washing off in the calmer water. Louisa settled for washing a bit more tamely.

The afternoon hike was pretty hot, and mostly deserted. We climbed up and over a cliff, then down to the river again, past a mossy waterfall, then up once more before finally climbing down to the camp site in a town. We were right near the river and a suspension bridge leading to the Ganesh Himal.

We relaxed and journaled in a packed dirt yard next to a hut, closely scrutinized wonderingly by locals. Soon the porters arrived, and set up the tents. Louisa relaxed in the tent - her cold is better, but she is not 100% yet - while Tom played the guitar. Small children kept touching the guitar and his clothing as he played, but the locals mostly stared. Finally he had enough, and went to hang the clothesline to try to dry the clothes again.

Tea was served, as usual, and after scarfing some cookies, we retired to the tent. Kids kept peeking in on us, until G-man finally yelled at them to leave. We hung out and read a bit, then got up again for dinner.

We had great momos (steamed dumplings), as well as rice, green beans, and potatoes with capsicums. We devoured the momos and called for more, they were that good. After eating our fill, we had a dessert of oranges and hot cocoa.

We finished at a record early time of 6:30pm, and everyone was kind of tired, so we relaxed and chatted until bedtime. Louisa stayed up for a few hours to finish her book, while Tom fell asleep immediately.

 

Mon Nov 6, 2000 - Higher and steeper

We slept well, with the sound of the rushing river in our ears making earplugs unnecessary. We were awakened to the morning chorus of the porters hawking and spitting - lovely. They brought us tea and wash water, however, which made us feel much better. Louisa's cold was moving down into her chest, so she was really lagging, but she's a trooper, and didn't complain at all.

Breakfast was rice pudding and eggs, then we completed our morning ritual of using the toilet tent, putting on sunscreen, and packing up the day packs. The trail meandered up and down along the river side, often descending to the gravel banks. We could clearly see why this is the "winter" trail - the water marks show that the river is much higher in the monsoon season. In one village we were happy to see children collaborating their schoolwork.

Bill spotted some motion across the river, and binoculars showed that there was a family of mongooses (mongeese? our dictionary has neither) running along the bank. They looked so sleek, with their long necks and narrow heads. A bit later on Grant and John saw a family of monkeys climbing along the cliff, and we paused to chuckle at their antics.

After a couple hours and a few breaks we came to the town of Tatopanni - literally "hot water." They have a small hot spring, that they have run through a tap. We stopped to wash hair in the warm water - just about the perfect shower temperature. We left a small donation and moved on.

Soon afterwards the cliffs hemmed us in, and the trail crossed the river to follow the shoulder on the other side. We walked past several huge waterfalls cascading down the cliffs, crossed log bridges, and climbed up and down to get past the steep banks. In one stream bed, we passed a man and his son cutting rock slabs with a pickaxe.

We stopped briefly for a Snickers bar because we were a bit late for lunch - we rolled in to the lunch spot in Dobhan around 11:30. Les rolled in even later, since he had found a natural patch of maryjane, and stopped to pick some.

We watched a local woman weave a blanket as we sipped our warm lemonade. Lunch was the usual good food, with cold fish of some sort, and hard rolls with cinnamon. We ate quickly, then tried to nap a bit before setting out again. Even though we covered 5 miles before lunch, Hari kept us moving. After barely an hour we were back on the trail

We continued along the river as it picked up momentum. The rapids entertained us as they roared along. Les and Tom thought it would be fun to white-water kayak, until later in the afternoon when some gigantic boulders made spots impassable.

The steep tree-covered cliffs were gorgeous. The group stopped for awhile in a valley to admire the beauty. It was incredible.

The trail climbed steeply to a 'village' that consisted of one house that allowed camping on its animal pasture. The porters had stopped hoping that Hari would give the word that this was the camp site. We spoke up though and pointed to two large grassy expanses, decorated with poinsettia trees, next to the river.

We descended to a side river with the porters ahead. They walked through the river which was knee deep with their huge 100+ pound loads. Lama looked and looked at the river but could not find a safe and dry crossing so he took us back to cross on the bridge. The suspension bridge happened to be the most rickety, dilapidated and frightening one of the year. If we had understood the options, our feet would have gotten wet!

The campsite was nestled in a valley with the roaring river and four steep cliffs surrounding it. We relaxed to enjoy the view.

One member of our party who wishes to remain nameless pranced into camp with a wreath of maryjane stuck into his bandana. The devoted followers, Hari and John, were hooting and shouting and waving branches as the three entered camp.

Tom decided to bathe in the frigid river, and do some laundry. Louisa opted out since the water was freezing, the sun was behind clouds and the wind was strong. Getting that cold probably would not help her get well. Of course, as soon as we hung the clothes the wind died, but we left them on the line all night, a little worried about passing strangers, but they were fine.

Rolling into camp after 3:30 changed the pace of the day, especially since gray clouds filled the sky and wind shrilled through the field. By tea-time the skies were darkening. Although it threatened, it never rained on us.

Louisa sewed some velcro patches on the camelbak so we could mount the solar battery charger. Shortly after tea it became dark, so we read a bit by flashlight, but soon it was time for dinner.

As usual dinner was a hearty meal. They served another variety of garlic soup before mashed potatoes with tomato gravy, cabbage stir-fry with spinach and potatoes topped off with a light chocolate pudding. Ghandi said his good-byes as he was leaving in the morning to return home.

After dinner we researched the trek with the map. Temba helped decipher the town names and our destinations. Meanwhile some of the guys were playing hearts and started to teach the staff how to play. Everyone crawled in to bed pretty early, but Tom read for a while - his book is almost over, and getting good.

 

Tue Nov 7, 2000 - Ekle Bhatti

The eerie howl of jackals woke the entire camp at 2:00 in the morning. Their screams filled the air. Their calls came from close to camp, perhaps in camp. We debated whether they were jackals, monkeys or freaky people. After awhile Tom fell back to sleep while Louisa used the flashlight to read.

Louisa continued to toss and turn the rest of the night not feeling well. The strong winds rattled the tent throughout the night. At 4:30 she got up and was amazed at the stars in the sky. The moon had set darkening the valley while 10,000 stars glittered in the sky. She woke Tom to see it - a beautiful valley and an enchanting moment.

At 6am she got up and undid our laundry line before breakfast tea arrived at the tent.

The morning was the coldest yet. We all huddled in the breakfast tent eating hard boiled eggs and pancakes. By the time the camp was packed we were ready to go just to warm up.

We crossed the river to Jagat which marks the actual start of the Manaslu conservation area. The town appeared to be an anomaly from all previous places that we had walked through yet. A smooth, new walkway, lined with red poinsettia trees led into town. A sign proudly proclaimed that the slate walk was 30% paid for by the town, and was completed in the year 2055 - Hindu calendar.

The newly constructed slate walks ran through each village for the rest of day. Tom and Louisa chatted while walking with zombies. (The others except Bill had their headphones on and were listening to tunes to pass the time.)

The kitchen staff cooked lunch at a great spot just past the village of Gatte Khola. Les and Tom were impressed by the town's irrigation channels and water-powered corn grinders, including the automated way to feed the corn kernels into the grinder.

Tom bathed in the cold, but not frigid, stream. The hot sunny afternoon warmed him up while we basked in it. The lunch stop stretched to a leisurely almost two hour break and yet we were still reluctant to leave our spot at 12:30.

Shortly into the afternoon trek we came upon a bridge that surprised us by still standing. The support tower on one bank was completely mangled and the suspension wires were curled and twisted. The entir.e bridge tilted significantly down river and many of the boards were missing. Rickety is only one adjective that could be used to describe the decrepit construction. However, we had watched the porters cross it.

Against intuition and common sense we started across the broken boards. While our hearts pounded, each of us made it safely across. That was insane.

On the far bank a steep climb faced us. We powered up with Lama keeping the pace slow. At the top another stone boardwalk started for the town of Philum and shortly a Manaslu visitors center with manicured gardens sat on the right. The staff were in the courtyard posting their displays and we stopped to read them.

The pictures and posters told about the Manaslu conservation area and were fairly good, especially for Nepal (or any third world country).

We supposedly had an hour until camp. The trail stayed relatively level and led us along the top of a steep gorge. We finally left the river below us. Sun shone out of the sky making it a very pleasant walk.

We entered a two house town and found the staff waiting. They had learned that the French group whom we had not seen for five days were in the campsite that we had planned on using. So, that meant that we had to use a variety of small fields next to the houses for the tents. The dining tent barely fit between a house and their barn shed. Strange, but it worked. We sat along the stone wall while they figured out how to make the space work.

Tom unveiled his secret project to oohs and aahs. He had written a program on the Psion that displayed our altitude profile for the trip. A dark line indicated where we had been so far, and with some research using maps and guide books added a light line that estimated the entire trek. Cool!

After tea time the boys started a serious game of hearts in the dining tent. Louisa journaled and enjoyed the entertainment of the boys playing. Les maintained his unbroken winning streak, shooting the moon yet again (an indication of the quality of his opponents) and finishing with his third straight negative score.

The card game petered out after a while, and we relaxed during dusk. The locals brought out some rakshi, mixed into some weak and sweet coffee, which we all tried. It tasted like fermented molasses, and we didn't finish our cup.

Dinner was served just after dark, the usual feast. Leek soup started us off, then our plates were filled with angel hair pasta, potatoes, green beans, and cauliflower. We filled up, then pestered Hari to tell us a story. He was bashful, and we really could not get him to talk at all.

After dinner, we stood around between the tents (which were pitched practically on top of each other) and told dirty jokes until we ran out. Something at lunch had us all farting, and the chorus of blatts carried throughout the night.

We read a bit of Nepalese history in the Lonely Planet guide we borrowed from Bill, then turned out the light at about 8:30pm.

 

Wed Nov 8, 2000 - Suspension bridges over river gorges

We woke at 4am and both had to pee, so we got out of the tent and went to the "toilet" tent. Tom, like an idiot, didn't put on his sandals, and cut open the front of his big toe pretty badly on a rock. Back in the tent, we washed and bandaged it, and although it throbbed a little, he didn't have any trouble going back to sleep.

We were awakened by the usual routine, and took a bit of time getting organized, so we were almost the last ones out of the tents. The morning was cool and breezy, and we were glad of the hot oatmeal and eggs for breakfast.

Hari told us that this would be an easy day, mostly level, so we set out briskly, chatting away. We climbed up and down, eventually descending to the river and crossing a narrow gorge on a fixed bridge. We climbed high on the other side to get over some cliffs, then down and across again. This bridge was a narrow suspension bridge, and swayed alarmingly from side to side. We had to climb high again, and were starting to doubt Hari's assessment of the day, which was confirmed when we descended yet again to cross the river, on a still narrower and scarier bridge.

We were pretty tired and ready for lunch at 10:30, when Hari told us we had 1 hour left to go before lunch. Easy day indeed! Les, John, and Grant all put on their headphones for the climb and trudge to lunch, while the rest of us just powered through.

We pulled into lunch in Deng at 11:30, starving and grumpy. Bill was not feeling well all day, and Les also did not have any appetite. We sat in the shade of a rude hut and drank warm orange drink while waiting for lunch to be served.

A drunk man who lived in a nearby house was selling cokes. We would have bought some, but he was abusing his young children, yelling and hitting them when they cried. He also threw rocks at his animals, and generally made us feel very uncomfortable. We left the inbred crazies and hit the trail - not too soon for us.

The afternoon hike began with another descent to the river. After crossing on yet another suspension bridge the trail ascended a rather large hill. The rest of the group was ahead of us and followed a longer but less steep path that circled its way to the top. Lama motioned to us to go up a steeper trail. It was a crazy climb up including a "shortcut" consisting of a ladder constructed out of a couple of logs with notch cut into them and not secured to each other or the rocks.

The trail continued at an incline for awhile then thankfully leveled off before a final walk down to cross a small waterfall complete with a corn grinder. Then we entered a windy camp at Bihi. It was located high on the side of hill above the river gorge.

Today there were many fewer people and houses along the trail which made us all feel as if we had made more progress.

One family that looked and dressed more Tibetan maintained the immaculate campsite. The views from the field were magnificent. The granite cliffs soared above us and drove home why we had walked so far.

As the guys made camp the rest of us lounged on the sleeping pads and studied the map. Les and Bill were still not feeling well at all. The moment that the tents were set up they dove in for naps.

We chatted with Grant and John during tea then pulled out the guitar. While we sat in the dining tent a couple of different staring squads of locals stood in the doorway. It was strange to have them stare and stand quietly, but if we spoke to them they would laugh and smile.

The kitchen cooked another hearty dinner of a pasta, sauce, grated mozzarella, spinach and squash. Les and Bill were sickened by the aroma of the food and ate some soup.

We shared stories after dinner before retiring early. Tom started Demille's "Lions Game" and stayed up until 9pm while Louisa slept trying to finish off her cold that was getting much better.

 

Thu Nov 9, 2000 - To Namrung

We woke before morning tea and started to pack. Tom washed his big toe that he split open and Louisa did the same for her infected hangnail - sometimes the small things cause the greatest annoyances. We got out of the tent earlier than usual and laughed that the kitchen crew were slow today. They served cornflakes with hot milk, hard-boiled eggs and pancakes with peanut butter and honey. Bill and Les felt better which was great, but ate a cautious breakfast.

Before leaving camp the guys tried to play stick ball off of the cliff with Hari's walking stick and rocks - amusing to say the least.

We hit the trail before eight at a good pace. Duba kept us going while we chatted with Grant for awhile about Trinity and shared childhood stories. We arrived in Ghat just before ten and were happy since that is where Hari told us lunch would be. Duba kept on walking, and walking.

Our pace slackened slightly as the morning wore on. We got very hungry and cranky so we ate some toffees for instant blood sugar.

The trail passed through a stone gate with colorful painted Buddhas and other gods inside. We tried to determine who was who.

John caught up at a suspension bridge and a few minutes later he accidentally dropped his water bottle. It started to roll down a boulder and headed for the drop-off. Duba saved it at the edge however.

A mongoose ran along the cliff on the other side of the river. Funny how that is the largest wildlife that we have seen on this trip. Hari says he has never seen the elusive snow leopard, so the mongoose might be about it. We did however see a few more monkeys later in the morning.

The trail led us to a new wooden bridge that crossed the river at an amazing point. The water tumbled down a rock waterfall then ran through a natural bridge formed by two large boulders. The boys amused themselves by throwing in sticks in the water on one side of the bridge and watching them get pummeled on the down river side. Duba caught on and played too.

Louisa was feeling lightheaded from hunger but lunch was waiting in the fields at the top of a small hill. The sign called the one-house town Suksam but it was not on either map.

The kitchen staff cooked thin fried bread sticks, grilled potatoes that we ate with lots of ketchup, baked beans and a Nepalese green veggie that is quite good since they serve it with plenty of butter. We lounged in the field which turned out to be quite hot in the sun even though we had been quite chilled on the trail as it passed through the woods.

Throughout the day we passed several prayer rock piles that form walls. Each of the rocks is engraved with either religious writing or intricate Buddhas. To be granted good fortune, one must always pass the walls on the left. Duba also started to teach us the Buddhist chant which we repeated as we passed each of the mani walls.

We expected a huge hill climb and descent before reaching camp based on both maps. We did climb up and up but at the top rather than giving up all of the ascent, as indicated on the maps, the crew directed us to a great campsite. All right with us! The trail must have changed and we were quite happy about it!

We rested a few minutes while the porters set up the tents. We got the "honeymoon suite" on a level slightly higher than the others. We changed in to warmer clothing, as the afternoon was getting chilly, and set out to explore the town a bit.

Namrung is a largish "town" with about 35 inhabitants, of which about 10 are originally Tibetan. We walked through the town, then tried to take a shortcut back through some fields. The townsfolk laughed at us climbing over fences and stumbling through corn stubble, but we finally found our way back to the main path.

We heard a drumming coming from one house, and a man outside invited us in. The upstairs was one room and filled with smoke from the cooking fire in the middle. We peered in and saw three ancient monks chanting Buddhist songs from a thick unbound book, beating a drum and occasionally punctuating it with cymbals. We went in and sat on a rug and listened for a while, fascinated.

Eventually, the man came in and introduced his wife and father, who were also in the room. Later we were surprised to find that his two children were also there, as they woke up crying for their mom. At one point the mom handed the younger one, sans pants, to Louisa to hold while she attended to the older one.

We drank some Tibetan tea, which we found unusual and not very much to our liking, as it was made with lots of butter and salt. Fortunately the butter was not rancid, as it often is! We also ate some Tibetan treats, barley mash and quartered apples. Tom ate his, but Louisa and Les pocketed theirs for later feeding to the horses.

We took our leave and headed back to camp for a late tea and cookies. We chatted for a while, then retired to our tent to relax before dinner.

Dinner was fried rice with white sauce and green veggies. Afterwards, Les chased Duba, Lama, and the cooks around trying to force more food on them, like they do to us every meal - quite funny!

After dinner we got a game of rummy 500 going, in which Les crushed both Tom and Louisa. We read a little in our tent, but were asleep by 8:30.

 

Fri Nov 10, 2000 - Real altitude

Tom was up several times during the night, probably due to the Diamox he took before bed. Unfortunately, our penthouse tent was surrounded by stinging nettles, so his feet suffered a bit each time he went out.

The morning routine was as usual, although it was much colder. We wore fleeces and windbreakers to keep warm. Breakfast was the usual muesli, scrambled eggs, and hard dough balls.

Tom had a headache, probably dehydrated from the Diamox, so he drank lots of water during the morning and started to feel better. Everyone was a bit tired and slow this morning, so we set off slowly, us with Duba in the front.

We took lots of breaks, stopping for a few pictures in Sho as the vistas started to open up. The character of the villages has started to change dramatically, becoming more Tibetan. To our eyes, this means more buildings of stone, generally cleaner villages, some yaks and crossbred cattle, and lots of Buddhist mani walls. Between towns there are often multistory gates, with painted interiors, which we admire as we pass through.

We learned a new greeting, "takshi delek," the Tibetan equivalent of "namaste," although everyone here seems to understand both. We also learned Tibetan "thank you," which is something close to "tushishi." The clothing is different, mostly red robes tied with a sash. And the kids seem friendlier and more curious, with fewer asking for pens and more just greeting us and staring curiously.

Before 11 we climbed high enough to see Manaslu again, for the first time since the first two days. The view got better and better as we hiked up the gorge, and we marveled at the glaciers and sheer faces.

We stopped for lunch in a cornfield before Lho, and all crowded together on the small tarp they laid down. They served us canned salmon, potatoes, pancakes, and cabbage salad, but appetites were poor, perhaps because of the altitude. We were nearly to 10,000 feet, and starting to huff and puff a bit. We relaxed for a little while after lunch, and journaled in the sun.

After lunch we slowly cruised on, with Hari initially taking the point, but going so slowly that Les tried to pass him and they raced up a short hill. Les soon quit, though, easily winded in this altitude, as were we all.

An hour or so later we cruised through the sizeable village of Lho. We were surrounded by children, many asking for pens or chocolate, but most well-behaved. We stopped for a long break on the other side of town for pictures of Manaslu and just to catch our breath.

After Lho the trail lost a lot of altitude to cross a small river, and we were really bummed to be going down, since we knew our camp was up higher. We crossed the river and climbed a fence to go through a yak pasture, then started up the trail along the river.

The river dropped very steeply, and as a result, the trail climbed steeply beside it. We toiled ever upwards, stopping frequently to let yaks pass or just to catch our breath.

We were surprised to see dozens of large coils of wire by the side of the trail. Each one weighed at least 120lbs, and Duba told us that one porter carried each one. At first Tom and Les thought they were building a suspension bridge, but later we saw electrical poles, and realized that the wire was uninsulated electrical wire. The wires ran along the ground towards Lho, and as we got higher, were strung on the poles up towards Shyala. Les postulated a hydroelectric project, and soon we found some confirmation: large steel pipes. Towards the top Tom found the clincher: a diversion canal from the river, where the water would be run along the ridge and then straight down to a stone house that would contain the generator. Les and Tom were pleased to have solved the mystery.

We were glad of some diversion from the difficult climb. Louisa was doing the best of all of us, leading the pack all the way up. Finally we crested the ridge, and were astonished by the wide open valley we suddenly entered. The village of Shyala commands incredible 360 degree views, with Manaslu dominating the skyline. We were very glad to be in camp, and walked a short distance through the town to a nice field where the porters were already setting up the tents.

It was 3pm, and we were exhausted. We admired the views for a while, then the sun went behind the mountain and it got very cold. We all retired to our tents and broke out the down jackets for the first time. Tea was served, and the hot drinks helped to warm us a bit.

The altitude by Tom's GPS was 11440ft - nearly 3000 feet higher than last night. We retired to the tent after tea and Tom napped, while Louisa read. Other than the general tiredness and quick to be out of breath, the altitude wasn't too bad.

Dinner was noodle soup, followed by momos (steamed dumplings) with tomato sauce, and green veggies that we don't have an English word for. We ate well, then considered playing cards, but everyone was too tired. We retired to the tent, and zipped up our sleeping bags for the first time. Tom read for a bit before we both crashed.

 

Sat Nov 11, 2000 - Short Day

Louisa hardly slept for reasons unknown and was ready for morning tea when it arrived like clockwork at 6:15. The skies were clear displaying the snow covered mountains that surrounded the plateau on nearly all four sides. Gorgeous!

We lingered in camp a longer than usual since we did not have far to walk. On the way out of town we stopped at a man's Tibetan Curio shop which consisted of a bench with a dozen or so items. Unlike yesterday, there were no purchases.

We walked uphill for a short while, although we huffed and puffed more than previous days. Duba led us along and a few times played with the walkie-talkies that John had given Duba and Hari.

After about a half an hour the trail turned a corner and opened on to a high valley. To our delight Duba pointed to the village at the far end of the valley, our destination. Yes! They were not kidding when they told us it was a short day.

At the beginning of the yak-dotted field, we stopped at a stupa where our porters were resting and trying to do headstands. While we drank water Duba and John used the walkie-talkies and turned on the CB lingo. Soon the convoy started on its way again.

We walked through the village of Samagaun (Ro). A Buddhist temple complete with eyes on the four sides of the stupa formed the first building complex along with the largest pile of carved prayer rocks we had seen.

Tibetans settled here and continue their way of life. Their stone, flat-roofed houses appeared well-constructed and maintained . We traded 'takshi delek' with the men, women, children and monks. It seemed that most houses kept a few yaks in their yard. We passed one man who was working at a hand loom creating one of the multicolored Tibetan weavings.

The crew were setting up the campsite at one end of a large open field when e walked in at 9:30. A French group was a day ahead of us and were at the other end, but fairly well out of sight.

The sun was quite strong so we decided to do laundry right away. The freezing cold stream numbed our hands as we washed almost every item of clothing that we brought. We took our time however with hopes of getting out most of the grime.

Four porters left to return home, so we tipped them and wished them well. We plopped down on the tarp with the rest of the group to wile away the time before lunch. An old woman had joined us at our tent and was quite inquisitive as to what we had inside. She then approached the tarp. Hari caved and gave her a cup of tea with sugar. Once Duba and Lama showed up with the set up for lunch it looked as if she would stay, so Hari had us sit at the table and encouraged her to go on her way.

The chef cooked a good lunch, which is funny since we had not done much and were not that hungry. The meal consisted of doughy pita-style bread, fried potato chips/french fries, a green Nepali vegetable with carrots and spam. Most of us exclaimed a big yuck, and piled our spam onto Tom's plate who eagerly ate up the protein.

After lunch we relaxed in our sun-warmed tent until Duba and Cheden showed up with washing water. Hari stopped by and offered for us to follow through on our idea to turn the dining tent into a shower tent. We were psyched! Tom hooked up the camelbak at the top of the tent, we filled it with warm washing water, stripped down and had our first almost-real shower of the trip. It felt great! Even though we were at almost 12,000 feet the sun kept us warm throughout the afternoon.

All day, the thunder of faraway avalanches occasionally made us all turn to look, but we never could see the falling snow and ice.

We retired to our tent again to relax. Tom went outside to check out the shouts and hollers and discovered some of the guys and the crew playing pine cone volleyball. Tom joined in the fun. Some of the crew from the French camp and also some of the villagers observed the antics as well. It was fun for all.

Once more we climbed in our tent to read and journal until Duba called us to tea.

The clouds rolled in before three blocking the warmth of the sun and bringing quite a chill to Samagaun. We all greedily drank hot tea and hot chocolate in the dining tent for afternoon tea.

At 5pm, Hari led us to Samagaun's main Buddhist temple. As we approached the sounds of chanting reached us...something was in session. Lama checked with the monk inside that it was fine for us to enter, which it was.

The newly painted temple only gave us the slightest idea of what to expect inside. Every surface - wall and ceiling - were covered in colorful religious paintings, or an intricate thonka hung. The many idols were large and impressive. Most of them were draped in various offerings. To see this amazing structure was wonderful. To think that it is located at 12,000 feet in a tiny community days and days from any road or major commercial center seemed more amazing. To be there while the monk repeated the prayers and intermittently struck the drum was unbelievable.

We retreated once more to the shelter of our tent until dinner. We wore our down jackets and long underwear just to go the ten meters to the dining tent. The hot soup started to warm us and make the cold winds outside seem more distant. By the time dinner was served we were warm and discarded the down jackets. The kitchen staff served daal bhat, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs with curry and green vegetables. The fair meals finished with delicious fried apples. Many of the guys had stomach issues, which left more apple for us!

Grant and Bill retired early while Les, Tom, John and Louisa tried to remember Euchre. No-one remembered the rules so we made some up and played 'Nepali Euchre.' It was not quite right, but it passed the time.

by 8:30 the porters had crowded in the dining tent to hide from the cold and to indicate that they wanted to go to bed; so we retired to our tent.

 

Sun Nov 12, 2000 - Acclimatization day

We slept in this morning, not actually starting to move until nearly 7am. We had both gotten up a few times during the night, and marveled at the full moon glinting off the frost covering our tent. Tom even got a sunrise picture of Manaslu.

The morning was cold, but warmed quickly as the sun rose in the valley. Breakfast was outside, and consisted of a new porridge made from barley mash, hard-boiled eggs, and biscuits on which we spread peanut butter and jelly. We dawdled over breakfast, and gradually gathered our gear to go for a day hike.

Duba led us across the field and up a bushwhack trail straight up the side of the ridge. Thorny bushes tore at us as we huffed and puffed our way up, stopping briefly to take off a layer as we got warm. Within a half hour we had reached the top, and could see the small green lake at the bottom of the Manaslu glacier.

We rested at the top of the moraine ridge for quite a while, watching the frequent minor avalanches down the glacier face, and admiring the ice floes in the lake. Hari then proposed that we traverse along the ridge to reach a higher shoulder about the same level as the glacier, which would take about 1.5 hours. Upon hearing this plan, the half of the group that was not feeling 100% decided to head back down with Duba. Louisa, Les, and John retraced their steps and got down quite quickly, while Tom, Bill, and Grant picked their way along the ridge.

The ridge "trail" was very sketchy, involving lots of thorny bushes, climbing up and down along boulder fields, and occasional scary steps on rocks overhanging the drop to the lake. We made very slow progress, and stopped to rest often. Finally, after over an hour, we made our way to the end of the ridge, and stopped for another rest.

Tom went up one way to get a picture, then had to catch up with the others who had gone up another way. At the top of the next ridge we had great views of the glacier and the north face of Manaslu. We took our pictures, then headed down for lunch. Hari found a narrow trail leading down the gully, and we took less than 1/2 hour to get back to camp. We enjoyed the hike, but it wasn't quite as amazing as we thought it might be.

Meanwhile, Louisa read and tended our laundry, which kept falling off the line. John and Les played rummy, which resulted in Les' first loss at cards this trip.

Lunch was served soon after, noodle soup, eggs, fried noodles, cabbage salad, and squash. We relaxed and chatted in the sun, enjoying the beautiful day. Lama Sherpa opened a "store" - a mat with several nylon wallets, some clothing, and batteries for sale to local villagers.

In the afternoon Louisa washed her hair, with Tom's help pouring the teapot full of warm water. The sun began to go behind the clouds at about 1:30, and the temperature dropped quickly. We spent most of the afternoon in the tent, reading and journaling.

Tea in the dining tent warmed us up, but it was definitely a cold, gray afternoon. We relaxed in the tent for awhile with Louisa beginning a new book, the Right Stuff, and Tom finishing Lion's Game.

The porters started another game of improvised "volleyball" using a pair of socks as the ball and a couple of chairs as the net. Tom, Les, Grant, and John joined in. We cheered and shouted in several languages as we set and spiked through games without defined rules or scoring. The high altitude soon had us out of breath, but we enjoyed learning a few new Nepali words, including "hyaku" which is what they shout when they make a big spike.

Dinner was the usual potatoes, a vegetable, and something else we don't remember. After dinner the boys played cards, but Louisa retreated to the tent to read. The altitude seemed to be affecting the boys a little, we couldn't remember who dealt last, even though it was only a few minutes between hands. Everyone was in bed as usual between 8:30 and 9:00.

 

Mon Nov 13, 2000 - Snow!

Louisa slept like a rock all night; Tom had some trouble but took another Diamox and then drifted off. The crew served bed tea at 6:30 giving us an extra fifteen minutes of sleep, which was great.

The morning was much warmer than the previous day even though thick clouds hid the sun.

Samdo, the next destination, was less than three hours away so it was a leisurely start and walk. Whenever the trail took us up we inevitably had to stop to catch our breath. In fact we took two generous 20 minute rests in the three hours, definitely not the usual pace.

Samdo is perched on a plateau at 12,600 feet. It has no protection from the wind which whistled down on us. The crew planned to have us camp in a field that took the brunt of the wind but Les and Tom talked to Hari who fortunately had us move down the non-wind side of the hill.

Fortunately the sun shone while we waited for lunch. A huge golden breasted eagle flew in front of us. We watched it soar and then noticed a few others flying high in the sky. Amazing birds!

We moved inside the Samdo hotel, a one room wooden structure, for lunch. The mistress of the establishment sat by her hearth while Yam and the kitchen crew cooked lunch at the other end. A few other young women came by, one with a baby with whom Hari played.

Lunch warmed our insides with lots of vegetables and roti. After awhile we headed down the mountain where the crew were setting up the tents in a mad rush. The wind had picked up, the sun was hidden by clouds that sent flurries down on us.

The boys tried to hit rocks off the cliff with a bamboo stick while Louisa observed the porters' card game but could not decipher it. Once the tents were set up we retreated from the snow to relax, read and write.

The snow continued through the afternoon. We emerged for tea with snow falling, but no accumulation except for on the tents. The tea warmed our insides, but most of us still shivered.

A giant game of Euchre started with Bill and Grant teamed up with Tom and Les to learn the game. John and Louisa were the other team. It was a heated afternoon game which lasted until the table was filled with food for dinner.

The only break in the game was a giant snowball fight. It started casually and soon became a large-scale fight with the trekkers against the staff. The staff were not too concerned, though, as they stood in the open laughing and occasionally ducking whenever we sent one their way. The crew positioned themselves one level up with the tents. We tried charging up the hill, but after reaching the top of the 15 foot hill we all collapsed with exhaustion - altitude! The kitchen crew emerged from the kitchen tent and started pitching snowballs to add to the mayhem. Laughter dominated the afternoon. After awhile the trekkers retreated to the dining tent to continue Euchre.

Dinner warmed us up, but was not gourmet feast. We followed it up with another hour of Euchre before retiring at 8:30pm.

 

Tue Nov 14, 2000 - Base Camp

Hari let us sleep in again until 6:30. We woke a few minutes before Duba and Lama delivered bed tea. We were glad that the snow had not fallen for the last few hours, leaving about an inch on the ground for the entire night.

Surprisingly it was not the coldest morning. The crew waited to disassemble our tents hoping that the sun would hit the valley and clear off the snow. No one was in much of a hurry since base camp was just three hours away.

The boys started a game of Euchre which kept them occupied until the dining tent was the only thing standing at 9am. Louisa's feet were chilled so Tom and she headed across the field in the direction of the porters. Duba followed a few hundred meters behind, but stopped running to catch up when he realized that we were walking at a nice slow, steady pace.

The trail to base camp led us 2000 vertical feet up, while covering about 3 miles. We were in no hurry at 12,600 feet.

We kept our steady and slow pace all morning talking about next year and what life could be like. As we walked Manaslu stuck her head out above the shorter mountains in her range. We followed a valley most of the trek - with the views improving the entire time.

Our pace allowed for lots of observation. We were surprised that the rest of the guys with Hari and Lama did not catch us. Our rhythm seemed to be about 20 or 25 minutes of walking (up) with a 3 to 5 minute rest. The clouds started to roll in. When they covered the sun we got chilled.

For the more than the first two hours, each time we thought that we had climbed to the top, the trail led around a bend leading us up even further. Finally, we reached the last bend that we rounded to see base camp in the distance - but at the same height at which we were.

Almost to base camp, we stopped for water and waited for Grant whom we saw a few hundred meters behind. We walked into base camp after 2 hours and 45 minutes, glad to be there.

The kitchen crew was ahead of us and had the tarp laid out and brought us hot lemon right away. Hari called on the walkie-talkie as we sat there and we could see them at a distant point. The two of them seem to enjoy having the walkie-talkies. Cool gadgets.

We hung out with Grant in the sun for about half an hour. Louisa found a small purse in the field that we checked out. It had an odd assortment of charms and a photograph. The kitchen crew investigated the new find also. We all decided that it must be some sort of a good luck charm purse, and wondered about the person who might now be having bad luck.

Bill and Lama came in next followed by John and finally Les and Hari. All of us hung out, but the clouds became more frequent and the wind picked up. All of us had on our down jackets by lunch.

The kitchen crew served us lunch in the dining tent to be out of the wind. The meal started with a garlic and noodle chicken soup which we greedily drank for warmth. Soon we realized that the dining tent served as a sauna also and were shedding layers. Lunch was delicious stuffed roti served with tuna fish and cabbage and carrot salad.

A few of the guys fell out early to rest. After a short while Hari rounded up the troops to climb the nearest ridge for acclimatization. The two of us opted out deciding that rest and warmth would be better than overexertion and cold. We read, listened to MP3s, and wrote in the journal for the afternoon.

The sun shone, but the air was cold when we emerged for tea at 4:00. Outfitted in down jackets, we sat in the dining tent. John, Grant, Les and Bill played Euchre with Louisa and Tom as pseudo teammates to the latter two respectively. Exclamations questioning the sanity of various players flew throughout the late afternoon.

We played straight through until dinner, with the outcome not decided. Dinner was cabbage and potatoes, cooked spam, and daal bhat (rice with lentils). The hot custard dessert was the best part. We were all tired and anticipating an early start, so we retired soon after dinner.

 

Wed Nov 15, 2000 - Larkya La Pass

The wake-up call came at 4am in total darkness, with hot tea quickly chilling in the cold pre-dawn air. We had organized the previous evening, so we were quick to dress and pack.

Louisa had not slept well at all, waking at 9:30pm with some shortness of breath, and even after taking a Diamox and reading, wasn't able to sleep until nearly 2. She was exhausted even as we packed, but some breakfast helped a little.

We quickly gathered in the dining tent for hot oatmeal and eggs, but noticed that Grant was missing. Turns out he had gone back to sleep despite repeated wake-up calls by the porters. He finally rolled in to breakfast at 5, after we had all finished.

We grabbed our backpacks and outfitted ourselves for hiking in the cold darkness. Balaclavas, down jackets, gloves and overmitts, and headlamps all seemed like necessities. Tom dispensed with the down jacket, relying on 4 layers to keep warm, while Louisa was bundled up in everything she owned.

The clear skies and 3/4 moon made the headlamps unnecessary. We could still pick out the major constellations like Orion and the Big Dipper as we began hiking. The moon on the jagged and snowy mountains was magical.

Tom charged up the first hill and quickly got out of breath, causing Louisa to try to follow and exhaust herself in the first 10 minutes. After a short rest, we took the pace much slower, and were able to put one foot in front of the other for 20 minutes or so between rests.

The sky began lightening and the constellations winked out as we climbed gradually up the glacial moraine. The sun peeked out and lit the tops of some nearby peaks, creating a warm yellow effect. We tried to appreciate the beauty as we slogged ever upwards.

John was not feeling well also, so we hiked with him, and were followed closely by Duba, Hari, and the cook, Yam. They might have been worried that they would need to carry us, but we managed to keep going, with frequent breaks. We told stories to pass the time, starting with "date from hell" stories.

The altitude was really affecting Louisa, so she borrowed another Diamox from John, and felt better, although she was still very tired.

As the sun rose at our backs, we warmed up and began removing some layers. Each time we reached the top of a ridge of moraine we thought we'd see the top of the pass, but each one was a false peak. We stopped counting after 10 of them, and just concentrated on keeping moving, nice and slow. At one break Tom spotted a field-mouse like animal, but Hari said it was not a mouse, and did not have an English name. We ate toffees at one break for a sugar fix, but didn't really have much appetite.

The trail was surprisingly gradual in incline, but never let up. Some of the moraine turned out to be rocks sitting on permanent snow banks, and we passed several small lakes, mostly frozen over. Small glaciers tumbled down between jagged peaks on either side of the pass.

After 3 hours and about 10,000 breaks, we topped a ridge and saw the prayer flags waving on the next peak, marking the top of the pass. We rested a bit, then made the final push up to the top. We arrived at 16945 feet at 9am, and gratefully found flat rocks to lie down on. The others were waiting for us, in equally relaxed positions.

We spent nearly an hour on the top, resting, eating our bag lunches (an egg, some cookies, cheese, and a sweet roll), taking group photos, and resting some more. Finally we could not put it off any longer, and continued on down the pass.

The trail was actually level at nearly 17k feet for about 1/2 mile, then began to descend steeply. We scrambled and stumbled over loose rocks and sand between the huge boulders of the glacial moraine. We traversed down along a loose scree field, where Louisa lost her footing and nearly slid down several hundred feet. She slowed herself by grabbing a slow-sliding rock, and Tom caught her hand to help her back to the trail.

Some folks took a shortcut straight down the mossy rocks, but we kept to the trail, and took a more gradual route. After about 2 hours, we reached a small level area where the porters were cooking their lunch. We shed our packs and rested there for a half hour or so.

We were all out of water, because we were drinking a lot to combat the effects of altitude and Diamox. Tom dug out the iodine pills and we all filled up from the nearby stream. Bill happened to have the neutralizer as well, so we all had sweet water as we continued on down. Bill told us that he had left his camera a few hundred feet higher, and Hari ran back up to get it, hardly breathing hard, and showing the true Sherpa capabilities.

The downhill never quit, and we soon mastered the skill of hopping rock to rock to avoid the slippery sandy spots. The porters all passed us on the way down, practically running down the slope with their huge packs. We continued chatting with John to pass the time. Tom and John had headaches from exertion, and Louisa was experiencing some stomach upset in addition to her tiredness, so every diversion helped. Hari had told us 2 hours down, which we were well over at this point, and we were unhappy that there was no sign of Bimtang.

A man with a fully loaded pony passed us, bound for Samdo - we didn't envy their 5000 foot ascent - but he was the only person we saw that wasn't from our group. As we continued down, we headed towards an awesome range of snowy mountains ahead. At one point Hari told us that we could save 7 days of trekking by simply climbing over one of those peaks, but we declined the offer.

We followed the little stream down and down, until we finally saw buildings in the distance. After a few more minutes, however, it turned out that they were huge boulders, and the real town was 1/2 hour further on. The trail finally leveled out into a narrow valley, marked with property markers, where they are in the process of laying out a new town. We happily collapsed at a picnic table in the 2-building "town" of Bimtang, around 2pm.

The sherpas quickly set up camp, then brought us washing water for us to freshen up. Tea was soon served, with noodle soup, and crackers with peanut butter, as well as the usual hot drinks.

We rested in our tent for a little while, as clouds rolled in like thick fog - we couldn't see 20 feet. Now we know why we got up so early!

Tom wandered across the stream and almost got lost, but came back in time for the early dinner. We opted to go inside the one house and eat around the fire, even though we had to sit on the ground, it was much warmer and cozier.

Hari distributed celebratory beers, and we toasted our successful pass crossing. He was in a great mood, tells stories all during dinner.

Dinner was unappetizing and the same as last night, daal bhat, boiled spam, and cabbage. We had a heavy cake dessert, then headed straight to bed.

Louisa was asleep before 7, but Tom stayed awake late, like 7:30. The sherpas were having a loud party, but we were so tired it didn't matter. We slept soundly through the night, only awakening twice to pee. Hari later told us that they stayed up until 12:45.

 

Thu Nov 16, 2000 - Down, down, down

Bed tea arrived at 6:30, we packed and ate breakfast around the fire inside of the Bimtang hotel. The meal of rice pudding, pancakes and eggs warmed us up and fueled our tired muscles. Throughout the meal, Les bantered with the local women making then giggle and smile. Hari was in rare form still, not showing any signs of slowing down after the big night.

While waiting for the kitchen staff to pack, Tom went to the top of a moraine hill for some morning pictures of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. We hit the trail just after eight and headed down the valley.

The day started with a climb up over the moraine, which got a "HYAKU!!" out of Louisa when we reached the top after the big climb yesterday. The rest of the morning was mostly down through mossy pine forest. The trail was nice, but rather rocky which required attention to the terrain as we stepped. As we dropped, we had fantastic views of Manaslu, but it was directly into the sun, so the pictures really didn't come out at all.

The mossy forest went on and on, and we chatted as we thumped down the trail. The stream beside us turned into a river as more streams joined, and the milky white and blue color from the glacier made the name obvious: Milk River (Dudh Khola).

We were surprised to see no villages along the way, although there were plenty of trees. There were a few steep downs, and occasionally we would warm up as we got out from under the canopy, but we would quickly cool off in the shade again.

After losing quite a lot of elevation, we crossed a smaller river, and entered the "town" of Sirte Khola around 11:30. Tom massaged Louisa's shoulders, which were hurting perhaps from a combination of the day pack and the poles.

We had lunch at their picnic table, on the deck of one of the two buildings. Lunch was the same old less-than-appetizing mystery fish, fried bread, and cheese, finished with warm mango in syrup. Les started only half-joking about buying a chicken and cooking it for dinner, and we all started complaining about the sameness of the food.

Around 1pm we continued on down, with the occasional steep climb to avoid the cliffs in the gorge we were following. The walls rose steeply around us, and the trail went through a few more tiny villages. We saw some women threshing wheat in a field, then passed a man loading a horse for a trip.

Near one village, Les spotted some monkeys in a tree, and we all tried to get closer, but they ran away. A little further on we saw some more by the trail, but again they scampered before we could snap a photo. We continued to follow the cool Milk River as it plunged through rapids and over rocks on its way down.

A bit footsore and with sore backs and shoulders we arrived in Camp in the town of Tilije at about 3:20pm, having dropped nearly 6000 feet of elevation. We camped in a nice field by the river, with apple trees all around. Some of the guys started playing baseball with the fallen apples, spraying the rest of us with bits as they hit home runs.

We rested a bit on a tarp, while Hari disappeared to start working on dinner. Les had spurred him to try to get some chicken for dinner, so he was off negotiating with townspeople. This town was not exactly clean - John and Grant washed in a local tap that had a dead cow rotting in the drainage, and Les bought beer in a store with roaches all over the ceiling.

We had tea outside, crackers with peanut butter again, and watched the clouds roll in. As it got colder, we relaxed in the tent and captioned some photos. The others played cards until dinner was served somewhat late around 7pm.

The dinner was worth the wait - Hari had waited 3 hours for the owner of the chickens to return from the fields, and bought two for dinner. We started with delicious chicken broth, then went on to the awesome main course of fried chicken, fried potatoes, green veggies, and daal bhat. We ate until we were stuffed, then Louisa headed to bed. Tom lost badly in spades to Les and John, and soon followed. We were asleep by 9:15.

 

Fri Nov 17, 2000 - Annapurna Circuit

We completed the morning routine in the usual way. We started out of the campsite just after eight, but got waylaid by a litter of adorable puppies that were a couple of weeks old. They chased our fingers and strings and got their tails wagging furiously - to the point that they could not walk a straight line. Quite fun.

The first hour we walked down down down to the town of Dharapani. It was a huge metropolitan city compared to what we had seen in the last few weeks. It was also the low point in between the two trails at 6400 feet - we lost 11,000 over the last two days and will gain 12,000 over the next five day - yikes!

This was also the point where we joined the Annapurna circuit which means thousands more trekkers. Manaslu only permits 400 trekkers per year. Annapurna has no limit and gets tens of thousands.

The difference is apparent during the hour or so to lunch. The trail is lined with restaurants and 'trekker hotels' every fifteen minutes or so there is a building, and signs in hysterical English are more frequent.

John spoke with a couple of trekkers that started the Annapurna circuit three days ago. They informed him that the US Presidential election was still contested three days ago, and that Hillary Clinton won the NY Senate race.

Tom and Les spent the entire hike from Dharapani to Danaqyu talking politics. It was entertaining, and fun to discuss possible scenarios for the US.

The kitchen crew set up for lunch inside the dining room of one of the trekker hotels. Sitting at a real table with real chairs (with backs!) was amazing!

The lunch break lasted for more than two and one half hours as we tried to wait for the porters. Unfortunately we discovered the hot shower at the hotel just before we left.

The hike out of Danaqyu went through beautiful forests with many streams rushing down from the mountain that loomed over us. Duba led us along with Les and Bill. Temba walked with us for awhile wanting another English lesson from Les. Temba did share the universal truth with Les that made us all laugh.

We played leapfrog with a couple of smaller groups during the afternoon. Les quickly identified one group of four single women and learned that they were French. They pulled into our campsite shortly after we did at 3:15.

The sun hid behind the clouds for the last hour of the trek making it colder, but the constant uphill kept us warm until we stopped.

Sallaghari consists of three buildings, each of which advertises itself as a hotel; none of which is a place where we would want to stay. Our kitchen crew had taken over one of the hotels and were busy scrubbing dishes for tea.

We were the only campers in Sallaghari, which was great and definitely not what we expected on the Annapurna circuit. The wind picked up and the sun stayed behind the clouds which made it quite cold. Bill found a fire in the hearth and we huddled around for warmth. The proprietress chatted a little with us in English, another surprise.

After tea in the main room of the hotel we retreated to the honeymoon suite. The campsite was not very level and Hari, Lama and Duba were still setting up the tents trying to find any level and non-rocky ground. Fortunately they had given the honeymoon suite a prime location, to the disgruntled dismay of the guys.

We took sponge baths to feel any bit more clean possible. Remarkably it worked and we felt refreshed. We stayed in the tent as darkness fell and until Lama called us to dinner.

The meal was more than disappointing. It was terribly bad and all of us had a hard time swallowing any of the plastic-like mashed potatoes, weird sauce and salty green kelp-like vegetables. John called for some rice which gave us a little sustenance.

The chill continued to descend on the main room. We were all quite down due to the cold and the miserable food. Before 7, the proprietress pulled out mattresses preparing the room for bed, so we took the hint and retired to our tent. We were asleep before 8.

 

Sat Nov 18, 2000 - Up and Up

The morning routine went as usual, and the day was not quite as cold as we had expected. We ate our cold cereal, eggs, and pancakes inside the hotel, and packed up our gear.

Less than half hour up the trail was a beautiful campsite that we would have camped at instead, except the porters were so late yesterday (they had played cards and drunk rakshi until after 1 the previous evening). The next barrier was a landslide with a huge pine tree fallen across it. The porters crossed on the tree, so we followed, to the horror of Hari and Lama, who quickly took the high trail around along with the rest of the group. Les was in the lead, teaching Temba more English, as we reached the police checkpoint. Hari took care of the permits, and another hour further on we arrived at the burgeoning city of Chamje.

Chamje sported several stores with a wide variety of foods and goods. We splurged on some Pringles and mints, and got a new water bottle for Louisa since the old one had sprung a leak. We then waited around about 45 minutes while Hari replenished some of our stores.

Les and John both queried folks about the US elections and got different reports. We heard something about recounts in Florida and California and huge discrepancies (300k votes) between machine counting and hand counting.

We crossed the river and started climbing on the other side. Les and Tom set a brisk pace, and fairly flew down the trail. The sun went in and out of the clouds, so we put on and took off our fleece jackets frequently. We got a few glimpses of Manaslu behind us, and Lamjung and Annapurna 3 ahead. The river got smaller as we climbed and passed small waterfalls on both sides.

After several hours of brisk hiking, and very few towns, we came to a colorful water-powered prayer wheel that was spinning by the trail. We wondered who got the good luck from that one - the builders? A few minutes further on, we arrived at the small town of Bhartang Khangsar, where the kitchen crew was setting up lunch.

We commandeered an upstairs dining room, and started a fierce game of euchre to pass the time. After an hour or so we were served a decent lunch of fried bread, tuna straight from the can, cheese, and cabbage salad. We ate quickly, then waited for the crew to pack up so we could head out again. The clouds had rolled in, so we bundled up in our wind jackets for the climb to camp.

Hari did not lie. The trail went steeply up. We wheezed our way along and tried to distract ourselves with conversation and looking at the beautiful forest. We reached a stopping place and rested for a few minutes. Once we got cold from the wind and the hidden sun, we started off.

Duba walked along with the two of us at a pretty good pace. The trail had leveled out, was wide and rock free, so we powered along. The sun was no where to be seen which helped us keep going to stay warm. A misty rain began to fall as we continued along the high forested plateau. The rainfall thickened slightly, but Duba told us that camp was just ten minutes away so we did not stop.

We came to a field and Duba indicated that this is where Hari had called the campsite, but none of the kitchen staff were in sight. All of a sudden Temba stuck his head out of the stone building and called us in. We huddled in the stone building and gave Temba another English lesson.

After ten minutes or so we were rather cold and jones-ing for a fire. We had anticipated that the campsite would be alongside a teahouse and that we could huddle by the fire, but no luck. Louisa had seen some buildings not far off and Les, Tom and Louisa headed off in search of a fire.

Yam and the staff tried to tell us that town was an hour away but we had seen the buildings and headed off, telling them we were just going for a walk. After a 100 meters or so we came upon a helipad outlined with rocks. it seemed rather surreal in the middle of nowhere.

The first buildings had a sign for a restaurant, but looked rather ramshackle. The main part of town looked rather close so we kept on walking.

Soon we pulled into the Peace Guest House in Pisang. We hesitated as it appeared rather rundown but the proprietor waved us inside. There were five other non-Nepali trekkers around a large table and we saddled up to warm ourselves with the fire under the table.

We ordered some sodas and the boys got grilled cheese sandwiches. Two more travelers, from San Francisco, walked in followed shortly by Grant. They had a short-wave radio with them and we eagerly asked for an election update. The guy started to tell us the change in the last day, but we requested he start from election day.

We learned that Bush won Florida with 280 votes, one county in Florida had 20,000 invalid votes due to confusion over Buchanan/Gore and that during the 1% manual recount that Gore gained 19 votes, a path that would lead him to victory. Gore called for a manual recount and Bush is trying to block it. It goes before a judge in Florida on Monday. The entire situation is made more interesting since Florida is Jeb Bush's state with most of the politicians and judges Republican.

Jazzed up on news from home, we returned to camp in the rain. It was quite chilly and the rain continued to fall. The crew had a roaring fire going even with the rain and we ducked in to the dining tent for tea.

After 5 we found our tent to disrobe our damp clothing and unpack. It was strange to do so in the dark. Soon they called us to dinner. It was juicy with yak stew and gravy, curried vegetables and daal bhat. The conversation kept us in the somewhat warm dining tent until just after 7 when some of the porters ducked in to get out of the rain. We took the hint and ran to our tents trying to stay any sort of dry.

Amazingly, we both fell asleep rather quickly. It must have been the ten mile day and doing so on fatigued muscles. We were pleased to be at almost 11,000 feet with no sign of altitude sickness in either one of us.

Nepal general: for November, we had very consistent weather. Clear and sometimes cold mornings would give way to clouds around 2-3pm. Twice we had rain or snow, but both times it quit before midnight. Only one day had clouds all day, the day we went from Pisang to Manang by the low route.

Diamox: Tom took 125mg (1/2 pill) morning and evening starting at 10k feet for the first pass, and in general felt great. He tried to skip one evening pill, but had some shortness of breath, so he took it later. Louisa had some sleepless nights at altitude, but she didn't take a Diamox until the middle of the night before the pass. She took another as we climbed, and that seemed to help, too. For the second pass, we both felt great up to 11.5k, then both took 125mg morning and evening until the pass, and it worked great.

 

Sun Nov 19, 2000 - High or Low route?

We woke a few times during the night. The rain had stopped just before midnight. The temperature dropped below freezing, however, so our tents were covered with ice. Needless to say, none of our wet clothing was dry.

At 6:30 the tea and washing water arrived, and after we packed up we emerged to find clouds covering most of the sky. Hari had said that we had a choice of routes today, the high route, which has spectacular views, and the low route, which is much quicker. Unfortunately, the clouds meant that the high route would just be in the fog, and we wouldn't see anything. We were bummed that the only morning we've had clouds so far is the morning that we really wanted it to be clear.

We had oatmeal for breakfast, and tried a few raisins out of our gorp to liven them up. Our Nepali raisins had a definite sulphur taste that made them terrible in the gorp,but were ok in the oatmeal.

We stood around the remains of the campfire while the porters packed everything up, and then finally got on the trail around 8:30. The trail was mostly level through the town we had visited yesterday, then climbed along a ridge high above the river. Across the river we saw the high route switch-backing up the mountain - we were glad we weren't over there.

After an hour or so we topped a ridge and looked down over a broad valley with an airport at the other end. This side still had snow on the ground, and we carefully descended to the level of the valley, then cranked for an hour or so over level ground to Hunde, where the airport was. As we hiked along, one of the twice-weekly flights went over our heads, in and out in only a few minutes.

We were the first in Hunde, and we walked right by the hotel where the cooks were preparing lunch. At the other side of town we turned around, and finally spotted Hari going into a hotel, so we stopped in to the warm dining room and relaxed for a bit. We worked on the journal and played cards until lunch was served.

After two hours, they served a meat meal again, what a change! Yak with brown gravy, awesome giant steamed momos and vegetable curry with canned peaches for dessert was lunch. More than three hours later, thoroughly bored, we finally hit the trail for the walk to Manang.

The trail was in great condition. We followed the fairly wide path through a couple of villages and up another 500 feet before reaching Manang. The town was fairly large, consisting mostly of hotels with restaurants and shops selling food and camping gear. We camped in a field behind one of the hotels.

The gray skies and 11,600 feet made the afternoon quite crisp and cold. Tom and Louisa explored the town. We laughed at the number of places that played videos in English, but none of the titles interested us. Soon the wide dirt avenue narrowed and ran between tall stone walls. The old part of town intrigued us with its many colorful prayer flags, gates with prayer wheels and houses perched practically on top of each other up the mountainside.

Back in the main part of town, we found a hotel with CNN (we still don't know much about the election), but they had no electricity until later. Instead, we went next door to a hotel where Hari knew the owners. During the afternoon hike we had peeked in the glass windows of the bakeries and admired the chocolate cake and apple pies/crumbles. We ordered hot drinks and chocolate cake and an apple crumble. The latter was outstanding while the chocolate cake left Tom, Bill, Les and Hari still wanting.

It was warm and pleasant, filled with travelers from a variety of nations, but not the USA. Les stayed on to jam with some Swiss guy while the rest of us returned to camp for another cup of hot chocolate and to unpack.

Soon dinner was ready. John was feeling terrible so he holed up in his tent. The rest of us tried to find appetites to eat vegetable chow mein noodles, potatoes grilled with tuna fish and a cabbage curry with hot pineapple for dessert. Les and Tom played rummy, while the rest turned in right away.

 

Mon Nov 20, 2000 - Short day, but up!

The Diamox that we took at dinner had us up several times during the night. In between quick runs outside that chilled us to the bone, a local dog tried to entertain us with his howls. Hari scared the dog away finally after his 3am show.

The tea and washing water arrived just after 6:30, but the freezing cold morning made us want to stay in our nice warm sleeping bags. We motivated however, and laughed as more and more frost crystals formed on the inside of the fly while we packed and washed.

Breakfast was not ready when we emerged, so we retreated to the sun-filled field next door. Tom used the great morning light for pictures of the towering Annapurna range. The string of snow covered peaks mesmerized us. The porters tried to tell us the names of each one of the numerous peaks - Annapurna IV, Gangapurna, the five peaks, and Tilicho.

Hot rice porridge with raisins, cinnamon and cashews, scrambled eggs and pancakes warmed us for breakfast. John still felt ill so he stayed in his tent until the his was the last tent standing. He emerged ready to try the morning climb, but feeling terrible.

At 8:30 we started the day. The five of us (less John who was walking with Hari and Lama) meandered through the old streets taking pictures at almost every step. We made it out of town and started up the hill to the next village, which some refer to as Upper Manang. There we looked back at Manang outlined with the Annapurna range and tried a picture into the sun.

The sun on the Annapurnas only got better, and we took lots of photos of the glaciers and occasional lakes. The sun warmed us quickly, and we shed some layers. The trail meandered up and down, but mostly up. We couldn't get over the amazing views of the snow-covered range to our left.

We stopped just beyond Gunsang for lunch in a small field next to a house. Snow covered peaks looked down a valley, so we had Les take a picture of us. Louisa washed some clothes in a nearby tap and nearly froze her hands off. Tom helped a little by squeezing and hanging the wet duds. Les contributed the Pringles today, and we devoured the whole tin. The boys entertained themselves by throwing rocks onto a small frozen pond and trying to break holes in the ice.

Lunch was more mystery fish, fried bread sticks, homemade potato chips, and some cabbage salad. We ate to keep up our strength, then got back on the trail for the last hour or so of hiking.

The trail climbed steadily past several teahouses and finally entered Yak Kharka, where we were camping. We stopped initially at a small not-so-level campsite, but Yam wisely decided to push on a few more minutes to a large field in the more main part of town. We cruised into town, dropped our poles, and looked for a nice cafe to relax in.

A nearby teahouse had a cafe, so we dropped in there and shared a table with a whole group of Israelis chattering in Hebrew. We drank some hot lemon, had a decent cinnamon roll (not as good as Gram's though!) and chatted. Grant played cards with the Israelis, with some help from Louisa. Finally we finished our tea and headed back to camp to put on warm clothing.

As we arrived in camp, the sherpas were serving tea, so we had some more, and crackers with peanut butter. Louisa went back to the tent to unpack, while Tom and Les played a ferocious game of rummy 500.

Soon Duba called "soup ready!" so we waited a few minutes and headed to the dining tent. Of course, it wasn't quite ready, so we shivered in there for a few minutes before we were able to start slurping down the weak tomato soup. John just had some bread for dinner, since he was still not feeling well. Grant also made a brief appearance, but only drank some tea and headed to bed - he was feeling tired and not hungry.

Dinner was not bad - momos with potato stuffing, bean sauce, and cabbage. Dessert was hot canned pineapple. Tom got quite tired after dinner, so we retired to the tent and read for a few minutes before falling asleep.

 

Tue Nov 21, 2000 - Thorong La Base Camp

The day started out normal enough, bed tea and washing water at 6:30 and all. The outside temperature, however, was not normal. In fact, it was somewhere in the teens - freezing cold! We cuddled in our sleeping bags for awhile before packing up and peeking our heads out of the tent.

We huddled around a small fire in the hut while waiting for breakfast. Most of us ate the oatmeal and omelets with our gloves on trying to keep warm. Thankfully, the sun crested over the mountain during breakfast bringing warmth.

We started walking at 8:30. The trail followed a gradual incline with intermittent steep climbs. We kept a good pace and passed many other trekkers traveling on the teahouse Annapurna circuit.

We watched deer-like animals grazing across the valley from us, and envied the graceful soaring of the occasional eagle. The trail kept going up - this is a new trail, called the "high trail" because the low trail had too many rock falls. We stopped frequently, but briefly each time, starting up again as we got cold. Behind us the soaring Annapurna range got even more spectacular, as we rose to a level where we could see the peaks more clearly.

The crew pulled into a teahouse just before a steep climb of a couple of hundred feet. Louisa pulled out the MP3 player to power her up the hill and could hardly be stopped. At the top she turned around with a big "Hyaku!"

From the 15,000 foot vantage point we could see Thorong Phedi below us - yes, the rest of the morning would be downhill! Within five minutes we realized our error. the trail dropped more than 500 feet to the river. The decline was steep, but the incline seemed even steeper.

At the bottom of the hill we took a Snickers break and bemoaned our climb to camp, but also the steep trail of switch-backs that led up to Thorong La Pass. Tomorrow morning will likely be exhausting.

Tom and Les stopped at one of the lodges in Thorong Phedi for tea and cards, while the rest of us climbed the last ten steep minutes to our campsite. Bill, Grant and Louisa relaxed on the tarp in the bright sunshine and gazed at Annapurna IV and Gangapurna.

After almost one hour we saw John, Hari and Lama appear at the helipad just below the campsite. John won trooper of the trek award with his perseverance in reaching 15,100 feet despite hardly eating anything for the past two days.

We gobbled down some noodle soup, fish, and cabbage, potatoes, and dough balls for lunch, then relaxed a while longer as the porters arrived with the tents. They quickly set them up in prime locations - we were expecting to share the campsite with another group.

We enjoyed the sun while it was out, but the clouds started rolling in and we bundled up. We soon retired to the tent to journal and read some more. We were pretty tired from the altitude and the steep climb today, and want to save energy for the even harder day tomorrow. Needless to say, Hari didn't get any takers on his suggestion of an afternoon hike!

Tea got us out of the tent, but even the hot drinks could not warm us in the cold afternoon. We returned to the tent to warm up and chill until dinner.

The soup call came early tonight, at 5:30 with everyone at camp wanting to go to bed early. We were light eaters of the dahl baht and vegetable curry with tunafish. The rest of the guys retired to bed by 7, but we waited for some more tato panni (hot drinking water). Hari, Duba and Lama had tea and shared stories while we waited. Hari's was hysterical - a group of teenage Canadian boys on the Annapurna circuit.

Soon we were in bed. Louisa could barely keep her eyes open and was asleep by 7:30. She did not stir when Tom went in and out of the tent. he had trouble falling asleep and finished both books on hand before falling to sleep about 10:30. Neither of us slept well after 1:00 am, either from excitement or the altitude, we were not certain.

 

Wed Nov 22, 2000 - 17,775 feet!

Duba and Lama brought bed tea at 3:00 am exactly. It did not matter much as we had been in and out of sleep since 1:00. The night air was freezing cold. Ice crystals had formed on the inside of the tent even. We quickly changed into cold weather trekking gear which consisted of three or four layers on the top and on the bottom.

Down jackets were a necessity for breakfast. We were grateful for the hot soup rather than porridge to hydrate and warm us.

At 4:20 we left camp in almost total darkness. The moon had just risen, but was only a sliver in the star-filled sky. Our group looked like a train of fireflies climbing the steep hillside; only our headlamp lights were visible.

Hari led, setting a perfect pace - slow and steady. The night was cold, but the walking got the blood flowing, and we adjusted our many layers as we warmed up. Forty-five minutes later we reached high camp, right on schedule. John even kept up with the group, which was amazing considering how terrible he had felt during the last few days.

In the moonlight we contoured around a stunning bowl ringed by snow-covered mountains that shimmered silver. On the other side, we continued to climb through glacial moraine to an ever-lightening sky.

By second high camp our fingers and toes were freezing as a result of the cold and the biting wind that greeted us at every corner. The first signs of sunrise appeared as we pulled out of there at 16,500 feet.

Throughout the climb it appeared that the top was in sight, but once we crested then another moraine field and climb would appear. After second high base camp there was a short but steep climb. This winded Louisa and kept her pretty slow for the next twenty or thirty minutes. Lama was our faithful companion through the slow pace and short but frequent stops. We reached the top in good condition though.

The sun had hit the top of Thorong La shortly before we crested, around 8am. A huge pile of colorful prayer flags marked the summit - 17, 775 feet. We rejoiced with the group including many "Hyaku!"s We got a couple of great pictures including a group shot to commemorate the achievement.

The sun was shining but the chill had not left the air yet so we started down soon. We even ran down some of it, pretend racing the sherpas, completely exhilarated.

The trail led down, down, down. Steeply down. It did not matter though, we had reached the summit and seen the amazing views. On the way down, Dhaulagiri, the tenth tallest peak in the world, towered in front of us. During the descent the first snow chickens (Tibetan snow cocks, like partridges) of the trip waddled by. We joked with Lama that they would make a great Thanksgiving dinner and had a good laugh.

After a few thousand feet down we stopped for a rest in a yak pasture. We pulled out the pack lunches, but other than the hard boiled eggs, the cinnamon rolls and cheese did not seem appetizing. We enjoyed relaxing in the sunny, warm field for half of an hour or so before heading further down.

The trail continued at a steep decline towards Muktinath in the distance. Lama and Tom ran down in a race which Tom declared he won upon reaching a random rock at a point when he was ahead. Lama laughed.

The porters had stopped at a tea house towards the bottom of the mountain and we sat down for a rest. Louisa peeled off a layer of pants to the wide eyes of the porters. Shortly Hari caught up to us and pointed further down to a clearing where we saw the telltale blue tarp.

Yam and the kitchen crew met us with hot lemon drink and soup. The conversation led to laughter about what a killer pass Thorong La would be coming from Muktinath. At that point four young men passed heading that way. We rested there for an hour so, nearly napping in the sun, before rousing to move on again.

Soon we reached Muktinath, rolling into town around 11am. Another group had the best campsite, so we got second best, next door. We sat and waited a few minutes for the porters to arrive and set up the tents. As soon as they were set up, they warmed up in the sun, so when we got in to rest a bit we fell asleep immediately.

After an hour or so we roused a bit, and Tom motivated to do some laundry. He took the easy route, asking for hot water and a washing bowl, and getting a bit of help from both Lama and Duba. We then got washing water and freshened ourselves up a bit before getting up for tea.

We had tea inside the nearby house, then headed a little way back up the hill to visit the famous temple with 108 water spouts and the eternal flame. The spring above the temple is the headwaters of the somewhat holy Kali Gandaki river. The have channeled it through 108 spouts that look like cows heads, and the monks bathe in the spouts to purify themselves before pujas.

Next door, there is a small building that houses cages with small flickering blue flames. There are supposed to be three, one right next to a trickling stream, another on a rock, and a third that is supposed to be coming from the soil. The third one was out, and the other two were unimpressive, but it is neat that they are "eternal" because of slow natural gas leaks in the area.

After touring the grounds a bit, and seeing all of the rock stacks and planted trees, we headed back down the hill. In camp, we got a nice view of Nilgiri in the sunset, then headed in for dinner.

The cold had started to set in, so our proprietress put a bucket of hot coals under the table to warm us. We all huddled together, and devoured our daal baht and potatoes. We had a nice apple pie for dessert, although the Nepali idea of "sweet" is quite different from our western tastes.

We chatted a bit after dinner, but everyone was tired from our long day, so we soon hit the sack. We had great ideas of staying awake to hear the 7pm news, but we couldn't keep our eyes open. In our tent, we thought that it would be warm, so we set up our sleeping bags quilt-style, but we got a bit cold during the night, and had to put on our fleece jackets. Otherwise, we slept well.

Tom woke in the night and was surprised by the light outside the tent. Turns out this town has hydropower and every house has an electric light that they burn all night. The whole town was lit up, like a Christmas tree, a sight we hadn't seen in over 3 weeks.

 

Thu Nov 23, 2000 - Jomsom - last trekking day!

Bed tea was served at the usual time of 6:30, and we packed up and went inside to breakfast. Grant and Les were very late, so we ended up waiting around for them for a while. The loud Nepali music in the house didn't exactly soothe our morning mood.

We got a bit of a late start, after 8:30, for our trek to Kagbeni and Jomsom. We were supposed to take about 2 hours to Kagbeni, have a quick tour of the city, then 2 more to Jomsom, where we would have a late lunch.

The trek down to Kagbeni was fast and easy. Louisa and Tom took the lead, with Bill and Duba close behind. The trail was mostly good, and the downhill grade not steep, so we made great time. We passed through a variety of small towns and saw many sidewalk vendors. Apples seem to be the crop of choice in this area, everyone was selling them, and they looked quite good.

Les almost missed us, following the porters on the shortcut path straight to Jomsom, but Duba spotted him and we called him over. We had a great view of Kagbeni and the Kali Gandaki river valley from the high shoulder of the moraine, then we headed down, down, down the rocky path to the riverside town.

We got there around 10:45, and dropped our bags in front of a hotel for Duba to watch. Hari led us in to town to tour the monastery. An old monk let us in upstairs to see the icons and drums, then we went out on the roof for great views of the town, the Mustang area, and the surrounding mountains.

The town is a typical Mustang town, with many old carvings in the stone walls, and lots of prayer flags fluttering. The setting was on a junction of two arms of the Kali Gandaki, in a wide flood plain. This town is at one end of the Mustang trek.

They had some modern conveniences, like electricity, water-powered gristmills, and even automatically turning prayer wheels. By the time we had seen most of the town it was 11:30 and we were hungry. We snacked on a Snickers before we started out again, because we knew we had 2 hours left to hike before lunch.

Les had disappeared again, so we started out without him, leaving Hari to wait for him. Duba, Bill, Tom and Louisa set the pace again, cruising along the mostly flat trail down river. We often were able to shortcut on to the "winter trail" which was actually in the dry part of the riverbed. During the monsoon, this trail is flooded.

The wind picked up considerably, and the dust was flying in our faces, making us walk mostly head-down. We also were hungry and tired, so we just kept trucking along with minimal breaks. Just as we neared Jomsom, we passed Cheden, carrying our huge bags on his 15-year-old back. We cheered him with greetings and encouragement, then went on through town to find the camp site.

Duba walked us through the entire town of Jomsom, with Louisa drooling at every restaurant, to a "hotel" near the "airport". There we saw the kitchen staff, but lunch was not ready for us, even though it was nearly 2pm. We sat and drank hot lemon for a few minutes, then Louisa went to buy some food next door - she was that hungry. While she was gone, however, they served lunch, so Temba went to fetch her just in time.

We devoured our lunch of mushrooms, spinach, potatoes, and fried bread. The others walked in an hour or so later, and fortunately the kitchen staff had hidden some food from us, or else they would have had nothing left! Turns out John had been wandering through Jomsom for 40 minutes until he spotted Duba just outside the hotel.

We were given the option to sleep in the small rooms instead of tents, which, after inspection, we accepted. We spent part of the afternoon unpacking a bit, hanging laundry on the line in the wind to dry, and briefly resting.

At 3:30 Tom, Louisa, Bill, and Les motivated to see the museum. We climbed the steps and had great views of Tilicho peak, Nilgiri, and up and down the valley. Inside, we found a terrific geology exhibit, which fascinated us for a while. The natural history part needs work, as it was mostly badly stuffed animals with Nepali signs. There was also a temple attached, which was colorful - we got some good pictures of the narrow unbound prayer books, and the icons. Finally, we looked at their maps, trying to figure out where we had been and what mountains we had seen. All in all a very enjoyable experience.

Outside, we admired the setting sun on the mountains, and headed back past the airport to our "hotel". Jomsom is the most modern town we've seen in weeks, with no cars, but a few farm tractors, and even an internet cafe (outrageously expensive, of course), but no roads.

We were back in time for a late tea at 5pm, then relaxed a few minutes before dinner.

Our version of Thanksgiving dinner was some decent roast chicken, fried potatoes, and daal bhat. Not exactly an American feast, but the chicken was something for which we were thankful. We devoured everything in sight, then sat around the table drinking beer and chatting. Some unnamed trekkers brought out flasks of harder stuff, and worked on those as well. For dessert we had heavy Shiva cake, and all had a piece. The remaining cake proved enough for all of the porters and staff too. Nearly everyone had some.

Hari organized tips for the porters and staff so we pooled money and filled envelopes. The he called the porters and staff in to the dining room in groups. We handed out the envelopes with a fair amount of comedy. We did not know everyone's name, and did not recognize a significant portion of them in their written form. The staff seemed grateful for their tips, giving us bows and 'danniabats' (thank you's).

Afterwards, Hari grabbed the drum and hours of singing and dancing ensued. We bought beer and rakshi for the entire staff which seemed to get things rolling. Temba started the dancing and pulled Les on to the dance floor. (The latter was not very difficult). The two of them danced for awhile then started a rotation through the room. Everyone danced.

The singing and drumming grew louder throughout the evening covering up any sounds from the German group two rooms away. Hari almost could not talk from singing and banging the drum all night, sweat poured from his body. Louisa went to bed around 9, but Tom kept dancing until the end at 10:00. It might seem early, but it was hours after our typical bedtime on the trail. The evening celebration was quite the way to end the trek.

;;At one point Bill grabbed what he thought was a beer bottle, took a huge swig only to discover his mouth full of rakshi. He watches Grant pick up the bottle and continue to take swigs from it and drain it. When questioned the next day, Grant said 'Man I thought that beer tasted flat.'

 

Fri Nov 24, 2000 - Back to Kathmandu

We woke early, with Duba bringing us tea at 6am. The porters were still sprawled everywhere in the dining room, and the kitchen staff was all asleep in the kitchen. They were all looking a bit worse for wear - the party had been fun last night. Only Pemba and Duba were coherent enough to serve tea and coffee, and we didn't get breakfast.

We packed up our bags, and a few of the more coherent staff helped us carry our bags across the street into the airport. Louisa and Tom were almost left behind in the mad mob trying to get into tiny 2-room airport, but Hari came back out to save us.

Inside was almost crazier. There was a madhouse scene weighing bags, writing things in books, getting stamps, paying taxes, getting boarding passes, etc. Hari earned his keep on this morning alone.

People everywhere were pushing and shoving, especially in the line for the security check. The guards were totally emptying many bags for searching, and the line moved excruciatingly slowly. The "ladies" line moved faster, and when all the women were through, Tom and Grant went through that side much faster.

The tiny waiting room on the other side was packed, but after a half hour or so we saw our plane land. We were hurried aboard, and sat in the front just behind the pilots. The plane took off immediately.

During the flight to Pokhara, we had great views of Dhaulagiri and the Kali Gandaki gorge, the deepest in the world, as we seemed to clip the treetops on some of the ridges we flew over. Then we turned and flew along the length of the Annapurna range, with great views of Machupuchare (Fish Tail) and all of the Annapurnas. We got some great pictures.

In Pokhara, we walked inside the terminal and had a bit of breakfast, then relaxed for a while. We went through security again, which was easy this time, and then started a last fierce euchre game, where Tom and John crushed Les and Grant.

Soon we were called to board the plane early, but had to wait on the Twin Otter 20-seat plane 20 minutes for fog to clear in Kathmandu. In Kathmandu we were dropped into the usual mob scene to collect our bags and fight through the taxi touts to the cars Sunil arranged for us.

At the Shankar, we retrieved our safety box and stored luggage, then headed to our room. Unfortunately, it had two beds, so we switched to another. This one didn't have a working shower, so we insisted on another. They didn't have one ready, so we went down to the garden to eat lunch while they cleaned it. We had excellent spring rolls and chicken tikka masala, and by the time we finished, the room was ready.

In the room, we both took long showers - the shower still rated a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, but it was way better than a glacial river. We unpacked our gear a bit to gather our laundry, then headed into Thamel.

We dropped our laundry off, then changed some money and headed to an internet cafe. After a month gone, we thought we'd have lots, but we had fewer than we thought - if you don't send any, you don't get any. We also spent some time on economist.com trying to catch up on the election madness.

We returned our rental gear, then went to the New Dragon carpet shop to meet the others for dinner. We decided to have Thai food at Yin Yang, which was quite good. After dinner, we stopped by a phone place to call Tom's Grandma, who was hosting 19 relatives for Thanksgiving. Then we headed back to the hotel and fell into bed before 10pm.

 

Sat Nov 25, 2000 - Bhaktapur

We woke at the late hour of 7:30 showered and had breakfast before meeting the guys and Hari in the lobby to go into town.

First the guys dropped their laundry at the place we discovered, then Tom, Bill and Les went to have the gluttonous Nepali shave and haircut. Louisa checked the internet, was the first customer of the day and had tea with the owner of the cafe.

Everyone except John hopped in a couple of taxis to the ancient city of Bhaktapur. The streets are pedestrian only which creates a level of serenity missing elsewhere in Nepal. The cobblestone streets wind through squares lined with handsome temples, palaces and buildings. While we wandered all of us shopped. In the potters' square we purchased garden ornaments, in the woodcarver's square we purchased intricate picture frames.

We threw in the towel when our stomachs grumbled and had a nice lunch overlooking one of the squares, enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of Bhaktapur. On the walk out of town some last minute purchases were made by all before returning to commercial and tout-full Thamel.

Hari had arranged for us to get tickets on Buddha Air's mountain flight so we proceeded to the travel agent to purchase the tickets. He convinced us Buddha was the only company to trust with new planes and better service records. Sounded good to us.

The last hour of daylight we spent looking for books and with a quick check of email. On the way to dinner many of us picked up laundry. We had to check our huge order and found some extra items and some missing items. Everything looked amazingly clean considering the filthy state in which we dropped it off. Finally all was sorted out and we met the others at The Third Eye.

The Indian food was served at tables on the floor. Each of us had a cushion, but with six big men it was tough to get comfortable. The food was great, however, and we devoured all of it.

After dinner we did a final push to get on the Lauda flight for Monday. It was very frustrating since offices were closed and phone numbers did not work. After awhile we had sent some faxes and hoped for the best.

We arrived at the hotel close to ten and quickly went to sleep.

 

Sun Nov 26, 2000 - Mountain flight

We rushed through showers and breakfast to make it to the airport on time. We left the Shanker a few minutes late to find only one taxi driver waiting in the cold, gray fog. He tried to extort a high price for the ride to the airport, but as we walked away chased us down in his taxi and agreed to 200 rupees. During the drive he tried to convince us that we should stop at a few sights since our flight would inevitably be delayed.

On arrival at the airport at 8:30 for our 9:30 flight, the agent told us she expected it to leave at 10:00. We settled down in the crowded waiting room. A few women from Eugene, Oregon who were in Nepal for a sister city conference chatted with us for awhile before their very delayed flight.

Luck shined on us. At 10:15 a Buddha Air agent walked through the waiting room, saw our two boarding passes on the table and asked us to follow him. He walked us through the madness at the gate and ushered us into a Buddha Air jeep. The driver took us to the small propeller plane where a dozen or so people were waiting. We were now two passengers on the "8:30" flight.

The pilot was quite friendly and gave us a run down of the flight plan and how to recognize the various peaks. We stood on the tarmac for half an hour while various planes started up and taxied by us. Nobody seemed to take notice of our close proximity to the aircraft, so neither did we.

At 11:00 our plane finally took off. Every passenger has his or her own window. Within five minutes of takeoff, those on the left hand side of the plane started to enjoy magnificent views of the Himalayas. Each of us were permitted to peer over the pilots' shoulders and get the full head-on view. The hour passed quickly as we gazed in delight at Everest, and four of the other six tallest mountains in the world. Everest is massive, an enormous pyramidal mass of rock that juts into the sky higher than the already large mountains surrounding it. Pictures really don't do it justice.

The taxi dropped us in Thamel at Northfield Cafe for lunch. Louisa was feeling under the weather with the beginnings of a cold, so we sat in the sun in the garden and had quite a good lunch. By the time we left we had less than one hour to meet the group at Shankar's New Dragon carpet shop. We traded in used books and checked email on the way.

John had bought some great pashmina scarves and led Grant and Louisa toward his shop for their purchases. Those two had great luck while the rest of the group enjoyed tea and momos.

The bargaining exhausted Louisa so she headed back to the hotel while Bill and Tom joined Hari for a trip to the Monkey Temple. After the usual harrowing taxi ride, we climbed the 365 steps to the moderately interesting temple, which is surrounded by hundreds of souvenir vendors and beggars. We endeavored to ignore these and concentrate on the monkeys, which could be found climbing all over everything.

We watched in delight as two small monkeys wrestled and bounced across the various monuments. Several larger monkeys rested comfortably in niches, grooming each other. As we were about to leave, a full-scale turf war broke out, and we laughed and gaped as dozens of monkeys hissed and chased each other over the stupas and between pedestrians.

Tom returned to the room at 5 to find Louisa entirely in fleece and snuggled in the bed. She had been resting and surfing between CNN, BBC and CNBC for the latest news on the US situation.

We headed into Thamel, where Tom found a pair of replacement pants that were long enough and had them add some belt loops. Most of the guys were in Shankar's when we arrived and Hari recommended Kilroy's for dinner.

The meal was good and the restaurant had a great atmosphere. We exchanged email addresses and final stories before saying good-bye at the end of the meal. On the way out of town we made some hard last-sale-of-the-day purchases to prepare us for Christmas.

At the hotel Tom motivated to pack one of our bags. Louisa was tired, so we soon turned out the light.

 

Mon Nov 27, 2000 - In Transit

It still seemed strange to be connected to electronic devices again, as the alarm woke us at 7:00 and we immediately turned on the TV to listen to CNN and the Presidential election results from Florida.

We showered and packed while listening to the update and Bush's speech. This gave us fuel for conversation during breakfast.

Hari and Grant went to the police station while we walked into town with them for some last minute shopping. Most of the purchases were Christmas gifts for the family. Tom can't get over that he bought Christmas presents before the 24th of December.

On the return walk to The Shanker we passed a demonstration in the street. A couple hundred students and 50 policemen filled the sidewalks and other available space. Students shouted responsively around tires that were burning infernos.

The checkout was easy, except Tom's credit card was declined. This raised our concern since he had not used it for a month, but later in the day we logged on to find nothing unusual. (whew!)

The traffic to the airport was the worst yet, but we had plenty of time thanks to Hari Pandey. He gave us some good luck scarves, we said our good-byes, then went into the madness.

The Kathmandu airport was of the same generation as Delhi, but had a slight semblance of sanity. The bags were scanned quickly and we gratefully queued on the Gold Alliance line which was about one-third of the length of the other line. When we got to the front the woman asked for our departure tax card which we did not have. That was fine, Thai employs a few men to run to the chaotic departure tax window for passengers, now that is service!

John and Grant were in the madness in front of Royal Nepal Airlines. The chaos continued to build since the windows were not open. We proceeded through immigration, spent our final rupees, drank some sodas and got on line for the final security check before John and Grant arrived in the waiting room.

Royal Nepal did not open their window until 12:45, two hours after the guys arrived at the airport. Ouch! They chatted with Tom while he waited in the interminable Gentleman's security line while Louisa whisked through on the Ladies' line.

The Thai agent hooked us up with great seats so we relaxed during the three hour flight to Bangkok. On arrival we surfed the internet with leftover credits from previous in-transit waits and enjoyed the Thai Lounge for the rest of our layover.

At 11:00 pm they called our flight and we walked the length of the terminal to board a bus in the humid night. Our seats were not quite as good, but we settled i for the twelve hour flight.

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.