10th October 2014

I was in Manang about to have a rest day!   Ah, rest days……how badly named they are!  The 3 of us looked over at the hill on the other side of the river knowing that was our objective for the day, we would hit 4000m, and hopefully I would then be able to sleep.  The nights seem to be getting longer out here as I can’t sleep at all, not the best preparation for a bimble up a hill!

Toady was unusually cloudy, but we set off anyway, down to the river out of the village and then up – god that hurt!  Baloram was carrying my backpack which literally had a warm layer and some water in it, nothing else!  Even without that on my back I was slow.  We reached the lake viewpoint where some trekkers had made it to and were heading back down towards the river and the village.  I looked at Bhim and laughed – they clearly didn’t understand the trek high sleep low principle – I looked over at Manang and we were at best level with it, probably a bit lower!!

Off we set, counting my steps very carefully!  Lots and lots of stops, but usually over the 100 steps rule.   We were the only people on the hill, it was blissful.   We made it to the teahouse at 3800m (it was closed) and Bhim asked if I wanted to continue.  Like a fool I said yes!!!

Off I trudged, getting ever slower, then finally Bhim pointed out the prayer flags that we were heading to, yay  I could see my final objective – so I decided to go via the “shortcut” always the steepest way.  65 steps and I was done in!!  But I was also at the top!  High fives all round, quick few pictures and we headed back down, we had reached 4000m!

Back at base, I took the opportunity to wash my hair before the 3 of us headed off to the bakery for apple pie and coffee.  Early night tonight, I was shattered after the lack of sleep and the effort to get up the hill, fingers crossed I would sleep.

I dropped off at 3am, alarm goes off at 6 – signs are promising!!  Another clear blue sky day and the most stunning mountain views, I was up and out on my balcony taking pictures way before I was due to be ready!

Off we set, upwards of course, through old Manang through the winding streets that look like alleys but are actually the main way through.  We head up past beautiful mani stones and stupas and I stop often – I have good excuse for my frequent “breaks” the views are absolutely stunning.  Up and up and up we go, eventually stopping for tea at a beautiful teahouse where I didn’t have tea, but my old favourite from Dingboche – seabuckthorne juice, along with a delicious seabuckthorne berry muffin, yum yum, so good I actually had 2!!

Off along the side of a hill we went, things were getting harder so I was getting considerably slower but I seemed to be in a “tortoise and hare” situation with a group of trekkers that kept racing past me, but then stopping for extended breaks, whilst I would stop for a minute, catch my breath, then carry on!  Guess what, the tortoise won the race (not that I was racing, far from it!)

This really was the day of stunning views, sometimes even Bhim managed to get his camera out before me.  Every twist and turn bought new stunning mountain views.  Soon Bhim pointed out our final destination for the day, seemed a lot of Nepali flat was ahead, so I marched on, well I say marched…as close as a tortoise can get to a march!!  Typically the village was set on a hill, we ignored the first lot of teahouses and continued upwards – these first ones looked so inviting, but then Bhim pointed out to me that I could either do this extra 30 mins now and have that extra in bed tomorrow, or we stop at the bottom then have to do uphill first thing in the morning, I preferred his option.

We ended up at the aptly named Himalayan View Lodge in Yak Kharka – the dining room had massive windows facing towards the most stunning mountain views, Annapurna’s, Gangapurna, other stuff too, but all beautiful and I sat all afternoon watching the view change with clouds and then sunset – what a great end to the day.

Another night without sleep, this was the day I chose to start taking Diamox!  I was at 4,100m, I hadn’t slept for 2 or 3 nights, and in the middle of the night just going to the loo meant I was struggling for breath and feeling awful.  I broke the news to Bhim, he was not surprised and thought it was a good idea – today we were heading up to 4,800 to High Camp then tomorrow we would be on the long day to the Thorong La High Pass at 5,416m, it was a good decision.

We set off out of Yak Kharka, by now Bhim had taken my laptop out of my backpack and was carrying it himself, I didn’t argue, it made such a difference to me, even though it was only 1.5kg!

More stunning views of the Annapurna range – but behind us, so a good excuse to stop and grab the camera!  We were on a wide trail now with lots of mani stones, always choosing the left option, clearly, unlike most of the trekkers.  Unbelievably a group overtook us followed by one of the dogs from the village, they stopped and took pictures of…….THE DOG!!!!  Bhim and I were totally amazed, they ignored the beautiful view behind them and were taking pictures of a dog!!  Now don’t get me wrong, I love dogs but…….!!

We followed the path, high above the river and then Bhim pointed out a shiny new bridge, we had a decision to make, stay on this trail and drop right down to the river then climb up, or use this new bridge that kept us at a reasonable level on the hill and not have to do the climb up – easy decision as we looked at the 2 trails!  Except, when we got half way along the trail on the other side, we realised that the path we thought we saw didn’t actually exist, so we had to drop down and join the old path!!  Oh well at least Bhim will know for his next lot of clients!

Quick time for tea after all that excursion and we set off to our lunch stop.  Bhim had already told me that this could also be our final destination for the day, but it would mean an earlier start the next morning.  We had agreed to make the decision when we got there depending on how I felt!  First we dodged the dodgy gravel path along the side of the hill.  Walking past the sign that said “warning, danger of landslides” did nothing to help my wariness of this path – but luckily enough no landslides today and we arrived at Phedi which was literally one teahouse, not the village that I expected!  It was lunchtime and I was told it would be about another hour to an hour and a half uphill after lunch if I felt strong enough.  Of course I did – it was either that or tag that extra time on tomorrow morning!

I regretted the decision immediately, it was a constant hard uphill struggle through almost desert like conditions.  No greenery around, 4,600m and I was climbing 200m, it took me 2 hours!!!  The worst bit was the end, I could see High Camp and I was virtually there but every 10 steps I had to stop – 4,800 was killing me!!!

A quick rest up in my room that afternoon (no sleep of course) then in for dinner (half a bowl of soup, appetite lost too) then I opted for bed at 6pm.   We would be leaving at 5am with roughly 4 hours uphill to get to the pass, I figured that even if I wasn’t sleeping, resting was my best option rather than sitting up chatting to other trekkers, I didn’t order breakfast, I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood at 4.30am!!

So my long night of rest was just that, I may have dropped off for an hour or so, but no longer.  I heard people leaving at 3am (mad fools) and eventually got out of bed and packed up my bag.  It was dark, this was a headtorch start to the day.

Weary souls were sat around the dining room forcing breakfast into themselves, I was so glad I opted for none, just the smell of food was making me sick!   Off we set, trudging up the hill in the pitch black with just our head torches to guide us.  This was when Bhim’s batteries let him down so we were relying on me!!  I followed these hard, horrible zigzags slowly up the hill, following the trail of head torches ahead.  Lots of people passed me, I didn’t care, this was hurting and I wasn’t going to worry about anyone else.  But then the light started to change and as I stopped and looked around, it was a clear morning and the outline of the mountains was starting to appear, it was amazing and stunning.  I took pictures every time I stopped and captured the light changing behind the mountains, it was truly awesome.

This was a gruelling, barren landscape we were now trekking in.  It was hard work, as much as the hill was a “gentle” incline, it went on forever!!  I thought Kala Pathar was hard, but this was much worse, it was constant, there seemed to be no end, then the sun hit us to sap us of what little energy we had.  I stopped for water and a break and took off my backpack.  Bhim just picked it up and added it to his load, I didn’t argue….

After 3.5 hours of this awful climb, getting to what looked like the top of the hill, only to find it was just another part that hid yet more up, Bhim pointed out some prayer flags ahead…..this was the pass…..no, surely not, there was no way I was nearly there (of course not, it was another 30 mins away!!)   But then I rounded another corner and saw the sign.  I stopped, I cried, I couldn’t believe I was nearly there!!  10 minutes later, I was!!  Cue more tears, a group hug with Bhim and Baloram, then pictures galore, coconut crunchees, ginger tea, more pictures and then just feeling amazing!!  I had made it past 5,000m again – 5,416 to be precise!!!

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Team Chyaang at Thorong La Pass

Oh and the views – OMG – it was worth the 4 hours of pain.  One side of the pass were beautiful snow topped mountains – the other looked like a scene from a western, this was Mustang and it looked awesome and vast and …..barren!!!

We headed downhill.  Now, when I say downhill I really really mean downhill – 2.5 hours of constant, steep downhill – most of it on gravel paths, never my best surface!!  We stopped for lunch and I managed half a bowl of carrot soup, then there was more down and an hour later we arrived in Muktinath at 3,800m – 1600m lower than the pass – no wonder my legs hurt!!!

A beautiful hot shower awaited at my teahouse, then Bhim found somewhere that served tongba.   Team chyaang enjoyed a good evening celebrating and more importantly tomorrow would be all about a jeep ride!!

Good god, thank god we were in a jeep.  We could have walked it (and some of my fellow trekkers did) but it was a horrible dusty road, busy with buses and jeeps – it was constant and there was no alternative route to Jomsom, I said a quiet prayer of thanks to Bhim.  3 hours later we were in Jomsom and I had an afternoon of peace and quiet in our hotel catching up on my blog entries.

I knew our next few days would be all about vehicular transport, I didn’t worry about “cheating” I had been warned the roads were bad (again, back on roads not trails) and also knew I was heading back to my favourite trail in a few days, so a couple of rest days would do me no harm.

Tatopani was our next stop, but we ended up with a 5 hour hike as there were 2 broken down buses which meant travel chaos when we arrived at Ghasa to change buses, some people had been waiting 24 hours, Bhim quickly made the decision for us to walk.  A good choice as we were about an hour away from our destination when the first few vehicles started passing us.

However, our reward at Tatopani was the hot springs and some cold beers.  Awesome evening spent with some Irish guys we had met on the bus.  Only Hazel could find some Irish guys to party with in the middle of Nepal!!

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Hazel and “The Irish” in the Hot Springs, Tatopani

Next morning, taxi to Beni then jeep to Pokhara, arriving mid afternoon.  Off we set in search of momos and tongba!!  The main road in Pokhara is clearly set up for tourists, no Nepali food on offer anywhere, but pizza and Chinese, and coffee and cake were in abundance!!!  I took Bhim and Baloram to the place I had momos and tongba with Asim and Rishi in the spring, it was gone!!!  The place next door served momos so  at least we had food, but no tongba.  Bhim asked around and we were directed to the next side street.  An afternoon spent eating and drinking the local specialities before finishing off with the maddest Chinese meal I have had (the menu was all pictures, I left it to Bhim to pick!)

Next morning was the jeep ride home to Kathmandu, no time for breakfast but the lunchtime stop bought the biggest portion of dal bhat to date, all 3 of us had extras!!!  I couldn’t wait to get back to Hotel Access, 7 days with no sleep was taking its toll, I needed a proper bed at a decent altitude with no humidity (Tatopani and Pokhara were ridiculous, its end of monsoon season and couldn’t I tell it!!)

Now the real work starts – I had 10 hours sleep that first night, it was blissful!!  A mad afternoon running round KTM airport buildings with Asim trying to get my bags out of cargo – 3.5 hours and we were finally reunited, more rest that night then 2 days rushing round KTM picking up collection boxes, meeting with NYF, cashing cheques at the bank and finally having dinner with Asim and his family – I was ready to head to my favourite hills and start doing all the stuff I had really came out here for.  My holiday was finished, Supporting Sherpa Children and its mission was about to get my full attention!!

More pix and info can be found on my other blog from this trip at Travelpod

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