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Trekking Report "Kali Gandaki Valley Trek" - September 2006

   

trekking in Nepal
A Trekking Report“The Small Circle of Annapurna – the Kali- Gandaki River Valley ”
Organized by: Trekking Club
Period: September, 6-20, 2006
Trekking guide: A. Burambayeva

 

Day 1. Flight: Almaty – New Delhi – Kathmandu
A very busy day, as everything was chaotic – farewells, packing, participants’ introductions, and, finally, the flight. 
The flight via New Delhi is the best way as it may be planned according to the summer/winter regular flight schedule of Air Astana. There are eight daily flights by four airlines from New Delhi to Kathmandu . Although the service is not very good (local airlines, truly oriental, stay calm when announcing cancellations or delays), you can always change your ticket for another carrier, even before the planes is going to take off.
After a short waiting in the Indira Gandhi airport, and we are on board a plane of the Nepalese Royal Airlines to take us to Kathmandu . The flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu takes about 1.5 hours (scheduled time – 1 hour 40 minutes). The landing is fascinating – there are glimmering lights everywhere in the valley, even on steep mountain slopes.
We arrived in the evening and were welcomes with flower wreaths and traditional smiles. During our stay in Nepal , we got used to the people smiling everywhere and to everyone so much that upon our return it took us some time to get adapted to sullen faces in Almaty.
The hosts took proper care to provide us with a good hotel at the end of a central tourist district, Tamel. A good hotel in Kathmandu offers a good distraction from the city noise (which is everywhere – the streets, cars, mopeds, rickshaws, beggars, shops with trading tourists). The hotel grounds are the first sign of its “star level” because flat fertile land is very expensive in Nepal . Our hotel, Malla, had a swimming pool and a spa center, and its courtyard was clean and had tropical plants which served as a natural fence.

trekking in NepalDay 2. Kathmandu
The day was as busy as the previous one, with all its flights. There was little time to do the city but we wanted to see it all. Although, having been in Kathmandu for 2 weeks before, I still was short of time…
After breakfast, a bus with a guide took us to the following tourist sights: 
 - Boudhanat. The biggest Buddhist shrine in Nepal distinctively shaped like a mortar – a round plastered mound with a gilded superstructure on a concrete base, a few hundred meters in diameter. Anyone can enter the shrine, and you can see that it is extremely popular with locals and tourists – it is always crowded. The mortar has a Buddhist monastery where we saw European-looking monks. As is the custom, the shrine is decorated with kilometers of praying flags which make it look festive. 
 - Swoyambhunat. The monkeys’ mountain. A well-justified name – the place swarms with monkeys. The hill is crowned by a most magnificent temple which can be accessed by rather steep stairs. On a hot and humid day, the ascent may be tiring but worth it – a great view on the valley of Kathmandu and the city prostrated below. But there I another way for the lazy ones, with a less steep ascent via the monastery garden.  
 - Pashupatinat. The city’s sanctuary of the Hinduists and a cremation place. A very unusual shrine on the river. There are special stands for incineration of the deceased one along the river – the higher upstream, the more “prestigious” the stand. The first one is for members of the royal family. Here, you can see the real difference between the Europeans and the Nepalese – the latter have an even attitude to the death.
Almost all rooms are open for visits. There is another interesting feature: Pashupatinat is the place where the Sadu (saint and painted hermits) get together. They do look like hermits although not devoid of civilization – all of them agree to have their picture taken for a small fee. It is worth it because this opportunity may not occur again…
Kathmandu is the city of contrasts and hippies. We spent the afternoon visiting the sanctuaries and enjoyed the oriental chaos. And at night, we plunged into a real atmosphere of the 1960s. Tamel at night is a bundle of bright shops and stores, cheap hashish, delicious steaks, and live music of the Doors and the Creedence from terraces. A terrace is a summer-type café on the roof of a house, with a lot of flowers and trees in pots, and of course, a stage for musicians. Since the city is made of low houses with flat roofs, it all looks like a kaleidoscope of cafes at different levels. Your ears will help you choose the way where to spend the rest of the evening – just go to the place where you like the music.

Day 3. Transfer from Kathmandu to Biretati
We had been warned that the way from Kathmandu to the beginning of the trek would take 6 to 7 hours, and so by 7 AM we had already been in a van ready to head off to Biretati.
If somebody ever counted on having a sleep on the way, the first kilometers of it dissipated their intents. First, traffic is right-sided in Nepal , second, most mountainous roads are narrow and without any fencing, and third, the Nepalese are very risky drivers, no matter what vehicle they drive and what cargo they carry (goods, vegetables, people). The country’s relief and climate teach people to be calm about disasters – on our way, we had seen a few serious accidents.
The valley of Kathmandu is probably a place more or less big, flat and good for living. It used to be the bone of content between various principalities. It was only in the 17th century that smaller kingdoms united into the state of Nepal , and its borders have never been changed ever since. The city of Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal ) has grown across the whole valley but there are still some differences in its districts (which had earlier been independent city states).  For example, downtown is shared by two beautiful districts – Pagan and Kathmandu proper. The former powerful state of Baktapur is now a suburb of the capital city.
Our way was across the resort city of Pokhara , toward the village of Biretati (30 km from Pokhara ). However, about 20 km short of the city, we had to make a stop – the road was closed by the police. Rumors had it that there was a big accident ahead or a bomb planted in a car. Waiting is not a very pleasant thing, but our guide managed to savor it with an unscheduled lunch in a cafeteria “not for tourists”. It turned out to be an eating hole for locals and served only dal-bat. Actually, the diet of the Nepalese is not very versatile – they mostly eat rice, peas, spinach, corn, and some other vegetables, and very little meat (not to mention steaks for tourists). Dal-bat is in fact the most common dish (rice with a pea soup).
A couple of hours later, the jam was over, and we went on to Biretati, where we left the bus to start the trek.
The Maoists from the Communist Party of Nepal are worth special mentioning because they are considered to be the major threat for tourists. We, too, have heard and read a lot about them. However, it was not until on our third day in Nepal that we met a decent Maoist. It was a man who met us as we approached the loggia in Biretati. In general, he was no different than any other people, although dressed in a more fashionable way – a Bologna coat with the words gore-tex, and similar pants (with 30 degrees above zero). He talked to our guide and each of us to find out for how many days we planned to trek. He could have been some local bonza. Local residents, both villagers and owners of loggias, have an ambiguous attitude to the Nepalese Communists – they consider them cheapskates and racketeers but do welcome some kind of power in their area (the royal troops and the police are not able to control remote highlands). Our Maoist turned out to be the owner of the loggia. We did find a common language with him, and in the morning he cooked a bourgeois breakfast for us.
The loggia is rather cozy, with two beds in each room. The shower and toilet are outside, and the hot water turned cool by the time we were about to wash ourselves. By the way, “hot water” in Nepal is about 17 degrees.

trekking in NepalDay 4. Biretati – Ulleri.
The usual wake-up time in trekking is 6 or 7 AM. The first trek day began at 5:30, although we delayed it because of the rain.
It is worth mentioning that it is useless to talk kilometers and heights when assessing the way with the guides and local residents – everything is measured in hours. The road signs actually say  it’s 2 hours to some destination. Notably, 2 Nepalese hours (or, 2 hours of a Nepalese walk) differ from two hours of an ordinary untrained walker by about 1.5 times.

For the first 1.5 hours, a good stone path was winding in the lower gorge along a tributary of the Kali-Gandaki, a major Himalayan river. After the village of Ramgari , the road veered off with the stream ( Burungi Hola ), and we began our long rise to Ulleri having gone across several suspension bridges. This was a good try-out for the first trekking day: the path was meandering and went up above the clouds (there was a low ceiling of clouds). In fact, the untrained participants could enjoy a lot of opportunities to rest – there were loggias and tea houses in every 300-500 meters. Also, if you keep the rate – 40-50 minutes of continuous walking (at any pace) – a 10-minute rest, you can survive this ascent without any losses.
On the whole, the trek was skillfully designed, thanks to out hosts. Despite a seemingly long ascent, we walked on this day for only 4 hours. Right after the noon, we had already been in the loggia sharing our great impressions.
The weather was not quite welcoming on that day – foggy and wet almost all the time. That is why we were not able to take the panoramic pictures of the Southern Annapurna and Patal Hiunchuli (6,441 m) as we had been promised. Ulleri though is the best place for that. Well, may be next time.
The trekkers who travel in the beginning/end of the season should bring along more clothes to change  (especially T-shirts and socks), and thoroughly pack them in plastic bags. On rainy days, the things you used may not get dry through the night (it is warm but humid at night).
Ulleri (at about 2,000 m) includes four houses on a cliff. There was no electric power in the settlement while we were there – about half a month before, a landslide carried the transmission lines away. The owner of the loggia offered us candles (many loggias also have gas lights) and a delicious meal. One must get used to the fact that there are very few places in trekking where meat is served. But the meals are great.

Day 5. Ulleri – Gorepani
We woke up not too early because we only had a 3.5-hour walk on that day. A little bit above Ulleri, the road went on to the left bank of the stream and plunged into a thick forest – real tropical wet jungle in early September, with hairy spiders and mossy trees. Our main task in the forest was to ward off intruding leeches (we seemed to be in the midst of their summer activity). For humans, it is not that difficult – when horse drivers passed us, their horses were covered with those ghastly creatures.
  The forest belt broke off in the village of Nangetati , and right behind it the path met the thick forest again. This place is close to the Gorepani Pass (2,840 m). In good weather, a magnificent panorama of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna opens up from the pass and the neighboring Pun Hill.
 Our loggia deserve a story because it is the perfect Nepalese concept. A three-floor house with a big hall and a blazing oven. Decent meals and a very hot shower. Double rooms (looks like a standard), although with plywood partitions. Gorepani has a telephone and a couple of shops.
we had planned to walk up Pun Hill the next day but the weather prevented us from that, and we had a good sleep.

Day 6. Gorepani – Tatopani
Judging by the map, we had a long descent to Tatopani on that day. The stone steps meandered uphill, slightly going down to the valley.  The landscape changed – houses had red walls and straw roofs (before, we had seen mostly stone buildings with slate roofs). The quantity of hemp struck us – in fact, it is a wild plant!
We had to cross a few mountain streams on our way. After we left the village of Chhetri , we had a 1.5-hour ascent, the first and the last on this day, ending up in the village of Durkun Dhara . From that point on, we had a steep descent on the same annoying steps towards the merging point of the Gar Holla and the Kali-Gandaki. 
The Kali-Gandaki is impressive – they say it is the world’s only river which “cuts across” a mountain range. The reason is that the Himalayans are very young mountains formed after the Hindustan Island joined the Eurasian continent. By the time the mountains rose, the Kali-Gandaki had been a powerful river – with a strong enough torrent to cut across the mountain slope.
The town of Tatopani (1,190 m) upstream has one paved street. But it also has electricity, telephone and other amenities. It is also the lowest trekking place.
We were exhausted when we reached the loggia – the long descent was rather tiring. The loggia was worse than the previous one – but still it was the best hotel in the area! We were able to recharge our batteries here. I also believe we met a lot of tourists here – from Japan , Poland , Italy , etc. On the road, we would only meet the English and the Koreans.

Day 7. Tatopani – Gaza
The usual trekking morning was longer on that day, and we had to stride rapidly during the first stage of the way in the hollow, along the bank of the Kali-Gandaki. This area is more lively – we would encounter caravans of horses (which looked more like donkeys) every 40 minutes. Almost all of them carried apples – the town of Marfa , the “apple capital” of Nepal , was ahead.  We were also accompanied by helicopters flying up and down every 15-20 minutes, mostly the Russian-made Mi-8s. The river valley is the best way, however, flights here are not always possible
the path in this part was rather wide, a little slanting upward. Behind the village of Dana we crossed a long bridge to the other bank. The gorge here narrows down and becomes extremely deep. Waterfalls thunder from beyond the clouds – a spectacular view!
Almost the whole way went through cozy mountain villages. The upstream Kali-Gandaki was less ferocious, and the river looked wider and calmer here.
After the village of Kabre , the river valley narrowed down again, and the path made its way through a rocky gorge. This was the last sharp ascent on that day – which was rather easy to pass, despite its steepness. Farther ahead, we went down to the river, and gorge widened again. We crossed a couple of long swaying bridges and went out to the right bank, close to Gaza .
In this place, the river is rather wide, and houses are no more scattered across the slopes.
We had a long way on that day (about 7 hours), but entered Gaza invigorated. The loggia is marvelous. A two-storied house with a flat roof, an excellent bath in every room, a great bar, and a telephone in the neighboring house. Power is provided here on a continuous basis – even at night. Good meals, too – we had a chicken here!
We were a little upset to see the local resident were a somewhat worried. At the very beginning of the trek, we were amazed with a lot of smiles and people’s friendliness who saw us for the first time in their lives. How can people who live in such hard conditions be that much friendly? However, the closer to Tukuche, the fewer smiles on people’s faces. This was especially visible today.

Day 8. Gaza – Tukuche
On that day, we had to make a long journey up the Kali-Gandaki valley. The gorge is wide here, and the river is calm, almost dry. We postponed the start to 9 AM.
Gradually, the influence of Buddhism is becoming noticeable – we encountered monasteries and “praying walls” and painted stones near the road. The hollows is mostly inhabited by the Hinduists, while up here, Buddhism and Lamaism are primary religions.
Two hours into the journey, we came out of a small pine wood to a tableland and enjoyed an amazing view of Annapurna and Nilgiri peeping through the clouds. This was probably the first time when we were able to take pictures of those panoramic views – and have lunch.
From now on, our way was across the tableland, and a few hours later the road came down to the river. In some places, we just went along the river bed. A new road was being built this year, with a transmission line. We took advantage of it to test the new road, to its workers’ content. There are a few big villages along the river – Larjung, Khobang.
If you follow the river bed, the valley can be seen far ahead, and almost 3 hours to the finish you can observe the final destination for today – the town of Tukuche . Having seen the finish far ahead, and accompanied by helicopters, we brisked up pace, and waded the river to shorten the way. However, Tukuche turned out to be a dull long village with a lot of kids and a soccer/volleyball field where a match was being held on that day.
The way on that day was not difficult but long (about 7.5 hours), and the loggia was not very comfortable (as compared with Gaza ). And yet, the view from the window was striking – snow-capped tops hanging over us, so you had to tilt your head far up.
Despite the height, there is some severity felt here – the slopes are no more covered with vegetation as in Gorepani, and the winds are stronger. The place looks more like Tibet or Mustang. There are Buddhist monasteries scattered around the slopes, and some caves can be seen there, too.

trekking in NepalDay 9. Tukuche – Jomsom
The last trekking day – and the easiest. We wandered along the right bank of the Kali-Gandaki all the way through, without any significant rises or descents. The road is good (the new one), and the view is the rather monotonous – yellow and red slopes and faraway shapes of snowy peaks.  The climate is more severe, with stronger winds and less vegetation. In about two hours of fast pace, we went out to Marfa – Nepal ’s apple capital. A general litter-pick had been announced on that day in the town, and we encountered groups of women with kids, brooms and dustpans. Apples gardens stretched for many kilometers, and the slopes were strewn with buckwheat and rice terraces. This was probably the last place where you could grow grains.
Two hours more, and we approached Jomsom. To the left of the road, there was an arch with a luring name – Mustang   Eco   Museum , but we didn’t go theer.
Jomsom is a real city as compared with previous villages. It has an airport, hotels, a bank, an Internet café, and even a Himalayan bath house! Our loggia swarmed with people – it turned out the last plane was here a week ago. We met some Russian-speaking tourists here – the Muscovites who were returning from a trek in Mustang .
In the evening, we enjoyed dancing. Our attendants (porters and guides) did not need anything to make merry – only a drum. They entertained us with genuine Nepalese songs and dances all evening. A great view from the window, exciting music and tickets for the morning flight are the three staple components of an excellent rest in Jomsom.

Day 10. Jomsom – Pokhara
We were lucky – our morning flight was not canceled, for the first time in 7 days! There was a real hullabaloo in the airport – those who had awaited the plane for a week were going to get aboard the 12-seat plane. But we had a better luck – thanks to our guide Furbe (a true Sherpa!). The flight to Pokhara takes only 20 minutes, and you can visualize the whole route covered in six days – if you are not afraid, of course…
Pokhara welcomed us with great weather (which we had enjoyed for three days in a row), excellent restaurants, expensive shopping (I think it is best to buy souvenirs in Tamel, Kathmandu), and excellent service. We stayed at the Green Peace Hotel (very decent), and went out to explore.
At first view, Pokhara turned out to be a nice resort town with great opportunities for tourists. You can ride a motorbike (rented anywhere) with no license or passport, and with a bottle of beer in your hand. Great service, indeed! Apart from riding the motorbike, you can fly a paraglider and have a ride in a boat on the scenic lake of Feva (there is an island with a temple in the middle of the lake), or ride a bicycle. You can swim, but water here doesn’t look very clean.
As we were in a restaurant in the evening, a tropical downpour began, and we had to virtually swim to our hotel. However, this can hardly be called an obstacle for experienced trekkers.

Day 11. Pokhara – Chitwan
A long day with all those moves. As we exited the town, we were stuck in a jam again, not for too long. We made it to the Chitwan   National Park in the dark. But the trip was worth it – we felt like we were in some fairy tale.
The hotel has a tropical design, harmonious with the nature. Bungalows have cane walls, wooden furniture, a huge bath tub and hot water!

Day 12. Chitwan.
The guide warned us in the evening that we had to put on dull clothes while going to the jungle. We were asked to speak in a low voice not scare all animals away. At 5:00 AM, we were staying at the “elephant parking” with a platform up in the trees. Our 4WD elephants (only female elephants are used for work) were waiting for us there, too.
An elephant trip in the jungle – this is something you would want to wake up at 5:00 AM. The well-tamed animals took us in the jungle without a single noise, and we were able to see a family of wild rhinos (the pride of the national park),  deer and monkeys.
Relieving the elephants, we were put in a canoe – a dugout for 6 people – and had a ride along the river, looking at the numerous crocodiles living here
On the same day, we visited the elephant nursery and had a ride in a real 1943 Studebaker . We wanted to spend another five days here – but we had a scheduled flight, and returned to Kathmandu along well-known roads.

Day 13.  Kathmandu – Baktapur – Patan  
A free day to do the city.
In the evening we were invited to make a tour of Baktapur (the ancient state city mentioned above). Only the most steadfast agreed. Again, it was worth it – a city of craftsmen, wood cutters and potters. People work outside, not interfering with heavy traffic. The whole city is a history of birth, flourishing and extinction of generations of local rulers. Each of those rulers created magnificent and amazing temples, palaces and squares to immortalize themselves. The “ Red City ” (the color of the brick it is made of) was worth the whole day we spent there. Everything breathes history here – that is way half of official religious festivals in Nepal take place here.
Patan (now part of Kathmandu) is probably as good as Baktapur. However, we had little time (it did fly fast), and recorded only two or three gigabytes. We could have done more….

Day 14. Flight Back

P.S. By the way, Kathmandu offers trekkers a great opportunity to get insured for any period of time – only for about US$ 11 a day.
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