Grum dropped into the conversation during one of the many assents of rock steps that he expected a contributory blog to Grum Goes Global from my experiences with the 'Hungry Cyclist'. Some of what is contained has already been mentioned in Grums blogs but I hope to give another perspective. Ju and I are on our way back to NZ now after almost a month with Grum and Tessa in Nepal. What an amazing experience, and an amazing country. Even though it is currently in the grips of a disaster with the recent earthquakes and the monsoon season approaching there are signs that there will be an exciting future for Nepal as it rebuilds and encourages the return of the trekkers, climbers and tourists alike as this will have a significant positive impact on their economy.
This was my first trip to Nepal unlike Grum and Ju who had sampled Nepal before... I wasn't sure what to expect as I arrived in Kathmandu but the new experiences started as soon as we entered the airport, it was like stepping back into the old Christchurch Railway Station, a large brick building with people everywhere and constant noise, this was at 1130pm. It was great to see the look on Grum's face as he spotted Ju coming through the terminal as I'm sure he was looking forward to this reunion as much if not more than we were. Gear was loaded into the awaiting car and this is where I found out Nepali drivers use their horns more than their gearbox. Middle of the night and minimal traffic but there was no doubt that the horn worked. Safely at the hotel it was time for a quick coffee and brief chat before bed.
We had a rough plan for the time in Nepal but little did we know at the time Mother nature was going to play a part in our adventure. My exposure to Kathmandu continued the next day with a wander through Thamel, the touristy part of Kathmandu, narrow streets with wall to wall vendors selling everything from souvenirs to trekking gear very colourful and lots of encouragement to part with your money. It was during this familiarisation that I was further introduced to the Nepali horn.. Taxi's motorbikes and buses all constantly apply this to negotiate the streets, with in this cacophony of sounds there appears to be a language of the horn, from excuse me coming through to... signalling a change of direction,,,, or I want to pass you and the new breed - i have just got a horn and everyone is going to hear it, often accompanied by a reckless disregard for safety and inappropriate speed.
The other thing of note were the street dogs in Kathmandu, they appeared to be almost in every second shop doorway no real trend in colour or breed, this was very noticeable when we came across the Himalayan mountain dogs on the trek, street dogs appeared docile enough during the day but Grum was full of tales of a change in demeanour after dark.... Grum took us for a walk out of Thamel into the neighbouring suburbs, very quickly the roads turned to dirt/gravel, rubbish cluttered the side of the road, Grum reflected this was typical for what he had been riding through on his journey to Nepal. Scattered amongst the shops and general living were fruit stalls and butchers shops, these were identified by the livestock secured (often rather nervous looking goats)outside and a rather large chopping block just inside the door...
The next two days were spent assisting Grum with his First Aid Training for TAAN Guides. It was great assisting the guides develop practical strategies to assist their clients while they were guiding. This was a practical course which the guides embraced as the days continued and the scenario's became more intense.
ANZAC Day we were invited to attend the Australian Embassy ANZAC Memorial Service. It was good to have the opportunity to attend as when we left NZ it was something I had written off for this year. After breakfast at the Embassy we embarked for Pokhara for our trek to start the next day... None of us had any idea the face of Nepal would change within an hour of us leaving the city, by the time we were able to get an understanding of the extent of the damage we were in Pokhara, 200km away from Kathmandu, with the language barrier and road closures we may as well have been home in New Zealand and it was going to take time to fully understand the implications to the country as a lot of the areas hit were remote.
After 48 hours in Pokhara we had caught up with the girls from St Margaret's, been on the end of "Frog's" inquisition apparently she is well known for these, sampled various eating establishments, had a significant aftershock and been informed we now had a new guide, our original guide was in Kathmandu and had unfortunately lost family, we were making progress.
27th April and let the trek begin, we are packed primed and waiting, find our guide(Yubari ) and porter (Binod) who are waiting outside the hotel while us intrepid trekkers are waiting inside the hotel... once that was sorted our transport arrived and it was load everything on, just throw the packs on top, secured with anything... nope rely on gravity!! and we were off to Nayapul and the start of the next phase of our adventure, slight apprehension on my part around my fitness level keeping up with the hungry cyclist, as it was my first multiday event and going to altitude as well. I'm writing this so I survived.
The trek was 13 days and approximately 100km of AWESOME!! great company, big scenery, amazing mountains with amazing moods. No two days were the same the mountains of Dhaulagiri, the Annapurna Range and Machhapuchhre teasing us through the clouds from the first day, you had to be up early as Grum kept telling us as the cloud came in around 6.30 in the morning and the view was gone.. after day two I was joining Grum at 5 in the morning to see the peaks before the mist arrived, it was definitely worthwhile and the pattern was set.
Grum provided several blogs during the trek which described our journey and progress in bite size pieces, for me the highlight was ABC - Annapurna Base Camp, 4130m clear blue skies surrounded by mountains, Annapurna I at over 8000m and others, the two days spent here were amazing. Definitely worth the 6 days walk to get there. Next would be the company, thanks to Grum, Ju and Tessa for the opportunity to share this experience and the card games - Tessa attacks Nepali steps in the same way she plays Speed but it's good fun while sitting in a cold lodge with the daily thunder storm outside. Several things will stay in my memory from the trek, firstly Nepali Flat, there is flat in Nepal but it has been clawed from the hillside by generations of farmers, sometimes no wider than a couple of metres, and this is where they grow almost enough to survive. Secondly it goes with Nepali flat - Nepali steps, almost every day on the trek involved steps and lots of them often in both directions, day 1 Tessa counted the 3997 up to our first lodge but I think they became ingrained after that. These steps kept you focused as often there was no pattern to the tread height and you were likely to be caught out by the odd height change. Finally the people, all the local Nepalese we encountered on the trek were friendly and responded to a 'Namaste' as we passed, those with a little English asked where were from and where we were headed. We were walking through their homes as often the path bisected their buildings. What was the most disappointing was the rubbish, commercial and human, where it had been dropped on the track. this has come from trekkers as they pass through the country and it appears though they had carried their muesli bars in, once the wrapper was opened it had to be dropped on the ground, the same applied to water bottles. It was great to see an initiative here they had banned mineral water bottles in part of the conservation area. Often near resting places along the route you didn't have to walk far on a side track to find piles of toilet paper and human waste, it would only take minimal effort to walk another few metres and go off the track into the bush to relieve themselves, often little piles of toilet paper were on the main trail itself and one had to check your boots at the end of the day.
Once we returned to Kathmandu we spent the week with Nick Cowie and Belinda Rendell at the Park Village complex. Thanks to Nick and Belinda for the hospitality and the ability to just relax, this allowed us to recharge our batteries and sort our gear ready for the next phase of our respective journeys.
Now back in NZ after what I can only describe as an awesome experience, the time has just disappeared and reality looms with the requirement to go back to work. Grum is poking me from afar as to where this blog is. Nepal is a lovely country and I truly hope this isn't my last visit. I have met some amazing people and have just as many memories. It will take some time to sort through one or two photo's I have taken