Pokhara – Lumbini – Chitwan

Traveling during festivals in Nepal can be difficult because everyone is traveling and no one is driving! Getting a driver to take us to Lumbini is next to impossible. The plan was for us to depart Pokhara at 8 a.m. but due to festival activities and commitments we don’t get a driver until 1:30. The one we do get is a city bus driver in Pokhara. He tells Jim he stepped in at the last moment because the driver we should have had is drunk. He is an excellent driver but doesn’t know how to get to Lumbini. Thankfully Jim has Maps Me on his phone and I have Pocket Earth on my I Pad. On the way to Lumbini, the driver is very resistant to back seat navigation. When we leave Lumbini to go to Chitwan he is similarly directionally challenged but Jim sits up in the front seat and he is then willing to follow Jim’s directions.

We are now safely and happily in Chitwan, but first – about our visit in Lumbini.

It takes us seven hours to get there. Distance – approximately 300 kms. The roads here are dreadful. At one point we stop at a dubious looking place for a relief break and surprisingly the toilet is very clean. So we all have small cooked snacks at the tiny restaurant. Jim also buys everyone bags of salty junk food snacks – really yummy! We devour everything. By the time we climb back in the van it is dark. The road ahead winds up through some hills, there are no cats eyes, there are enormous potholes, the road is narrow, oncoming traffic keeps high beams on….. we finally arrive in Chitwan at 8:30 p.m.

Our Hotel Ananda Inn seems fine at first but Jim and Claire discover unchanged sheets on their bed. Gross.

In the morning we have an early breakfast and meet our Lumbini guide. Tendi gives him a briefing to not talk too much but to let us see as much as possible in the short time we now have. He does a good job. We see Buddha’s recorded place of birth then rent some electric rickshaws with drivers to whisk us to several of the national temples throughout the park. Germany has a stunning complex. Some other nations have nice temples sitting in weedy unkempt grounds. The park complex itself is quite ramble-sham. The potentially attractive canal is bordered by crumbling wide avenues. The area could be outstandingly beautiful but misses the mark due to inadequate maintenance and planning.

Our guide has a surprise. He takes us to the Canadian temple – which is lovely and sits in clean maintained grounds. Here we have tea with the head monk. He has been to Vancouver and Victoria. We have an enjoyable visit and discover Canadians are welcome to stay overnight. The complex has 18 twin bed rooms and I’m sure the sheets are washed between guests!

We return to the hotel to gather luggage from our rooms and have lunch, then climb back in our van to head to Chitwan.

We arrive before dark at about 5:30. The manager Naran is still here and remembers me from past visits. We’re given a warm welcome, our rooms are lovely and we are soon gathering for dinner and beers.

Our itinerary for the next few days is to go on a day long jungle safari, ride elephants and relax.

For now – good morning from Sapana Village Lodge in lovely steamy warm Chitwan.

Last day of our trek then a day in Pokhara

It’s always sad when a trek comes to an end. Our bodies have become used to the trail and are feeling fit – except for sore knees. We are in tune with the rhythm of our nomadic life. Now a different reality awaits.

Our porters sit down to eat at their table while we’re still finishing up our breakfast. This is a rare occurrence. Usually they wait until we are done then enjoy a peaceful meal to themselves without our clamorous demands for more tea, hot milk, another coffee, hot water, a spoon, a knife, is there jam?

Jim – instigator that he is – decides we should serve them the way they usually serve us. So the two of us go over to their table and start asking them what else they need. At first they have no idea what’s going on and try to jump up to attend to our needs. But we convince them to stay seated and they get into the mood by asking us for teas. We go into the kitchen where there is some surprise but the staff quickly understands what we are doing and they too enter into the fun. We serve our porters and remove their plates. They are a bit dumbfounded and amused but accepting none the less.

Doug and Joanne walk a bit slower than the rest of us so this morning they set off early so we will all end the trek together.

On our way down a seemingly endless flight of 2000 some odd stone steps – Nepali steep – we come to a tea house on a terrace. I’m not sure how it starts but soon Tendi and Jim are dancing a Nepali dance and the owner turns up the music volume. The rest of us sit and kibitz, egging them on.

Not long after we descend to the road, and our trek is done.

Always sad.

We have a van meet us and take us back to Pokhara. Once there Tendi takes us all for a Nepali lunch. We had planned to take Tendi, Lakpa and crew but that was not to be. We eat in a small delightful hole in the wall local place and enjoy delicious dhal bhat with our fingers. Food tastes so good when scooped up in ones fingers!

We then sing a song Jim has written for the crew to the tune of This Land…. we do a pretty terrible job of Jim’s wonderful song but the thought is pure and the guys seem to like it. Then distribution of tips for jobs well done and all expectations exceeded. We all developed excellent rapport with our porters and this of course adds to the joy of a trek.

We saw so many overladen porters struggle along the trails bent double under two large duffle bags – one porter per two trekkers. An obscene and unacceptable abuse. Our porters each carried one back pack. We hired one porter per person. Our guys walked with us, they sang as they walked, we shared laughter and learned about each other. They served us with grace and generosity and we treated them with respect.

We spent the afternoon checking out the shops, then went to a new and excellent restaurant for dinner. We ate pizza. I know – odd. The manager is Italian – it was really good pizza and the Italian wine was divine.

Yesterday was a day off. We wandered and shopped. I somehow found myself with yet another down jacket…Nepali North Face. $35.00. Irresistible. I’m a hopeless case.

Today is the day for sisters to honour brothers. The last day of a five day national festival. I honoured Tendi by wishing him long life and health draping a monk blessed a Khata around his neck and giving him a set of chimes. He’s given me a lovely jade and silver bracelet. Oh my.

At noon we will leave by van for Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace.

Will try to send more pictures but internet remains inadequate for numbers of people on line.

Cheers from Didi on a lovely warm sunny morning in Pokhara.

Day 10 of our Trek

We walk to Dhampus (1650 m) today and it takes a little less than two hours.

An easy walk once again, mostly downhill on laid stone trail, a short bit on the dusty road.

A highlight of our walk is arriving at the top of a long sloping meadow. The grass is cropped low and tidy by animals no longer in evidence except for some dried poo here and there. The meadow is long and tree lined. It looks like a golf course fairway.

Jim, who is always up to something, drops one trekking pole and begins taking golf swings with the other. This is too good an opportunity to miss. I try shoving a small stick into the ground to make a Tee, Nima has no idea what we are doing but obligingly hammers it in with a stone. Golf balls? The dried poo is a perfect substitute. Jim and I place poo balls on our sticks and begin sending them sailing. The porters, not understanding golf etiquette, dash around trying to catch the flying poo. Nepali Poo Golf is born! A few serious trekkers come striding by, intent on some distant destination. They give us the stink eye as they go by. We continue to cavort and wack poo down the fairway with our trekking poles.

Claire took some pictures so eventually I hope to send a couple.

We’re at our guesthouse before noon. I’ve stayed here twice before but don’t let on to the others that we have the possibility of en-suite bathrooms. After the disappointment of Forest Camp I no longer want to generate false expectations. We are not disappointed. Our rooms have en-suite bathrooms and hot water comes out of the showers! Hair is washed! Clothes are washed and hung in the sun along our balcony. We spend a sunny hot afternoon in our usual pursuits which include a few cold beers.

Day 9 of our Trek

We walk from Deurali at 2142 metres to Pothana at 1890 metres and it takes about 45 minutes, maybe less.

Seriously that is our entire day’s trek! Reason is our change of plan and not going up to High Camp due to fatigue of some of our “team” and overcrowding of the tea houses on the Mardi Himal route. We are all having a great time and don’t want to cut the trek too short so are dawdling along!

We spend the day washing laundry in a bucket under a cold water tap, reading, admiring a spectacular mountain view and – dare I say – drinking a few beers while sitting in the warm sun. It’s pretty darn pleasant!

In the dining room at dinner the host has a very urbane music selection. Close our eyes and we could have been in an expensive restaurant in New York. The music sets Jim and Claire to dancing. Somehow that morphs into us all dancing. Then the Nepali music starts up and our porters and guides dance. Then we dance with them. In Nepal it is common for men to dance with men and women with women. We really upset the apple cart by choosing mixed gender dance partners. Then Jim and Lakpa put on a fabulous show of imitating each other’s dance moves. Jim’s a big guy and Lakpa tiny. Their cavorting has us in stitches. There are a couple of sour faced German men in the dining room as well. They are not amused. Too bad for them. The owner of the guesthouse is enjoying the impromptu entertainment as much as we are. Finally Lakpa sends us to bed so the porters, he and Tendi can have their dinner.

My shortest trekking day ever and one of the most fun.

Day 8 of our Trek

Brenda and I wake at 5:15. At 5:30 Tendi arrives with our “bed tea.” By 5:45 we are heading through the dark. Our way lit by the light of our headlamps. We just have light day packs. Nima and Pasang remain sleeping.

Sunrise happens quickly at these latitudes and soon the sky lightens and an orange ribbon spreads across the east. We turn off our head lamps and climb quietly, our breathing mingling with the sounds of a waking forest. Birds begin their morning fluttering and tweeting. Small creatures rustle in the undergrowth. The forest itself seems to greet the day with sighs and stirrings of leaves turning towards the coming sun.

Every five minutes or so Tendi stops and we stop behind him. Brenda and I recover our breath and once it is slow and quiet we continue on. None of us speak. Tendi chants a morning mantra, his voice harmonizing with the surrounding sounds.

Slowly the light transforms the dark forest into glowing oranges and greens and warmth replaces the night chill. We remove our down and fleece and carry on in short sleeves, sweating as we climb.

As the trees thin with elevation, we catch glimpses of the towering massive peak of Annapurna South, it too glowing orange for a couple of minutes when the suns rays hit it at just the right angle. Once we clear the tree line we look down on the ridges and valleys where we’ve trekked over the past couple of days.

We pass a couple of tea houses, new since my previous visit in 2014.

Finally we come to a view point partway up the final ridge to High Camp. We stop here. Admire the peaks – they seem close enough to touch now – take a few pictures then descend to one of the nearby tea houses. We enjoy our morning tea in the sun then start our return to Low Camp then back to Forest Camp where we will meet up with the rest and spend the night before continuing our trek together to lower elevations.

We haven’t been walking for long when Tendi gets a call. All is not well at Forest Camp. We were supposed to be moving to nicer digs but “village” politics has kiboshed that idea. The owner of the dump is going to creat a ruckus for the owner of the place we want to move to.

We quickly decide the best thing to do is to all head further down the mountain to an other village. This will make a very long day for Brenda and me but we figure it’s the best option.

Once back at Low Camp, Tendi leaves Brenda and me having breakfast and he heads back to Forest Camp at speed to sort out a move. By 9:20 Brenda and I set off with Nima and Pasang. We’ve already already trekked for over three hours we have a long day ahead of us.

We arrive in Forest Camp by 11, rest over a quick lunch and set off again by 11:45. The trail is generally downhill but in Nepal down also means up and there’s enough steep up bits to ensure we start getting property tired!

Just as the day begins to feel endless with no relief in sight, Tendi and Lakpa come bounding up the trail towards us. They are carrying a huge thermos of tea, china tea cups and a package of yak cheese. We collapse beside the trail and they serve the four of us tea and cheese. It is the perfect restorative!

Feeling renewed we continue on what Tendi tells us is a further 45 minutes of trekking. You know where this is going don’t you? He tricks us again as within 15 minutes we pop out of the forest onto a flat area upon which a new guest house sits. We’ve arrived!

The guest house is new, the rooms very nice. The toilet facilities somewhat dysfunctional. There is one toilet/shower per floor. Eighteen beds per floor. Thank goodness the place isn’t full.

Despite the long day, Brenda and I have loved our adventure! We all celebrate with beers in the tiny rusting dining room. Doug and Joanne, Claire and Jim are rested from their day in Forest Camp and we are ready to continue our trek.

Day 7 of our Trek

Doug, Joanne, Claire and Jim decide to brave a day at the hideous digs at Forest Camp while Brenda and I hike up to Low Camp. Tendi and our two porters come with us. Lakpha and the other four porters will enjoy a rest day at Forest Camp.

The day dawns sunny but by just after 8 a.m. clouds come spilling over the ridge above us.

We make short work of the climb to Low Camp (3000 m) taking only two hours. We hike through a mystical rhododendron forest. The tall trunks rise over ten metres and the broad canopy creates a lofty ceiling through which fingers of dim light reach to the vegetation below. Brown lacy parasitic ferns hang in rippling waves from the trunks and branches. They catch the early morning light, creating a golden hue throughout the shadowed forest. Chartreuse ferns reach delicate fronds upward, glowing in filtered sunlight.

The rough path threads along, sometimes Nepali flat, other times rising through tangles of roots and over bouldery outcrops.

We come across a large flock of goats being sheared. Two herd dogs snooze while one man shears and another chases the unsheared goats around and catches them. There is an enormous pile of goat wool, in various shades of off white, brown and grey. Some of it is filthy.

At one point Tendi tells us we have about 45 minutes left to go. But he is tricking us as a minute later we climb out of the forest onto the small plateau of Low Camp. We are met by a pleasant surprise. When I was last here it was a dismal place with very rudimentary accommodations. There are now a couple of very nice new lodges and Tendi gets us a room in one. It is far nicer than Forest Camp. Brenda and I spend about thirty seconds feeling guilty!

The dinning room is large and bright and a fire is lit soon after our arrival. It is blissfully warm inside, while outside mist swirls and it is unpleasantly chilly.

We spend the afternoon journal writing. I read another chapter of Pomegranates out loud to Tendi and Nima and we learn a Nepali card game which we play with Nima and Pasang. In so doing we learn our Nepali numbers from one to seven. Clever us.

Day 6 of our Trek

To Forest Camp (2400 m)

The sun shines again. We’ve had perfect weather.

Today is our very steep and strenuous climb out of Landruk up to Forest Camp. We gain 760 metres in elevation. The route starts up stone steps but soon devolves into a rough narrow path. At times we hand over our trekking poles to our nimble porters and clamber, hands gripping rock and roots. Thankfully the sun remains behind the ridge so it’s not too hot. At times the trail snakes along, traversing the nearly vertical slope. I only barely manage to hold my vertigo in check!

At one point we need to cross a cliff face on a rough log bridge cantilevered out from the cliff. We do so one at a time. I wonder what is holding the affair to the cliff. Some things are best not known. We also negotiate a recent land slide. The route hairpins back and forth across it and none of us enjoy the experience very much because the ground feels unstable and the way is really steep.

We finally reach the top of the ridge then have an easy walk into Forest Camp.

Here we are met with disappointment. The tranquility that I enjoyed on my last visit here is long gone. The place is now popular and there is not enough infrastructure to handle the influx of trekkers. We get rooms in a dingy place. I’m used to staying in humble accommodation in Nepal, but there is always evidence of pride of place. Not so here. It is filthy and unkempt. We sit in the sun on the patio and drink beers during the afternoon until clouds billow up and obscure the sun. Cold is instant so we crowd into the horrid dining room. Our evening meal is edible but only barely and the portions are messily. The filth of the cutlery – well it is just plain disgusting.

The water in the toilets runs sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. Tendi is sent by the owner to fix it. Like he doesn’t have enough to do.

We find out the next morning that the porters had to share beds and Tendi slept fitfully in the dining room.