I would like to blame my negligence in getting reports uploaded all upon the horrific Internet situation here. But while that certainly plays its role, it’s not the only factor. Alobar has become my second-favourite Asian hostel — with a bullet. A writhing, pulsating vortex of awesomeness which threatens to pull unsuspecting travelers into its orbit, to be neither seen nor heard from again.
The ever-changing cast of characters here includes a Palestinian philosopher whose thesis was to do with South Park, and who trekked the entire circuit, save for one day, barefoot; a ZZ-Top-looking festival-organiser with a truly dynamite singing-voice; a Canadian youngster who saved up a pile of money to put him through school with — and then used it to go traveling for the best part of a year instead; a manic Lithuanian with the most infectious laugh you’ve ever heard, whose predilection for the “F”-word rivals even mine own; an Israeli who survived the Philippine typhoon, and ended up with a nightly gig in a local bar’s house band; and so, so, so many more.
Easy enough to acquire an inferiority complex living here: so many people half my age who’ve already in their short lives done 20,000 times more cool shit than I’ll ever dream of doing, even if I live to one hundred and three. It’s great to bathe in their collective aura, at any rate!
They’re much more interested here than in Southeast Asia in the ins and outs, the whys and wherefores, of my diet. They’ve even become protective of me, to my great amusement: a hostel-newcomer offered me a piece of beef jerky, and before I could politely decline, a San Diegan name of “Ryan” disgustedly spat out: “No, man! He’s a raw-foodist.” Too funny.
We set off, early on the morning of March 31st — myself and an Irishman name of “Kieran” with whom I’d shared a dorm – from Alobar and made the short walk to the Tourist Bus Park. Shewn to my seat, and lo and behold, I was seated next to another Alobar dorm-mate, a Chinaman name of “Eric”. Kieran and Eric’s guide were seated in front of us.
The eight-hour ride to Pokhara was rather reminiscent of Laos: The windy mountain roads clinging perilously to the sides of cliffs — seemingly too narrow for one vehicle to negotiate, let alone one in either direction; the gorgeous mountain scenery; the large hooved mammals roaming freely about the road; the rural village lifestyle, the interminably slow speeds. It was missing, however, the drivers climbing around like monkeys on the rooftops (we’d stored our crap underneath the coach); the locals seated down the aisle of the bus, livestock in hand; and the bathroom breaks by the side of the road.
Did stop at a fast food joint, however.
Pokhara too reminded of Laos. This time Vang Vieng. A small village mushroomed into a tourist mecca, with guest houses, restaurants, and shops packed densely together – along with the concomitant dust, construction noise, sidewalks jack-hammered into oblivion, and cetera. But, also like Vang Vieng, it’s a five-minute walk down to the side of the lake, where peace, quiet, and impossibly beautiful views reign.
Kieran had to sort out a visa extension, so I had a day to spend in Pokhara. Decided to time the walk down to the Tourist Bus Park from my guest house, as it would have to be taken early in the morning. Even in the tourist enclave of Lakeside, scenes from yesteryear abound.
Shortly after leaving the Bus Park, I was approached by an Israeli name of “Tomel”, who announced, “I was just attacked by a cow.”
He didn’t look any the worse for the wear, so I offered, “Congratulations?”
He explained that he’d been feeding Banana peels to the one cow, and the other cow had stuck its horns underneath his shirt, and pushed him away. He said he’d also fed them Papaya rinds the day before, and then asked me what I was doing. “Well, actually, I’m going to get some fruit!”
He said he’d walk with me, and shortly revealed, “I’m a fruitarian.”
“You’re shitting me?!” I cried, and he in turn opened his arms wide for a fruit-lovers’ embrace.
He wanted to, like, re-enact his adventure with the cows, but when we’d got to the scene of the crime, there were nary a bovine in evidence. I knew the ones he was talking about, though, as I’d passed them there, lazing it in the street. So I can vouch for him on that count. Yes, there are plenty of cows and cousins in Pokhara.
We shared a Watermelon, which was so delicious that we immediately scarfed down another. I got a bunch of Oranges (also spectacularly good, though it was the very end of the season) for dinner, and wanted to go drop them off in my room. Tomel didn’t feel like walking all the way back up that far, and opted instead to go hiking down near the lake. We figured we’d run into each other, as I’d be headed that way as well; but I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of his since.
Later, the lake offered another great sunset scene.
Day 1 – Pokhara to Bahundanda
Kieran and I arrived at the Bus Park at almost exactly the same time (we’d been staying in different Guest Houses), and while waiting to put our shit on top of the bus, made the acquaintance of a Manx name of “Mark”.
Despite it was a Tourist bus, there were plenty of locals aboard — including seated down the aisle this time. The ride, having started early enough in the morning to avoid the heat, seemed okay. Arriving in Besi Sahar, we went into a café for some lunch, and from out of nowhere materialised a Russian name of “Alex”, who shook our hands and sat down to eat with us. So, we were now a foursome.
After eating and showing our permits at the Checkpost across the street, we put it on the trail. It hadn’t been hot on the bus ride, but it was now. And pretty dusty on the road – we’d somehow missed a supposed-to-be-obvious turn which would have let us avoid the road for a while. Indeed, we found, almost immediately, that the supposed-to-be-up-to-date map was glaringly inaccurate. More reliable to just follow the signs.
Mark set a blistering pace; and though we kept up with him for a while, we were soon left eating his dust. So just like that, the foursome was down to a threesome. Pretty hiking down here at the lower elevations, hard by the Marsyangdi river and all…
…but this day was marred by a massive Chinese dam construction project just outside of Ngadi Bazaar. Boy, the day I hear that somebody has blown that thing sky fucking high is the day I will out with innumerable yelps of unbridled elation.
Soon after getting through that nightmare, the trail splits off from the road, headed toward Bahundanda. We got rained on, not too badly, during this stretch. But after making the brisk climb into the village, we checked in to the very first Lodge, and not five minutes later it was pouring down cats and dogs. Nice timing!
The lodge was very small – only five beds – but the family were quite nice. The father, Ming, was a retired soldier from the Gurkha Regiment of the Indian Army. The ten-year-old son, handled the serving duties. I liked that kid very much – mild-mannered, but seemed to have a kind of glow about him. Wish I’d gotten a picture of him. Instead, here are some neighbourhood kids who showed up to tour their guide services, insisting that if we attempted the trek without a guide, we’d be fucked ten ways from Sunday.
Day 2 – Bahundanda to Tal
It started raining almost from the get-go this morning. But we were mostly under the cover of trees, so it wasn’t so bad. The day’s hiking featured lots of climbing high up to the tops of ridges, then immediately descending all the way back down to take a suspension bridge ‘cross the river, and then right back up again.
Being so early in the trek, the backpack still felt light as a feather, and the climbing relatively easy – this would change. The views were, again, quite nice…
…but shortly after re-joining the road, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and the quite-nice views were suddenly become quite-spectacular instead.
Much like in Laos, even the most basic of structures in the most remote of locations is – one can bet one’s bottom dollar – going to be equipped for teevee reception.
Hell, one can even get one’s shopping fix on. Who needs the Bangkok mega-malls when you’ve got…
We stopped in a small village for a short rest, and were able to see both goats and ferns. What…I ask you…what more do you need?
Trekkers have been bitching that the advent of the road has killed the Circuit. But while nobody prefers bitching about motorised vehicles harshing pedestrians’ mellows more than I, it seems to me these complaints are pretty overblown. Sure, it’s not fun to have to stand aside and let a jeep or truck pass. But the traffic is really quite low-volume. Besides, ofttimes the vehicles impart an uplifting message.
No matter where you go, it seems safe to postulate, kids love to get their ham on in front of the lens. Nepal is surely no different. Here’re a few youngsters we passed along the way.
Approaching Chamche, the trail split off from the road again for a brief but great-fun little side-trip. At the beginning of which, the trail crosses right over a waterfall about half-way down its cascade.
It’s much more fun in person, just so you know.
We managed to resist the temptations of the Super Restaurant…
…and opted instead for the Rainbow Super View (subtle distinction).
Two hundred metres, and very loud. Plus which, we were kindly treated to a most excellent lunchtime thunderstorm. Here, Kieran and Alex enjoy the view.
The storm passed, and it was again hot and sunny, with not a cloud to be seen. Another two or three hours to Tal – shouldn’t be an issue. No sooner, though, had we got safely into no-man’s-land, that it done began raining again. Well, what’re you gonna do? The bigger pain in the ass was having to keep taking out and putting back from the pack one’s rain gear. (Although it was also the case that by this time we’d gained enough elevation that it was a bit chilly in the rain.)
For our perseverance, we were treated to more nice scenes from village life…
…along with more tremendous views of river, hill, and cliff.
The climb up to the hill overlooking Tal was a real killer – the first time I’d actually struggled making the top of a climb. We passed under the entrance gate, but weren’t quite yet to the village.
When we finally spied our first glimpse of the village, I allowed to Alex that I was quite happy indeed to be seeing that sight – a sentiment with which he readily agreed. We still had a little ways to go before reaching the village, but it was all down hill or flat, so after having made the climb, it was a piece of cake. The view from Tal was (what else?) phenomenal.
While waiting for dinner, Kieran and Alex took time out to receive the wisdom being offered by this timeless aphorism (if only I could now recall said aphorism…).
Also staying at our lodge was a group of fifteen Russians, along with their guides and porters. They took the time, while waiting for dinner, to belt out a rather beautiful little tune. I asked Alex if this was some form of Grace? He scoffed that Russians don’t have any religion; but soon thereafter, they actually did begin to say Grace, much to Alex’s dumbfoundment. They must be some kind of crazy sect, he determined.
Three of them broke away from the group for a while, and came to hang out with us instead. They had some “special” home-brewed Vodka that they brought with them and shared out with Alex and Kieran. One of the three was called “Edward” as well – though the Russian short-form is “Edick” rather than “Eddie”.
Next morning, we could hear the Russians singing their pre-breakfast song even from our room. I was delighted – Alex, not so much.