You fly into Thailand thinking the thirty-day visa-free entry should be plenty to keep you occupied. Then you begin looking at the map, of all the interesting places here you’ve never yet visited – not to mention the cool places you’d enjoy to re-visit – and thoughts of border runs and extended visits begin entering into your head.
Was sad to leave Nepal, but Bangkok is the proverbial splash of cold water upside the head. This ain’t the kiddie pool, brother; so you had better get your dimpled ass swimming, baby: we’s in Thailand, now!
But, just at the moment, it’s raining really good one, so may as well let’s finish up the trekking discussions.
Days 14 – 17 – Poon Hill Trek
The trek begins about an hour outside of Pokhara, at the Nayapul bus drop-off. A short walk later, in Birethanti, one is required to show permits at two different Checkposts, located about five minutes’ walk apart. Weird. Also weird: one of the Lodges serves Birthday Cake? Well, I guess if you’re trekking, and it’s your birthday, you know where to go.
In addition to Birthday Cake…
It’s not only jeep-tops from which kids love to sit and wave, but bus-tops as well.
Made a mistake in hanging ’round Pokhara ’til 8:00 in the AM, thinking that the hike to Tikhedunga would be only three hours. It was – but it was three hours of all steep inclines, right through the hottest part of the day. As in, baking hot. The views were nice enough, though nowhere nearly as jaw-dropping as they’d been on the Circuit.
There were loads, and I mean loads of trekkers on the trail – mostly Japanesians, it seemed like. Also, almost everyone was employing porters. I maybe saw four or five porterless trekkers the whole way up and back down. (On the Circuit, I’d estimate that the ratio was about fifty/fifty.) Plenty of locals out and about as well.
My Lodge in Tikhedunga was great. There’s a lower level with a few cliffside rooms, and a small cliffside dining area, an adjacent outdoor garden area, and then an upper level with most of the rooms and the large Dining Hall.
The owner – pretty young guy – was fun to talk to. He offered to set me up with a Nepali wife; said I’d make a lot of money. Assuming it’s some kind of way to get an in for the entire family, as he kept asking about the state of the American economy; refusing to take at face value my continued insistence that its straits are more less as dire as the European economies’.
A pretty little village, built right into the cliff; and with a great waterfall, the brink of which one can walk out over, watching revelers down below at the base of the falls.
If you think I wasn’t considering staying another night here – or even an entire week – think again! Alas, the infamous 3,280 stone steps up to the village of Ulleri had been in the back of my mind for quite some time. It was now, finally, time to tackle them.
Up at 6:30 in the AM to give it a try – as were most all the other trekkers in the village. You usually get the trail to yourself this early in the morning; but the steps’ reputation (and the previous day’s heat, no doubt) had put the fear of god into us all!
It took an hour or so to reach Ulleri (I didn’t count the steps). After taking in some nice early-morning view, though…
…it was time to keep crack-a-lackin’. We’d successfully negotiated the steps to Ulleri, but the overall day’s elevation gain to arrive to Ghorepani would be a whopping 1,500 metres – more less all of it in stone steps. Don’t know why the 3,280 steps up to Ulleri are singled out, because it’s that way all the way up.
You can lead a horse to…
…but the Buffalo can find their own way, thank you very much.
After the village of Banthanti, the trail enters under the cover of forest, cooling the temps quite a lot. It’s a pretty walk…
…but the cool temps weren’t necessarily as cracked-up as one might guess, because in Ghorepani, at 2,800 metres, it was downright cold, but the humans’ clothes were dripping with sweat from the labors’ – not a great combination. Luckily, I beat the heavy rains which began shortly after my check-in at the Shikhar Lodge. There were still lots of trekkers arriving well into the afternoon, wet and cold.
The Dining Room scene here…
…was good fun. A nice mixture of people from many different places. Including, one Indian family – a Mother, Father, and two pre-teen daughters – speaking perfect English. One of the girls stumped all the native English speakers in the room, asking what the word “carunculated” – she’d spied it in the book she was reading – could have meant.
Next morning, we all arose at 4:30 in the AM — all the trekkers in the village, as well as the guides of those who had them – and began climbing up another long trail of stone steps. Our goal was to reach the top before the sun’s rise at 6:00 in the AM.
Our reward, of course, was this utterly spectacular view of…the moon!
Okay, fine. There were also views of the Annapurna peaks and all.
That’s a very small smattering, natch, of the photos I snapped up there. Truth be told, though, while the views mos def justified the effort put into obtaining them, it wasn’t as satisfying as being on the Circuit. There, the views are ever changing – different peaks, different angles, different light and weather conditions – and never-ending, and every bit as awe-inspiring. Here, after the sun rises, it’s pretty static.
Still, I would liked to have spent more time up at the top. My toes were colder than fuck-all, however, so down I went after only about a half-hour’s worth of peak-gazin’ goodness. Unintentionally took a different path down than we’d taken on the way up, as there are many different trailheads scattered throughout the village; and so many different options with which to descend back down again. The first Lodge on the way back down has a killer view, too right.
While my Lodge’s view was nothing special, and the rooms – being far away from the Dining Hall’s fireplace as they were — were butt-ass cold at night, it was one of the very best at which I stayed. The family running the place were super-super-nice and -friendly. They even rose with the trekkers at 4:30, going around to explain to those who may not have been aware, to leave their shit and their rooms, and come back to eat and check out afterwards.
So those are my two most enthusiastic Lodge recommendations: Yak & Yeti in Upper Pisang, and Shikhar in Ghorepani. After breakfast…
…I chatted for a while with a very nice Argentinian. He’d made the entire hike up from Nayapul the previous day, then risen with us at 4:30 to go up and see the sunrise, and was now planning to hike all the way back down again this day. Time constraints, he said.
When he told me he was from Argentina, the first words out of my mouth were, “Ah! ‘Hand of God.'”
“People still remember!” he exclaimed. We went into the kitchen to settle our tabs and say goodbye, and when the owner asked, then learnt, where he was from, the first word out of his mouth – drawing hearty laughter from the two of us — was, “Maradona!”
They’re not nearly as excited as myself to be in the photo. Probably they have to go through this routine several times every single day.
Leaving Poon Hill, most people loop around to the villages of Tadapani and Ghandruk, then back down to Birethanti the following day. But being above 3,000 metres and eating cooked food had again made me feel unwell, so I thought to head back down to Banthanti instead, which is located 400 metres lower than Tadapani. Also, I’d noted on the way up that it boasts incredible views.
The scenery was still nice on the way down.
Hiked most of the way down with an Indian couple, whom, I suspect, were employed by the Indian Tourist Bureau – such were their enthusiastic pleadings and proddings for me to visit and discover for myself the wonders of India. I shall do, I promised them…but not until winter-time, when the temperatures won’t be popping the mercury out at well over 100 degrees, as they’re currently doing.
When first I spied this sign, I thought it read “I love Jefus“, and found this to be a most interesting and delightful new take on an old idea. Oh, well.
So, despite it was only Noon, stopped at a Lodge in Banthanti, the Himalayan.
Outrageous view from my room, and also lots of glorious birdsong, and even a little cracklin’ fire out in the garden to garnish the scene with.
Around about mid-afternoon, a storm rolled up the adjacent valley, strafing us with some of its rain. Then, along about late-afternoon, it had come around to our valley, hitting us with some wicked lightning bolts, ginormous thunderclaps, and bodacious rainfall.
And then, an hour or so later, we got hit again, by what seemed at first to be the remnants of the previous system. But then it amped up so spectacularly as to make the previous one look like greasy kids’ stuff. I should have taken footage; I really should have. But I was too transfixed with awe and glee even to blink, or breathe, or beat my heart.
Fucking trekking in Nepal is so fantastic, you never, ever, ever want to go back to the city again.
Unfortunately, that’s where all the fruit is. So, next morning, it was down the 3,280 stone steps, back through Tikhedunga, and returning to Birethanti.
A last, early-morning scene from Banthanti appears to be a quaint little capture from yesteryear. But, peeling back the curtain…(Spoiler Alert)…dude’s in point of fact talking on a cellphone.
In Ulleri were goats at play…
…as well as by far the longest mule train I ever did see. It was the only one I passed with more than one driver – and it had five or six of them. This is only about half of the train, here. I just love the sound of their bells clanking along.
Some pretty nice views on the way down, though, again, kind of paling in comparison with those on the Circuit.
Birethanti itself is actually quite picturesque.
A fine site, indeed, to while away the afternoon.
Next morning, back in Nayapul: a Naga guarding a phallus.
Climbed up to the bus-stand just in time to catch a Pokhara-bound bus. Only, it was so jam-packed that my attempts to flag it down met only a sneer from the conductor, barely able himself to find a foothold with which to lean out the door.
So, I sullenly went over to negotiate with the taxi drivers. They told me that I had to talk to the Don instead, and led me over to him. “How much you want to pay?” he barked.
“Uh…five hundred, I volleyed.”
After scanning a sheet of paper with rows and rows of numbers on it, he allowed, “Okay, you can go for 500.” And, up the road a piece, I was given to think that perhaps it was a good thing I hadn’t got the bus.
Kieran arrived in Kathmandu the day after I did, returning to Ireland two days after that. Before he did, he caught me up on his journeys after we separated. He said he’d never seen Alex again after the Lodge in Bhratang. He’d ended up going over the pass with an ad hoc group totaling nine trekkers, including erstwhile Alobar-ites Rachel and Tess – with whom we’d shared a few moment’s time at the Yak & Yeti, back at Upper Pisang.
Rachel arrived a few days after Kieran’s departure, and departed herself a few days before Tess’s arrival. When I left, Tess was preparing to go trekking in the Kanchenjunga area. She’d met Mark along the way, and passed along the whereabouts of his blog. In his blog-post detailing his travels ’round the Circuit, he briefly discusses his time with Kieran and myself (neglecting to mention Alex). Though he gets a few of the details wrong, dude is a seriously great photographer; and his blog is well worth a gander, even (I should think) for those who’ve not met him.
My own photos are now, finally, ensconced. Even getting an e-mail downloaded seemed, at most times in Nepal, the most Sisyphean of tasks; but here in Thailand, got all the trekking pictures uploaded lickety-split. (I think I shall now, also finally, get the new Hold Steady, Ray LaMontagne, and Cloud Cult albums downloaded – having been ’til this moment, fecklessly salivating at the recent arrivals on the scene of same. …But that’s a story for another day.)
About my photos, I’ll say the following: I’m nowhere near Mark’s (for example) calibre. But I fucking LOVE my camera, and I take a LOT of pictures (i.e., even if the signal-to-noise ratio isn’t very good, the ones I didn’t delete are at least pretty decent).
As for future Nepal trekkings, I’ve stored all my newly acquired cold-weather gear back at Alobar, and would like to have at it again during the October/November high season. Probably the Circuit again, but also eyeing Langtang, and even Gokyo.
Anybody wanna come join the fun? You should really, totally oughta consider doing so! I’ll warn you straight away that I’m going to take a page out of my Palestinian bro’ Hamza’s book, and trek barefoot as much as I possibly can – which probably means I’ll not make great time. (Hamza himself says he not only made great time, but that he ran down from Thorung La to Muktinath – although he was using sneakers on that day, which he gave away once arriving there.) And, of course, I don’t know for how long I can trek at high altitude while maintaining a cooked-food dietary (though, hopefully it’ll be Apple-harvesting season at the time).
But if you’re innerested, please to be in touch! And even if the timing or situation don’t fit, make sure to get your ass over there trekking in Nepal, the sooner the better. You shan’t regret it.