1.1.1: To Kathmandu

Day 1: London to Doha

I left Bath at 10:00 this morning and got a train to Reading. It was the first time I’d been to Reading since I left there 4 years ago. The bus from Reading station went past two of the houses I lived in during my two years at the University there. It was strange to see the place again. I arrived at Heathrow nice and early for my flight and had no problems with check in and the flight left on time at 15:00. On the flight I occupied myself with chess and backgammon computer games and episodes of The Simpson’s. The plane arrived at Doha on time at midnight, which was +2hrs from London. Doha was much more stressful than London. I had 25 minutes to catch the plane to Kathmandu and there was a huge queue at transfer. Luckily I asked one of the airport staff and he got me past the queue and I made it to the flight with a few minutes to spare.

Day 2: Doha to Kathmandu

I was given a second on-board meal on the second plane. I ate it anyway but it made me feel a bit ill. I tried to get some sleep but it was pretty hopeless. We arrived in Kathmandu on time at 8:00. At arrival I was at the back of the queue for visa applications. It took a long time to get to the end. I met a Polish man named Piotr who had come for a week or so from Frankfurt earlier in the morning. He had left his brother in Delhi. After I got my visa I got my baggage and headed out.

There were a lot of people trying to get me into taxis. I said I needed to meet my guide and luckily I found him with a group of people waiting for passengers. He was actually my guide’s brother and helped organise my trek. He drove me to my hotel, The Tibetan Guest House. After the slowness of the queue for visas, driving through Kathmandu was a shock. There was so much going on at every street. Many of the buildings were collapsing and the old vehicles emitted nasty smoke. There was a lot of dust. The hotel was located slightly off the main street of Thamel, the tourist region. This was good because the streets are very noisy. The streets don’t have pavements, so everybody including the cows and the dogs walk the streets and the motorbikes, cars and rickshaws beep you out of the way.

2.1. Streets of Thamel.

Apparently today, a Saturday, is a holiday and the streets are fairly quiet. I dread to see what it is like in the week. In the afternoon I went for a walk in Thamel. It was tough going, with children and women asking for money and people trying to sell items and weed. The worst were the trekking touts who wouldn’t take no for an answer even when I said I already had a guide. Eventually I met a Nepali student who studied history. He showed me some Buddhist and Hindu temples which were very interesting. I guessed he was after something and eventually he asked me for a donation towards his history books. We went for tea and I gave him 300 rupees.

2.2. Stupa and pagoda near Thamel.

At 17:00 I met with my guide and his brother. We had a brief chat about the trek and agreed to meet tomorrow at 8:00. At 18:00 I met Andreas, whose travel journal I’d read on the internet. It was about his trek in the Khumbu region. We had chatted on trekinfo.com. With him was an English girl named Suzi who Andreas had also met on trekinfo.com. Andreas and Suzi were planning a trek into Mustang, one of the restricted areas of Nepal. Suzi was going as part of her medical degree so they both had the privilege of spending 10 days or so in Lo Manthang. Normal guided treks only spend one or two nights there. The three of us went to a bar in Thamel called Tom and Jerry’s. We then went to an Italian restaurant called Ciao, which used to be known as Marco Polo. There we met Bharat who was Andreas’ guide for his Khumbu trek. We left for home at about 21:00, tired after our respective flights.

2.3. Andreas, Suzi and Bharat at the Marco Polo.

Day 3: Kathmandu

First a word about my guide: Jagat Lama is the head of a small independent trekking company in Kathmandu. He was the person I contacted a month or so ago to organize the trek. He works with his two brothers Chet and Kanchha. Chet met me at the airport and worked on the organization of my trip and Kanchha will be my guide for the Annapurna trek. This morning I met with Kanchha at the lobby of my hotel at 8:00 for a sightseeing trip around Kathmandu. We got a taxi to Pashupatinath, which is a large Hindu temple complex. Inside the complex I took a photo of one of the Sadhus, the Hindu holymen who have dedicated their lives to the lord Shiva, and gave him 100 rupees. We then crossed the river and saw the ghats, where the Hindus are traditionally cremated, though all was quiet today. We then climbed a hill above Pashupatinath and there a large monkey went a bit mad and attacked the people who were sat on the benches. I took a picture of him once he had calmed down.

3.1. Pashupatinath and Sadhu.

3.2. Macaque that went crazy.

We then walked to Bodnath, the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal. Near there we visited a thangka (religious painting) school and I purchased a small thangka. We had a glass of black tea with one of the people there and he explained what the picture meant. We then got a taxi to Swayambhunath. Swayambhunath is another Buddhist stupa at the top of a steep hill. At the bottom of the hill I got the red dot painted on my forehead. The views from the top were very good over the Kathmandu valley and the whole place looked spectacular with all the Buddhist prayer flags.

3.3. The great stupa at Bodnath.

3.4. Buddha statues on the steep path to Swayambhunath.

We then went for lunch with Kanchha’s wife. We all had Dal Bhat. Kanchha was very hungry because he normally has Dal Bhat at 10:00 and it was about midday by now. After lunch we went to buy some gear for the trek. I bought a warm hat, a pair of gloves, a windproof jacket, windproof trousers, a pair of trekking poles and I rented a down jacket. In the evening we went to a restaurant. Kanchha had to leave early to pack his bag for the trek. Chet and I stayed for dinner. I had a steak and Chet had Dal Bhat.

3.5. Swayambhunath, the monkey temple.

3.6. Swayambhunath stupa and Buddhist prayer flags.

Day 4: Kathmandu to Besi Sahar

This morning I met with Kanchha and we got a taxi to the bus-park. We met with Chet and Roj who will be my porter. Roj is 17 and he speaks some English that he had learned in school. Chet says that he is lucky because my bag is so light, under 15 kg. I am still glad I don’t have to carry it. The bus took a long time to get out of Kathmandu. We drove along very polluted streets and smoke and fumes came in through the open windows. I was keen to get into the open countryside. Along the way people selling all kinds of things such as newspapers, watches, water and fruit got on. The bus goes so slowly through Kathmandu that these people can just walk on and off the bus. Once the bus was outside the city we followed a ridge along the Kathmandu valley before descending and then following a river. We stopped for Dal Bhat after about two hours. The bus stopped again at Mugling and again at Dumre. We then took the road from Dumre to Besi Sahar which follows the Marsyangdi River. After a total journey of about 7 hours we arrived in Besi Sahar.

4.1. Bus trip to Besi Sahar.

We checked in at the Everest lodge and I ordered some chicken fried rice for dinner. Kanchha has now stopped me from drinking any alcohol until after the Thorung La, so sadly there will be no more beer for me. We went for a walk around town and used the internet before dinner. I had my dinner while Kanchha sat and talked with me. He has his Dal Bhat later on with the other Nepali people. He tells me that the Annapurna circuit is now less popular than the Annapurna sanctuary and Khumbu treks. I wonder if this is to do with the roads that are being built in the Marsyangdi and Kali Gandaki valleys. At least I should be able to find room in the lodges. Kanchha also told me that the first time he did the circuit it was as a porter and he was bearing a load of 45 kg. I can’t really comprehend that. When I go to bed I have another night of difficulty sleeping. I was awake from 22:00 until 2:30. This is still better than the last few nights though.

4.2. Lamjung Himal, mountain views on my arrival in Besi Sahar.