Sunday, October 24, 2010
Annapurna Circuit - Part 1 - leaving Kathmandu
We awoke super early to catch our 7am "tourist bus" towards Pokhara... The kids were sad to leave their beloved Dragon Guest House, but they were also thrilled to be a starting a trek in the Annpurnas.... I don't think they realized how much transportation was involved just to get to the starting point.
Leaving in the dark, with headlamps, we wandered the alleys north of Boudanath, then emerged in the pre-dawn light at the Great Stupa. Grabbed a taxi downtown to meet the huge line of buses waiting on Kantipath. "Uncle Shankar," our long-time friend and all-around travel agent, ticket meister, fix anything guy even popped by with his son Anshu to bid us farewell... Marcin flew in a couple of days ago to join us for the trek, and had the advantage of jet-lag to help him get up super early!
Our comfy bus took us up a few hills and out over the rim of the Kathmandu Valley, then plummeted down steep slopes to meet the Trisuli River.... The highway, MUCH improved over the last 10 years, winds downstream along this gorgeous canyon for a few hours, then follows the Marsyangdi River upstream to Dumre. The last time I did this trek (1996 during the summer monsoon), we started walking in Dumre! The ridiculous impassable mud road is much improved now, paved almost the entire way... So we switched from our "tourist bus" to a 2-hour jam-packed sweaty local bus. It was so overcrowded that the best seats are actually on the roof! I'll try to post the video of our kids riding on the luggage rack, hair blowing in the breeze, with brilliant emerald-green rice paddies all around. What a blast! Now they ONLY want to ride on the roof!
A couple of hours later, we arrived in Besi Sahar, which served as the trailhead for awhile... The new road construction has pushed further and further uphill, eating away at the trek year by year. In the "old days," the trek began in Dumre, then in Besi, then about 10 years ago Khudi became the "end of the road." Now the road has pushed deeper, bypassing Bhulbhule and Bahundanda, and making the typical starting point Syange (which used to be about day 2 or 3). We opted to do all of our transport in on long arduous day, so we could wake up early and trek in the cooler morning.... So we found the jeep in Besi and headed up to Syange... and what an insane ride it was!
Karen's journal puts it like this: "Arriving in bustling Besi Sahar, we all agreed (especially Eliza, "I don't wanna stay here tonight!") that we'd get the transport over with today, and then nothing but trekking for 3 glorious weeks. So we worked on getting a jeep, even though it was late afternoon. We really could've used a meal, but the mystery jeep suddenly materialized! So we quickly sipped our sodas and resisted the many pleas/offers/threats of nowhere to stay in Syange, and went with the vehicle. We met our driver, "Ram", and I couldn't help but being struck by the appropriate dual meaning of his name. When we arrived at our destination, much later, exhausted and sore (I felt like I'd just come out of surgery), but ALIVE, it was only by the grace of God and Ram's aggressive confident driving skills. NOT because his jeep worked well...
He had the hood up every time we stopped, even for a minute or 2. The lights barely lit the way on our rutted, muddy, slippery, boulder strewn, cliff-hanging road. He had to keep putting some fluid from a reused 'Squeeze Parkay' bottle into the vehicle just to get it into gear. Roll starting, backwards AND forwards was exciting, as was pumping the clutch constantly and piling out to help push us off a boulder or two. That was all fine, especially with Ram at the wheel, but dang if my knees were wedging between the seats again... OUCH!!! It really hurts, and they're still hurting! No matter the pain, we survived, as did the sweet Polish family jammed in "sitting" beside us (Lukas was beside me, also with lengthy femurs)."
Yup, it was a crazy 4-hour jeep ride, mostly in the dark, sliding and fishtailing in steep muddy ruts and over huge boulders. We drove through several creeks, and even a waterfall that splashed all over the "road" and windshield. And then it started to rain... I guess it was better in the dark, as we couldn't see crazy narrow road & the horrifying cliffs dropping hundreds of vertical feet down to the river below. So I was also quite relieved to arrive safely with our kids in Syange. Never again!!!! (I gave Ram a huge thank-you and a fat tip!) I'd skip the jeep & walk the Bhulbule/Bahundanda section...
The next morning was bright clear and lovely, but Marcin was delirious... Really incoherent, feverish, and woozy... He'd quaffed some sketchy water the day before, and it hit him hard. So while Marcin slept and began Cipro, we spent the day exploring the area, checking out the many waterfalls and crazy bridges, dayhiking up to rice-growing villages, visiting with local farmers, sipping cups of chai at tea-houses, and observing a crowd of locals "electro-fishing" with a huge extension cord, bare wires, and scary home-made fish zapper... (Didn't their mom's tell them to keep electric appliances out of the bath?)
Karen's big consolation for the delay was the many stunning moth and butterfly species that live in this area!
We'll start trekking tomorrow! (...as long as those appealing beds allow us a good night's sleep!!!)