Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pictures Kathmandu

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

We embarked on a trek to Annapurna Base Camp with no guide, no porter, but lots of energy and excitement to be in the Himalayas.
Excerpts from our journal:

Day 1 "Not a Day Trip"- Naya Pul to Ghandruk
It was tough getting back in the swing of hiking after being in cities for the past couple of weeks. Our packs are quite heavy with gear for about 14 days. We walk from Naya Pul, where the taxi dropped us off, to Birethani and continued on to Sayuli Bazaar. We stop for a breakfast of fried eggs and chapati. We keep walking and this bazaar place seems to never end (spanning all the way up the mountain). We keep passing and being passed by a couple of 1-night-ers, so we feel good about our pace considering our packs. The scenery is beautiful: rice terraces and quaint villages. Everything is very green and there are many little waterfalls that we pass. One of them we use to fill a bottle- our first time purifying, and all goes well. The first half of the day wasn't too bad, but the second half is all uphill. We get to Ghandruk 7 hours later. Very tired, we push a little more to stay at Hotel Mountain View, at the top of the hill, so the next day is easier and of course, we have a view. When we got to the guest house there was a reward. A real rainbow in the valley!

Day 2 "Leeches" -Ghandruk to Chomrong
The day started off with an amazing view from our balcony of one of the Annapurnas that had been hidden in the clouds the night before. The walk at first was pretty easy, mild ups and downs, but then we started the big descent towards the river. Pretty steep considering our bags definitely required some braking. At first it was nice to be in a forest and we even encountered a family of monkeys bouncing along in the trees. Then things turned for the worst. Leeches, lots of them kept climbing up on our shoes. We tried to rush but there was only so much you could get away.  3/4 down the hill we stopped for a chapati breakfast. There were no eggs so we ingested a granola bar instead. From there it was a small river crossing, then a larger one. We were at the bottom so now it was up up up. All was ok except for more leeches. At some point we lost the trail and had to turn around to find it. The estimated 5 hour walk ended up taking 7, not including a slight detour near the end. We finally made it to Chomrong just as the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. At our Kalpana Lodge stayed a group of Christian missionaries from Hawaii. There were eleven of them with some 16 porters and guides, for a total of 32. Nuts! It made for an interesting evening. 
Day 3 "Slippery"- Chomrong to Bamboo
We started off descending steps until our legs were shaking. We climbed back up to Sinuwa and made a stop for breakfast. Porridge. No eggs again. SInuwa is a special place. We made it to the top of the mountain without many problems and there the guy coming down told us to expect another two and a half hours to bamboo (unlike the 2 on the sign and the 1 in our map). The walk took us into the jungle. It was really lush, really wet, really green, and really slippery. Crossing some waterfalls made us uneasy and generally we couldn't wait to get there. It was hard not being able to see a destination, only the dense forest up ahead. Just as we thought we would never end, we made it and checked in to Bamboo for the night. A nice bucket shower and a delicious dal bhat re-energized us for a long afternoon of reading and cards. 
Day 4 "Waterfalls" - Bamboo to Deorali
The day started off really easily with the walk from Bamboo to Dovan, slightly uphill but not too many problems. We stopped at a really nice waterfall to fill some water and continued on. As we were leaving dovan, daph felt a "bug" on her foot and flicked it. After a few minutes it was hurting badly so we looked and saw she was bleeding and there was a leech on her sock. At the next waterfall we stopped to disinfect and have some hard boiled eggs. From there it was mostly through jungle to get to Himalaya lodges. We passed several waterfalls and it started to rain. When we took off our raincoats, daph found another leech, uncomfortably close to her neck. We had a lunch of tuna on chapati loaded with ketchup and milk tea and were off good as new to Deorali. The walk was really nice, the jungle cleared and we walked through tons of wildflowers and crossed huge waterfalls as we climbed into the clouds. We arrived at Deorali where we met again 4 french people that had started the day in Chomrong-crazy! Just as we arrived the drizzle turned to pouring showers. Deorali is as rustic as we have had and I think we will pass on showering since they were charging per bucket, not to mention it was too cold to want to get wet.
Day 5 "Green"- Deorali to Machapuchhare Base Camp
Today's walk was not too hard. It was supposed to take 2 hours but we decided ahead of time to do it in 3- walk slowly, breathe, and stop a lot for water. The ascent was 550 meters from 3150 at Deorali to 3700 at MBC. The walk was beautiful. We walked in the valley by the river as the mountains were getting closer and closer to us. We saw ice melted in the middle, many many waterfalls, but what was especially impressive were all the wildflowers around us. A couple of kids that seemed to be porters in training kept passing us and stopping for us to pass. They were almost like guides, adjusting some rocks on waterfalls along the way, and pointing out the views. We have been arriving early to the lodge with lots of time to spend in the afternoon and today we finished our reading books. We still had cards, food, and ourselves to keep busy.
Day 6 " By the river" - MBC to ABC (Annapurna Base Camp)
Today was a leisurely walk another couple of hours ascending to 4130 meters. The way was beautiful, an open valley and us walking by the river. About an hour after arriving at ABC we were in the cold moist clouds and would spend the remainder of the day talking and keeping warm under a blanket in the cold and drafty dining hall. In the evening the lodge filled with people, a couple Koreans, an American, a couple of Dutchmen, and everybody ironically learned from us about altitude sickness. W were the only ones that had ascended slowly and were feeling 100%.
Day 7 "Rain" - ABC to Dovan
Today started off as the most amazing morning. We got up at 5am to see the mountains because we weren't sure it would get any clearer. But it did! At about 5:30 we got up for the second time and as we were organizing our things and awaiting breakfast kept watching the sky clear and the mountains around us were unveiled. We ended up watching for more than an hour before starting our way down. First to MBC, then Deorali where we picked up some items we left behind to lighten the loads. After our short stop at Deorali it started to rain. By the time we made it to Himalaya we were soaked head to toe. So, since it was quite early, we decided to keep descending further, couldn't really get any wetter. The rain only got worse. The walk was long, the rocks were slippery, and crossing waterfalls made sure to get our shoes "extra clean".  By the time we got to Dovan we were as wet as can be. Our bags were wet including some of their contents and Daph's knee was hurting from descending all 1500 meters in one day. So we decided to call it a day and sat down for our daily dal bhat.
Day 8 "Slip and Slide" Dovan to Jhinu
We started with an early morning at Dovan, saw a quick view of Machapuchhare peak before starting our walk of hell. At Bamboo we made a little stop for a can of tuna and continued through the forest to Sinuwa. There we made a longer stop for breakfast and biscuits along with a local treat. Sinuwa is a special place. It was down the mountain then back up to Chomrong. We stopped by Kalpana for some warming tea (best lemon tea of daph's life) before going down to Jhinu with on again off again rain. The rain yesterday had caused the trail to degrade severely. From Dovan all the way to Sinuwa the trail had turned into a stream. Not just a trickle, but a slippery stream. Then Sinuwa to Chomrong and even Jhinu there were tons of landslides that had collapsed the trail and the the mud all around was squishy and slippery. And the waterfalls-if before we could find some rocks to hop between, now we were happy to step right in to the slippery mess, just to avoid sliding down with the surging rush of water. To make matters just a tad worse we tried not to walk too slow or stay in once place too long so as to avoid the leeches as much as possible. Nonetheless, Daph got a couple of leech bites on her stomach and others on her feet. Let's not forget to mention Daph had 3 falls along the way. None serious!
Day 9 "Pokhara or Bust"- Jhinu to Nayapul and then bus back to Pokhara
We've had enough of the trail at this point and decided to use the locals' trail to get back to Nayapul asap. This trail would follow the river all the way down. Some locals were heading the same direction and we kept pace with them for a good while. A few bridge crossings, leech checks, water breaks, and a lot of perseverance we were able to put good dent in our day's walk before lunch. All we could think at this point was how nice it would be to be in a real bathroom with a shower (for reference, all the lodges had shared bathrooms with squat toilets and cold water) 9 hours later we were in Nayapul. Now, the local bus... A slow 3 hours up and down the mountains until finally reaching Pokhara. We found a nice hotel and crashed for the night.

(You can get an idea of what the trek looked like by clicking on our map and changing it to satellite view).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kathmandu Part 2/Pokhara

on this morning we departed from the comforts of thamel towards durbar square for the second time in two days. around durbar there are many small temples as well as a large palace housing a museum of past kings' cultural artifacts and the likes. i opted out and let daph take a stroll for both of us. the museum from what i heard had many rooms set up from the king's who had lived there with clothes, pictures, daily items, and other interesting artifacts. and, i can't forget the view from the palace tower that i sadly missed. no photos allowed. (daph elaborates: amazing rooftop view of the whole city, most of it built in red brick, forming a beautiful mosaic that is surrounded by green mountains). the monsoon hour was upon us and as i was attempting to draw one of the stupas a local nepali man sitting next to me peeked at my drawing. we began talking about his past history of mountaineering with the first american to climb k2, as well as his favorite denali climb in alaska. so, in thamel, every 8 out of 10 men between the ages of 14-40 are guides or travel agents. prem, to my enjoyment, did not want to sell me anything. i asked him about a suggested trek itinerary and he listed off 10 villages or so. here we got our first encouragement that it would be fine to trek with no guide, no porter, etc. after the rain slowed we walked our way to lunch near the "new road". indian chat accompanied with a masala dosa. one of our best meals to this point in nepal.

the next morning began early. a 345 wake up for departure at 4 to the indian embassy. according to a local legend the lines start forming at this time for the treasured entrance token. one of sixty available each day. upon my insistence daph stayed to get a few more hours while i took off, on a nice 8 minute jog with the help of a headlight. arriving at the embassy, before anyone else, by a full 90 minutes. luckily, the nepal armed police force guard in front of the british embassy and i began talking. he accompanied me the full 3 hours until daph arrived... following the quick stint at the embassy we eventually made it to the monkey temple, about an hour's walk. we climbed the steep stairs and found lots of activity of local women preparing offerings of incense and other colorful decorations. just on the other side of the temple we encountered the monkeys, much friendlier than the chinese ones. these guys ate hastily and worriedly from the big monkey's cookie stash. they all feared the big monkey, holding his baby monkey. in the end every monkey got enough to eat and we continued on our temple journey back to thamel.

the following morning we set off to patan, a city 3 km or so south from thamel. it essentilly blends with kathmandu, just separated by the river. we began walking and after just over an hour and several stops to see the soccer stadium, a knife purchase (instead of the one we abandoned before our flight), and paper store, we arrived in durbar square of patan, much nicer than that of kathmandu. here we explored the alleys emanating from the square and found delicious fresh donuts, small pastries, and a papaya we devoured on the steps of one of the stupas. we spent most of the rain time having a lassi on the rooftop above the square. our purchase of nepali ctc (milk) tea at a local shop in patan still awaits our brewing. we walked some of the way back and then negotiated a taxi fare for the rest of the way.

the next day was spent shopping and if you happen to answer the trivia correct you will have an idea of some of the things we bought.

next day we walked east of thamel to pashupati and arrived almost 2 hours later. the entrance to the complex and buildings where hindu ceremonies and cremations take place are closed to non-hindus so we peeked around as much as we could. daph decided to have a mango juice that was slightly less than sanitary. we continued our walk for another hour up and over the hill to bodnath, home to an important tibetan buddhist temple. upon entering the bodnath temple a monk took us by the hand and walked us in circles around the temple, he invited us to sit on the grass with him and repeat the mantra. we sat on the nice grass, closed our eyes, and breathed. daph helped the monk with the mantra. as we left the inner loop of the temple we began circumbabulating. this is supposedly to be done 3 times, spinning prayer wheels as you go. our circles were interrupted by a heavy and quick shower during which we had a brownie and coffee. by this time we had lost track of our circumbabulating, so about 5 rounds later we jumped in a taxi for thamel, our designated home for the week.

one more day was spent taking care of the indian visa permit and blog updating. i was in need of a rest so we chilled out and then did another quick round of shopping.

we were off to pokhara in a "tourist bus" which is slightly better than a local one, circa 1950s bus, chrome and tacky decorations abound. leaving kathmandu in the morning we were able to see the locals praying and doing their yoga on the immense greenish lawn near the royal palace, which we had previously passed in the middle of the day and had no idea what it was for. along the way the bus stopped several times for gas exchanges with other buses. one bus would hand us a bottle of gas or we would just siphon directly from the other bus. 7 hours later we arrived in pokhara without a hotel in mind. the hotel touts were all over us. one offered us a free cab ride if we would just look at his place. we got a good price for the room but had issues with ants in the room (bed) and a lone roach, as well as the hot water not working as guaranteed by the owner. we should of never ordered the food there, but it was too late. the next morning we moved across the street with not much better luck. hundreds of ants abound. we visited the annapurna conservation office for all the necessary fees and documentation. we entered ourselves in the trekking database in case we ran into trouble. we then took care of some loose ends before our trek, picked up the necessary provisions (granola bars, chocolate, candy) and packed our bags.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kathmandu Part 1

Arriving in Kathmandu was a whirlwind. We arrived with no visa, no guidebook, no reservations, and no clue what we were doing. So getting a visa at the airport was not too bad, and then we proceeded outdoors, only to be hounded by taxi drivers and immediately turned back around and went in to decide where we were going. Some guards helped us out and some how we made it to Thamel- where all the tourists stay, to the Kathmandu Guest House- the only place I could remember from the guidebook that I had looked through in the Hong Kong airport bookstore. It was about 10 pm and the streets were dark, armed police were walking about and we were exhausted, all contributing to a quick retreat to our room...
Kathmandu Guest House is the oldest hotel and so it is used as a reference point for every other place in Thamel; everything is just two minutes from KGH...However, the room was less than great, so the next morning we headed out in search of a more suitable guesthouse. Many touts later we found a great little place, "Namaste Guest House", where we would comfortably spend the next week. We continued our errand day with laundry, bank, internet etc. and walked around the dense Thamel area. The bustle was so different than that of China- the streets were narrow, lined with shops and restaurants and there was constant movement. The bigger vehicle always wins and the walker will always end up walking on the edge of the street, almost in the sewer channels. It was still polluted, noisy and foreign, but nevertheless it was refreshing. Most of the people speak English and the change in diet was especially refreshing. We were no longer limited to fried vegetables and rice- now we had Nepali food, Tibetan food, Indian food, and in Thamel- all the Western food that you can think of. For dinner we had our first Daal Bhat- the typical Nepali food. It consists of a plate with lentil soup (daal) which you pour on white rice (bhat) accompanied with a side of curry (mostly potatoes), veggies/pickles that vary, and a papad (thin fried cracker that you've probably had at an Indian Restaurant).
The following day we explored Kathmandu further, walking to Durbar (palace) Square. We saw a new part of the city, and having gotten used to having kai shui (boiling water) at all times, invested in a kettle of our own. We explored the old buildings of  the square, had our first delicious street samosas, walked through the Asan Tole food (mostly vegetable) market and really got a feel for the city. The poverty is quite overwhelming; it is quite apparent in the people, the shops, the roads, the buildings. The city is low (no high rises) and yet somehow incredibly warm with people that are genuinely friendly greeting us with "Namaste".

Pictures Guangzhou/Hong Kong

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pictures Yangshuo/Longsheng + Note

Hi readers, as you might know we are in Nepal now. We will be going on a trek for a couple of weeks so we'll be offline during this time. When we return we will update. Please note that trivia #2 questions are still up for grabs. Comments are always welcome. d&m

Double click to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

china interview

Hi readers, This interview was conducted in China on various occasions (mostly long buses and the like) and its purpose is to give some more insight on our daily activities, observations and impressions. Please note that all comments are our subjective opinions. d&m

Describe China in one word
m: chaos

Most useful skill while in China
m: Daph's Chinese
d: pushing

Describe a night on the sleeper train
d: tickets are collected at the start and returned to you before your stop. lights off at 22:00, followed by a sleepless night. waking up from stops, snores and stench. sometimes interesting people, always feeling gross in the morning. a way to get to know real China.
m: spitting, really hot or really cold, lots of waiting, not much moving, dirty sheets, smoke in cabins, symphony of snoring, avoidable bathrooms.


What's it like to go to a restaurant?
d: you are expected to know what you want as soon as you sit down, hence the waitress will stand over you as you read the menu until you order. when eating- pick up food from main dish, tap your rice if there is a possibility of sauce drippage, then eat or bring bowl very close to mouth and slurp. generally people order a lot and meals last a long time, especially if there's drinking involved.
m: inpatient waitress, tries to order for you, no napkins unless you ask. tables don't get cleared until the end of the day. no tipping.

How about eating on the go?
d: bags of preserved meat, ramen, dried fruits and snacks are what Chinese people have, we stick to identifiable objects.
m: when you have chocolate sandwiches it doesn't matter where or when you eat. crackers are a life-saver, so are cream-filled cookies (oreo knock-offs).

What's the food you miss the most?
m: real bread
d: chocolate

Favorite meal while in China?
d: Sichuan eggplant and garlic
m: Muslim-quarter sticky rice, date-infused goodness with a side of pita (Xian); but the eggplant was pretty darn good


Best view:
m: from half-way house on tiger-leaping gorge looking at haba snow mountain
d: from the chairlift going down congshan mountains overlooking dali and erhai lake

Rivers in china
d: brown
m: dirty and dammed-up

Mountains in china:
d: big
m: mostly green, not an obstacle for agriculture


Tell us about kids in China
d: there aren't many of them, but they're pretty cute. sometimes boys are dressed in pants that have a cut under their bottoms (enabling easier squat).
m: like to stare, love saying hello to us

China has a lot of internal tourism. What are your impressions of the Chinese traveler?
d: they seem to have necessary items always with them: newspapers (for sitting on outside), umbrellas (for rain and sun), cameras (for lots of pictures and lots of posing), dried meat (for snacking), and the ever-present tea cup.

As a foreigner, how has the interaction been with the Chinese?
m: people are helpful and welcoming to foreigners. they are noticebly trying. in general making things easiers for us rather than more complicated.
d: they love getting a response when they yell out "hello" to us, are generally fascinated by foreigners and want to take pictures with us.