An October 1998 trip
to Kathmandu by Alan Ingram
Quote: Accounts and photographs of trekking around the Annapurna Himal ( one of the classic treks ) and to the Annapurna Sanctuary ( one of the most popular treks ) in the Nepal Himalaya.
Details and photographs of sightseeing in and around Kathmandu.
Haggling for bargains in the crowded street bazaars of Asan and Thamel.
The splendid panorama of the Annapurna Himal from Phewa Tal in Pokhara.
Trekking through terraced paddy fields, picturesque hill villages, dense bamboo and rhododendron jungle and the deep gorge of the Modi Khola river valley.
Traditional farming methods and country life.
Local cultures and peoples - Sherpas, Tamangs, Gurungs, Rais, Limbus, Chetris, Magars et al.
The spectacular Himalayan landscapes of the Annapurna Sanctuary - especially the magical moments when the summit snows flame red at sunrise and sunset.
The challenge and satisfaction of crossing the 5500metres Tharong La high pass on the circuit of the Annapurna Himal - one of the classic treks.
Two wings with central courtyard and roof terraces.
Basic rooms with double or twin beds and private shower / toilet.
Rooms with shared bathrooms also available.
New wing preferable to old one.
Friendly and helpful staff.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 11, 2001
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 13, 2001
While items are mainly for local trade they include some of interest to visitors such as metalwork, woollen sweaters and rugs.
Prices are generally cheaper than the inflated ones of the tourist oriented shops in Thamel but hard bargaining is still required for best prices.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 12, 2001
Between Durbar Square and Thamel
Attraction | "Patan Durbar Square"
Originally a separate entity, Patan is now a suburb of the ever expanding metropolis of Kathmandu and is easily reached by bicycle or tempo/taxi - a good day's outing.
Many tourists prefer to stay in Patan as it is quieter and less congested than Kathmandu.
Attraction | "Kathmandu Durbar Square"
Enclosed by magnificent medieval, multi-tiered, pagoda-style temples with intricately carved, erotic, temple-struts it is a World Heritage Site and a mandatory first stop on any visit to Kathmandu.
Kumari - the "Living Goddess" resides in one of the temples.
The Old Royal Palace forms one side of the square and is now a large museum open to the public.
The adjacent square of Basantapur is an extensive open air "antiques" and curio / souvenir market.
Freak Street, the old haunt of the original hippies, is at the far end of Basantapur from Durbar Square.
Sitting on the temple terraces is an ideal place for meeting other tourists and trekkers.
First time visitors can expect to be beseiged by rikshaw drivers, shoe-repair boys, khukri ( the famous large curved knife of the renowned Gurkha soldiers ) and jewellery sellers, freelance guides and students practising their English ( and looking for sponsors to pay for their education).
Regrettably the Kathmandu Municipality have recently introduced entrance charges for tourists to Durbar Square.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2001
Gained by a short walk from Durbar Square, followed by a never ending flight of stairs, Swayambunath can also be accessed on its far side by taxi or tourist bus.
An archetypal structure with its hemispherical base, all-seeing eyes of Buddha on the four sides of a rectangular column looking to the four points of the compass and conical spire bedecked with fluttering prayer flags Swayambunath is a major venue for both tourists and the Nepalese.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 13, 2001
Attraction | "Pashupatinath"
Access is only permitted for Hindus but views of the extensive temple complex are gained from terraces on the opposite side of the river.
Banks of the Bagmati River
Attraction | "Bodnath"
The outer rim of the courtyard enclosing the stupa is lined with stalls selling handicrafts and other curios / souvenirs.
Attraction | "Bhaktapur"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 14, 2001
Ancient Town of Bhaktapur
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
1) Budhanilkantha - statue of the "Sleeping Vishnu" on his bed of snakes. ( 1/2 day )
2) Temple of Bajrajagoni at Sankhu.
Can also visit the Changunarayan temple and Gokarna country park on route. ( 1 day )
3) Medieval city of Bhaktapur ( 1 day )
4) Daxinkali - sacrificial temple for chickens and goats on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
The temple at Chobhar Gorge can be visited on route. ( 1 day )
Named "the Sanctuary " by Colonel Jimmy Roberts, the pioneer and founder of organised trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, this was the site of the base camp of ( Sir ) Chris Bonington on his successful assault on Annapurna's massive South Face.
The lodges along this popular route had mushroomed since my first visit ten years previously but thanks to the strict controls imposed by ACAP ( Annapurna Conservation Area Project ) the standards maintained are higher than other regions of Nepal and compare favourably with those of alpine huts in Europe. Inspectors check the general cleanliness of the lodges and their surroundings and also their foodstocks to ensure all items on the extensive menus are indeed available. The use of wood fires is banned and there is a depot for hiring stoves and the purchase of kerosene.
Altitude is the only difficulty in reaching the Sanctuary although no crossing of any high pass is required. On both my visits trekkers were encountered in distressed conditions from attempting to go too high too fast - one American was sure that if he pushed on the effects would wear off. Every year, despite widespread warnings, there are fatalities in the Nepal Himalaya from AMS ( acute
mountain sickness ).
The final two days above Chomrong, the highest permanent settlement in the area, are through dense, bamboo-and-rhododendron jungle lining the sheer-sided walls of the Modi Khola Gorge, with views ahead of the giant 7000 metre Gangapurna, before one emerges into the spectacular beauty of the Sanctuary.
October to December, the post-monsoon season, is the peak trekking period when the weather should be clear and dry but the walk-in on my return visit was in heavy, prolonged rainfall - it was the worst autumn weather in 25 years causing havoc with the still-to-be-harvested grain crops. The floor of the Sanctuary was covered in two feet of fresh snow while the Tharong La high pass on the
Annapurna Circuit was temporarily blocked by the unseasonal snowfall forcing commercial trekking groups on fixed schedules to turn back and retrace their routes.
In the afternoons mists tend to swirl up the valley but in the evening can clear, like a curtain being drawn, to expose the nearby Macchapucchre, the "Fishtail-mountain", with its summit snowfields aflame in the sunset. An equally dramatic view can be obtained in the mornings when the great South Face of Annapurna I glows golden in the sunrise.
Many trekkers miss out on these magic moments by staying at the lower Macchapuchre Base Camp and only making day-trips to the Sanctuary. They benefit however by avoiding the bone-biting, sub-zero, arctic temperatures which prevail in the ice-bound basin under star-spangled, Himalayan night-skies.
Across the jumbled moraine of the South Annapurna Glacier a dangerous gully, bombarded by a constant fusillade of stonefall, emerges onto a level terrace and a 2000foot climb gains the domed top ( c5000 metres ) of Rakshi Peak - a snow summit not requiring a climbing permit. The ascent can usually be done in a single day from base camp but with its heavy cover of deep, soft snow I had to
make a high camp and take two days ( possible thanks to my trekking crew ). The vantage point high in the centre of the Sanctuary provides a 360degree panorama of the encircling mountains and a proper perspective of their true immensity.
Starting from Hiunchuli, the western sentinel above the narrow gateway to the Sanctuary, a tremendous ridge of ice and rock sweeps round the skyline encompassing the graceful Annapurna South Peak, the jagged, black pinnacle of Fang, and culminates in the formidable ramparts of Annapurna I. Nearby towers the aptly named Tent Peak ( nepalese name Tharpu Chuli - one of the so-called
"trekking" peaks requiring a $200 climbing permit ) while the sacred and unclimbed Macchapuchre presents a shapely silhouette as the eastern sentinel above the gateway.
The profound silence is violated on occasion by the reverberating roar of avalanches as huge blocks
of snow and ice crash, amidst billowing clouds of spindrift, to the glacier far below.
On the return journey to Pokhara a detour can be made from Chomrong through the major Gurung village of Gandrung, with its maze of narrow, paved alleyways and stone-built, slate-roofed houses surrounded by orange marigolds and superb outlooks on Annapurna South Peak, Hiunchuli and the twin tops of Macchapuchre ( maccha - fish, puchre - tail ).
Reference: High Adventure around the World
Starting amid lush, sub-tropical rice-paddies the route follows the course of the Marsayangdi Khola (river) on primitive trails through small farming settlements and alpine forests of fir and pine to the arctic tundra of the yak pastures surrounding the medieval village of Manang nestled beneath the huge ice-fall tumbling from the giant, 7,000 metre Gangapurna.
Beyond Manang, the crux of the trek is the high-level crossing of the snow-covered Tharong La to reach an arid, wind-swept, mountain-desert region in the upper valley of the Kali Gandaki.
From the sacred temple at Muktinath, the return leg heads down-river on the trade route from Tibet via the caravanserai of Jomson and Tukuche through the deepest gorge in the world between the two 8,000 metre peaks of Annapurna (the world's 10th highest mountain) and Dhaulagiri (the world's 7th highest mountain) to finish at Phewa Tal (lake) on the outskirts of Pokhara - the second city of Nepal.
It was my first visit to Nepal and on our trek starting point at the ancient royal city of Gorkha (origin of the illustrious Gurkas), I suffered from both anticipation and apprehension of what was to follow. The thought of being up to 10 days away from the nearest roadhead was daunting - in Scotland and the Alps, the most had been only a couple of days. Another member of our group, Judith, a doctor from the USA, was also concerned and her backpack was extra heavy with medicines for all eventualities.
As we headed up the scenic valley on narrow trails beneath high rock walls and lofty snow peaks, criss-crossing from bank to bank on long, swaying, suspension bridges, the tension in our party increased as we progressed towards the huddle of flat-roofed houses of Manang. Rumours circulated of an early snowfall blocking the pass, disconsolate trekkers were met returning having been defeated by altitude sickness.
Our group leader, Phil did not help morale; "If you don't make it over the pass you won't see your kitbags (carried by our porters) again until Kathmandu!".
My daysac was therefore at its heaviest for the 1,000metre climb over steep scree and snow slopes to the col at 5,500 metres - some 2,000 feet higher than my previous best on 4,800 metre Mont Blanc.
However, by late evening, everyone, including Jack, a 60-year-old Irishman, had successfully struggled into the walled, fortress-like camping ground at Muktinath. We had enjoyed perfect conditions but others have not been so fortunate. On a previous occasion a party of four Sherpas had died in a vain attempt to secure help for their group snowbound on their attempt at crossing the pass. Poorly clad porters have also succumbed to exposure and hypothermia.
From the pagoda-style temple with its sacred water spouts and natural gas flame a dramatic view unfolds of the barren moonscape of the upper Kali Gandaki valley and the huge, white dome of Dhaulagiri looming far to the south.
The numerous small, simple lodges in the Kali Gandaki valley originally served as overnight staging posts for porters and pony caravans carrying goods on the trade route to and from Tibet but are now the haven of 'tea-shop' trekkers and the route between Pokhara and Jomson, the most popular in Nepal, is now known as the 'Coca-Cola Trail'.
A long uphill slog from the riverside at Tatopani to the col at Gorapani is alleviated by superb views of Dhaulagiri and its neighbouring Tukuche Peak rising sheer above the valley floor. Poon Hill, a short climb above Gorapani, provides an even better vantage point to witness the great peaks flame red in the rays of the rising or setting sun.
However the finest panorama is saved for the end of the trek in Pokhara. On a clear day, from the dam on Phewa Tal, the entire northern horizon is lined with mighty peaks ranging from Dhaulagiri in the west through Annapurna South Peak, Hiunchuli, Annapurna I, Macchapuchre (the 'fish-tail' mountain), Annapurna III, Annapurna II and Lamjung Himal terminating with Manaslu Himal in the east.
As is customary, our trekking crew and porters were well rewarded with generous backsheesh (money presents) for their stalwart efforts in ensuring the success of our trek while our sirdar Ang Jangbu drew lots to allocate the donations we also made of clothing and trekking gear. Most, but not all, of Judith's medicines were used to treat local villagers in evening surgeries at our camping places.
Reference: "High Adventure around the World"