Kathmandu seemed like a blur. It was a noisy, busy market—a bustling city, bursting at the seams—so many things happening, different peoples coming together, the timeless, age-old market with traders, beggars, holy men, merchants, travelers—sifting through time.
I considered all that as I rode the bus to Pokhara, watching the mountainous countryside slide by. Sometimes we glimpsed a river far below the road, winding through the steep hills of the valley. Strangely, fourteen years later in 1992, I would ride rafts on that very river for several days with students and teachers from Singapore American School.
At a rest stop in one of the little villages between Kathmandu and Pokhara a young boy climbed on the bus with one of those decrepit looking stringed instruments that sound a bit like a fiddle; it was incredible—his voice mingled with the sounds of his instrument to produce a beautiful sound. He sang one song in French that I’m sure he learned to please European tourists—no matter, for it was a beautiful experience. I would have loved to have a recorder there but the immediacy of the situation, the impact of the boy’s presence and voice, would have been lost. Unfortunately, I didn’t take his photo.
The flies were everywhere—as they always are, but one got used to it. We stayed at a place called Trekker’s Lodge just outside Pokhara, located near one of the lakes in the area. The food is great and the atmosphere relaxed.” We only caught a glimpse of Pokhara because we wanted to get into the mountains.
Tom and Kevin were forestry experts in the Peace Corps who had been working in the forests of Malaysia. Tom had even married a Malaysian woman. I was lucky to have teamed up with them because we all got along well. We had rented sleeping bags and other stuff we’d need on the trek before we left Kathmandu. We were carrying everything ourselves rather than hire Sherpas to guide us and carry our stuff.
Once we began trekking it was enjoyable, as hard as it was to walk up the steep hills—cotton mouthed from thirst—the views were worth it. The rest stops were worth it too. The people who lived on the trail sold hot tea to trekkers. The tea was safe of course as the water was boiled. It was interesting to rest by their homes and see snippits of village life. Little Nepali children would run up laughing and say “Namaste” and hand us flowers. Namaste means something like: “I bless the god within you.” I fell in love with Nepali women. They have beautiful long hair usually braided with red yarn or twine. The women are short, sturdy and strong, and smile easily. They are lovely. On the trail there were large red flowers, rhododendron, that were beautiful, and many smaller flowers out too; with all of those flowers the mountains were colorful. Some of the smaller red flowers were supposed to be magnolias too, but I can’t tell the difference. In many of the villages the inns were run by Gurhkas who’d retired from the British army, so they understood westerners better than the average Nepali. They had a small pension that went far in Nepal and they used that to opened Inns for trekkers and climbers. Their English was quite good, so it was pleasant to speak with them and learn things from them about Nepal.
Thirst was a problem over the whole journey. I was afraid to drink out of most of the streams. I talked with people who had been drinking it when they said they were sure no one was living above where they could see the ridge top. The streams running down the sides of the mountains were cold and clear and when I came across a stream chuckling down the slope it was so hard to pass up dropping down and drinking a long cool draught. But they are dangerous. I drank from several only when I could see that no people or villages were up above. I didn’t get sick, but I suppose I could have been infected with hepatitis.
On the third day of our trek out of Pokhara we arrived in Ghandrung and stayed at the Himalayan Lodge in the upper part of the village. I wrote in my journal and listened to the people around me chatting. One American girl seemed familiar, and she looked at me strangely. When I spoke to a girl from Switzerland the American girl remembered where we’d met—at the Kathmandu telegraph office. When you backpacked in Asia it was common to run into people you’ve met before as travelers gravitate toward the same places. We heard from other travelers that it was impossible to get into the Annapurna Sanctuary as there was waist deep snow, avalanches, and bad weather. Two expeditions were camped at Hinko Caves (along with several small parties) and they were waiting for it to get better. We decided to go on to Chomro where we would have good views of the sanctuary. Further than that would be a waste of time.
The next day Tom, Kevin and I walked to Chomro, a hard 4 to 5 hour walk. Because I am in better shape it seemed relatively easy. After we first started I thought I was going to be sick, but it passed after our rest at the top of the first climb. In a tea house there I drank two bottles of Lemu, the lemonade-type soft drink you can buy. From the tea house we descended into a river valley and rested by the river before heading up the steep trail on the other side. Up and up and then the trail leveled out gradually winding along the ridge around to the left. Then we dropped down the other side to Chomro. The clouds came in every afternoon around 3:00 pm. That day they came early, and it sprinkled on and off from noon and started raining half an hour out of Chomro. Thick, gun-metal, gray-blue clouds hung low over the mountains. Snow was falling high up. The cool moist air, the good smells, the wet—it all came together with the fact that we were descending, and I actually ran down the steps of the trail.
In Chomro, I put on my bathing suit and went down to the stream where I took a thorough and much needed bath. It was extremely cold but felt so refreshing. Then I put on warm clothes and climbed into my sleeping bag to get warm. Ah, the simple pleasures of the trail—to be clean, dry, and warm. We decided to remain there and have a rest day. So, I did my laundry. While washing, an old lady from the house next to the stream came over to wash after she had been digging in her garden. Her grandson was with her, a cute little kid. She borrowed my soap and washed her hands. She and the boy were fooling around with a balloon that someone had given them. I tried to blow it up for them but couldn’t. The lady left me with the boy for a while. I gave him my soap and then we both cleaned our hands. It was what Tom calls a “cross cultural experience.”
From Chomro We could see the mountains: Machupuchare up the valley straight ahead and we could see Annapurna South and Hiunchuli to our left. Before dinner I walked back up the trail a way to be able to look down on the village as well as see the mountains better. I sat there for almost an hour and in that time the clouds cleared off Machupuchare. The amphitheater of Annapurna South cleared more slowly. Kevin came up to sit with me on the steps of the trail.
After our rest day in Chumro we left to go back down to Ghandrung. Rather than go by the forested, less traveled path to Ghorepani we decided to trek down to Birethanti with Tom as he was leaving early to return to Pokhara and then Kathmandu. Kevin and I would then go on our own up to Ghorepani from there.
The man who owned the inn in Ghandrung told me about a jackal that had killed his chickens a few days before. Later when I went by the teahouse on the middle of the ridge, I noticed the large animal skin the owner sat on. It looked like a coyote skin, gray and wild. When I asked him about it he told me that he didn’t know how to say the word in English. I suspected it was the animal that the owner of the Gundrung Inn called a jackal—something like a dog. He also told me that the reason there were no dogs in the village was because of a serious rabies epidemic that occurred several years before. A few dogs were vaccinated but most of them had been killed.
We trekked down to Birethanti, which has many good supplies that we hadn’t seen in the other villages, because it is more accessible to Pokhara and the mule trains move through it. We had a rest day there and planned to walk up to Ghorapani the next day, a long walk uphill almost the whole way. Village life was interesting, and I enjoyed sitting around watching all the things being done by the people. No electricity, no radio, tv, or music, glimpses of what it must have been like for all the thousands of years before those inventions—to get away from all of the distractions and have to be with yourself. I brought my journal of course and it proved valuable for introspection.
We spent the next morning in Birethanti by the waterfall where the water was cold and clear. A couple of Nepali kids were moving rocks around, building a dam on part of the channel. They worked steadily and damned if they didn’t change the level of the channel near us.
Kevin and I started at 6:30 am from Birethanti; we skipped breakfast as we wanted an early start. The rest day there had done us a world of good and I felt strong. It was a long uphill walk and we gained over 6,000 feet of elevation—Ghorapani is at 9300 ft. We followed the river out of Birenthanti, climbing gradually for a couple of hours. Four Swiss people and two French guys passed us as we plodded steadily along. A Japanese guy sprinted past us also. We caught up with all of them as we climbed out of the valley toward Ulleri, a long, sustained elevation gain. I pulled ahead; not walking quickly. I just went at a comfortable pace that required no rest stops and ate up the trail, so I made Ulleri quickly. I had a Lemu, not that I really needed it, and two black teas. Soon everyone was there with me and they, particularly the Japanese guy, were looking pretty ragged. I left after 20 minutes, the first to go, no one else making a move to even get up.
As I climbed out of the village, I passed some mule trains coming over from Jomoson. You could hear them from a long way off, their bells ringing and clanging as they moved down the trail. After an hour of steady walking, I stopped at a rest spot by a pretty stream filtering down through moss covered rocks. It was clear and cool—the best drink in the world. When I’d finished drinking and was relaxing, Kevin appeared. He had a drink as well and we ate some granola. Then we started off. The trail went through beautiful forests and I felt like I could have walked through them forever. In places the trail was muddy and slippery, churned up from the mule trains. We arrived in Ghorapani one hour less than the time a book suggested.
The lodge in Ghorapani (Poon Hill Lodge) was a nice comfortable place with two large rooms: one with a fire-hole in the center with a chimney made out of bits of iron. The kitchen area was off in the back somewhere. There were more Westerners there than I had seen any place so far on the trek. The menu looked good as well. Kevin and I planned to climb Poon Hill the next day before breakfast to catch the famous view from the top. It was a 45 minute walk from the lodge. By 4:45 all the people who left Bhirethani with us had arrived.
Kevin and I got up before 6:00 am and climbed Poon Hill, around 10,500 ft. From the hill were excellent views of Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world, and the other mountains. Machupuchare and Annapurna were partially obscured for the beginning and by the time we got to the top the clouds had covered everything. Two girls also came up the hill, arriving about 10 minutes after we did—just as Kevin was rolling a joint. We had a nice smoke and walked around on top. Finally, because it was windy and cold, we went back down. The walk down was beautiful with flowers, daphne, rhododendron, magnolia, and azalias, blooming in many different colors.
Back at the lodge Kevin and I washed up, went inside and had breakfast of pancake with honey, eggs, and a bowl of fried potatoes. The rest of the day we rested as it was grey, cloudy, and cool so it was the right sort to sit around the fire, talk, and write in my journal. The next day Kevin and I got up at 4:30 am to walk up Poon Hill again—the views were fantastic with all the mountains visible and beautiful. I got out my plastic poncho and we sat on it as the sun warmed us. We walked down around 9:00 and had breakfast.
Some Nepali guides came through and stopped for tea. They were from Namche Bazaar on the Everest Base Camp Trek. They had just taken a party of Swiss mountaineers from Pokhara up to Muktinath where they climbed Muktinath Peak. “Mukti” means salvation and “Nath” means God. It is a holy place. The Swiss flew out of Jomoson and the Sherpas were racing back to Kathmandu. It took them only 3 days to get to Ghorapani from Muktinath—normally it took 4 days to get to Jomson from here and another day or two up to Muktinath. They were really moving quickly, and they planned to take the bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu.
It took us 7 hours to go back down to Ghandrung a different way. We could have made it more quickly but there were places where we took our time because it was so beautiful, and then at the end it was raining which made the trail slippery and treacherous in places. My knee, the one I pulled when I climbed the volcano in Bali, was bothering me; this was the first time I’d had problems with it on the trek. The walk down through the forests was incredible. When we left Ghorapani we first climbed up on the ridge to over 10,000 feet. We got as high as Poon Hill; in fact, we could see people on top of the hill. From the ridge we also had incredible views of the mountains as the clouds parted and we could see parts of their faces. With the flowers and views and exhilaration of being on top of the ridge I felt fantastic.
After some time, we dropped into a saddle I found marks made by tents where a group had camped. There the trail dropped into a narrow steep draw and began following a stream. At one point we had to go around a steep waterfall and the trail at this point was quite dangerous. A slip would mean at the least a broken bone, possibly worse. The trail became easier and then the stone hut that marked the bottom of the pass came into view. We had a rest and a bit to eat and then set out again. The trail climbed around a ridge and then dropped low to another stream and then a climb up for around half an hour. At the top was a saddle with a stone rest structure and an open meadow where cows grazed. We stopped again and had lunch. From this vantage point we could see down into the big valley. Somewhere below was Ghandrung. I started out while Kevin stayed back to smoke a number. It began to rain as I walked through the dark, green, mossy, eerie forest—so beautiful, quiet and strange. I met a Nepali man and small boy—the man said they were on their way to Ghorapani, and I was on the right trail. The rain kept up and about 2 hours later I arrived in Ghandrung where I had a wash and some food.
The next day dawned beautiful and clear, and two people I knew came walking up the trail. It was Debbie and Birgitte, whom I hadn’t seen since Chang Mai in northern Thailand. It was a pleasant surprise. Another example of how you keep running into people on the trail. They told me that they saw I had two letters waiting for me at the Kathmandu post office. We hung out in Ghandrung and then the following day Debbie, Birgitte, Kevin and I walked down from Ghandrung to Birethanti. We got rooms in the same hotel and then went up to the waterfall for a swim. We went down to Naudanda the next day on our way back down to Pokhara.
Following are various photos I took on the trail.