Annapurna Circuit

Chennai – Good bye

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This was our only photo in Chennai (CHUH – NYE) – our last dinner on the roof our hotel.

We only had two days in the city. The last two days of our 10 month long trip, and we chose to spend it at a buffet table and a shopping mall. We were tired, and wanted a couple of days to gather our stuff and relax before our next leg of travel back to our home and native land.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t have any grand tales to share from our time in Chennai.

Instead maybe some advice:

1. Go to more breakfast buffets.

2. Take your time there: don’t blow your appetite on an overfilled, first plate of waffles and pancakes.

3. Aim for four plates. For example, start slow with salad. Move over to the omelette station next, and pay service to some sausage and bacon. Then for your third plate, you could bring in some insulation like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. This means you can finish on a light note. As your reliever, go with some fruit.

4. Get the fresh stuff: is there one piece of french toast left in the container? do another couple of laps, or distract yourself with the colours at the salad bar then double back to get the new batch.

5. Treat it as your own food museum: people spend hours touring museums, taking history in slowly, one piece at a time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Consider a buffet, your own edible museum or art gallery that you can enjoy, bit by bit, digesting it all slowly.

Enjoy.

We’ve now been back in Canada for a couple of months, and I can confidently say that the first impression of life here is cold. Not groundbreaking news for winter in Canada – but we’d been living under sun for the past 10 months, and hadn’t been below zero in a long time. Our East Coast is having it rough, getting hammered with one snow storm after the next, which I think, is well summed up in this ditty:

Toronto is just cold. I know, in comparison to other parts of Canada like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern B.C, and Quebec we’re living in a paradise. My eyelids aren’t freezing shut, my nose hairs aren’t growing icicles, and it doesn’t hurt to breathe outside. And yet, I still feel cold. Maybe the sun has made me soft.

There’s a lot of good things to being back:
– fast WiFi
– good coffee
– personal laundry
– maple syrup

And some bad:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs

It was an amazing trip overall – with a ton of different experiences along the way, which I’m sure we’ll return to again and again as our memories are randomly triggered.

” Do you remember that drunk guy singing in a microphone on that Indonesian ferry?”

” Remember those mountain goats we saw off the trail in Nepal”.

” Remember that Chinese trekker who had a teddy bear on his bag to remember his wife”.

Blah, blah, blah. We can go on forever – and think it enormously interesting, while boring the shit out of everyone around us. However, in place of our subjective impressions, here’s something we can include people on: our trip by the numbers.

Months spent travelling: 10

Countries visited: 10

Planes taken: 32

Longest single flight: 14 hrs 35 mins. (Vancouver to Auckland)

Trains taken: 5 (overnight) + 2 (day)

Longest single train ride: 14 hrs (Delhi to Varanasi)

Buses taken: 2 (overnight) + 19 (day)

Longest single bus ride: 13 hrs (Mumbai to Goa)

Tuk-tuk/rickshaws taken: 100+ (at least)

Cars/Taxis taken: 40-ish

Cars we rented and drove ourselves: 2

Mopeds we rented and drove ourselves: 5

Boats/Ferries: 7

Longest continuous day of travel: 26 hrs (Phuket to Sukothai)

Guesthouses stayed: 84

Nights sleeping in airports: 2

Bouts of food poisoning: 2 – Marc 0 – Rose

Countries where one or more nationals mistook Rose as a fellow citizen : 8

Scuba dives: 12

Highest altitude climbed: 5416 metres (16, 878 feet)

Lowest depth swum below sea level: 30 metres (98 feet)

Trail hikes: 4

Longest hike: 20 days (Annapurna Circuit)

Major news stories of our disappearance: 5 (Google search: Marc + Rose + Nepal)

Strangers who asked me to pose in a photo with them: 4

Temples visited: beaucoup

How many times we changed time zones: 10

Most times zone crossed in a single day: 10

Total distance travelled: 98, 885.4 kms (two times around the earth + 18k leftover)

I may fill in a few spots here and there, add some more travel books and odds and ends. But otherwise, that was our trip.

Merci bien. Thanks for reading.

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Travel Books: Nepal

My eBook dependency ran out of room in Nepal – where WiFi is sparse, but also because I didn’t want to bring my Ipad on a 20 day trek (every lb on my back counted).

There’s plenty of bookstores in Kathmandu with used books, plus some along the Annapurna Circuit where you can trade in the latest one you finished. As a rule we each had one book at a time to keep the weight down, which got us through enough until we got to the next bookstore.

The funny thing, I thought, about a lot of the books available in Nepal are that they’re disaster based. Here most people are about to go on a trek, and as inspiration you can read about how people froze to death on Everest, died climbing up Annapurna massif or any other climbing calamity. Take your pick.

I chose more neutrally. Going with two pretty straightforward travelogues, another that had a poetic/spiritual dimension.

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Rose and I both met the author before travelling, but didn’t get our act together to buy his book from an accredited bookseller that, presumably, would pass him royalties from the sale. Instead we bought it in Kathmandu, where 80% of the books are photocopied reprints, meaning the money stays in the booksellers’ pocket. Not the author’s. Sorry, Andrew. In any case, it’s a good book, following the Circuit around, plus a sly, under-cover-of-darkness, trot into Upper Mustang – where, had he been caught, he’d risk a heavy fine at best. I read it as we walked on the Circuit and found it a really good primer on where we were next headed on the route. Definitely worth it if you’re trekking the Circuit.

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This follows the author on his trek through parts of the Annapurna Circuit, but primarily through Nepal on his way into Tibet, following his friend who is tracking snow leopards for research. He’d never done a trek of this magnitude, which I found immediately easy to relate to, as we were in the same boat on the Annapurna Circuit. I found his writing on how the trek unfolded, and the difficulties they faced in snow really interesting – especially his ranges into discussions on Buddhism. Another good one that offers some philosophical questions as you walk.

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Out of the Flying Circus into one for the BBC filming a series on the Himalayas. This is the companion book to the series that follows him through Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan tracking the mountains all along the way. I thought it was an easygoing read with plenty of time to empathize with his foibles along the way.

The big come down (aka le End): Annapurna Day 20

COOLPIX S2800471We left for this in darkness.

1.5hrs later, 300 meters higher and hundreds more people, all was revealed: sunrise on parts of Nepal’s Himalayan range.

COOLPIX S2800437Poon Hill. This was the finishing touch to our trek: one last, closer view of the Himalayas before we got out of the mountains for good and laid down for a long rest. Needless to say, it was an incredible view in all directions:

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This included the view of all the people with us who were jostling for position to capture themselves at the best possible angle in front of the all the snowy peaks:

“Your head is in front of the mountain face. No! To the left. No, a bit more. Okay, good! That’s fine. Here we go”.

Poon Hill is a finishing point for other trekking routes as well as the Annapurna Circuit, which means there were a lot of ecstatic people, celebrating their own peak trekking moment that included pats on the back, some misty eyes, and a lot of smiling faces.

We spoke with some people who were fulfilling a lifelong wish to be in this spot, while others were no less excited as they agonized over their light meter readings and the condition of their telephoto lens to help them craft their definition of an award-winning photo.

Amazingly, the one thing I didn’t see was a hustler selling a balloon blowup of the Himalayan range, T-shirts with the same, or offering photos transferred onto mugs. In these circumstances in North America, it’s widely recognized as common courtesy to give people an outlet to transmute their emotions into a commercial transaction. And yet not even a single pin was for sale with sayings like: “I found my thrill on Poon Hill.”

Banksy would be duly impressed. Or he might have just sold T-shirts: “Poon Hill is not my shill” to impress us even more with his ironic commentary?

Despite the joyful atmosphere on the hill, now it was the “must come down” part of the trek. And, unfortunately, we had a long way to go. Much like our plunge from Thorung La to Muktinath, we’d be jumping a couple of thousand metres downwards. : 2123 in all, over the course of the afternoon.

We set off on the knee-punishing escapade, and after only an hour, started our heavy regimen of taking breaks, which would invariably coincide with Nepalese going uphill doing things like this:

COOLPIX S2800481I was standing comfortably on a cushiony insole and one inch of rubber below that. Now notice what they’re wearing on their feet.

It was amazing.

We carried on with our knee grind downhill by ourselves, as Thakur, worn down not by the walk so much as our slowness, walked ahead at a pace that he could bear. With all our stopping, it’s fair to say we didn’t even register a pace, but more a series of false starts. Go for five, stop for 10. Go for five, stop for 15.

Our rest time increased as the sun came out and we scrambled for shade wherever it was hiding. During one shade break, we noticed something even crazier than someone carrying chickens on their back uphill in the punishing sun with sandals on their feet: an American family walking uphill with a 6 year old and 4 year old.

Currently they were managing a meltdown with their youngest daughter who was sitting down, head in her hands saying:

“I’m hungry! I’m hungry! How much farther?!!”.

I couldn’t believe it: parents had the patience and stamina to do this with kids who, because of their small legs, were in their own predicament as they would not quite be able to make it up each step without jumping a little.

As we both sat there, not really believing our eyes the mother asked us: “Do you know how much farther it is to a restaurant up hill?”.

It was at least an hour, and maybe more depending on how slow they were going. But I couldn’t tell them the truth. Everyone looked so wasted and worn out, I said:

“Not too far. Maybe half an hour?”. A white lie, granted, but I thought it might offer some element of hope.

After that moment, as we passed this Swiss Family Robinson on our way down, I’d never felt better about our prospects of being able to finish. But first we broke for lunch: eating massive amounts of dhal bhat, which Rose and I realized would probably be the last lentil we’d see for a while: as we’d both been having steady dreams of devouring ribs, steaks, chickens, and all manner of other beast.

Donkeys, however, were not on the list. While we neared the end of the trek, we saw a pack of them coming downstairs:

COOLPIX S2800482As they trotted past, we both noticed one donkey with an open wound on its belly where the strap was attached (not the one above). The rubbing of the strap had broken the donkey’s skin, which was awful to see, and worse was imagining the donkey having to carry on in pain. While it was nice to think the donkey would be relieved of duty, it was unlikely given their value to traders: so was probably more realistic to hope the trader would patch him up enough to make his walk a little easier.

It was not the first or last injured animal we saw in Nepal or elsewhere in other countries in Southeast Asia. Where many people are living hand-to-mouth, and are themselves in bad health, it’s understandable that animal welfare is obviously going to be much lower down the list of concerns. However, it was still hard to see animals limping or nursing another injury.

And yet there are NGOs devoted entirely to street animals in Southeast Asian countries. While it’s a nice thought, I also find it pretty baffling. I love animals, but here’s a developing country where humans have shortened life expectancy, and you want to improve the quality of life for a street dog?

This was made even stranger by sights in Indonesia and India where, as a show of wealth and status, some residents wandered around with dogs on a leash as pets while, on the same sidewalk, street dogs scurried past them.

Okay, enough of that there eh. We have a trek to finish.

And it did in stages. First it started with a sign Rose and I passed on the route:

COOLPIX S2800484Then the final stage, two hours later. Here was the finish line, festooned with prayer flags.

COOLPIX S2800485Once across, we got in a taxi waiting for us, and sat stunned from the realization that we didn’t have to walk anymore.

20 days, 1000s of calories burned, and one patchy beard that looks like it belongs on a 15year old:

IMG_3512We were done. Ca suffit.

Au revoir.