Annapurna Circuit Day 11: Tilicho Lake

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WE 💜succulents and it’s such a nice treat to see them lining the trail to the lake

Day 11 Stats:

Miles: 7.2 round trip to Tilicho Lake from Base Camp

Starting elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base 

Ending elevation: 16,575@ Tilicho Lake 

Net elevation gain to lake: 2,890 ft straight up in 3.7 miles

Dal Bhat meals: 0

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A little cloudy but still a GREAT day. And you can still see the glaciers on the the left of the lake

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Rob: 3000ft up and back to reach Tilicho Lake at 16,575ft was an amazing hike from start to finish. Lacy hiked so strong and steady for 2 1/2 hours straight while I felt my lungs and legs protest loudly. Thankfully, my beautiful wife lead the way and let me catch up near the last little ridge that looked down and across the semi-frozen lake. The sound and sight of the nearly constant snow avalanches were a surprise to us and stopped us cold in conversation when they came tumbling down from several of the peaks. On our way down, I surprised a Bharal and her two fawns. They surprised me too being just 20ft away when we crossed paths. I wanted to ask them what they were doing up there? There really wasn’t much for them to eat but a few tiny wildflowers growing up in between the rock. When we returned to Base Camp, we ordered a little pot of Masala Tea to celebrate our first high climb above the height of Mt. Whitney which we climbed last year.

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Rob soaks in the sound and sight of avalanches rolling down by the lake

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Rob heading back down for some lunch

11CDC6FF-A00E-4DF6-8C96-DB384BB17F57Lacy: The alarm went off at 4:45 this morning and I immediately felt defeated when I heard the rain and saw all the clouds. Why?! We kept checking every 30 minutes and could actually see the Himalayas more than any other day here, but it was still raining. At 8am the rain slowed to a drizzle and we agreed to head the 2.5 hours and nearly 3,000 ft straight up the trail to the lake. I have to admit, my heart wasn’t in it when we set out. I felt a bit defeated by the rain and clouds and didn’t expect much of a view. Silly me, I had let myself build up expectations and now I expected to have them crushed.  I kept my stride slow and steady the entire way up the mountain. My mood improved as I could see more of the mountains as I climbed and I actually felt good with the altitude gain. I didn’t experience any shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or headache while hiking up. I just kept it “steady eddy” the entire time and felt my confidence grow. As we approached the lake we saw most people heading back already. Tilicho is a  beautiful lake as it is surrounded by dry mountains on the right and snow covered mountains and glaciers on the left. We sat by the lake for 90 minutes listening to and watching multiple avalanches roll down. I have never seen a snow avalanche before, much less a dozen in one morning. It was very peaceful up there, but eventually, after many photos, we tied our shoes tight for the descent and hiked back to the lodge for a much deserved pot of masala tea and an early dinner. After all, we did out-climb our previous highest altitude at Mt Whitney last year by 2,000 ft today!  After hot showers, early dinners and reviewing the route for the next day we were laying with our feet up in bed by 5:30. It was a great accomplishment today and we both feel really grateful that we have the opportunity to be here together!

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Glacier close up!

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Leaving the lake after a great morning!

 

Annapurna Circuit Days 8-10: Manang to Tilicho Lake Base Camp

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49E1755D-A59B-495D-BF9C-8809D805FFF8.jpegRob’s intro: I would hope that if someone sets out the trek the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, which includes Thorung La Pass (one of the highest mountain passes in the world) and also traditionally includes a side trip to Tilicho Lake (one of the highest lakes in the world), it shouldn’t be your first rodeo.  It isn’t ours, but I wouldn’t put us anywhere near the expert category either.  We are at an altitude now where you feel the heaviness of your chest when you breathe and thickness of your leg muscles as you hike. The weight, small pun intended, of our next 5 days has begun to sink in.  The chill of the thinning air wakes you and reminds you to take all precautions and warnings to heart.  In 2014 the pass claimed the lives of 43 people. In high trekking season rescue helicopters run almost everyday. We both feel good so far and believe we have prepared our legs and lungs as best as we could over the previous 10 days. Because of this, our excitement is brimming to start each morning and make our way further. The Annapurna Trek has a different type of preparation than the PCT or other climbs or trails. Knowing you have to prepare and perform physically just to reach the point so you can prepare and perform mentally & physically is something neither of us have done before.  We have reached that point in our trek where we have seen the tree line fall behind us. If all goes well, we will have the legs and the lungs for the 17,770ft climb over the pass and, most importantly, the mental confidence to know we will be successful. 

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The bharal really blend into the background

Part of our preparation and an enjoyable part at that has been eating a lot of very good and healthy food.  Buckwheat bread, lots of rice, lentil soups, potato curries and great pancakes with thick mountain bee honey.  When we order our dinners, we also watch the Innkeeper / Cook walk out into their garden behind the Inn and pick the potatoes, cabbage and herbs we are about the enjoy. There is also tea. Lots of delicious teas from Black to Spiced with milk.  Yum.  I can’t say that we haven’t had any alcohol, but it’s been limited to a glass or two of the local rice based Raksi.  It’s a little bit Sake and a little bit Moonshine.  We have also noticed that above 12,500ft we drink about twice as much water as you would during a regular strenuous hike. We sleep early and hard after a good day’s hike too which makes you feel all that more refreshed in the morning.  

As much as you think you are prepared for the altitude, a couple of simple 300 ft climbs from Shree Kharka to Tilicho Base Camp winded me pretty good. The trail between the the 2 places was technical and visually ominous because if you slid the wrong way in the skree slope there wasn’t really anything to slow you down until the river some 2000ft down.

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The Great Giz needs to rest up for the big hike

Day 8 Stats: 

Miles: 5.1

Starting elevation: 11,665 @ Manang

Ending elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka 

Net gain: 1,622

Total hiking ascent: 1,907

Total hiking descent: 285

Dal Bhat meals: 1 each And it was so good and the first we have had that included meat. 

Cost for teahouse for 1 night (board, dinner and breakfast x 2): 1,630 Nrs ~$14.80 USD

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Looking back at Manang as we hike to Shree Kharka

Lacy: We woke up late and after another breakfast of fried samosas and Tibetan bread before departing Manang at 9:30. We only planned to go to the next village today, but 90 minutes later when we arrived in Khangsar we both still felt up for more so we had a hot tea and climbed another hour to the remote village of Shree Kharka. Over lunch of fried rice we debated going all the way to Tilicho Base Camp, an additional 2.5-3 hour hike. My head had a slight ache to it from the altitude gain, but continuing only meant another 300 ft gain so I wasn’t too worried about it. We had decided to go forward when the temperature suddenly dropped and a few sprinkles started. Just like that, we made an about face and had a key to a room. We spent a lovely afternoon playing cards, taking hot showers and enjoying the view from 13,000+ ft.  Even after a short nap and continuously drinking liters of water, my head still ached a bit after dinner. I could also feel a shortness in breath when I practiced yoga in the afternoon. Just means the gain in altitude is effecting me already and I need to be diligent about hydration and paying attention to my body because we are only going higher. The lake is another 3,000 ft and Thorong La is 4,000 ft taller.  We have altitude medicine just in case, but we are really cruising and taking our time so I am doubtful we will need any. 

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Heading up to Shree Kharka we passed this monastery. In the distance up the mountain  you can see our lodge.  It was a steep final ascent.

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The reverse view down to the monastery from Shree Kharka

Day 9 Stats: 

Miles: 3.9

Starting elevation: 13,287@ Shree Kharka 

Ending elevation: 13,565 @ Tilicho Base Camp

Net gain: 278

Total hiking ascent: 679

Total hiking descent: 401

Dal Bhat meals: 1 for Rob. I opted for fried pasta with vegetables and yak cheese. Nice change. Just to be clear, there are definitely other things on the menus (fried rice, pasta, momos, chappati pizza, spring rolls, soups etc), but we have grown to be fond of Dal Bhat. It’s usually a sure bet as to be the best dish on the menu. Plus, it really is the most bang for you buck because they always offer you seconds of everything so it’s like 2 meals in one for those times when you have real hiker hunger. 

Cost for teahouse for 3 nights, days 9-11 (board and meals x 2): $5,975 Nrs ~$54 USD First time we had to pay for a room in addition to the food cost, but it was only $400 Nrs for all 3 days which is less than $4 USD. The sign in the lodge says that rooms are $20-$30 in high season. Yikes!

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Lacy: It’s noon on Day 9 and I am laying in bed in my one pair of clothes that I don’t hike in and keep relatively clean. I was up at 5am and was finally rewarded with the most stunning view of the Himalayas across the entire valley. When I looked out the window from my bed in Shree Kharka I saw a huge snow covered mountain in front of me that I had never seen before because up until now it has been shrouded in clouds. I popped out of bed & bolted from the room and into the courtyard as fast as I could put my jacket and shoes on. Smiling ear to ear, I walked up and down the trail outside of the lodge snapping a million photos. This sight was everything we have been working for for the past week +. I was in love!  By the time I finished yoga and sat down to breakfast with Daddie Gizmo at 7 the clouds had already settled low and covered 95% of the view. Thirty minutes later when we began our short hike to Tilicho Base Camp the snow covered peaks were completely covered. I am hoping for another spectacular view over the lake. We are going to work even harder for that view. Already, hiking towards Tilicho Base Camp in the morning, we could feel the altitude slowing us down as the trail took us to just below 14,000 ft. We weren’t ascending much at all, but needed to stop frequently to catch our breath because of the thin air.  Taking a full deep breath while hiking up is becoming more difficult. Though the hike was short it was not without its breathtaking moments, and not just because of the beauty surrounding us. After huffing and puffing uphill we crossed a suspension bridge over the river where we again needed to hike up, but this time we were directly under a rock cliff. Within 2 seconds of stepping off of the bridge a piece of rock dropped off the cliff and  pelted me in the chest. It took my breath away. I was in more shock than pain, but it certainly hurt and I marveled at the fact that it missed my head just a few inches away. Rob heard me gasp as the rock hit me and I said, “let’s get out of here.”  When we were out of harms way I told him how scary that was.

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Following this, we had to traverse a landslide area where the trail is covered in scree, broken rock or shale. To our right is a steep slope coming down our way covered in large and small rocks. One small mountain goat walking above us could cause an avalanche of debris coming our way. To our left, a steep slope down to the Marsyangdi River. We watched our footing carefully and made it through just fine. Coming around a bend 2 hours into the hike we see our lodging for the night in the distance and become pleasantly aware again that we are indeed in the middle of nowhere, high above the tree line. The lodge is all there is around within the 4 miles from Shree Kharka. It’s a cool sensation. The trail to the lake is 3,000 ft straight up, but thankfully we will have stripped down packs on. Most of our belongings will be left behind at the lodge until we come down from the lake and head back to Shree Kharka for the night. All we are taking is breakfast, water, camera and rain jackets. I’m beginning to feel the gravity of what we have set out to accomplish with each gain in altitude that we achieve. I can’t help but feel it effect my stride, head and breathing. But we will make it. I know we will!

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Day 10

1 Dal Bhat each 

Thwarted by the rain. We woke up at 4:30 to see a gray sky out the window. Thirty minutes later it was still gray and this usually begins prime viewing time of the mountains for the day. We reset the alarm for 6 only to find that the clouds were still hanging low and it was raining. At that point we decided to go back to sleep, have a lazy day at the lodge and go up to the lake tomorrow with HOPEFULLY better weather. The views at the lake are supposed to be one of the pinnacle highlights of the hike so since we have the time we crossed our fingers and waited one more day…

Annapurna Circuit Days 5-7: The road to Manang is paved with buckwheat flowers

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All day we experienced rewarding glimpses of the Himalayas.  I nearly broke my neck looking at then while hiking.  Unfortunately, these peekaboo shots don’t translate as well in photographs.

118CDDB0-D529-4256-A2AB-6440E505691CEF13EDDB-D12D-417D-9859-265904E01B3C Day 5 Stats: 

Miles: 13.4

Starting elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Ending elevation: 11,590 @ Manang

Net gain: 620

Total hiking ascent: 2,090

Total hiking descent: 1,470

Dal Bhat meals: 2.5  1/2 meal being what we were so graciously offered in Nawal to participate in the Lucky Day feast.  One being the worst we have had and 1.5 being the best. At least there was more good than bad!

Cost for teahouse for 3 nights (board, dinners and 1 breakfast for 2.  We we had to indulge in the fried yumminess on the street for most breakfasts!): 2,880Nrs ~$26 USD

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We learned that the pink fields are buckwheat and enjoyed a delicious buckwheat pancake for lunch in Nawal

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The first half of Day 5 felt like a Nepali fairytale. At dawn, Rob and I were awakened by the sound of a gong from the monastery above as the monks began their morning prayers. We stayed in bed for a bit and watched the clouds reveal the snow covered peak and ridge line of Annapurna II. It glowed in the morning sun and looked nearly fake as it sat so high in the sky. We were finally getting a clear view of the majestic mountain that has been hiding behind the low hanging clouds we hiked under through the valley yesterday. The sounds of the monks playing drums above us ushered me out of bed and onto the balcony where I meditated and did a few sun salutations for the morning to prepare my mind and body, all under the glowing Annapurnas. It was the best way to start what was going to be our most physically challenging day of the trek thus far. 

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Walking through the stone village of Ghyaru

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Ascending to Ghyaru required a very challenging, but rewarding climb

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Leaving Upper Pisang we both hoped to encounter the smell of fried onion balls or doughnuts to pick up as snacks for the road. Little fried nosh is a very common Nepali item in the morning, but we were only been fortunate enough to come by any yesterday on our way out of Chame, a much a larger village. The doughnut we ate was so fluffy and warm and satisfying we really wanted another to start today. It certainly would have helped us as we made a grueling ascent right out of town. We were climbing STEEP switchbacks 1,200 ft straight up a mountain.  Moving from 11,000 to over 12,000 ft first thing in the morning had us winded and moving slow. We stopped often and when Rob looked at the map at one point and told me were only 1/3 of the way up I couldn’t believe it. We both tapped into every bit of strength we had and climbed and climbed some more to reach the lovely mountain top village of Ghyaru, complete with stunning views over the valley and pink buckwheat fields. It’s an old stone village and had a charm about it as the many prayer flags flew from the roofs. We crossed through the town and began what we hoped would be a more leisurely hike into Nawal for lunch. Along the way we caught glimpses of Annapurna IV as it too glowed from the sun shining on the snow.  The landscape and the air today are both more arid. Huge mountains surround us where you can see the tree line as the evergreens form where they no longer fill the space above. Long waterfalls trickle through the crevices from high above.  The trail to lunch has us walking above a beautiful green pasture where we watch deer, horses, and Nepali bharal grazing below us. 

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Bharal

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Turning the corner into Nawal we each exhaled a heavy sigh. Both at arriving to rest after a taxing morning and seeing how picturesque the village is sitting perched in the mountains, surrounded in buckwheat fields and overlooking the valley.  Again, I felt I was in a fairy tale. We strolled into the village and chose to eat at the very first teahouse that seemed alive. I began to feel low energy as we finished our trek to lunch and hoped that some nourishing food and rest for my feet would build me back up. As we sat down we heard the chanting of monks and Daddie Gizmo asked if he could peer into the room where it was coming from. We both did and saw half a dozen monks seated on cushions playing instruments and praying. We were told that today is a Lucky Day and all the village people were coming to the teahouse we had chosen to eat their special meal. While listening to the music and chanting emanating from the room behind us, in front of us were the older women preparing for a feast. Tearing lettuce for salad, grinding curry powder, washing vegetables and dishes and more. The atmosphere felt very special and we soaked in the opportunity to be included in this moment. As our food was served so were plates of Dal Bhat for the monks and the women. Huge pots of rice, potato curry and papa (the homemade thin cracker that accompanies this dish) were brought to the courtyard area to serve everyone. We hadn’t ordered Dal Bhat for lunch, but our hosts were so gracious to offer us a bowl of the potato curry (the best we have had so far!), local salad (lettuce with a very spicy dressing) and papa. It was so unexpected and kind for them to include us in their festive meal. Lunch was delicious and special and we left the teahouse knowing we just had one of our most cherished moments of the trail so far.

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A look back on Nawal where we enjoyed a special Luck Day lunch

 

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More Mani stones as we hike

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Unfortunately, lunch did not give me the energy I was hoping for. I think the altitude wore me down today and I moved quite slow the rest of the day. Daddie Gizmo was only a little faster. For all of our climbing in the morning, the afternoon began with a huge descent where we lost nearly everything we had gained.  We hiked down through loose sand and gravel and then a fairly flat trail through the mountains. Fortunately, the scenery continued to inspire us to move our feet forward as we neared Braga. We planned to spend 2 nights in this village to acclimatize to the altitude, but all the lodges were closed for low season. Instead, we enjoyed a tea and Coke for a little boost to get us to the next village of Manang. Thankfully, only another 25 minutes. Daddie Gizmo informed me before we left Braga that he was “not much for this world” and was ready to settle in for the day. We pulled our tired bodies into town about 4, the latest to date, and found a suitable teahouse with a room that has a great view. After two necessary showers, hand washing our laundry and bellies full of fried rice we climbed into bed with the pleasant knowledge that we were sleeping in tomorrow. 

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Marsyangdi River in the foreground, Gangapurna Lake behind and a peak of the snowy mountains in the background

The following day we visited the village doctor so that Daddie Gizmo could get some relief for the stomach issues he has been dealing with for the past week. We were relieved to get the medicine he needed very easily and quickly so that he could rest and recover. And surprised that it was all free. Feeling depleted and erring on the side of caution for more time to rest and rehydrate, we opted to stay a second full day in Manang. The second day, I ventured out and explored the village, crossing the river and hiking around Gangapurna Lake. It was a nice quiet place to meditate while the sun was shining in mid afternoon. Even though I set my alarm for 5 every morning when the sky is normally the clearest, I didn’t get any wide clear views of the hiding Himalayas.  Instead, I saw it was cloudy and snuggled back up for an hour or so. It’s the rainy season and we traded expansive Himalayan views for cool cloudy days, minimal trekkers in trail and low season costs. Plus, the timing was perfect!  So, any peak I get of those beauties makes my heart skip a beat. All in all, Manang served us well for purposes of acclimatization, rest and relaxation. Plus, it’s a big enough village that we were able to score our fried samosas and Tibetan bread from the local purveyors for breakfast nosh again. Tomorrow we are going to take it easy and only trek another 2 hours to a higher village, Khangsar, where we can further acclimatize on the way to our side trip to the one of the highest lake in the world, Tilicho, resting at over 16,000 ft high.

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Buckwheat fields behind Manang

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Marsyangdi River draped in prayer flags

Annapurna Circuit Day 4: Chame to Upper Pisang for a magnificent view

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You can’t turn a corner without seeing prayer flags adorning the mountains, trailing down from the highest peaks to temples below. The presence of these flags makes this trail unlike any other we have hiked. This view is looking down to Lower Pisang from where we stayed in Upper Pisang.

Day 4 Stats: 

Miles: 9.3

Starting elevation: 8,690 @ Chame

Ending elevation: 10,970 @ Upper Pisang

Net gain: 2,280 We climbed 1,800 ft of that by lunch,  reaching 10,460 in 7 miles 

Total hiking ascent: 2,622

Total hiking descent:  342

Dal Bhat meals: 0. A first. We found a place on the topmost part of Upper Pisang that we liked so much that we stayed at even though we couldn’t get a bargain deal. The view of Annapurna II from our room and balcony right out front was unbelievable. Since we paid full price, we ordered something a little different.  Sadly the food was nowhere near as good as the view. 

Cost for teahouse (board is free with purchase of dinner and breakfast): 1,700 Nrs ~ $15.50

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Two happy faces after lunch of garlic soup and fresh mushroom pizza on chapatti bread

Rob: The one hiker came up to the top of a little mountain village called Upper Pisang in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and asked a hiker he found sitting at the top, “What did you do this afternoon?”  The first replied, “I watched clouds and it was a wonderful day.” “Really!”, the inquisitor exclaimed, “That’s all??” The second hiker didn’t answer with more than a small smile and went back to watching clouds, evergreen sprinkled foothill mountains, snow capped Annapurna IV at 24,788ft, Annapurna II at 26,040ft, prayer flags trailing from 2 different Buddhist Stupas below and about a dozen waterfalls he could see high and low. After a few minutes of silence, the curious hiker packed up and moved on to try and chat with other hikers about his accomplishments of the day leaving the meditative hiker to himself. His wife came to join him on the balcony of the Tea House they would be spending the night and brought them both a full glass of the local rice wine. She asked, “What did that young hiker ask you about?”  “He basically wanted to know what we had done today”, he said.  She asked, “Did you tell him that we had the greatest fried bread-like donut for breakfast, glimpsed the peaks of the mountains as the sun broke the mist at 5:30 this morning, climbed a quiet little side trail just for fun, hiked a net gain of 2100ft from 2450ft ascending and just 350ft descending, climbed out of the river valleys, above the  tree line and all before 12:30pm.”  “No, I forgot to tell him that part”, he said, smiled, toasted his glass with his beautiful wife and told her that, “He loved her so much.”

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The view from the balcony of where we stayed in Upper Pisang looking below to the valley and Lower Pisang. We spent the afternoon outside enjoying the view and watching the clouds move as they offered us glimpses of Annapurna II.

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A tiny Short Story to help you understand what it feels like to just look out today on the Himalayas and foothills as we make our acclimation ascents. We have found a beautiful all wooden Tea House at the very top of the village of Upper Pisang. We have a tiny little corner room with a big open balcony in front of us where we can sit and admire the view as I write this.   The view, of course, is Lacy’s favorite part as well since she can also watch the clouds cover and uncover the Annapurnas right from bed! Our balcony will be a perfect place for her Yoga & Meditation practice at sunrise. Our place is just under the highest buildings in the village which are a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and Monastery. They are so vividly painted in great detail on almost every exterior surface and that doesn’t even compare to the painted murals, adornments and large golden Buddhas inside. We hear the giant brass gong chime the beginnings or endings of daily and evening prayers for the Monks studying there. 

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The monastery gate overlooking the valley

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The detail and bright colors that the Nepalese use to decorate their temples and monasteries is something we both find very beautiful

Our trek thus far has been from village to village along the Marsyangdi River. We have crossed and recrossed the river a dozen times on bouncy, breezy, cable suspension bridges. And gained the maximum recommended elevation each day on our way around the Annapurna Circuit. We currently sit at 10,970ft. We started in the low river valleys at the middle village of 3 possible starting points. The plan has been to find our legs and our lungs along the way up. We will continue this for the coming days with the ultimate goal of successfully completing the Thorung La Pass at 17,770ft in about a week from today. We have a number of day treks planned while at 12,500 to 14,500ft to help us acclimate even further. 

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Prayer flags as you enter a village…

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And unexpectedly on the forest trail complete with piled rock markers

From Bhulbhule to Nadi Bazar to Bahundanda, Ghermu, Syange and Jagat on Day 1, we were wet from rain but didn’t really mind as we climbed through rice fields and marveled at the number of waterfalls on both sides of the valley. From Chyamche, Sattale to pretty river village Tal and onward through Karte to Dharapani, it was hard to keep your eyes off the raging river just below us on Day 2. Day 3 began by going through Thoche, Bagarchhap, Danakyu, Thanchok, Koto and into Chame via grassy hillside trails through the foothills. At one point we came upon a small herd of about 12 dairy cows that decided to nap right on the trail. The hillside was pretty steep above and below us so we had to literally tip toe around and between them to pass by. Our 4th day continued the climb up and out of the misty river valley and into much drier air of the low mountain passes. We came up into the evergreen trees and have broken through them into the rock cliff mountain vistas and views. 

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Mani walls are another very common feature for Nepalese villages.  They are low walls or another area where collections of engraved stone prayer slabs are placed. We have seen them in every village and wish we could decipher what the stones say.

It is truly calming and peaceful to just enjoy a long afternoon up here on our little perch in the clouds. The air is quite a lot cooler than when we started down in the river valleys and we have moved from shorts and a sweaty tee shirt into long pants, wool socks and down jackets. 

Annapurna Circuit Days 2 & 3: Jagat to Chame. 6,000 ft higher than we started!

Day 2 Stats:

Miles: 13

Starting elevation: 4,480 @ Jagat

Ending elevation: 6,050 @ Dharapani

Net gain: 1,570

Total hiking ascent: 3,270

Total hiking descent: 1,700

Leech bites: 8 (Lacy. Rob zero still) During the morning we were hiking through wet grass and foliage. At one point Rob looked down and saw he had leeches on his shoes and socks, but no bites. I looked down and had several leeches fat with my blood clinging to calves, socks and ankles. It was like a horror movie. I freaked out and made Rob get them all off me. The bites bled for more than 6 hours.

Dal Bhat meals: 1 each

Cost for teahouse (board, dinner, breakfast & teas for 2): 1,140 Nrs ~$10.37

Prayer wheels adorn the entries and centers of villages

Day 3 Stats:

Miles: 11

Starting elevation: 6,050 @ Dharapani

Ending elevation: 8,690 @ Chame

Net gain: 2,640

Total hiking ascent: 3,002

Total hiking descent: 362

Dal Bhat meals: 1 each

Cost for teahouse (board, dinner and breakfast for 2): 1,200 Nrs ~ $11 USD

These cows were blocking the trail and we had to carefully pass them without falling down the steep side of the mountain or bothering them so that they would knock us over! Our dog from day 2 is pictured here.

E7031984-4ABF-4C18-9D02-8D991FDE9BBDLacy: We have developed a really good rhythm in just 3 days. We wake up between 5:30 and 6am, have our oatmeal breakfast with black tea at the teahouse and begin hiking by 7. It hasn’t been raining at all when we start and we arrive at our target village each day by 3 at the latest to avoid the afternoon showers. We ask for our dinner of Dal Baht to be served at 5-5:30 because we are normally starving from lunch at that time and ready to eat and go to bed! Typically, we are asleep by 9. Back to a good sun schedule! Aside from the first day, we have found a teahouse and settled in just in time for the first sprinkles to begin. Our stride is strong as we have gained 6,000 ft in 3 days and 36 miles. We had 2 separate guys wave us ahead of them and say we are fast. We don’t feel we are going very fast, but it’s always nice to hear. This last morning we gained 1,600 ft straight up from the teahouse and I was moving slower than my normal pace. Rob called me “slow poke Rodriguez”. Maybe it’s the altitude, but maybe not because Rob is a beast and moving right along. Our spirits are very high even though Rob has been struggling with an upset stomach for days. That’s a real bummer anytime and especially when hiking. I feel for him.

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Entering Tal and ready for lunch!

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A very picturesque village sitting on the edge of a lake…

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With a waterfall in the middle

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We are developing new little jokes which is always the highlight for us as we travel anywhere new. Surprisingly, every single day we have had a dog join us for part of our hike. The first day we thought it was interesting. The second day, pretty cool and today, the third, we fell in love with the pup. It was pretty sad when he left us. The teahouse situation has been working out really well. We have been the only guests each night even though we see half a dozen other hikers along the path. Since it is low season it’s very easy to negotiate for a free room and pay $500-$600 rupees each for dinner and breakfast. It’s about $10 a night. We imagine prices will go up as we get higher. The next few days we will climb to 12,000 feet and take 2 days to rest and get our lungs prepared for the increased altitude gain ahead. Our highest destination is Thorung La Pass,17,700 ft, the highest mountain pass in the world. We are taking a side trip on the way to Tilicho Lake, the highest lake in the world, which should be nice and full this time of year.

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F8C75BB0-C8F6-4D59-95B5-25477D3D1B51Today our hike began in the lush waterfall landscape we have been in the last 2 days and then we entered a forest covered in moss, ferns and lichen that reminded us of hikes in California. Emerging from the forest, we changed landscapes again into a mountain countryside of evergreens and exposed mountain rock that made us feel as if we were in Colorado. Days like that when you pass through so many environments are really special. This whole experience has been so special. The people are very nice. The Didis at the teahouse make us delicious meals and are kind. Gizmo is enjoying the view and all in all, we are happy as clams.

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The villages have such colorful buildings

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Tonight we are in the village of Chame at 8,690 ft. We can definitely feel it getting colder at night and ate dinner in our jackets. There isn’t any insulation in buildings and we are not high enough and cold enough yet for anyone to make a fire. Especially with precious wood and for just 2 people. But we are comfortable and will be nice and snuggly tonight as we rest and get energy for an even bigger day tomorrow climbing over 2,000 ft net.

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Enjoying the hike with dog #3

Rob: On each one of our days, we have picked up a guide dog buddy who has spent the majority of the day with us. They are naturals and seem to just appear as we are starting to leave each town in the morning. There are dogs that lay and sleep all day and then there are these guys who just love to trot ahead of you and show you the way for miles and miles. They even sit and wait when you stop to drink or rest a minute. They are so happy to please you by showing you the way and encouraging you along. All they want is a head scratch and some positive verbal reinforcement for a job well done. These dogs have been better companions than some people we’ve hiked with in the past! We have never experienced this before and I’m guessing it is the product of dogs being more attached to a particular village or two than a family or owner. We ended our day yesterday waving goodbye to “Little Black Pup” when we came to a long suspension bridge and he was too scared to cross it. He sat at the opposite side as we finished crossing. Our hearts were aching a bit as we waved and called goodby to him. Today, we picked up “Blackfoot Pup” who was really fuzzy black all over and much bigger than a pup. He adopted us for about 10 miles and 2000ft net elevation gain. His feet were much bigger than our first 2 guys so the metal slats of the suspension bridges didn’t bother him. That was good because we crossed 4 or 5 today. His tail wagged when we caught up to him before he hopped on ahead of us up the road. On one long stretch of forest trail, he slotted behind me but in front of Lacy for that whole segment of trail. He certainly helped us turn toward vs away from upcoming towns when the trail wasn’t marked. He was fun and our favorite guide thus far. At one point he was watching a ridge above us and getting excited. We looked but couldn’t see what was getting his attention. A little further on, he did the same thing except this time he climbed up the edge of the cliff a little. We heard the screech calls first then saw a whole family of monkeys bounce from tree to tree so they could get a better look at all of us. They were big as far as monkeys go and all had a perfect ring of fluffy white fur around their black faces. We would have never known they were watching us from above if it hadn’t been for our own big black fuzzy guide. When we reached the town of Chame, Lacy was really hoping that we could have him hang out until morning so we could hike with him again. But, as we entered the village gates, 3 of the Chame village dogs wouldn’t let him follow us in. Once again, we had a little heartache moment as we waved goodbye to our little buddy.

Day 1 of the Annapurna Circuit: Trekking through a waterfall wonderland

 

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The trail is full of vibrant greens and thousands of feet of rice terraces

65BF7933-8AE7-4F3D-B08C-F3496E07467DDay 1 Stats:

Miles: 11.5

Starting elevation: 2,790 at Ngadi

Ending elevation: 4,480 at Jagat

Net gain: 1,690

Total hiking ascent: 2,675

Total hiking descent: 985

Leech bites: 1 (Lacy)

Bee sting: 1 (Rob)

Dal Bhat meals: 2 each

Cost for teahouse (board, dinner breakfast & tea x 2): 1,000 Nrs ~$9.10

Namaste’s and free smiles both given & received: countless

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After 6 hours of bus rides and a fresh plate of momo we had our poles in hand for a short walk to our first teahouse before day 1 of our trek

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First trail Dal Baht

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My grandma Rose passed last year but when our dudh chiya (milk tea) was served in a rose mug on our first night, I knew she is with us on our hike.  Grandma loved nature and was no stranger to travel.

Rob: What we have later decided to call Day Zero was two bus rides totaling 6 hours in the bumpiest, squeakiest busses ever. It was cozy and what other time in my life do I have the chance to have a small Nepalese family snuggled all around me. Our second bus must have had the lowest gearing ever because we crawled up muddy mountain roads at about 5 miles an hour where only Jeeps should have been allowed to go. Our hike was a short one. Basically just enough to get our gear situated, shoes tied the way we want and posture acclimated to a 20lb pack again. The real Day 1 was next.

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Rob loves the exterior decoration of these buses…

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And the inside as well!

Dal Bhat has been and will be our staple meal along the trek. As of this writing, we are 4 for 4. Rice (Bhat), lots of it, a bowl of thin Lentil soup (Dal) accompanied by one or two kinds of stewed vegetables (Tarkari) which may mostly be greens and a yellow curry of mostly potatoes. So far, it has all been nice and satisfying with just a little saltiness to the greens, spice to the curry and white fluffy rice. Yummy, but can I do this for 20+ more days? In one of the bigger villages, a chicken may need to be roasted for us. That will likely cost us far more than $9 total we are paying for the room, dal bhat for dinner and breakfast the last 2 days.

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First few steps on the Annapurna! We had to do a small amount on the road before reaching the trail

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Happy again in my skirt.  At first Rob thought I was a little nuts to buy and carry a yoga mat with me, but now that he sees me using it all the time and thinks I’m a genius

Our accommodations are minimal but perfect for the environment. Our room has 2 walls of windows (front and rear) with unbelievable views of the river valley. It has a full time sound system piping in the sound of a small waterfall behind us and the churning and swollen river below. The 2 small twin beds actually have nice mattresses. 2 heavy blankets will help snuggle us into a good sleep while we are inside of our fleece sleep sacks. There is power to charge our phones and we might get WiFi if we are lucky. Most places you stay overnight here in the mountains are called Tea Houses. That could mean a small simple cabin with a tin roof to a little hotel like ours that clings to the side of the hill. Almost all of them let you stay for free (or $1) as long as you eat dinner and breakfast in their small family restaurant.

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That’s Rob up there as we cross another waterfall!

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That tiny village nestled in the mountains above the river is Jagat where we spent the night after 11.5 mile of great hiking

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A closer look at Jagat

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We cross a lot of suspension bridges

Rain. Last night I woke at 3 am to the sound of a pounding rain outside. After all, it is the Monsoon Season here. We chose to come outside of the peak trekking season so we would have to trails mostly to ourselves. We have only come across a few other hikers so far. I bet we will criss-cross with them quite a bit more. Much of the upper part of the Annapurna Circuit Trail falls in a “rain shadow” once we are above the tree line. Since we also chose to start at a low elevation and enjoy the foothills and river valleys, we will certainly get a little wet. Maybe a lot wet. Today was a good example of hiking in and out of clouds and showers for most of the day. We made it to our target village and Tea House by 3 pm just as the much stronger rains came in for the afternoon. The rain today soaked us through but it was also refreshing and just part of hiking on this part of the trail at this time of year. The pluses are that all through the valley, everything is at its greenest point of the year, uncountable waterfalls cascade down each side of the foothills into the river which is also full to the brim and raging.

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Our first landslide crossing

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Laxmi was so nice to meet and talk with and prepared a delicious Dal Baht lunch for us

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Lacy:  It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling to be hiking again in my skirt, pack on my back and Daddie Gizmo by my side. Ascending through the valley that begins the circuit we are hiking upstream of the Marsyangdi river as we pass through villages and continue to be more amazed at each bend in the trail by the stunning scenery surrounding us. Tall mountains bursting with bright green grasses, ferns, moss, trees with bright green leaves and flowers. Everything is so green because of the monsoon season. We can’t raise our eyes to take in the view without seeing at least 2 waterfalls. In the first day we have already seen a hundred cascading from the mountainside. The sound of the falls, the thunderous river and rain are enveloping us as is the scenery.  I don’t think either of us thought we would be in an environment like this to begin the trek. So full of life.  It makes it very easy to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

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We spent 2 days in Pokhara before taking the bus to start the trek…

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And celebrated Rob’s birthday

 

 

 

Gearing up for the Annapurna Circuit in Kathmandu; Five years later, not much has changed.

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Gizmo & Rob are conspiring to rent a Royal Engield for a few days in Nepal and tour around.  We stopped at a shop in Kathmandu to check them out

Lacy: I have been saying for 5 years that Kathmandu is the wildest and craziest place that I have ever encountered in my life. Returning with Rob, even after exploring other countries in Asia this year, has not changed my opinion of this city in the slightest. If anything, it has further confirmed it since I have even more to compare it to after our travels this year.  Indonesia is a little crazy and backwards and Cambodia was far more modern than we expected, but truly nothing compares to the chaos, poverty and air pollution here in Kathmandu. Rob got a crash course in experiencing what I have been recounting to him ever since I spent 4 months living and teaching here in 2013.  It filled us both with a lot of joy to spend the last 2 days walking around Thamel (the tourist area) to get the necessary gear for what We believe will be our epic trek along the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas.  You stumble into a gear shop every 3 feet here because trekking is such big business in Nepal.  We purchased 2 sleeping bag liners to protect from bed bugs and be warm enough at high altitude in the teahouses we will sleep in along the way. Teahouses where we stop each evening will provide blankets and very basic accommodation as well as Dal Bhat for dinner and porridge for breakfast for approx $5 each.  A rain jacket for Rob was critical (he mailed his back home with several other items when we left Kenawa months ago) since we fully expect some rain on trail during monsoon season. Batteries for headlights, power bars and medicine to combat altitude sickness. We will be climbing to 17,770 ft!  There is a method to climbing this elevation – stopping to acclimatise yourself at certain points and never ascending more than 1,650 ft in one day.  Altitude sickness is a concern and we will be careful along the way. The highest we have previously hiked is Mt Whitney last year in California – 14,508 ft.  A second item that can ruin this trip or any trek is our feet. We have hiked enough miles to know that having the right gear on your feet is EVERYTHING.  We scoured Thamel for good new hiking socks and liners. Sure, we have a few pairs with us already, but more is better in this scenario so we can make sure our feet are dry as much as possible with the rain.  Preventing blisters is key. We picked up our permits yesterday at the tourism office and it really excited us both to feel “official”!  Starting to feel real as we approach our anticipated start date of July 26th!!  

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Buddha Park in Swayambhu

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Aside from gearing up for our 2 days in Kathmandu I also wanted to show Rob where I lived for 1 month in Swayambhu and 3 months in Kalimati. Both areas within Kathmandu, but not part of the tourist path. As such, he got a glimpse into the real local living in Nepal that I experienced when I lived here and teaching math classes and volunteering in a preschool 5 years ago.  It’s intense. The dust and smog in the roads still requires me to wear a mask to prevent so much crap from getting in my throat. Even though I have been my throat still hurts. The masses and crowds of people, conditions of roads, trash in the waterways and roads rival Indonesia and Cambodia.  When I returned to Dallas after experiencing what living in, not visiting, a third world country was like it changed me forever. I was so much more aware of all the things we take for granted in America. Without going on a  tangent, I truly believe every person should experience life at this level somewhere other than their home country to truly understand how our actions have global impacts and just simply to be grateful for what you have and protect precious resources.  The exposure to life here that I provided Rob with in such a short timeframe was a lot for him to take in. He said I gave him a bit of whiplash, but he absorbed it and we discussed how he now understood what life was like for me here five years ago and why I came back with a new perspective. A bucket list item for me was to return to Nepal with Rob and do just this, show him where I lived. I just honestly never knew if it would happen, but amazing things continue to transpire this year for us. 

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We ate lunch at the local restaurant by my old home in Kalimati.  I was so glad it was still open and we both enjoyed enjoyed saag paneer and blazing hot naan from the tandoori for $3.30 total 🙂

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On our walk to the Monkey Temple in Swayambhu the second morning in Kathmandu, Rob agreed it was time for him too to don a mask against the smog

Rob: Lacy (Figure 8)* and I (Daddie Gizmo)* have decided to hop from SE Asia deep into Asia and the Himalayas.  *Trail names like these are given to you by your fellow hikers on long distance hikes such as the PCT that we trekked last year. A bucket list hike for Figure 8 has been the Annapurna Circuit, a route in Nepal that encircles the Annapurna Region of the Himalayas and 4 of the tallest mountains in Nepal that are not named Everest or K2.  We will hike from low valley to high mountain passes reaching 17,770 feet. This is well above our pinnacle height of 14,500 ft last year at the top of Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. With side trails and a possible climb to Annapurna 1’s base camp we should cover 250-300 miles in 3+ weeks with a serious amount of elevation gain and loss along the way. The weather at this time of year should also give us the extremes of it’s ability. It will be very hot and humid in the lower river valleys with snow and ice in the mountain passes and toward Base Camp. I’ll be starting the hike with  a chest cold, a high ankle strain from our week long Yoga retreat, 8 week old broken foot that is mostly healed well and 1-year-old twin torn meniscus that have only been successfully tested on a 3 day climb of Mt Tambora in Indonesia.  Fingers & toes crossed.

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Our first step was landing in Kathmandu 2 nights ago. We have been traveling in 3rd World countries for about 4 months now, but the impact of Nepal’s capital city has been a bit of a sudden impact.  Just about everything seems to be under construction or reconstruction from the major earthquake 3-ish years ago. Smog is thick in the air.

 

The Bagmati river that runs through Kathmandu is apparently cleaner than it has been in the past, Lacy says, but that still means that banks are solidly built with trash, especially plastic. It doesn’t help that a local trash collection / landfill is located right on the banks with the overflow just cascading down into the river. Everything seems to make its way to the river and it’s banks from daily rubbish to non-running cars that appear to be public parts cars. Lots of stray dogs and large crows live on the river banks in an endless foraging routine along with many local children from the shanty areas who search and play at the same time.

 
One great thing is that we are so glad to be back in an area where street food is the norm and $1.50 can buy a local curry and amazing naan bread for lunch. Gearing up has also been fun to shop through all of the little Outfitters that cater to the climbing and trekking crowd.
 
Buses carry us and the locals from town to town with virtually anything strapped to the roof. Building supplies, tires, scooters, people and sometimes even luggage. Our bus, where I’m writing from now, is a cacophony of engine, traffic, loud phone voice noises topped off with diesel and dust in the air.
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Then (left – 2013) and now (right)

 
You must love, adorn, name and have your truck blessed to help it travel safely. Only pictures can describe.  I really love it!
 
The differences between Buddhism in Cambodia and Nepal seem to be all in the way it is celebrated and represented. There may be many more mini Stupas, modern era Shines and massive ancient Temple cities in Cambodia, but Nepal makes up for it in color. Cars, homes and people wear daily marks of blessings or offerings.  The Golden Temples are covered with bright paintings, banners and long strands of multicolored prayer flags. Followers visit the vibrant Pagodas along their daily routes to spin the many rows of prayer wheels.  Then just add in the 52 color rainbow on most vehicles and the bright fabric and gold laced / sequined saris, dresses and long tunics worn by the women with tikas between their eyes that do their best to offset the dust and dirty air.
Monkeying around at the Monkey Temple in Swayambhu: 
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Roads are gravel and broken brick mixed with recycled concrete dust that is layered onto the dirt / mud and pounded in place by a million truck and bus tires. Pedestrian areas can be 50-90% large pavers but this just invites the motorcycles to use these alleys as shortcuts.  Thankfully, as we exit Kathmandu and get into the countryside the main highway is paved.
 
I’m very much looking forward to leaving the pollution behind and getting into the mountain air and mist on our way to Pokhara this morning, the gateway to the Annapurna region.

 

**Rob and I completed this blog as we rode 8 hours from Kathmandu to Pokhara this morning and afternoon.  It’s possible to see the Himalayas from Kathmandu, but because of the haze and rain clouds during the 2 days we were there I was never able to give Rob the view of these massive mountains looking as if they are suspended in the high sky.  Our bus ride wasn’t complete with a peekaboo view of the tips of the Himalayas and we both got a chill of excitement upon viewing them.  We both said it feels great to be back in the lush mountains.  A few photos from our journey today…

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I couldn’t get a shot of Himalayas from the bus, but this the view from our hotel room!
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A great Nepali lunch where the bus stopped.  I’m so glad Rob enjoys this kind of food as much as I do