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.

F4239F34-0D5F-47F1-BD76-68E5571AD0E1

Entering Tal and ready for lunch!

C5B78607-B376-4D86-875C-F806E66A49D0

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

71D838AE-AE1C-4DB6-893B-BB31C4354EB7

With a waterfall in the middle

06F106DF-39B4-4596-ABF5-010B98303C88

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.

7E16C73F-CA4D-4807-8DE8-F87C2444B362

B7B373DE-5DF9-44E5-8ABF-E402B23A39C1

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.

9EFD0D15-5D7F-4C8B-8BC3-5F211DD584C8

The villages have such colorful buildings

8FF4572E-C6D2-4E4B-90FD-1A042559F42E87F3836F-AF21-4BD7-985A-3E8C3E4A4A49

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.

8A7AFD23-9B44-4C2F-B30E-9F56CBE56B51

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

 

6D8B321F-B38C-48E5-A4A9-0117B9BFE035

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

27880CFC-F981-4610-9EA2-48166EDEB8E1

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

53B92526-0583-406F-B350-122D09BECC97

First trail Dal Baht

621477A0-A604-4AF9-875A-73316BFFF435

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.

73FA789A-025D-4D86-AD4E-602DE0126ADB

Rob loves the exterior decoration of these buses…

8B10D443-D573-4A4F-A0A9-AB4F0CCE2353

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.

CD6DFD26-4E07-4B7C-94B3-EDE481C40AEC

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

7DA93739-9829-4B9A-89F0-77DE5D743FF3

457A424A-9940-43EB-B7A1-72D78AD7E81A

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.

3E973219-BC81-4443-9971-CAC8AB2C74AA

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

3F0B7E92-22DD-43A3-9A65-F21B785D42DF

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

F549032A-890D-4EA1-94C5-3BEFA12F50B7

A closer look at Jagat

7D7E418D-74D3-4F7C-B928-05D03F6D2FD8

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.

5B7B4D3D-BF50-4DE8-BAAF-727625F8E2D0

DC3A72A1-C832-4F1F-B631-40A427C0D16D

Our first landslide crossing

13706B45-B5E5-484C-BE66-AB45C59D3769

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

2FA7DDA4-3EB1-4A44-B20E-09F728893710

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.

C2F6A034-800D-4348-B642-1CBF14CCA774

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

AFA8C9DA-EE2E-40FB-9C96-B5BFF1BB20EC

And celebrated Rob’s birthday

 

 

 

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

FE99CEE7-0366-4E46-9EDC-84917F2E33DF

8100FAC2-1C1D-466C-9E60-D55EC8525264
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!!  

51798FE4-F69C-41D6-BB4C-C353D9A1A25C

Buddha Park in Swayambhu

C06EAB60-ABE6-41BB-829E-F92C58AE6132

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. 

23B1183B-C4A3-4649-ADB9-87D790977B5A

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 🙂

56A8E9F2-928E-4830-A786-9035F1DD6F2B

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.

ECD52D37-F475-4629-9913-01EFD7C7D3F9E309E858-F68A-4EBB-A4B5-C3D2542391936CB311A4-82BC-4F7D-A814-4BC0E1A2606FBDCD6BDC-2779-4928-BC30-5352881CAAA3 

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.
2A895586-6A0E-4A83-A3DE-F7E5A2AAFB51

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: 
0D868B53-FCD5-4608-9CFA-E010D96C598A932F715D-BBF2-48BC-98F7-2C6EAD89186D99798B85-7A1F-4B30-A047-72755C2EC67420FAAA80-864E-4E67-A446-A28CAFF186C3935CF5F4-C636-40F4-AF5A-167200E4CC22CE71A5FB-77D6-4068-9F7B-A2FF17846196056B8FB4-F284-4AA0-A420-8C3E016A262F
 
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…

E07FDC58-0207-4689-81C1-CD3CE55F4E08

46E126EB-E6F9-4AC2-89F0-16B5560A09D1
I couldn’t get a shot of Himalayas from the bus, but this the view from our hotel room!
BB356467-D213-426C-9194-629BF06A7473
A great Nepali lunch where the bus stopped.  I’m so glad Rob enjoys this kind of food as much as I do