We had only left Pokhara that afternoon and we were already pining for the mountains. Our drive had taken us on a pretty twisty route through the hills with waterfalls and gorges before descending into the Terai, the plains of Nepal. It was here the heat hit us. The thermometer rose rapidly and even at 6pm it was 35 degrees. It was getting dark so we decided to pull into a petrol station to camp. Unlike a few months ago, at that temperature we needed to have all the windows and hatches open to let what little breeze there was in. Not to worry we thought as we have great mosquito nets. That evening though as we lay sweating in the heat all of us were bitten all over. The next morning there were hundreds of mosquitos in the truck, where had they come from? This seemed to repeat itself each night for the next few nights and no matter how careful we were they always seemed to be there in the morning. We sprayed the truck each morning before driving to kill them and were pretty confident this many were not getting through the nets. Were they breeding in our waste tank? We closed up all the plugs but still they came out. We had decided to drive to the Western end of Nepal to maximise the driving in Nepal and minimise it in India and we were glad we did as the road was good and traffic a lot lighter. Crossing the border was straight forward and whilst other vehicles were waiting to cross the bridge we were just waved through with them even unlocking the gates to let us across. The border guard proudly stated "we are open 24 hours for international visitors". Mind you the bridge is nearly 800metres long and is only just wide enough for the truck. I waited for a gap in the foot and motorbike passengers and flashed my lights to say that I was coming. To no avail nobody paid any notice and tried to cross anyway. Meeting in the middle of the bridge the foot and bicycles squeezed past, as for the motorbikes, well I wasn't reversing! After the relative calm of Nepal, we soon descended into the chaos of India. This is most evident from the driving where you need to be on constant alert to avoid either hitting something or someone hitting you. We had a lot of kilometres to cover to reach Amritsar so we're not too impressed when we were held up in a traffic jam for over an hour especially as the jam was caused by impatient drivers refusing to queue up and then consequently blocking everything as nobody could get through. In India they are building lots of new roads but for some reason they never seem to complete the bridges. It wasn't long until we hit the Grand Trunk Road. This was a modern motorway with three lanes so you would think that driving would be easier. Except everyone drives in whatever lane they wish regardless of speed so sometimes tractors are in the outside lans, sometimes in the inside land and sometimes people just straddle a couple of lanes to make life difficult for everyone. As we approached Amritsar it got hotter and hotter, hitting 42 degrees. We were only 50kms short of our destination but as it was getting dark we sort refuge in a petrol station again. They may not be the most glamorous spots but they are generally clean and the staff friendly. That night the heat broke. A storm came through with nice cooling winds and when we woke up in the morning it was a lot more bearable. The next morning we headed to Mrs Bhandari's Guest House. This is an overlanding institution as it's been looking after overlanders for 50 years. In fact Gilly had stayed here before 23 years ago when she had travelled to Asia on the back of a truck. It's a lovely place, a tranquil oasis in the outskirts of Amritsar and a great place for us to prepare for the next leg of the journey. We gladly parked our truck in the garden of the colonial guest house, there was even a pool to cool off in as the days heated up. You may recall we were in Amritsar a couple of months ago with Gilly's mum. As tempting as it was to just sit around in the guesthouse gardens we decided we still needed to go and see again some of the sights. The Golden Temple is just magnificent and especially when it is lit up at dusk so we headed down there to walk around the lake that it is set in, admiring the views and watching the locals who were either bathing, praying or also just out for a stroll. We also had to go back to Charming Chicken, a restaurant we had visited on our previous visit. It is a simple place but the food was just as juicy as the first time and we left very full. On our final day in Amritsar it was time to get ready for the next stage of our journey. For Gilly and the girls this meant packing as they would not be coming with the truck for the next few weeks. Instead they would be jetting off while I drive the truck across Pakistan and up the Karakoram Highway before hopefully us all meeting back up in China. For me it was time to load the truck with goodies so I would have everything I needed for the next few weeks. It will be strange driving alone and a bit stressful especially as I am still on the "wrong" side of the road for my steering wheel. I say I will be driving alone, we never did find out about those mosquitos. For the last few days they seem to have disappeared. I hope they are not coming along for the ride with me!
Lucy Nameste Nice Nepal. Nepal is full of exciting and interesting culture and many different nice people. We went for a 12 day hike into the mountains. We walked many, many, many kilometres; ate many chocolate bars; and told many, many stories. When we returned back to Pokhara, Daddy had to leave to get his Pakistan visa just before his birthday. We made friends with two other sets of Overlanders, it was good to meet other people driving around Asia. I loved going to the cafe next door, The Bee Charmer. Upstairs there was a little boy called Babu, he had the sweetest baby chicks and everyday we played with them together. I went to Babu's birthday party. There were 3 sweet dogs nearby. One was a stray dog we named Foxy because of her ears were like a fox and she had the nicest orangey fur. Alisha and I wanted to adopt her. Bye bye Nice Nepal. Alisha Nepal was an instant relief after crazy India. We found that Nepal was less nuts then India but a bit far off a European country. Kathmandu is about four notches less on the crazy scale then Varanasi, an Indian city. (To be honest it might of been five but who cares) but the rest of Nepal was pretty (it was more than pretty actually but I can't spell baeutiful or is it beautilful you see, I can't spell it). The Himalayas were awesome. I know most people say " Oh the only reason I went to Nepal was to go trekking" but there is a lot more to Nepal then that. It's a whole form of culture on it's own. Most people look over Nepal, they prefer to go to Tibet for the Himalayas. Even if they go to Nepal they only look at the mountains not at the culture but they should it is really interesting. I bet Mummy or Daddy will write about the amazing mountains and the scenery and blah blah blah. I enjoyed meeting all the different people on the mountain, there was a lot of people who where all very friendly and I beat a lot of them at cards;) When we spent two weeks in Pokhara that was fun I got to go and buy vegetables on my own (when you don't have a permanent address and you can't go anywhere without a grown-up it's a big deal) the local shop owners got to know me and always smiled and waved as I walked towards them. They where always super friendly and never once called me baby (whooooohooo). Gilly We only left the mountains a couple of days ago and already I miss them, especially as it is 38°C in the lowlands. Our two treks in Nepal: up the Kalaigebdiki Valley and up to Mardi Himal Base Camp, were all we had hoped for and more. Both teahouses treks, the first gave us not only amazing mountain views but also a glimpse of village culture. The second was mostly through uninhabited forest but the highlight was the final days views from above the tree line and Steve and I getting up to the Base Camp. It would have been nice to have done it together but I'm so pleased we were able to do it, and we didn't have to drag the girls up that high. I'm amazed at how much they enjoyed the trekking too, they deserve credit for how well they did. They rarely complained about the walking and loved the novelty of sleeping in new places, meeting new people and hours of telling and hearing stories. The big earthquake, 2 years ago, has left it scars. We saw lots of rebuilding in Kathmandu which added a lot of dust to the already horribly polluted atmosphere. The Nepali people stoic, warm and welcoming and everything was working although sadly for them tourist numbers are way down. Education seems to have a big focus with kids smart in the uniform setting off every morning for school. The children who lived around the area we stayed in Pokhara, were all enthusiastic and spoke some English. Although sadly, we did see some instances of child labour, many were just helping their parents out but some appeared to be working independently in businesses. We loved our 7 1/2 weeks in Nepal so much that we have already decided what to do when we come back, another trek into a more remote region. We would have happily stayed for longer but after so long in one place the road beckons. Steve I loved Nepal. It's a friendly country with some of the most amazing scenery on the planet. After the chaos of India, Nepal felt so much more relaxed. Not that it didn't have it's own chaotic places such as the traffic in Kathmandu but once out trekking that all just faded away. The culture and the sights of the Kathmandu valley made for an interesting week but the highlight for me was the two treks we did that took us high into the mountains. It was good to see we were all pretty fit and that we managed the altitude well so that we could enjoy the breath taking scenery. I just could not get enough of the views and I am keen to come back to do some more trekking. Heading up to Kagbeni and glimpsing into Mustang has me eager for more. Pokhara was also a pleasant relaxed place to hang out and a great place for the family to stay while I had to head back to England for a visa. We have a lot of driving in front of us so it was nice to leave the truck parked up for a while and to use our own two feet to get around. The treks were amazing. It was not just the scenery but the simple life of moving from tea house to tea house. Meeting other interesting travellers as well as engaging with the owners of the tea houses. We soon settled into a daily rhythm and the worries of the wider world just faded away. Sitting looking in awe at the mountains just seemed to make everything so insignificant.
There's nothing like a bit of spousal rivalry to spur you on in the morning. It was five in the morning and I had been listening to the wind shriek through the cracks in the tin roof for the last two hours, it didn't look very promising for my attempt to reach Mardi Himal Basecamp that morning. It was so tempting just to roll over and snuggle down in my sleeping bag but Steve's success the preceding morning spurred me on. Definitely the right course, as outside the wind sounded far less threatening and was starting to drop and I had an apple pancake waiting. It was time to make for the top, now could I just do it 5 minutes faster than he did, just to bug him. With Steve's return from London with his Pakistani visa a few days early, I had decided we had just enough time to squeeze in a quick trek. Poor man, just 16 hours off the plane he was strapping on his boots and heading for the hills. It promised to be worth it though, with amazing views of Machapuchchhre and the Annapurna range, as we trekked up a forested ridge to the bottom of Mardi Himal. A relative "hill" at 5587m compared with its neighbours, some of which make the world's top ten for height. The first days trek, mirrored the trek that we had done the previous week. The first hill was just as much of a killer as before, maybe even worse as we knew how long it went on for. We spent the night in the same basic but quirky teahouses we stayed in before. We reclaimed our triple bed room, with just enough space for the beds and looked fondly upon the tarp and lose plank walls. That night we even listened nostalgically to the chorus of snores from the other rooms, it was good to be back in the mountains. The lovely lady remembered us too, greeting us with smiles and the kids with hugs. This time the weather was glorious and instead of huddling around the fire away from the storm, we sat outside enjoying the warmth. The next two days was pleasant hiking through rhododendron forests. It was hazy so no mountain views but the forest was full of ladybirds. Up until about 3 years ago the Mardi Himal trek was only for those hikers with tents and their own supplies, they then built a few small tea houses. Since then it has become a lot more popular, Dil had to call ahead to the teahouses to secure beds for us. It was a good idea, when we arrived at Low Camp there was a bit of an uproar with hikers trying to claim booked beds. They were still trying to finish another building, they had promised the room to a group of German guys but still hadn't put in any windows or concrete on the floor. The workers busted a gut till dusk making it habitable. The owners of the teahouses were very good at trying to accommodate everyone, putting people together to share. There was always overflow space with everyone bunking down in the dining room with the staff and the porters. The advantage is that is nice and warm but not good if you don't like snoring. Like the last trek, we usually had 3 beds pushed together for the 4 of us. Away from villages and any road, these teahouses were far more basic with just a few rooms separated with plywood walls. The Dining Rooms were sociable places though, filled with trekkers, guides and porters warming up around the fire. We met so many interesting people from around the world, the girls particularly loved chatting and playing cards. So much so that Alisha didn't even complain when her kindle ran out of electricity (recharging wasn't an option in the higher places), usually we can't separate her from her beloved books for too long. The cooks also manage amazingly cooking up tasty, hearty dishes for everyone out of the most basic of supplies. The corridor looking into our room at High Camp, yes that is 2 extra beds end-to-end in the passageway. High camp was way above the tree line and at last we started to see the mountains through the haze. Alisha powered ahead of us all, while Lucy kept to a steady pace telling me stories. They both hiked amazingly and cheerfully, even overtaking many adults. Lucy lost her "cutest on the path" crown to a sweet and very blonde Canadian baby, being carried up by her parents. Hiking with them, people we passed all cooed over her, I think Lucy was just relieved that someone else was getting all the cheek squeezing. That afternoon as we huddled in the dining room at High Camp the rain started to lash down; followed by a massive hail and thunderstorm; and finally snow. We were in bed by 7.30, even cosier in just 2 beds, listening to the storm around us. At 5am, I came back from the loo with information for Steve, "The good news: it's clear! And the bad news: it's clear - time to go." We'd agreed the previous evening that the girls shouldn't try to make it to Base Camp but that one of us should try. Through some sort of wonky logic, Steve reckoned it should be him. He set off up through the snow by himself determined to make it to the top. The girls, Dil and I followed him soon after. Our climb up to the second viewpoint was filled with breathtakingly stunning views of Machapuchchhre (Fishtail Mountain) and the Annapurnas. After an hour of tricky climbing we arrived at the viewpoint. While I marvelled at God's creation and the way the sun was sparkling on the snow, the girls got busy. While many hikers were gasping for breath in the thin air, those two were humping around huge snowballs to make a huge "Korean snowlady and her dog Tommy Boy". Which of course came with a personality and back story. Steve meanwhile was making great progress towards the top through the ankle deep snow. He returned to High Camp glowing and triumphant 5 hours later. We had planned to descend some way that afternoon but knowing how disappointed I was not to do it, he said I must try it the following day. We could just about squeeze in another day if we then hoofed it down to the bottom of the trail the same afternoon. I have to say I was beginning to regret our decision by mid-afternoon as another storm whipped around the exposed ridge. We are by now all very stoic about grim toilets but the thought of another visit to the stinky squatter was not attractive, especially as we were all having to drink a lot to help with the altitude affects. Mind you venturing down out into the storm wasn't attractive either, it was time for another mug of sweet milky tea. The wind started howling at 3am the following morning, I rolled over sad but a little relieved that my attempt at making Base Camp wouldn't be possible as the walk along the ridge was treacherous in high winds. By 5am the wind had calmed down and Dil and I were off before the kids had even risen to find their Easter eggs left by the high altitude Easter Bunny. It was a stunning walk up crisp underfoot; with the mountains perfectly clear in front of us; and a blanket of cloud below us. There were several other hikers and guides from the camp working their way up the path, we even had enough breath to chat a little. At the top viewpoint, I came across the most welcome sight I have ever seen in the mountains - a man selling tea and chocolate bars!! Yes!! Unbelievable though it may seem, every morning in the season he hikes up 800m with flasks and sets up shop on a rock at 4000m. Still going well and now with the chance of teasing Steve about his time to the top, we kept on. At last 2 1/2 hours from High Camp we got to Base Camp, it was stunningly beautiful, just time for a few photos before the wind threatened to restart. We were ready for the tea and mars bar on the way back down, it tasted so good!
Back down at High Camp, Dil and I were still going strong, so after a quick tea and teeth brush, we continued down. Physically, ascending to Base Camp and descending to the jeep track at Sidling, it was going to be challenging. We refuelled with our usual dal bhat (Nepal's national dish of rice, lentils and vegetable curries) 2 hours further down. Then it was down, down, down on a steep leg-punishing forest path to a promised hot shower and western loo. We made it to Sidling in the late afternoon, Dil and I had been walking for 10 1/2 hours. We had ascended 1000m and then descended 2500m, over a distance of 18km which tells you how steep it was. By 7pm, I was ready for bed and slept like a log.
We thought the excitement was over with the end of the trek but hadn't counted on the jeep ride on the scraggy track scratched out from the mountain. The track even beat some of the crazy roads we've taken the truck on over the years. With dodgy paths past landslides; deep mud holes; and 4 river crossings including one driving along in the river, we were very glad the driver was very competent and careful. We picked up vegetables and people on the way, piling them on top of the jeep when we ran out of space inside. At last we made it back safely to Pokhara it had been a short sojourn to the mountains, just 6 days, but it had been well worth it.
Oh yes....I made Base Camp 10 minutes faster than Steve;) but he claims his ascent was in the snow so I guess we are equal. In the end it's not how fast you but it's all about seeing and enjoying some of the most amazing views.