A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

The rain in Nepal falls mainly... everywhere

Dodging the monsoon in Kathmandu

View Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur 2011 on Chris Parsons's travel map.

Having landed under blue skies in Delhi, we thought perhaps we had missed the tail end of the monsoon, but alas it was not to be. The descent into Kathmandu flew us through several layers of cloud, and droplets streaking along the plane's windows signalled the rains still lingered over Nepal.

It took just one day for our meticulously planned itinerary to fall apart. We have arranged a trek which links together trails through some restricted and protected areas, which means five separate permits are required. As it turns out, one day was not long enough to satisfy all the bureaucrats and officials needed to authorise our trip.

We have made the most of our time here, despite the rain, which has been persistent but is refreshing and cooling. We visited the Gardens of Peace yesterday, an relative oasis of calm which was once part of a government ministry and has now been renovated. Here, the blaring horns of Thamel (Kathmandu's tourist ghetto) are slightly less intrusive, and the plants, after three months of heavy watering, are particularly lush.

Chris in the Gardens of Peace in Kathmandu

Chris in the Gardens of Peace in Kathmandu

In the afternoon I braved the traffic-choked narrow streets as I set out for Durbar Square, the heart of the old city. Crowded into a tiny temple courtyard with pilgrims, tourists and locals, we waited patiently for a six-year old girl to appear at an intricately-carved window. She is a living representation of the Buddha, has been chosen for her beauty and bestows good luck upon anyone who witnesses her face. As she appears, tour guides shout "No cameras!" to the mob, who raise their cameras to the window in unison, then drop them, gasp and burst into spontaneous applause. The girl looks non-plussed, but has been trained to act that way. A strange experience.

Woman spinning cotton in Bhaktapur

Woman spinning cotton in Bhaktapur

Today we took the local bus to Bhaktapur, a nearby city in the Kathmandu Valley. This is the cultural capital of Nepal, and was a truly eye-opening experience. We learned that koi carp like doughnuts but can't swallow a cigarette lighter. We also learned that you can never judge a temple from its cover. What appears Hindu from the outside can turn out to be Buddhist within. And that some of the more intricate thangkas, or Buddhist paintings, can take one individual two years to complete.

Jen in Bhaktapur

Jen in Bhaktapur

This afternoon, a miracle happened. The rain stopped, the clouds parted and distant hills and mountains appeared for the first time. Perhaps my encounter with the living Buddha has had something to do with this turn of events? It certainly bodes well for our trek, which begins tomorrow with a seven hour journey by local bus to the trailhead at Arughat Bazar. Wish us well, it will be some time before you hear from us again!

Clearing skies over Kathmandu

Clearing skies over Kathmandu

Posted by Chris Parsons 09:59 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

Travel Plans, Part 2

Biking and eating our way through Indochina and Thailand

4 days to go!! Almost hyperventilating with excitement now!

In the last entry I told you all about our trekking plans in the Himalayas; now it's time to reveal what else we've got planned for the rest of our adventure in Asia.

In mid-November we leave the glaciers and gompas of Buddhist Sikkim for a change of pace in Vietnam. Our down jackets and thermal base layers will be surplus to requirements as we cross the Tropic of Cancer and head for sultry Hanoi. We'll be based here for a week, and top of the agenda (apart from counting our blisters) will be to visit the incredible Ha Long Bay area.

Hanoi is also the starting point for our next activity, and some of you will think it's even crazier than the trekking! We have signed up for a 3-week mountain biking trip into the northern highlands of Vietnam and across the border into Laos. The trip is run by a specialist UK company called Redspokes, and you can read all about it here - all 1200km of it! Along the way we'll encounter Hmong hill tribes and the historic city of Luang Prabang.

The bike ride finishes in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, from where we catch a flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. From here, it's a short hop to the coast where we will only have one thing on our minds - beach, beach, beach! A few days in the backpacker mecca that is Sihanoukville will hopefully ease the saddle-soreness and achy legs. We can't visit Cambodia and not include Angkor Wat in the itinerary, so our next port of call will be Siem Reap, from where it's easy to arrange trips to the temples. We may even feel ready to hire bikes and cycle round them!

As we head into the final month of the trip, we'll be on the move again, this time hopping across the border into Thailand and catching a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of the country. There's lots of sights and activities in this region, including National Parks, waterfalls, caves, elephant camps, Thai cookery schools and trekking - if we haven't already had our fill. We will also be celebrating Christmas with the Thais in Chiang Mai.

Southern Thailand will be our final destination, but we'll only have three weeks to see some of the highlights. We start by flying to Phuket and heading up the Andaman Coast to Khao Lak, the starting point of a 3-day snorkelling tour of the Similan Islands. New Year will be spent in Khao Sok National Park in search of gibbons, bears and hornbills. We'll be staying in a traditional raft house and looking for jungle wildlife by boat and on foot.

We'll use buses and ferries to island-hop down the Andaman Coast to Koh Tarutao National Park, via Krabi and Koh Lanta. Here, we want nothing more than an idyllic beach on which to pitch our tent and enjoy the last few days of freedom! Finally, we hot-foot it to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for our return flight home and the harsh reality of the British winter, bills and work!

Posted by Chris Parsons 12:43 Tagged cambodia thailand vietnam laos planning Comments (1)

Travel Plans, Part 1

Trekking in Nepal and India

Two weeks to go!! Here are a few more titbits about our travel plans!

Our trip divides quite neatly into two equal parts. For the first couple of months, we'll be in the Himalaya in Nepal and India. Some of you will already know that we've fallen in love with Nepal, so this seemed like the obvious place to start our travels.

September and October is the post-monsoon season, when the skies are usually clear and the trails pounded by thousands of trekkers. On both our previous trips we travelled independently, taking advantage of the network of trekkers' lodges in the Annapurna and Everest regions. With so much time available, we now have the chance to venture into a less-visited part of Nepal. Independent trekking won't be possible, because of the lack of infrastructure and regulations which prevent unaccompanied trekkers wandering into restricted areas (particularly those close to the Chinese border.) So we've arranged a trek with a local agency, Nepal Environmental Trek and Expeditions, and they will be providing us with a guide, a cook, our porters and all the camping equipment and food for the first four weeks.

Our trek starts in the Gurkha region, a few hours' drive west of Kathmandu. The plan is to trek around Manaslu, one of the world's highest mountains - we saw it from the Annapurna Circuit in 2007. The Manaslu Circuit is not yet as developed as the more famous Annapurna Circuit but more lodges are being opened every year and soon it will be possible to walk the whole route without a tent.

Manaslu from the Annapurna Circuit

Manaslu from the Annapurna Circuit

A week into the trek, we branch off the main trail into the Tsum Valley, a very remote high-altitude region close to the border with Tibet. This valley only opened to foreigners in 2007 and is beyond the reach of the Lonely Planet! We will spend about a week exploring the area and visiting Ganesh Himal Base Camp at 4,200m (13,780ft).

Rejoining the Manaslu Circuit, we continue around the north side of the mountain, climbing gradually to a high point of 5,135m (16,847ft) at the Larkya La. From what we have read, this pass crossing can be difficult due to unpredictable snowfall, even in peak season. If we make it across, we will head down the valley on the opposite side to join the Annapurna Circuit at Dharapani.

We will luxuriate in hot showers and apple pie for a couple of days as we head up the Marsyangdi valley, before striking off north into another restricted area called Nar Phu. Annapurna trekkers rarely venture into this valley because of the permit required and the lack of tea houses. To leave the Nar Phu area we will attempt another high pass, the 5,322m (17,461ft) Kang La. I'm already dreaming of the view!

Back down on the Annapurna Circuit, we will wave goodbye to our guide and porters and continue on our own, fully laden this time! We will also be faced with a choice - up or down the valley? My preference is up, either retracing our steps from 2007 over the Thorung La, or attempting a more adventurous pass crossing which includes a wild camp at 5,000m on the shore of Tilicho Lake. Apparently this is prime snow leopard country. Beyond the pass lies the town of Jomsom, the end of our five-week Nepal trek.

You can see a map of the trekking route here.

Next, to Sikkim in north-east India. This is a fairly tortuous journey overland so we will probably use internal flights to cut out some of the gruelling bus journeys. After crossing the border at the end of October, we arrive in Darjeeling. Time to take tea, ride the toy train and generally masquerade as normal tourists.

It won't last long though - from Darjeeling, we will embark on our second trek in West Sikkim. This area is less established as a trekking base than Nepal so we will be on another fully-supported camping trek, this time with a local agency called Yak and Yeti Travels and Expeditions. We will have yaks instead of porters, but I'm hoping we get a bona fide guide and not a yeti! The trek will follow the Singalila Ridge, very close to the border between Nepal and India, from where we will hopefully have grandstand views of Kangchenjunga, the world's 3rd highest mountain. Our high point on this trek will be the Goecha La, a 4,940m (16,200ft) pass.

All being well, we will finish our trek in Yuksom on 11/11/11. We then haul ourselves on to a train for an overnight journey to Kolkata, where we catch a flight to Vietnam, ready for the next adventure...

Posted by Chris Parsons 17:38 Tagged india nepal planning Comments (0)

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