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Namaste!

Last we wrote, we were checking out some very inviting stretches of beach in
Goa, India. It feels like so long ago, considering how far we’ve gone since
then!

Here’s the synopsis:

1. Varanasi – holy city of cremations and craziness
2. Nepal: Pokhara and the Annapurna Circuit
3. Next steps

Please remember that if you want your reply to go to both Roger and myself,
be sure to cc: him at mountainrog@yahoo.com or else he won’t get any
messages and will be lonely. : )

1. Varanasi – holy city of cremations and craziness

Varanasi was an intense change from the slow days we spent in Goa. We
arrived after a 2-night train ride from Bombay fairly “knackered,” as our
fellow British travellers would put it. But it really wasn’t too bad since
we went on the 3AC class of sleeper car, which meant that we got sheets and
pillows, fewer chai and food vendors yelling their way through the cars at 4
am, and quieter cabin mates (although one dude had some gnarly phlegm
problem, as so many Indians seem to have!).

Anyhooo, stepping off the train into Varanasi at 5 am we were whisked away
to the main ghat (staircase/boardwalk on the riverside). Varanasi is
arguably one of the holiest cities in India, where people come to bathe in
the holy waters of the Ganges, get married, parade in various holy
festivals, die and be cremated on the banks of the river. There are
thousands of pilgrims wandering around, and it feels like bedlam all day
long. Luckily at the wee hours of the morning, things are calmer and more
serene, with people beginning their morning rituals such as yoga on the
ghats and setting candles down the river for good luck. We took a sunrise
boat ride together with an Aussie couple and we set off a few candles of our
own. It felt entirely auspicious and mystical until we saw a couple dead
bodies floating down river. Just kidding! But other travellers have told
us tales of such delights! According to our guidebook, there is 245,000
times the World Health Organization’s allowable standard for fecal matter
counts in this particular stretch of the Ganges. As you can imagine, we
were quite careful stepping in and out of the boat!

We spent a few days in Varanasi, just soaking up the vibe. We watched some
of the cremations taking place, and ran into several small parades of
wedding parties. We were lucky (?) enough to hit Varanasi just for Shiva’s
birthday (a Hindu god). The eve of his b-day, it looked like the ritual was
for thousands of young guys (aged 13-25) to run around in huge packs yelling
and screaming and chanting. We were glad that our hotel had a nice rooftop
patio from which we could watch the mayhem below. The actual night of the
big festival, there was a crazy parade of local bands honking on their
trumpets, floats followed by belching generators to keep the flourescent
lights going, singers atop floats, and again the same entourage of yelling
young men running around. It was a riot! Yet again we found a nice, safe
perch from which we could witness all of this energy, and felt a little
remiss that we were about to head off on an overnight train for the Nepali
border.

2. Nepal: Pokhara and the Annapurna Circuit

NEPAL….AHHHH!

After our overnight train, and a quick three-hour bus ride, we found
ourselves at the Nepal-India border, and once over the other side, we sighed
with relief. Perhaps it’s only because we’d heard so many good things about
Nepal, but we were really ready and thrilled to arrive. India can really
wear your nerves thin, and we were ready for a battery recharge. We had one
more bus ride to go, and although it was another 8 hours, it was actually
quite great, especially the two hours we spent on the roof, catching some
terrific views of the many river valleys and mountains we passed through.
We had to get off the roof at a military checkpoint (one of the many), where
the Nepali people have to have the bags checked. Foreigners just stay on
the bus — I guess we don’t resemble Nepali Maoists!

Pokhara is really a sweet town, nestled among some forested hills right
alongside a lovely lake. As expected, there were relatively few tourists
due to the political situation. There has been a Maoist (Communist)
uprising by a rural people’s movement that has caused quite a bit of havoc
in the last year. In November, the government declared a state of emergency
and there have been gun battles between police and army forces and the
rebels that have killed some 300 odd people (police, army and rebel forces)
since late last year. They have not targeted tourists and so far none have
been hurt, however, the perceived threat has kept many people away. Quite
obviously Pokhara and the rest of the country are hurting from the lack of
tourism, but it’s certainly great for us: most prices have come down to
attract the few tourists there are. Somehow everything seems great to us
here — the food is REALLY good, the scenery is beautiful, it’s mellow, the
Nepalese vendors hassle us less, and there is some fantastic trekking to be
had!

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT

After a few days in Pokhara to get our bearings and to find a few odds and
ends, we and another couple that we met in the permit office set off for our
17-day trek through the Annapurna region. I must say I was fairly worried
about being able to trek for hours on end after sitting and eating our way
half-way around the world for several months. But thankfully the old muscle
memory (or the memory of having had muscles?) kicked in after a day or so,
and we were trekking! And how different it is to trek in Nepal! It’s
certainly not a solitary experience as it can be in the Sierra Nevada or the
Rockies. We found ourselves trekking from village to village, alongside
packs of donkeys carrying provisions along the trail, men carrying enormous
loads strapped around their foreheads, and lots of Tibetan ladies selling
beautiful scarves and jewelry. There are tea houses everywhere for the
weary traveler to rest his/her feet, and of course, there are other trekkers
sharing the trails. That all said, we were EXTREMELY lucky to be doing the
Circuit when we did: only about 15% of the normal number of western trekkers
were on the trail, meaning that we had the pick of hotels and restaurants,
often at a discount. Sometimes accommodation was free, just to get our
business for dinner and breakfast!

The scenery along the route is dramatic. Pine forests, completely denuded
hillsides, verdant rice paddies, rocky river valleys, brown and grey
villages nestled in brown and grey mountains, prayer flags flapping at every
spur in the trail, prayer wheels at the entrances of all the villages (of
course we spun them all!), donkey and yak dung (well, sometimes you do have
to keep your eyes on the ground!), and the most incredibly HUGE and AWESOME
mountains on Earth. Starting around our fifth or sixth day we began to get
glimpses of Machupachare and the Annapurnas. They looked REALLY big to us
as we meandered our way higher and higher. Somehow though, they looked even
bigger as we gained altitude. It’s as if they were growing and we were
standing still. It’s so difficult to describe the scale. Some of the
mountains we gazed at from little rooftop restaurants are over 26,000 feet!
(Just shy of Everest) Yet I almost felt like I could reach out and grab a
bit of snow.

For me there were two highlights of the trip: our climb over Throng La pass
at 5416 meters, or about 17, 818 feet and our last morning in a town called
Ghorapani. The several-day approach to the pass was both daunting and
exciting. Every day we went higher, we monitored how we felt at that
altitude. Both of us were feeling really good physically, though I was
nervous about the cold. It certainly creeped into some low temps at night,
and I was yearning for my down bag back in our storage unit! The night
before our climb to the pass, we stayed at about the height Mt. Shasta’s
summit (a peak that we’ve often climbed back in the Sierra Nevada), around
14,200 feet, and it snowed. We both worried that we wouldn’t be able climb
the next morning and dreaded the thought of hunkering down in the drafty
lodge for a full day. BUT JOY! The next day we had incredible weather and
made it to the top of the pass among the first trekkers. Of course, getting
to the pass was half the battle that day: we still had to drop back down
5,000 feet to the first village on the other side. The glaring snow,
altitude and long day took its toll on us and we were more than ready to
stay at the first guesthouse we found. But we made it!

The second highlight was Ghorapani, where we awakened to a surround-view of
the Annapurna range. It was the most spectacular view we’d had yet, with a
full 180 degree view of the crazy-big and super daunting Daulagiri Massif
and the many peaks in the Annapurnas.

3. Next steps

We’re now back in Pokhara, eating everything in sight and figuring out what
we’re planning to do for the rest of our time in Nepal. We’ll head down to
Chitwan National Park, for some rhinos, tigers and maoists (just kidding,
Moms and Dads), then up to Kathmandu where we may take a raft trip, do some
volunteering and maybe head over to Tibet.

Apparently we didn’t kill the giardia Jen had with the antiboditics we hit
it with back in Goa, so we’re going try some more heavy duty drugs to wipe
that little nasty Buggah out. (Kell and Stretch, that last reference is for
you).

Lots of love and hugs to everyone back whereever you are,

Jen and Rog

Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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