About us

Our names are Isabella (Izzy) and Andrew (Ronnie). We hiked The Great Himalaya Trail in the spring of 2019 over 107 days.

We first visited Nepal in 2011 to complete the three passes hike in Solukumbu region including the walk out to Jiri. Ever since we’d been busting to come back to Nepal. In early 2018 when we decided to move from Australia to the UK we began searching for a challenge to complete along the way. After googling the ‘best long distance hikes in the world’ one Saturday afternoon we came across the GHT, and decided then and there we had to hike it.

After a year of preparations packing up our lives in Sydney we finally arrived in Kathmandu on February 6th 2019 to do a combination of the high and low routes. We walked approximately 1700km from Phalut, the eastern border with India, to Darchula, the western border with India, crossing countless passes and valleys with a vertical ascent of over 83,000km. An unusually high snowfall (many locals told us it was the most snow they’d seen in 30years) made the higher passes difficult, and at one point resulted in us taking a 12 day detour on the Tamang Heritage and Langtang Valley trails while we waited for the snows to melt before we could again continue west through The Ruby Valley. We were self-guided and unsupported apart from for Manaslu Circuit, where a guide is compulsory.

The route we took was so diverse; in the course of one day we could be walking in thigh deep snow, and then later sweating it out in a hot and humid valley floor. The views were absolutely magical, simply out of this world; and the kindness, generosity and friendliness of the Nepali people was equally breathtaking. There was always someone willing to welcome our sweaty, smelly, dirty, tired bodies into their homes each day and night, and cook us a delicious dal bhat. We were constantly helped by kind souls who pointed out the way, and even one man who walked us 2hours back to the trail when we’d got ourselves into a bit of a pickle near Phalut. It was this incredible hospitality that had first caused us to fall in love with Nepal, and which motivated us to use our trip to fundraise for Phase Nepal: a Nepali charity that works with remote and resource poor Himalayan communities to increase livelihood, health care and education opportunities. Any sponsorship donations can be made via the flowing link with many thanks: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Neither of us have any mountaineering experience. Having had long debates about including the technical Tashi Labsta pass in our route, we arrived in Nepal to find that this pass was not actually possible this year due to the amount of snow. For the rest of our route we tried to stay as high as possible whilst avoiding any technical passes. This meant our low route sections largely followed Linda Bezemer’s ‘low route’ itinerary, while we hiked the higher route for Gosiakund Lake, Langtang, the Ruby Valley, Manaslu, and Annapurna sections, and took a detour to Phoksundo Lake and over Kangmara La pass. A hugely helpful resource was Toby and John’s itinerary table (https://cargocollective.com/nepaltraverse) which we used regularly to assist with planning our day by day itinerary.

We carried a tent and a stove, which although used relatively infrequently proved invaluable in the remote sections where accommodation and a hot meal were at times illusive. Our packs were relatively heavy (15kg and 17kg base weight) with older hiking gear that we couldn’t justify upgrading.

The GHT was not without it’s challenges. We had many stressful times dealing with navigational issues, regularly finding ourselves misplaced if not entirely lost. The huge daily ascents and descents on the low route were gruelling and relentless and wreaked havoc with our knees; the heat of the far west was simply hideous; and the constant and unchanging minute noodle and dal bhat diet wore thin towards the end of the trek. We both got a really excellent batch of food poisoning when were just 5 days from the western border, which resulted in an agonisingly slow limp to the finish line, in amongst regular dashes into the bushes.

These challenges, although miserable in the moment, where one of the many things that made the GHT such an utterly awesome experience. We had an absolutely unforgettable time spending 107 days high on mountain views and endorphins, hanging out with some of the most wonderful people in the world.

Rara Lake and The Far West

From Jumla we expected to take about 12 days to reach the Indian border. This was the final push. Go West by the Pet Shop Boys featured heavily in our trail singing repertoire. This section of the Great Himalayan Trail has an elevation profile that looks a bit like the jagged edge of a saw; we quickly realised that like the Far East our days would be spent going up and down, up and down, however this time in hot, dry, dusty conditions. Also similar to the Far East was the boundless friendliness, generosity and warmth of the people; the wildly inaccurate time estimates provided by locals; and the undying curiosity people had for us, which meant that we were constantly followed by staring pairs of eyes. A fitting end to the whole trail I suppose, just like where we started. So far we’d escaped any real illness however the Far West put a swift and smelly end to that.

On day 93 we dragged ourselves out from beneath our fluffy doonas in Jumla and began a long 1.3km vertical ascent towards Danphe pass (3600m). Having spent almost two full days in Hotel Kanjirowa, a comfortable oasis, it almost felt like we’d finished our hike, which left us struggling for motivation to continue. I spent the morning wondering how I’d managed to avoid boredom after walking all day every day for 93 days. But as the steep uphill commenced my mind was quickly numbed by exertion and I entered into the meditative state that hard walking brings, where you are simply working too hard to hold a thought in your mind, and when you try, it slips away. I supposed that maybe this is how I’d passed the last 93 days.

Views from Danphe pass looking back towards Jumla:

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After the pass it was 1000m vertical descent to Nauri Ghat, by the river, where we found a basic guesthouse. We reached Nauri Ghat with our stomachs concave; we’d not eaten lunch as there had been no villages on the way and we couldn’t bring ourselves to cook noodles. Instead we’d snacked on a banana, some peanuts and a bit of chocolate. Of course the only snacks we could find when we arrived were more minute noodles, which we reluctantly washed down with a coke.

Day 94

After a totally dreamy breakfast of roti with runny fried egg and spinach we began walking along a stunning river. The water was so clear, and flowed over a perfect stone base.

We picked up a gaggle of tiny children on our way down to Chauta. They were totally relentless asking for pens, chocolate, sweets, and noodles. Ronnie thankfully was able to distract them by taking photos and boomerangs.

Second from the left dishing out all the sass:

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We gladly dropped them off at school in Chauta.

From Chauta we climbed 1000m to Gurchi Lagna pass (3450m) before a knee banging 1000m descent to reach a small ‘hotel’ just outside Jhyari, which was home to millions of flies who seemed particularly pleased to see us. The word ‘hotel’ seems to have a pretty loose meaning in the more remote parts of Nepal, and not for the first time we accidentally stole the children’s room for the night.

Villages below the pass:

Our hotel:

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Day 95 began with a steep uphill climb through Jhyari to Rara Lake, supposedly Nepal’s biggest lake. When we arrived we were gutted to find out that we’d just missed out on watching the annual 15km trail race around the rim of the lake which had taken place that morning. Along our way we picked up three young girls, who, in their steadfast determination to get a good look at us actually jogged next to us for a few kilometres whilst maintaining a sideways stare.

Rara lake:

At midday we reached the rather wonky and dated Danphe Hotel by the edge of the lake, that was full to the brim with Nepali tourists and fun runners. We spent the afternoon napping, washing, drinking tea, and chatting to the runners Рthe winner had apparently run from Jumla (50km) the day before the race!

Day 96 marked the start of some long days. We walked a total of 33km to Ratapani, which included a 2km vertical descent. As we left the lake we munched on minute noodles and chocolate cream biscuits for breakfast, all that was available. The lake water was so crystal clear you could see fish swimming about.

A green river valley brought us to a small shop where we loaded up on dal bhat.

As we descended further the rice paddies and villages multiplied, the river turned murkier and murkier, and the temperature soared. Cactuses started appearing on the hills.

We were chased into Ratapani by a cackling thunderstorm, and arrived just before the rain, after 9 hours of walking.

Day 97
From Ratapani we hiked a long day along the river to Kolti, passing many elaborate homemade aqua ducts that funnelled water from the river into small hydro systems, mills, and terraces. All the houses here have cactus on their roof as this apparently ensures they won’t be struck by lightning.

The heat cooked us, we wandered along like little basted chickens with sweat pouring out of us. As we turned up the valley towards Kolti we came across more villages where we progressively picked up more and more school children as we moved along. It reminded me of the end of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race; we were two super maxis coming up the Derwent river surrounded by an ever growing flotilla of small children, speeding up and zooming around to try to get a good look at us, whilst making sure not to get too close. We definitely seemed to have reacquired the celebrity status we’d held in the Far East.

We again made a lucky entrance into Kolti right before a huge thunderstorm moved through, bringing heavy rain. In the small eatery where we were staying there was an actual menu that had at least ten choices, some of which diverged from dal bhat. Blinded by sheer joy and excitement we ordered a fried chicken leg each with fried rice. After we’d gobbled it down we realised it probably wasn’t the brightest decision given the state of the kitchen, the lack of electricity, the heat of the day, and the lightening speed with which it arrived at our table.

On day 98 we left early as we had a big day ahead to reach Martadi. We hiked probably one of our biggest days yet: 10hours, 30km, 2000m ascent, 1000m descent. Our suspicions about last night’s fried chicken proved to be right, and we both had a shitty day, in the bowel movement sense of the word, spending a lot of time in the bushes.

Climbing to the Parakhe Pass (2710m) passing beautiful patchworks of terraces:

We passed many goat caravans. Goats are used here as the trail ahead is too difficult for mules.

It took 5hours of descent through a forrest by the river to eventually reach the large town of Martadi Bazaar, where a schoolgirl showed us to a relatively new hotel, with clean sheets, an attached bathroom, and a TV! Whooop!

Fields outside Martadi:

Day 99 was a good day. We got up, packed up, were about to leave when we decided we’d stay for a rest day. Our bodies were starting to fall apart and yesterday’s toilet troubles hadn’t helped the situation. Plus, Sunderland were apparently playing in the play off final tonight ūüôĄ.

We had an outstanding day exploring town in amongst some naps. It was so nice to have a day where we had the energy and time to stop and chat to people and take photos. The people of Martadi were as welcoming, friendly and inquisitive as ever. The local school was hosting an interschool athletics meet which we went to watch, quickly becoming engulfed in a crowd of curious children as soon as we entered the school gates. The four by 100m relay was the event of the day. The runners were sprinting so incredibly fast around the circular track, in bare feet, that they were skidding out.

Martadi bazar:

Dancing with the local kids:

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Sofia, a mate we made at the local school:

Rooftop toothbrushing before school:

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Athletics at the local school:

On day 100 our diahorea returned with a vengeance. We both had no appetite. After forcing some roti and omelette down we set off on our way to Oligaon. Little did we know at the time that this was the beginning of a week long pooping and vomiting extravaganza, that wore us down and left us limping for the finish line.

It was another steamy day. The first section took us down to the valley floor, up a steep steep hill, back down to the valley floor, then back up a steep steep hill that went on and on; a rollercoaster. In Pina Lek a kindly lady ushered us into her garden and told us to fill up on water as there would be none for a while.

Trying on my sunglasses:

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At lunchtime we had absolutely no interest in dal bhat so instead forced down a kit kat and a some noodles. Strangely noodles had suddenly become more appealing.

After crossing a small pass we came across an almighty landslide that had a teeny tiny series of footsteps leading across it. It didn’t look so bad from above, but it was utterly terrifying once we’d got going. The foot holds were gravelly and slippery and the drop to the left seemed to grow bigger the further we got across. I bum shuffled most of the way across as I was so terrified my feet would slip sending me tumbling down the hill.

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Made it!

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The rest of the day was spent walking on a dirt road, searching for the illusive town of Oligaon, which seemed to always be over the next hill. We came to four different towns we hoped to be Oligaon before being waved on yet again.

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When we finally reached Oligaon at 5.15pm after 9hours walking, we found there was no hotel and no homestays. Outside the local restaurant sat a crowd of men drinking tea who told us we could camp in the school ground opposite and that they’d make us dal bhat for dinner. We were joined by a bunch of locals to set up our tent who watched with fascinated awe. Then came endless photos. We finally got left alone at about 6pm and went for a wash at the local tap. Still lacking an appetite and feeling somewhat queasy we force fed ourselves a plate of dal bhat for dinner and quickly excused ourselves to bed.

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Dinner at the local restaurant:

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Our stomachs did backflips all night and on day 101 we woke up feeling wretched. After several trips to the toilet we found ourselves back at the local restaurant sitting in front of a breakfast plate absolutely loaded with food: local ferns, potato, roti, rice, and dal. Any other day we would have been cheering at such a mountain of food, but just looking at it made us feel sick, and with a feeling of dread we realised we’d have to eat as much as possible to avoid causing offence. To make matters worse we were also served a glass of warm sweet milk which was absolutely covered in flies that promptly began getting stuck in the sticky sweet liquid, creating a sweet white fly soup.

Our breakfast chef:

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After battling our way through breakfast we managed to walk for about an hour before we both ended up in the bushes. We then continued to the top of a ridge where we found some Fanta and shade. Below us at the bottom of the valley was Dogadi, which we were told had a local hotel called the ‘Cottage Hotel’. We decided we felt too ill go on, and would stop there.

When we reached Dogadi we asked for the hotel and were told it was ‘up the hill’. Up the hill we were told the hotel was ‘just 30 minutes further’ up the road. After 30 minutes further up the road we were told the hotel was ’10 minutes further’ up the road. After 10 minutes we were told it the hotel was ‘just 1km further’ up the road. In hindsight this was probably a good thing because if someone had told us how far the Cottage Hotel really was then we both probably would have ended up in a puddle of tears by the side of the road. Driven by images of a delightful little cottage, we pushed on and on and at about 11am after 3 hours of walking which neither of us can really account for or believe happened, we reached Cottage Hotel, a thoroughly disappointing tin shed by the side of the road.

We were shown to a room with two beds that must’ve been about 10 degrees hotter than outside temperature which was already sweltering. To the left of us was another room that served as a local restaurant, and to the right of us was a room filled with workers with sewing machines – a true ‘sweat shop’ in the midday sun.

The Cottage Hotel:

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We spent the afternoon trying to escape the relentless heat, lying in the shade of a tree by a dried up river drinking water, napping, and periodically dashing into the bushes. We took some antibiotics but Ronnie brought them back up about half an hour later. When we returned to our tin lair as the sun was going down it was still baking hot. We lay in bed feeling sorry for ourselves and listening to podcasts whilst watching the light flicker on and off, along with all the other lights in the village.

On day 102 we were determined to make an escape from the tin oven. We were both able to hold down a bowl of minute noodles for breakfast, a good start. Thankfully the day was spent following a dirt road gradually downhill, so it was nice and easy walking, albeit in outrageous heat.

We stopped in Khalukheti for lunch, where we managed a plate of dal bhat whilst talking to three young men. Feeling drained, we wanted to stop in Khalukheti for the night. The three men told us the closest hotel was 2 hours away, then changed this to 4 hours away, then told us the hotel was not actually on our route. After much debate they decided there was a local hotel in Malumela, which was on our route and ‘4-5 hours away’. With no camping options we reluctantly hit the road. It actually only took us about 3.5 hours to Malumela, a stinking hot village by the river. We’d somehow managed to walk at total of 7 hours – a miracle we could only put down to a load of Oreos we’d forced in that¬†morning and our lunchtime ‘dal bhat power’.

Morning Oreos:

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We passed many boney buffalo behinds along the way, which rather worryingly always¬† reminded me of Ronnie’s skinny arse:

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As we arrived in Malumela we were hollered at by a policeman who insisted that we ‘come here right now’. He sat us down, asked for our passports, waved them around for a bit before moving onto the very important business of finding out where we were from, if we were married, and if we had kids. He’d clearly just fancied a chat. He told us Malumela had no hotel and tried to convince us to walk 10km up the road in the wrong direction to a hotel, a suggestion which we shutdown immediately. We’d rather camp. We were then walked a short way up to the local shop where we were introduced to a man who showed us to the attic of his home that was accessed by a teeny tiny door which we needed to take our packs off to fit through. It was baking hot and contained nothing but a dirty tarp on the mud floor. Relieved to not have to set up the tent, we thanked him enthusiastically.

Washing at the local tap – absolute heaven in the heat (with a spectator of course!):

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Our attic room:

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That evening Ronnie was starting to feel better however I took a turn for the worst and spent the evening heaving by the river. It was another miserable night, sweltering hot in our little attic room, sweating so much we stuck to our sleeping mats.

On day 103 we ran out of toilet paper. Disaster. We had no choice but to do it how the locals did it – with a bucket of water and our left hand; a character building experience that wasn’t actually as traumatic as we’d first imagined.

Feeling pleased to have stomached some noodles for breakfast:

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We spent the morning walking down a road for three hours to Jhota.

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As we plodded along the hot road, with no expectations regarding how far we would get we realised this sickness has been a good thing in some ways. Since a couple of weeks earlier, when we’d realised we were close to the finish, all we thought about was the finish. We’d been charging ahead, wholly focused on the end, counting down the days, pushing ourselves till we felt so exhausted we had little time or energy for the people around us. But now we’d been forced to slow down, and although we weren’t exactly smelling the roses we were taking things day by day, and drinking in the people and places around us.

In Jhota we were pleased to find a number of local hotels. Given we’d been passing only tiny towns made up of tin sheds all morning we didn’t like our chances of finding any places to stay further along the road so decided we’d stay and rest here, with a real bed, and a toilet close by. We spent the afternoon absolutely cooking in our room, the heat was unbearable. I lay my damp towel on me to cool down but it did nothing. It must’ve been 35 degrees or more. We went in search of toilet paper but managed to find only a packet of napkins which had a plastic like coating that tended to smear things around rather than clean them up.

My feelings about the heat:

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In amongst a number of sprints into the bushes we somehow managed to walk 32km on day 104.

Leaving our hotel in Jhota:

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En route:

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We passed countless women planting rice whilst the men ploughed the field with oxen.

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In Bagthala Bazaar we walked into a local restaurant for dal bhat, dripping with sweat. The restaurant owner seemed to feel sorry for us and hurried off to get a fan, which he turned on and plonked in front of us. It was glorious. I asked for some cold sprite and he told me he had none before bringing us a cold glass of coke each, with frozen bits all through it. What a God. As we were leaving he asked where we were going and offered us a taxi. When we declined he hurried over to chat to some men in the restaurant then returned to us and told us that these men were taxi drivers, ‘they will take you, don’t worry you don’t have to pay!’ We tried to explain what we were doing, but he continued to be a bit perplexed as to why we would want to walk.

As we continued hiking further up the road we came across more and more kind souls. While we stopped to eat some chocolate at the side of the road two men pulled up in a jeep, took one look at our sorry faces, and handed us an enormous cucumber. A man in a fuel truck also pulled over next to us to offer us a lift. I can only assume we must’ve looked rough.

A little further up the road we sat by a water tap drinking when two women teachers came to introduce themselves. They ended up walking with us for half an hour, asking us endless questions, and even asked us each to do a monologue about ourselves which they recorded on their phones so that they could ‘show our friends what you were like later’.

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We passed many more men ploughing the fields. These guys seemed to be having a particularly good time in the mud:

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While sitting on some steps taking a breather, these kids came from behind to check us out. We waved hullo via a selfie:

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We missed the short cut we were supposed to take to Jhapa and instead found ourselves in a small village called Bichgada Bazar where we found a lovely lady named Braoti who showed us to a room above her restaurant, where we collapsed in an exhausted pickle.

Having a wash in the river below Bichgada Bazar, just before another thunderstorm moved in:

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Day 105

With the prospect of finishing in two days we pushed out another long day of 9.5 hours, despite still feeling well under the weather. On the positive side we spent less time in the bushes and managed to locate toilets along the way, however rather devastatingly our napkin rations ran out.

I could have sworn it’s illegal to smile for a photo if you are Nepali. Despite looking totally grim in this photo, Braoti did like us I promise! Leaving Bichgada Bazar:

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A bunch of locals who came to chat and see us off:

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En route:

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We started out walking up a beautiful green valley, dodging millions of tiny frogs that leaped around our feet. Ronnie gave his trekking pole away to this lovely lady whose delighted grin also vanished when the camera came out:

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After 20 minutes we realised we were walking up the wrong valley, a frustrating mistake that added 40 minutes onto an already long day.

At midday we sat down by the side of the road in a village to have a rest and work out where we could get some food. A man and a bunch of kids came to watch us. We asked where a restaurant was and the man generously offered to cook us lunch.

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We were shown to what looked like his men’s den – a small shed full of beer bottles and cigarettes, with a bed in the corner. We napped on the bed whilst awaiting dal bhat while an audience of kids stood in the doorway. After forcing some rice down we continued on, up and over Ganayi Khan pass (2100m) and down into a valley, passing small villages.

Ganayi Khan pass:

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Just before Sela we saw a patch of grass by the river and decided to camp as the energy tanks were critically low. We washed in the river and cooked noodles for dinner as thunder rumbled in the distance. Just as we sat down to eat an enormous gust of wind came through, and with it a massive thunderstorm moved in. It was so incredibly quick. We scampered into the tent and battened down the hatches while the storm raged around us for a good few hours.

Setting up camp:

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On day 106 we walked from 7.45am to 5.30pm and only had two packets of noodles and two fruit boxes all day. A daft move really, but there were no places to eat, and our latest supply of noodles were stale making them totally unappetising and extremely hard to get down.

We passed the Api Nampa Conservation area check post mid morning, before beginning an absolutely horrendous climb from 900m to 2160m, straight up in the heat to reach the Sipti pass. The path petered out into animal tracks more and more as we climbed higher and we ended up crossing the pass in the wrong place and so climbing 100m more than we had to.

At the top of Sipti pass, looking down at the river we’d come from far far in the valley below:

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What followed was a long descent to Gogani, passing through many villages to reach a dirt road which we hobbled down, totally spent.

A goat having a chill out; lucky little bugger:

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We finally arrived in Gogani just as another thunderstorm hit, and were shown to a small attic room with a hole in the roof that sent rain cascading down onto my bed before a kindly man went up onto the roof to rearrange the slate tiles.

That evening we sat on our beds, trying hard to feel excited at the prospect of finishing tomorrow, but instead feeling nothing but total exhaustion.

On day 107 – LAST DAY!

After a week of pooey mayhem we both chowed down a delicious breakfast of omelette, roti and ghee-filled curry for breakfast, revelling in our new-found appetites. We made an easy two hour ascent to our very last pass, where we caught our first glimpse of India, and celebrated with a cup of tea.

Post breakfast smiles:

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Our first glimpse at our very last pass:

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Down the other side we asked three men for directions to Darchula, and they immediately jumped up from their seats and told us the ‘shortcut’ was this way. The one in the lead, Rajendra, spoke only a few words of English but mimed to us that they were heading in the same direction and that they would show us the way. The other man spoke basic English, and the other was his 16yr old son. Off we went down the shortcut into the valley, Rajendra leading the way in his leather shoes, suit pants, and shirt, bounding down the rocks with the agility of a ninja. We hurried after him. Rajendra fired endless questions at us which he mimed or asked the second man to translate. Whenever we couldn’t get it he would wave his arms around with a big grin and a chuckle, point at us and say ‘Nepali problem’ and then point at himself and say ‘English problem’.

We stopped for a tasty dal bhat for lunch, which again went down seamlessly.

At lunch, realising we only had one and a half hours to go:

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After another hour or so we got our first glimpse of Darchula, boy were we ready to get there.

As we reached the outskirts of Darchula we bid goodbye to the three men as they headed home:

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Finally, after 107 days walking, we reached Darchula and the suspension bridge that marked the border with India:

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FINISHED!!!

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From Darchula it took two 15 hour bus rides (plus an accidental 3hour bus trip back into the mountains when we got on a bus to the wrong Pokhara) to reach Pokhara, a lakeside town in the middle of Nepal where we lazed in a plush hotel for a week:

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How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Dolpo

In Dolpo we would make a detour north to Phoksundo Lake, before again heading west. Dolpo was only opened to foreigners in 1989, and still sees relatively few tourists today. The region is home to Tibetan Buddhists and practitioners of Bon religion, which is similar to, but predates Tibetan Buddhism.

Day 83
My knees were the size of melons when we got going in the morning. The constant downhill pounding wasn’t doing them any favors. We spent the day walking along a river, passing small villages made of stone with mud roofs, each adorned with Tibetan prayer flags.

We stayed the night in Chekpa, where we met three Austrian Architects and their team of porters, guides and donkeys. They were on their way to Upper Dolpo for a month where they would study the local architecture. We took the opportunity to ask their friendly guide about Kangmara La pass (5115m) which was the higher of two routes that we could take west from Phoksundo Lake towards Jumla in the coming days. We were told the pass was high, remote, likely quite snowy due to the exceptional amount of snowfall this year, and involved few days of self-sufficient camping. But it would be pretty straight forward to navigate. He told us there would be a lot of Nepali up there collecting yarsagumba which gave us a little more confidence knowing there would be other people around. We decided we’d give it a whirl.

Day 84 was another day spent walking by the turquoise river.

We were excited to find someone had written ‘GHT’ in yellow paint along the trail. This was surprising given the trail we were on to Phoksundo Lake was really an optional detour to the GHT.

After having lunch in a strange congregation of old army tents in Rechi, we got stuck behind a huge yak train. Two men were struggling to contain about 50 unruly yaks who seemed intent on making their life as difficult as possible, regularly launching escape attempts into the river or up the hill. A small baby brought up the rear of the train. The poor little guy was really struggling to walk and didn’t seem aware his back legs existed. When we later got chatting to one of the shepherds he told us that he’d been born that day and the thing hanging from his belly was an umbilical cord! Being forced to walk 10km your first day in the world is a rough introduction to life!

A steep and relentless 800m climb brought us to Ringmo, a pretty village of stone houses.

Views on the climb to Ringmo:

Ringmo:64706628_196361461268978_7226090254258667520_n

Beyond Ringmo we came to beautiful Phoksundo Lake where we pitched our tent on the shoreline and asked the owner of a small hotel to make us dal bhat for dinner.

On day 85 we decided to take a day at the lake to rest and explore. We loaded up on supplies for Kangmara La pass at a local shop, patched up my crumbling shoes with super glue, and visited the monastery which was perched on a hill by the lake. Unfortunately the local shops in Nepal include a very limited selection: biscuits (sugary unsubstantial biscuits), vodka, rum, beer, soft drink, chips, minute noodles, coffee, tea. Depressingly we again had to load up with excessive amounts of minute noodles and biscuits.

At the monastery:

On day 86 we descended to a small hotel by the river where we had dal bhat and ‘diamond cola’, made by yet another company trying to rip off the coke brand. It tasted like mouth wash. So far we’d come across ‘choice cola’, ‘diamond cola’, and ‘cute cola’, all written in curly white letters on a red background so that most of the time we fools didn’t even get a whiff of mischief until we’d sipped the bloody thing. Along with fake coke we’d so far found a load of other imaginative copyright infringements:Descending from Ringmo en route to Pungmo:

In Pungmo we had a bone-chilling scrub in the icy cold river before a dinner of dal bhat with wildly exciting wild asparagus, a real treat. Outside our room was a smelly sack full of what appeared to be an entire dried yak, in bits. A cat was making commendable attempts to get a taste of it so that whenever we left our room we’d find a dried bit of ribs, spine, or legs waiting for us in the corridor.

Over dinner the owner of the hotel asked where we were going. When we told him we were going over Kangmara La can you guess what he said? It was almost comical to hear this yet again before a pass; he told us that the pass was closed, that nobody, no Nepali nor tourist nor yarsagumba collector had been over the pass yet as there was too much snow. We’d been told the same thing before hiking to Phalut, before hiking the Lauribina pass to Lake Gosiakund, and before hiking the Kurpudada pass to Somdang and the Pansang pass to Tipling. Bloody snow! We felt anxious about going out there on our own but decided we had to check it out for ourselves. We could turn around if things got sketchy.

Day 87: Pungmo to base camp (4500m)

Leaving our hotel in Pungmo:

As we headed up the valley grey clouds began rolling in above us. We continued up, hoping they’d leave us alone.

After four hours we reached Lasa, a campsite, where we were overjoyed to come across about 15 Nepali who explained with a bit of charades that they’d come over Kangmara La that morning! They were on their way to Phoksundo for yarsagumba. Either our hotel owner was wrong and people had already been over the pass, or we were unbelievably lucky to be going up the same day they’d come over. Either way we felt huge relief, and our confidence levels were bolstered.

From Lasa the trail was very snowy and slippery with a steep drop off to the right. It started snowing soon after we left and got heavier and heavier.

After a further hour and a half we reached base camp (4500m), where we met some more Nepali coming down the snowy trail, each with a basket of camping gear strapped to their head, and each wearing plimsolls along with jeans or cotton pants. The people of this country are hard as nails.

We pitched our tent in heavy snow and wind as our fingers threatened to drop off with cold. Ronnie used his landscaping skills to construct a small stone ‘Trump Wall’ around the base of the tent to stop the flurries of snow from blowing under the fly. The afternoon was spent huddling in the tent listening to podcasts as the snowstorm made the tent shake and billow around us. We went to bed praying for better weather tomorrow when we’d cross the pass.¬†

Day 88: Base camp to Kaigaon

This was one of our biggest days; we crossed a 5150m pass including a 700m ascent and a 2700m descent, and in total walked 27km in 11.5 hours.

We woke at sunrise to a freezing cold tent but were grateful to see the storm had cleared and it was a bluebird day.

Absolutely everything was frozen. Getting our boots on was at first impossible, as they’d frozen solid into the position we’d left them in the night before. When they had finally defrosted enough to get them on it felt like we were sticking our feet in a deep freeze.

Morning light on our way towards Kangmara La:

The snow was deep but the icy cold temperatures made sure it held our weight so that we didn’t sink too much with each step. It took us three hours to reach the pass. The final hour involved clambering up a steep slippery slope which felt a little like climbing a water slide.

Yarsagumba collectors coming the other way:

At the top:

What goes up must come down:

We stopped by the river to cook a lunch of oats mixed with a sachet of coffee 3 in 1 mix, a watery bitter gruel that made us reconsider our aversion to minute noodles.

After a couple more hours we reached Toijum, a campsite high above the river that was full of rubbish. We’d planned to stay in Toijum but with no water source we had no choice but to continue. After a half an hour descent to the river crossing we found another flat area where we could potentially camp, but the river was so raging wild and inaccessible we couldn’t actually collect any water. Our energy levels were at rock bottom. We sat on a rock and stuffed a packet of noodles and a Snickers bar into us. With food in our belly we mustered the energy to push onto Hurikot two hours away, where there was another campsite and hotel.

In Hurikot we were directed to the local hotel which had only one bed in its only room. Determined for a good nights sleep we resolved to push on another half hour to Kaigaon, where we found a local hotel with two beds, a tasty dal bhat, and thankfully not a noodle in sight.

On day 89 we again found ourselves eating lunch in an old army tent in Chaurikot. We pulled out the map to try to work out how many days we had to go to Jumla, a bigger town that was rumored to have a nice hotel which we’d been daydreaming about for weeks. While looking at the maps we suddenly realised that we only had about 15 days of walking to go before we reached the Indian border! I’d somehow been doing the maths very wrong for weeks (I blame the altitude, it kills your brain cells) and had convinced us both that we had about 30 days to go! It was a shocking but exciting revelation which consumed our minds for the rest of the day.

Leaving Kaigaon:

Leaving Chaurikot:

That afternoon we climbed 1.5km to Maure Lagne pass (3900m) which was a bit of a grind after yesterday’s marathon day, but it was the steep descent on the other side that wreaked havoc with my knees, which felt like rusty hinges. We decided not to continue the further two hours to the village of Chotre, instead pitching our tent in the woods below the pass and reluctantly resuming our tiresome noodle diet.

On day 90 we walked through a very green valley passing hundreds of yarsagumba collectors and their donkeys on their way to the mountains.

After 28km we reached Garyjankot where we found a friendly Nepali man named Chitre who showed us to a room at his friend’s house. Chitre was living and working in Doha, and was on holiday in Nepal visiting his daughter, wife, and newborn son. We met lot young Nepali with similar stories along the way who had been or were going to far away places like Romania, Egypt, Dubai, South Korea, and Cyprus to work for a few years before returning home to their villages. Chitre took us on a tour of the village before sitting down to a fiery hot dal bhat with us.

On day 91 we were served a blazing hot potato curry for breakfast that we sweated our way through whilst doing our best to hold back tears. We walked only an hour before reaching Jumla. On our way into town we were joined by a young Nepali boy. He began walking with us in the same peculiar way many Nepali did: first by running a little way ahead of us up the trail before stopping abruptly, turning, loitering awkwardly for a moment until we got close, and then launching into a thorough and intense sideways stare whilst walking alongside us. At times we had our staring companions for kilometres at a time, stopping when we stopped, walking when we walked, almost always in complete silence.

In Jumla we had a spring in our step as we entered the gates of Hotel Kanjirowa, a hotel with a tiled ensuite, clean white sheets, fluffy doonas, and a hot-ish shower. Our dinner of spaghetti bolognese, burgers, fries, and fried chicken had us giggling with childish excitement.

The outskirts of Jumla:

On day 92 we had a rest day Jumla charging everything, scrubbing ourselves and our clothes, and having a good feed in preparation for the final push through the far west to the finish line.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Dhorpatan

This section of the trek would take us along the Guerilla Trek through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, an area that was formerly a Maoist stronghold, and that is now famous for blue sheep and yarsagumba. Blue sheep, which are not actually sheep, nor blue, can be hunted in this area for huge fees. Yarsagumba is a caterpillar fungus that can be found in meadows above 3000m, and that is sold to the Chinese for ever increasing prices as an aphrodisiac. Thousands of Nepali descend on the mountains from the beginning of May each year to search for yarsagumba, which is often their main source of income. They stay for months on end in large encampments, in rudimentary tents and shelters.

We knew little about this section other than it was high, remote, beautiful, and rarely visited by tourists. The only foreigner we saw was a French man who we found behind an enormous camera in one of the yarsagumba camps, scouting for a documentary.

Day 74 was hard work. We spent the day walking in the heat and humidity down a dirt road with jeeps, trucks, buses, cars and tractors kicking up clouds of dust around us. The valley we walked along was a beautiful green, and hummed with insects.

The heat quickly wore us down. We relied on Steven Fry’s friendly and melodic voice on his Great Leap Years podcast to provide the entertainment we needed to reach Darbang.

In Darbang we were shown to a strange spare room in the corner of a half constructed bank, which had a terrible pooey pong about it. With aching bodies and rain clouds coming in we took it, too tired to look for something else.

Day 75 was equally hard work. We started with a sweaty climb to the beautiful village of Dharapani, which was filled with orange and white mudbrick houses and surrounded by green terraces.

Wheat was in full harvest, and tarps covered in grains littered the ground, drying in the sun. My feet were giving me grief and felt unusually sore. We had to stop every hour or so to take the weight off and give them a breather.

The day finished with a 45 minute thigh burning climb to ‘Raj Hotel’, a small homestay in Mareni. The longer days were starting to take their toll and that evening we caught ourselves lapsing back into our old habits of spending ridiculous amounts of time simply staring at the wall with exhaustion.

Raj hotel:Day 76 started with a steep 1000m

climb to Jalja La (3400m) through a pink and purple rhododendron forrest.

My legs and feet were still giving me grief, they felt strange and painful, almost like they weren’t getting enough oxygen. We again had to rest regularly to get some releif.

The views from Jalja La were framed by pink, red, and purple rhododendrons.

From the pass we walked through a clearing full of yellow wildflowers and lady birds to reach a river where we cooked a packet of ramen that we’d bought in Tatopani a few days earlier. It was firey hot and turned our lips orange.

Ramen lips:

The next three hours were probably the hardest of the entire trip for me. The trail was easy, a gradual downhill, but my legs and feet were in total agony. I couldn’t work out what was going wrong. I couldn’t remember ever having legs this painful before. It was the first time I’d ever felt like I might not make it to the next town. After many many rest breaks and a few tears, we finally hobbled into Chenntung where we found Hotel Satkur, a beautiful little mud cottage that was impeccably clean and tidy and run by a lovely older couple who were incredibly warm and gentle. They sat us down on a yak skin rug and made us tea, then showed us to a mud floored room that had a little door opening out onto their paddock.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed under two thick blankets, feeling sorry for myself.

On day 77 we had Tibetan tsampa for breakfast, a kind of porridge made from roasted barley flour mixed with yak butter tea. It tasted a lot like cookie dough, delicious.

Leaving Hotel Satkur:

I loosened my waist strap before we set out, and bingo! My legs felt normal again. I felt stupid for not having tried this sooner. All I can assume is that I’d had it so tight it was somehow affecting my circulation… What a muppet I am.

Passing through Dhorpatan valley and into the rhododendron filled hills beyond:

That afternoon we came across a few mud houses just before the start of the long climb to Thakur.

We decided to call it a day. We found a lady in the doorway of one of the houses who agreed to cook us dal bhat for dinner.

Down by the creek below her house we found a beautiful campsite, surrounded by pink rhododendrons.

On day 78 we woke up to a freezing morning. Everything was frozen: the fly, the inner, the clothes we’d washed and hung the night before. Rigour mortis had begun in my socks, which were able to stand up on their own.

Breakfast stop before starting the climb:

We headed up the hill through pink, then purple rhododendrons. As we climbed higher and higher the landscape became more and more barren.

At around 4000m we crossed a pass which allowed us spectacular views over into the next valley and peaks beyond.

We reached Thakur that afternoon where we stayed with a lady called Sapana, along with her two grandsons who we hung out with for most of the afternoon. While we lay in a paddock having a nap they came and abruptly sat right in front of us, quiet and staring. We started a conversation in Nepali, asking them questions using our phrasebook, which quickly turned into a Nepali lesson.

We showed them our old Annapurna map and pretended to fly and land helicopters and planes between the helicopter pads and airports for a while before they got bored and began chasing each other around the field with the map, mostly with their bare bums hanging out as both their trousers had lost the elastic in the waist band. They clearly loved each other so much, it was very sweet. A little while later they ran off up the hill and came back with two bunches of purples rhododendron flowers for us.

Day 79
We had some noodles for breakfast and bought another 24 packets to add to our collection, as we would be camping in a few days.

Breakfast with Sapana and the boys:

When we reached the next town Pelma we passed a man from Kathmandu who spoke English and told us that the local hotel was closed as everyone had gone into the mountains to collect yarsagumba. Not even a restaurant was open. He kindly offered for us to stay with his family. He told us the next village Tatopani had a hotel but it was ‘80% likely’ that they’d also left for yarsagumba. We weren’t ready to stop for the night so decided we’d try Tatopani. We headed down to a small shop to stock up on yet more noodles – some for lunch and some extra for dinner that night in case the hotel in Tatopani wasn’t open. We’d now reached peak noodle – a total of 32 packets; the menu was looking grim. We also bought some eggs which we tried to poach in noodle broth for lunch. This seemed like a good idea until in went an egg that was off…. We hurriedly scooped it out as best we could. Should be fine right?

In the afternoon we went the wrong way to Tatopani. We were pointed to a trail on the other side of the valley, but when we reached it, we were told by an older lady that it was way too ‘o-kalo’ and ‘gah-hro’ – steep and dangerous. After much deliberation we decided to have a look at it and see how bad it was. The lady reluctantly showed us to the start of the trail. Man was it sketchy. There was a shear drop on one side down many hundreds of metres to the river below. At one point the trail became little more than about 10cm wide. I had a bit of a panick attack and convinced myself I was going to trip and go face first off the cliff. After a lot of deep breathing and distraction tactics we reached the next section where I was horrified to find the trail went down the side of the cliff. I went on my bum.

The cliff trail we came down:

We reached Tatopani, which consisted of only two houses at around 4pm. A lady agreed to let us camp in her front yard and feed us dal bhat that night. We spent the afternoon soaking and washing at the nearby hot springs – a tap and a small concrete pool. We ate our dal bhat in her kitchen which had a dirt floor covered in reed mats with a fire pit in the middle. There was no electricity so little shards of lit wood were placed on a mantel causing fire light to dance round the walls.

Day 80
Leaving our homestay:

We hiked up a ways then along through the villages of Him and Guibang, then a steep 1000m climb through pink rhododendrons to reach Dhule (3400m).

Dhule:

Dhule was a hive of activity with many groups of Nepalis on their way into the mountains for yarsagumba. There were a number of guesthouses full of people, bags of camping equipment, and speakers with Nepali music pumping. Donkeys and horses littered the surrounding hills. It felt like a festival.

We spent the afternoon napping in the sun then sitting on a little balcony watching a courageous chicken jump between the rooftops.

Balcony beers with 007 in the background:

On day 81 we woke exhausted. The night had been filled with the sound of horses neighing, people shouting, and donkey bells ringing. At one point someone poked a torch through the gap in the roof in our room that woke us sending blazing light in our faces. Before we left we were called to assist a young man who’d cut a big gash in his hand whilst chopping wood. We played doctor as best we could, slathering it in Betadine and dressings, and suggested he go to the local health post for stitches.

We were accompanied by a number of Nepalis as we made our way higher into the mountains. The wealthy rode horses whilst others had a stack of belongings loaded into a basket strapped to their head.

Misty mountains:

We reached Sen Khola campsite and made noodles for lunch before climbing a steep uphill to reach Pupal Phedi, the first yarsagumba encampment, full of colourful tents.

Pupal Phedi:

We continued up and across a snowy Panidal La pass (4500m). Ronnie was so intent on getting a photo of the reflections in this frozen creek that he ended up falling in up to his knees into the icy water beneath, much to my amusement. What a plonker.

We reached Purbang (4000m), an abandoned yarsagumba encampment, at 4pm after 7 hours of walking. It looked a bit like the apocalypse; rubbish and debris littered the ground, and an old decrepit Ferris wheel stood eerily at its centre.

We set up camp and had yet more noodles for dinner.

Day 82 was a big day – 24km, 500m ascent, 2500m descent, and Jang La pass (4500m). Our boots were frozen solid when we woke up, and took a long time to defrost before we could get them on. We reached Jang La pass (4500m) after two hours. Beautiful purple wildflowers covered the ground.

Reaching Jang La:

We tobogganed on our bums down the other side:

 

Passing more purple wildflowers:

After still more noodles for lunch we somehow managed to navigate our way through a leafy forrest to Dunai, relying solely on our 7 year old trail notes as the trail wasn’t marked on our maps. We limped into town feeling drunk with fatigue, miserable and grumpy, and collapsed into a basic room at The Blue Sheep Inn.

Dunai:

Dunai marked the beginning of Dolpo district, and the start of the trail that would take us to Phoksundo Lake, said to be the most beautiful lake in Nepal.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Annapurna

The Annapurna circuit has it all: awesome scenery, friendly locals, western comforts (here we achieved a record 5 days of consecutive hot showers), and relatively short days and climbs. A lot of people had told us that the recently built dirt road to Manang had ruined the Annapurna Circuit, however we barely noticed it was there. We rarely had to walk on the road, and when we did we were passed by no more than one or two vehicles a day.

On day 63 we had a rest day in Dharapani washing clothes and grazing.

Peanut butter layered on chocolate cake proved a good combination:

On day 64 we spent the day walking up a dirt road towards Chame.

Two sisters made us a tasty dal bhat for lunch, and served us a bowl of apple, our first fruit in weeks:

In Chame we fed our momo addiction at a local restaurant.

Our lovely momo chef:

That evening we had a relaxing dip in the hot springs, along with a bunch of locals and porters.

Chame hot springs:

The morning of day 65 was a morning of food. Our favourite. As we walked through the village we stumbled across all kinds of delights, first some mangoes, then real coffee, then dark chocolate coated digestives, then some fresh samosas. And then after one hours easy walk we reached a western looking cafe by an apple orchard which sold apple donuts and freshly squeezed apple juice! We of course diligently scoffed all of the above.

Mangoes!

Apple donut cafe:

Further along the trail we came across an impressive curving rock face known as Swarga Dwar:

We spent the afternoon in Upper Pisang, where our lodge had a stunning view of Annapurna II towering over us:

On day 66 after a steep uphill climb we passed through Ghyaru, a beautiful old stone town on the hill top. Here we were very pleased to find a clever entrepreneurial lady waiting for us with a basket full of freshly baked chocolate scrolls and apple pie. We of course had to sample both, twice.

Ghyaru:

A man ploughing the field with his oxen in Ghyaru:

Prayer flags on top of a house in Ghyaru:

Looking back at Ghyaru:

The valley floor:

Shortly after Ghyaru we came across a tiny teahouse with an epic view, where we stopped for lunch.

View from our lunch spot:

The landscape began to look alot like Canada as we continued on towards Manang:

Just outside Manang we passed through Braga, a stunning old village with an ancient monastery perched on the hill in amongst the rock.

When we reached Manang we were greeted with all manner of western delights including cafes with baked goods and real coffee, a small cinema, and a convenience store selling an array of exciting snacks including dark chocolate and muesli bars!

That night we felt like kings as we had our fifth consecutive hot shower, and ate Yak burgers with fries for dinner.

Houses in Manang old town:

The morning of day 67 was a good one; I had a real cappuccino from an espresso machine and we both ate french toast for breakfast.

Manang was so comfortable, too comfortable. It almost felt like we were finished and back in Kathmandu, so it was hard to get going again. Before we left went to a few stores to buy supplies, and got a little carried away. Our loot included chocolate bars, biscuits, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, yak salami, yak cheese and an entire loaf of bread. We were feeling very pleased with ourselves until we put our packs on.

Leaving Manang:

The first part of the morning was a gradual uphill, following a river. Unlike the rest of the GHT where you can go steeply up and down all day only to end up a tiny bit higher than you started, the Annapurna circuit has a pleasant gradual incline which means you don’t even notice how much you’ve climbed.

At Yak Kharka (4050m) we stopped for our mouth wateringly delicious yak salami and yak cheese sandwiches.

We had to scamper under a rockfall to eventually reach Thurong Phedi that afternoon.

On day 68 we were up at 3.30am to avoid the high winds that often hit Thurong La pass at midday. With apple pie in our belly we set out with our torches at 4.30am.

The first section up steep rocky scree leaving Thurong Phedi was one of my favourites of the whole trip: it was totally still and silent apart from the jabbering of some pheasant-like birds in the distance; dark mountains stood sentry behind us lit up by the moon; Annapurna IV lay down the valley, a fluffy blanket of cloud slowly moving off it’s side as if it was waking up for the day; and up the rocky scree ahead we could see only darkness apart from what looked like two strings of lanterns weaving their way up the hill as two groups of hikers climbed the switchbacks with their head torches on.

Sunrise was beautiful.

We reached Thurong La pass (5416m) relatively easily as there wasn’t too much snow.

Thurong La:

The descent took us into a dry and arid valley:

After 3 hours we reached the intriguing town of Muktinath, a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists which housed an impressive monastery. As we walked into town we passed crowds of pilgrims making their way up the monastery, some on horseback or donkeys, and some having a nap on a stretcher carried by four men. We watched them go by enviously.

From Muktinath we walked a further half hour to Jarkhot, a medieval looking town perched on the side of a hill, full of houses made of mudbrick with tiny windows, many looking like castles.

We found a nice lodge with an upstairs balcony too good to resist.

Views from Jarkhot:

On Day 69 we sat down with our maps at breakfast, we had to make a decision on how to cross the next section. The high route looked remote and exciting, but also involved carrying enough supplies for a week of camping at high altitudes of 4000m+, and crossing a series of 5500m+ passes. Considering the amount of snow this year (many had told us it was the highest snowfall in 30 years), we decided the risk of getting snowed in was too high. We instead decided we’d head south to Beni and then northwest through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, which would still be high and remote, but less so than the high route.

Leaving Jarkhot:

As we reached the intersection of two valleys near Kagbeni we were greeted by enormous gusts of wind like we’d never experienced – there would be total calm and silence and then suddenly we’d be unable to walk (or pee) in a straight line.

Ronnie getting blown away:

The oasis that is Kagbeni:

The afternoon was spent walking along a busy dirt road towards Jomsom, with gale force winds and passing vehicles kicking up dust into our every orifice.

The bleak streets of Jomsom:

From Jomsom we continued on to Marpha, an oasis like town amidst the brown dirt, filled with green apple orchards, veggie patches, and old style Thakali houses, with a big monastery at its centre.

Green fields in Marpha:

Dirt and zinc masks after the dusty road:

Streets of Marpha:

Before dinner we went to explore. We’d heard there was a distillery here that made apple brandy and apple cider. As we walked down the charming main street we came across a guesthouse with a sign outside advertising homemade apple cider. Inside was a cozy lounge area with lanterns and plants. We were served 1L of apple cider in a recycled water bottle. We happily chatted and sipped away until an hour later it was time to return to our hotel for dinner. With no food in our belly, we had finished the cider and felt hilariously drunk. As we tottered out the owner told us the cider was 15% ! We stumbled up the main street back towards our hotel, each stubbing our toes repeatedly on the uneven paving. We were both concentrating so hard on lifting our feet and not falling into the many holes that gave way to the open sewer beneath that we managed to walk straight past our hotel to the other side of the village before realising where we were.

On day 70 we dragged our sorry selves out of bed, both with booming headaches. As we were leaving we saw a large scale which we used to weigh our bags, which were disapointingly heavy – mine at 15kg, and Ronnie’s at 17kg. Well above the 12kg base weight we’d been aiming for.

Desperate to get off the road we saw there was a trail on the other side of the river which we could take, we headed along this and found some much nicer scenery.

We reached Kalopani after about 5hours and 22km.

On day 71 we had a ‘club sandwich’ for breakfast – a curious layered sandwich with tuna, sausage, egg and coleslaw. It wasn’t totally unpleasant, but safe to say that sausage and tuna are not complementary. Of course we ate every last crumb.

We carried on along the river to Tatopani, passing cows and buffalo chowing down marijuana, which seems to grow everywhere here.

We arrived in Tatopani, a hot humid town famous for hot springs just as it started pouring. We had a chicken leg with vegetables and potatoes for dinner, which was magical.

On day 72 we had a rest day in Tatopani washing, soaking in the hot springs, and enjoying the culinary delights as it would be our last day on the tourist trail.

Day 73 was spent walking along the road to Beni which was thankfully wet and muddy from last night’s rain which meant much less dust. It was also very quiet, we understood why when we came across the first of three road blocks which were causing huge traffic jams full of jeeps and trucks. Thankfully, being on foot, we were able to walk right through them all, and they actually resulted in a much quieter road and more pleasant journey.

We arrived in steamy hot Beni around 3.30pm, where we went for a haircut. The male hairdresser fussed over Ronnie for about an hour and a half, carefully snipping and combing, and even shaving a small part down the side of his head. I on the other hand was given a quick snip on the top with nothing done to the back (future mullet here I come) followed by a ‘massage’ that consisted of a lot of finger cracking and head slapping. It was clear who he liked better.

Ronnie ended up looking so shmick he could have been a character on Peaky Blinders. Before and after:

Beni marked the end of Annapurna Circuit and the beginning of the ‘Guerilla Trek’ through Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Manaslu circuit

It is compulsory to have a guide for the manasulu circuit. This made Manaslu a totally unique experience. This trail offered some of the most beautiful scenery we’d encountered, but we found that locals, particularly lodge owner’s, were very reluctant to speak to us, and would immediately ask for our guide whenever we tried to ask something. People didn’t seem at all interested in even trying to understand our (admittedly awful) Nepali. We found this quite frustrating and a little sad, as it drove a solid barrier between us.

Day 54

In Machhikhola we found a number of hotels, full of tourists. Here we would have a rest day whilst awaiting our guide, Bala, who was traveling from Kathmandu to meet us. When we arrived we gratefully chowed down a couple of bananas and scrubbed ourselves in the hot shower.

That afternoon we met a little girl who must have been 8 or 9 years old, a daughter of one of the owners, named Sumitar GURU! No matter how many times we attempted to pronounce ‘Guru’ we got a look of disdain, a head shake, and a ‘Sumitar GURU’! We never got it right, and I think she liked it that way. She was a little rascal, totally mischievous. We first met her when we were sitting in our bedroom relaxing and she was playing knock and run on the poor tourists taking a shower opposite our room. She later entered our bad books when she started playing knock and run on our bedroom door while we were taking an afternoon nap.

Excitement over fried chicken and beer for dinner:

Day 55 was our rest day. It was hot and humid. We went for a walk down to the river and to the local pool, a series of three concrete vats that had nasty green water in them. We quickly gave up any ideas of swimming. On our way back we passed three men covered in blood, butchering a huge buffalo which they’d just slaughtered. They were skinning the head and body, it was fascinating to watch.

Back to the hostel our guide Bala arrived. Bala was 47yrs old, he always wore a grin, was endlessly cheerful, and preferred to sing his sentences rather than simply say them. Bala had been a porter for many years and for the past seven years he’d been working as a guide. We quickly realised we’d landed ourselves an excellent guide in Bala – he always knew when to step in, and when give us space, which was important after walking independently for so long.

That afternoon we sat down with Bala, had an impromptu Nepali lesson (this became a daily occurrence), and planned our route – we would attempt to do the 10 day circuit in 7 days.

That night we went to bed early but couldn’t sleep due to the heat. Just as I was dozing off I was woken by someone outside our room with a torch, which lit up our room. The light suddenly got much brighter and I opened my eyes to see someone had reached in through our barred window, pulled back the blind, and was shining the torch right at my half naked body, which was starfished across the bed due to the heat. I jumped up and ran to the door to yell abuse at whoever it was. Outside our door was another figure wearing a headtorch: Sumitar GURU’s mum, who stood there giggling. Furious, I looked over to the left and saw the culprit: Sumitar, with a headtorch strapped on, looking over at me nonchalantly whilst pretending to be busy putting a lock on the room next door. What. A. Little. Monkey. I gave her a long and thorough scowl before returning to bed.

Day 56: Machhikhola to Jagat

On day 56 we spent the morning walking along the river on a dirt road that was in the process of being extended along this valley to Tibet. It felt like we were walking through a construction site all morning – we passed many men, in thongs, wearing no ear plugs/muffs, with one foot on a jack hammer. At one point the trail led beneath a cliff, and on the edge of the cliff stood three men, jack hammering away at the very ground they stood on. Another few men went about shovelling the loose rocks off the cliff and onto the trail below. We waited a little then were waved on to say the coast was clear, despite the jack hammers continuing above. Three locals who’d also been waiting with us sprinted along the path under the cliff. This was the first time we’d seen a Nepali run, and we figured if the locals were scared of rockfall, we definitely should be. So we quickly followed suit and legged it along the trail under the cliff. A few days later we met a British lady who told us she’d met a tourist who’d been hit in the head by a rock whilst passing under this cliff – apparently he’d luckily been travelling with a nurse who had some steri-strips and was able to patch him up.

In the afternoon we passed potentially one of the world’s most dangerous work sites:

We watched as three men scampered about 80m up the side of these cliffs to continue carving a road out of the rock. They wore no harness, no hardhat, no nothing. It reminded us of a game of Lemmings.

On day 57 we hiked a further 7.5 hours up valley to Dyang, where I came painfully close to beating Ronnie at Chess, but alas failed yet again.

En route to Dyang:

In Dyang we met a Brazilian who had a few days earlier accidentally knocked his pack off the side of the trail, and down an 800m cliff into the river below. Apparently a monk had come to his rescue – he scaled the cliff, and collected the bag from the river, which was so full of water that he had to dump the sleeping bag and some clothes so he could carry it.

On day 58 we walked along the river through a huge gorge which had little villages perched on cliffs either side.

The heat and undulations were taking their toll; we were releived to reach Namrung after 5 hours. Today marked the half way mark for the whole trip which we celebrated with an unexpected steaming hot shower.

On day 59 we walked through beautiful stone villages to reach the village of Lho for lunch, which looked like something out of a fairytale.

Lho in the background, it’s monastery perched on the hill:

We were still feeling totally exhausted, so stuffed ourselves to the brim with dal bhat to try to boost our energy. It seemed that the lack of protein in our diet was starting to take its toll.

In the evening in Samagaun we managed to secure a can of tuna to go with dinner, a welcome protein hit.

Reaching Samagaun:

Day 60: Samagaun to Dharamsala

After an evening of thunder and lightning everything had a white coating of snow as we continued up the valley from Samagaun the next morning towards the Tibetan village of Samdo.

Samdo in the distance:

From Samdo we walked uphill with snow and hail battering our faces for a further two hours to reach Dharamsala (4400m). Despite the weather, the altitude, and our tired bodies, this climb was really enjoyable, and was made more exciting when we heard an almighty rumble and looked over to see a huge avalanche come down the other side of the valley.

In Dharamsala we were shown to our room: a thin metal portacabin which had a layer of wet muddy stones as a floor and one big ‘bed’ filling most of the room which consisted of a thin mat ontop of a sheet of plywood, ontop of some more wet stones. It felt like a fridge and smelt like a teenage boy’s bedroom, but was welcome shelter amidst the snow and hail. We had a quick peek in the rooms next door to see if we could do better and found that they all had their windows and doors wide open and the beds were totally covered in snow.

We went bed praying for good weather tomorrow when we’d attempt the Larke La pass. We didn’t want to get snowed in here.

The snowstorm continued overnight. Ronnie slept under the window and received a dusting of snow to his face halfway through the night.

On day 61 we were up at 4am. This was the highest altitude we’d slept at so far, and we both had headaches, lacked an appetite, and felt a bit sick. We force fed ourselves a small bowl of muesli for breakfast, which must’ve been housed somewhere near a fuel source as it tasted like it was laced with WD40. As we set off the weather was cloudy, but thankfully the snow had stopped. Two tour groups had left before us which was good news as they’d track out a trail through the snow.

Leaving Dharamsala:

The first section was almost flat through a snowy valley.

After about two hours we caught up to the front pack and started ahead, Bala leading the way and making a path. Frustratingly our water bladders had frozen after about half an hour of walking so we were both carrying 1.5kg of water which was of no use.

Although the trail markers followed only a gentle incline, tracking out a path was difficult work through the deep snow, and by this stage the altitude was taking its toll. Bala refused to let us go first, and so worked the hardest.

Looking back down the valley:

After a couple of hours all three of us were knackered. One of the tour groups was coming up quite close behind us, and Bala suggested to let them pass so they could track out the path and save us some energy. We gratefully obliged.

Bala:

Following the others was much easier. They stopped a few times for a break and we loitered behind, waiting for them to go in front again. We finally reached the pass after about 4.5hours, feeling totally exhausted.

On the pass:

Down the other side we stumbled and fell through deep snow before sliding on our butts for a good few hundred metres.

We reached Bimtang at 1.30pm after 7hours walking. Bala later told us it was the longest he’d ever walked through snow. In Bimtang we found a little cottage room where we spent the afternoon napping.

On day 62 we awoke to clear skies and stunning views.

Bimtang:

We hiked down the valley by the river for the whole day, Manaslu North directly ahead looking down on us with sheer faces so steep.

We eventually reached Dharapani, a little village by the river, where we had the unexpected pleasure of scrumptious popcorn chicken with our dal bhat dinner. Dharapani marked the end of Manaslu and the beginning of Annapurna, so we had an evening of beers to bid Bala goodbye.

Approaching Dharapani:

Saying goodbye to Bala:

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

The Ruby Valley (take two)

After twelve days hiking the Tamang heritage trail and Langtang Valley we were physically and mentally ready for a second attempt at the Ruby Valley. We had enjoyed our ‘mini break’ but were busting to make some westward progress. After twelve days of good weather we were hoping that at least a little of the snow that had made our last attempt so difficult would have melted.

Day 49: Syabrubesi to Gatlang

On day 49 in Syabrubesi we woke up at 5.30am to a booming thunderstorm. Rain poured down outside. We knew the Kurpudada and Pansang Passes that we were about to reattempt in the coming days would be getting yet another walloping with snow. We asked the owner of our hotel if she could please call the lodge in Somdang to check it was open. When she heard we were planning to go to Somdang she immediately told us ‘no tourist go to Somdang anymore’ because ‘there are bad people on trail’ and ‘tourists disappeared on the trail’. With a few more questions we heard this happened nine years ago. This combined with a section in our trail notes which states we should be watchful of local theives made us slightly uneasy.

We went about town collecting supplies. Aiming for a maximum calories to weight ratio meant minimal nutrition:As we headed up the steep hill towards Gatlang we made elaborate plans for what we would do if the ‘bad people’ came for us. Some of which perhaps became a tad too creative.

In Gatlang we again stayed at Tamang Home where we were literally welcomed with open arms and treated like Kings. Sadly Changba was too tired to pay us much attention and quickly passed out in a bundle of blankets in the corner of the dining room. We went to bed early, tired and nervous about the coming days. In the middle of the night we were woken by yet more heavy rainfall meaning yet more snow up on the passes.

Day 50 – Gatlang to Somdang
The next morning we were awoken by one of the Israelis staying in the room next door making a turkey gobble sound as little Changba ran in and out of their room squealing with delight.

As we looked up toward the Kurpudada pass our hearts sank as we saw it was covered in a fresh white blanket of snow. We trudged off in the rain, feeling miserable. But as we got higher we gained confidence as we saw that despite the recent snowfall there was still significantly less snow than there had been two weeks ago.

We reached the Kurpudada pass relatively easily as the snow was rarely more than ankle deep.Similar to last time we were quickly shrouded in a thick mist, which made it difficult to judge depth and see the undulations in the snowy road ahead of us. We stumbled and lurched our way down the other side, looking like we’d both just downed a bottle of wine.

We reached Somdang after six hours, an hour quicker than last time. Again the village looked bleak and desolate in the thick mist, but there was much less snow compared with when we’d last been here. The houses no longer had a snowy lid on their roofs. We wondered if this town ever saw the sun.

Somdang:

As we reached the hydro plant we saw Suman Yoshi standing outside. He came and said hullo, and seemed quite surprised to see us back. Suman told us a group of nine tourists and four Nepali guides had gone over the Pansang Pass to Tipling two days ago. This was brilliant news as it meant not only that the pass was passable, but also ensured fresh footprints to follow. Cheering, we headed for one of the lodges where a young Nepali man and his mother greeted us.

The dining room we’d seen two weeks ago still retained a precarious tilt, but the rotten cabbage was gone:That evening another storm came through causing hail to come through the roof all over our beds. We went to bed crossing our fingers and toes for good weather tomorrow.

On day 51 we woke up to a bluebird sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. We felt absolutely elated.

We set out, following a snow covered road. Thankfully the snow was rarely more than ankle deep.

For the first time we could see further than our nose and realised what a beautiful valley we were walking in.

As we got higher we could see beautiful views of the Kurpudada pass we’d crossed yesterday, Lauribina and Gosiakund, and Langtang beyond.Ironically, the avalanche prone section we’d heard and read about was no longer, as the road had been extended through this section making our path much wider and no trouble at all.

After three hours of relatively easy walking we reached the Pansang Pass – which turned out to be one of the easiest passes we’ve done! Two weeks ago it would have been difficult due to the depth of snow and lack of food. But we likely would have made it, albeit very hungry, tired and grumpy.

Views from the pass into the next valley:

We tobogganed on our bums down the other side before entering another beautiful pink rhododendron forrest.

After seven hours hiking, 600m elevation gain and 2km elevation descent we reached Tipling. Our knees were creaking like wooden floorboards. We found a homestay where we had a very public wash using the water tank in the front yard.For those of you who’ve never tried it, it turns out that scrubbing your bits and peices whilst fully clothed is quite a challenge, particularly when you have an audience.

On day 52 we thanked our friendly host and headed on our way toward Lapagaon in light rain.En route to Lapagaon or ‘Lapa’.

We passed a few people carrying dozens chickens to market:

A uphill climb through the forest eventually brought us to Lapagaon.

Stuck behind a door with legs on the ascent to Lapa:In Lapa a little boy showed us to the local hotel – a dark dingy tavern with three rooms sandwiched into the attic space. We were given a quirky little room accessed via two other rooms, with a patchwork of wood and corrugated iron making up the walls.We were joined that night by a friendly Canadian/American group who worked for an NGO and were touring local villages where they had projects.

Day 53 involved a nice morning followed by a rather shitty afternoon. We started off with a brilliant breakfast of chapati, egg and donuts. Then a steep climb out of Lapa, gaining 1000m elevation to reach Mangro pass (2700m).

Leaving Lapa:

On the other side of the pass we were treated to another stunning pink rhododendron forrest.

We reached a cold, misty clearing called Nauban Kharka where we had planned to camp at 12.30pm, after only four hours of walking. We decided to keep going to the nearest village called Yarsa, three hours away, where we’d heard there was a local hotel. This is when the fun began. To cut a long story short we ended up having a slight disagreement about which path to take and unintentionally took an enormous detour that almost got us lost, before finally finding our way back to the trail by zigzagging down through steep rice terraces. From there, Yarsa was a further hour up a relentless steep stone staircase. When we finally reached Yarsa after nine hours walking we’d both come close to tears, and everything was hurting: our feet, knees, and our pride.

In Yarsa we were thoroughly dissapointed to find that the local hotel was in fact the local shop which had a spare single bed on it’s covered balcony. That night we slept like statues so that we didn’t knock each other off the bed.

After a steep downhill climb the next morning we crossed a river which brought us firmly back onto the tourist trail and to Machhikhola, the beginning of Manasulu circuit.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

The Tamang Heritage Trail and Langtang Valley

We spent days 39-48 walking in the wrong direction on The Tamang Heritage Trail and in Langtang Valley, waiting for the snow to melt before we could again attempt the passes to cross The Ruby Valley. The hiking days were relatively short and had smaller elevation changes compared to our days on the GHT, so it felt a bit like a mini break. Lodges were plentiful, and well equipped. We ate well, slept well, showered well, and rested well. We walked the majority of this section with the friends we’d made in Gatlang: Agata, an incredibly fit 68 year old British-Australian man, who must’ve been a mountain goat in former life; Marita and Nicola, two teachers from Geelong who ended up being known as ‘slowly’ and ‘slowly’ due to the helpful advice they constantly received from locals; and Marita and Nicola’s friendly and knowledgeable guide Prem (pbn@hotmail.com), who always had a beaming smile and a story to tell.

Stories and photos from the Tamang Heritage Trail and Langtang Valley

Day 39: Gatlang to Tatopani

Looking over Gatlang in the morning sun:

Langtang smoking in the distance as we headed down the valley:

Beautiful Tatopani:

Tatopani or ‘hot water’ used to be the site of some popular hot springs, which sadly dried up after the 2015 earthquake.As we reached Tatopani we got pounced on by a gang of little girls, the eldest Prabeena, 12yrs, took us to Hotel Pilgrims, a lodge owned by her family – but Prabeena basically ran the place. Prabeena had incredibly good English, and she knew it. She oozed confidence and strutted around the place, making sure everything was in order. After dinner Prem asked Prabeena to tell a story. She took the stage and proceeded to go on a 15 minute non stop spiel describing the town’s history and gossip. She barely took a breath. It took intense concentration to keep up with the turn of events, something that did not come easily after a days hiking.

The only time we ever saw Prabeena being shy: in front of the camera:

Day 40: Tatopani to Nagthali

This was a dreamy day: only two hours hiking, with awesome views, a relatively flat trail, and a one hour tea break.

Beautiful morning mountain views in Tatopani:

Beautiful views en route to Nagthali:

Views from Nagthali:

That night we had yak curry for dinner which tasted a bit like beef with a dash of smelly foot. I was starving and my body seemed to be craving red meat so I had three serves whilst the others politely poked the meat around their plate.

Day 41: Nagthali – Nagthali viewpoint – Thuman

Before heading to Thuman we went up to a viewpoint (3720m) which offered views of countless peaks in Tibet, the Ganesh and Langtang Himals.

Enroute:

Views at the top:

Leaping above the peaks:

Day 42: Thuman to Briddim

Nicola and Marita at the Thuman lodge:

A sketchy suspension bridge at the bottom of the valley, which had been damaged on the far side by a landslide and patched up with stone, corrugated roofing, and bits of wood. Luckily a French tour group was ahead of us and tested it out before we had to:

Day 43: Briddim to Sherpagaon

Leaving Briddim:

Entering the Langtang Valley:

Marita cutting my overgrown mop in Sherpagaon. Despite my worried face it turned out suprisingly well!

Day 44: Sherpagaon to Gordatabela

The gang, from left: me, Marita, Agata, our friendly lodge owner, Prem, Ronnie, Nicola, the lodge owner’s relative.

Heading up the valley:

Day 45: Gordatabela to Kyangin Gompa (3800m)

Porters coming down the valley:

As we continued on up we got stuck behind donkey train after donkey train carrying supplies up the valley, who farted their way along in front of us throwing wafts of noxious gases our way. This dude was on his morning tea break and seemed to be having a particularly bad hair day:

The 2015 earthquake caused a massive landslide in the Langtang valley, that totally wiped out the village of Langtang, and the 300 people who were in it at the time. We heard that 200 bodies still remain buried under the rubble.

Looking out over the landslide, where Langtang village once was:

Four years later, the trees on the other side of the valley still lie on the ground radiating outwards from the landslide site – the airwave was apparently so massive that the whole hill was stripped of trees.

Walking through the landslide you could get a sense of the enormous scale: the rubble stood about 2-3 storeys high:

If you look closely to the bottom right of this photo you can see the only building that survived the landslide – a guest house that was tucked under the cliff:

New Langtang village:

A stupa remembering the lives lost, a site heavy with emotion:

Heading up the valley past long mani walls towards Kyangin Gompa:

Donkeys have rough life in this country. They carry 50kg each up and down the valley, and are constantly walloped with sticks and stones.

Donkey trains:

This poor donkey had reached his limit. Shortly after I took this photo a man came running down the hill with two bottles of coke. He kicked the donkey in the ribs to get it to stand, then shoved two bottles of coke down its throat. Apparently this is the local donkey remedy.

Reaching Kyangin Gompa, quite the metropolis:

Day 46: Kyangin Gompa – Tsergo Ri(4900m) – Kyangin Gompa

Day 46 was spent climbing Tsergo Ri, a brutal uphill slog through the snow at high altitude. We were rewarded with awesome 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks.

Setting out at sunrise:

En route:

Agata, Kyangin Gompa behind:

Valley views:

Nearing the top:

On the top:

Day 47: Kyangin Gompa to Pairo

Passing ‘The Hard Rock cafe’:

As we dropped altitude we entered a beautiful jungle:

Day 48: Pairo to Syabrubesi

In Pairo we discovered some rudimentary hot springs: a hole dug by the river lined with a big tarp which had a little black pipe running incredibly eggy spring water into it. We soaked for an hour and half after breakfast. The pong lasted for days.

Views from our Pairo lodge, which clung precariously to the side of the hill:

The route out to Syabrubesi held some more questionable suspension bridges:

Back in Syabrubesi we washed ourselves, our clothes, and stocked up on supplies, readying ourselves for our second attempt at the Ruby Valley.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

The Ruby Valley

After some time on the tourist trail we were looking forward to The Ruby Valley, a trail that sees very few if any tourists. The Ruby Valley would take us across the Himalaya to the beginning of Manaslu circuit, another popular trail.

Day 36 started with a steep uphill from Syabrubesi to reach Khondo Bhanjyang. Luckily we’d stocked up on donuts and chocolate bread from the bakery which kept the fires burning.

Leaving Syabrubesi:

The rest of the day was spent following a nice flat road to Gatlang. Rhododendrons and pines framed spectacular mountain views.

We reached Gatlang at midday after 4 hours. Gatlang was a beautiful town full of incredibly friendly Tamang people – a group known for their friendliness, hospitality, hardworking nature, and craftsmanship. Some of the traditional houses, with beautiful ornate patterning around the windows, had withstood the earthquake.

We went to a guesthouse for lunch and a local specialty: ‘Dendo’; cornmeal mash, lentils, nettle soup, and potato curry. The lady came out of the kitchen shortly after taking our order with a sieve and a pair of tongs and went to collect the nettles for the soup – the same rascally nettles that stung my hand so badly a week ago! The nettle soup turned out to be relatively tasteless (and thankfully harmless) bright green sludge. The cornmeal on the other hand did have a suspicious bitter tang to it. We were starving so ate as much of it as we could tolerate.

Back at our guesthouse that evening we were served delicious dal bhat by our incredibly friendly host, who was full of endless smiles and giggles. Her little boy Changba gave us big hugs, and entertained us with his extravagant howling designed to get his mum’s attention.

Mum and little Changba, of ‘Tamang Home’ guesthouse:

As we ate dinner Changba decided it was time for some dancing. He put some music on, jumped up on the seats, and began wiggling his hips and flashing his belly. He made admirable yet hilarious attempts at the Bollywood shoulder thrust.

Little Changba dancing the night away:

On day 37 our plan was to head from Gatlang (2238m) over the Kurpudada pass (3710m) to Somdang (3258m) before going over the Pansang pass (3830m) to Tipling the next day.

Gatlang village (centre) with the Kurpudada pass beyond:

We had a triple breakfast and got a packed lunch of chappati and omelette for lunch as there would be no villages along the way. As we hiked up some stone steps leaving the village a well dressed young man came the other way holding a big bunch of rhododendron leaves with a few bright red flowers poking out. He looked just like he was off to propose to someone. On reflection we realised he was probably going to feed his goats. Ronnie concluded that he must love them.

Prayer flags marking Parvati Lake:

A shepherd ahead on the road:

The trail left the road and went up a stone stepped pathway through a beautiful rhododendron forrest, full of bright red rhododendrons, the trees looked like bouquets of red roses. Moss covered rocks, small streams, and waterfalls bordered the path. After two hours we hit the snowline and the landscape changed to a forrest of burnt pines.

Burnt pines with Langtang in the distance:

The trail continued along the road, which became increasingly covered in snow. After a little while we started sinking knee deep and then hip deep as we walked, and had to take turns to go first to compact the snow.

Sometimes it was easier just to crawl:

We battled on and eventually reached a small clearing where we stopped to eat our chappati and egg. From there we had two options: a) we could take a shortcut trail marked on our OsmAnd app up through a gully to the pass. Or b) follow the road – which, distance wise was about ten times as long. Given the huge depth of snow on the road so far we decided the trail couldn’t be much worse and chose option a). We quickly found ourselves in very deep snow, the path burried beneath. Almost every step had us sinking up to our hips. It took us about 30mins to cover the first 200m. Our movement pattern could be likened to doing the hurdles – a slow, freezing cold, wet, uphill style of hurdles. A couple of times I lost balance causing my second leg to step too close to my first, compacting the snow around it, leaving me totally stuck and having to dig myself out with my pole.

Starting out on the shortcut:

We again did ten minute stints each at the front as going second was much easier. As we trudged on upwards we could very occasionally see the stone steps of the trail peeping out above the snow.

Up, up, and up:

It took another hour to reach the pass, where a thick mist enveloped us. We then took shortcuts following the road down the other side, slipping and sliding our way through the snow, and tobogganing on our bums. After another hour we reached what we thought was Somdang, our destination: a freezing, desolate, snow covered ghost town which included some abandoned wooden huts each with about 3ft of snow on their roof, an old factory of some kind, a snowed in truck, a river and a rectangular wooden building. We panicked thinking the entire village was deserted. As we got closer we saw a couple of windows open on the rectangular wooden building, and some of the padlocks on the doors undone. We opened the doors and looked inside: noone. We called out ‘namaste’ again and again – noone came. We checked the OsmAnd app to make sure we were in the right place and with releif saw that Somdang village proper was a little further on up the river. We continued walking up alongside the river. When we reached Somdang village after a couple of minutes we found it was also buried in snow and totally deserted.

Somdang:

Two buildings had signs outside stating they were lodges but they were padlocked up. We went by building by building, calling ‘namaste’. Our hearts leaped when we saw the door to a small building ajar. The entire building was on a worrying tilt. As we got closer we saw that the door had simply been kicked in. Inside was a sitting area surrounding a wood burning stove. A very old rotting cabbage sat in the corner. We moved on. Ours were the only footprints we could see. We were getting increasingly nervous. We knew we could sleep in the tent if need be, but it would be a cold night with sub-zero temperatures. What we were most worried about was food. We had six packets of minute noodles, 2x 50g dairy milk bars, 300g pasta and a small packet of coconut cookies – about enough calories to get two people through 24 hours, if doing no exercise. To get to Tipling, the next village, we needed to cross another 3800m pass, which would likely take 8 – 10 hours in the snow, and to get back to Gatlang would be a 6 hour hike back over the snowy 3700m pass we’d just hauled ourselves over. Either way we would be hungry. We decided to return to the rectangular wooden building we’d seen further up the river that’d had its windows open and doors unlocked, as it looked the most inhabited. When we reached it we went inside the kitchen room which had a few benches and a fire pit in the corner, the windows were open but still we saw noone. We walked back over the river towards the abandoned truck and found a chicken pen off to the right – a sign of human life. Then we checked the last buildings – two large A-frame buildings surrounded by machinery. Once we’d navigated the snowy path to the front door we found it open, and as we arrived a Nepali man poked his head out, to our releif. He spoke no English. We asked if there was somewhere we could eat and sleep. He told us ‘lodge no’, and then said something in Nepali that sounded hopeful. He led us over to the wooden rectangular building and into the kitchen room we’d just been in. He lit a fire while we took off our sodden shoes and socks, and changed in to dry clothes. He made us cup after cup of sweet black tea which we sipped with immense gratitude. About an hour after we’d arrived a thunderstorm moved in and boomed overhead throwing snow down outside. We felt burdensome forcing ourselves on this man but at the same time were releived to have found shelter, and maybe food. After an hour or two a second man turned up, who also spoke no English. The four of us huddled by the fire in the smokey room as the storm took hold outside. After a further couple of hours another man named Suman Yoshi turned up, who spoke a little English. He told us that one of the lodges had been open yesterday, but the owner had left this morning. He was surprised we hadn’t met him on the trail. Suman advised us to return to Gatlang tomorrow. He told us that noone had been over the Pansang Pass to Tipling for two months due to the deep snow, and that it was ‘too risky for snow slipping’: avalanche. He told us that two tourists had died whilst crossing this pass in recent years due to ‘snow slipping’. We’d read that this pass should be avoided after recent snowfall due to the risk of avalanche. We decided that we were too tired, hungry, and cold to make a decision on what to do, and that we’d decide in the morning when we had fresh brains.

We later learnt that Suman worked for the hydro, and was managing the installation of a new hydro plant. He’d walked to Somdang two months ago when there’d been no snow. He was waiting for the snow to clear before returning to Gatlang. The other two men worked as miners. As night fell we watched as the two men prepared fried potatoes and dal bhat over the fire. It looked like a game of musical pots as they searched for the right temperatures. A small shelf above the fire held the basics: salt, sugar, oil, spice; housed in recycled cans, jars and bottles. We were amused to see the oil for the fried potatoes was housed in a coolant bottle. We wolfed down the food when it was served. Suman then walked us through the snow and ice over to the A-frame building where he showed us into a bedroom – the hydro worker’s quarters, which we gratefully accepted. The thick concrete walls felt secure and warm as the storm continued outside. We crawled into our sleeping bags and thanked our lucky stars we’d found these men here.

Day 38.
We set the alarm for 6am but both woke at about 4.30am fretting about what to do. The thunderstorm continued to rumble overhead. At 6am we summoned the courage to get out of our warm sleeping bags and walk to the front door to check the weather – it was cold and misty, thick snow was falling, and there was at least 5 fresh inches fallen overnight. We went back into our bags and decided we’d check the weather again in an hour to see if it was getting better or worse. We debated what we should do: if we attempted the Pansang Pass to Tipling we would just have enough food to get us there, although we’d arrived hungry. But if we couldn’t make it, we’d have no food left and nowhere to stay. Having been told it was unsafe to go over the Pansang Pass we were sure these men wouldn’t be too pleased to have us back for another night. We hated the idea of returning to Gatlang as the pass the previous day was so difficult and snowy, and returning to Gatlang would mean we’d have to either wait for the snow to melt and before again going over both passes, or we’d have to walk south along a busy dirt road for a week before heading west to bypass the passes and the Ruby Valley entirely. At 7am the snow had become lighter. Suman made us some sweet black tea for breakfast and told us that in one week the lodge and Pansang Pass would likely open, and the road from Gatlang would be cleared of snow by bulldozer to allow his company’s machinery to be brought in. We doubted the latter was even possible. He told us more snow was forecast for today. We decided the most sensible but most frustrating option would be to return to Gatlang, by going back over the Kurpudada Pass. We set off at 8am eating minute noodles for breakfast. We trudged through the snow, following our footprints from the day before.

Leaving Somdang looking back at the wooden building, the miner’s quarters:

The hydro plant, our home for the night:

Hiking out:

We somehow managed to recruit a dog for the hike, who appeared just as we were leaving Somdang. We named her Rose. Rose was an eager yet patient hiking partner. She spent spent a lot of time sitting in the snow, waiting for us as we changed clothing, or stopped to pee.

Rose:

The deeper snow started as as we climbed to the pass, frustrating and exhausting us. We huffed and puffed along, this time following the road rather than taking yesterday’s treacherous shortcut. It started snowing heavily, and it became difficult even to make out the road in amidst the endless white. We eventually reached the pass, marked by prayer flags, and continued down the other side through the burnt pines.

Finally we reached a clearing, below the snowline, and felt a flood of releif at being back within safe walking distance of food and shelter. We treated ourselves to dairy milk chocolate bars which tasted heavenly. We started back down the stone steps, through the red rhododendron forrest where we stopped by a little waterfall to refill Ronnie’s water bottle. I walked ahead and sat down on the steps, feeling a mixture of exhaustion, hunger, and releif. It was there, sitting on the stone steps that Ronnie plucked a red rhododendron from a nearby tree and with it asked me to marry him.

I said yes.

We cried a bit, then a lot, then carried on walking, starving, badly in need of a dal bhat. As we reached the first houses of Gatlang Rose took off in search of food. When we finally reached Tamang Home guesthouse the owner stood out the front waving at us. It felt like coming home. She hurried to the kitchen to make us tea and a pancake and then dal bhat while we washed with a cold bucket. We ate like we’d never eaten.

That night we celebrated with a quiet beer. Also staying at the lodge was a British-Australian man named Agata; and two Australian teachers, Marita and Nicola, with their guide Prem. They were all starting out on a 12 day hike that included The Tamang Heritage Trail followed by Langtang Valley. We decided we’d explore these areas for 12 days and wait for the snow to melt before reattempting the passes. And that’s how we ended up on a 12 day ‘mini break’ hiking in the wrong direction.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

Langtang – Lake Gosiankund

While crossing this region we planned to move from the lower route to the higher route of The Great Himalaya Trail via Lake Gosiankund with the following route in mind:

Gul Bhanjyang – Kutumsang – Mangengoth – Therapati pass (3690m) – Gopte (3530m) – Phedi (3630m) – Lauribina pass (4610m) – Lake Gosiankund (4380m) – Lauribina (3910m) – Syabrubesi

A map of the Lake Gosiankund trekking route:

From Syabrubesi we’d continue on the high route through The Ruby Valley, Manaslu, Annapurna, and beyond.

Day 31. As we happily munched on breakfast in Gul Bhanjyang the lodge owner came to ask us about our route. When we mentioned we were headed towards Lake Gosiankund via Therapati pass (3690m) and Lauribina pass (4610m) he immediately said ‘not possible’. He told us the Lauribina pass was closed as there was 5ft of snow on it’s top making it impassable. We listened to what he had to say but did not give it a great deal of emphasis as we’d not heard anything from anyone else… not that we’d asked. That morning we hiked through a beautiful rhododendron forrest with white, pink and red varieties to the next town called Kutumsang.

As we stopped to stock up supplies in Kutumsang the shop owner asked about our route. He also told us no tourists nor Nepali people had yet been able to cross the Lauribina pass from either direction as there was too much snow. Our heart sank. We decided to keep heading towards the pass to see how far we could get. We hiked up through more rhododendron forests with enormous monkeys in the trees to reach Mangengoth (3300m), above the snowline.

Over lunch we spoke to a lodge owner who confirmed what the other two men had told us – no one had yet been able to cross the pass due to the snow. She said we could get to the nearer and lower pass Therapati (3600m) – four people had headed there today – but not further due to the snow. We felt absolutely gutted about having to turn back, we’d been really looking forward to the higher altitudes. With the pass being closed our only option would be to walk south for a few days to join the lower route before again walking west. Seemingly to confirm our fate, not long after we’d arrived a massive storm moved in and hammered the lodge with snow.

On day 32 we awoke to a cloudy morning. About a foot of snow had fallen overnight. Unwilling to concede defeat we again decided to continue heading north to see how far we could get.

While hiking through the forest we looked up to see a dog bounding over the hill towards us, followed by a western couple. The dog was an excited little bean who did a thorough exploration of us and the surrounding forest while we had a chat. The couple turned out to be British. To our absolute delight they told us they’d come from Gosiankund Lake – they’d been the first ones across the Lauribina pass, and although very snowy they told us it was ‘doable’. We were over the moon. In fact, all three of them had crossed the pass together – the dog had followed them for two days, from Lake Gosiankund. They had no difficulty persuading us to take her with us back towards the lake. And that is how we recruited our best hiking buddy yet who we named Molly. Molly have us a good sniff, decided we were friends and then ran circles around us for the next two days.

Molly and me

After about 3hours hiking we reached Therapati pass where we met a further three German men who’d come over the pass the day before. Five people over the pass meant five sets of footprints to follow. Knowing this we decided it would be safe for us to try. We continued on our way, hiking through thick cloud to reach Gopte and then later Phedi, after 7 hours. The snow was knee to thigh deep in places; we slipped, stumbled, and waded our way along. While going down some steep sections it was easier to just toboggan on our butts. We inched our way across four wide snow chutes that had nasty drop offs on the left.

Halfway to buried:

It took us about half an hour to cover the last 100m up to Phedi – up an incredibly steep slope where almost every step we took we went up to our crutch in snow and had to haul ourselves out. It felt like we were wading through quicksand, uphill, at altitude. We took turns going first to make the footsteps and compact the snow.

In Phedi the three of us huddled around the wood fired stove as big gaps in the flimsy lodge stole the warm air away from us. The lodge owner, a kindly Nepali man served Molly a big plate of rice, which she chased around the room, making an almighty mess. We decided that if the weather was OK tomorrow morning we’d attempt the pass to reach Lake Gosainkund. We would get up at first light so that the snow would be harder and less likely to swallow us. We ordered dal bhat for breakfast to power us through the 5hour 1000m elevation climb through the snow to Lauribina pass (4600m). As we brushed our teeth we saw it was steadily snowing outside, which meant two dumps of snow since the Brits and Germans had crossed the pass two days ago, and little chance of being able to follow their footprints.

Day 33. After a fitful sleep we woke at 4.30am to clear skies and howling wind. At least 10cm fresh snow had fallen overnight. Our boots which we’d left by the fire to dry out had instead frozen solid, the laces like wire and impossible to tie tightly. We force fed ourselves dal bhat, not hungry at all but knowing we need the energy. As we ate the lodge owner kindly told us horror stories about people getting lost while attempting the pass. One person got lost for 44 days! Some Dutch siblings also took about 36hours to do the pass, and when they eventually found Phedi their shoes and socks were frozen to their feet and had to be cut off. He told us even two tourists with two Nepali guides had got lost trying to cross. Although the butterflies in our stomach where quickly multiplying, we decided to give it a go, if we went wrong we could always follow our foot prints back… right?

Off we went, with Molly streaking ahead like a lunatic. We ploughed on up, carefully looking for footprints, hearts pounding, puffing due to the altitude. We could vaguely make out human footprints at times which gave us confidence. The sun rose with us, making for spectacular views.

We came across the ruins of an old house after about an hour, which we knew to be on the route, again bolstering our confidence. We continued up, now walking across big snow drifts which gave way beneath us causing us to go crotch deep in snow. When we tried to haul ourselves out using our other leg or our arms these would often also fall in causing us to be totally stuck in the mud. This was initially hilarious but as it happened over and over again it ultimately became a frustrating expletive-laden affair that left us totally exhausted.

Taking a breather:

After a couple of hours we found that both our water bladders had frozen, so we were waterless. We continued up, each step making our thighs and lungs burn. Our feet were freezing and our toes numb, and each time the snow gave way beneath us it flooded into our loosely tied boots. Molly had deserted us by this point, likely because we were too slow. We could see her foot prints every now and again, confirming the little ratbag knew the way.

After coming over a small ridge we reached a blissfully flat frozen lake, from which we could see the prayer flags and chorten that marked the pass. What a releif.

As we got closer we saw four other foreigners and a guide coming over from the other side which meant fresh tracks to follow to Lake Gosiankund, perfect. Ronnie’s toes were totally numb by this point so we hurried down the other side, again falling crotch deep in snow every other step and at one point totally face planting when both legs got stuck in quick succession.

After one hour more of panting, puffing, tumbling, and swearing, we reached Lake Gosiankund, which was totally frozen and covered in snow.

Lake Gosiankund and Ronnie in the distance:

Alongside the lake:

We hurried to a guest house and were delighted to find a wood burning stove where we pulled off our frozen shoes, defrosted our toes, and inhaled tea and macaroni. Once fed we hiked another 1.5 hours down to Lauribina (3900m) and spent the afternoon siting in front of a blissfully hot wood burning stove.

On the trail from Lake Gosiankund to Lauribina:

Sadly we never saw Molly again, although we saw her paw prints going further down the mountain, likely in search of warmer temperatures and a good feed.

On day 34 we woke to a stunning view from the lodge window.

We set off early for Syabrubesi, in search of donuts and a hot shower.

The trail was a half pipe of compacted snow and ice in some sections, and then slippery mud further down, making it slow going. I twice lost my legs from underneath me and landed with my backpack in the mud and my hands and legs flailing in the air like an upturned cockroach. We passed through more beautiful rhododendron forests with white, pink and red flowers and small creeks here and there. As we approached a small village we watched as a lady chased and enormous bearded monkey from her fields.

After hiking 5hours purely downhill we reached Syabrubesi (1500m) in a valley by the river, a drop of 2500m in elevation. Our knees were groaning. We basked in the warm sun, enjoyed a steaming hot shower, washed our clothes, and gorged on donuts.

Day 35 we had a rest day in Syabrubesi which was spent grazing and visiting the local hot springs. We had an onsen style relaxation extravaganza in mind and were disappointed to find a few dilapidated concrete square pools with a tap running into them. There was a small building alongside the pools with change room cubicles that had poo scattered all over the floor. We left quite quickly.

We met a British-German couple that day who introduced us to a life changing app: ‘Osmand’ – an offline GPS map which seems to have most (so far) trails marked on it, even local trails not on a tourist route. Rather annoyingly it has the trail to Phalut on the Indian border clearly marked, which would have saved us a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears on day 1 of the hike.

The afternoon was spent pouring over maps and tea, organising the next section: The Ruby Valley.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1