Annapurna region (Trek to Pun Hill) October 1979
Arrived Bombay 12:30 pm Montreal Time, 1:00 a.m, Bombay Time. We have to wait 2.5 hours under armed guard on the actual tarmac in the heat (27 degrees C at night). The reason being that the airport terminal had burnt down the previous week. Not too much culture shock but I am surprised at the number of armed guards as we disembark. We then board our flight to Delhi. AR flight 101 a 747. The flight does not take that long and we arrive in Delhi a 4:30 am. Our luggage arrives as well which is a relief. Customs does not take too long. We hop a bus to Connaught Circle to find a hotel. We figured that the town centre would be a good place. Silly Us. We get off the bus into total darkness at 5:00 am right into a massive wave of culture shock. We are besieged by seedy characters following us around and promising us a cheap hotel. From what we can see nearby things are pretty dismal. People sleeping in the bushes, the street, the sidewalk, everywhere imaginable. Cows wander the filthy streets. Nothing is open just the pesky bicycle cabs who look like they just murdered their mothers. We team up with a German, Ludwig, who is also searching for a place to stay. He is not quite as particular as us it seems and soon heads off. (I figure he has had enough of us and can do better on his own.) After touring a couple of places where the the walls are stained with red juice and fingerprints with traces of I would prefer not to mention. I decide the I would rather rest up in the Park and wait till dawn than stay in any of these fire traps. We settle down in the park and take turns keeping watch.
The sun rises as we lay exhausted in the park amidst the birds and sleeping locales. The birds are sort of an Indian version of the pigeon but have longer legs and beaks and are dirtier and much more sinister looking than their north American counterpart. They remind me of a miniture grey headed raven. The sun by this time while not totally visible is making the sky quite bright. There are ominous clouds of blackish grey smoke rising from various parts of the city. This gives the impression that we are back in the 1850’s during the Indian Mutiny (or uprising for independence depending on who’s side you are on) The city is under siege.. but my imagination is running away with me.
People begin to appear out of nowhere and while the majority seem not to have a rupee to their name they begin to do yoga in the park. It was truly amazing to watch these people all stretching and doing different exercises all in silence as the dawn breaks. As the sun gains altitude the heat becomes more intense and we smell the exhaust of millions of cars and trucks all starting to move throughout the city. The smell of various spices also fills the air as well as other undesirable ones. This has to be one of the smelliest places on earth. The air becomes so thick with smog that you can feel it like a thick layer settling upon your skin and burning your eyes.
Sylvie and I take a short walk to find the British Airways and American Express offices. These are supposedly nearby. We leave Jean and Réné to guard our gear, which is being eyed by the natives. While on our wy we bump into some cabbies who grin at us neophytes and laugh at us saying you will walk around all day and will find nothing...come with us we will find you a cheap hotel only 20 rupees. This is all of course very reassuring, especially to people who have been travelling for over 40 hours and who have maybe slept for 5 hours out of the time, this mostly due to the fact that AIR INDIA has the habit of waking you up every three to four hours to feed you during the flight.
Finally we shake our tormentors and arrive at the Offices of British Airways. It is at this point we find out that the offices do not open for another three hours at 10:00 am. We then make our way back to Jean and Réné and take pictures to commemorate the momentous occasion. We play 5 minutes of frisbee which tends to freak out the onlookers especially when Jean takes a header.
A decision is made to try and find the YMCA. One place that we seem to have an address and an recommendation. At least it is mentioned in the Delhi guide book the Sylvie has. We walk for quite a distance in the direction it is supposed to be. Getting frustrated we decide to enter a Police station and get directions. The building looked a couple of centuries old and gave the impression that it had not been maintained since its construction. It sort looked like a spaghetti western jail only manned by Indians. They are not overly friendly or helpful but did manage to point us in the right direction.
The YMCA is Heaven on earth. (at least in Delhi). I have never been as relieved as I was when I was told “Sure we have room. Sure you can stay here for three days. Go right in the dining room and have something to eat, freshen up in the washroom if you like.” We checked in at 9;00 am at the cost of 119Rs. (8 dollars Canadian) per room per night including Air-conditioning. We eat, shower and rest for about 5 hours. We then head out into the streets dodging the traffic, breath in all the pollution and see the sights. Snake charmers, beggars, leapers, banana sellers, Massage sellers, hashish sellers, Opium sellers, Girls for sale, Boys for sale. You name it they sell it. Black market dollar are 11 Rs to One instead of the normal 7 to one. It is all too much to take in at one outing.
We come across a Pizza restaurant named the Potpourri. They have vegetarian pizza and hamburgers (pork), Chili and fairly clean an civilized. It is a strange thing to be seated in a clean, air conditioned restaurant overlooking the mass of humanity swirling past your window. The background music completes the surreal show. Saturday Night Fever. The chili is good but really hot, the rice is indifferent. The Coke is cold though and takes the grime from the back of my throat. Far too much on the plate as my stomach has not quite caught up to the time zone change. On the way back to the Y we pass a field hockey game being played in a small stadium. We encounter lots of persistent children wanting to shine my shoes. After a steady stream of refusals I notice a large blob of green slime attached to the toe of my left boot. Placed there by an industrious shoeshine boy. I am determined to not fall for this trick and leave it there to dry and kick it off later, After some reflection I regret this action. Giving someone a couple of rupees for a shoeshine was not going to break me. I remember this for the future.
Our day starts with a small breakfast of toast done the English way. Cold. Then with passable coffee. We haven’t realized that the tea is much better, excellent as a matter of fact. We are still learning and are out of touch with where we are as yet and are still clinging to our old habits. We leave on our bus tour to Agra the home of the Taj Mahal. A sort of a mini tour that we arrange through the YMCA. What we don’t know is that we will spend the next 2 hours picking up other tourist from other hotels before we actually start the journey to Agra. It does give us a better overview of the Hotels available in other parts of the city. I store this away for interest sake. We travel through different parts of the city that we would never thought existed. Clean streets, children lined up in school uniforms waiting for their ride to school. Each house seems to have its own walled in compound. an a few have actually armed guards at the gates. We find out this is that area where diplomats live as well as affluent Indians, business and political leaders.
The ride takes us out into the country side through some of the most interesting and different vistas I have ever seen. Camels, pigs, cows, people on scooters, cars, horse drawn carts, clog the route. Vultures circle the skies. The villages we pass through do not seem to have changed in hundreds of years. Although you do see the occasional tractor a lot of the farm work appears to be still done by hand. We pass irrigation systems right out of old geography textbooks that I had seen as a child. Run by man power and sometimes by oxen. May of these cities are ancient walled towns. I begin to wish that we would have hired a private car so we could stop and explore these wonderful places.
We stop for lunch at a clean government run restaurant. Everything caters to the western traveller. We are entertained by snake charmers and a bear doing tricks for rupees. There are also Boas and many monkeys. I find myself wishing we would have stopped at one of the roadside curry houses as the smells were wonderful. My stomach would have no doubt paid a very dear price had I done so.
The Taj Mahal is truly a wonder of the ancient world. It is the most magnificent structure I have ever seen. The images in books and postcards do not tell the story at all you must see this tomb in person during your lifetime. The Agra fort several miles south is also a wonder. You could spend a week there and still not visit every room. Met some interesting Indians today. I took their photos and took down their address to send copies. I also let them look through my 200 mm lens at the Taj. This impressed them. They were students who while they could not speak English well could communicate enough to me that we had a good conversation. We late had a snack at the Agra Holiday Inn. Quite a palace. Excellent curries, mostly lamb and I had my first taste of Indian Beer. A tad expensive at 21Rs. The 6 hour return to the Y wiped us all out.
We had an interesting delay in the middle of nowhere. The fan belt broke and we all got to stand out by the side of the road under the Indian moon with the cool gentle night breeze. The catch was we were warned not to leave the side of the road. It seems that during the night is when the cobras wander the fields.
We took a very long and tiring bus tour of Delhi today. It was very hot and tiring especially after all the travel of the previous day. The Qutab Minar stands out in my mind as well as the Red Fort. Humayan’s tomb which was the building that preceded the Taj Mahal was impressive. The Mugals sure were great architects. We visited a Buddhist temple, Jain temple., Hindu temple and a Mosque, The biggest one out side of Mecca. We then rested up and packed our gear for our flight to Katmandu.
We got our first lesson on how things work here. We arrived at the airport to fly to Nepal and discovered our seats had been given away. It seems no one had taken the time to explain that we had to go in person to the Royal Air Nepal airlines office (which was a block from the YMCA and reconfirm our seats. On top of that the flight had been delayed 12 hours. we couldn't get on the flight but managed to get onto an Indian Airlines flight 4 hours later. So thing actually worked out in our favour. This was after 3 very difficult security checks.
The flight as uneventful till we approached the Mountains in all their glory. For me this was my first view of giant snow-capped peaks. As we approached the Katmandu Airport we we treated to an aerial view of rice fields and lush green forests. This was stark contrast to what we had be travelling through the last few days.
Our treatment upon arrival at the airport was wonderful. A very orderly security check, A very helpful taxi who gave us quite a tour of the city to find us an hotel for the price we wanted to pay. We booked in at the Hotel Eden on what used to be called until a few years ago “Freak Street”. Double rooms go for 9$ Canadian. This with showers and washrooms. Nice little rooftop deck where we enjoyed the view of all that Katmandu has to offer. Our sherpa came over to visit and we made all our final arrangements for our trek. His name was Tenzing and he made us all feel right at home instantly. The name of his company is Sherpa Trekking Service.
October 19, 1979, Got up early and paid for our Trek. Visited the Bank and fought our way through the crowd to the tellers. There does not seem to be any concept of a line here. It is always a big crowd. Takes a little to get used to. We wandered the streets and check out the temples of which there are many. They we settled down to a lunch at Aunt Jane’s. This is an interesting little pie shop upstairs right around the corner from New Street. One interesting thing is it is in the same building as the Pathology clinic.
We walked up to the Monkey temple in the afternoon. We watched in wonder as the buddhist monks blew on their horns and played drums, sounds that passed out the temple window and doors out over the Katmandu valley. I found this a very moving and powerful moment. The place was crawling with monkeys. There was also a wide assortment of beggars on each step leading up to the temple. So if you go be prepared with lots of pocket change. Today was a day for the dogs to all the mangy mutts along the road wore ribbons. On freak street we are pestered by lots of dope dealers. We had supper at Aunts Jane’s once again. Lemon pie was excellent. Sunset from our hotel roof was spectacular. We all go to bed early for our trek starts tomorrow.
We get up early in the dense fog. This is a typical Katmandu morning. You can hear people walking in the streets, dogs barking and the ringing of bells in the nearby temples. People clearing their throats is also very common. You just cannot see any of it. We climb on board the waiting mini bus and take a 4 - 5 hour ride to Pokhara. The route follows some amazing gorges. One of which we learn claimed the life of our Sherpa providers brother a few years back. There are almost no guard rails and massive overladen trucks come lunging around every blind corner to the sounds of loud music, screeching brakes and the ever present horn blast. The smell of cooking fires mixed with diesel fumes permeates the air along with the thick dust of passing vehicles. The hillsides are burned in many places. This is a way that farmers clear the land for more crops. This as a terrible effect on the environment, with erosion a major issue. Occasionally we get a glimpse of the surrounding peaks. They are very clear stark white against the deep blue sky.
We off load in Pokhara and our porters are given their loads. One of them carried both Sylvie’s and my packs in duffles tied together. I notice his feet are bare. His legs look like wirery iron tree trunks. We walk beside a large lake the Phewa Tal. The reflection of Machhapuchhre (Guide book spelling) is a postcard like image normally but by this time the clouds have moved in and we miss the view. We pass through a small village and stand aside to let a funeral procession pass. The body is carried high up on a stretcher to the place of cremation. The family members follow in the procession. We stop after about one and one half hours to Suiket near a Tibetan refugee canp and the sherpas set up our camp for the night. We eat bread and a rice dish prepared by our cooking team two sherpa women and a small boy. It doesn't have much flavour but is sufficient. We notice the sherpas watching our tents closely. Theft is a problem here it seems.
The clouds part in Late afternoon and we get a glimpse of Machhapuchhre in all its alpin glory. It is hare to tell from this angle but in the upcoming days we will see why it is called the fish tailed mountain. Our Sidar tells us that this peak is sacred and you are not allowed to summit it. We go to bed early and rest. Some of the members of our group are tired already and want to rest.
We awake to the smell of breakfast, bread, jam, and coffee. The sky is cloudless and the himalaya shine in all the morning sun. The previous night was chilly and Sylvie is complaining of aches and pains. The daytime is very hot and exposure to the sun makes it worse. Hats are a must and so are long sleeves. Shorts are our normal wear and we jump into streams when ever we can. This to the amusement of our sherpas who never do this it seems. I later read stories on how polluted these mountain streams are. Bodies are cremated and dumped in partly burned. Especially should there be an epidemic and they are in a hurry to dispose of them. In later trips I never enter a stream again. The day is a constant up and down the well worn paths through villages and past rice paddy’s. The view is wonderful, almost too much to take in. There is the lush forests with colourful birds and wild monkeys. Large insects and rats. At the tops of the hills the air is clear and the breeze cools you as well as giving relief from the flies that are everywhere it seems. The view from Landrung is particularly spectacular with the Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Tent peak, Glacier peak, Gangapurna, Annapurna III coming into view. Our sherpa points out all the peaks and names them over and over again. I can never seem to remember the order. These are the first really big mountains I have ever seen. I have always wanted to travel to the Rockies or the Alps in Europe for that matter but had never made it. Now here I was in the heart of the Himalayas seeing some of the tallest peaks in the world. I am hooked for life.
The evening events was a visit from a wandering german who goes from group to group chatting everyone up and essentially begging for food. This annoys our sherpas and while he is pleasant we send him away. Many travellers used to do this in the past and the Nepalese governments trying to crack down on these lost rich kids. They population has enough hardship without having to support these hippies. They don’t work and just wander the hills looking for nirvana and handouts. Ados Horst.
The other three members of our group, Sylvie, Jean and Réné decide that they have had enough exercise. They want a rest day at Ghandrung. This will prevent us from getting to a 10,000 ft. vantage point called Pun Hill. I am disappointed and decide that I would like to continue on my own. We all agree and they stay behind at the campsite with our sidar, cook and porters a while I continue on with a sherpa and one porter. While the altitude is getting noticeable but we still make good time. We get to our destination in 4 hours. This gives me time for a swim in a mountain stream and time to write in this journal. Later this afternoon we will hike to the top of Pun Hill for the view.I will be staying here the night and hiking back to the top of Pun Hill in the morning to catch the sunrise on Dalaghiri, Annapruna South among others. We will then hurry back to join the other and start our journey back to Pokhara.
I am staying in a sherpa house. I am writing this is what appears to be the kitchen. The ceiling is very low and the room is filled with smoke. In one corner the sun filters in through cracks in the wall sending spears of light cutting though the smoke. There is a basket hanging on a wall in the corner that has just started to cry. I had no clue there was an infant inside. What the smoke must be doing to its lungs one can only imagine.
Ningma, my sherpa and I hike up the hill behind the village. I am afforded an excellent view of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Annapurna I, Nilgiri Himal and way off in the distance is the very top of Machhapuchhre. Yesterday it dominated the landscape but now it seems so far off. We run back down hill to have a dinner of rice, bread and small bits of what I believe is chicken, followed by lots of tea.
The room next to me has about ten beds. This is where I will be sleeping tonight. I have only a summer bag with me as we will not be going higher than 10,000 feet. But now that I am at about 9,500 ft. I can feel the cold. I wonder what temperature it will be tonight in the stone and mud house. Ningma has matters well in hand and brings me some extra blankets. I pass a fairly good night sleeping punctuated only by the presistant coughing of the other room inhabitants and some snoring.
I awake to the sounds of roosters crowing and dogs barking. Ningma and I climb back up to the top of Pun Hill and I take some photographs. We then descend to the house and have a breakfast before literly running downhill to meet up with the rest of our group. I feel an elation at being able to keep up with these two supermen of the mountains. We get back to our group just before 10 am. I see that they are already packed and that they are moving out. I also notice that Sylvie is being carried in a basket that is set up like a chair. Something has happened.
The ankle seems only sprained and bandaged well. Sylvie cannot put any weight on it at all. It seems that during my absence they all swam in the river by the village and took it easy. Unfortunately Sylvie slipped on some wet rocks and this is the result. Her brother Jean is an MD so she us under good care the ankle is well bandaged and everyone seems relaxed. She has a sheepish grin and is generally embarrassed about all the fuss. She is to be carried on the back of a porter till the next village where she will be placed on a mule that is said to be available for transport the rest of the way.
Sylvie is on a horse and we are moving very well. I am amazed by the generosity of the villagers. The women especially. When they see that Sylvie is hurt they offer food and fruit as we pass through. These people who seem to survive on so little, but yet are generous with what they have. It is a humbling experience. The days are spent taking care of our invalid. At our campsite we cause a bit of a stir by playing frisbee. Our cook takes it away and hides it to get rid of the crowd of kids that had gathered to watch. The chicken that had rode on the back of one of our porters that day was sacrificed for our dinner. I had never seen a chicken beheaded before and was facinated as it ran away without its head. So it is true.
It is my turn to get ill. I seem to have eaten or drank something bad. I am violently ill and am weakened somewhat but regain my strength as the day moves on. We return to Pokhara and because of Sylvies leg we manage to get the last four seats on the Royal Air Nepal flight on a Canadian made Avro to Katmandu. We wave good bye to our sherpa team after tipping them with clothes and other useful items. Jean and Sylvie have begun to smoke again. So they pass on some of their cigarettes which are well received. I can’t help feeling guilty about it at the same time.
We are back in Katmandu. We learn some bad news that we cannot take our planned flight back to New Delhi in five days with out risking missing our connection to Montreal. So we have to return to New Delhi earlier than expected. We are not happy about this as we are much more comfortable with the Nepalese culture that the experience we had in India. It is a shame as it would take a month to see all the interesting things Katmandu has to offer not 3 days.
We are back in New Delhi. We tried to repeat our visit to the YMCA but there is no room in the house. We try the YWCA and get the same result. Now we have a problem. We come across an old military officers quarters that has been turned into a hotel. It is a bit worse for ware but it fits the bill. We are give a suite with two adjoining bedrooms, The name of the place is the Capital Park Hotel. our rooms cost 7 rs. A funny side bar to this is that on a return trip in later years I went to see if this hotel was still there. It had been demolished and is now the site of the New Delhi Town Hall.
I wandered in the heat today and saw the Houses of Parliament and the President’s palace, the former Viceroy’s residence. You cannot get very close to these buildings and there is a lot of security. We see what we are allowed to see, return after a mediocre lunch and spend the rest of the day reading inside to escape the heat.
Send today visiting the Delhi Zoo and the Parana Quilla or Old Fort. The houses many magnificent animals, including White Tigers, Black Rhinos, and not to forget the Canadian Beaver. The problem with the Delhi zoo is that like most of Delhi it has seen better days. You can see that the park had once been well planned and laid out. But now it has fallen on tough times and is in a general state of disrepair. You really get the feeling that you are in a jungle. But I am not sure that this was the intended design. We had to bribe the zookeeper just to get a glimpse of the White Tigers. While the view of the animals was well worth the 2 rupees I am becoming tired of all the handout needed to get around in this place. Being white makes me a target and while I understand it is getting to me. The poor beaver we arrived at its pen a pool of thick green slime. It appeared to be empty but we caught sight of something moving below the surface of the green surface. I felt sorry for this creature having to live far from home in this heat. Not exactly its natural habitat. I would have brought it home if I could.
After we had seen all we wanted of the zoo, we had a quick snack and went to visit the Parana Quilla. This is an old fort built by the Shah Jahan. It is mostly just four wall enclosing a large flat area.In the centre is an old Mosque. I took off my shoes and went inside to escape the heat. When I returned and replaced my shoe the man at the door made me aware that he expected some reward for watching my shoes. When I pointed out that no one else was being asked to pay for this privilege and that settled the matter. The heat must have been getting to me. To begrudge someone ten cents watch my shoes is a bit much. I must have looked like the ugly westerner that day. We returned to the hotel and had a good supper at the Pizza place we had visited before.
This was kind of a lazy day. It was a holiday of some sort and most museums were closed. We did take in the Sound and Light show at the Red Fort. It was quite good although at the end it tends to get a bit political with the evil British this and the evil British that. One would have thought that they would have gotten over it by now. It was a good show and worth it to see all the old buildings in the moonlight.
Spent the day in the national Museum. Tandoori Chicken at the Kwality Restaurant for lunch and Chinese in the evening in a little restaurant on Connaught Circle. A very relaxing day.
The others spent the morning shopping while I took stroll around Connaught Circle. We paid our bill and tipped the room servant. Now he smiles. I bought a book for the return trip. We took a flight that evening.
This trip put Nepal under my skin. I was to return the next year (1980) and in 1982 as well as in 1986.