Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jomsom Trek Report Day 1

Day 1: Pokhara to Beni to Tatopani

Pre-trek photo

Early morning on 28th, I finally get to sleep at 4am, still on English time then! I have my alarm set for 5:45am, plenty of time for a relaxing start, shower, shave and a Raju breakfast before the booked taxi at 6:30am. Somehow the clock is mysteriously switched off, and I wake at 6:25am! Argh! Mad pack and I dash downstairs, where Raju still cooks me breakfast despite the taxi already waiting. As with everything in Nepal, this is, with a slight wobble of the head, 'no problem'.

Raju and children

Only a few minutes and 100r to Baglung bus terminal, where we will take a minibus, rather than the big bus, to Beni, our trailhead.

At the bus station we learn that there is no minibus. There’s a big bus about to leave, but it takes forever.

We're offered a taxi. For 450r each. I try to squeeze the price, but haggling is no good. They claim part of the reason for this is that they have to pay 100r tax, implying this is a per-person cost. They do pay 100r, but for the whole car! Our ride is a battered old Japanese model.

The windows are wound down by a combination of pulling the glass down manually and winding the crankshaft. It takes 3.5 hours, but the big bus alternative takes over 5. The road is the same I’ve previously used to Annapurna Base camp, and we pass Naya Pul and Biritanti, the trailhead for that trek.

First glimpses of mountains

Onwards to Beni. Just before Baglung we turn off and the road takes a big turn for the worse. Apparently Baglung has great views of Dhaulagiri, but not today, I'd guess. It's overcast and gloomy, but not yet raining (oh how this would change!).

A ghat, burning a body by the river

Beni is a small town and site of a big battle between the Maoists and the army, when going on 10,000 Maoists flooded the town, killing over 200 soldiers. They'd blocked the road from Pokhara before the attack, the only route that help could come from. We stop at the bus park, and over pre-trek chow-mein noodles Suresh tells me that in Nepal there is an expression: 'if you can't get a wife, go to Beni'.

Spicy pre-trek sustenance

We start the trek at 11:30, and the book says we have 7 hours ahead of us. Sunset is generally about 6:30pm so there’s no time to waste.

The rather unappealing bus park where we start

In general my bravado has always suggested that whatever time the book suggests, I should half it. Not today! Almost as soon as we start walking, or at least by Galeshor (870m), the rains start, just light at first.

Suresh buys all the essentials he forgot to bring

Clouds roll back and forth across us. The trail is a road, and jeeps and motorbikes ply the route, ferrying mostly locals, with the occasional foreigner, paying about double for the privilege. No jeep is complete without at least three hanging on to the roof. This is not frightening in terms of the speed, as often the jeeps bump along at walking pace. But bump they do, and a firm grip is required to remain on top for any distance.

Another road user

The trail is really muddy, and much of the walking I spend skipping between stones, as my boots have gone from mildly waterproof to positively spongy. One has a hole which was crudely repaired in Chile, the other has the whole sole coming away, and during the course of the day develops a loud croak. I think this may be their last trek.

Mud glorious mud

We trek along in the drizzle, and it slowly gets heavier. There are streams flowing across the path periodically, and waterfalls small and large bursting out of the tree-lined cliffs with incredible frequency.

Water water everywhere

The trail itself isn't that interesting, following the muddy Kali Gandaki, except where it rises up under some cliffs at Rato Pani (1150m), which seems awfully precarious, especially where there is dynamite loaded into the path we walk over. The trail had fallen away in one spot, perhaps someone had discarded a cigarette carelessly?!

Steady on the feet for this bit

Don't worry, assures Suresh, the fuses haven't been lit.

Wired and ready to blow

Suresh survives without dal bhat by eating lots of Nepali bananas along the way, 15r for 3.

Down the strand, have a banana

They're big but visually unappealing at first as the outsides are black and withered. Inside though, the flesh is tasty. We cross the river a few times on large metal suspension bridges. There has been much rainfall recently, so everywhere there are landslides, some huge.

Evidence of landslides everywhere

Several years ago a particularly large one dammed the whole river just downstream of Tatopani, creating a lake which lasted several days and displaced many villagers from their homes until the force of the river broke through.

Tea stop

The only way to keep yourself busy in the rain – board games!

We stop for a cup of tea along the way. Sugar already added. You don’t need to worry about extra calories on the trail, one can be fairly sure it will all be burned off.

Along the way the trail periodically crosses the river on sturdy metal suspension bridges. This is sometimes because the trail has been destroyed on the other side by a landslide, and sometimes just the route the path follows, with settlements sitting on both banks.


Some serious overhangs

I'm confused as we approach Tatopani (1290m), I don't recognise the place. All becomes clear as Suresh tells me I have never been there, it was TaDopani we visited last time. Silly me! Anyway, seems like a nice place, with hot springs, a stream running down the paved high street (high path?), and Dhaulagiri Lodge with food which according to LP gets rave reviews.

It’s just turning dark as we arrive

We dump our bags in our en-suite (oh yes!) room, noting the profusion of large mosquitoes, and head over to the restaurant.

Our smart room

We meet two of Suresh's cousins who are also guides, I order a vege burger, Suresh a dal bhat (of course) and some pakodas (spicy fried cheese things more than Indian pakoras) to share.

Everest beer appears as if by magic. We may have slipped it in accidentally whilst ordering.

Happiness to a Nepali is a good dal bhat

A few beers later we retire and I sleep well, like a log, until precisely 1:30am when I am wide awake. It's pouring outside, and continues to do so with variable strength the whole night.

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