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Nepal 2000

Eric and I visited Nepal for a month in october/november of 2000. The rest of this page is a description of our trip, including excerpts from my diary and photographs. For a brief and practical description see this page. Click on the images on the right to see the enlarged photographs; the links within the diary excerpts all lead to the same photographs. We took over 400 photographs on this trip, most of which were taken on the trek, and it was difficult to make a selection for these pages!

Arrival in Kathmandu, October 10th and 11th 2000
Annapurna Base Camp trek: October 12th to October 28th 2000
Royal Chitwan National Park: October 29th to November 1st 2000
Rafting Bhote Kosi and culture in and around Kathmandu, November 2nd to November 7th 2000

Thursday October 12th, 2000
Our bus left for Pokhara around 7 in the morning. It was a so-called "tourist bus" which basically means that it's a little newer (safer!) than the regular local buses, and it's not as full. Yesterday I spotted an article in the newspaper about a bus that had careened off the road over the edge of a cliff, and seeing the traffic this didn't surprise me at all. After bracing myself for upcoming head-on crashes for an hour or so I decided to put it all in fate's hands and forced myself to look out of the side windows only. That was better than closing my eyes, because the country we drove through was fascinating. Sunny rice paddies, wooded hills, little houses everywhere and people standing around or washing themselves or playing around in huge bamboo swings - something to do with a festival that's going on.
As we walked from an internet cafe in Pokhara back to our Hotel Yeti, in the late afternoon, we caught our first glimpse of the mountains. Wow! The Himalaya! It was hard to believe that we were looking at mountains close to 8000 m high.
During lunch and dinner we got to know a little about our guide, Gopal. He's originally from Ganesh Himal, studies economics in Kathmandu, but seems to have put his studies on hold to spend most of his time guiding tourists on treks. He seemed like a very nice guy, we got off pretty well.

Friday October 13th, 2000
After breakfast on the roof of our hotel, with the mountains in plain view, we took a taxi up the asphalt road to Beni. It was beginning to smoke unbearably just around Naudanda Phedi, but luckily that’s where our trek began. Gopal took Eric’s backpack (the largest one), Eric took mine, and I took Gopal’s much smaller backpack, and off we went into the forest. The temperature was rising fast, so was the altitude, and so was my heartrate. The path was steep, going up to Dhampus, and sweat was soon dripping off my nose and chin (Gopal pleasantly told me that I was sweating a lot because I’m too fat – thanks a lot – but not to worry, I’d be sure to lose weight on the trek! I think this remark was a little uncalled for; please check out one of the pictures that shows me :-) ). After lunch in Dhampus, we walked further up to Pothana, which we reached in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, the skies were heavily overcast, and we didn’t get to see the mountains, so instead we settled down with a cup of Nepali tea (tea with lots of milk and sugar) and watched the villagers play volleyball.

Saturday October 14th, 2000
Last night, as we were heading for bed with a candle, we noticed that the skies had cleared, and when we got up this morning we were greeted by a beautiful view of the mountains. We climbed to the top of the ridge west of Pothana and then descended into the Modi Khola valley, through forests and rice paddies. Clouds had started framing the highest peaks in the morning, and it started raining soon after we got to our lodge in Landruk ( photo). During dinner we were amused by two Australians in the dining hall. When they asked for the size of the pizza on the menu, the waitress held her hands a fair distance apart, and they decided to share one. Then when it arrived it turned out to be about 15 cm in diameter! Not even near enough for one hungry trekker, let alone two! Gopal had warned us about this, and we stuck to dal bhat - rice with lentil soup - for most of the trek. All lodges and teahouses and halfway decent farms sell coke, beer, and candy bars, even up to ABC (although the prices rise steadily with the altitude), but we also managed to steer clear of those most of the time.

Sunday October 15th, 2000
A pleasant walk down to the Modi Khola, followed by an endless stairway up to Chomrong. Whenever the path becomes too steep in this area, rocks are placed such that they form steep steps, which can be very tough on your leg muscles. We desperately needed the lunch break in Jhinu. Views were beautiful and being able to see where we were heading was very exciting!

Monday October 16th, 2000
This was by far our toughest day on the trek. We started off with an endless staircase down to the Chomrong river, which was enough to wear my legs out half an hour into today’s walk – not something to look forward to on the way back! I hadn’t expected the Himalaya to be a friggin’ staircase! This was followed by an arduous climb to Sinuwa, but things got a lot easier from there on, as we climbed slowly, through bamboo forests, to Himalaya Hotel, which is where we planned to stay. Himalaya Hotel is a collection of four lodges, actually, but to our surprise all were full, so we had no option but to push on. Gopal ran on ahead to reserve us a room in Deurali, and Eric and I followed. We got to Deurali around four, and were exhausted, having walked from seven in the morning save a short lunch break. There are no showers here, and we washed off most of the sweat and grime over a bucket of luke-warm water. Fair enough! Deurali lies at 3230 m, and the temperature started dropping fast after the sun went down. Luckily the place was equipped with an excellent heating system: the dining room consisted of a huge rectangular table with blankets hanging off the sides and benches all around, and a kerosine heater was placed underneath the table. This way a delicious warmth spread from my legs to the rest of my body until I was nearly glowing! Wow, I want this at home!

Tuesday October 17th, 2000
This was a great day. The path up to the Annapurna Base Camp was not very steep and would have been a breeze if it hadn't been for the altitude. Due to our shortness of breath, the going was extremely slow; we wanted to prevent tiring ourselves too much and took frequent tiny breaks. The views were excellent as we walked up the bowl-shaped valley that the base camp lies in, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. We had lunch on the terrace in front of our lodge at ABC, in the sun, but wearing sweaters and our coats nonetheless, and watched other trekkers creeping up the valley. I felt a little dizzy and disoriented, and could not concentrate enough to write my diary, so I gave up and joined Eric in just looking around. What a beautiful place this is! The valley opens up to the east, where it joins the Modi Khola valley at Machhapuchhre Base Camp. The other three sides are surrounded by a series of mountains that are nearly all over 6000 m, with Annapurna I, at 8091 m, the highest. Machhapuchhre, or Fishtail, the holy mountain that has supposedly never been climbed, lies to the east, across from the Modi Khola; although this is certainly not the highest mountain around here, at a mere 6993 m, its features and legend make it the most memorable. The Base Camp lies at 4130 m, and is clear of snow this time of year. I found it hard to comprehend that Annapurna, towering nearly 4000 m above us, was so nearby - the height difference, within only a few horizontal kilometres, is nearly as high as Europe's highest mountains! It's awesome. The photographs show Machhapuchhre at sunset, and the Annapurna Sanctuary (the lodges with blue roofs are barely visible at the bottom of the valley!) with Annapurna towering behind.

Wednesday October 18th, 2000
We got up before six a.m., put on practically all the clothes we had, and headed up a small hill behind the lodges to watch the sun come up and shine its first orange rays on the snowy mountain peaks around us. They looked gorgeous, with clouds of snow streaming off the tops – it must be windy up there, close to the jet stream. After breakfast we headed back down the valley, and I was surprised at how easy it was compared to the way up. We practically ran, and could almost feel the air getting thicker by the minute; it was almost as if we were wallowing through an abundance of oxygen! We stopped in Dovan, as there was a threat of rain in the air. The photographs show Machhapuchhre and the view back up the valley.

Thursday October 19th, 2000
The walk down to Sinuwa was easy, with only one sharp climb. Then came the descent to the Chomrong river, and 2115 steps up to Chomrong! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

Friday October 20th, 2000
We took today off, to rest our legs and do laundry. But I guess our legs didn’t want the rest, as we got restless and decided to walk the steep “stairway” down and back up to the hot springs below Jhinu. Hot water comes seeping out of the mountain just by the Modi Khola, and cement basins collect the water so you can sit in it. It’s quite interesting to sit in a calm and warm basin with a wild and icy cold river rushing by you just a meter or so away. Too bad our refreshed feeling was soon over with the climb back up! We met three porters coming down with one carrying a tourist in a basket on his back – it looked terribly uncomfortable, but apparently he had injured his knees and couldn’t walk down.

Saturday October 21st, 2000
Our walk down to the Kyumno Khola was very comfortable, but the endless climb up the dusty, winding path to Kumrong, on top of a ridge, was something I’d really rather forget. After a cup of tea we continued on to Ghandruk. Ghandruk is probably the first authentic village we’ve seen up here on the trek – most of the villages are just a collection of, or at least centered around, trekking lodges. Ghandruk, however, is quaint and definitely worth a visit; walking through the village and ignoring the odd tupperware container, it isn’t hard to imagine you’re in the middle ages. The fields are plowed using oxen and harvested by hand, and everything imported into the village is carried here on foot by the hundreds of porters walking the Annapurna region’s paths barefoot or on flip flops. The view across to Landruk in the midst of rice paddies, on the other side of the Modi Khola valley, was beautiful. Now that we were out of the high-altitude areas we treated ourselves to a “party”: a few beers each, and we actually stayed up until ten!

Sunday October 22nd, 2000
We slept in until seven, and then walked to Tadapani. The sky was heavily overcast this morning, and it started raining about half an hour before we reached Tadapani. The path went up very steeply, and hoisting myself up this muddy hill in the rain did not do much for my mood. After Tadapani, however, the rain stopped and we stepped into the green light of an absolutely stunning forest of giant rhododendron trees. We spent the night at the Clean View lodge, a little before Bantanti. Around five we were sitting in the dining room wearing all of our warmest clothes, and it was still too cold to bear, so Gopal made us a fire in an empty kerosine can. It was a lot of fun standing outside, over the fire, looking down into the valley and listening to Gopal telling us Nepali legends.

Monday October 23rd, 2000
After following a river up its valley, up to Deurali (a different Deurali than the one near Himalaya Hotel!), we came to a ridge. Walking through another rhododendron forest, we followed the ridge for a while, with the Ulleri valley to one side and the Kali Gandaki valley to the other. We could not see these valleys, however, as we were walking in the clouds – the shreds of mist passing through the crooked rhododendrons gave the place a mysterious, nearly eerie, atmosphere. From the ridge we descended to Ghorepani.

Tuesday October 24th, 2000
This was an early morning! We were out the door by five a.m., and joined a group of trekkers and guides heading up Poon Hill – in the dark, the endless string of flashlights zigzagged up the hill as far as we could see. As we neared the top, Machhapuchhre started coming out of the background, and the peaks were dark grey in a lighter gray sky when we got to the top of the hill. It’s not exactly as if the mountains seem “noisy” during the day, but in some strange way they did seem “quiet” now. We found a good spot a few meters away from the crowds, which is about as “lonely” as you can get on Poon Hill at dawn, with a few hundred tourists – it’s not exactly a romantic sunrise, but the view of the entire range of mountains is well worth it. It was almost as if all the mountains of the Annapurna Himal had assembled in front of us, especially for this occasion. Dhaulagiri (8167 m) to the west, Annapurna straight in front, Machhapuchhre to the east, and the other peaks were all touched in turn by the first rays of sunlight.
Gopal left us after breakfast. Eric and I had changed our plans for the trek, we had decided to spend a few extra days in Tatopani. This would mean keeping Gopal on for longer than planned, but we knew he was anxious to get to his hometown in time for the Deepavali festival that starts in a few days, and we didn’t want him to miss this occasion. So we decided to let him walk out to Pokhara from Ghorepani, while we went on to Tatopani. It was not easy to convince Gopal that this change of plans was not because we were not happy with him – we were, in fact, very happy with him – and if I ever do something like this again I’ll be sure to mention the possibility of such a change of plans before embarking on the trek.
So Eric and I set off down to Tatopani. The walk was beautiful and easy (down, down, down), but this descending did get very tough on our legs. We had set our minds on a good lodge in Tatopani, and didn’t want to risk its being full, so we pushed on fast, skipped lunch, and kept going on a coke and a candy bar. I didn’t realize this in advance, but with our descent from Poon Hill to Ghorepani, we descended a total of 2000 m today! No wonder my legs were shaking uncontrollably by the time we got to the point where the Ghar river flows into the Kali Gandaki, and we had to cross both via suspension bridges. We got a beautiful room with a private bathroom (cold shower and leaking toilet but who cares!) in the garden of the Dhaulagiri Lodge and threw ourselves at the wonderful food!
The photographs show Eric(right), Gopal (middle), and Gopal's cousin, a village , and me on the bridge across the Kali Gandaki.

Wednesday October 25th, 2000
We stayed in Tatopani for two extra days. After nearly two weeks of dal bhat with the occasional fried rice for a change, we went crazy about food. We did a lot of reading, visited the hot springs, and walked a ways up the Kali Gandaki valley, but I believe we spent the largest part of these two days talking about food, dreaming about food, poring over the menu, and eating!

Friday October 27th, 2000
We walked all the way out to Beni today, back to “civilization.” The path followed the Kali Gandaki gently downward. Unfortunately, it often followed the river at a considerable height above the water: we passed seven or eight places where the path was about a meter wide, cut out of the cliff, with a sheer drop down to the Kali Gandaki. I’m not sure about the height, but it would have been fatal to fall there. I am afraid of heights, and hated these sections; I shuffled along carefully, placing my feet with utmost care, keeping at least one hand on the wall next to me at all times. I got a little better at them by the end of the day though.

Saturday October 28th, 2000
Last night our hotel had reserved us tickets for the busride to Pokhara, and we found our bus easily early this morning. Unfortunately, it was full. A few helpful Nepalese confirmed that we were on the right bus, the tickets were valid, but that our seats were taken nonetheless. Not willing to wait for another bus, we got on anyway; Eric sat on his backpack in the aisle and two friendly passengers squeezed over to the window and offered me the remaining corner of their seat. The first hour of the ride, before we reached asphalt, was no fun. The road was as wide as the bus, there were tremendous holes and huge rocks, and the hillside dropped straight down to the Kali Gandaki. As the bus krept along, a wheel on the ravine side of the bus would suddenly drop into a hole and the entire bus would lurch heavily so that we looked right down into the valley for a moment. None of the other passengers appeared to even notice this – Nepali folk music filled the bus and they all seemed to be quietly listening or sleeping, while Eric and I held on apprehensively.

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