• Chris Edwards

The Boot Trek- Annapurna Nepal, 1987

This narrative forms part of our one year-round-the-world honeymoon adventure (1986-1987). We break away from idyllic Pokhara, Nepal to head into the Himalaya Mountains for an epic 5-day trek.

Day 1:

6:25 am: Rise and shine, cold shower (yikes), Walk down to the sister hotel to stow gear. At the highway, wait for bus (too long – over an hour wasted; note to self: should have taken taxi). Find jeep stand, meet up with folks from perilous bus ride from Kath-Pokhara (they survived!). Board jeep for bumpy ride up dry, rocky river bed.

9:30 am: At bottom of trail at last, Suikhet, 3,600 feet. Buy two walking sticks from a kid for less than $1. Very hot climbing already, we stop at a ridge top to munch on croissant and cheese, take a drink from our water bottle (all water along the trek route will be purified with a few drops of iodine). Still have not recovered from Giardia so we are not in top physical condition.

11:30 am: Arrive at Dampus. Spectacular mountain views, pass a few hotels, stop for a cold coke, which we like to drink during our travels as it helps clean out our digestive tract and keeps pesky bacteria at bay (you can buy coke anywhere along the trail, but the higher up you go, the more it costs – everything walked in by humans, the famed donkey trains or by Yaks, as there aren't any roads). Trail is in excellent shape, smoothed stones set in the ground, with a field stone wall protecting rice paddies and fields for grazing cattle and buffalo. Elaine snaps a winning photo of Nepali woman with child.

2 pm: Over a series of bridges crossing streams, climbed up a high ridge, then lost all the distance we'd climbed by descending into a valley. Lots of trees, but the forest has been totally mismanaged, and we are dismayed to see how much has been cut. Meet an interesting old British woman in her seventies leisurely hiking with her daughter, taking great delight in identifying flora and fauna.. We pass through a slide area, where the rock has been come down during the monsoons, as there aren't any trees to provide a foothold. This part of the trail has tricky footing.

5 pm: After three hours of non-stop walking, we arrive in Landrung, passing a small village featuring stone houses – very primitive up here, at about 5,000 feet, and we check into the Mountain View Guest House, which lives up to its name, as it provides good views of the Annapurna Sanctuary. We cannot possible make it to Ghandrung today, as it is already dark; we are thoroughly exhausted. The hotel is primitive, but for four rupees (about .25 cents) we can't complain. We are joined by several Americans, who are planning an assault on the Annapurnas early in the morning. Our host prepares Dahl Baht and bread for dinner, heats water for our washing up, and we sit in a smoke filled dining eating with our hands. It begins to rain, so we go upstairs to the dorm-style accommodation, just a bed and crash for the night.

DAY 2:

5:45 am: Bright sunny morning, no sign of rain from last night except a few mud puddles. Our goal today is to climb to Ghorapani to see the giant Rhododendron fields. We are served a hearty breakfast of porridge with muesli, bread and tea, a trail favourite as it sits like a brick in the stomach. Do some stretches to limber up sore muscles, and soon, back on the trail. Now we must descend through rice and mullet fields to the Modi River, which is depressing because we are going to have to climb right back up (where is the escalator?). Descending is tricky, as one has to constantly put the breaks on to avoid going down to fast


7:30 am: Stand on suspension bridge over the Modi River, fed from snows of the Annapurnas high above us. Begin the steep ascent to Gandrung, an endless series of stairs switching back. We have to stop every fifteen minutes to catch our breath and drink iodinized water. A golden Himalayan eagle flies very close and circles above us, its markings under the wings clearly visible. A coke vendor half way up provides a cool break, the price of pop still very cheap.

10:10 am: After climbing stairs which we thought would never end, we come into the Gandrung, one of the largest Gurung Villages in the Himalayas. Slate-roofed houses packed tightly together, the trail a beautiful kaleidoscope of stones set precisely into the ground. Terraces of corn and wheat surround the houses.The trail becomes a maze, but we continue along the main path, and see a sign for the Excellent View Hotel. Low on water, we decide to load up for the journey.

10:45 am: Arrive at Excellent View Hotel; it lives up to its billing. Clear skies afford an absolutely spectacular view of Annapurna South and Machhapuchhare, the fish tail mountain, which we saw from our porch in Pokhara. We meet up with the American party, who are in a major hurry, ready to run up to the Sanctuary. We stop for a delicious second breakfast, still in awe over the view from the outdoor tables at this very quaint lodge. Delicious meal of cornbread, honey, lemon tea, boiled eggs. We hear some thunder but are optimistic weather will permit our climb up to Ghorapani.

11:30 am: Bid Americans adieu and continue on out of town. We veer away from the Annapurna Sanctuary, and cross a small river and turn up and steep incline. In an instant, the weather turns foul; it begins to pour in buckets. We take refuge, along with a young Nepali boy and a young women with 22 golden earrings (Elaine has time to count them all) in a small shack).

Soon joined by an old man, an amazing physical specimen, must be all the walking in the mountains. Thinking we should head back to the Excellent View, as there's no sign of a break. The trail to Poon Hill will be too slick for our cheap running shoes (boy, are we ever unprepared for this trek!), so we check into the Excellent View.

1 pm: Sit in our beautiful new cabin at the Excellent View, the rain coming down, and decide to take a snooze. The trail has taken its toll.

4 pm: We wake up from a most refreshing nap; open up our map. We realize if we head back to Pokhara via Burathani, we will have created a boot with our path. Thus, our little foray into the Himalayas is officially dubbed the Boot Trek. I feel bad that we didn't go on to Poon Hill, but after a pipe of some Nepali hash, and a further gaze upon the mountains right out our front door, I feel much better.

6 pm: Dinner at the lodge with Sheila and Dave from London, England, and Dan from Alaska, (from the bus roof ride with us to Kathmandu). Excellent dinner at the Excellent View, pumpkin and potato soup, vegetable fried rice, fried noodles, corn bread, Tibetan Bread, tea etc...

8:30 pm: No lights up here in the mountains, so after entries in the journal, it's time for bed. Couldn't really continue our conversation in the lodge as no one seems to have instructed the Nepali about chimneys; the room is fairly full of smoke. It starts raining again in earnest, and turns cold; glad we bought yak and wool sweaters in Kathmandu, despite extra weight in packs.

Day 3:

6 am: Weather clear and cold again, more stunning mountain panoramas. It's important to wake up early to see the mountains, as the rain pattern in the afternoon seems pretty consistent. Mountains seem so close, we feel we can touch them. We see whiffs of snow blowing off Machhupuchhare; the weather is reported to be -50 degrees celsius. Another great, filling Himalayan breakfast.

Spend the rest of the morning washing clothes and relaxing, then take a hike around the valley to look up the canyon towards the Annapurnas. Stoped on the side of the trail to eat a chocolate bar we'd purchased in Pokhara, and watched the locals working in the fields below.

Noon: Returned to lodge, and met a cute group of Japanese women who were exhausted from the steep climb from Landrung. More thunder, but the girls have rain gear and head out to Poon Hill.

3 pm: Eat third meal of the day, but we are like a shadow of our former selves due to Giardia; haven't been this thin since my teen years. The mountain air also increases one's appetite. Rain begins to fall in earnest. The owner asks Elaine if she'd like a hot shower. Elaine can't believe her ears and tentatively agrees. To our utter amazement, the owner heats up a big kettle of water, then pours it into a big plastic tub behind a curtain. Elaine proceeds to have a 'shower', that is, she sluices hot water over herself and washes her hair. Such luxury in the Himalayas!

7 pm: Dinner again, this time joined by the owner's relatives: a few cousins, various sisters and Ma and Pa. They all sit on the floor in front of the fire, with five westerners enjoying food while taking in the dreamy scene: the fire and two small kerosene lanterns provide the only light in the room. Nowhere else in our travels have we felt this close to the locals, and get this kind of glimpse into a way of life rapidly changing with the onslaught of 747s flying into the Kingdom of Nepal.

Early bedtime once again; sleep like a baby.

DAY 4:

5:30 am: I hear someone outside, so get up up to witness a spectacular sunrise. Machupucharre's peak is bright orange, glowing as if someone put a spotlight on it. We look at it in awe.

6:30 am: Despite my best efforts, the dreaded Gardia has returned. Eat a huge breakfast anyway, and swallow two Lomotils, which I hope will act as a "butt plug" against the runs on the trail. Today, we head back down to Pokhara, and will stop in Birethani, so we can enjoy one more day away from cars. Just not feeling heathy enough to hike further up the trail.

7:30 am: Pay our bill, a little over ten dollars for the two of us: four meals a day, tea, snacks and accommodation for two nights – what a deal! Realize we should have stayed in the mountains for a few weeks as it was the cheapest place on our trip. Can see the attraction for long-term travellers to spend lots of time in Nepal.

9 am: We take our time along the trail, as the hike is relatively easy. We descend to Modi River, stop to chat with an Aussie couple, who are coming from Birethani; they highly recommend a small inn, the New Riverside. We advise them to stay at Excellent View, but warn them the road ahead to Gandrung is brutal. We encounter three different donkey trains; we can hear their bells from a long distance away. The donkeys are very cute, but carry heavy loads up and down the trails. They are the freight cars of the Himalayas, along with the porters.

10:30 am: Stop for a break of water and boiled eggs. We become the centre of attention for a small group of children; unfortunately, they turn hostile when we refuse to give them rupees or pens. They obviously have been spoiled by other trekkers, and want the goods from us.

Noon: Arrive in Burathani, after passing two lovely waterfalls along the trail. Burathani is very quaint, lots of old houses made out of stone and wood. Room rate is only 10 rupees for the night (.50 cents), the most expensive of the trek but our room is above the Modi River, very loud as it smacks into the Bunnungdi River, which hugs the trail up to Ghorapani.

1 pm: As we are now only a days walk in from Pokhara, there are many delicacies to be eaten at the restaurant. My bowels won't permit eating too much, but Elaine indulges in yak cheese, soups, chapati sandwiches and chocolate cake. We take a nap, as I'm feeling pretty weak from the Giardia, and I don't have any Tinaba with me.

4 pm: We eat some more food, then explore the river and find a gorgeous waterfall, very impressive. We share a chocolate bar while sitting on the rocks, sorry we'll be leaving the mountain region tomorrow, but hoping to come back someday.

DAY 5:

5:45 am: Rise and shine. Can't believe how early we've been getting up lately. Go down to latrine and realize it is just a hole hanging over the river, all waste goes straight into the water.

6:45 am: Our earliest start of the campaign. We meet up with Brits from Gandrung, on their way back to Pokhara as well. First trail is up a fairly steep hill; we must compete with donkey trains, their heavy burdens and brightly adorned headdresses; they want to knock us over the edge (at one point, a small buffalo gored me with his horns and almost gave the the old heave-ho over the steep precipice!). We had been told that the average donkey carries over 90 kgs on its back, while a porter can handle over 110 kgs!

Speaking of porters, we can't believe some of the stuff coming up the trail on their backs. Lazy (and smart) trekkers hire porters to carry their gear, which has been taken to the extreme by fat cat westerners. Entire camp sites are hauled up the mountains, along with a ton off food which will end up as discarded waste, as has happened on Everest. One porter passes by carrying a giant water drum, supported by a band around his forehead. Women are burdened with bulky loads of wood (say so long to the trees), wheat, and freshly chopped bright green jute, looking like a "human bush" from the rear.

We must be in good shape, for we make it up the steep ridge in record time, no worse for wear. American girl joins us part way; she's been trekking for 3 weeks yet missed "civilization," a relative term in Nepal, but we knew what she meant. We were jealous and regretted not having more time to be in the mountains, as we are victims of our travel agenda.

11 am: Arrive in Chandrakot, but as we have a long day ahead so we decide to carry on. Now joining the main Jomson trail, which begins or ends the popular Jomson circuit of the Annapurnas, rising to a pass at over 17,500 feet. We pass more trekkers in four hours than in the previous four days; it's rush hour in the Himalayas!

We could catch a jeep back down but we decide to walk down to Pokhara by a back trail via Sarangkot, an eight-hour hike. Many more donkey trains now, as this is the main feeder trail into the region from Pokhara.

10 am: Split off the main trail and begin descent toward the lake, which we can see below. How can this take seven hours, we ask each other, since it doesn't seem so far away? Begin an extremely steep descent, the trail is almost non-existent at numerous points. No sign of any trekkers, though we do pass some very interesting Gurung houses, which seem more African in design than Nepali, with thatched roofs, and round clay-coloured walls.

2 pm: Arrive at the bottom of the ridge, in a dry lake bed, similar to a lunar landscape, evoking memories of Mt. Bromo. Soon we are on the shores of Phewa Tal, at a small village where cool drinks are available to quench parched throats. Across the lake, we spy Pokhara's traveller's centre; thought it to be about half an hour away. But it was more than two hours before we arrive there, as we had to circle a series of small bays. We passed idyllic scenes of verdant fields, water lilies, water buff, and rice paddies. We got stuck in mud flats several times, but could easily rinse our feet off in small streams so not much complaining. We squish squashed the last half hour in wet shoes, then eventually came to the outskirts of town.

4 pm: We passed several hippy communes along the lakeshore, and stopped to chat with some of the freaks. They were renting an entire house for about $25 a month; there must have been fifteen people living there. They claimed they wanted to get away from the "scene" in the traveller centre along the lake. We just had to laugh, because the "scene" was pretty laid back by most standards.

4:30 pm: Arrive back at the travellers centre, blistered feet, aching joints. Our first purchase: a bottle of ice cold water. We were pretty filthy from our walk, but found our rooms waiting for us. We bought a hot shower at the owners' other hotel, (perhaps the best one of the entire campaign); were then greeted by Sandra and Michelle, who'd decided to buck the trend and not go trekking at all.

6 pm: Sitting at a cafe by the lake, joined by fellow travellers Tim and Karen. They just completed the 30-day trek around the entire Annapurna Section; Tim was quite sick with food poisoning. Met the American girl from the trail, who informed us she'd taken the jeep down to town from Suikhet, arriving at 2 pm, fresh as a daisy! We eat like pigs, over-indulging in the wide variety of foods to be had in this quaint resort.

Our trek was over, and while it wasn't much to write home about compared to some of the adventures we heard from those who'd been serious about it, we were glad we'd made the effort.

We tell ourselves that we would return someday, and over 30 years later, this hope still springs eternal! (But we'll be sure to wear actual hiking boots.)

Next Stop: In Search of Wild Rhinos

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