A Travellerspoint blog

The Himalayas

26 days trekking the Annapurna Circuit and Khopra Danda trek

It's difficult to know where to begin describing our 26 day trek in the Himalayas. Neither of us have ever walked two full days in a row or carried 25% of our bodyweight on our backs for days on end let alone nearly a month navigating our way around the Annapurna Circuit. I felt nervous that I had bitten off more than I can chew and at times when I was gasping for air telling my body to move just one more step it certainly felt that way but for the majority of the time this basic existence of walking, eating and sleeping was one of the most incredible experiences and yet simple things we have done in our lives.

For starters, the people of Nepal are incredibly friendly and will go out of their way to help you. This took some getting used to and on our first day, when a Tibetan man with no English went half an hour out of his way walking a steep descent DOWN a mountain just to show us a shortcut, we automatically wondered what he wanted from us. Surely he wasn't doing this out of the kindness of his own heart? Won't he want some money? This negative attitude has arisen from other Asian Countries where payment is inevitable but here it simply seems to be part of the culture to help. It is fair to say that the kindness of people and the sheer beauty of the magnificent mountains are some of the reasons Nepal has quickly become one of our favourite countries we have ever visited. No wonder people return time and again and I think we will too become one of the statistics of returning tourists that flock here each year.

In regards to the Annapurna circuit many people tried to encourage us to trek a different trail believing the road construction and huge amount of visitors have ruined the area. However we're extremely happy we stuck to our plans. The circular route consists of the most incredible scenery we have ever seen. The diversity is staggering, from rice paddies to ginormous gorges and waterfalls with lots of impressive side treks to really get your heart pumping. You feel like a tiny speck of dust in the enormous mountains which surround you and you can't help but respect the nature and the weather which could turn at any moment. We felt terrified by the many landslide areas, especially to Tilicho peak which consists of the highest lake in the world and we held our breath through each stretch praying that no rocks would fall and push us off the ledge to the rushing water down below. It is fair to say that some sections seriously challenged us but it was worth every moment as most of the time we stood in awe of our surroundings.

We took our time so the altitude wouldn't be a problem having seen other people stride ahead of us at a much faster speed only to have to descend again when feeling the effects. It turned out to be an advantage that I was so slow, probably due to my small legs and sheer lack of fitness whilst carrying such a heavy pack (consisting of the heaviest sleeping bag and down jacket imaginable - I looked like the Michelin man huddled around the fire most nights). As altitude sickness tends to affect young men the most who believe they can walk faster than the 500m max a day over 3500m I was doing Rob a favour!

It is fair to say that I felt incredibly nervous for Thorong La Pass (the highest pass in the world) especially lacking sound sleep due to altitude and believing I was sleeping on a landslide area which didn't help. Although the day was long (starting in the freezing cold at 5am was a struggle on a vertical slope and my asthma certainly complained with the early mornings) we slowly ambled our way to the top and felt very proud of our achievement to reach 5413m high! It took us 16 days to make our way up there, and we'd certainly felt every step, but it is without doubt one of the best things we've ever done and something we will recommend to everyone we know. Rob was even overwhelmed by how emotional the experience was and shed a little tear at the top whilst enjoying a well deserved cup of tea and yet another huge cinnamon swirl!

At times, the repetitive motion of walking for hours on end took its toll but it was surprisingly not the 10 hour day of the steep pass which nearly defeated me but the days after when we took an alternative route down with a group of friends which nearly did me in! By now we had teamed up with Mart and Krystal, a Dutch/Aussie couple and Lanka and Charminka, our Sri Lankan buddies who were often mistaken for our Sherpa and Porter which often amused us as Nepalis animatedly greeted them on the track whilst they stood in utter confusion trying to work out what they said. It was because of these guys that we decided to change our plans and walk the Khopra Danda trek, an alternative walking route three quarters of the way around the circuit. By this time my body was starting to feel the affects of the 20 days badly, screaming out that it was time to stop but we were on the way down, surely it was time to feel the glory of all that climbing uphill before?

So it came as a shock when on the first day we started to climb heavily uphill in the baking heat. I had not mentally prepared for this and as the first day came to an end, after 1000m steeply climbing uphill, I wondered how I was going to fare the next day during 1650m of continuous walking on a ridge. Well the next day was nuts and much harder than what we had previously entailed on the circuit. It was a serious game of positive thinking and mind over matter and Rob, Chaminka and I huffed and puffed our way up often talking about anything and everything to take our mind off the sheer exhaustion that set in. It was this day that I truely realised how unfit I was compared to Krystal in particular who was a machine striding ahead. Never have I been so happy to reach a teahouse and collapse on a rather cold bed, 3800m up to consume my third snickers of the day. We had walked around 2600m straight up in two days and I could feel the sheer exhaustion and tears building. I knew I had a minimum of two days getting back down off the ridge and this was really playing on my mind. No matter the sheer beauty of the walk and the comraderie of our friends I knew I had reached my limit.

The next day I awoke hurting all over but we began our trek along the ridge. It was without doubt stunning. A panaromic view of mountain peaks surrounded us but the track was hard on the ankles. It was thin, over grown and very rough. Much more off the beaten track which was pretty amazing to experience and provided a real insight into the unspoilt landscape yet to be found by most people in this area but my ankles really struggle to stabilise on this type of ground, let alone with such a heavy pack. The steep downhill was even worse and I often had to rely on my friends to get me down the mountain as I grumbled and groaned and eventually lost my patience resulting in the tears that I had felt bubbling away from the exhaustion of it all. Eventually after another long day we were down and Rob and I made the decision that one more day of walking would be enough before we ended our trip. Our friends however still felt perky (I literally don't know how) and continued on their way to Annapurna base camp to begin climbing AGAIN up mountains.

Never have I ever felt quite so relieved to see a rickety old bus to carry our weary bodies off the mountain. Normally I am very weary of the crazy driving that occurs, especially so close to a cliff edge on some of the most dangerous roads in the world but this time I took a great big sigh of relief and sat on the bus smiling about finishing one of our most incredible achievements to date.

It was time to rest our bodies and eat our own bodyweight in western food in Pokhara!

Sus

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Posted by SusieRout 08:06 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

The Long White Cloud

I’ve been wanting to write a blog about New Zealand for a long time now but it’s difficult to put down in words the mix of emotions I feel when I try to explain the last 6 months here. Now, with one month left and most of that being travel (just two weeks left of work – Yay!) I feel it can’t be left without a word before we move on so here goes….

Well New Zealand is called Aotearoa in Maori, which means long white cloud. The scenery is stunning, from North to South and the variety of landscape is a sight to behold. It is a beautiful – there is no doubt about it. And as a place to travel and sightsee it would be a dream (apart from the exorbitant price of things!) but as a place to live abroad for a while it feels entirely different. It feels so very far from any other part of the world and I have to admit, from the minute I stepped in and until the minute I leave, I have never felt settled. The place we chose to live (Wanaka) is beautiful – the lake stretches for miles all around, although cold it normally has beautiful blue sky and sunshine, the climbing and tramping is awesome, what’s not to like? As I have learnt, a place may look perfect on paper but what it turns out to be in reality is entirely different – and that can only be explained as a feeling. A feeling of a yearning for community, for friends and family who know us so well and make us feel as if we belong. Maybe we can put it down to our naivety – being so excited by an adventure that we were blind sighted by the harsh reality of setting up somewhere new. Everyone told us we would fall in love with the place – why haven’t we? These 6 months have tested us to the limit but it has provided us with time to reflect as to why we feel like this. I have learnt that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, to be more appreciative of what I have already got, to realise how lucky we are in England, not only for the wonderful lifestyle we lead but for all the services we take for granted everyday – the ability to pop to the corner shop anytime of day without getting the car to go anywhere and the fact it’ll be open! The NHS, the beautiful quintessentially British pubs, the fact there is stuff to do when it rains and the variety of things we can choose to do every single day (There’s not an insanity class to be seen for miles here! ). Here it is so quiet, we hadn’t quite realised how quiet it would be and how difficult it is to create a network from scratch.

And as I say from the start – you cannot deny the beauty of the place. The many beautiful hikes we have been on, the day after day of beautiful sunshine even in Winter, the wonderful mountainous views and the pink sunset every night. But now I have learnt a valuable lesson – that this really means very little when you haven’t got the people you love around you to share it with.

So as we look to the future of our journey, I feel different for the next part of our trip. I’m super excited to be having my parents out and to have some time with them. Then we’re off for the most incredible hiking we could ever imagine in Nepal. I’m super excited to go to Northern India and experience the craziness of it all again and marvel and how different the world is there. But whilst I enjoy all this time I am also looking forward to a time, whenever it may be, to return to England with a new found appreciation for what we’ve got at home and feel more content with setting up home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have the desire to travel and experience the world around me, staring longingly at the incredible photos in Lonely Planet, but I’ll know that it’s always good to have a place that you can call home and a place to go back to where you belong.

It the end it's just not for us!

Sus and Rob xx

Posted by SusieRout 22:13 Comments (1)

The 5000 steps of Adams peak

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"You what?", "how many?", "5000 steps!", "sounds awful Rob I don't want to do it!". Just 2 weeks prior and I'm reading about Adams peak in our worn out guidebook. "It'll be proper type 2 fun sus, plus your ankles getting better so there's no excuse" I say genuinely quite excited about the prospect of a decent challenge. "Oh, and we have to be up at 2.15am to leave at 2.30am to catch the sunset". Sus looks at me and doesn't say a word, she doesn't need to I've seen that expression many times before, this isn't good news! Fast forward 2 weeks though and we are standing at the top of Adams peak with a huge smile on our faces.

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Adams peak is a unique place as no matter what religion you are (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian) there's something here for you, a bit like Thorpe Park in the summer. We didn't see it but apparently there is an impression of a footprint in a bit of rock at the top of the mountain under a small pavilion. Now depending on what religion you follow this footprint is either the footprint from Buddha himself, created by Shiva (if your Hindu) or St Thomas, the founder of of the Christian faith in India. Pilgrims come from far and wide all year round to ascend the mountain and pay homage to the footprint and their corresponding God.

The climb begins in a small town at the foot of the mountain called Delhousie, it's utterly horrendous. Its a town that serves only one purpose, to squeeze as much money from tourists and pilgrims as humanely possible. Take all of the tackiest plastic toys that you could imagine (think awful fairground or arcade) lined up on stalls that stretch on a single road for about 4km and you have a pretty good idea of what its like. I'm amazed at the sheer quantity of shit (sorry mum but there is no better word!) for sale and as I keep walking past stall after stall I wonder how they are all still in business. There is the odd stall selling useful stuff like wooly jumpers, plastic raincoats, umbrellas etc but the vast majority sell these god awful baby posters (in which every baby is white and usually naked!) and other useless tat. Anyhow, we wonder on and find our guesthouse nestled between the stalls and settle down for a few hours before the dreaded alarm goes off.

'Beep, beep, beep', 2.15am arrives and I force open my eyes. A croaky voice next to me pipes up "I'm not going, you go, leave me here". To my surprise 10 mins later we are both up, dressed and ready for the climb. Luckily for us we had met and agreed to walk with a lovely Swiss couple who we got chatting to over dinner the night before. Having someone to talk to whilst climbing up was great as it completely distracted us and before we knew it we were more than half way up! A quick tea stop and an hour later we were up at the top ready for the sunrise at 6am. The sunrise was incredible. We had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains as the sun slowly rose from the horizon. As soon as the sun was up we watched a procession in where a rather delicious thali style banquet was paraded around under a very ornate umbrella and the Buddhists all prayed in unison, chanting together. It was the first sign of active religion we had seen and captivating to watch.

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We stayed at the top for around 30 minutes taking in the view then started the walk down. We descended the 5000 odd steps in a couple of hours and headed to our guesthouse for our well deserved brekkie, still talking all the way with the lovely Swiss couple we had met.

Next stop is the city of Kandy - we've heard rather damning reviews of "chaotic" city life but we're reserving judgement until we're actually there! Until next time folks.

Rob and Sus x

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Posted by SusieRout 00:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Under my umbrElla!

Ella and Haputale

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As we climb the mountain by bus (a rather less manic experience than getting to the hill stations in India) we immediately relax and look forward to the mountain life which awaits us. Immediately our impressions of Sri Lanka change as the location is beautiful. The stunning mountains stretch as far as the eye can see but its more than that - the people are more friendly and their happy demeanors make us feel more laid back. We feel more satisfied in one day here than we have in a whole week by the beaches. We've quickly come to realise that Sri Lanka isn't a backpacker destination and in order to enjoy a certain level of comfort and visit the tourist attractions you're certainly in your pocket looking for cash much more often. Our shoestring budget of India has vanished and the ability to get what you want when you want at any time of day or night (a man always knows a man who knows a man who can) certainly doesn't exist. We've had to adapt our mindsets but now we're in the mountains that's easier to do.

The first few days have been very special and ones we won't forget quickly. Finding accommodation with a view which isn't booked up is a tall order but we eventually find somewhere and it's certainly worth the miles of walking with our backpacks. We end up in a friendly guesthouse with a view which would rival the best in the world and two of the friendliest couples we've met on our travels. We end up having dinner with Laura and Rob, a couple from Southampton, and it turns out we have lots in common. Having also travelled in India we can relate to the many funny stories they tell and listening to Rob's (two Robs is confusing) tale of his over zealous approach to safety, especially when sleeping with his moneybag on the overnight train, has us in stitches. We do hope they come and visit in NZ! We also had the pleasure of meeting Anissa and Yassine, a French couple who are doing a whistle stop tour of the Country. We really enjoyed our hike up little Adams Peak as dawn broke and loved our non stop easy rolling conversation along the way. It is to them we owe the stunning views of our accommodation for Rob's birthday and as they left, less than 24 hours after they arrived, we found out that they had brought us our room for the night as a present. Such a huge act of kindness even had me lost for words (I know) and left us feeling we were on cloud 9 as we were so amazed at their generosity even after we had just met. We will be sure to pass on this act of kindness along the way.

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Our hike up Ella's rock was impressive, although our efforts at the top weren't rewarded with the picture perfect view I had in mind for Rob's birthday. As soon as we arrived swarms of locals were peering over the edge whilst the army and police assessed the area. It had turned out that a couple of the villagers had fallen to their death from the top the day before and the single flip flop left on the edge of the cliff was a stark reminder that whilst the natural world offers so much beauty it offers so much danger too.

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As we enjoyed the hill country so much we decided to head to the Tamil town of Haputale and enjoyed a 9 mile walk from Lipton's tea plantations to our guesthouse on the side of the hills. We were rewarded with a clear 360 degree view from the top, an unusual sight as the clouds often roll in, and it was stunning. Walking back down and saying hello to the ladies hard at work picking the tea was amazing. What a different life they lead! Although they get paid so badly I was relieved to seen that a hospital was on sight and a school for the children and we even caught a role play of a group of students performing to their teacher who was sat in her woolly hat outside in the sun although we had no idea what it was about. Here we were back to the Indian ways of eating huge amounts of very tasty food for the fraction of the price elsewhere in Sri Lanka and it was nice to be back to our Indian ways for a bit.

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Now we head on a long journey through to Adam's Peak, the 5000 step pilgrimage which I hear is extremely strenuous. I don't know what I've let myself in for as we have to start walking at 2:30am for sunrise but Rob is pretty adamant about it. Let's see what all the fuss is about!

Love Susie xx

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Posted by SusieRout 23:30 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Life's a beach

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9th February 2017.
West Coast of Sri Lanka

We've been in Sri Lanka a week now and having been in India we believed it would be of a similar environment but more calm and orderly. We were wrong (surprise surprise) and it's taken this week to adapt to a new culture and way of life and find our feet. We've had to change our plans due to my sprained ankle and this has meant we are travelling our route the wrong way around, starting with the beaches which are dotted all along the west coast and then going inland. I've felt like Goldilocks on holiday; one beach beautiful for sure but deadly quiet (Bentota) one beach too touristy and hectic (it's like a Russian takeover) but the third one (Unawatuna on the South coast) just right. The beaches differ greatly and Sri Lanka caters for everyone's taste, you've just got to find what you want which is the difficult part.

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Since the hype of India we are feeling slightly underwhelmed at the minute as it lacks a certain charm India has. The highs and lows were so extreme there and it wasn't uncommon to experience a whole range of emotions in one single day but there was such a good energy everywhere and the places were so vibrant and the people so friendly. There is no other place like it and by the end it had won us over! So the transfer to Sri Lankan hasn't been quite as easy as we expected although each and every day we become more used to it.

A turning point in the last week was when we visited the Tsunami Museum. It was a raw and thought provoking account of what the Sri Lankan people have been through. When you watch natural disasters at home you're so far removed it's very difficult to comprehend but seeing just how hugely affected the whole Island was then and how it plagues them today explains a lot of the way of the people and you have to admire their grit and determination when everyone has lost so much. What with that and the Civil War this Country has been through so much more than we could ever imagine. Also talking to the Locals brings about a new perspective and once you crack their hard outer shell the majority are genuine and friendly. One woman had set up a few tables outside her home and we went there for a breakfast a couple of times. At the start she seemed rather annoyed we had turned up and demanded we had the scrambled eggs as it was easier to make but by the end she couldn't do enough for us, plying us with more food than you can imagine and telling her stories of her life.

We've also taken a day trip to Galle. It's the fourth largest City and once you get out of the modern part and into the Dutch fort area it's a beautiful place to wile away the hours. There are huge colonial buildings everywhere which has a variety of shops and cafes to choose from and the old fort is dotted along the coast offering fantastic views of the sea.

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We were told by fellow travellers not to expect much from the food in comparison to it's northern neighbour but we've been pleasantly surprised. If you find a Local making food, simply with a couple of tables out the front then you're on to a winner. The home cooked food has been delicious and we have been tucking into huge portions of different Sri Lankan curries, often made out of the local fresh fruit and vegetables in season. I'm slightly concerned at the rate in which our waistbands could expand if we continue like this. We've also had the chance to test out our culinary skills with a Sri Lankan Cookery Course which was great fun. Making coconut milk from scratch is a rather more lengthy process than I imagined and the food was delicious. It is worth noting that the majority of accommodation has been more upmarket too although everything is much more expensive than India.

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At the moment our time here feels like a jigsaw piece and we only have the corner parts. We're looking forward to filling in the gap and creating a well rounded view. We can't wait for Safari which is coming up in the next week and then we're heading inland to the cultural triangle. Exciting times ahead, the mountains await.

Love Susie and Rob

Posted by SusieRout 23:11 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

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