*For those lacking Jewish and geographic knowledge – Gefilte Fish (stuffed fish) is a traditional Jewish dish served on Passover eve. The Fish Tail (Machapuchare) is one of the most prominent mountains in the Annapurna group in Nepal.
I am back from three weeks in wonderful Nepal and the next few posts will describe our advantures on the way to the Annapurna Sanctuary also called the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp)
This trek starts nearby Pokhara which we reached from Kathmandu by a rented minivan – 200 km and 7 hours!! of roller coaster (in reality much more dangerous) terror. Nepalese drivers are more suicidal then Kamikaze pilots. I will write more about our adventures in Kathmandu in a future post.
Waking up in our “Little Tibet” hotel in lakeside Pokhara I could see the sun rising on the Matterhorn like pyramid of the Fish Tail from my bed. We drove to the trail head in Phedi where our porter pointed to a steep staircase rising up into the forest at the highway curb. In spite of reading ample hiking guides, the nature of this trail caught us by surprise. One reason of elaborating on our hike is therefore to give the reader some tangible impression how these trekking paths look and feel like.
The first part, and in fact most other parts, of the trail ascends or descends in many thousands of steps. These steps are ingeniously built of local, mainly metamorphic, stones. Unlike “normal” steps each step here is different and hiking them is thus surprisingly much less tiring.
Building trails in this manner indicates that transport of goods is mainly by human porters rather then by pack animals. For pack animals trails are usually built in serpentines (switchbacks) to reduce the gradients. Indeed walking in the mountains (and elsewhere) in Nepal one gets the impression that most people are busy transporting very heavy items from one place to another. Porters in the mountains carry often 50 or more kilograms either in a basket with a strap on their forehead or in twin baskets connected with pole.
Changing elevations rapidly beautifully demonstrates changes in flora, which seem to be rather sharp. Plants or flowers appear and disappear and than re-appear in rapid succession upon climbing and descending. I will write and shore more on these flowers in a future post (as I still have to identify the many flowers I shot). The first three days of the trek saw us hovering wildly between one and two thousand meters above sea level.
This elevation enjoys a mild climate (no snow) and plenty of rain in the wet summer. The extensively terraced hills can be used for two (maybe three) crops a year. Rice, wheat and corn can all be grown in the same field in one year.
The main stock animals are buffalo and sheep. Buffalo are used for some work and for milk (but never for beef). To keep them from trampling the fragile terraces buffalo are kept in sheds and branches of broad leaved trees are chopped off and carried to them.
In addition to these agricultural land most of the hills are covered with mixed forest. We soon encountered the first blooming red Rhododendron trees. These lali guransh are the national tree of Nepal. We previously saw Rhododendron only in botanical gardens where they are no more than big shrubs but here in their native environment they are huge trees (if we would have listened better to our Latin teacher we would have known that Rhododendron mean “Rose tree”).
After a couple of hours of steep climbing we stopped for lunch in one of the many guesthouses alongside the trail each boasting a wonderful view.
Our porter had his staple Dahl bhat (rice with lentil soup and various vegetables which gets topped as many times as required). We could chose from a variety of pasta, rice and potato dishes (as exotic as Swiss roesti) and much more of wide world cuisine as well as local MoMo (dumplings). The menu is identical in all guesthouses but the food can be pretty different, after all each chef has a different idea what roesti is. All food is cooked to order, which considerably improves its safety (indeed we never suffered any food poisoning). This means however that lunch (and dinner) can easily take an hour to arrive but the steps don’t run away and the landscape is beautiful everywhere (and rest is always welcome).
After lunch we continued for a few more hours until we reached a guest house for the night. Accommodation is very primitive, nothing more than a tiny cell with wooden or stone walls (separating the next door snorer…). For those who felt like it a bucket of hot water could be ordered for a shower.
The next morning we enjoyed a variety of local bread types (chapatti, guruns fried bread and just plain toast) on a veranda overlooking some of the tallest peaks on our planet. During these first days we suffered most of the day from the Asian brown cloud that limits visibility (this is the disadvantage of hiking in spring mainly at low elevations).
The second day saw us going up and down along terraces
and crossing several scary suspension bridges.
We saw for the first time Orchids that grow as epiphytes on trees. Trees in general serve as a basis for a rich community of plant (and animals) that grow on them.
Towards afternoon we crossed the Modi Khola river to the western bank along which our trek will take us from now on. Some more climbing and crossings of tributaries brought us slightly exhausted to Jinu.
After settling in the guesthouse we walked down through the magnificent forest to the famed hot springs where we soaked until darkness. Walking up in the forest with our headlamps on we could appreciate the glistening rocks.
The third day was a typical make or break crisis day sooner or later appearing in any trek (sooner rather than later). After breakfast with a great view of Annapurna South we started one of the steepest and longest ascends of the entire trip.
Yael, who celebrated her birthday, didn’t feel well and we decided to stop soon in Chomron at the top of the stairs. This turned out to be really lucky as no sooner did we have a roof above our tired head all hell broke lose. In our warm beds we listened as the hail poured down on the roof.
The afternoon cleared up and the next morning we were rewarded with wonderful views of Annapurna South and the Fish Tail but this will all be described in the next part.