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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

The Land of spinning wheels….

Written by Max Smith. Uploaded 12 April 2006.

Nepal, Country 16, Diary entry 15th–28th Feb 2006, Total distance in Nepal: 1058 KM

The wanderer returns. Its taken me a while to track the guys down, but I finally managed to in the dizzy heights of Nepal. In typical Maz style, I was given the task of diary writing even before the hello’s and welcomes. So here it is, my virgin entry. I am sure it will either make you smile or offend, either way, I hope you enjoy the read. Just think yourselves lucky, these guys have to put up we me 24 hours a day now…. remember adventures happen to the adventurous.

So the day had come… the day where I would once again be an explorer in far off lands, seeing the highest peaks in the world, where I would see the weird and the wonderful, where I would be able to once again make jokes about Alex’s girlie hair.

After a bizarre couple of hours on the national express pikkey bus, full of kids entering the national screaming contest I arrived at Heathrow terminal 3. With a sense of excitement and spring in my step, I went to the check in desk, but this was soon quashed when they explained that they wanted £400 for excess baggage charges. After much charm, flirting and the offer of dinner I managed to get the middle aged housewife to lower it to an extortionate £89. Off I flew in the direction of Kathmandu.

Nepalese pray flag

My mind was beginning to wonder what it would be like when I arrived in Kathmandu. The national news in the UK had been covering all the “civil unrest”, more commonly known as civil war for the last few weeks, with shots of riots, bombings and murder. With national strikes and shoot to kill curfews, what sort of place was I flying too… A bloody exciting one I thought to myself, lucky I packed my copy of Rambo part 1 and my 32 part Swiss army knife. Much to my disappointment on my arrival there were no sounds of raging street battles, or the grinding sound of tanks thundering down streets, but rather 30 ground crew asleep in the mid day sun and the constant noise of beeping horns. It must be a lull I thought to myself, there sure to be stricter at security.

Monkey Temple- Kathmandu

So, there I was ready for a long wait and a lengthy explanation that marmite was not a highly concentrated poison to pollute the water course, but rather a breakfast spread that a few Englishmen have on toast with tea. Reality was quite different, security consisted of 2 over weight Nepalese guys drinking whisky and chain smoking cigarettes with what can only be described as a blue peter special, make your own x-ray machine. After all of this I wheeled my trolley out into the arrival exit, eyes scanning to see the beaming smiles of my fellow companions. As I gazed at the waiting hornets nest of cabbies, scouts and touts looking for the guys, I realised that I was the only foreigner walking out of those gates, and it was clear they could smell blood. So the harder I looked to see my ride, the more they thought I wanted their services, and the more I wanted to hand them a huge bunch of Dollars. There was only one course of action, straight into it… in that 10 minute episode I was offered everything from trekking, drugs and somebody’s wife… I did seriously consider the wife!! Then in the usual Towns punctual way, a little later than planned, these 2 huge green iron clad monsters came roaring through the army of mini buses and horns. The adventure was about to begin.

Stupa in central Kathmandu

After all the normal insults, joviality and obscenities had been done, we all headed into the heart of Kathmandu. Speeding through the streets and playing what only can be descried as human dodgems, we arrived in Thamel.

Regular lorry crash

A collection of thin streets with a variety in shops unlike any other city. There are only 3 types - copied mountain equipment, where they will make any fleece/ down jacket you want, then ask you what brand logo you want on it, then normal hippie tourist tat. So after 2 hours of wandering you really got the feeling that you knew the city like the back of your hand. I met a tout at the airport who offered us a good deal on accommodation and parking, after the obligatory haggling we got him down to a good price, to which we all felt chuffed with our great deal. That was until, later on that night.

The Gimp

It was dark but still very warm in the evenings, so we decided to take a walk around the bizarre of shops. As we walked out from the hotel there seemed to be lots of women and men on the streets, which is not uncommon in these parts of the world, with people enjoying conversation and banter. As we got closer to the crowd I caught a glimpse of one of the girls, god she was ugly. I heard Nepalese girls don’t have a reputation for being oil paintings, but this one was a real shocker….. the kind of girl that not only fell out of the ugly tree, but hit every branch on the way down. As we walked further, there was another monster and then another. This can’t be coincidence I told myself, so I felt compelled to investigate… the truth was more shocking than I could of imagined. We were now staying in the centre of Nepal’s ‘He-she red light district’ with what that entails. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of, designer stubble’s, deep voices and imitation stilettos. So when Martin bounced back into the hotel that night a stated just how great he thought the hotel was, I began to worry!

Budist Pray wheel, Monkey Temple - Kathmandu

We rattled around in Kathmandu for a couple more days, which to me, seemed simply down to two reasons. The first being that Alex had the often-fatal “Man Sickness” which left him near paralysed - all but his mouth. This seemed to work normally, which he exercised on a frequent basis… I personally thought it was a ploy to simply get Maz to play doctors and nurses. There sure are strange people in the world kids.

We sorted all final details for our Annapuna National Park trekking expedition and off we set towards the mountain town of Pokhora. The route took us along the main trunk road through Nepal that followed the river; the scenery was green farmed land dotted with hand-cobbled shelters and the token corner shop. As the day was passing well, with only 9 near miss head on collisions we thought a rest bite was called for. We stopped on the road side near one of the main rivers which flowed silently past, donning its amasing glacial blue colour, which if not for the near freezing temperature you would jump right in. As we were packing to continue along our journey, what can only be described as a yelp, or shriek of terror came from the back of the truck - it was Alex. It was one of those moments where you think something really bad has just happened, we all thought either he’d been attacked by a deadly snake or had left his laptop charger behind… but we were way out… a vicious, nasty, savage, deadly 2mm long insect had bitten his little toe. He swore blind that he saw its huge teeth…. but the culprit was no where to be found. Again we powered through the numerous army check points, never really slowing down, doing our English royal wave to the heavily armed soldiers staring at us. I was never quite sure if they were waving back or gesturing for us to be pulled over and searched. I’m sure the latter was the correct one....but haven’t noticed too much bullet damage to the back of the trucks YET!!

View of Annapunna South from Ghorapani

We arrived in the hill town of Pokhara, the capital of Nepal’s trekking empire. This town is the staging point for all treks into the Annapuna region, which soon came apparent when every shop was an exact copy of those tourist tat shops in Kathmandu. Here, more than anywhere, is was clear just how devastating the effect international media can have on tourism in a country. It’s been clear that for a number of years Nepal has had political problems, be that Maoists or monarchy. This may be the case for many years to come, but the incessant need by media groups for shock tactics and sensationalism breeds a certain level falsehood. If you look for trouble you’ll find it, here, there, anywhere. In Nepal this has manifested itself into hard hitting war zone type reporting and painting a picture of a new Beirut. For a country that’s has no export and exists on tourist dollars, you can imagine just how wide and deep this hurts all people here. It’s worth asking yourself to question sometimes, sermon finished.

The day had come to test our wits against the mountain. Man verses nature. We all rose before dawn and spent some solitary time preparing for the expedition ahead. Martin “the Squirrel” Pitwood packed enough nuts, chocolates and provisions to go into hibernation for the winter. Alex sat in silence fondly saying his goodbyes to Loretta (his laptop) and reassuring her he would be back soon. Maz clearly thought there might be a market for dealing in the mountains and packed enough pain killers to take down an elephant. Myself, once I had completed the important “sniff test” and decided which clothesto take, I read a few lines from the holy bible ‘The Girl Guides survival handbook’. Then for the important bag packing, which any experienced trekker knows, good bag admin is crucial – this, along with the weight that you’ll be carrying.

But that’s the key on this 6 day expedition we weren’t carrying our own bags, we had 1 guide and 2 porters… poor buggers. I did my normal and packed a pair of Speedo’s, tooth brush and fleece, which took only the smallest bottom pocket of the rucksack, leaving 80 litres for Martin’s snacks….. I can tell you if you heard the other guys talking it was as if they were climbing Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary! :o) Martin taking the policy to pack everything he owns, as he’s not carrying it. Alex’s alternating grippes, between his little toe and worry of getting hypothermia and frost bite, had to take anything with any thermal value. So there we were, ready and able like true British explorers, porters carrying the lions share of the kit.

Porters carrying Korean Trekkers luggage around the mountains Local Porter carrying dinner

We started in a small village called NyaPal and were heading to Tiihengua to stay that night. We walked along a rocky path, which followed the river into the hills. We were still very low and so the scenery was of green hillside terraces and cobbled villages. Even so, a real treat for the group to see. I got the strong impression from the others that it had been a while since they had stopped to relax in such a quiet, peaceful way. The trek we were doing is well known and has a number of little teahouses where you can get local food and a very basic bed for the night.

View of Annapunna 1

The plan was, that we have 3 meals a day, so when we stopped and looked through the menu for our lunch we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw, A huge variety of western food and local dishes, from Chinese spring rolls, pizza and mashed potatoes. What we were soon to learn, was that the menus were almost identical for all teahouses in the area and developed by a bureaucrat in Kathmandu. So when our meals arrived there was an uncanny resemblance between them all, which was surprising considering that we all ordered completely different things. The rule of thumb is that everything is deep-fried to some degree, from crispy to nuked. With the main ingredients being potatoes and spinach mixed with a huge quantity of garlic. Saying this, the food was fresh, warm and much needed. Its still amazing what they managed to rustle up with an open fire and vegetable garden. A word of warning to the new traveller though, roast chicken isn’t roast chicken, and apple crumble is not so crumbly.

View of Macchupachre

So there we were tucked up in are sleeping bags fast asleep, after a hard day and a hearty dinner. I was dreaming of a stunning girl I knew from home, then was abruptly awakened by what I thought was somebody shaking me. It was clear this was not the case, so my mind then thought, I am sharing a room with Martin… no.. what’s he doing??.. I had to say something, so sheepishly, with a huge sense of not wanting to know I squeaked “Martin”, to which he awoke. The whole room was still shaking, so I had to assume it was Mr & Mrs Towns in the room next door. Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts I told myself, not the best thought to go to sleep with I can tell you. The room then stood still the nightmare ordeal was over. As I fell back to my dream I was awoken with a huge banging sound echoing around the valley, quickly followed by huge ground tremors. This was definitely not the work of Towns!! The whole building shook to its core, and considering we were in a tree trunk made rickety old shelter balanced hundreds of feet over the ravine below I started to worry. An earthquake, and a big one. It seemed to carry on for ages, quite exciting really, feeling that this minute could be your last. Then it was over. My first natural earthquake. I stayed awake all night hoping that we would have another much bigger quake but, sadly I was disappointed.

The top of Poon Hill

The next day we trekked to Gurupanie a spectacular village hanging on the edge of hill deep in Maoist country. To this point all we had seen was misty hills but waking up this morning we were in for a treat. We set off at 5am to climb Poon Hill, a local 3200m peak that boasts the best panoramic views of the Annapuna range in the area. So there we were dressed in full winter gear, head torches… we really did look like the seven dwarfs off mining.. up, up, up and more up, as we clambered up with many huffs and puffs we were greeted with crystal clear sky, and early dark shadows in the distance. As the sun rose, beams of light grazed the mountain peaks. The mountains were waking up.

We were now well into the trek and used to spinach and potatoes in many guises. Everybody was feeling a little delicate, as the trekking was becoming more challenging. So after the normal banter and morning obscenities were concluded, we began our walk to Tolka. On the map it looked a very small distance but I can tell you the 2000 stone steps down followed by and equal amount up, was a tough day for the fittest of cats.

Sunrise on Poon Hill View Of Annapunna South from Poon Hill Pray Flags blowing in the wind

So there we were tired and hungry, and only one thing would do… pizza. As we ordered them up we set ourselves for the now ritual gladiatorial game of carcassone. These games had been getting more and more competitive to the point where it was almost silence through the whole game. Then they arrived, we all looked at each other with shock…. it actually looked like a pizza.. wow!! As we all tucked in, we noticed something different, it turned out to be cheese soup, as the chef explained they had no oven so steamed the pizza…a first for us all.

Trekking in Annapuna Video

As we walked down the last vertical cobbled steps, towards civilisation, the shattering sounds of voices, horns and real life echoed through our ears. Unknowingly we had all become accustomed to the natural tranquillity of living in the hills, and had grown a mutual respect for the folk who live there. The closer we got to the road, a real sense of achievement washed over the team. We dunked our heads into the ice cold stream at the bottom of the path to cool down and were instantly greeted by smiling faces offering us cheap jewellery. We were back.

Nepalses mountain children

Kathmandu and Tibet were calling us, so we packed up and powered up the Toyota titans and set off. My job was navigation, something which I have always prided myself on. I was always sure I had part Navaho Indian in my blood. As we entered to complete traffic disaster know as Kathmandu I gazed over the map and soon plotted what I thought to be a very quick and simple route to our hotel. Martin was insistent that we follow the GPS route but I explained that they had become to reliant on them and that old map skills were key!! So in we went, left then right and straight on, each time we turned the streets got more crowded and much thinner. Until we ended driving through local temples and markets, with horns on constantly and playing space invaders with bikes and pedestrians. It was quite a sight - two of the biggest trucks ever seen, driving through the shanty markets of Nepal an awesome spectacle for any bystander. Oh, we came away quite unscathed, Martin continued his normal stunt driving, by only hitting one motorcyclist and ripping the bumper off a taxi, while Maz drove over somebody’s foot. A good day was had by all.

Driving in Kathmandu Video

We had 2 days to kill before we left for the unknown land of Tibet, so we arranged to go Rafting and canyoning. Before we could leave we needed to meet our guide that would be travelling with us through China. We had all given opinions on how short he would be and just how little English he’d speak, there were some suggestions that he’d wear a black suit and know Kung fu. Were we wrong, he’s nearly 6ft, 15 stone and built like a brick Sh*t house. He also speaks fluent English. Actually we’re lucky, he’s a great guy who really gets on well with the group, and I’m sure he will show us all the sights of china the government doesn’t want us to see. Though this still leaves the real problem as to how we’re going to fit a huge Chinese man into a space the size shoe box. Answers on a postcard please!!

The white water rafting was on the Bhote Kosi, a world-renowned grade 5 river. Some say it’s the best in the world. As we made the 3 hour drive to the entrance, it was clear the water level was very low and it put some doubts in our minds as to how good the day would be. Once geared up with paddles and crash helmets we leapt into the ice cold water. Rock after rock, we were getting stuck and having to jump around the raft like mad men, simply to get us down the rapids. It was hot in the midday sun and tempers were starting to wear. Thankfully as we descended this monstrous river, the water level rose, and now with our honed rafting skills we were a synchronised white water team. It was poetry. The day ended with us getting stuck on a dangerous rapid, so while I stood there asking to jump into the raging water, the guides were frantically racing around trying to save there boat and our lives. I think they thought I was mad, Alex and Maz soon explained that this was the case. Then back to the trucks thanks to Nepal bus service, where we had the pleasure of riding the roof bars through the local villages and army checkpoints. It really was an awesome day from start to finish. That night we camped in the resort grounds right on the riverside. It really was a beautiful location with thatched roof tents and a fantastic little bar area, so still on a high, we all decided to make full use of the facilities and sink a few beers.

The High Wire

We woke the next morning from the roof tents, to an audience of the local Nepalese workers who were in complete wonder as to what these green structures were. Once we managed to drag the yeti from its lair (Alex), we donned wetsuits once again and off we drove to our date - the canyon. For those of you who do not know what ‘canyoning’ is, I shall try to explain; basically it’s where you find a deep gorge river, jump in and follow it down its course. This normally involves jumping off high walls, swimming in ravens and abseiling waterfalls, all good fun for the insane. As we parked up it was clear that we needed to cross the Bhote, but there wasn’t a bridge. The guide with a huge smirk on his face explained that the Maoist soldiers had cut the steel cables a month back to stop the soldiers patrolling through their heartland. He smiled and said the villagers had sorted it, no worries… umm. We were soon to finding out what ‘sorting it’ meant – the suspension of one old steel wire across the raging river 80m high. Then with a home made pulley wheel, steel crate which could fit 2 people and old rope you ride across the river… yeah… exactly, this thing was about as safe as a chocolate fire guard, but looked fun.

So there I was, hand in the air, “me first, me first!” I shouted, only to look round and see the rest of the group quickly dropping back. With a whoosh, ‘wayhey!’ and huge push we were off , the view was fantastic, a sheer drop into the rapids below us.

The A-Team

Up through the local villages into the hills we trekked, until we reached the river bank and the start of our adventure. The first obstacle was a 10m waterfall, which we all ungraciously abseiled down, then slipping and sliding over the rocks down the river run. Everybody had beaming smiles, with Maz asking can she have another go! As we continued down, we came up to a 25m waterfall, no problem I told myself and was getting quite excited. As we got to the top we were greeted by a crowd of local villagers, who were clearly busy peering over the end, down into the plunge pool. Not really understanding what all the commotion was, I asked the guide what was happening. I could not believe his response. Local kids had jimmy rigged a rough bit of electrical wire to a local pillion, then twist tied any loose bit of wire they could find until they had enough leading down into the pool. Where upon they had two younger kids, dipping the live wire into the water, to stun any fish in the area. Not really believing his words, we peered over to watch the spectacle. In the wires went…. nothing, so they tried to throw the wire further into the deep. Success, a fish floated to the surface, it was no bigger than a sardine, so wouldn’t of even fed the village cat, but they rejoiced. With this confidence, they threw it further, without realising that his young companion was still standing in the shallows. Within seconds the little fella, leapt out of the water, and the crowd and us cheered with laughter. This laughter soon stopped when we realised were about to drop down into the same pool, it was hard enough abseiling with tons of water falling on you, but do it with 10,000 volts might be a bit tricky. After much persuasion and bribery they promised not to fish for that exact moment. But I wondered if they considered the sight of a pale faced English man, hanging 15m in a waterfall, disco dancing might be a sight worth seeing.

The awesome 45m waterfall Three Little Fishes

The best was saved to last, a 45m abseil down a spectacular carved waterfall on the edge of the plateau. From the top you could see the whole valley, dry mountains and green fields, when you looked down you could see a postage stamp size pool where the bottom was. Normal Kathmandu traffic mayhem This really was a must do activity, jumping down with torrents of water flowing past you, being able to stop to take a look at this unique view. All said and done we reluctantly headed back to Kathmandu, simply to sort out our China visas.

The next day, we headed to the Chinese embassy with Mark to get them. This was a process we were all dreading and knew would not be simple. Its world renowned that the Chinese have a fetish for karayoke and red tape but iIn reality this process went quickly and smoothly. It may have helped that we paid our guide a kings ransom to sort the paperwork side of our applications! So, after a good dinner and our last walks through the Kathmandu mayhem, we packed our bags ready for an early start to Tibet.

Nepalese Children having fun Nepalese mountain delivery service Monkey acrobats

Nepal was a surprise to us all. With such negative stories, media and rumour it’s hard to imagine a country of natural beauty and rich culture. The people were honest, friendly, helpful and kind hearted. Whatever the political issues, its clear that both sides understand how important tourism is to the success of the whole of Nepal.

We were all sad to leave Nepal, it’s a country with so much to offer. I am sure I shall return here one day.

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Comment from Mark
Hi Max i just realized that you can not only teasing and flirting the different varieties and age's women but also you have a great talent in writing describing and imagining.

So i really enjoy and appreciate your description about me.

and maby you can also pay a little bit more ink to my handsome feature that will be perfect!

I will keep watching your guy's adventures and wish you all good luck and a successful trip!

12 Apr 2006 @ 11:25:55

Comment from Tall Eric again
Nice traffic video...but BAD looking helmets...
12 Apr 2006 @ 12:02:30

Comment from Scooter & family
so just what is wrong with jumping down a waterfall wired to 10,000 volts ... bunch of cowards if you ask me ... ;0) p.s. Max your a nut !
12 Apr 2006 @ 22:10:13

Comment from Ant
I haven't laughed that much in ages, nice one Max - glad you finally caught up.

Martin must love the secret photos (well nobody would pose so badly on porpoise...)
13 Apr 2006 @ 13:37:00

Comment from Ollie Stead
Max I've known you for 14 yrs and I always thought you couldn't read, let alone write!! Where has this sensitive and thoughtful person come from? See you next month !
16 Apr 2006 @ 10:02:42