Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek (ABC)

We had originally planned to climb Yushan in Taiwan in Nov, but the operator there told me Yushan will be closed till next year for restoration.. Actually, what happen is that the 1 and only lodge there is currently undergoing some renovations, and thus the whole mountain is closed to all visitors!

Well, so where should we go then? Especially when I need to take that long compliance leave?? Jelyn suggested going to Nepal and do the Annapurna Sanctuary trek (aka Annapurna Base Camp, ABC).  She went there few years ago and loves it to the maximum…  Hmm.. not a bad idea.  Kenn checked the air tickets to Nepal, Kathmadu.. the cheap promotion tickets from Silkair were all sold out! So popular??  Well, we’ve to settle for full priced air ticket from Thai Airway and transit via Bangkok.

Since it's our 1st mulit-day trekking trip (11 days), gotta do some preparation work.  Luckily, we've been active in swimming, running and Kenn even completed his Olympic distance triathlon so what's left was to go Bukit Timah Hill for some serious training.  After looking at our calendar, we only had time to go there twice.  On the 2nd trip there we climb up and down the killer stairs 3 times (not fun, but the stairs comparable to those in Nepal) and basically walk almost the whole of Bukit Timah Hill, trying to maximise the time spent in trail walking.

Kenn heard that it’s all vegetarians up in the mountain with no meat, which set him into a panic mode and started to visit the supermarket to get canned meat to bring there, which later we realized all these can be bought in Kathmadu!  Well, it’s definetly some wrong info received :p

Also heard that it would be super cold up in the mountains and so cold that you would rather not have any shower (although some teahouses do provide hot shower), Tim of Adventure Gear Post recommended us this antiseptic powder which we found in those ABC shop and we are all prepared for powder bath for the days in the mountains.

Base layers, softshell jacket, gloves, heat pack.. even medicines for high altitude sickeness.. ok all ready to go….

Our Trekking Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive @ Kathmandu - Swayambhunath Stupa 
Day 2: Off to Pokhara - Gateway to Annapurna region 
Day 3: Start of trek! Nayapul to Tikedungha 
Day 4: It's always up, up and up.. Tikedungha to Ghorepani 
Day 5: Sunrise trek to Poon Hill 
Day 5: Ghorepani to Chuile - the Interesting Trek 
Day 6: It's Nepali flat - Chuile to Chhomrong 
Day 7: Saga of a Lost Goat - Chhomrong to Dobhan 
Day 8: Hit higher altitude - Dobhan to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC) 
Day 9: Yes! Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) 
Day 10: Long trek day ABC to Sinuwa 
Day 11: Hotspring!! Sinuwa to Jhinu 
Day 12: Across mountains - Jhinu to Pothana 
Day 13: Back to civilization - Pothana to Phedi
Day 13: Rest & Relax @ Pokhara 
Day 14: Back to Kathmandu 
Day 15: Bye bye Nepal, see you again, soon... & thanks to Maila, WJ, Dambar & Durga.. you guys are the gems of Nepal :D

Other Stories:

1. Saga of the Guides
2. Food Food Food.. Can't Get Enough of it - Part 1
3. Food Food Food.. Can't Get Enough of it - Part 2 
4. Drinks @ Nepal
5. Hot Shower vs Powder Bathe 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Drinks @ Nepal

When in the mountains, I always order hot chocolate in the morning for breakfast.  It just taste so good and warm my body in the early cold morning.  In the afternoon, I like to order ginger with lemon and/or honey.  Another keep warm drink especially with lemon and honey, heavenly. Even a plain hot lemon was good!  All uses natural ingredients thus you see ginger slices at the bottom of the cup and mint leave floating for mint leave tea.  Better than having our daily processed tea bag drinks ah.

Left: Mint tea Right: Ginger tea
I stated to ditch coffee after I "discovered" the hot chocolate.  I don't quite like their coffee, bland but their masala tea is good especially with their khukri rum (see below on liquor).

Khukri Rum with Masala tea
Talking about Khukri rum, it's made in Nepal. After recommendations by one of the fellow trekkers, we bought our 1st bottle at Ghorepani (got our 2nd bottle at Chhomrong) and Kenn started mixing with all type of drinks the mountaion lodges can offer.  The verdict? Top votes goes to Masala tea (for hot drinks) and Soda (for cold drinks).

Khukri Rum with Soda

Kenn with Mustang coffee
Towards the end of the trek, Maila offered Kenn another of Nepal's daily liquor.. Mustang coffee.  Coffee with their Raksi.. guess he had witness how Kenn had been drinking during the trip because the Mustang coffee was very very strong....

I think all the heavenly drinks are only so when in the mountains because when I tried the 1 hot lemon tea in Pokhara, it taste yucky....

More on Nepalese's liquor:

Tibetan liquor - Tongba
An excerpt from Wikitravel on liquor

The finest alcohol is homemade stuff. Raksi is potent, exhilarating, and smooth as velvet; it's often mistranslated as "wine," but it's really grain alcohol. To test for good raksi, toss a small amount on a fire and see if it burns (braver or more drunken connoisseurs will dip their finger into their glass and set it aflame). Different grains produce different flavors: rice raksi is rich and smooth, kodo or millet is stronger and more fiery. Women of a household pride themselves on their liquor, and will put the most effort and time into making raksi for a big celebration like a wedding. At feasts and celebrations it's poured from the graceful spouted anti into tiny clay cups, an art which tests the grace and skill of the pourer.

Less potent is home-brewed beer of rice or millet, jand (Nepali) or chang (Tibetan), a whitish, thin drink with a refreshing sweet-sour taste. A variation served in mountain regions is tongba, fermented mash which is placed in a wooden container and mixed with hot water. Nepalis drink from a bamboo (or nowadays plastic) straw, sipping the liquid and avoiding the bits of millet; the hot water is refilled several times. Nursing a flask of tongba makes a pleasant pursuit for a cold evening.

Food Food Food.. Can't Get Enough of it (part 1)

Before the trip we've heard from friends who've been to Nepal that the food there are really the basic which you will most likely eat Dal Bhat everyday (which actually, I've never eaten Dal Bhat before although it is widely available in Singapore) and there's no meat during the trek so we thought we will be vegetarian for the 11 days of trekking.

The istant mushroom soup bought in Spore
To satisfy our meat craving on some of the especially tiring day, we bought some canned food like roasted pork, sardines, hotdogs and also beef jerky.  We also brought along some 3-in-1 coffee and also instant mushroom soup.

We also pack in our favourite Nature Valley energy bar in both oats' n honey and crispy apple and also electrolyte tablets for the extra boost and for rehydration.

The day when we were at Kathmandu, we were actually surprised that there's load of big and small supermarkets selling all the stuff we brought over from Singapore and even more range at slightly slightly cheaper price.  Haiz.  Anyway, we still top-up and bought juice like mango, orange, pineapple in powder form for added flavour during the trek.

Our trek package will include all 3 meals during the 11 days and all coffee/tea during the day (note: unlimited supply, but not for cold canned or bottled drinks or alcohol).

Day 1 Pokhara -> Nayapul (1,070m) -> Tikedungha (1,480m) 
Breakfast: 2 toasts, eggs
Lunch: Fried rice & fried noodles
Dinner: Sizzling grilled chicken and steak, Apple fritters with custard

Our 1st meal during the trek was at Birethanti.  The menu contains no meat.  We thought.. ok, that's it! Start of our vegetarian journey....  We ordered fried rice and fried noodles which the rice was ok, but the noodles sucks.

The still not bad fried rice

Top: Beef steak
Bottom: Chicken steak
Dinner was at the lodge for the night and another surprise greeted us.  There's meat on the menu.  We got excited and each ordered sizzling grilled chicken and sizzling steak.  The chicken meat was tough but the steak was reasonable, though we can't expect it to be cooked to medium rare, fellow trekkers commented that it's better to be cooked due to the storage problem.

We were quite full then, but we had some craving for some sweet stuff, so we decided to order desserts! (desserts gotta pay ourselves)  Actually I don't really fancy custard, but we still decided on apple fritters with custard. This turn out to be heavenly desserts.  The apple fritters were crispy and apple still fresh in the dough.  
The custard thou not necessary, but did serve its purpose to add the extra oomph to the desserts.  Guess, we were too excited over it? that we forgotten to take a picture of it.

Day 2  Tikedungha (1,480m) -> Ghorepani (2,860m)

Big breakfast!!
Breakfast: 2 toasts, 2 boiled eggs/scramble eggs, fried potatoes, oat porridge/muesli
Lunch: Chicken soup, curry chicken with rice
Dinner: Mixed pizza & Grilled chicken with rice and fries 

Our 1st breakfast in the mountain and I was very impressed.  Such a big serving!  Am I really in the mountain? I order boiled eggs, so that I can keep 1 and eat it during the trek, boiled eggs is my comfort food during trekking. I started to feel this way during my very virgin trek at Chiang Mai Thailand.  The oat porridge was nice, it was like our Quakers oats, but it somehow taste very different from what I usually eat at home.

For dinner, we ordered pizza and grilled chicken.  The chicken was definitely better and more delicious than yesterday.  The meat was tender with nice sauce on it, yummy!  The pizza was not bad, very tasty, but I don't quite like the dough.  It was not the usual pizza dough we ate, but more of... hmmm.. very thick and a bit soggy....

Top: Grilled chicken (come with rice)
Bottom: "soggy" dough pizza

Day 3 Ghorepani (2,860m) -> Chuile (2,855m)
Breakfast: 2 toasts, 2 boiled eggs/scramble eggs, fried potatoes
Lunch: Mushroom soup, spaghetti
Dinner: Vege momo, Dal Bhat

I must talk about the mushroom soup we had for lunch.  Very tasty and "cloudy" soup base.  The mushrooms according to Maila was freshly plucked from the garden.  The mushrooms were of a species which we've never seen before.... looks funny thou, but nothing happened to us.. whahaha.  It was 1 delicious soup!

Top: the fresh mushroom soup
Bottom: spaghetti
I finally tasted my 1st Dal Bhat and I love it!!!!  I really love the dal.. luckily I've always like Indian food especially with much spices in a dish.  It was a vegetarian night.  It was quite funny actually.  When we reached the lodging at Chuile, when we walked past the kitchen we thought we heard the cracking of a chicken.  Kenn was excited, yes! chicken again today!!! But when we look at the menu, no chicken, no meat in fact.  Was it our ears playing tricks on us?

My 1st Dal Bhat

Day 4 Chuile (2,855m) -> Chhomrong (2,170m)
Breakfast: Rosti and apple pancake
Lunch: Fried chicken with fries and pork fried rice
Dinner: Noodle soup with vegetables and swiss steak

There's no set breakfast served here, so we each ordered a dish.  Rosti was good but the apple pancake sucks.  The pancake dough was yucky....

Maila told us that Chhomrong will be our last place for meat.  Thereafter will be vegetarian all the way.  Reason being that Chhomrong being a big town was the central of many trekkers where they came from different areas.  Any places after Chhomrong towards ABC will be too difficult to transport meat up and storing of these meat may be a problem as well.

Top: Popcorn chicken
Bottom: pork fried rice
The lodge we stayed at Chhomrong -- International Guest House served really nice food.  Our lunch was divine!  Fried chicken we thought we will get something KFC-like? it came out to be KFC chicken popcorn.. but still nice for mountain standard.  We love the pork fried rice.  the meat not very tough still tender-biting and it's so flavourful.

Top: Sizzling Swiss Steak
Bottom: Noodle soup with vege
The swiss steak left Kenn still drooling till now.  On hotplate and it goes slizzing till the cheese melted on top of the steak.. shiok!

Day 5 Chhomrong (2,170m) -> Dobhan (2,600m)
Breakfast: Himalayan kingdom breakfast, Bacons
Lunch: Curry Vegetables with rice, Korean maggi mee
Dinner: Spaghetti and spring roll

The meals of day 5.  You see that chunky bacons?? 

The lodge gave us another surprise today for our breakfast.  We saw bacons in the menu so we ordered it, thinking it will be like small thin slices for us to eat with our bread.  When it came, we were shocked!  There were about 6 big pieces for us!  Guess the bacon was to bid us farewell and tell us to say hello to vegetarian.
Oily, salty with chunks of fatty meat.. but we ate it wholeheartedly...

With such delicious food for breakfast, our lunch and dinner seemed so simple.  We tried Nepalese spring roll.  It look like curry puff.  Vegetables inside the crispy crust. Nice!

~ to be continued ~

Food Food Food.. Can't Get Enough of it (part 2)

Day 6 Dobhan (2,600m) -> Machhapuchhare Base Camp (3,700m)
Breakfast: Gurung bread with cheese and Rosti with fried eggs
Lunch: Mixed vegetables fried rice and Mushroom, onion and garlic soup
Dinner: Tomato soup and Mushrooms pizza

Breakfast before trekking up to MBC
After so many days in the mountain, we decided to try the Gurung bread, also known as the Tibetan bread.  We simply love it!  Something like our youtiao, thou not so oily here.  Their rosti never failed us too.

It was a tedious trek for me today.  Seems never-ending. I was overjoyed when Kenn had already ordered lunch and already served when I finally reach MBC so the food tasted especially delicious but it was really delicious.  

During tea break, Kenn decided to try out their coconut biscuits.  He been seeing the other trekkers eating it. Wow, really gotta trust the trekkers, it was nice! There's the aroma of the coconuts and there's coconut in the biscuits as well.  It cost us NRp 90 at MBC while it only cost NRp15 in Pokhara!  Well, really gotta pay for the porters who carried it up.  I bought 1 packet back to Singapore wanting to test out if it really taste good even if you are not in the mountain trekking.  Verdict: this is a gem!  I regretted not buying more back, now i miss it so much.  It taste especially great when dip in coffee!

I've heard their pizza was good especially the higher you go.  Don't ask me why, cos I don't know.  We ordered 1 at MBC.  Good for mountain standard (of cos cannot compare with the 1 I had in Italy) they were generous with all the toppings and cheese on the pizza, making you feel that it was worth your every cents.

Than we saw what Maila, WJ were eating.  Dal Bhat which even come with 2 pieces of luncheon meat.  It smell wonderfully good!  And we looked at our pizza and tomato soup and sigh......

Day 7 Machhapuchhare Base Camp, MBC (3,700m) -> Annapurna Base Camp, ABC (4,130m)
Breakfast: French toast and oat porridge with apple
Lunch: Cheese macaroni and french fries
Dinner: Dal Bhat and omelette

I just love their oat porridge so this round we added apple.  Hmm... fruits always taste so nice when we are trekking.  The french toast we had was so-so.. very bland so Kenn started spreading lotsa "Everest" honey on the toast.

To celebrate us finally reaching ABC, I must have my comfort food - potatoes! So we had yummy french fries and also macaroni with super generous cheese on top.  We ate till so full ah.... 

It was another Dal Bhat night top with omelette.  It was quite a good combi and I enjoyed my meal (especially with the heater turned on at the dinning hall).  I guess Dal Bhat just taste nice everywhere in Nepal.  Just love the fact of unlimited topping up of the dal.... shiok!

Day 8 Annapurna Base Camp, ABC (4,130m) -> Sinuwa (2,340m)
Breakfast: Tuna sandwiches and fried potatoes with cheese
Lunch: Spring roll and maggi mee
Dinner: Mushroom soup, Dal Bhat with beef curry and rice pudding

*yawn*  I am tired.  I am cold.  Today will be the day to trek down...  The tuna sandwiches sucks, fried potatoes was hot and would never go wrong. haa.  The dinning area was very crowded today due to a group of school kids (from US??) who had trek up from MBC early early in the morning (shd be around 4am).  You can see their tiredness, some just sat there not wanting to move even when their teachers and the guide urged them to go out to enjoy the mountains.

Time to trek down... and it was such a bad day for me... till I can't enjoyed the delicious spring roll and maggi mee. Sigh.  

Dinner was enjoyable since i got my hot water shower to refresh myself.  We found out that we can asked for the "house special".  The house special were usually those meals specially prepared for the guides and porters.  For today we had the house special consisting of the Dal Bhat with beef curry.  The beef was cooked till very flavourful thou the meat was not as tender but it was good enough.  Need something to cheer myself and also to satisfy my sweet tooth so I requested for dessert today.  Been wanting to try the rice pudding, seems to be quite a hit with the ang mo.  It was basically glutinous rice soak in warm coconut milk. Like burbur chacha.. I like it.
Rice pudding

Day 9 Sinuwa (2,340m) -> Jhinu (1,760m)
Breakfast: Gurung bread and cornflakes with apple
Lunch: Spinach soup, rice with curry chicken
Dinner: Onion soup, mixed vegetables, stir-fried chicken

Can't get enough of gurung bread, thought we had requested for cheese on top... but it came as kosong... hmm... decided to order my favourite cornflakes.. alas it was disappointing... the cornflakes lao hong already. :(
the "lao hong" cornflakes

Kosong gurung bread
Jhinu was a place which gave us some surprises (other than the hotspring).  We ordered spinach soup and fried chicken.  the soup was tasty and even came with a toasted bread, but seriously i did not see any spinach inside!  We waited for quite long for the fried chicken than later Maila came and told us the chicken was still quite frozen... can change order and have the fried chicken for dinner instead.  Maila suggested their house special, curry chicken!  It was already prepared for the guides and porter so we shall have 1 also, wow.. I don't mind at all because the dish was good. 

Delicious lunch

Stir-fried mixed vegetables
For dinner, we decided to change the fried chicken to just stir-fried it with some vegetables... but it turned out to be 2 separate dishes.  1 big plate of chicken, cooked in soy sauce and 1 big plate of mixed vegetables... gosh!!! Nevertheless, it was really a nice change to have a plate of vegetables... seemed to be a long time since I last ate stir-fried vegetables?

Nice chicken

Day 10 Jhinu (1,760m) -> Pothana (1,990m)
Breakfast: Breakfast set (2 hard boiled eggs, 2 toasts, 1 banana & potatoes) & Fried eggs
Lunch: Fried rice with cheese & soup + complementary curry
Dinner: Curry chicken with rice, Momo & banana fritters

Breakfast @ Jhinu

Breakfast was normal especially since it was almost the end of the trip... sometime you just can't go wrong by ordering the breakfast set.  Lunch was quite a let-down... but saved with the complementary curry Maila offered us.   

The curry which Malia gave us

Dinner was another house special.  The momo, a Tibetan dish was good.  Ordered desserts again, banana fritters.. I still prefer and miss the apple fritters....

Dinner: Rice with curry chicken & Momo

Banana fritters
Day 11 Pothana (1,990m) -> Phedi
Breakfast: Fried noodles with fried eggs, gunung bread with cheese
Lunch: Fried rice, tandoori chicken & fish with curry (@ hotel)

Nice noodles with so-so gurung bread
I've not ordered fried noodles ever since our 1st lunch in the mountain.  Kenn insisted on ordering 1 today top with fried egg.  Ok, gave it one last chance then.  Surprisingly delicious!  The noodles was like spaghetti it was very Q and tasty!  To compensate for the no cheese gunung bread at Sinuwa, we had it with cheese, but alas a disappointed one.  The bread was not crispy.. but then i was think was it because of the cheese?

Ok, our last meal as provided in the package was in Pokhara at our hotel, Green Tera Hotel.  Ordered fish curry since we did not have any for the past 10 days it was good, a tinge of lemon to taste.  Tandoori chicken was quite tender but i find it too salty (or rather tasty to some people).

Tandoor chicken, fried rice & curry fish
Well, it has been an interesting journey and the food was really a surprise to me.  I had came expecting very very basic food but I had thoroughly enjoyed all my meals there.  I guess one of the reason was due to the excessive energy used while trekking thus you tend to have a better appetite to eat more for the energy lost and to have more energy the next day.  Well, the consolation after every trek is always the nice delicious food waiting for me.  I appreciate the cook who prepare such interesting and good food for us.  The porters, who painstakingly carried the ingredients and even the gas up to the mountain so that we can enjoy.... Thanks!!!

Hot Shower vs Powder Bathe

After a few days in the mountain, I developed a mountain shower ritual.  It lasted me for days except for the day at ABC where it was too cold to go thru this ritual. 

Well, it goes something like this (at least for me):  you 1st pick up the courage to finally walk into the bathroom,  turn on the tap and wait patiently for hot water while trying to avoid the cold water splashing out. When the water finally turns hot, you jump into the running hot water, do a super quick shower and turn off the tap. Than the cold wind will start blowing at you… and you start the freezing jumping ritual when finally you managed to wipe your body dry and quickly wear your clothes and viola you are clean and refreshed again. 

After that, jump into the trusty down sleeping bag, rubbing against it for friction to create some heat to your body... and there nice and warm again....

The trusty down sleeping bag
At ABC, it was simply too cold to shower, you don't want to touch the water which is freezing cold.  Using the antiseptic powder we bought before the trip, I just pour substantial amount all over my body.  We also put powder into our socks and our boots so that it will not smell.. It prove to be very good with nice smell also.

Though... I still prefer the shower....

Friday, November 12, 2010

Back to Kathmandu

It was a long tiring bus ride back to Kathmandu.  Back to the bustling little city of Nepal.  We met up with Dambar and Durga for dinner.  They brought us to Dambar's house and his wife cooked us a sumptuous dinner. Chicken chop which Dambar said it was only the starter to go with the beer....  Than came the Nepali staple - Dal Bhat.  All the food were simply divine, but it was really really a lot for our stomach to take!  Dambar said we still not Nepali enough.. whahahaha...

Starter to go with the beer

Add spice to our meal

Dal Bhat

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rest & Relax @ Pokhara

I had a nice long hot shower once back in the hotel. Washed away all the soil and all the tiredness.  Now what we need was a soothing massage to calm our hardworking legs.  We saw quite a number of massage cum hair salon along the streets.  When we went into one to ask for the price, than we realised the masseuse was the barber himself... ok, skip!  Finally, we settled for a 1 hour massage at a massage place located in a hotel.

When I was in the mountain, I like to drink hot lemon, or hot lemon ginger tea or hot lemon honey ginger tea.  So when I was back to civilisation, I tried to order the same... yucky.. it somehow lost the taste I wanted.

I like Pokhara, although the streets were obvious only for tourists.  We shopped around for t-shirts, trekking stuffs and tibits.  Bought a "chiong" TNF trekking pants for only about US$20, tees to "show" that I've been to Nepal (whahaha) and also a packet of the coconut biscuits we had at MBC (verdict: it tastes delicious anywhere, everywhere).

Tired after shopping, it's time for some beer to celebrate our achievement!


Back to civilization - Pothana to Phedi

Day 11 Pothana (1,990m) -> Phedi
Total time: 3 hrs
Breakfast: Fried noodles with fried eggs, gunung bread with cheese
Lunch: Fried rice, tandoori chicken & fish with curry (@ hotel)

It's back to civilization today!  So fast... our Annapurna Sanctuary trek will end soon.  Today will be an easy walk back except for the part from Dhampus to Phedi where it's a long steep stop steps down.  There are people who chose to start from Phedi and I really can't imagine how they did it especially when it was just the start of the trek.

The China guy we met at ABC started his trek at Phedi.  He had initially intended to do it on his own.  Carrying his big and heavy backpack, with his two trekking poles, he slowly started his climb up the steep steep steps up to Dhampus.  He gave up when he reached Dhampus and decided to engage a guide cum porter for the rest of the journey.  It was so tiring he doubted he can reach ABC if he were to do it on his own.  So I am glad we did the other way, starting at Nayapul, a good base for me to start and get adjusted to trekking.

The day greeted us with a really nice sunrise.  For so many days in the mountain, today was the 1st time we saw the sun as big, as round, as bright as an egg yolk rising up from the mountains.  It was a nice end to the trek. :D

Sunrise @ Pothana

@ Dhampus

Machhapuchhre aka Fish tail

Kenn trying to pick up the "Fishtail" (Machhapuchhre)