Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The ABC to Annarpurna Base Camp (ABC)

Journey to Annarpurna Base Camp (ABC)

As our journey to ABC ended, we didn’t realize the magnitude or the devastation caused by Cyclone Hudhud.  Which has strike the Annapurna Range especially in the northerly part.  It was until we have reached our hotel in Pokhara when internet was available that we started to receive concerned messages from home, that it dawned upon us the seriousness of the nature disaster.
The news was bleak even when we reached home on the 17th Oct 2014, for we still hear of rescue effort that was still ongoing.

Though we were not directly at the blunt of the severe storm; we still encounter 30 hours of rainfall.  We reached ABC on the 12th Oct (Sunday), and started our descent the following day.  It was on the 13th Oct late afternoon, that the weather started to turn foul.  On the 14th Oct, we sensed that we were not able to wait out the rain, decided to trek in the rain to Chhumlong and then to Jinhu.  While trekking in the rain, I noticed that the thunder can rumble continuously for more than 30 seconds, and I found this to be unusual.  It was only when we returned to the hotel, that I realized that we were fortunate to escape the wrath of the cyclone.

The recent news from the government of Nepal said that this disaster could have been prevented, if there was an early warning system and procedure in place. Hopefully, as declared by the Nepalese Prime Minister that the government will be putting in place such a system, trekking in Nepal will become safer.

Our condolences to the families members who have lost their loved ones in this storm.

ABC of the Trip
Recording this journey to ABC, I have the good fortune of meeting and talking to various Nepalese of different trades, and have gotten their perspectives regarding their lives in Nepal.  Apparently, there is very little welfare and support coming from the government; and that self reliance is a norm for all Nepalese.

I was also told that in Nepal, the 3 main industries are
  • Agriculture
  • Tourism
  • Power Generation
However, Nepal is still not able to self-sustain in agriculture, and still has to buy produce from across the country.
Tourism is highly dependent on season; and with the Everest disaster earlier this year, and now this Annapurna incident, it can dampen this industry.
Thus left with the hydropower generation, which apparently for the sake of the revenue, the people are deprived of continuous supply and has to live with the constant interruption to their power grids.

During this trekking season, most of the porters and guides will have to earn enough during this season to cover for the other lax months.  Otherwise, they will face much financial difficulty during those lean months.
Sadly, despite injury or sickness, most of these porters will want to strike out during this period.  Case in point, in our group of porters, we have an individual who has an infection on his foot.  Thankfully, we have medical members on our team with the right kit to render appropriate assistance to him.  This is just one incident, but how many more out there, we will never know.
(Interestingly, in our EBC trek, we also have a porter with infection issue)

Thus penning my thoughts and reflection of this journey, with my heartfelt salute to the Nepalese people, who despite all odds can still smile at the challenges that they continuously face.

AAttitude of the Nepalese People
This hardy and resilient people receives my accolade for their “can do” spirit.  Just like the asphalt road which is mired in pock holed and is narrow; yet the people has learnt to “give and take”, in order for vehicles to flow.  Likewise in their daily living, they have also learn to “give and take” to survive.  Whenever opportunity strikes, they will somehow determine a course of direction to eke out a living.  And at the same time, they provide support for one another, be it the sharing of food or load.  Their constant smile is a great reminder that all obstacles are just temporal.

On the mountain, with undulating steps and paths, only the human and the quadruped animals will be able to negotiate the many steps and rocks found here.  Thus the economy of the mountain relies heavily on the backs of the human and animals.
The weight that a typical Nepalese can carry is astounding.  In terms of “body weight to load” ratio, they could easily achieve close to ONE!
Nepal literally runs on the back of her people.

I doubt the Nepalese has adolescent problem!  At a young tender age, they will be required to assist in the home, and to bring in income for the family.  There is no distraction for throwing tantrums; eyeing the latest pop idols fashion and whiling away idle time.  However, this can come with a price on their education!

Despite the odd which is against them, and having very little welfare from the centre government; they still demonstrate that hardiness and resilience that we hardly see in a developed nation, especially in my home country.

Though with a dripping nose, this little girl displays all the sign of healthiness
At his age, he is required to look after his sibling.
Soap and mineral water for the face - still as ideal as any expensive moisturizer
The biodegradable Backpack
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B - Beauty of the Land
Nepal can be broken up into 3 regions
  • ·      Mountainous (above the tree lines)
  • ·      Hilly
  • ·      Plain
Many tourists come to see and trek the mountain routes, for the beauty of the mountains.  And the different seasons of different lighting casting on the mountains invoke special feeling to the beholders.

Beside the mountains, there are much flora and fauna.  There are myriads of insects especially moths even at this high altitude.  A trip to the toilet at night where the light tends to shine continuously, attracts many moths.  Thus a trip to the toilet for me must be accompany with a camera!


Daisy like flowers
Unknown Fruit

This may not be an angiosperm!

Cultivated for liquor making

The "Buddha Hand" Fruit
Anthocyanin loaded leaves

Found this narcotic plant growing in one of the pot in the lodge that we stay!
Recognised the leaf pattern and confirm by the lodge owner that this is marijuana!


Big Fat Domesticated Jungle Fowls

A type of Skink
Possible a species of Changeable Lizard

What is the key difference between moth and butterfly>
Look at those antennas, moth tends to be more intricate than butterfly.
However, this is not necessary the rule.

Beautiful wing pattern - with overlapping wings
Notice the second moth antennae - extremely furry!

Moth with Fur Coat!
Special Moths
Is it by design that the wings are split - not too sure sure how it can fly!
Again a very unusual specimen - what are those appendages beside the legs? 


Cave Centipede - unfortunately partially trampled but was still very much alive.  When I went to look for it again, it has disappeared.
Plenty of this big bug!  From its proboscis, it looks like some kind of predatory bug that prey on other bugs!  Remind me of Assassin Bug!
This looks like a Lantern Fly (not too sure)
C The Climb to ABC
Having attempted EBC, ABC should be a much easier trek to handle.  That was what I thought, after all, it was lower and we don’t have to fly to the most dangerous airport in the world.
Well I was wrong.  The route of ABC is basically full of steps.  There were less suspension bridges, which means that one has to walk down through the many steps to the river, and crosses the bridges, before climbing the many steps again.  And this will be played out many times in this journey.

However, when I ponder the weight and the numerous stones that make those steps, I cannot help but be bewildered at the Nepalese forefathers who have to bear the weight of those stones, the sweats that have gone into the labouring to form those steps for us to walk today.  Amazing effort, like the rest of the ancient wonders.  Stones by stones, rocks by rocks, day after day, till today.

For us, the journey will begin from Pokhara bus ride to Nayapul where the real trekking starts.
Day 1          Nayapul (1,050 m) to Tikhedunga (1,577 m)
Day 2          Tikhedunga to Gorepani (2,675 m)
Day 3          At Gorepani, ascend to Poon Hill (3,180 m) for a panoramic view of the highest peak of the Annapurna Range.  After which, trek to Tadapani (2,675 m)
Day 4          Tadapani to Chhomrong
Day 5          Chhomrong to Himalaya
Day 6          Himalaya to ABC (4,130 m)
Day 7          ABC to Bamboo
Day 8          Bamboo to Jhinudanda (1,750 m)
Day 9          Jhinudanda to Nayapul and to Pokhara

Day 1
At Nayapul Starting Point - where porters started to pack our bags into manageable package for them to carry.
Walking through the Nayapul hamlet.  Here a bottle of 1 litre of Mineral Water will cost Rp 20.  And the price of water will progressively increase with altitude.
Drum?  Nope, these can be biodegradable chairs if not for the colourings.
Crossing the first suspension bridge, the many which will to come
Terrace fields - taking advantage of a hilly habitat.  This can be seen in many countries which the local has to take advantage of their environment.  Of course the plus point is that the excess water will flow to the lower terrace, provided water can be found at the highest terrace.
This is what is being grown now in those terrace. Doesn't look like rice, more like millet or barley. 
Actual Starting point of our trek to ABC
Crossing the bridge to the Registration Office (Climb Permit)
A view of that mighty river from the flags draped bridge.
Narrow path as we make our way to our first stop
Cobwebs covered transformers.  I wonder are the spiders attracted to this transformers because of the heat generated, thus the many insects that be trapped.
One of our porter - he is much lighter than me, but his load carrying capacity exceed mine!
Steps and more steps!!!
Finally, we arrived at Tikhedhuga.  Decent lodging.

 Day 2

More steps.

Simple "kedai" (malay for provision shop) along the way.  Trekkers's delight and indulgence of Lay's Potato Chips.
Along this trail, we came across a funeral procession.  The ladies carrying the white cloth is the advance party, for the corpse to follow.  Along the way, they will throw handful of maize  along the path of the procession.  (I noticed that this was done at every turn, and there were many turns).

Finally, the corpse sat and strapped to a chair was being borne on the back of a relative.  The rest of the mourners are seen to be carrying wood for the cremation to be done at the bottom of the hill, which will be the river.

Advance party
The deceased on a chair, on the back of this young man.
A typical brick, mortar and slate roof house that we will see very often along the way.  By the evidence of the banana plant that we can see, the altitude is not high, and it was rather hot.
A very common sight, harvested corn left hanging on the balcony to be dried
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In such terrain, these animals did a wonderful job of transporting essential goods between the different towns. Some of these are mules (sterile cross breed between horse and donkey), and some donkeys.  Highly intelligent, they will come to a stop when they encountered obstacles along the way, unlike the yaks which will easily plough you down.

This young boy was doing the family laundry with cold water. I wonder how many of our children are doing their own laundry much less the family, and with cold water.  All I can hear will be "we have washing machine!"
The many bridges that we have to cross.  The painful fact is that we have to trod down near to the river before we can cross the bridge, after which will be the long upward climb to the trek.  And therefore, we coined the word "Nepali flatness" whenever our guide told us that it will be flat from here onward.  It simply means that no continuous climbing of up or down, but the occasional up and down.  It was still little comfort to those poor knees.
Nepali flat - this is deemed as flat terrain to the local.
Quaint wooden cottage
Finally, into the forest where the harsh sunlight is diffused through the canopies of the trees.  Otherwise we were turning dark from all the UV exposure.
Not too sure whether it is a weekly clearing, but definitely many bins were full.  This reminds me of my trek in Bhutan, similar type of situation - on one hand they provide means for disposal, but they don't maintain the disposing points, such that the waste and litters get blown into the forest.

Finally, Gorepani.

 Day 3

At Gorepani, we did a dawn walk up to Poon Hill.  Today, it was just passed the Full Moon, but still the moon was round and bright.

Sunrise while walking up Poon Hill.
Another view as we ascended up Poon Hill.  The particles of the air, cause the light to spread in its colourful composition.
Full Moon
Crowded Poon Hill.  Favourite destination to see the Annarpurna mountain range.  In the background, the highest peak of this range, the Dhaulagari at 8,172m.
Entrepreneur local has set up a tea shop on this hill, and to prevent competition from the trekkers themselves, thus this sign!  Well it doesn't work.

The prominent tower sitting atop Poon Hill
At Ghorepani main street.

Along the way, Annarpurna South 7,219 m will be our constant companion
Dhauragali was also our constant companion

Annarpurna South

 Day 4
Dharugali and Tukuche (6,920 m)

Along the way, we came across this Langur monkey up on the tree.

We are sojourner in a beautiful land.

Going up, stress your thigh.  Going down, strew your knees.  I still prefer to stress the muscles than the joints.

Bridge to Chhomlong

Day 5
Human comfort - mattress being carried by the porters.

These stones seemed very new - laid it a very orderly way.
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Seems like a tropical rainforest.

 Day 6

Only the leaves betrayed that it is Autumn Season.

Thistles and Thorns
Interestingly, the stone slabs have very clear seriation across the plain!  Apparently, these rocks were formed from Sendiment settling in layers.  And because of the collection of water in the crack, and with cyclical water freezing (water is the rare compound that expand on freezing) will cause the rocks to crack.  This ideal shape can then be used for pavement and housings by the locals.

Valley of Rocks
Again notice the curious pointed formation of the rocks!

Huge boulders are washed down by the glaciers

A Beautiful cloud formation as we make our way to MBC and then ABC

Finally to ABC

At last, we reached our destination on 12th Oct 2014
Before Sunset
At Dusk

 Day 7

On this day, we started off as a clear day, but by late afternoon, the weather would have turned foul.  By then, we would have reached our destination BAMBOO where we lodged for the night amidst the continuing rain.

Journey down from where we came
Certain part of this river has iced over.
A backward look on the majestic mountain.

Even the woman can carry as much load as the man!
Beautiful Valley - see how small we are!

Day 8
It started to rain the night before, and continue to rain.
We hope to wait out the rain, but apparently our sense told us that this rain will not cease any time soon.  Thus we set out our journey, not knowing that somewhere north, the Snowstorm has claimed many lives.

Most of us were soaked by the time we reached Chhomlong for lunch.

Back to Chhomlong, the many steps that we will have to overcome.

There is a hot spring in Jhinudada - and that was where some of us when after reaching the destination.  It was a great feeling for sore muscles after the many days of walking.  But be warn, there are plenty of leeches here.  5 of us went down, and 5 of us collected leeches when we returned to the Jhinu Lodge.
Day 9
On this day, the sky was clear.
The sun shine, and we were oblivious to the disaster that has happened.
Many anxious messages will be waiting for us when we reached the hotel in Pokhara.

Finally, returning to where we started.  Nayapul.

Again the rock formation indicates sentiment that has settled in layers.

One Last Look!


Suggestions to develop Nepal
Having seen the country, and the chaotic way things are being done in this country.  I was just thinking, if I am the Prime Minister, what can I do to develop this land.
I am a “greenhorn” in such area.  But still I just want to give my “2 cents” worth of thoughts.  And to those who are actively pursuing politics, then you should have a clear advantage over me.  Consider this as an exercise, as to how you can run a country effectively, especially seeing that this is a Green Field for your creativity and capability.
No point in wrestling from others who has already built the nation foundation, and quiver over small little detail.  Here is an opportunity; I believe that the Nepalese government will welcome your suggestions.

City of Pokhara

What is in Nepal?
  • Plenty of water
  • Resilient and Hardy workforce, albeit not so educated
  • Everest and other high mountains that attract tourists
  • To some – mystic and exotic
  • Textile – especially the pashmina
  • Perhaps logging
For me, it will be

Transparency in Revenue and Expenditure
For a country to grow, transparency is a must.
Declare to all to see, the revenue that have been collected from
  • ·      14% VAT
  • ·      Climbing Permit (it ranges with the mountains that are being climbed)
  • ·      Visa Payment (US$25 for 15 days and US$40 for more than 15 days)
  • ·      Taxation from Businesses and Individuals

And declare to all to see, for the money spent!!!!

However, if there is any inkling of corruption, then the effort to progress will be stalled!  There are many countries in such state, don’t be like them!

Power the Ways
The country is plagued with power outages, be it in the city or in the mountain.  I have lost count to the number of times we have outages; and in certain mountain lodges, there is no availability of power.
 Even the International Airport is not spared!  Thankfully the radar was still working on our last day when we were flying out.

Power as in energy is essential.  For the nation economy to develop, power is needed to drive the many aspects of the industry.
Thus I am thinking, the Nepalese government can form a joint venture with certain reliable country to develop this area to first provide power, which will then drive the other industries.

Fortunately, this land is not short of water, and there are plenty of rivers and mighty current flowing down from the mountains.  Can this be tapped for energy, potentially yes.  However, the country is hard strapped for cash, and will always be a major issue!

The experts will have better opinion, for me I will start at the plain for hydro-electric power.  It will be very difficult to bring equipment to the higher reaches of the river. 

And possibly mini dam or hydro-plants to be built, this will be decentralised to provide power to localized hamlets.
Electrician nightmare - which wire goes where!
Richer individual has resorted to solar power.  But this is not as efficient as other eco friendly power generation.
Frankly, this goes without giving much reason.
For an educated population will be good incentive for conglomerates and corporates to invest in the country. 
The extra cash will provide the extra funds and impetus for other development.

Systems and Process
Not necessarily computerization, but define proper codes and laws to streamline the chaos that we see.  Be it the movement of vehicles on the road; the haphazard manner that houses sprout out; the removal of unnecessary red tapes etc.

Typical road connecting different towns.  From the deterioration, most roads have not been maintained.  The centre part may still has asphalt, but the sides have deteriorated where the underlying substrate of granites have escaped.  And this will continue to degrade with each passing season.  Yet, the people still have to find way to eke a living through this road!
Khamandu - the capital of Nepal.
Equally messy and somehow there is certain orderliness in the chaotic mess.
The people will do whatever that is necessary to earn a few rupee.  Be it laying of goods to be sold; begging; basking to tourist. Whatever... 

Sanitation, Waste Control, Healthcare ….. and many many more….

This is not new or revolutionary ideas, just the same concept that saw Singapore coming out from a 3rd world status to current status.  Importantly, the political will of the government to do what is right for the nation; and the people support.

(Please note that I am apolitical, but I have seen what my country has undergone in the last 50 odd years, I can only say that we are blessed)