. This led to the discussion about Nepali toilets and how some of them reminded us of a certain scene in Slumdog Millionaire. From this point onwards toilets were to be rated from one to ten and a very important element of this was that often when you go to the toilet you still have your sunglasses on your head. This is obviously a little bit dangerous as if you do lower your head they might fall off into the abyss below. So the scale is based on – if your lovely more than £100 Oakley sunglasses do fall of your head would you in this particular toilet retrieve them or not? A score of one on the scale is ‘I don’t care if they are even Gucci sunglasses - I am not going in there’. A ten is a very pleasant surprise and I might pop back out and grab a book.
Anyway after that incredibly thought provoking (you might be noticing a theme here) discussion, and some lunch in which as I recall tomato noodle soup and momo’s featured prominently (momo’s are a Tibetan steamed dumpling filled with – well in our cases vegetables. They are very tasty but a bit tedious by the time you get to the 8th
ones), we headed off towards Upper and Lower Pisang. It was at this point that the landscape changed. This area is in the rain shadow of the Annapurna range and so is a lot more arid than the landscape we had seen before
. There were also some beautiful apple blossom trees which I spent quite a while to get into my photos (this trip I decided to get all artistic with my photography – probably as I have no technical ability).
Behind us was the dramatic Paungda Danda rock face, a tremendous curved slab of rock rising more than 1500m from the river. Locals call it the Swarga Dwar (Gateway to Heaven) and believe the spirits of the deceased must ascend the wall after leaving their bodies). Then all of a sudden the clouds lifted and across the plain we caught our first proper glimpse of Annapurna II. This was the moment when we saw our first proper peak at close hand. It was just stunning as we watch the cloud slowly lift. We headed further along the river to the village of Upper Pisang. Upper Pisang is a very traditional, heavily Tibetan influenced village with a stunning Gompa (monastery). We headed up several steps to visit the stunning monastery. Even more stunning was the view across to the Annapurna’s. Annapurna II was now basking sunshine with just a few clouds around it’s summit. It was just breathtaking and something you really couldn’t keep your eyes off. This is the second highest mountain (7937m) in the Annapurna Himal, after Annapurna (8091m). Annapurna II was first climbed in 1960 and it was Chris Boninington's first major climb. It is very rarely climbed though as it is extremely technical the mountain lies just below the magic 8000 metres line
. On the way back down to Lower Pisang we encountered the village archery competition where a group of young men were being extremely competitive in trying (and failing miserably in most cases) to hit a target about 40m away. Archery is extremely popular in this part of the world. As historically in the Himalayan principalities, archery was much more than the game it is today. As a form of defence against raiders, as the main method of hunting, and even as protection against invading colonial forces, archery held a place of huge prominence in society. In today’s Himalaya, Bhutan is most widely associated with archery, where it has been the national sport since 1971. Anyway after all the excitement (pretty much of trying to dodge the arrows as we crossed the village) we headed down to the Marsyangdi valley and to the village of Lower Pisang where were to spend the night. Another rock and roll afternoon ensued – Ruth, Morag and I did some sock washing and Amanda and Sue had not so warm showers.
So onto Day 6 and we were off to the thriving metropolis of Manang. There are two routes to Manang – the High Road and the Low Road. We were taking the high road for acclimatisation purposes (it’s longer and harder – joy!). The day began with a stunning sunrise. I know this because Amanda got up and headed up the hill to go and see it (I was still asleep).
So I have included the stunning photos of sunrise over Annapurna II. I cannot take any credit whatsoever for these as Amanda took them but I think it’s worth showing you – so all credit to Amanda. We headed out of Lower Pisang, through some pine forests and past the stunning lake Mring Tso. Behind us was the still breathtaking Annapurna II. We passed by more mani’s and then behind we heard a roar and turned around to see an avalanche on Annapurna II. Several minutes later it started to rain. Now weather is not one of my specialities in geography (I’m much better with any task that involves the use of colouring pencils) but even I know that clouds tend to be a pretty big prerequisite (yes I know a big word for me) when it comes to making rain. And at this point in the day My Blue Sky (I might have stopped using song lyrics for my titles but it doesn’t stop me using them in my text) was most certainly in attendance. Turns out that it was moisture from the avalanche. So in a way I had been caught up in an avalanche. Yes granted I wasn’t 6m under deep snow, waiting for the arrival of Schnorbitz (for those of you who have no idea who Schnorbitz is – he was a St Bernard dog – well I say was – but am assuming he is now in the big dog kennel in the sky with Shep and Goldie). A very interesting fact that I have discovered is that Schnorbitz once fell into a swimming pool at Terry Scott
's (Terry off Terry and June) house, only to be rescued by Barbara Windsor
(so if you are ever at a dinner party and there is a lull in conversation you will never be stumped again for something to say)
. So after our minor soaking we heading uphill to Ghyaru. It was a bit steep with switchbacks but at the top there was the obligatory tea house (had my usual – a cup of hot lemon), and a gompa with stunning views of Annapurna II and some prayer flags. After our break we then followed a path across the side of the hill, behind us was Pisang Peak (6091m) and views back down the valley. We then had a two hour walk to the village of Nawal for lunch. Across the valley we had views of not just Annapurna II but also Annapurna IV. We headed down off the hill and back into the desert-like valley surrounded by hoodoos (the wind eroded spires of rock). This was a bit of a shock to us all as it wasn’t quite the landscape we expected to see in Nepal. It was more like the South-Western area of the USA. It was a real scorcher of a day and there was little shade from the sun so it was a bit of a struggle. So after a short climb (didn’t feel that way) up onto a plateau we headed into Manang (3540m). We had had a very long day with 15km of walking and a lot of up and downs. Manang is a very important town for the region. It looks very medieval with 500 flat roofed homes separated by narrow alleyways. It is known as being more Tibetan than Tibet as this is where many Tibetan’s fled to when the Chinese invaded in 1950. Unfortunately was hadn’t yet quite the hang of what the term town means in Nepal. We were all expecting something along the lines of Watford in terms of size (we obviously won’t hoping for Watford itself)
. Apparently it had a shopping centre. However, this meant a few little shops – but they did sell everything you could possibly want under the circumstances. Obviously the Louis Vitton hand bags Jimmy Choo shoes were in short supply but you get plenty of ripped-off outdoor gear and there was a pretty large selection of chocolate (Kitkat chunkies !!!). It was also very exciting because we had en-suite rooms !!! Well we had our own hole in the floor and a bucket anyway. The problem was that both Sue and I were now at the stage where things had progressed to the higher numbers of the poo scale and were going to have to hit the Ciproflaxin antibiotics and have a side of immodium plus. Whilst we were quite excited to have the en-suite we weren’t too sure if this was going to be a positive or not. I was also very excited because this was a fantastic pant washing opportunity. Just to explain when you are doing a walk like this life takes on a certain routine and as well as taking in the stunning scenery you have a lot of time for contemplation the important things. And to be honest what becomes important to you is – when will I get my next shower? What should I have for my lunch and dinner? And finally will there be an opportunity to do some washing and manage to get it dry, and get I wash my pants. Nepal is a pretty conservative country and therefore we had to be respectful in terms of our clothing (I couldn’t wear my hot pants), but also it wasn’t appropriate to hang your pants out on the lines outside the rooms or to peg them onto the back of our rucksacks during the day
. Also they wouldn’t dry just overnight so some very careful planning had to take place about when you were going to wash and get dry your pants.
So onto Day 7 and was Easter Sunday. Sadly the Easter bunny hadn’t made it to Manang but we did have a bit of lie in and an easier day ahead. It was a rest/acclimatisation day in which we were going to climb up to see the ‘100 Rupee Lama’. 95 year old Lama Tashi lives in a cave up at Praken Gompa which is 400m up at 3945m which his wife (although apparently she had died, so we weren’t too sure who the new woman was). For a 100 rupee (about 80p) donation you can go in an visit the Lama and receive a blessing to help you get over the Thorung-La Pass. So we all headed up the hill to his cave. Ruth and Morag for religious reasons decided not to go in but Amanda, Sue and I all decided that we were going to need all of the help we could get. Before we went in I told the others I was desperate to go in and ask "Are you the Lama?" (Amanda Sheehy you will get this !! – it all comes from the very famous quote from Withnail and I in which Richard E.Grant’s character Withnail says “Are you the farmer?”.) It was decided it was probably best if I didn’t mention it though. So we went in and each had our 30 second blessing. He touched you on the head with a brick type thing (like one of those that you used to have to jump in the swimming pool in your pyjamas after so you could get your life saving awards), then placed a sacred thread around your next and wished you all of the best for your forthcoming foray over the Thorung-La Pass. His cave was not what I expected – I think I was expecting just a cave, but it was more like when I used to visit Father Christmas (the real one obviously) when he was in Toy Town in Leamington (the rest of you from other parts of the country/world only saw pretend ones – but I actually got to meet Richard Attenborough)
. It was just like a grotto (no elves or reindeer) but it had lots of pictures and items paying homage to his holiness the Dalai Lama.
So after our blessing we headed back down the hill, met the real farmer and a lovely calf and then had the afternoon off. So I did some washing (even managed to get a pair of trousers done – I wouldn’t call them clean but they were slightly freshened up and I felt like I had clean clothes at least), went round the shops (that took 10 minutes), used the t’internet (took slightly longer than 10 minutes – I only need to send a four line email and pay my credit card by internet banking but we were in Manang with internet speeds that were reminiscent of 10 years ago – it’s amazing how used to pages just opening. It took me 10 minutes just to get into one email on Hotmail). And then there was a power outage (in this part of Nepal power cuts are a daily occurrence). Then I had my final shower that I was going to have for a few days (we were going higher and we weren’t allowed one beyond this height as there was a danger of catching hypothermia). I still had several hours to kill so Sue and I did some hanging out in the room (first of my pants and then us). We had a very enjoyable afternoon listening to a bit of Amy Winehouse and eating Pringles whilst having a good old chat.
Then I had a veggie burger (made a change to Dal Bhat), and another early night (every night we were always in bed by 8pm – nothing else to do) ….
So onto Day 5 and we were now heading into some serious mountains. So today we had a 11km walk from Chame up 500m in elevation to Lower Pisang (3250m). We woke with high expectations of a dry morning but unfortunately the weather wasn't playing ball and we left Chame in pretty damp conditions and we couldn’t really see any of the supposed stunning mountains surrounding us. The path followed along side of the river, through a stunning gorge. We were now out of the initial getting to know you phase and into some more probing topics. Sue out of the blue came up with 'Has anyone had a colonic?’ Anyway for the record – no I haven’t (am actually writing this well after the event and I am now back in the UK – Anyway I was very ill last week with the Kathmandu runs and after that experience I can pretty imagine what one must be like – not rushing out to get one done anytime soon). We stopped for lunch in the village of Dikhur Pokhari and had a very interesting toilet experience (see photo)