Twilight for Travelers

Hello jet lag!  Sometimes I beat you, and sometimes I really, really don’t.

This morning I watched the sun rise over the Bosphorus Strait.  Negatives: delirium, confused circadian rhythm.  Positives: INTENSE BEAUTY and the inspiration for my first blog post in a long time.  This one goes out to the hamsters and all their crepuscular buddies.  Let’s start with two very different Mongolian sunsets.

I took the top picture on my first night in Ulaan Baatar, the happening capital of Mongolia.  The bottom picture is from a twilight camel ride in the Gobi.

Next we have a special pairing: California wine country and the Himalayas in Nepal.

And, finally, Istanbul this morning, followed by Siem Reap after a long day of touring.

Never-Ending Peace And Love

Inspired by a guest house sign in Phalate, this last post on Nepal is a collection of happy and hilarious moments from the Annapurna Circuit.  It was a wonderful journey.

Clockwise from the upper left corner: end-of-the-trail exhilaration, N.E.P.A.L., wishful thinking about Paris, walking buddies, truth.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Thailand and Cambodia!  If you’d like to see more from Russia, Mongolia, and Nepal, please let me know in the comments.

And collage number two: Fewa lake in Pokhara, confidence, Himalayan grandeur, the most precious puppy in Panang, Gorkha beer (better than Everest).

Poon Hill: Nepal’s Disney World

You guys, everyone goes to Poon Hill.  Everyone gets up at 5 am to see the sunrise.  Super intense trail runners will blow past you, trying to be the first of 300 or 400 people on the hilltop.  And yet, like Disney World, Poon Hill is totally magical.

Mountain views are the focus of any trek, from three days to three weeks.  At least three separate treks converge on Ghorepani for this sunrise.  On Poon Hill, you get a whole lot of Himalaya at a reasonable altitude.

Needless to say, it’s almost a competition to get the most ridiculous mountain picture.  Raj, Jesse, and I tried several poses.  Then we joined the parade downhill to eat some serious breakfast.

Welcome to the Apple Capital

After crossing the Thorung La pass, we entered completely new landscapes.  The trail to Jomsom more closely resembled the Gobi Desert than anything I had seen on the circuit.  I was shocked to see sand and scrubby bushes after snow-covered mountain tops.  Good thing I had more signs to remind me that we were still in Nepal!

The following exciting things happened after the pass: waterfalls and warm weather, great views of Dhaulagiri (8167 meters), and new animal friends!  Though I missed the yaks immediately, I enjoyed chasing goats and water buffalo into the bushes for pictures.

5,416 Meters

Despite all of my visualization exercises (18,000 feet?  Oh that’s just 3 thousand of me!), I knew I couldn’t prepare for what I would see and experience crossing the the Thorung La pass.  Most mornings I don’t wake up at 3:30 am for a 1000 meter climb, each step taking me the highest I’ve been in my life.  Most afternoons I don’t descend 1700 meters and then casually stroll into town for tea and cookies.

When my guide, Raj, told me we were 15 minutes from the top, I simply didn’t believe him.  The whole morning I had refused to look at my watch.  I only focused on taking deep breaths and solid steps toward the top.  It was when he grabbed my face and told me again that I knew it was true – we were going to make it all the way up.  Cue the inspirational sports movie music.

The crazy thing was that we had to go back down again.  After a few hours, the Thorung peak grew distant and the mountains went back to being larger than life.  We faced a new range of mountains as our trekking companions.  And maybe the craziest thing of all was that early the next morning, I woke up and started walking.

Dharapani to Manang

The next few days of hiking brought us closer to the mountains.  I spotted my first avalanche from the monastery in Upper Pisang.  Watching a huge snow cloud rumble down Annapurna II (7,937 meters tall) from a comfortable distance was more than enough excitement for me.  However, I would highly recommend expending some extra energy for the upper trail to Manang (illustrated in the sign below).  The 470 meters up to Ghyaru can be tough, but it’s great practice for the Thorung La Pass.

Almost everyone seems to take a rest day in Manang.  You can shop for any trekking essentials you need and evaluate the quality of the cinnamon buns at one of many bakeries.  Of course, a rest day on the circuit actually means gaining elevation for acclimatization.  I climbed about a thousand feet up to visit the famous “100 rupee lama.”  For a small donation, he’ll pray for you and wish you good luck on the pass.  I enjoyed sitting and drinking tea with him – can’t say I’d ever met a 95 year-old lama before.  He looks pretty good for over 40 years spent receiving visitors above Manang.

Two brief reminders for visitors: If you would like to receive blog updates by email, enter your address on the right side of the website.  If you would like to make any of the collages larger, click on them once and then click again when a new window or tab opens.  Please let me know if you have any specific questions about the Annapurna Circuit or if you would like to hear more about a topic.  Thanks!

Slow Hike, Long Life

I did it!  After 17 days of trekking, eating, and aclimatizing, I’ve completed the Annapurna Circuit.  The title of this post, my mantra for the trek, comes from the back of huge painted trucks on the highway from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar.  Some of my favorite phrases included “Road of the King,” “Love is Game,” and “Slow Drive, Long Life.”

I think I’ll have to unfurl the story of the trek at about the same pace I walked through the mountains – slowly.  Below are some pictures from the first four days.

One of my favorite things about the Annapurna trek was the diversity of the landscape.  Everything was electric green from Besi Sahar to Dharapani.  We crossed countless waterfalls and walked by many farms carved into the hillside.  I guess I should thank the monsoon weather for the beautiful scenery.