Friday, February 3, 2012

Asian Adventure: Day 26 to 28 Planes + Clouds = Hot Springs

 Day 26 Kagbeni to Tatopani

There is a common saying in Nepal:

We don't fly through clouds because in Nepal the clouds have rocks in them!
The whole time we were in Mustang we had heard rumors that unseasonably cloudy weather had been canceling flights across Nepal. It is common for flights out of Lukla, the trail head for the treks into the Everest region, to be canceled for days at a time but our guide had assured us that it is not common for flights to be canceled in the Annapurna region.

Our original plan was to hike from Kagbeni to Jomsom, spend the night in Jomsom and then fly from Jomsom to Pokhara the next day. However when we arrived in Kagbeni the night before we had found out that the flights out of Jomsom had been canceled for the past four days. We had decided with our guide that we would check the weather (i.e. look out the window) at dawn - if it was clear, we would attempt to catch a flight out of Jomsom a day earlier and if not we would catch the bus from Jomsom towards Pokhara. Since the bus ride from Jomsom to Pokhara is over 12 hours (on a good day), we did not want to risk waiting another day.

The anticipation made for a restless night, Dave made several trips up to the hotel roof to check if the sky had cleared. When I peaked out the curtains at sunrise it was still cloudy but we decided to be optimistic that the clouds would lift and head to Jomsom as fast as we could.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as hailing a cab. We still had to walk from Kagbeni to Jomsom - a distance of 10.5 km! We packed our bags, quickly wolfed down some breakfast and hit the trail at 8:00 AM. Thankfully the trail between Kagbeni and Jomsom follows the river bed and is actually flat so it made for fast walking with our guide and porter desperately trying not to be left too far behind. We were able to make it to Jomsom in just under 90 minutes.

Trail to Jomson

Unfortunately all of our rushing was for naught since all of the days flights had been canceled. So we decided to risk our fate on the road and boarded a bus bound for Tatopani.

Thankfully in Jomsom there is the option to take the bus. In Lukla the nearest road is still a five day trek to the nearest road and at the same time we were Jomsom there was an estimated 3500 people stranded at the Lukla airport.

We got the last tickets on the crowded bus to Tatopani so we didn't have to wait long before it hit the road at 10:00 AM. In typical Nepali fashion, the bus only made it two minutes down the road before the bus driver pulled over to buy some supplies from the grocery store and then 15 minutes further before stopping for fuel. Conveniently the second stop was in the town of Marpha so we were able to stock up on the famous apples and apple brandy!

The bus followed the wide river valley for an hour before the vegetation began to transition to tropical rain forest and the valley walls closed in dropping us into a deep canyon. The road wound along the steep walls. The entire time I alternated praying that we didn't hit an oncoming vehicle and praying that we didn't get go crashing off the road to the river far below. Dave spent the entire trip trying to figure out how to disassemble the bus' speakers since the driver insisted on playing Justin Beiber songs.

Road near Ghasa

Around noon we reached the bus depot in Ghasa where we were advised that the road was closed to buses and that we would have to walk for 90 minutes to catch a bus in the next town. No one could explain why the road was closed - our guide speculated that it had to do with a tax despute between the two development districts.

We grabbed some delicious dal bhat from the local food shack at the edge of the bus depot and then headed out down the road. Despite a light drizzle, it was actually refreshing to walk and to be able to see the passing countryside without fear of death. We did discover the reason the road was closed - the bridge was washed out at the base of a large waterfall. The local vehicles would just drive through the river beside the bridge but I guess they were not willing to take that risk with buses full of foreign trekkers.

Missing bridge

Upon reaching the next bus depot, we boarded an even more crowded bus - our guide was forced to hang on to the outside with several other guides - and once again hit the road. Again, we only made it a couple minutes down the road before the police stopped the bus to commander it as an impromptu ambulance for a local man who Dave quickly discerned was suffering from a major head injury. The passengers did the best they could to clear some room and then the barely conscious, vomit-covered man was dragged onto the bus and laid on the floor amongst the duffle bags. Our guide informed us that this man had fallen off a roof and was unable to afford a real ambulance so the only solution the police could come up with was to put him on the bus for the four hour drive to the hospital in Beni. Definitely makes me grateful to live in a country with universal health care.


Thankfully we reached Tatopani a short while later and were able to extract ourselves from the bus. We checked into the Himalayan Hotel and then set out to explore the cute hillside town in the last of the daylight. After dinner we headed down to the hot springs that Tatopani is famous for. After three weeks of infrequent and often cold showers, it was heavenly to soak in the 40 C water.


Hotel Himalaya



Back in the tropics

Thorn bush


Considering the previous day Dave was worried that we would be bored out of our minds with a day to kill in Jomsom, the day had sure turned out to be an adventure. I figured we were actually lucky - it is not very often fate throws a wrench in our travel plans that forces us to make an unplanned stop at hot springs!


Day 27 Tatopani to Pokhara

We awoke early to catch the 7:00 AM bus and resume our travels towards Pokhara. After a night of heavy rains I was worried the roads would be in horrendous condition but we managed to make trip to without any delays (or without sliding over the edge into the river below as I feared) and arrived in Beni by 10:00 AM.

In Beni, we headed out into the market in search of pakoras and drinks while our guide worked on arranging a taxi for the remainder of the journey. The Nepali version of a taxi is equivalent in size to a Hyundai Accent. Somehow we managed to squeeze all four of us (plus the driver) and our luggage into the car and set out on the four hour drive to Pokhara.

Fridge delivery in Beni

Leaving Beni, we soon joined the main paved highway - paved being a loose term. Obviously it had been paved at some point in history but large stretches of the road have degraded in to rubble forcing two opposing lanes of highway traffic into half the road width. It made for slow driving. We watched the highway signs crawl by... 50 km... 49 km... 48 km... It took us four hours to complete the 50 km trip. A whopping 25 km per hour on the highway.

We were exhausted but thankful when we finally arrived in Pokhara at 2:00 PM only 27.5 hours later then our flight was supposed to land. The cancellation of our 20 minute flight had resulted in 13 hours of driving over two days. Although I thought our bus rides were an adventure, it was nothing compared to the wild ride Mr. and Mrs. Globetrot took from Laos to Thailand.

After checking into the White Castle Hotel and dumping everything but the clothes on our backs off to the laundry service, we headed out to explore town. It was positively overwhelming to be back in a city surrounded by bountiful restaurants, stores and crowds of people. Dave headed straight for one of the plentiful barber shops to have his head shaved - something he had been looking forward to for weeks after reading about it in the guidebook.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the lakeside parks trying to acclimatize ourselves to being back in civilization.

Pokhara Lake

Fishing boats


After sundown, we explored the endless souvenir and book shops and then treated ourselves to a feast at the Moondance restaurant which gets much deserved praise in all of the guidebooks (maybe something to do with being partially owned by a Canadian...). We had a fantastic meal of mango lassies, vegetable korma, chicken tikka masala and naan followed by a brownie and ice cream. 

With our bellies stuffed and exhausted from two long days of travel, we decided to pass up the bustling Pokhara nightlife and headed back to the hotel room - the early bedtimes were going to be a hard habit to break!

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