New Year’s Eve – Let’s Party Like It’s 1988!

My favourite New Year’s Eve party occurred on either the 13th or 14th April 1988, from which you may conclude this was not at home in England. I was in the Himalaya, walking the Annapurna Circuit. And my uncertainty about the date is due to the fact I didn’t keep a travel journal in those days. In fact, I’m not even sure exactly where we were staying that night, although I do know we were still heading up towards the high pass, the Thorung La, and that we were still well below the snowline. At the end of the day’s walking we camped, as usual, and while we were eating supper we were informed that we were invited to join in the New Year celebrations in the village close by.

It wasn’t the place in the picture above – it was smaller – but it was definitely what could be described as a little one horse place somewhere rather high up in the Himalaya. The celebrations involved drinking, singing, and dancing. Actually, the celebrations were drinking, singing, and dancing. The drink was chang, which is rice beer, a traditional Tibetan drink, which is drunk on any and all occasions, by everyone. It is cloudy, it doesn’t taste very strong, it’s not very strong, and it slips down easily.

And then there is rakshi, which is a distilled liquor and a whole new level of peril. We were warned about that.

Up where we were, the singing consisted largely – possibly entirely – of folk songs. We were already familiar with at least one of them; when we had been in Kathmandu, the hit of the season was apparently a song called paan ko paat which we heard on radios everywhere – you can find many versions of this on YouTube if you feel curious – and as the chang flowed, so the singing increased in intensity. So too did the dancing – there was what might very loosely be termed a band, consisting of a number of people playing traditional instruments – and we either tried to keep up or stood around drinking and talking with our most hospitable hosts.

I have no photographs of this, sadly, since it was dark and I had no flash on my camera. The only light came from oil lanterns. You’ll just have to imagine a host of Nepalis and half a dozen westerners crammed into a tea house and having a jolly good time.

And then we were informed it was our turn to sing.

They asked us to sing something traditional from whichever countries we came from. I think the others made a reasonable fist of it, although maybe that’s just me assuming that everyone else sings better than me. Which they do. And some of their interpretations of ‘traditional’ may have been rather elastic. And then came the words I had been dreading, the words that sent a frisson of horror through my entire being: ‘Your turn, Mick.’

I must have been drunk, because suddenly I knew that if I had just one more drink I could do it. And so I did. I do at least know quite a few folk songs although I couldn’t remember the words to more than a couple of verses of the one I chose, but no one seemed to mind. On reflection, I suppose no one even really listened.

The rest of the words came to me as I lay in my tent that night, listening to sporadic bursts of singing and shouting – but by then, there was little difference between the two…

Happy New Year, folks.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 4

Part Four – from 30 years ago.

IMG_0037

On the western side of Thorung La, the climate is much drier and in places the scenery is very much that of a desert landscape.

 

IMG_0039

As you descend, though, you soon come across settled areas where meltwater from the snows and glaciers higher up enable vegetation to grow.

 

IMG_0038

Mani stones plus a fine set of argali horns on top of a wall in Kagbeni. The argali are the wild sheep of the Himalaya.

 

IMG_0040

In Tukuche, at 2590m – less than half the altitude of Thorung la, which we had crossed just two days before.

 

IMG_0041

It was in places like this, that we really felt we could be in another century. Buildings of stone and beautifully carved wood, ponies for transport, no wheeled vehicles, and the two fellows to the right of the picture are busy crushing lengths of bamboo to a fibrous pulp, ready to make into paper.

It was in places like these, actually, that I felt I could just leave the world behind and spend the rest of my life. Yes, totally impractical, I know, but…

 

IMG_0042

We came for the high peaks, but the mountains lower down have a breathtaking beauty of their own.

 

IMG_0043

Sunrise on Poon Hill is a treat most trekkers ensure they don’t miss. Unrivalled mountain views, and in the spring the massed flowers of the rhododendron forests.

 

IMG_0044

Ah, yes. Did I just mention the rhododendron forests?

 

IMG_0045

Photos just don’t seem to do them justice.

 

IMG_0046

And then a few days later it was over, and we were back in Kathmandu…

…and that is a different kind of wonderful…

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 3

At Manang, we pitched our tents on the flat roofs of the buildings…

IMG_0028

…essentially, it is the only flat area in the village that doesn’t either have someone living on it or crops growing on it.

 

IMG_0029

A Buddhist temple in Manang. We took care to visit the priest and receive his blessing for the crossing of the pass in a few days time. The high pass- Thorung La – is at 5416m and  is the highest pass in the world, and who knows what the weather and fate might decide to throw at us.

 

IMG_0030

A view of Annapurna I (I think!) from Manang. Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world, but also one of the most dangerous. The reason for my uncertainty is that the route of the trek takes us around some twenty or so peaks, including Annapurnas I – IV, Gangapurna, Tara Kang and Khangsar Kang, all of which can be seen from the Manang part of the trail.

 

IMG_0031

Nomadic herders’ camp above Ledar, at about 4300m. Theirs is not an easy life.

 

IMG_0032

Bridge across the Khone Khola, near where we camped before crossing the pass. The bridge is covered to protect it from snowfall.

 

IMG_0033

The porters at Thorung Phedi, where we camped before crossing the pass.

 

IMG_0034

A couple of hours later…

 

IMG_0035

We were snowed in the next day (and you can get very bored stuck in a tent for a day), but the following day we set off at dawn to cross the pass (Note the small figures passing the first rock).

 

IMG_0036

Some of the rocky, icy, snowy, lumpy bits beside us as we crossed the pass.

 

IMG_0011

After several hours hard slog through the snow, and the pass crossed, we began descending the western side down towards the village of Muktinath.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 2

We followed the Marsayandi River for most of the first half of the trek, from the second or third day until we left it at Manang to head for the high pass – Thorung La. More about that next time, though. Not much chat on this post, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

On a technical note, I have slightly boosted the yellows on some of these photographs, as this is the main colour that age seems to have leeched out. Unfortunately I can’t do much about those photos that are slightly out of focus (I blame my poor eyesight) or the scratches and other blemishes that show up here and there. It was quite difficult to keep dust and grit out of the camera, and back in those days we used, well, you know, film. Film doesn’t like dust and grit, especially when you wind it on.

school

We passed a school…

 

IMG_0020

And a pony train returning empty from the mountains to pick up more goods…

 

IMG_0017

After leaving Bahundanda…

 

IMG_0018

…we began passing high waterfalls. This one was just outside Sattale.

 

IMG_0019

In Sattale, where we camped on our sixth night.

 

IMG_0021

In Chame, we passed this beautifully carved mani stone. Chame sits at an altitude of 2670 metres, and the following day we were climbing steeply up to Pisang, at 3300 metres, and now we began to see the Big Stuff (this is a technical term, of course).

 

 

IMG_0023

The Big Stuff, although there was plenty more Much Bigger Stuff to come.

 

IMG_0024

And at Pisang we spent Night Nine of the trek.

 

IMG_0025

Carved and painted window in a house at Pisang.

 

IMG_0026

Large Prayer Wheel at Pisang.

 

IMG_0027

Pisang Village.

 

Nepal – Annapurna Region

In 1988 I went to Nepal for the first time, travelling by bus from Delhi to Kathmandu. Although the trip took almost 2 days, and the bus was remarkably uncomfortable, it was one of the most spectacular journeys I have ever taken, and a most remarkable experience.

And then I trekked the Annapurna circuit, still considered by many to be one of the 10 classic treks of the world. It took 24 days to complete, and from the time we left Ghorka, until the day we walked down into Pokhara, we were travelling entirely on footpaths and saw no vehicles of any description.

Part of the walk is now over a new road, and whilst this is surely welcome to the inhabitants of the region, I suspect that it takes away a little of the magic of the trek.

village_1.jpg

Village near Manang (posibly Mungji), on the Marsyandi River, close to the Annapurnas. In many ways, a typical Nepalese mountain village, it is built on man-made terraces, up steeply sloping mountainside, to avoid using any of the precious farmland available in the valley.

IMG_0001.jpg

View from Poon Hill. Poon Hill lies a little to the west of Ghorapani on the river Ghora (pani being water), west of the Annapurnas. Sunrise there consequently occurs behind the Annapurna peaks, including the spectacular Machhapuchhare, or ‘fishtail’ peaks. That said, this shot was taken towards the west, looking across the Kali Gandaki valley.

IMG_0002.jpg

This is dawn, though. Machhapuchhare and its double peak are shown clearly on the left.

IMG_0003.jpg

Mountains and glacial lake from the village of Manang.

img_0004

Lower down, the land is heavily terraced, fertile land being at such a premium that every available bit is used. These rice paddies are near the village of Chepe Ghat, on the Marsayandi River.

chorten_2.jpg

Chorten. Chortens, or stupas as they are also commonly known, usually contain relics of saints or priests. The original stupas held relics of the Buddha, such as at the Temple of the Tooth, at Kandy, Sri Lanka.

IMG_0005.jpg

Mountains near the village of Muktinath. In the rain-shadow, here, the landscape is that of a high altitude desert.

 

IMG_0006.jpg

Mani stones on the Annapurna trail. Mani stones may be carved, painted or both, and serve a similar function to prayer flags, in that they either have a prayer or mantra carved on them (typically ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ – from which the name ‘Mani Stone’ comes from – meaning ‘Hail to the jewel in the heart of the lotus’ i.e. The Buddha) or they may have a picture of the Buddha himself. Although they may be encountered singly or in small numbers by shrines or at Gompas, at times they make up huge walls containing many hundreds of stones, some of which may have been there for hundreds of years. These walls, like shrines or any other Buddhist relics encountered here, are passed on the left.

IMG_0007.jpg

Houses at Manang.

IMG_0008.jpg

The Upper reaches of the Marsayandi, looking down to Manang.

IMG_0009.jpg

Snowed in below Thorung La. Not an unusual occurrence. Thorung La is at 5415m (17,700ft). We arrived at our campsite early afternoon with the ground clear of snow and the sun out. This was the scene a couple of hours later, delaying our crossing the pass (‘La’ is Tibetan for ‘Pass’) by 24 hours.

IMG_0010.jpg

Crossing Thorung La. On the day we crossed the pass, we left camp just after 4 in the morning, and were down the other side by late afternoon.

IMG_0011.jpg

Looking west (and down!) from Thorung La). On this side of the pass there is far less precipitation and the land is noticeably drier. This is looking towards Muktinath.