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Archive for September, 2010

Annapurna

I still pretty chuffed that I trekked all the way round 250km of Himalayan mountains . Climbing over landslides and walking in the rain, and even snow – from 840m in Bhulbhule to over 5400m on the Thorung La and back down into the epic Kali Gandaki valley. Sadly though there weren’t many of the mountain vistas that the route is so famous for – at least its an excuse to be back in Nepal one day.

In Bhulbhule, we arrived in a rainstorm, in the dark. This meant my backpack, which was on the roof of the bus, was soaked through. We literally had to run to the first guesthouse we could see. In fact it was three days before all my stuff was dry. All of it tied to the outside of my backpack – I looked like some kind of weird hobo.

Most of the people on the route had porters and/or guides, but a large portion like Andrea and myself didn’t bother and lugged our backpacks up the mountain. After a couple of days you don’t notice it – for the first couple days it breaks your back. In fact the first couple of days from Bhulbhule to Chame, where the real altitude starts, is the hardest walking. We followed the route written in the lonely planet. It could probably be done a little shorter but it would mean walking long days. It is easy to think about doing this as the days coming up to the pass are pretty easy, but it’s important to acclimatise

The route over the Thorung La from Pedi is extremely cold, and snowing when we were there. You need warmer clothes for this, but it warms up quickly going down the other side. The way down was problably the hardest part of the trip, ruining our knees. the walking poles come in handy even more for this part.

This was our route and the steps for each daily leg

Day 1,2 and 3

 Bhulbhule -steps: 23470- Ghermu -steps: 19567- Tal -steps: 35538- Chame

Day 4,5 and 6

Chame -steps: 23268- Upper Pisang -steps: 21543- Manang – Rest Day

Day 7 and 8

 Manang -steps: 18032- Letdar -steps: 7775- Thorung Pedi

Day 9

The big day – Thorung Pedi – Thorung La – Muktinath steps 20451

Day 10

Muktinath -steps: 34281- Jomsom

After this we took a bus down to Ghasa and walked to Tatopani from there where we spent a day hanging out in the hotsprings and drinking our first beers of the whole trip – a welcome treat, not cheap though in these parts. The hot springs were amazing. A perfect end to our trip.

One of the reasons we decided to visit at the end of September was the relative quiet we could get on the paths. In fact most of the time we were alone – Until we met our new friend Niall, who kept us from getting bored of each other, and was the instigator of many card games.

Being in the off season, accommodation was cheap, 50p, yes that’s Pence, per person per night – some places even offering free rooms. Food on the other hand, was a complete rip off though, increasing rapidly the further from civilization you go. The dhal bhat, doubling in price to 450 roops, five times the price of a room.

Dhal Bhat became the vain of my life. Every day, Eating this boring staple of watery dhal, rice and flavourless potato and cabbage curry. In the end I had to force it down. Its the only thing that really fills you up. And to think most people in Nepal eat this twice a day. At one point I swore I’d never eat it again – only to crave it two days later.

In the end the only bad thing about the trip, except for the Dhal Bhat, was the constant cloud cover. The rain was mostly at night, but constant rain meant many landslides, which were dangerous to pass. This lasted until we crossed the pass over to the Kali Gandaki valley. Here the skies were bright blue with a few cotton wool clouds scattered around. But that was the risk we took coming at this time of year.

To Anybody wanting to do this trip, I would advise doing it now. The road comes all the way to Muktinath on one side. And on the other you can see the progress up the steep sided valley across the other side of the river. I’m sure this will ruin the character of the walk, but in the end the people in these valleys should be entitled to roads the same as everyone else.

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Well that was India, a roller coaster ride of a country.  Every kind of cliche you could imagine walking the streets 24 hours a day.  A nation that sometimes seems like one big contradiction.  I’m not going to try and pretend that it was the best place I’ve ever been – or even top 5 – but one thing is for sure I’m going to miss the food.

So instead of writing a long article moaning about the many annoying aspects of India, I’m going to have a quick rundown of my 10 favourite things to eat.

Sorry no photos – all taken on my Iphone which is now dead

1. Dosa, Iddly, Vada

Well maybe you might say these are 3 separate items.  I say they are the holy trilogy of the mighty south Indian Brekkie.  Breakfast of champions as far as I’m concerned.  All three – the crispy dosa, the spongy metallic iddly and the spiced savory doughnut that is the vada – covered in spicy sambal and cooling coconut chutney – is the food I’ll miss most.  In fact I’m missing it since we left the last southern state, Karnataka.  Get them anywhere in south India, or around Tooting Broadway if that’s easier for you.

2. Dal Makhani

“The chieftain of the Dal race” as Robert burns might have called it.  Thick, dark and rich.  The one vegetarian dish that has the balls of and long cooked mutton curry.  An absolute classic.  Get it at any Punjabi Dhaba – I haven’t had a bad one yet.

3. Mangoes

What a feast, a smile lights up in me every time I think of the first 2 months in India eating – and drinking in numerous juices and lassi – the most amazing yellow flesh mangoes.  It culminated in our move up coast to Maharashtra where the famed golden fruit, the Alfonso, grow along the coast.  The best pieces of fruit that have entered my body. Get them in May and June wherever there are Indians.

4. Kovalam Fish

Fresh out the sea fish doesn’t really need much explaining to most people, but when the restaurant chefs are haggling over the fish while your having brunch, you know you’re in for a treat later – whole tuna coated with a local masala paste and wrapped in banana leaf to cook or tandoori swordfish in butter and garlic, this is the kind of thing that dreams are made of.  Get it in Kovalam.

5. Shami Kebabs

The most recent entry on this list, but moved up the charts pretty quickly.  Boiled mutton ground with chickpeas to form a kind of half humus, half pate mix made into little patties and fried.  So rich they blow your head clean off.  Get them in Tunday Kebab, Lucknow.

6. Keralan Thali

You can get a thali anywhere, but the real thali country is Kerala.  Sometimes 10 little dishes are served to you on a metal tray, or more traditionally a banana leaf.  Then you get unlimited top ups of most of the foods – although I rarely finish the meal to begin with, its amazing watching the locals munch down what sometimes must nearly be a kilo of cooked rice.  You might also be offered some local fish curry, which is always a nice option.  Get it in Kerala, obviously

7. Momos

Not exactly indian, but hit Himachal Pradesh and you’re in momo Land.  Mostly vegetarian, these two bite dumplings, served with a great spicy dip of dried chilli and mint, are great fast food.  My favourite were in Kasol but there’s nothing like making your own with the family, staying at Tsavo Guest house in Leh.

8. Cochin Roti Kebab

I’m not sure if this is a new thing.  I like to think of Arab traders bringing the shawarma style kebab from the middle east during trips trading for spices.  Anyway, take chicken shawarma, some pickled cucumber and carrot, mix and wrap up in a butter roti – that’s a south indian roti, not northern.  Absolute heaven.  You can feel the butter clogging your arteries, but the token pickle just cuts through enough to make it a prizewinner.  Get it in Cochin at someplace I can’t remember. I could take you there if that’s any help.

9. Pav Bhaji

My favourite Mumbai street food.  I didn’t know what it was all about at first.  Lots of people queuing up for a white bread roll and sauce.  how wrong I was.  Mixed veggies and tomatoes cooked down to a mush served with a soft buttered roll and another dollop of butter for good measure to work into the sauce.  Perfect street food.  Get it in Mumbai – anywhere else is just a poor imitation.

10. Delhi Kebabs

So many Kebabs, so many places.  I swear these meat rolls will be the death of me.  Delhi has to be India’s kebab central.  Grilled meats from vendors out on the street is the go, adding spicy mint chatni and onion to the rumali rotis that are so thin and tasty.

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Shower Time.

Every Friday night these Kathmandu clubs are packed with young Nepalis, apparently for a dance and a shower.  It seems that not having a shower in many homes people choose to join that activity with their Friday night out on the town. This must save loads of time when their getting ready to go out.

This one is for the even younger crowd.   Nothing seedy about it at all.

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Varanasi

Personally I couldn’t stand Varanasi.  This might have been because of the thick cow shit spread over every piece of ground or it might have been because when there I contracted a virus that gave me a fever and an all over rash.  However most people rave about this place and cant wait to go down to watch someones carcass burn on an open fire, somehow feeling spiritual.  And to all you twats that kept telling me its the oldest city in the world, its Damascus, not Varanasi.

Anyway here’s some photos

The burning ghats, Varanasi’s main attraction.

Ghatside

The biggest Bull I have ever seen, on one of varanasi’s cleaner streets – Honestly!

Some more ghat action

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