Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pokhara and Rafting The Kaligandaki

Ok, so once again it's been a little while since my last post, at first it was because I had nothing new to report, then it was because I was too busy, then I was away on another short trip! As a result, here is another long post, so sit back and enjoy.

First though, good news! I think I can officially declare my flesh-eating bacteria dead! So it all started on the train in India, which was about 3-12. (Yah, a month and a half to heal!) I got a small blister-like thing on my right foot, and it wouldn't heal. A little while later I got what looked like a little pimple by my knee, which then grew and grew until it was bloody and puss filled, about the size of a quarter. Then I got another one, and another one. I put a small amount of effort in trying to keep them clean, and watched them every day. It kept seeming like it was getting better, but they still were not healing. I thought about going to a clinic, but never did. Over the Everest trek some serious healing finally occurred, and they seem totally closed up and 'healed' now. I think I'll have three scars on my leg from it, oh well. With those healed though, I managed to get a new injury: a burn from the exhaust pipe of my scooter. This is pretty much the classic travelers injury. It's about 1x3”, dripping puss, and rather painful at times. I got it right before the rafting trip, but it just started hurting on the last day of the rafting trip. Again, all I can do is keep it clean. So goes life on the road, I'll spare you the pictures, haha.

But back to the story. So when I left off last time I had just gotten back to Kathmandu on the 17th and was relaxing a bit and trying to decide what to do next. All I really wanted to do for two or three days was eat a lot of food, sleep in and get my blog about the trek written. I got my computer the next day and set to catching up on some online business, as well as the whole eating and sleeping business. I'm a pro at that. I spent the next two days doing pretty much that, as well as some mild wandering around the area, but really it was a bit of a nothing period.

The next day I did more of the same, but this time had something on my schedule, meeting up with Theo for dinner. Theo again, is someone I met on the Trek, and we had talked about meeting in Kathmandu and then spending a few days in Royal Chitwan National Park to do the whole safari thing together. Dinner was good, I had lasagna and he had pizza. We had planned to go out for a drink afterwards, but by the time we were ready it was past 10pm, and the whole area shuts down by about 11pm so we ended up not bothering.

The next day was another lazy one, and I was really getting tired of it. I slept in, got breakfast at my usual spot (after 3 days in a row they even began giving me some extra food for free!), wasted time on the internet and wandered the shops of Thamel, picking up a new book and decided to stop waiting on other people to get back to me about plans. So I bought a bus ticket to Pokhara, then spent the rest of the day pretty much doing nothing again, ugh.

The next morning I walked to the “bus station” for a 7am bus to Pokhara. I put bus station in quotes, because the “bus station” is really just the side of the street where vehicles would otherwise park. Rather than cars and bikes, there is a row of buses and venders selling overpriced breakfast to those of us with early morning journeys.

The ride to Pokhara took about 7 hours and was rather uneventful. Pokhara is basically the other tourist hub of Nepal, situated on a lake and with views of the Himalayas. It is the end point for the Annapurna Trek and pretty much the other place besides Kathmandu every tourist goes while in Nepal. Yep, I'm right on the typical tourist highway, haha. That said, it is a very nice place and as soon as I arrived I was thrilled to be there rather than back in Kathmandu. It is so much cleaner, quieter and more relaxed.

Another person I met on the Everest trek was Dev, and he and I met up in Pokhara shortly after I arrived. He had been in town for a little while before I arrived, and one thing he had wanted to do was to go to Sarangkot, a hill above town, to get a view of the mountains at sunrise. Because we also wanted to expore the surrounding area a bit we decided the best way to go about this was to rent scooters that evening so we could get an early start in the morning.

For dinner, we met up with a group of Israelis (yes, it's very true they do tend to travel in packs) Dev had met back in India I think? We went out for Chinese, and while the food was pretty meh, they were a fun group to hang out with and we had a good evening at dinner and at a bar for a drink afterwords.

The next morning Dev and I were headed out of town by about 6:15am in order to catch the sunrise. We didn't really know the exact route to the top of Sarangkot but we headed out in a direction that seemed to make sense, out of town and around the lake.

This was a nice and fairly scenic ride, but it was not the right way by any means. Farther out of town there are a few more lodges and restaurants, but I have to wonder how they get much business... Anyways we learned of our route finding mistake and turned back towards town, passing through and then up the actual road to to where we were trying to go.

The road up was a winding and fun little route, but due to lost time we had totally missed sunrise by the time we reached the top. This is the view looking back towards the town, the whole group of buildings you see at the end of the lake is essentially tourism oriented and nothing else. Pretty spot though, huh?

This is what we were hoping to see from the top, the Annapurna Range. Having trouble seeing it? Yah, us too. It was very hazy out and the view was pretty much non-existent. This photo is the best I could get, and even this is adjusted digitally to make it even that good. We hung out for a while on the top chatting and hoping it would clear up a bit more, but it never really did and we left disappointed. On the way down, a number of jeeps were driving up with clients to do paragliding from the hill, which is one of the big activities here in town. I thought about doing it, but decided it was too expensive and looked boring...

In the heat of the afternoon we returned to the lakeside to finally eat breakfast, and to decide what to do next. Over breakfast I was online and managed to video-chat with Dad and Robin back home, which was a lot of fun. We then walked to the lake, watched some men repairing boats and the paragliders flying over the lake.

I came to Pokhara to do some trips, so Dev and I set out to look at my options. One I was particularly interested in was a rafting trip. Mostly because I wanted to get out of town, meet some people, do some more camping, and just because floating on a river is relaxing. There are a number of companies in town that do rafting trips, and dozens more travel agencies who book trips with... who knows who, and I first went to Paddle Nepal to get a baseline from what was one of the better operations. I was told $150 for a three day trip that was leaving the next day, so with that I set out to find a comparison. Next I walked into a random travel agent, was told the same price for the same trip (run by who??) but that it didn't include a sleeping bag or pad, I'd have to rent those on my own, and it wasn't leaving for a few days. Without doing any more searching, I went back to Paddle Nepal and signed up for the trip.

Next on the menu for the day was to ride to the Immigration office, because I needed to renew my visa. When I arrived in Nepal I only bought a one-month rather than a two-month, because I was staying a month and a half. I was told I could just renew with a two-week and I'd save money that way, so that was my plan. Turned out the place was closed...

Next we headed off to the World Peace Pagoda. This turned out to be more work than we had expected, because as we got close we both realized we were almost out of gas. I mentioned the fuel shortage earlier, but it is very real. Headed to Sarangkot earlier in the morning, we drove past a station that had probably 100 people waiting outside of it, and military on guard letting people in one at a time. We asked around for fuel, but couldn't find any so we went back in town where we rented the scooters from, luckily we had enough fuel to make it! We had to pay 120 rupees a liter to get some gas, but once we did that we turned around back towards the Peace Pagoda.

After riding through town a bit we saw the sign that indicated the turn off. We headed up the dirt road on our scooters, but realized quickly that it was not possible. A motorcycle with larger wheels can do it, or a car/bus, but not a little scooter. It was then, turning around and trying to help Dev turn his bike around, that I burned my leg...

Anyways the uphill walk took us about half an hour moving at a decent pace, and again the skies were cloudy so our views were very limited. This is basically on a hill on the opposite side of the lake from Sarangkot, so the view is about the same.

Me and one of the Buddha statues on the Pagoda. We had limited time up here since I had to be back in town for a 'meeting' before the rafting trip (which was pretty pointless, nothing they couldn't have just told us when we signed up...) so we went down and back into town quickly.

That night was Dev's last in town before heading back to Kathmandu, and we went out to dinner together. He had bought a little bottle of “White Mischief” vodka, so I guess this is him looking mischievous, haha. The restaurant turned out to be a total dud, nothing was good. I was really tired that night, and turned in early.

The next morning it was time to leave for the rafting trip, and we were to meet at the shop by 7am. I was the first to arrive, and ate breakfast across the street while the bus was loaded up.

The ride to the put-in spot was about three hours, and it took us through the hilly, winding roads of Nepal, and the rural, terraced farmland. After seeing all this terraced farming, which was every bit as large and impressive as the 'famous rice terraces' of the Philippines I saw when I first started my trip, I was wondering what was so special about them honestly...

After a little more than three hours, we arrived at the put -in spot on the Kaligandaki River and began to unload the bus. When it is all taken out and laid on the ground, it was amazing how much gear was going to be used on this trip. There were four of us clients, the head guide, a guide in training, the guy paddling the gear boat, and two kayakers.

And here are the other members of the group, Fabio (from Italy), Anne (from France) and Libby (from California).

Once most of the gear was unloaded and we were close to leaving, our guide Suresh went over the gear and safety on the river, all pretty basic stuff but good to know it's a respectable company who is prepared.

With everything ready, we set out. Here you can see the two kayakers and the gear boat, as well as the general look of the river we would be floating through for the three days of the trip. Most of the river has people living along side of it, and cable bridges cross the water in many places.

Since I don't have a waterproof camera and because I was busy paddling or holding on while we were actually going through the rapids, I didn't get any great action shots from inside our raft, but I do have a waterproof case and was able to have my camera handy along the whole river. Because of this, I was able to get some shots of the other boats going through the rapids and here is one early in the morning. Makes me want to take a whitewater kayak trip...

Because people live along the river, we saw many scenes of Nepali life as we floated. Here is a funeral ceremony where a body is being cremated. If you look closely, you can see the head, body and knees burning of the deceased on the top of the pile of wood.

After a short time on the river, mostly floating, never paddling more than 15 strokes in a row (yes, I was counting) we arrived at the campsite for the night, a sandy area along the water. Water was made for tea/coffee/coco, gear was unloaded, and camp was setup. The guides of course did most of the work, and the four of us laid out in the sun, catching a quick nap.

In the evening it was time for dinner, spaghetti with ground water buffalo sauce, cheese and veggies. One great thing about trips like this is that you always eat well, and eat well we did.

Being outdoors, you tend to wake with the sun, and it isn't a bad way to get up in the morning if I do say so myself Breakfast was another small feast of eggs, toast, veggies and fruit, then we packed up camp to head out for the day.

Our very friendly guide Suresh at the stern of the raft. He has been a guide here in Nepal for years, as well as working in India and Japan if I remember correctly.

As we went farther down the river, we came upon this waterfall, which offers free showers for all. (I really love the lush green sides of the cliffs)

The gear boat again navigating a short series rapids.

And some homes and farming area along the river.

In the afternoon after being on the river for a good while, we stopped at another sandy spot on the river, dried off in the sun and ate lunch.

By around 2pm, we started to see the sky filling with clouds and a few rain drops appearing, and by 2:30 it turned into a full-on rain, thunder and lightening storm. We tried to push on for a few minutes, but at one point the wind was blowing so hard we couldn't even paddle the raft. Quickly we pulled ashore, where we hid under a rock from the rain and watched some tremendous lightening for maybe 20 minutes, then it died down enough for us to keep going.

Luckily we were close to the camp site by that point and didn't have far to go, as it was still raining lightly and we were all getting pretty cold. Camp was quickly built, we changed into dry cloths, and then rain even stopped before camp was fully constructed. Lucky us!

The crew under the tarp making dinner.

Earlier on the river we had stopped and bought some firewood from some locals on the river, and a nice fire was made for us all to sit by and eat dinner. Dinner was again pasta and veggies, and after a somewhat long day I ate plenty of it. Some locals also stopped by to sell beer, candy and cigarettes, so we bought two big beers for the crew.

Fabio and Anne, getting breakfast on another excellent morning on the river.

More scenery along the way.

After about an hour of floating down the river, we hit the flat section of the water, created by a dam downstream.

This gave us about an hour where we actually had to paddle the raft continuously, but it was a nice day, peaceful water, and lots of joking around.

By about 10am, we reached the take-out area, and the boats were unloaded.

After carrying the gear up the hill to the waiting bus, we ate lunch and the bus was loaded up to leave.

The ride back to Pokhara was 5 hours long, and the same hilly, bumpy and winding roads as before. A nice area of Nepal for sure and one that I'd be curious to see and know more about.

By about 4:30 we had arrived back in town, gathered our gear that had been stored at the shop, and went off our separate ways. The trip was a short one, but I had a lot of fun. It was well organized, the food was good, guides were friendly and the group was very enjoyable. I'm kind of wishing I'd done a longer trip now actually, but for for a three day outing this one was totally worth it.

In the evening, I went back to the same hotel I had before the trip, 400 rupees a night and decent enough, went out to dinner, and when the electricity came back on (Pokhara has the same limited electricity as Kathmandu) took a shower. The rest of the evening was spent organizing photos, reading and thinking of what to do next...

So, what next?? I'm not sure. I leave Nepal for HOME in two weeks now, and that fact is really starting to set in. I might do a kayak class, maybe a day of mountain biking, I don't know myself. Pokhara is a much nicer place to be than Kathmandu, so I might stay here a bit longer than planned. I'll be going to Royal Chitwan for three of four days (without Theo, last I talked to him he was very sick) and go on a safari, beyond that I just don't know right now!