Friday 19 July 2013

Travels in Nepal 2013 Part 4 - The trek to Gandruk!

Chitwan was technically the end of the basic tour. Before we leave Chitwan, here is a hornets nest or two under the bridge:

All of us except Will had signed up for the trekking extension to Gandruk. Half way to Pokhara, Nepal's second city, we said goodbye to Will. A car was waiting at a bridge to take him back to Kathmandu for his flight home. We were sorry to see him go.

The three of us carried on to Pokhara, where the festival of Holi was now in full swing. We could hardly get through.

Holi in Pokhara
On arrival at the hotel we, too, were painted modestly by local children before enjoying a drink and then dinner. We had a gorgeous room but so little time to enjoy it properly before the drive to the start of the trek next morning.

The drive took us over quite a high pass and down to about the same level on the other side, to Naya Pool where the trek began. We had two porters who carried our reduced luggage ahead to the first stop while we walked slowly up the first part of the route. This really wasn't very steep. We strolled and birdwatched at a leisurely pace. We got anointed further by children for Holi. Here's Lynne with three local kids on the way:
Lynne with three local children

Now, you may know that there are only 5 types of dipper in the whole world. With the brown dipper we saw in Nepal I have now seen 4 of the 5 species. The only one left is the Rufous-throated Dipper which is found in some areas of Bolivia and Argentina. Here is a very poor photo of the brown dipper and some of the birds we saw. First is a group of mainly water birds. Well, we were walking along the river!

Brown dipper. Record shot. Only one species of dipper to go now!

Slaty-backed forktail

Spotted forktail

White-crested laughingthrush

Plumbeous redstart - male

Plumbeous redstart - female

White-capped water redstart

Grey wagtail. Now - I wonder where I've seen that one before??

Black-lored tit

Grey-hooded warbler

Blue whistling-thrush

A couple of raptors:

Black eagle. Note the really 'pinched' wings near the body.

Bonelli's Eagle

After some hours, we arrived at the B&B in Syauli Bazar.

Now, the standard of all accommodation is relative and one has to make allowances for the country. Our room was basic but OK. The bathroom, however, was rather dire. The solar heated water had all been used as we were last to arrive. The gas heater didn't work and was very dangerous. There was no clip on the gas hose on the cylinder and at one point the hose blew off because of the gas pressure and gas hissed out fiercely. Fortunately, someone was nearby to put it back on. I don't want to think what might have happened if the gas heater had been alight at that moment!

Anyway, aside from the heater, our evening meal was lovely. At this point I must say that our early decision to eat only Nepalese food was a stroke of genius. The food was really lovely and throughout the whole holiday none of us had an upset stomach.

The next morning we were up before dawn. Breakfast was outside by the river so we could watch birds as we ate.

Himalayan Bulbul

Black bulbul

Then the real trek began! The second leg was much steeper than the first and I later worked out that we climbed about 700 metres vertically that day. Well, I know that's not a lot to a seasoned trekker, but Lynne is not used to it and Barbara has one replacement knee and one artificial hip!! Barbara, you were a marvel that day.

Much of the way was steps. At about half-way we saw this sign:

8,846 steps done. 4252 steps to go.
Certainly beats the Eiffel Tower with a mere 1,665!

It took about five hours to reach Gandruk. It was walking mixed with birdwatching and resting, not constant walking. I carried my tripod and camera and the others a small rucksack. It seemed hard at times but, five minutes after arriving, all the fatigue was forgotten. We had lunch in the lower part of the town before going higher up to our hotel, the Annapurna.

Hotel Annapurna. The view was better than it looks here.
It was aptly named, with a 'to-die-for' view of Anna Purna South as well as other peaks in that part of the Himalayas.

Trekking is obviously very big in Nepal. We were constantly passed by wiry porters carrying two large rucksacks tied together or a similarly large load. Suchit told us that porters are expected to carry about 40-45Kg each! That's quite a lot.

As there are no roads in these parts, everything is transported by mule or porter. Mule convoys are common. These hardy animals follow the lead mule up the steepest tracks and when the line of a dozen or so passes you, you jolly well get out of the way! The leader does have a loud bell so at least you know when they're coming.

The next day we witnessed a spectacular dawn when the sun hit the distant Anna Purna range.

Dawn on Annapurna from our hotel balcony. Spectacular!

We spent the early part of the day birdwatching - what else? The highlight was seeing a tiny Pygmy cupwing (formerly Pygmy wren-babbler) a small bird with a loud song.

This was followed by a breakfast at a high cafe with wonderful views over the valley. After breakfast we continued up the valley. Here are some of the birds we saw, including the pygmy cupwing:

Little pied-flycatcher - similar to our own.
Grey bushchat. This one is brown cos' it's the female

Spangled drongo. A bird with a very unusual tail.

Verditer flycatcher. Common in this area.

Blyth's leaf warbler

Asian barred owlet

Small niltava

Rosy pipit

White-tailed rubythroat.

Russett sparrow. Not that common here.

Greater yellownape - a woodpecker.

Whiskered Yuhina

We had all been intrigued at one particular bird in the book called 'Mrs Gould's sunbird'. It was a small, highly coloured bird with a long curved bill. We wondered where we could see it? Well, that very morning, Lady Luck was to smile on us as one suddenly appeared and Suchit hissed: 'Mrs Gould's sunbird! Mrs Gould's sunbird!' We got amazing views of it before it flew off into the bushes.

Mrs Gould's sunbird. A riot of all the colours of the rainbow!

A little further on we witnessed a giant flying squirrel. It sailed down the path in front of our eyes but we never saw it again.

Chestnut-crowned laughingthrush

Striated laughingthrush
White-rumped munia
There were several monkey species in Nepal. Two of them are here:

Rhesus Monkey

Langur monkey
All too soon we were having dinner and preparing for the descent. We had to cover the same distance back to Naya Pool that we had taken two days to do on the ascent. This time, however, it was all downhill. It went well and before we knew it we were back in Naya Pool having tea while waiting for our taxi.

Grey bushchat - male

Spot-winged grosbeak. Female on left.
On the way down, we met a local man who was collecting the edible fern which we had enjoyed a few times in salads. It was delicious.

Man with edible fern.

Back to the hotel in Pokhara we enjoyed a luxurious shower, the last supper and bird report and a good night's sleep in the massive bed. The following day we did a couple of hours early morning birdwatching around the lake, picking up grey treepie and crimson sunbird.

Grey treepie

Pond heron

Cattle egret in breeding plumage
Pokhara has a wonderful mountain panorama which is impossible to see in one view. Here is part of it from the lake in the city park:

Mountains from Pokhara

After lunch we flew back to Kathmandu and stayed in the same hotel overnight before taking the plane back to London. When we got to Delhi, I realised I had about £40 worth of Nepalese rupees. I was gutted to discover that they weren't usable even to buy coffee in Delhi airport! I strolled around the airport looking for someone who looked like they were going to Nepal and I soon found one. Fortunately, he had been to Nepal before and knew the exchange rate. He took all my Nepalese rupees in exchange for sterling. Well done that man!

Then the long flight home and back to cold and rain! Roll on our next excursion!


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