Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Amazing 3 Day Trek in the Himalayas of Pokhara, Nepal.

Photo of Fewa Lake from the Lakeshore Tourist side of Pokhara.
We are now in Pokhara, Nepal (refer to previous blog).  It is such a welcoming relief.  Most of the time we are trying to get away from the touristy locations but after being deprived of these luxury amenities for is darn nice to have them!

We checked into the Celesty Inn  Hotel.  This place became home to us for awhile.  Once we arrived we quickly started planning our 3-4 day trek into the mountains.  The Annapurna Mountain Range (mountains as high as 8091 meters) has a complete trekking circuit around it that takes 16 days.  So, you can see we were doing quite a short trek in comparison.  We had to get 2 different permits for trekking, rent an appropriate backpack, trekking poles, etc.  That took a full day to organize.  The next day we started on the hike.  We were warned of leaches as it is the beginning of the monsoon season and I had actually talked to quite a few hikers that had already experienced them.  As I am not a fan of blood sucking creatures, I purchased salt, made sure my arms and legs were covered, and as my sister Pat suggested...tried to remember, "they are just sucking the bad blood out".

We were told our route would take 5 days at a very easy pace, 4 days at a comfortable pace and that we could do it in 3 days at a fast pace.  We decided we would take 4 days since we wanted to take pictures, make sure we could see the mountains when they decided to show themselves etc.  The first day of hiking we reached our overnight destination by noon.  That was much too early to stop so we kept going and ended up reaching the destination that we were going to stay at the second night.  The other hikers were all amazed that we did it in one day.  I guess we are used to putting in long days on the bike and stopping at noon just didn't seem right.  There is no need to camp since guiest houses are available.  We had fun that night talking to the trekkers from other countries.

Passing through one of the many small villages on the route.

Ward hiking.

Everything has to be carried up by humans or donkeys.
Local person carrying a table up the mountain.

The next day was going to start  at 4:00 a.m.with a short hike to Poon Hill to see the mountains unviel themselves at sunrise.  (Jeff and Ward had to go without me as it was my turn to have gastrointestinal problems.)  This view is suppose to be "in the top" panaramic mountain views in the world!  Because the best season to climb is in Oct/Nov, not May (monsoon season) the chances of this view are slim.  They saw the top of one mountain but that was all.  I then joined them for the remainder of the day.  The weather was humid and changing between mist, rain, and sunshine.  We were always checking for leaches and having to brush them off of us at times.  Ward had one burrow through the stitching of his tennis shoes then through the stitching of his socks and then attach onto his toe!  Now, that's a desperate sucker!

Jeff and Jacky making their way down the muddy trail.
The second day was hard.  It was up and down and very muddy - difficult not to slip and fall.  I wasn't able to eat or drink anything as my system was upset so the fatigue and lactic acid set in quicker.  We reached our overnight village and found a fantastic place to stay, the Trekkers Inn.  Hot showers, clean rooms, great food and friendly staff.  That's all you need.  It is a place we will certainly return to. 

Rule #1:   Hike faster than a donkey because its darn hard to get by them!

Trekkers Inn.  This is where we stayed the second night.
Day 3 we finished the hike out of the mountain.  Once we reached the end we had a celebratory beer sponsored by Mark Pernitz.  It was a great experience.  All three of us said that we would like to come back and do the larger circuit in the future.
Terraced mountain side.
Fishtail mountain (Machhapuchre) decided to show itself
at the end of our hike (6,993meters)

Enjoying a celebratory beer sponsored by Mark Pernitz.
Thanks Mark.
Great time!

Question of the day: Will Jeff become Nepalese?

Heading to Nepal (Jeff and Jacky)
Jacky is wearing an arm warmer, not because it is cold,
but to protect her scar from the sun.
 We thought the rest of our trip would  be smooth sailing.  Wrong!  Once Jeff returned from picking up his new passport in New Delhi we headed to Nepal.  The heat and humidity were challenging enough but then Jeff developed a gastrointestinal illness which made it difficult for him to eat or drink.  He still got on his bike every day and we continued on trying to stay with our schedule.  You just can't keep a "Freidhof" down!  (Remember the previous blog where I talked about Boot Camp??)
As we were exiting India at the India/Nepal border, the border patrol looked at Jeff's Indian Visa paperwork and told him that his Indian Visa was no longer valid and if he exited India he would not be able to get back in!   Jeff was beside himself because he had just spent many days and hours at the Indian Visa Office in New Delhi clarifying with them that his prior visa was still active, that he could still leave the country and re-enter as he has a multiple entry visa, and making sure everything was complete and in order.   (For those of you that don't know Jeff, he is extremely thorough!)  We were in a predicament since they had already stamped Ward's and my Indian exit papers so we had to cross.  They told Jeff that if he crossed into Nepal he would need to go to Kathmandu for a new Indian Visa. 
Entered into Nepal.
Jeff's fate??  Still unknown!!

We hadn't planned on going to Kathmandu as we'd heard it is a big dirty city.  Pokhara is the recommended tourist spot that lies in the truly beautiful Annapurna Himalayan Range.  We've been cracking jokes continually about Jeff finding a Nepalese wife and staying here since he can't leave.  I think he has accepted this.  He has since purchased a dhaka topi (traditional Nepal hat) and struts around town with it.  All kidding aside, there is still a little concern since he doesn't have permission to enter India at this time and the Indian visa/immigration system is very unorganized and unpredictble.
Jeff sporting his dhaka topi (Nepal hat).
He seems to be settling in quite nicely.

Bicycling in Nepal:
Rest break at the mountain pass.

Afternoon rest and hydration break from the sun in a village.

The first leg of our Nepal bicycling adventure took us through forests and jungles.  The heat continued to be over 100 degrees and the humidity was at an all time high for us.  We were having a hard time staying hydrated as it seemed we'd have more sweat dripping off of us than what we are able to consume (even though we would each drink ~6-10L fluid per day!).  We would try to get an early start and get most of our miles covered in the morning, knowing that the heat of the afternoon was going to require frequent rest stops.
No A/C at Hotel Paradise.  We had to use our mosquito nets. 
  We biked through a wild life preserve and saw many signs for tigers.  At first it was a little unnerving.  However, after seeing goats and cows
being herded down the road we knew we were
safe.  I think tigers prefer them over us (or at least that was my belief).  We did see monkeys and we were lucky enough to see elephants in the wild.  That was a real treat!

Since it was ~100 degrees in our room we sat outside with the locals at Hotel Paradise.

I don't know Nepalese but I think the picture says it all. 

We saw 2 elephants in the wild while biking.  WOW!!  You don't see that everyday!

Add caption
Because we need to incorporate Kathmandu into our plan (that's if we want Jeff to come back with us) and we need to be in New Delhi by June 9th to prepare to fly back, we need to move forward a little quicker.  Therefore, once we hit Butwal, Nepal we got on a local bus and took it into Pokhara.  It was quite an experience.  The bus made frequent stops delivering parcels to different villages and picking up other items and passengers.  We had big bags of grain throughout the whole walkway, baskets of live chickens, etc.  There was always room for one more passenger even if all the seats were taken.  They would then stand in the walkway or ride up on top of the bus.  At one point we had to wait 1 hr to cross where a bridge had recently been washed away due to high rains.  A temporary crossing was made.  Remember, these local buses are not air conditioned and Ward and Jeff do not have the stature of the locals.  Just because you are a little bigger than them doesn't mean you get any more room in your seat!  The route through the mountains was very busy and winding.  Sometimes its best to just shut your eyes so you don't see what is coming or how close you are to the edge.  (If anyone saw "Ice Road Truckers" when they drove from India to Nepal you know what I am talking about.) 
This photo is taken from a pier on Fewa Lake. 
We dropped down into Pokhara.  What a beautiful site.  Yeah!  We made it and we're ready to start our next phase...a trek in the mountains.  (See next blog).

Photo to the left was taken from a pier on Fewa Lake.  It is on the Lake Shore tourist side of Pokhara City.  The city is actually very large and is nestled in this range of mountains.  Very beautiful!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Update on Nepal Trek and Fabulous Mountains Coming Soon!

Hello, it has been difficult finding internet service in Nepal.  However, we are "live" now.  Blog will be updated with Nepal stories and pictures in 24 hours.  Please check back.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Survived "7 days in Freidhof's Boot Camp"!

What a beautiful but very physically and challenging week! (day 59-65 of the trip).    We are calling it, "7 Days in Freidhof Boot Camp" and we now have empathy for his wrestlers!  Ward and I were happy that we weren't the only ones spent.  It took us all down.  Read on...

Stats:  As of 5/13/13 we are on day 71 of 100.  Bicycled: 4343 km, only 6 flat tires,  2 broken spokes, 2 broken pedals and, something new - a broken rack on my (Jacky's) bike.

We are now in Moradabad.  If you recall, Jeff had his passport stolen.  He had previously gone to New Dehli to apply for a new one (see last blog) and now has to return to New Dehli to pick it up and get a new Indian and Nepal Visa.  So, we are hanging out for a couple of days enjoying the Indian culture and catching up on some internet as we wait for Jeff to return.

Trip from Chandigarh to Nahan.
As we were leaving Chandigarh we knew that we would be seeing the Himalayas.   This also meant that we would be getting out of the plains of Punjab and Haryana and into the mountains.   Our first overnight  was in Solan and then off to Shimla.   We climbed from an elevation of 1000 feet in Chandigarh to over 7000 feet to Shimla.   It was a grinder of a climb but the vistas were so beautiful and majestic.  Shimla History: During British rule Shimla was the summer retreat for the British forces because of the cooler temperatures and the natural beauty.
Jeff biking up the dirt road in the Himalayas.

Sunset in Solan.
Himalayas on the way to Shimla.
City of Shimla built on a hillside.

We did a fair amount of hiking in and around the city, that basically hangs on the side of the mountain.  Our legs were tired from the mountain climb but also because of the different muscles that we used hiking.  We were also hopeful to do a major trek but the area was over developed to get that remote feeling.  At this point`we decided that we wanted to get to a more remote trekking area.
Pedestrian mall in Shimla.  There were 4 different levels due to the hillside.

Always be aware of the monkeys!
Summer retreat where the British forces would meet.
Woodwork inside the retreat.
Chandhur Peak as we see it  in the distance.

We headed for Naraudhar to climb Chandur Peak (12,000 ft mountain).  One would think that we would take a day off from bicycling and hiking in the mountains before attempting to hike a 12,000 ft peak.  Remember, we are trainees in Freidhof's Boot Camp.  No rest. We continued to bicycle through the mountains until we reached Naraudhar.  That night we bought our supplies for the trek.  We were informed by a local that due to the snow on the mountain top,  we would not be able to reach the peak.  We were 1-2 weeks too early.  We decided we were going to hike as far as we could.

Jeff and Jacky hiking.
We had a beautiful hike.  The path was pretty well marked. There is a temple on the top of the mountain  and it is a pilgrimage for the locals.  Their are 2 shacks (they call guesthouses) along the way that you can get food and tea.  You can also sleep at these places if you wish.  Many people hike up, stay overnight at the temple and then descend the next day.  We got about 1000 ft from the summit but the snow cover, slipperiness and potential drops were too much to continue with our old worn out tennis shoes.  We had to turn back.  It was a success anyway as the hike was so beautiful and we met locals as we stopped for tea on our way down.  Maybe we can find a mountain in Nepal to climb.
Jeff trying to make it across the slippery snow.  He was using sticks for ice picks.
Ward and Jacky in front of Chandhur Peak
We stopped at one of the guesthouses on the way down the mountain.
Locals making us chi in the guesthouse.

One more day of Freidhof Boot Camp.  We backtracked the first 24km so we knew what to expect for terrain and road conditions.  From there the map indicated that we would be turning onto a big road (hwy) that we thought would continually descend to the city of Nahan.  When we turned onto this road it ended up being the worst road we had been on so far.  If there "was" pavement it had huge potholes and was broken up.  Otherwise it was very rough gravel with big rocks (Ward and Jeff said the gravel was worse then any they have been on back home).  Another thing, we didn't gradually descend to Nahan.  We descended alright, straight down into the valley which meant we had to climb out of it!!  Remember a downhill on these road conditions isn't any fun either as you have to ride your brakes and dodge the holes and bumps.  Temps were over 100 and the humidity was rising as we were getting into more jungle. I thought I was going to croak.  We had gone 40km and still had 80km to go.  I was climbing at 6km/hr (that's like 3.5mi/hr).  I didn't even know I could bike that slow and still stay upright.  Every time we thought we were reaching the top, we would be disappointed by more road winding upward.  I knew if we went the whole 120km we would not get there in the daylight.  We were running out of water and there weren't any stops to replenish.

We are purifying the local water.
We stopped at the next small village and set up our water purification system and filtered their tap water.  We weren't sure what the locals were thinking when they saw us doing this.  Hopefully we didn't offend them but we couldn't take any chances.  They told us we would be descending once again into a valley to then have to climb out AGAIN, but luckily not to the same elevation.  They did say there was a national hwy that we would be reaching that we would ride the last 20km on into Nahan.  The national hwys typically have a nice paved shoulder so I knew I could ride that in the dark with lights.  Well, before we reached the hwy my rear rack broke from all the bouncing and jarring.  This meant that Jeff and Ward had to carry my bags.  They were also tired and I really wanted to save my sherpa privilages for another time but we had no choice.  We reached the hwy at dusk.  Wait!  Where is the pavement?  Where is the shoulder?  Where is any infrastructure??!!  This was the worst gravel road thus far.  By the time we hit Nahan my arms and hands throbbed so bad that I could hardly hold onto the handlebars.  It was dark and we had one more surprise...Nahan is located on the top of a hillside.  This meant more climbing.  By the time we hit the town it was dark.  We were all totally worn out and hadn't been able to eat or drink properly during the day due to availability.  We all decided to take the next day off  to rest.
Jeff, this is a rest day!!!

Ward and I were happy we survived Freidhof's Boot Camp.  We're not planning on signing up for any more in the near future.

The last 3 days we have been blessed with flat paved roads, tail wind and many little stores/food places along the route.  Wow!  What a welcoming change! 

So far it has been an incredible and educational experience in India.  Within the next day or two we will be heading to Nepal where we will be spending most of the remainder of our trip.

TIP:  Never strap bananas on the back of your bike when you are traveling through monkey territory. (Ask Freidhof about this.)

Stay tuned!
Namaste.    Jacky and Ward

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the Road Again...Feels so Good to be on the Road Again...

Our last blog was telling of the mishap of Jacky which was on day 42 of 100 when she severely cut her arm.  We are now on day 58 of 100 and a lot has happened since.

We are at 3695 km of riding for the trip.  We have had 5 flats, 1 broken spoken and 1 broken pedal.  It has been sunny everyday and has only rained 3 times for a total rainfall of one hour.  The temperature continues to be over 100 degrees most days but it is not as intense as what we had experienced in the southern part of India.

Jacky's recovery time in New Delhi kept her inside most of the time and out of the pollution.  Meanwhile, Jeff and I went to the Asian Wrestling Championship for 5 days (Jacky came a couple of times).  We saw tremendous wrestling and some future Olympians.  These are the countries that participated:  India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, Jordan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, and Tajikistan (never knew there were so many "stans").  It was strange sitting in a stadium amongst countries that have a lot of tension between them.  There was cheering but no trouble broke out.  Jeff, Jacky and I want to thank Brad Wicks and Pete Blodget for sponsoring our time at the wrestling tournament.
Greco Roman style; weight class 7
We started heading north to the border of India and Pakistan.  We made a stop in Ludihana to visit the Hero Bicycle factory.  They are one of the largest bicycle factories in the world and they sell more bicycles than anyone else.  It was very interesting, but Trek Bicycles in Waterloo, Wisconsin does things on a different level of quality. 

While in Ludihana we were interviewed by two different newspapers and made the news the next day.  "Three gringos are newsworthy??"  As we biked the following day we had people stop us and and say (in their best english),  "we saw you in newspaper".  We enjoyed a few minutes of fame.

Onto Amristar, the city of the "Golden Temple".  The "Golden Temple" is the religious mecca for the Sikh Religion.  The city was full of Indian tourists making their annual pilgrimage to the temple.
Golden Temple.  Everyone had to have their heads covered.

Inlaid design in marble.

Indians returning from the Golden Temple
Amrisar is 30km from the Pakistan border.  We were told to stay away from the border as it was too dangerous.  You know us, we heard about the Retreat of Flags Ceremony of the bordering countries, "India and Pakistan".  This ceremony happens daily at 5:30 pm.  Three to five thousand Indians and the same number of Pakistanis gather in the stadiums on their respective sides of the border.  Cheering from both sides...who can cheer louder?!  Who can taunt the other side better?!  It felt like we were at a Packer/Viking football game.  The Indians even had a cheerleader that was getting the crowd all riled up.  The lowering of the flags was very formal and animated as the guards from each country taunted each other.  It had to be one of the weirdest government cultural things I have ever seen.

                                              Video was taken prior to the actual ceremony.

Jeff had a bit of bad luck as he was pick pocketed at the Golden Temple.  He had his passport and billfold taken (not everyone at the Temple is holy).  Lucky for us we have skype and he was able to call and notify his bank and credit card companies.  The major problem is the passport.  He now needs to get to the US Embassy in New Delhi to get a new one.  We decided to go to Chandigarh ,which is enroute to one of our destinations, Shimla..  Chandigarh is the capital of 2 of the states and is a train hub.  This is a good spot for Jeff to take the train to New Delhi to get the paperwork started (takes 7-10 days to get a new passport).  Jacky and I will hang in Chandigarh for a couple of days until Jeff returns.  We will then all head into the Himalayas to Shimla and then to Luknow.  In 7-10 days Jeff will return to New Delhi to pick up his passport, Indian Visa and Nepal Visa and then once again take the train back to where Jacky and I are at that point and we will all head to Nepal.

The Decorah Time Trials were held last Saturday.  Jeff and I didn't want to miss out on the action so we held our own Indian Time Trial.  Jeff just nipped me.  Maybe we should have taken our bags off.

If you could only smell this picture!!    
 India is a developing country but they still have many things to work out.  They are still dumping their sewage and trash in the gutter.  55% of raw sewage ends up untreated and into their aquifers.

Careful Dr Ward, don't get the skin!

As far as Jacky's arm, Dr Jeff and Dr Ward removed her stitches using a fingernail and toenail clipper as a surgical scissors was no where to be found.  Rest assured these clippers were well soaked in alcohol prior to the procedure.  She now wants to call me Dr Kovorkian.  The arm is healing nicely.  It just looks like she has a big centipede on her arm.
Tattoo ideas wanted!

Stay tuned for some upcoming beautiful pictures of the Himalayas!

Namaste everyone!
Ward and Jacky