Monday, 15 March 2010

Anthony advice

- Take your trekking shoes and socks off whenever you stop and dry them in the sun. This will help keep your feet dry and prevent blisters

- Ignore the label and use just a single iodine tablet per litre of water (unless it’s particularly dirty) but leave it longer before you drink it. After 5 minutes loosen the top of your bottle and squeeze some water out to sterilize the area where you put your mouth

- Always collect water in a transparent bottle so that you can see exactly what’s in it and can check that the iodine tablet has gone in

- When packing your back, keep any heavy items as close to your back as possible so that the bag doesn’t pull on your shoulders

- At high altitude (over 3000m) dehydration is a big problem due to the dry air and is a big trigger of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Drink a litre of water with breakfast so you are fully hydrated before your day’s trek

- At high altitude eat protein for lunch and stick to carbs for dinner. Protein takes a lot of energy to break down which requires lots of oxygen. With less oxygen in the air this can cause respiratory problems during sleep

- Do not try to diet. Eat frequently and eat plenty of carbohydrates especially at high altitude where AMS can cause a loss of appetite

- Whenever you cross a bridge or body of water, undo the chest straps of your bag. If for any reason you fall in, you’ll need to be able to free yourself easily from your bag to stop yourself drowning

- Use walking sticks. Not only do they enable you to use less energy when walking but they help you to stand up straight against the weight of your bag, opening your chest up and making it easier to breathe (a big issue at high altitude when even a little exertion can leave you panting for breath). Sticks also act as extra limbs for balance when you’re making your way down steep descents

- When it gets cold, warm your clothes up in your sleeping bag in the morning before putting them on

- At high altitude, chop chocolate bars into bite-sized pieces to prevent them from freezing which renders them inedible

- Always walk to the end of the village in which you are planning to stay to find the room with the best view for your breakfast the following morning

- Start late and finish late. Why get up at 6am only to reach your destination by lunchtime then spend all afternoon sitting around getting cold? What’s more, if you let all the over-zealous trekkers head off at 6am, then you have the trail to yourself a few hours later. Anthony rarely set off before 10am

- When you find good apple pie along the trek order 5 slices…just because it’s apple pie and it’s good!

Day 1 continued: Besi Shahar to Bhulbhule

Anthony is British, ex-navy and in his forties (we think!). He takes me up on my invite and joins us for tea and some quick respite after two long bus rides. Our timing is perfect. Just as we sit down, the first fat drops of a thunderstorm begin to fall. The sky grows dark, and the rain is soon pouring in steady streams as thunder rattles above us and flashes of lightening mark their way through the skies. It’s an undeniably bad start to our two-week trek!

Our luck only changes when we find out that Anthony has done the Annapurna Circuit before and is a veritable encyclopaedia on all things trekking. We sit sharing tips and life histories over cups of tea, waiting for the end of the storm. Finally, the rain begins to subside, and leaving Nicky to look after the bags, Anthony and I head to the ACAP checkpoint where we have to show our trekking permits and register.

Toying between catching the bus to Bhulbhule or walking, we head to the bus station to enquire about the price. The Russians’ guide is there and quotes us an extortionate price for the 6km journey. We soon realize that the reason the Russian’s are paying so much is because their guide is pocketing a nice little wad of commission each time. Anthony attempts to explain what’s happening to them but they respond to his English with blank looks. The four Russians are destined to be ripped off the entire way round the circuit.

We decide to walk having had enough of bus rides and dodgy bus antics. Whilst this first 6km is on the road with buses and bikes passing us, it isn’t altogether unpleasant. Along the way Anthony shows us how to collect suitable drinking water from streams and keeps us entertained with stories from his navy years, whilst Nicky and I get used to walking with 35litre backpacks and sticks.

After an hour or so we come across a small village replete with small children asking for pens and sweets. Nicky’s can of orange juice is visible and causes havoc as they point and ask for it. She attempts to distract them by taking photos of them and sharing them with little success. The sun is beginning to set but through the thinning rain clouds a stunning glacier-laden mountain emerges, tinged with pink. We find a small tea house with views overlooking the mountain and there we stop for another cup of tea.

As the sun drops behind the mountains it soon becomes dark and we find ourselves donning head torches for the last leg of the walk. We pass through the first town of Khundi and then it’s all-too-suddenly time to face my fear of suspension bridges. The only saving grace is darkness, but the metallic monstrosity still looms there in the blackness, the thundering sound of the glacial river below all too audible.

I make it quite clear that if I’m going to make it across, I have to do it alone: no shaking, jumping or people overtaking. Nicky kindly stands back to let me go ahead and, with brut determination, a fixed stare and a knotted stomach I make it across trying desperately to ignore The Fear which I can feel rising as the bridge sways beneath my feet.

At the other side my legs are jelly and my hands take on an alcoholic’s tremble but the relief of having made it over without making an idiot of myself is palpable. Only 35 more to go!

That evening I tuck into my first dal bhat (a dish of dal, curry, rice and papad) and celebrate my bridge crossing with a plate of momos (bite-sized balls of veg encased in thin dough made from flour and water and steamed).

Day 1: An interesting bus journey

The bus limps slowly past open-air butchers, school children and hodge-podge housing, up and over a pass, and into the valley beyond. Thanks to the strike, there are two days’ worth of traffic to contend with and we move impossibly slowly, through the dust and fumes of the traffic ahead.

As we wind our way down the other side of the pass, the traffic begins to flow more freely and we’re soon flying round vertiginous corners, with inches to spare between us at the trucks coming the other way. Occasionally we pass the burnt out carcass of a bus that has seen better days after missing a corner and plummeting into the gorge below – a vivid reminder of our mortality if ever we needed one.

Whilst Nicky sleeps, I eye the large suspension bridges, drooping perilously between the cliffs, with great suspicion: I’d heard the rumours and knew I was going to have to face my fear whilst on the trek.

After a bladder-bursting two hours, we finally come to a stop where I can alleviate myself of my ‘coffee wee’ – the wee you need precisely one hour after a morning coffee. Nicky and I also grab a couple of samosas then head back to the bus. Just as we get on, the bus driver starts her up frantically and swings her out into the road, leaving a handful of passengers behind. Cries go out for the missing passengers but the driver insists he has to move the bus. There’d been an accident.

Later on, we found out that a child had been hit by a bus. The child’s body had been flung into the road. The locals had rushed to him and, in their ignorance of first aid, had scooped him up and shaken him to revive him. If he hadn’t been dead before, he most certainly was after. In such a situation, the road is often closed: not for investigation - as this will rarely happen - but out of mourning. Our driver was desperately moving the bus so that we didn’t get caught up in the road closure.

We accumulate the remaining passengers and are soon on our way. Just half an hour on we come across another accident. A group of people stand looking down over the cliff edge towards the river below: a motorcyclist had missed the corner and plummeted off the side and they were looking to see if he was still alive.

Finally, we make it to Dumre – a miserable little town filled with insalubrious touts. As soon as we step off the bus, we are surrounded by unsavoury characters trying to direct us to buses for our onward journey to Besi Shahar. We do our best to ditch them and make an escape to an area up the street where we can assess the situation. We ask a bus driver nearby which bus we need to take. He’s desperate to ignore us but we’re persistent and he finally points to a rickety rust heap with wheels. We make our way there, followed again by various touts. I see a fellow gringo, blond(ish) haired, blue-eyed and standing like a beacon at 6ft 4. I ask him if it’s the right bus and he quips that it’s the bus for Everest. It takes me a while to figure out he's joking.

Having declined all offers to be parted with our bags, we finally manage to make it onto the bus, keeping our bags up front and within view. Behind us are sit an American couple, behind them is their guide and on the back row are four Russians, complete with typical Russian headwear.

I ask the American couple what the cost of the bus is, expecting it to be minimal given that we were travelling a mere 42km. Their guide informs me that the cost is 150R. I’m instantly suspicious as we’d only paid 400R for the 4.5 hour journey form Kathmandu. I explain to the couple that that is a ridiculous price and that the journey should cost little more than 50R.

The ticket collecter – a young boy about 19 with a smirky, smackable face – slithers up to us and asks us for 100R each. I argue with him that we should only be paying 50R each but he doesn’t budge so we cough up 100 each. On hearing that we’d only paid 100R, the American couple’s guide suddenly erupts in fury at the ticket collector. A row of dramatic Bollywood proportion ensues and gradually various other people on the bus join it. Everyone is shouting in colourful Nepalese, hands are waved, the ticket collector smirks, and even the bus driver stops the bus to join in.

It transpires that my young, smackable friend the ticket collector had been charging a range of prices for the short bus ride. The Russians, who stood out like sore thumbs and spoke little English, fared worst and were charged and extortionate 300R each, the Americans were charged 150R, we were charged 100R and the locals a mere 70R.

The argument continues to wax and wane for the length of the journey, sudden bouts of fury punctuated by gentler, pleading tones combined with arm touching. As we progress from village to village, the bus gradually fills beyond capacity, even collecting a couple of goats along the way.

By the time we arrive at Besi Shahar a couple of hours later, it is with welcome relief that we step off the bus and into a café, inviting the beacon blond to join us for a cup of tea.

The bag

For anyone interested in trekking, this is what I took with me for a 15-day trek:

35l rucksack with chest and waist straps and aeration grid

Extendible walking poles

3-season sleeping bag and cotton liner

Gortex fully waterproof trekking boots (well worn in!)

2l Platypus water bladder and clear plastic water bottle

2 t-shirts for walking

1 long-sleeve top for walking

1 short-sleeve and 1 long-sleeve top for the evenings

1 thin fleece

1 thick fleece

1 pair of trekking trousers

1 pair of trousers for the evening

2 pairs of thermal trousers (one for walking, one for the evening/sleeping)

2 pairs of thick walking socks

2 pairs of liner socks

1 pair of warm socks for the evening

Underwear (enough to last a few days)

Flip flops

Thick pair of gloves

Thin pair of liner gloves to wear inside of the thick gloves

Wool scarf

Wool hat

Sun hat/cap



Detailed map

Spare pair of shoe laces

Straps and clips to attach things to my bag

Iodine and neutralizer

Headtorch and spare batteries

Camera and spare batteries

A book to read (light!)

Small bottle of shampoo (this can also be used as shower gel and to wash your clothes)

Small tube of toothpaste and brush

Small antibiotic soap

Wet wipes

Loo roll

A couple of bin liners (good for keeping things dry)

Small moisteriser and lip balm (dry air will have you peeling in no time!)

Hair brush and hair tie

Enough money for the entire trip (and a bit extra in case you get stopped by Maoists)

Any trekking permits you may need

A photocopy of your passport (leave your passport behind if you can)

Passport photos (you need them for everything in Nepal)

Mobile phone with local sim (doubles as an alarm clock)

Phone charger (or just keep your phone switched off)


Inhaler (only if you’re asthmatic!)

First aid kit

Things for your first aid kit:

Blister plasters and Moleskin (if you can get it)

Medical tape

Wound pads/gauze in various sizes (I find these attached with medical tape much better than plasters for blisters when trekking)


Stretch bandage

Wound dressing (in case of a deep laceration)

Trianglar bandage and safety pins (not an obvious choice but you can use a t-bandage in lots of different ways)

Rehydration sachets

Dry antiseptic (you get it in a spray can. It’s much better to spray onto blisters than using a cream as it will keep the skin dry)

Pain relief cream (for pulled or aching muscles)

Paracetamol (for AMS headaches)

Ibuprofen tablets (anti-inflammatory…don’t use at the same time as the pain relief cream)

Loperamide Hydrochloride (anti-diarrhoea pills)

Ciprofloxacin (general antibiotic for gastrointestinal problems)

Tinidazole (treatment for giardia…a big problem on some treks in Nepal)

Diamox (treatment for AMS. It is a diuretic (it makes you pee!) so you must drink plenty of water when you take it)

Some top tips!

- Always tell the person you are trekking with where your first aid kit can be found in case they need to use it on you. Also, swap blood groups. It sounds stupid but if you are taken to hospital and you need a transfusion, it’s a useful piece of information for the person you are with to know

- Put a list of emergency contact details including your blood group and insurance policy details inside your first aid kit and wallet and keep a copy with your passport too. In case of a medical emergency, these are places people are most likely to look for information on you

- Don’t pop Diamox willy nilly. Some doctors will tell you to start taking it as soon as you reach high altitude (3000m) but as it is a diuretic it can cause dehydration, which, when added to the problems of dehydration you will have at altitude anyway, may just worsen your situation. From experience, and from talking to other trekkers, it’s better to use Diamox only as a last resort if you start experiencing AMS

Monday morning and the Maoists

5am and I roll my corpse out of bed, into the shower and into a couple of layers of clothes. I load my pack on my back, gingerly make my way out of my room feeling for the light switches as I go, head down the five flights of stairs, mutter an unenthusiastic ‘namaste’ to one of the young sons of the couple who own the place, then step out into the dark.

I knock on Nicky’s door and we vaguely acknowledge each other. It’s getting lighter so I put away my torch as we make our way through the deserted streets of Thamal to a patch of pavement designated as a bus station. There’s virtually no one there. The street is empty and there’s no sign of a bus; only police in dark blue uniforms huddle in groups with machine guns to hand. The word is out that there is a strike or 'bandh' on today and we’re told to come back the following morning. The Maoists have called it and no one is keen to mess with them. Heads down and defeated, we make our way back to our respective hotels to check-in and unpack, with the knowledge that the whole process will need to be repeated the following following day.