Annapurna and Chitwan in Luxury

What a great trip!  A combination of hiking, sightseeing and wildlife.  This was our fourth trip with Exodus, a British tour company.  It was small group of seven:  two colonists (us) and five from England (though two were currently living in Switzerland for their jobs).  A fun and entertaining group!  Our local tour leader, Keshar, was outstanding and imparted much knowledge about Nepal and the local customs.

We flew China Southern Airlines for the first time, Los Angeles to Guangzhou China to Kathmandu.  We encountered no issues and the transit through the Guangzhou airport was very efficient.  Nepal is almost 12 hours ahead of Albuquerque time.  Jet lag was not a problem going (excited, etc) but on return it took a looong time to fully recover!

The twelve night tour:  2 nights in Kathmandu (love that name!), drive 6 hours to Pokhara, 1 night Pokhara, 5 nights hiking lodges in the Annapurna foothills, 1 night back in Pokhara, drive to Chitwan National Park, 2 nights in Chitwan, short flight back to Kathmandu, 1 night in Kathmandu.  We added 2 extra nights at the end for day tours in the Kathmandu valley.

The "luxury" part of the tour was for upgraded hotels and trekking lodges.  Yes, the accommodations were very good and especially the top of the line trekking lodges.  Multiple steps up from the standard tea houses!

We had a city tour of Kathmandu on our full first day there.  It included the Royal Durbar Square and the Boudhanath Buddhist stupa.  The Hindu and Buddhist temples and monuments can be very ornate.  We saw a little scaffolding and rebuilding still going on from the 2015 earthquake, but most of the cultural sites had been fully restored.  The worst thing about Kathmandu was the traffic!  Mayhem!  No way could you get me to drive in that city!


Kathmandu

Mountains

We passed Manaslu on the way to Pokhara and saw Annapurna I from our Pokhara hotel, two 8000 meter peaks.  But on the trek, Machapuchare ("Fishtail") was the most striking mountain with its two spiked peaks.  Annapurna South at 23,684 feet was dominant.

Trails Bridges and Hiking

The trek was in the lower foothills of the Annapurnas, so no snow even in December.  The trek was up the west side of the Modi River, then across the valley and down the east side.  Lots of bridges, some not looking too sturdy (one person crossing at a time).  Nice trails through the countryside, through small farms and across terraces.  Water buffalo and lots of goats.

Lodges Food and Happy Hours

The upgraded trek lodges were definitely nice!  Tea was served every afternoon.  Happy hour was included with the tour, so Nepalese beers (mostly Everest and Gurkha) and cocktails were readily consumed before a roaring fire every evening, along with a multitude of snacks.  Meals were excellent.  Hot water bottles in the beds each night (no central heating of course).

Village and Nepalese Life

The Nepalese are very colorful, from their clothing, their houses, their lorries, everywhere.  On the trek, we passed a lot of rural folk going about their chores:  cutting hay, sifting grains, attending to farm animals, lugging feed, etc.  Our guide told us what all the different grains/vegetables were, but we can't remember most!

Pokhara

We had an extensive tour of the Pokhara area after the trek.  A highlight was a Tibetan refugee "camp", which has been in Nepal since the Dalai Lama was exiled from Tibet.  We also visited Buddhist and Hindu monuments, the International Mountain Museum, and the Gurkha Museum (there are still Gurkha regiments in the British army).

Chitwan National Park

After the mountains, we drove to Chitwan National Park in the lowlands of Nepal, a jungly more wet area.  We did some touristy things like a canoe ride (in the rain) and an ox cart ride.  The highlights were a walking safari and jeep safari.  We saw rhinos up close on both.  A bit nervous about the mama and baby on the walk, but we kept our elephant and rider between us and the big guys!  One of the rhinos walked right at our jeep, before realizing what we were (definitely poor eyesight).

Rhino Close Encounter

Temples and Day Hikes from Kathmandu

We stayed two extra nights at the Shangri La Hotel after the tour to see more of the Kathmandu valley.  First day was a tour to the Nargarkot viewpoint and rural hike to the Changunaranyan  temple complex.  The second day was an all cultural tour to the other two royal durbar squares in the valley:  Patan and Bhaktapur.  Again, most of the monuments were in very good shape.  Worst part of both days was the traffic!  Glad we weren't driving ourselves!

Everest and the Himalayas

We had glorious views of the mountains on our flight out of Kathmandu.  The last image below shows three of the worlds fourteen 8,000 meter peaks:  Everest at the left, Lohtse just to Everest's right (in the clouds), and Makalu to the far right.  A fitting ending to a great trip.

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