We got up at 3:45 because we had to be on the road by 4:30 to avoid a political action by the Maoists, who had scheduled a one-day blockade of all roads in and out of the Kathmandu Valley. Negotiations to bring these former rebels into the political system are going badly, and the Maoists decided it was time to do a show of strength as a threat of worse if they did not get their way. We had to be well outside Kathmandu before 6am.
The roads, which are never good, were particularly congested as other trucks and buses tried to get through before the witching hour. But we finally made it out to central Nepal and began counting the kilometers towards Pokhara. With about 50 to go, we branched off and went up a side road to Besi Sahar, the traditional beginning of the Annapurna loop trek.
After an early lunch, we changed to a Jeep and continued up the new road that is under construction and already filled with ruts. This road is both a blessing and a curse. It will bring electricity, food and medicine to the people of the Manang valley. But it will also change and mostly eliminate one of the most popular remote treks in Nepal and all the business that comes with it. Trekking companies are already looking for alternatives that will be necessary in a few years.
For us, it allowed us to compress the first two days of lowland walking into a couple of hours. We got out at the first rockslide blocking the road and walked about two hours to a nice guest house, where we had dinner and spent the night.
Already Marcia and I are more comfortable than we’d ever been in Dolpo. No matter how many times the staff bring us cups of tea, a tent is still a tent. Annapurna guest houses (sometimes called teahouses) have had forty years to develop into the most advanced accommodations in the Himalaya. By staying and eating in these, we can travel with only light baggage and a minimal staff.
Our staff consists of only two people. Sonam is our guide, who keeps us on the right track and negotiates with the teahouses. 19-year-old Kichiri Sherpa is our porter, carrying both of our backpacks and his own minimal gear. Kichiri has not yet filled out to the broad dimensions of his fellow villagers, but he seems fine with carrying a load that weighs as much as he does.
One could argue that a guide is unnecessary in a well-known area like this, but at $10 per day, it’s nice to have a communicator and friend on the trip. Many of the young trekkers here carry their own packs, which strikes us as a hard way to save a little money. We only wish we could have a porter for our next trip to the Sierras.
My allergies and asthma have had a miracle cure now that we are on the road. I must have been reacting to one of the many substances in Kathmandu’s polluted air, so a change of scene has done me good. Although I’m still coughing a bit, it is not going to interfere with our trip.