Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Everest base camp, day 1: To Kathmandu

October 2014

Before I start let me tell you that this travelogue will not give full account of the trek to Everest Base Camp. The simple reason is that I could not complete it. It was my second attempt to reach EBC. Last year it was the bad weather that stopped us from starting this trek. Weather was good this year but apparently the mountains did not like us!!

Like last year, it was me and Subbu who went for the trek.

In the posts, I would like to provide information about trekking to this place individually with relatively less money as EBC is a very costly trip. One will be mainly spending on:
  • Air ticket from Bengaluru to Kathmandu: There is nothing much to do here rather than getting a good deal on flights.
  • Air ticket from Kathmandu to Lukla: Lukla is the starting point of the trek. The only way to reach this place is either by flight or foot. Flight takes 25 minutes while walking requires 7 days!! It is very hard to book the flight ticket online and you need to depend on Nepal travel agents for the same. For Indians, the return ticket costs about 11K INR. Nepalese get it cheaper while westerners need to shell out more money. Many travel agents refuse to just book the tickets. Instead, they see money in booking for entire trip.
  • Stay: It is a tea house trek and one can easily find hotels to stay at the end of the day. For NPR (Nepali Rupee) 200-300, we get a very decent room with common bathroom. There is a catch with the low price. People have to eat in their restaurants only!!
  • Food: The most expensive part of the trek. Expect to spend at least NPR 1500 – 2000 per day. The price increases as we climb up. As the area is not connected by motorable road, everything has to be flown in and then transported by human/animal and hence the reason of high price.
  • Permits: One needs permit to trek to EBC. Prices vary depending on whether you are travelling on your own or have a guide. More information on that later.
  • Guide: EBC is a busy route with proper trails. I do not see a need for the guide at all. But if you need, be prepared to pay for their flight to Lukla and then for their service on daily basis.
  • Porter: Since there is no need to carry tents and food items, the backpack will not be very heavy and I do not see a need of porter.  Having said that I did use porter due to my bad back. You can either hire from a travel agent in Kathmandu or get hire one outside Lukla airport!!
  • Water: If you plan to use bottled water, there are high chances that you go bankrupt!! At high altitude, one need to drink lot of water and a liter of bottled water costs at least NPR 150!! Tap water and stream water are available all along the way which can be used. We used water purifying tablets (Available in Kathmandu) to get rid of bacteria. It will have a tang of chlorine. There are handheld water purification systems like Steripen which do not add chlorine but we just used Chlorine.

Our travel to Kathmandu:
The Spice Jet maintained its reputation as their flights were delayed at both Bengaluru and New Delhi!! Anyway, we reached at 6:15PM at Kathmandu. Immigration happened in a jiffy. Just went to the counter where there was no queue and told that we were Indians. They did not even look at our immigration form and just asked us to continue further.

Note: Indians do not need a visa to enter Nepal. Passport is also not mandatory. Election card is accepted.

We took a pre paid taxi to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. It costs NPR 700/- at the prepaid counter in the airport. We had not booked any hotel in Kathmandu. Thamel it full of hotels catering to various budgets. Just land in that place and choose whichever you like. But unfortunately, driver took us to a junk hotel called Skylark. It was cheap; we were tired so we just took it.

We just dropped our luggage in the room and went outside to get some essential things before the shops were closed. It was the day of Ayudha Puja and only few shops were opened. We quickly took water purifying tablets, recharged by NCell SIM card, converted our currency to NPR and had our dinner.

Note: 1 INR = 1.6 NPR. Indian currency is widely accepted in Nepal. But it is better to have some Nepali currency in case if someone refuses to accept INR. Also, 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted in Nepal and are also illegal to carry. So, it makes sense to convert INR to NPR to avoid carrying 100 rupee notes.

We were all set for the trek next day. Permits were needed but that could be managed later. Sadly I could not sleep properly due to the ruckus made by some Indians in the hotel.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A visit to a plantation waterfall

30 August 2014

Few years ago I had to return back halfway without seeing this waterfall due to paucity of time. I was back again after several years. This time I was with my wife, daughter, my brother and my cousin Abhiram.

From the main road, a mud road goes down to the village. I was not sure whether the road was good enough for my car. Not inclined to take any risk. I parked the car next to the main road. My daughter, a leach hater had clearly told that she was not going to walk if she found any leach. To our luck there weren’t any; at least at the beginning of the walk. It was little surprising as the rains were pounding for the past few days.

Walking was easy as we were continuously going down the valley. After about a km we had almost reached the bottom of the valley which finally brought us to a house. The gentleman in the house informed us that we had reached the wrong place. We need to climb back a little distance and then take a deviation towards the next house.

I reached the next house to meet little unfriendly people. First they asked whether we were from the big city of “abcde”. When I said that we were from Sagar, they seemed little relieved though their faces were still tight. Then my wife and daughter appeared and the inmates of the house were convinced that we were decent people.

Rock (or a stone bridge!!) blocking the waterfall
But their unfriendly attitude continued. We were asked to pay money to reach the waterfall. Since the falls was in their plantation, we had no option. I had no problem in giving money but I did not like their attitude. Anyway, we continued walking down but now in the plantation.

After about 10 minutes we were near the waterfall. By now, the drizzling had turned into downpour. It was hard to find a place which provided nice view of the waterfalls. A big rock was blocking its view from the front. And we could not walk deeper into water due to strong currents. It was a nice waterfall though. While my daughter and my wife found a good place to sit and play with water, we wandered all around the place.

After coming back, I had a talk with the people in the house. They opened up a bit and talked freely. It seemed that they were fed up with the kind of people coming from nearby city. Broken beer bottles in their plantation supported their views.

We had climbed down nearly 700 feet and now we felt the heat while climbing up. Lot of encouraging words was required to push my daughter to climb up!! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

When there was no “falls” in Jogfalls

August 2014

I have seen Jogfalls in its different forms and shape. Be it when the all of its four branches merged to a single block of water or when there was hardly any water trickling from it. Once I was the only visitor at the falls and another time I got into a massive traffic jam due to sudden influx of tourists!!

I got a chance to visit the falls this monsoon. The dam was not yet full but still considering good rains I was expecting huge crowds in Jogfalls. Contrary to my expectations, there were hardly few people in the area!! Good for us!!, I thought myself. But then there was no falls.

Empty seats!!

Fog had completely filled the area. From talks with locals, it seemed that the fog never lifted up that day. That was strange as it usually plays hide and seek with visitor but lifts off in few minutes.

Nothing to see

Local photographers at the falls had a bad day; else they used to be busy taking snaps of the tourists with falls in the background and earn their living. Not many tourists were happy taking snaps with just fog in the background!! Tourists who had come from farther places were disappointed a lot.

Authorities had blocked the way to the base of the falls. Just recently they had made nice steps to the base only to close it down. Some nut headed guy would have fallen in the water and everyone has to suffer because of his foolishness. It’s like cutting off the nose just because the man is suffering from cold. Government and its people thinking are quite crazy and funny.

Posing in front of the waterfalls
We then went to British Bungalow side. The building there was beautifully renovated but was locked. And access to the top of waterfalls was also closed. Two boring policemen were put to duty to make sure that no one ventures near water.

The fog showed some signs of lifting and “roarer” made a brief appearance on the scene. But that was it. The show was closed and it was total whiteout again.

My wife and Mother were not very happy with the visit. But I seemed to be pretty satisfied with the outcome. One does not get to experience such stuff often.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spiti diary: Chandratal Lake

14 August 2014

The weather which was good so far in our travel went bad. It was cloudy and ready to rain at any time. Rains in Himalayas are bad these days and we did not like it.

Chandratal Lake was our final destination in Spiti. From Kaza, we started back towards Manali, climbed Kunzum La and 3 km before Batal took the deviation to Chandratal. The road then passes next to Chandra River. The road was narrow though it was not steep. After travelling about 10 km, we saw the landscape widening out and tents appeared at the far end of the valley.

Road towards Chandratal
It seemed like a busy day in Chandratal and hence we first booked a tent. Before our travel, we had talked to a person who was famous in internet domain and had tents in Chandratal. But his tents were not seen at all. Apparently forest department had removed his tents for flouting the rules!! Anyway we had a tent to sleep now and had not paid money to internet guy. Nothing to worry!!

Chandratal lake
No one is allowed to stay at Chandratal. The tents I mentioned are all set up about 2 km before the lake. A good decision by the authorities, I would say.

Lake and cloudy day
We had a quick lunch and then set out to lake. Vehicles have to stop about a km before the lake. Remaining distance has to be covered by walk. Since we had to get down to the lake, the lake makes a dramatic appearance!! We were mesmerized.

First view of the lake
The lake was pristine and clear. Here I met Arun Bhat, an ardent traveler and blogger. I knew him from his blogs from long time but now I was seeing him face to face!! That was great!!

Clear water
We wanted to circle around lake but the weather turned bad during our walk. So, we returned back only to see clear sky again!! With weather turning good, I did something that I do not do often. Jump with joy and get a photograph of it.

We stayed at the lake till sunset and returned back to the tents. After dinner, we spent some time in star grazing. Slowly clouds started hovering around and we quickly got into out tents. It was followed by heavy rains.

We woke up next day with overcast conditions. Still we returned back to the lake to get lake photos with some nice reflections. The trip was coming to an end.

I had lot of questions before I planned the trip to Chandratal. I will try to answer a few of them.

Is it worth staying at Chandratal?
It depends on your interest. I felt it was a good idea as we could spend a lot of time in lake. The lake looks different in morning and evening. If we have travelled for thousands of km to see this lake, it makes no sense to hit and run.

Chandratal in morning
Where can we stay at Chandratal?
Staying next to lake is not permitted. We can either stay at tents 2 km before the lake. It costs about Rs 1000 – 1500 (with food). A cheaper option can be to stay in Dhaba at Batal. There is also a small dhaba near the tents but I do not know the price.

Is it good to stay in Chandratal during onward journey?
If you are travelling from Manali, it is not a good idea. Manali is at 7,000 feet and Chandratal at 14,200 feet is not good for acclimatization. Day trip is ok but not the stay. Even Batal is at a higher altitude for acclimatization. Few people in the tents had bad time as they suffered from AMS. They could not enjoy their trip. So, take it easy.

Any other things to do?

Trekking from Kunzum La to Chandratal Lake can be done in about 3-4 hours. Another popular trekking route is from Chandratal to Suraj Tal near Bharalacha Pass in Lahual. It takes about three days and involves serious stream crossings.