I seem to be adjusting to civilization well enough. I returned on the 30th of December from a 34 day trek around Manaslu, into the Tsum Valley and finally completing the Annapurna Circuit. Although there were certainly some cold days and lots of hills to go up and down, it was still fun. Since both the Manaslu and Tsum Valley regions are restricted, it is mandatory to have a guide. Our guide was a young guy, 24 years old, and lets just say he still has a lot to learn. That being said, Chelsea, an Australian girl who I traveled with and who had had other guides before, did say he wasn't as bad as some she has had. In any event, it was nice to have a translator and to be able to communicate with the locals to some degree. Over the 21 days we were in Manaslu and the Tsum Valley, we stayed at home-stays/ monasteries at least 15 nights. Staying at home-stays is nice because it really gives you a chance to see Nepal. We spent 3 nights at our guide's house. The living quarters are elevated and in the evening the cows come into the room downstairs (and ring their bells all night!!) There were basically 2 large rooms upstairs, the kitchen/ dining room and then a "bed room." As expected, there were not any beds in the bed room, but there were some sheets stuffed with straw that we could sleep on. It was neat to see his mom cook over the fire and his dad would come in after cutting grass for hey all morning and eat "Himalayan food" according to our guide. As far as I can tell, Himalayan food is simply Himalayan wheat mixed with just a little bit of water and heated up. The end result looks like a big glob of brown goo- not exactly appetizing but evidently full of energy. We, however, were spoiled and had thupka for most dinners. It is a noodle soup with potatoes, although not the most delicious, it was certainly better than the "Himalayan food!"
I think the night I enjoyed the most, we stayed in a small nunnery. Well, not really a nunnery, it was a tiny monastery in the middle of nowhere run by a nun. She was a lovely lady, maybe 55 years old or so. She lived by herself and took care of the monastery by herself as well. Every day, or two days, she had to walk down to the river to get water. Although the river was not that far away, it was about 200 meters below the monastery! It was exhausting enough for me to walk down to the river to get my 3 liters of water, I cannot imagine carry 30 liters back up!!! That evening, after our guide and Denis carried up extra water for her, we sat around the fire and waited for dinner. She actually popped us pop corn over the fire!! Finally, when dinner was over I got out my camera and showed her some of the pictures I had taken in Tibet. She was in awe!! Her smile was from ear to ear and she was so amazed by the different temples. I guess I had been a little jaded, there are so many temples and monasteries in Tibet that after a while they all started to look the same to me.....not to her! Each one was as impressive as the last I all I wish is that I would have thought to print out we a few of the pictures to give them to her and others we met along the way.
Getting onto the Annapurna Circuit seemed like we were returning to civilization compared to where we had been. On our first day on the Annapurna Circuit we celebrated with a packet of bonbons (chocolate cookies). After 5 hours or so on the trail, we came to Chame- complete with almost a dozen shops selling all the necessities: chocolate, peanuts, chips, shampoo, oatmeal (which we soon found out was terrible) and lots of other exciting items!! The shop keeper must have thought we were crazy, we were much to excited about such basic little things! It is shocking how much it has changed since I was there in March. The amount of progress that has been on the road is astonishing! At the rate they are going, you should be able to drive a car around the circuit by the end of the year it seems!! It was fun for me to pass all the places again, this time with out any snow on them!! I guess I didn't realize what a big difference walking in the snow made. In March, when there was tons of snow leading up to and over the pass, it took Nathan and I 4 hours to reach the pass and then another 4 and a half to come down....not this time. I reached to top in 2 hours and was down in another 2 and a half!! I was able to make it to Tuckuche on Christmas day. It is a lovely little village with flag-stone paved streets where Nathan and I had stayed before at a delightful guest house. The owners were as welcoming as before and can still make the best apple desserts in Nepal!
By December 30th I arrived into Pokhara, along with every Nepali in Nepal!! Much to my surprise, Pokhara holds a street festival every year from Dec 28th to Jan 1 which is evidently the highlight of the year. All the hotels in town were booked and the ones that had openings wanted $50 a night for a room (they are usually about $10)!!!!! After over an hour of trying, we finally found place and hit the town for food. Sadly, I was too tired to shower when we got back and I figured that if I had survived 26 days with out a shower before, 8 days wouldn't hurt:) As for the new year, a massive steak (the first meat I had had in about 38 days) and a beer sounded like heaven to me!
I'm back in Kathmandu now and will do the Langtang trek, only 10 days or so, before going out west the Baradia National Park. Hopefully I will see tigers and rinos in the park, but no guarantees. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!