Nepal Day 14 – Everest

The final day had arrived with me getting up at 04:45 to be ready and outside the hotel for 05:30. I hadn’t intended to get up quite so early, but the noise in Kathmandu finishes late and starts early so not much chance for proper sleep. Good ear plugs is something I’d definitely recommend – unfortunately mine didn’t work great.

When we got to the airport we had to figure it out for ourselves. Fortunately I noticed in the small print of the ticket receipt which airline it was so was able to queue in the right place. Although our booked flight said 102, the one we were given tickets for was 100. It didn’t seem to matter though as in the departure hall there were multiple fights with Buddha Air all at the same time.

The scheduled flight time arrived, but they updated their PowerPoint presentation used for departure information to say it was awaiting a weather report. Apparently domestic flights are frequently cancelled or delayed depending on how much fog is about. This delay was only for 15 minutes, and although ours was the first in the list, when the time came ours was delayed a further 15 minutes and the others boarded. I started to keep a close eye on the time as each delay would eat into the time I’d have between flights.

By the time the plane finally took off it was 08:00 and the flight lasted for around an hour. To start with the left-hand side of the plane got to see the Himalayan mountain range including the all-important Everest. Whilst this was happening the other side got to visit the cockpit, and once the plane turned I was able to do the same. As my seat was at the front of the plane it also meant that I got in there quickly enough to see Everest from the cockpit which was quite cool!

Upon landing my only thought was making sure I got my luggage from the hotel to make it back to the airport in time. As my fight was scheduled for 13:05 (and delayed until 13:15) I wanted to be at the airport for 10:00, but Trek Nepal had insisted that I leave the hotel at 10:00 instead. They must do this a lot so it made sense to trust them, though I’d definitely feel more comfortable about it once checked in for the flight.

I was back at the hotel for 09:30 so quickly got my luggage moved to the lobby and found I’d got 15 minutes to have breakfast. As we were late having breakfast there wasn’t much left and what there was didn’t taste that appetising so had a few bits, a cup of tea and then made a move to check out. At this point the hotel said they’d just ordered the taxi and it’d be 15 minutes meaning I wouldn’t catch it until 10:15!

I waited and waited, but the taxi didn’t arrive until 10:25 – much later than had been agreed. It meant I wasn’t at the airport until 10:50 which gave me less time than normal. Fortunately it was still enough to go through airport security, check-in, and embarkation in plenty of time. The embarkation queue and form was far simpler and more organised than the visa on arrival. In fact, all of the departure area seemed more organised!

Before going through security I bought a Buddha statue for $12, and bought some lunch. For 1000 rupees I was able to get a chicken burger, snickers duo, and a can of Coca Cola. The burger was the most appealing of what they had, but still wasn’t great.

At 11:45 I started queueing for security and was surprised that they have a queue for men, and a queue for women. The queue for men was twice as long so they moved some of us into the business class queue which moved far quicker and I got through in 15 minutes. It was then a long wait, almost until the departure time, before a gate was announced. This was due to the plane getting in late and causing a 35 minute delay. When leaving the gate they pat you down one last time in case anything has changed since the last two security checks.

It was the second time I’d taken off on a flight from this airport in the space of 6 hours – it can’t be often that happens! During the flight I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and then Now You See Me 2, Everest, Eddie the Eagle, and Birdman. It was a lot to watch but it helped me to keep my eyes open during the flight so it’d help with adjusting back.

The Everest film told of how during a tourist trip up to the summit the weather had turned and stranded people there – some people losing their life as a result. It was based on a true story and demonstrated just how difficult a climb it is. It also reminded me that after the marathon some had gone on a trek to it’s base camp.

There were two meals served during the flight, a chicken dinner early on, and then some sort of vegetable dish covered in grease about an hour before landing. I wasn’t keen on either which meant it’d worked out well that I’d had the chicken burger in the airport.

The eventual landing was just before 22:00 Nepal time, so around 19:15 local time. Before I could make my connecting flight I then had to get through security once more, a process that was now becoming tedious – four checks for the journey even though I’d got international transfers. Fortunately this last one didn’t have a queue.

On my way to the gate they made the first call for passengers for the flight so had to speed up getting across the airport. When I got there though there weren’t yet many people about so had probably put the message out to get people there early.

This flight was a little more comfortable than the last and again served some food I didn’t bother with. I spent the time on this flight watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the 5 hours seemed to pass in no time at all and I was back in the UK once more, and home after 26 hours of being awake.

It’d been quite an adventure over the past two weeks, and quite different from trips in the past. The organisation and execution of the first week had been amazing, and went well enough that I’d recommend an Impact Marathon Series race to anyone. It had been a chance to look closer at what the country was really like, and then in the second week to see more of the place, and do the sort of activities that tourists usually go there for. This was definitely an adventure in the Himalayas.

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Nepal Day 13 – The Long Drive to Kathmandu

The long journey home began today after a 07:00 breakfast with a bus ride from Chitwan to Kathmandu. The bus left Chitwan at 08:30 and took almost an hour to get across the city. We then continued along the same road we’d arrived from Pokhara on a couple of days previous for a further 2 hours. This time though we were heading past the junction and on to Kathmandu.

Our first stop was a 10 minute one fair early on, if you exclude the stops we made to pick up extra passengers. At 12:00 we made a stop and it seemed this would be the only chance for a lunch stop so I bought a tube of pringles for 300 rupees as it seemed the best option, just not a very healthy one.

Unexpectedly we stopped 30 minutes later for a 30 minute break and on this one I photographed some monkeys in the tree there. The hotel owner next to these trees didn’t seem to like monkeys and threw a brick at them.

Later in the afternoon we made one final stop just 21km away from the city. This was another short break and at the time I thought it pointless, but when we reached the city limits we soon hit traffic and it took over an hour to get through.

Whilst in the queue I noticed one Nepali cleaning windows whilst standing on an upturned bucket, on a ledge over a four story drop. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to have fallen!

We finally got through the traffic and reached the final stop a 16:45, but this wasn’t the place we’d taken the bus from near Thamel originally and there was nobody from Trek Nepal to meet us either. We asked a taxi driver to take us there, but he had no idea where Mandala Street was so we had to walk 2.1km carrying bags and heavy suitcases. It was fortunate I had an offline map with me on my phone otherwise we’d have had no idea what to do.

At the Trek Nepal office they briefed us on what would be happening on the next day before telling us to go and check in to the hotel we’d been in at the start of this 7 day adventure.

Once checked in we looked around the shops for a while before meeting up with a couple of other marathoners for one last Nepali meal at the Electric Pagoda. I had a Himalayan Steak and apple pie – this together with a drink and tip cost me 1050 rupees, so was pretty cheap!

I packed one last time, and got some sleep ready for one last early start.

Nepal Day 12 – Chitwan Day 2

Breakfast today was served at 07:00 so I decided I’d get up at 06:45. For breakfast I had a couple of slices of “almost” toast and then had a cereal bar when I went back to the room.

The tours for the day started at 08:00 when we were driven to a place to board a dugout canoe. We took this along the river passing many mugger crocodiles as we went. Due to it being early morning there was also a kind of haze hovering above some of the water. The canoe itself seems to get very close to the riverbed in places, but I was pretty sure it was the light being refracted to make it look shallower. It’s also steered at the back by a guy with a big stick, something that kept dripping on me as he changed sides.

Eventually we got off the canoe and started a nature walk. This lasted for about an hour and we saw many termite mounds, a spotted deer, and a wild boar. Whilst hiking through the forest I did hear the sound of other wild boar once but didn’t get to see those. We also saw what the locals call “tree killer vine”, named such due to the way it takes the moisture away from the tree and kills it.

Once we’d finished this we walked to an elephant breeding centre where we first had to read the signs in an information centre. This told us things such as how at a very young age the elephants are taken away from their mother and have their food and water restricted. This form of torture effectively breaks them so they can then teach them to be beasts of burden. The torture of these animals doesn’t stop there though, it then described how they’re burnt and washed to desensitise the skin and how they can sustain injuries during training.

After reading this we were then shown the elephants in captivity with the older ones chained up by the foot, no longer able to roam like their instincts tell them to. I saw one calf also chained up, trying to get to one of the other elephants but it couldn’t and looked distressed. Female elephants such as these are herd animals, they’re not used to a solitary life.

I got closer to the young elephants and whilst watching them one of them used its trunk to pull on my leg to bring me closer and tried to pull me into the enclosure. It then started to pull on my shoe laces as well – you could tell that despite this harsh treatment, some were still quite playful, and I know that they’re protecting these elephants, but it doesn’t make it right.

We were then taken to the elephant bathing area and this was just as bad. You could see the spiked tool they used to control the elephants and the pink scar tissue across the top of the neck where it gets used. Those that were in the water weren’t getting it any easier though – pulled around by the tusk or trunk. For those wanting to pay to be washed by an elephant the handlers would then scrunch the elephant’s ear and pull them to the side to make the elephant roll to the side when their time was up.

I decided I couldn’t watch them do this and instead spent most of my time there photographing the birds and dragonflies that were about. After about 15 minutes of this we were taken back to the jeep and driven back to the hotel ready for lunch at 12:00. I was glad I’d chosen the jeep safari option instead of the elephant back safari.

Today’s lunch was rice, chicken, vegetables, and fries – so pretty much the same as yesterday’s but with a tomato soup starter instead. We only had 30 minutes for lunch before we had to be ready outside for the start of the jeep safari.

The jeep safari started in the hotels one and this took us to where we’d seen the dugout canoes the night before. After hanging around in the midday sun for about 10 minutes we then put on life jackets and boarded the boat bound for the other side. Once over there it was a short walk to where some jeeps were parked up. I also noticed the occasional elephant footprint – apparently these would be from wild ones.

The jeep ride went a long time without us seeing anything, even at the watering hole it seemed like we weren’t going to see anything either. Then we saw a rhino on the other side, some deer, and a couple of crocodiles. This was almost everything we saw until just before we got to the conservation centre when we got a lot closer to a rhino, but it was still very well hidden by the bushes. It was a shame we weren’t able to get out and move around – but obviously this was for safety.

At the conservation centre I didn’t go in, though from the description it sounded like they were doing good work to conserve crocodiles and turtles. Instead I photographed a signature spider located just outside the centre. We were then the first group to leave and from there until we left the park at 17:00 we didn’t really see anything except for a monitor lizard up a tree. It was getting cooler too due to the setting sun.

For tonight’s meal it was finally something slightly different, dal baht, though what it compromises of is mostly the same as the previous lunches and dinners. From there we then went to the Tharu Culture Program which lasted an hour and consisted of various dance performances based on local traditions. I thought some of them looked like a type of fighting kata that may have been used originally to teach warriors.

When the show was over we were driven back to the hotel one last time, but this time I knew that the music we’d hear late into the night and start again early morning was likely from these culture shows.

Nepal Day 11 – Chitwan Day 1

This was the last day with this specific guide, but we needed to meet him at 07:00 to take us to the bus stop for 07:30 when we’d board a tourist bus bound for Chitwan. Once at the bus stop we were then on our own for the journey and would be meeting a new guide at the other end.

The bus left at 08:30 and made its first stop at 09:30 for 20 minutes. We were told that although the planned journey time is 5 hours it could be 8 or more due to roadworks on the route and the bad road surfaces requiring us to go slower. Based on this I decided to buy something from the shop at this first stop, but the best thing they had was a small twix for 180 rupees – the equivalent to about £1.33 at the time!

A while later we crossed a big bridge over the river and from then until we reached Chitwan it was a very bumpy, narrow, and dusty road. It looked like the road works may have been there to widen the roads along the cliff and to improve the road surface. Although we got into Chitwan at 13:00 it wasn’t until 14:00 we reached our stop at Sauraha, on the edge of the Chitwan National Park.

From this stop we were driven in a jeep to the Jungle World Resort where we were each given a glass of Coca Cola on arrival and then shown to our rooms. We then got lunch at around 15:00 which consisted of soup, and was then followed by a main course of chicken, spaghetti in tomato sauce, vegetables, and rice.

Not long after we then met up with the rest of a group who would be going on a walking village tour. This sounded incredibly boring as on the way in we could see that most of the town was modern and had no historical buildings. This started very close to the resort with a look at the traditional buildings of those area made from elephant grass and coated with clay in the winter months. We were also told how the locals could keep away malaria carrying mosquitoes through eating copious amounts of chilli.

We then trekked straight through town and came out at a river. This is where it got more interesting and I realised this wasn’t your average village walk. From here we could see two species of crocodile – Gharial and Mugger. We soon saw a kingfisher as well though it was too far away to see clearly. As we walked along the path I stopped a few times to photograph dragonflies and eventually in the “No permission without entry” area I photographed an Indian elephant you could see in captivity.

At the end of this path was a big clearing and there amongst the bushes we could see an Indian Rhinoceros. It was mostly obscured by the bushes so it wasn’t that clear, but it was far closer than any I’d seen in Africa. We couldn’t get any closer to it, or move around to where there was a clearer view so I had to try my best with the position we were in.

The rhinoceros eventually heard one of the people amongst the group and appeared to became agitated so our guide led us away along the path, back to where we’d first reached the river. Here we were told to wait until sunset, so we did, and I took some photographs of it whilst doing so.

After sunset we were then taken by jeep to where another rhinoceros had been seen, sitting down in the river. We couldn’t get as close to this one, but it was at least another chance to photograph one. After about 10 minutes there we moved on and back to the hotel.

Dinner was at 19:00 so I had a quick shower first and then met up with the others at the restaurant. This meal was similar to earlier and was rice, chicken, pasta, and vegetable. The dessert however was some sort of apple yogurt though I don’t know what reality it existed as yogurt in. We then sat and talked for awhile until it was time to get some rest before another busy day.

Nepal Day 10 – Paragliding Over Pokhara

Although the beds of the guest house were hard, I managed to get a decent 5 hours of sleep before I needed to be up ready for the hike to the Australian base camp of Annapurna. This meant it was pretty much the best night’s sleep I’d so far in Nepal. It wasn’t something I’d expected!

We set off at 06:30 before breakfast carrying only what we needed as porters would take our luggage from Kande to Pokhara ahead of us. I didn’t really want to leave any of my camera backpack with them so had to carry all 15kg of that on the trek. Fortunately it’s something I’m used to anyway.

The morning trek started as the sun was rising and the two mile ascent took around 1hr30 to complete. Once we arrived at the Australian Base Camp there was incredible cloud cover which made the peaks of the mountains beyond, including Annapurna II, difficult to see. It created an amusing effect though where it looked like some of the peaks were just appearing out of clouds from nowhere.

To start with we sat on the roof of the Australian Base Camp restaurant and ordered breakfast. It was nice sitting there whilst the sun was out with the mountains in the background. There was Wi-Fi as well, though this only lasted a few minutes until the connection died.

Once we’d finished it was then 4.2 mile trek back down the mountain through the village of Dhampus. This was a long and winding journey with varied terrain. We had to have a few stops as the morning sun made this hard work. After the initial descent through the trees we eventually took a road around to a cobbled and rocky path that reminded me a little of the smaller villages in Yorkshire.

The descent was actually longer and harder than the ascent due to the terrain, but eventually we made it to the bottom where a jeep was waiting for us with our luggage. We stopped there for 10 minutes to get a drink and then drove the 15 miles back to Pokhara. On the way the driver had to stop and pay the police as they pull over new vehicles, and the one our driver was using did not yet have its paperwork.

When we got back into the city we were dropped off outside the Paragliding place and our luggage taken on to the hotel. We were bundled onto the van that was waiting there after I’d been told I couldn’t take my camera with me. I also asked if we needed warm clothes for this but the guide seemed to think we didn’t. In the van we were told there was a chance of a water landing so anything we took with us would be at our own risk. A little late to warn us, but fortunately they let me leave my phone in the van.

It was an approximately 20 minute drive from there up a mountain to where we’d be paragliding. After parking up it was then a short five minute walk to the top where we got to choose who our guide would be. I said I was fine with anyone so was assigned one who then fitted me with a helmet and harness.

Once the guide had attached himself to the parachute he then attached my harness to his and told me to run forward, towards the edge of the cliff and to look forward not down. Eventually my legs were still moving but not making contact and we were away.

Time passed quickly in the air and we were soaring through the sky, catching thermals to travel around the mountain around Pokhara. It was actually warmer than I expected so was okay in shorts and t-shirt. After a few circles we got higher and higher before moving to over the trees. Whilst over these trees we got close to vultures who were also riding the thermals.

The guide asked me if I liked roller coasters – it sounded like a loaded question but I cautiously said that I do. Once he’d had that confirmation we headed over so we were above Lake Phewa Tal. The guide then said it’d be fun and started doing acrobatics over the water. I’d never realised before this that it was possible for parachutes to go upside down. A few minutes later we then swung around over the shore again and started to descend lower and lower until the guide told me to keep my legs up ready for landing. Just before touching down I was then told to stand and ran forward a few steps as the parachute came to a stop.

It was a fun experience and very unlike anything I’ve done before, but one of those things you have to do when visiting Nepal. After the parachutes had been packed away we were driven back to their office and got to look at the photos they took during the flight. I was interested but had no idea where our Trek Nepal guide was as I’d need my wallet from my backpack first. Five minutes after standing around a while we were then told a taxi had been sent to collect us and take us to the Butterfly Lodge, and that those of us wanting CDs of the photos could have them delivered in an hour if we left 2,000 rupees each with the reception.

The hotel looked a lot better than the guest house from the last night and was actually better than every room we’d had so far. With our bags dropped off in the rooms we then headed out to All-in-one Cafe for some lunch. It was another late lunch so we were all very hungry by this point. I went for a spaghetti bolognese which was coated in cheese. It tasted great and wasn’t that expensive either at only 250 rupees, but the meal was included as part of the tour so didn’t matter anyway.

On my way back out from the hotel, having fetched my cameras, I then found out I’d need to change rooms as the one I was sharing with now had his Dad turn up to surprise him. As they understandably wanted to share a room I’d needed to shift my bags into another. I decided I’d do that later and instead checked at reception to see if the CDs had been delivered before heading out.

As the CDs hadn’t been delivered I first went to the paragliding office to pay and pick them up. This didn’t take too long and I was soon walking down by the lake. I sat around for a while taking photographs and hoping for a good sunset over the water. After 20 minutes of waiting a layer of mist started to roll in over the far mountains so I decided it wouldn’t be worth waiting.

After moving my bags into the new room I finally got to have a hot shower – not just warm, it was hot. It’s amazing what things you can take for granted and then miss. There was then a few hours to kill until we’d all be meeting up with other marathoners at the Moondance Restaurant for 19:00.

The restaurant was really good and their pizza is recommended by guidebooks , so I tried that topped with barbecue chicken and green peppers – it was incredibly good! This was then followed by apple crumble with ice cream which was also really good. We’d taken our guide out for this meal as well as it’d been our plan to treat him, however the restaurant waived his part of the bill.

We then stuck around talking until 22:30 when we decided it’d be a good idea to sleep before our morning drive.

Nepal Day 9 – Trisuli River Rafting

In order to fit everything in today I had to get up at 06:00 and we met our bus driver outside the hotel. About an hour before meeting the driver we’d all felt a minor earthquake – something common to Nepal, but something new for some of the group even though we occasionally get them in England.

When we met up with the guide it was then a half mile walk to find a tourism bus we’d be taking for the first part of our journey. When we found it I started putting my bags above the seat ready and as I was about sorted I was told to sit at the back. When I got to the back I started unloading my bags off my back again and again was told where to sit, despite having just been told. It seemed the guy responsible for the bus was a little impatient.

We set off at 06:55 which is when I started eating the packed breakfast that had been provided by the hotel. This consisted of two bananas, an orange, a hard boiled egg, a bean muffin, and a carton of mango juice. After about an hours driving we had a 5 minute break, and then again at 10:00 we had a 20 minute break. At this second one we saw some of the others from the marathon that were heading to Pokhara today – mostly Impact Marathon Series staff.

At 11:00 we’d arrived at Rapid Runner Exhibitions for the white water rafting. Unfortunately we had to wait 35 minutes for another group to arrive that were coming in from Pokhara to join us. When they finally got here our luggage was already loaded onto a truck ready to be taken to the finishing place, and we put on a warm top, a helmet, and a life jacket before heading down through a vegetable patch with a paddle to the beach.

One the beach were told a few commands and told what we’d need to do in various situations. Our group and the other group then got into the rafts and pushed out into the water. To start with we practised the commands and then set off down the rapids.

White water rafting is hard work, especially when the waves are so big they come crashing over the boat. For the first two hours we got drenched repeatedly as we avoided capsizing, and had to steer furiously. At 13:30 we stopped for a short 10 minute break on a beach where we could take photos before we had to get back on the boat to continue on. As we left this we could see a black snake crossing the river come ashore downstream.

In the last section we had what the guide described as major rapids. He wasn’t kidding either, one of the last ones we hit got us so had that the boat almost flipped as we shifted from paddling fast, to hiding inside the boat and then back on the edge steering again.

When we finished at 14:00 I thought it’d been quite fun, even when it felt really cold. There had also been a few places where we could leave the boat for a swim as well. We were led into a back room of the Ananta Jeewan Church where we were able to get dry and change into some warm clothes. In the front of this we were then able to eat from a buffet lunch of cold beans, cold pasta, some sort of meat, peanut butter, and bread. They also had a few biscuits so had a few of those for dessert.

We then needed to head on to the Australian Base Camp for our overnight stay, but our guide warned us the end of the trek might need head torches. Our guide had hoped to flag down a tourist bus, but hadn’t been able to so eventually after quite some time, at 15:45 he got us onto one of the local busses. From what I understood later, the delay from rafting had meant missing the planned tourist bus which meant a long wait for a suitable bus that would get us to Pokhara, although this bus would be slower to get there.

The local busses in Nepal do not have suspension and you feel every single bump on the road with some severity. The three hour journey was made even more uncomfortable by needing to have my camera bag on my knee. It was definitely an experience, and a way for us to further see what it’s like to be a local. After about an hour our guide got a call from the porters asking us where we were, so it seemed we were somehow at least two hours late.

Our guide eventually told us the hike would be at night, which was obvious as the sun was already setting. Our guide gave us the option of staying in Pokhara or carrying on to a guest house. It wasn’t that clear what this meant, but he said if we stayed in Pokhara we wouldn’t get to do the hike so we agreed to the guest house.

We arrived in Pokhara at 18:55 and got off the local bus; our guide wandered off at this point to look for our transport from there. A jeep soon arrived which would then take us on to the guest house – I noticed that this had been provided by the same company as the rapids earlier. The driver had some issues with this as he hadn’t brought rope for luggage so probably didn’t know how many of us there was going to be. Though he solved this by stacking them in the boot with the guide being cramped on space.

We arrived at the guest house in Kande about 30-45 minutes later and the guide went off to talk to the owners. The voices were raised but it was difficult to tell if it was friendly banter or them trying to come to some sort of agreement. Eventually we were led down the dark corridor beyond and down some steps that were behind bars to where there were padlocked doors.

I started to think the place looked incredibly unclean and when they opened the first of the doors we saw that it had two beds, with dirty sheets and a thin blanket on a tiled floor. I think it’d be difficult to guess when they last had a clean in these rooms. I was a bit put off by this and at first wondered what we’d stumbled into. It had been our decision though, and in hindsight had been the right one. I decided I’d go bed fully clothed – unsure of how dirty the blankets really were, and knowing I’d need them to keep warm anyway. I was lucky though as in addition to being clothed I was able to have a second blanket of the other bed as this time I wasn’t sharing the room.

Back upstairs there was a very basic menu for ordering a late dinner, and the best thing on there was a peanut butter pancake. I’d have gone for a pizza but apparently they get those from the village, and it was closed due to how late it was. After quite some wait it actually didn’t taste too bad, but I was still hungry so had a kit kat and went bed.

Nepal Day 8 – Swayambhunath – The Monkey Temple

It was an early start, earlier than any of the days thus far having to get up at 05:00 in order to get the bus for a walking tour of Kathmandu. Once again this followed a night without sleep as the noise went from party celebrations to people getting ready to leave. It was still dark at this time and there wasn’t much about for breakfast so I had a banana and one of the cereal bars I’d brought with me and boarded the bus.

The bus got into Kathmandu at around 09:00 the driver thought we were all going to the airport. This was not the case though and had to be given directions to where we could be dropped off for the Trek Nepal office. I had no idea it was their office we were going to as I’d assumed they’d be checking us into a hotel first. From where we were dropped off it was a 0.5 mile walk to the office and we were led to another office where we saw one of them from Trek Nepal who had been on the bus with us, but was surprised to see us as he’d assumed the same as the driver.

He led us back to the first office and the Kathmandu Resort Hotel. Once there the theme of nobody knowing what was going on continued, but eventually after phoning Impact Marathons to clear this up, we found we could check into the hotel in an hour and would be going on the tour at 14:00. It made no sense that we had to get up at 05:00 for this.

To kill some time we went to Pumpernickle Bakery for a drink and some food. I decided to have some cheesecake for 200 rupees and a bottle of Fanta for 85 rupees. After this we headed back to the Trek Nepal office, completed some paperwork and checked into the hotel. We were then finally able to relax for a while before needing to go for the briefing at 13:00.

By the time we got to the Trek Nepal office, those that had been on the 10:00 bus, the one we were originally to be on, had already arrived. Here they told the group about the coming week and also provided bus tickets for a few days time. After this there was a bit of spare time so I went back to the bakery to get lunch. For this I had a toasted chicken sandwich with fries – food which was completely different to everything I’d eaten in Nepal so far.

After waiting a while for the minibus driver our guide for the afternoon led us to where it was parked up. This was then a short drive to Swayambhunath, the temple often referred to as the monkey temple due to the number of rhesus macaques that live there. In Tibetan the name of this temple site means “Sublime Trees” due to the number of different trees on this site.

It’s also the oldest religious site in Nepal with it being founded in around 5th century CE. Unusually this site is important to both Hindu and Buddhist religions and becomes a busy site on holy days, and also Saturdays.

It didn’t take long before we saw our first monkeys here and there were many more yet to be seen. Instead of taking the large number of steep steps up to the stupa we took the shortcut which winds past a few shops. We were taken in one where we were told out the painting techniques they used, and the levels of mastery. For the more advanced levels they’d have had to have spent decades of their life having repeated the same design over and over.

Around the stupa there are quite a few statues and old buildings, some of which were clearly damaged by the earthquake. The stupa is impressive and is intact having been repaired swiftly after the earthquake in 2015 as it is the second holiest place in Tibetan Buddhism. Walking around the stupa clockwise we got to peer down the steep steps to the bottom and also started to see a lot more monkeys around.

Whilst there I bought a fridge magnet for 350 rupees and a pack of 100 stamps for 600 rupees. There was then a great opportunity to photograph monkeys as many of them suddenly appeared next to the stupa. Although they were being shooed they were desperately trying to eat crumbs from the floor and were also fighting amongst each other.

Once we’d done there we were asked if we wanted to see any more, but wasn’t told what else there was we could see. So, instead we headed back to the hotel and sat around until going out for an evening meal at 18:30. We met up with a few other marathoners our group had met and ate at the New Orleans Wine Bar. After we got there more and more turned up until there were about 23 of us. It was a good evening and for the first time in a week I had some western style food in the form of a chicken burger and Coca Cola for 700 rupees.

Once we’d paid the bill I said goodbye to those I wouldn’t be seeing again and thanked Nick for putting on a great event and week. Now I could finally get some sleep before the adventure continued.

Nepal Day 7 – Nepal International Marathon

Marathon training often takes me three to four months of gradually building up some base miles and speed and then starting to increase the distance in two week periods. This worked well when I was training for the ultra marathon and marathons at the start of the year and is something I think I should be doing for all my marathons now.

In the case of the Nepal marathon the training had not gone to plan at all due to an ankle injury and I’d adapted to this the best I could. My biggest hope was that doing a marathon a month before this one, and having had two faster races between these (the 10K of which was a personal best) that I might just stand a chance of completing this run. I’d also missed out on a lot of hill training so knowing that this one would have a cumulative climb equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis twice would not be easy. They referred to this course as “The Beast of Shivapuri” and with good reason, it was a course that would be testing both physically and mentally with it’s average height above sea level being 2,030 metres.

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I like to be consistent with what I eat before a marathon so had packed some crunchy nut cornflakes to eat this morning. I couldn’t be completely consistent though as I didn’t have the normal milk I’d have, it was instead warm milk that made it taste funny. After breakfast I normally like to have a few hours before I do a marathon, but this would mean getting up at 05:00 which I wasn’t keen on. As we’d be led away from camp at 07:00 I decided that getting up just before 06:00 would be good enough to have time to digest breakfast.

I sat around for a while making sure I was completely ready for when we set off. It was then a short walk to the UN APF parade ground for the start line. Along the route the local hotels and guest houses had opened up for all runners so that they could use their facilities on the way. At the parade ground there was an area for bag drop, and an area for signing the waiver for running in this race.

Whilst waiting for the start I stood around talking to some of the others runners and noticed that it had already warmed up enough to be comfortable in just a t-shirt and shorts – it was likely this was going to be one of the warmer races I’ve done.

After the Nepal national anthem the race started and it was a pretty quick start with a good sized group of people going out at sub-7:00 min/mile (myself included). This was all down hill to start with until we reached some prayer flags at the bottom of the hill where we had to turn around and head back up the hill before turning off at a junction we’d passed on the way down (my strategy was to walk every up hill so I got overtaken by half a dozen people here).

Just after passing the motorbike that had been leading us, I noticed a few runners that had been behind me, that had never passed me, were now in front of me. When I saw one of them I knew she asked me how I got behind her and it became apparent that a group of people had turned off down this road early instead of going down to the bottom of the hill so had cut their route short by just under mile. From what I heard after the race it seemed most after the first 20 or 30 had done the same. It didn’t really bother me though as it wasn’t necessarily their fault as if they couldn’t see runners in front of them at the time then there was no signage to indicate it anyway. The reason one of them had given was that they thought the elites had made a mistake (note: I am certainly not an elite, not even by any stretch of the imagination!).

There were some steep climbs on this route that eventually led back to near the scout hut, but I hadn’t made as bad time as I thought I might have. Instead of going up passed the hut it instead went down the side and around the back past an old metal hut where the ground was so sodden that I couldn’t help but get my feet wet. At this point a group of us had pretty much stayed together but as the climbs got steeper through the trees a few started to fall back.

The route twists and turns all over the place with climbs, falls, and flat bits – a lot of which can be a little technical due to the rocks in the road. This was even more so in the points where the paths narrowed or crossed streams. In some places the views were incredible, but in others what would likely have been a good view was obscured by cloud. It wasn’t a problem, just the reality of being in the mountains and a reminder we were at altitude. The route was still incredibly scenic – more so than any race I’ve done in the UK.

Eventually I caught up with another group that were going at a reasonable pace, as time passed some of those dropped back behind too, and even more when we got to the waterfall crossing where we needed to use a rope to cross safely. Once again I got water in my shoes and I knew I’d be getting a blister. After a while it became just two of us that were keeping the pace, but then I overtook and lost the other at some point in Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park.

This park was hard work and I completely ignored the aid stations and just ran straight through for all of them on this lap. For this race I was carrying the same Salomon backpack I used at Canalathon with a full 2 litre reservoir, and also some jelly babies. Unfortunately around mile 9 when I took the bag from my pocket it was upside down and I lost almost half of them over the floor, just as I had done in a race once before. This meant I’d need to change my fuelling strategy to suit. What I’d decided was I’d eat one for every second mile instead of every mile like I normally would. For a time this worked fine, and I even had the energy to walk up some very steep hills without going too slow so that at points it wasn’t quite as steep I could break into a jog.

Eventually some down paths were in sight and I mostly managed to tackle them faster and was able to pass a few more runners who seemed not as confident with their footing – though to be honest I was concentrating hard and just hoping for the best! For only my second trail race it seems I cope with uneven surfaces pretty well so may try more of them in future. This increase in pace continued all the way down past the scout hut ready for the start of the second lap where they put a red band on my wrist.

Very early on in this second lap I had to stop to make sure a runner was okay, he didn’t look too good but was okay to walk back to the aid station that we’d just passed. With that dealt with I carried on and this time managed to avoid getting my feet wet when passing the hut. This time the path through the trees felt much harder though and I wondered if I was going to hit the sub-5 hour time that the first lap had indicated was more than possible.

Each hill felt tougher and longer than before but I tried to pull back the lost time on the downhills. It didn’t work though and for a long time I was on my own. There was nobody about so I couldn’t drop in behind another runner and match their pace, or use them as a target to either not lose sight of, or to eventually overtake. This was getting mentally challenging but I knew my legs still had more in them. At this point I was confident I could finish but was starting to lose hope of the sub-5 hour time.

Once I’d entered the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park for the last time I stopped for a toilet break – which was okay as from the top of the mountain I could see there was nobody about. One of the people I’d passed before the end of the first lap had passed me not long before this and she said she expected I’d be passing her again on the downhill this lap. It never happened though.

Mile after mile passed and it was now mostly walking with a few running breaks when the route was noticeably going down hill. If it was flat, uphill, or only a gentle decline I didn’t bother trying to run. It felt like this course had now beaten me.

Not long before the last aid station before a long gap I’d got a number of small stones in my shoes. I decided for the first time I’d stop at one and I’d get them out at the aid station, but when I saw it I instead topped up my reservoir with water even though I’d got over a litre left. I’d forgotten to take my shoes off as well so instead took them off down the road and a motorcyclist asked if I was okay – I explained what I was doing and I carried on walking.

This time the long climb seemed to last forever and I walked it all. Even at walking pace I overtook a few people who were also walking though, but then got held back by some mountain bikers, and then some backpackers who were blocking the narrow path and wouldn’t let me past. This would only have meant a few minutes difference to my time at best though so although irritating it wasn’t the end of the world.

Eventually I saw the familiar path that I knew led out of the park so I started running again and ran most of the way from there to the scout hut and the final aid station. By this time I’d still got 2 miles to go and I’d run out of jelly babies so grabbed three biscuits from there and started running again. They were difficult to eat whilst watching my step running down hill so eventually walked to finish eating them and had a sip of water before running the remainder of the downhill segment at a slower than normal pace.

This ended with the same hill we’d done hill sprints on before, and this time it didn’t feel good. Not only did I walk up it, I actually had to stop a few times to catch my breath. At the top of this hill I ran down to the school area, and then walked up the final hill. This was it, no more up hills to go. I was finally able to pick up speed and ran down the hill, careful not to push too hard.

I then spotted the parade ground and rounded the corner on the hill to it. As soon as I hit the sand I upped my pace to a steady one until the final bend when I sprinted to the finish with almost everything I’d got left. I overshot the finish slightly as had to walk back to join the finishers queue.

Upon finishing they put the red dye of a Sindoor tree on your forehead, a garland of flowers around your neck, and then a piece of cloth that says “Nepal International Marathon” on it. This is followed by a finishers certificate, water, banana and biscuits. For those of us that had been staying at the scout hut we also got two lunch tokens so we could get some warm food; I went for chicken momos, and vegetable chowmein.

Once I’d eaten what I could of these and clapped in a few runners that I recognised from our group, I collected my bag and headed back to the scout hut. It was a welcome sight and it was a chance for a warm shower – the first one that hadn’t been cold all week. When I got there they also gave me a carton of juice to help me re-hydrate.

My official time was 5:23 in position 17 out of 77. This put me in the first 22% of finishers which isn’t great, but considering the difficulty of this course and my inexperience of trails I guess it’s not too bad really. It was really about the whole experience and getting to visit a new country than going for time. In this week we’d also helped to make a difference to the lives of the people in this community, and had a fun time making new friends along the way.

During the race one thing I often thought was that it as more of an adventure than a race – jumping or striding over fallen trees and boulders, clambering across rocks, being careful on narrow ledges, and crossing waterfalls. I think this course has a bit of everything to throw at you.

For the hours that followed I congratulated runners as they arrived at the scout hut, and talked about our experiences of the course. As sunset approached the clouds rolled in and we could see them drift into the camp. I went up to Sunset Bar for a drink of Coca-cola and just sat and talked some more until it was time for the evening meal. Today it was rice, pakoras, chicken, and a pumpkin and potato curry. A big meal to easily satisfy the hunger of those that had run.

After this there were presentations for the various teams that were involved in making this week what it was. It takes a lot of skilled people to make an event like this work well and smoothly – I think Nick and his team had done an amazing job. We also got an update from the fundraising as well – the target had been met! Now it was time to try and smash it as people got their post-race donations in (we later heard it had made it up to £85K raised!).

A lot of people also said their goodbyes and celebrated as this would be the last time some people could see each other with tomorrow’s bus being an early one. Unfortunately I was in the group that would be leaving camp at 06:00 tomorrow, although originally I’d been told 10:00 – this meant instead of celebrating with the others I had to finish packing and attempt to get some sleep before a day of travel and sightseeing.

Above is a video put together by Ben Arthur which shows some of the course of the Nepal International Marathon (the bits near the village).

Nepal Day 6 – Exploring Kakani

There were no fixed plans for today and we were free to do whatever we wanted. Breakfast ran from 06:30 to 09:00, and there was the option of yoga up at the Sunset Bar at 07:45. It was nice to have just one day with a lay in, even if it was only until 07:15! I decided not to bother with the yoga and instead hung around until the fog covering the valley had lifted temporarily a little after 08:00.

To start with I headed out towards the village and walked as far as the parade ground before turning back and taking the path up to the stupa. I walked around that area for a while taking photographs of the scenery and wildlife but didn’t really get many shots.

From there I then headed down the hill we’d used for hill sprints the previous morning and found it hard to believe that I’d run up and down this considering how uneven it is. Eventually I found myself going down the hill that is part of the 10km route and for a lot of this I could hear a nearby waterfall – most likely the one that was mentioned in the race briefing.

I didn’t get all the way down the hill before turning back, but the ascent was considerably harder in what was now incredibly warm sunlight. Fortunately I’d got a good supply of water with me, but also made a few stops for photographing birds and insects I’d seen along the route. Along the route a few school children passed with the usual “namaste” greeting, and one of them was carrying a chicken. I thought to myself amusingly that it was his packed lunch.

By 11:00 I was back at the summit camp for the planned talk on Nepal at 11:30, but the speaker had been delayed and would instead be visiting in the afternoon. I used this time before lunch to start packing ready for Sunday and the return to Kathmandu and read for a while.

For lunch it was the start of carb-loading with a meal of rice, beans, and a potato curry. Once again it tasted great and was a must for going back for seconds. After this there was then the talk delayed from earlier, given by Doctor Lolita, describing what Nepal is like and some of the adversities faced.

My afternoon plan was to visit Shivapuri National Park, but when I got there I tried to buy a ticket but was told “no ticket”. I explained I was trying to buy one, and the guard indicated that I needed to get it from the scout house.

However, by the time I got down to the the scout hall the wasn’t enough time to bother going back up so instead sat there and watched a film called “Mira”. This film was about a Nepalese trail runner who became an international runner and went on to come second in the Sky Runner Championship in her first year. Since then she’s gone on to inspire new Nepalese runners, some of which would be taking part in the marathon.

I sat and talked until the evening meal which was what was one of the most interesting carb loading meals ever! This was copious amounts of pasta and vegetable curry – an odd combination, yet it tasted fantastic. During this time they also provided a fundraising update – we were now up to £70K! With a target of £75K it actually looked promising that we’d meet it.

With an early start in the morning I decided that it would be a good idea to get an early night in hope of getting enough sleep to be prepared the best I could be for the marathon that was coming up next.

Nepal Day 5 – Project Kakani Day 2

Today was similar to yesterday – we’d be continuing on the pipeline, but this time with a staggered start to allow a more structured approach. First though it was another 06:00 start for a short run around the mountain. For today’s run we did hill sprints to try and get used to the sort of climbs we’d need to do during the marathon. This only accounted for 2 miles though and shockingly took about 30 minutes!

Once again I had peanut butter on toast for breakfast before we headed out to work on the pipeline again. This time we headed over to the stupa where we’d finished the day before and started off by laying another pipe. For this I helped get it positioned and then took control of getting it buried as I was the first there with a spade. The rest soon joined in and before we knew it we’d caught up with the rest so headed out of the forest and headed down to the village.

In the village some sort of dispute was going on with a drunk local which eventually we needed the gurkha, Tarjan, who was with us to translate and settle it. Eventually we were able to continue laying pipes past the village but we weren’t needed here so carried on back to the summit camp for a quick drink, and then worked hard on digging the trench that went past it.

At lunchtime I had fried rice with vegetables, and a fruit salad in yogurt for dessert. I then wandered around the camp with sore hands for a while trying to photograph butterflies. When we started back we headed quite some way away from camp as the APF had made great progress whilst we had lunch.

In the afternoon we didn’t get to help much, mostly just helping move one of the pipes forward as it got to a narrow bit. We were then sent back to camp so we were out of the way, but it was a chance to try and have a warm shower. No such luck though, the person who got there before me spent about 25 minutes in there meaning the solar heated water had run out.

By the time I’d settled into camp again it was coming up to 16:00 and the day was starting to cool off once more. As a mid-afternoon snack they brought out a phenomenal amount of popcorn and some poppadoms. I’d hoped that whilst sitting up at the camp fire of Sunset Bar that I’d get some good sunset photos but unfortunately it was too cloudy.

I headed back down to the summit camp for a while and talked to some of the people there. Whilst passing the time two walkers who had done the 42km route today turned up with it taking them just under 12 hours to complete. They were the first ever people to complete the Nepal Marathon course!

What followed next was a briefing for each of the different distances available for Saturday. For the 42km race briefing they confirmed times, where the checkpoints were, and some basic health and safety. After the last couple of days my hope was to just complete the race as that sounded challenging enough, but I’ve never really had a time in mind. The only goal I had was to run the first lap, but having experienced the hills now I doubted it.

The evening meal was immediately after and was a three course meal of mushroom soup for starter, and for mains: rice, a type of cheese dish, beef, and a potato curry. The dessert this time was the same sort of rice-like cake as the first night here, but they also had a few fruits available. During the evening update they told us that we’d not quite made the full distance of laying the pipeline – we’d unfortunately fallen 1km short.

For a while I sat in the middle of a dark area of the grounds and used the ping pong table as a way of photographing the night sky. It didn’t seem as good as the previous night but I didn’t stay out too long before heading back to my tent to sleep.