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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

I arrived in Nepal on September 4th. First stop was Kathmandu, a city that turned out to be a kind of backpacker's paradise. It had the best Western food of any Asian town I've been so far and for souvenir shopping it's hard to beat.

I wasn't long there before I had to celebrate my 31st birthday with some new friends, the highlight (or lowlight depending on your point of view) of which was the flagrant wasting of some precious rupees on a roulette table in one of Kathmandu's casinos. Interestingly, Nepalese are not allowed into the casinos in Nepal!

I was in Kathmandu for around two weeks which I spent shopping for trekking equipment (boots, rain jacket etc.) and souvenirs, watching pirate videos, eating and making plans for the arrival of Mr. Dominic Tynne, one of my best friends from home, who had volunteered for a one-month tour of duty with me starting in October, God love him!

Once his arrival date was fixed I headed off on one of Nepal's most popular treks, the walk to Everest Base Camp. Before going though I decided to invest in a new camera. My trusty Yashica T4 Super D with its top quality Carl Zeiss lens had served me well for a year and a half but I thought it time for something more powerful and versatile. Besides, Nepal is one of the world's cheapest places for buying cameras so, 915 dollars later, I was the proud possessor of a Canon EOS 50 (called an Elan II in the US) and two zoom lenses, the 24-85USM and the 75-300 zoom. Let the photography begin!

On the 11-hour bus ride to the starting point of the trek at Jiri I met a couple of American guys, John and Craig, with whom I set out on the trail the next day. The first 6 days walking to Namche Bazaar, the central town of the Everest region, was along a trail that went against the grain of the land so, instead of walking up a valley, the path went across several valleys necessitating climbing up high ridges (up to 12,500ft) only to have to descend all the way to the valley floor before tackling the next ridge. Though tough it was a good workout for getting us into shape for the higher altitude walking beyond Namche.

The 6 days to Namche were not without incident. The first day I managed to leave behind my water purifier at the lunch stop forcing me to use a bottle of iodine wound disinfectant as a backup purifier. The next day I was having so much blister trouble with my new boots that I had to give up wearing them and turn instead to my trusty pair of Indonesian flip-flops! That day I climbed 2000 metres (6,600ft) in elevation in them, surprisingly they were very usable even on the rocky trail. I couldn't really complain as we passed by many Nepalese porters in bare feet carrying as much as 160lbs. (11 stone) of supplies in baskets which hung on their backs from a strap wrapped around their foreheads!

The third day saw Craig forge ahead of John and me and leave us permanently behind. I was a little worried about the guy's enthusiasm as too much of a gung-ho attitude can be dangerous at high altitudes where you need to be very careful to avoid altitude sickness. More of him later.

The fourth day, while squatting down in a trailside toilet, feet planted firmly on some planks suspended over a large pyramid of you-know-what (shit!), I managed to drop my precious bottle of water-purifying iodine out of my pants pocket. Fortuitously, it bounced on a plank and off and down to the side of the big pile(!) where it nestled fairly unsullied in some leaves. However it was too far below to reach down and retrieve easily so I headed out (after wiping natch) and consulted with John. He investigated the situation (while also using the facilities!) and returned with the suggestion that if I moved some of the planks (which were loose) that I'd then be able to reach down and get it. I went back in to give it a try and discovered that unless I stuck my head and shoulders below the level of the planks I wouldn't be able to reach the bottle. Man, you know, some things in life just ain't worth doing I tell ya! I don't know what the Nepalese nearby thought we were up to but I eventually fished out the bottle stuck to some sticky tape hanging from the end of my walking stick. Was it worth the bother? You decide.

John and I reached Namche without much further incident, with me still in my flip-flops. Namche is perched at 3,500m (11,500ft), 500 metres beyond the height at which the danger of altitude sickness usually begins so from now on we were careful to average only 300m (1,000ft) of altitude gain per day. From Namche there are three main places that people go for spectacular views, Chukhung, Kala Pattar and Gokyo. We visited each in turn with me again sporting my new boots, blisters well strapped up.

Chukhung peak, at over 5,300m (17,500ft) was a challenge. The weather was very cloudy but there seemed some hope of a clearance so we attempted the climb. I found it tough going, the thin air was a real problem and close to the top I could hardly take 10 steps without needing a rest. But eventually the summit was reached (a half hour after John). The weather never cleared, we saw jack-shit and that was it for Chukhung!

Kala Pattar, the classic viewpoint for Mt. Everest, worked out a lot better, our "high altitude training" on Chukhung prepared us well. We left our lodge (4,750m) before sunrise and with mist chasing us up the valley we reached the top to behold the greatest view I'd ever see. Surrounded by towering peaks with the mountains to the south appearing to float on a sea of mist the panorama was, in a word, pretty darn f**king good! It topped the temples of Angkor, Cambodia, for the best thing I've seen in Asia. Interestingly enough, the view of Everest (8,848m, 29,028ft) from here is quite disappointing. Only the top of the mountain can be seen and even that is just a simple dark triangle, nothing to compare with the view of it from the Tibet side.

From our heady perch at nearly 5,600m (18,500ft) we could look down in the distance to the Nepalese Everest Base Camp, nestled close to the sweeping Khumbu glacier. Though it is possible to trek to base camp John and I never bothered, mainly because there is no views there (even Everest cannot be seen). Incidentally nowhere on the trek can you actually get onto the slopes of Everest itself.

Kala Pattar was our 13th day of walking and the first decent clear day of the trek, couldn't have picked a better time for some good weather. After that it was down the valley and up another to Gokyo peak, two mornings later. The good weather held and from the top we were treated to another stunning vista, very different from Kala Pattar, with Everest visible again along with a whole host of new peaks and several lakes laid out below us. Magnifico!

It was at Gokyo that we heard again of gung-ho Craig. He had apparently reached Namche a day (or two) before us and then ascended the 1200 metres to Gokyo in two days and spent most of a week there languishing in bed, suffering the effects of mild altitude sickness and left without ever climbing Gokyo peak or seeing Everest!

John was feeling unwell after the peak ascent and he headed back down to Namche. I intended to stay and explore the area but the next day brought cloudy weather so I followed John's footsteps back to Namche and from there to Lukla where, on the 20th day, I got a helicopter flight back to Kathmandu, thus avoiding days of retracing my way over hills and valleys to Jiri.

I was ill a couple of times on the trek with doses of giardia, an amoebic infection that comes from contaminated water (shouldn't have lost my water purifier that first day) and results in a bloated stomach, diarrhoea and increased flatulence (yeah, some of you are wondering if it was actually possible for me to fart more than I normally do, but it happened! You just have to trust me on this one.) It was easily treated with drugs that I'd brought along so, though not pleasant, the giardia didn't cause me too much trouble. I came off the trek at maybe my lowest weight since my teens, a sprightly 139lbs (10 stone, 62 kilos)!

Back in Kathmandu, it wasn't long before Dominic arrived in mid-October and we started taking full advantage of the 2 for 1 cocktail offers in the bars and the big hunks of buffalo meat at the Everest Steak house! In between indulging we found time to visit some local sites including Kathmandu's temple-filled Durbar Square and the excellent medieval city of Bhaktapur. Pretty soon though we made our way to Nepal's second city, Pokhara, nestled in a picturesque setting by a lake and below a wide stretch of the Himalayas.

It was from here that the two of us set off on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, the trailhead being a shortish bus ride from Pokhara. The trek goes through a narrow pass into a "sanctuary", an area closely surrounded on all sides by towering peaks, including one of the world's fourteen 8,000 metre peaks, Annapurna I.

We made good walking time and by the fourth day we had secured a room at a guesthouse at Machapuchare Base Camp at 3,900m and in the afternoon we ascended to the final point of the trek, A.B.C. (Annapurna Base Camp at 4,100m, 13,500ft), for a quick look. The weather was cloudy so there wasn't much in the way of spectacular views so we headed back down for the night with Dom suffering from a bad headache because of the altitude, the day's height gain of a whopping 900 metres must've brought it on. It began snowing (unseasonably) that evening.

We rose before sunrise hoping for a good day for going back up to A.B.C. but it was still snowing so we ended up spending the day huddled in the lodge's small dining room with the other guests, whiling the time away eating, reading and playing games. As the snow poured down some of the guests were getting a little worried since the pass we'd entered the sanctuary through is the place most susceptible to avalanches in all of Nepal's treks. Quite a few people were ploughing their way back down next morning and skipping the views at A.B.C. but Dom and I, being men with balls of pure titanium, were undeterred, natch!

Fortunately the next morning dawned to what must've been the clearest sky I've ever seen, the rising sun lit up the mountains to our west a bright orange and even after the sun came up the sky remained an incredibly deep blue, never before seen its like. With three feet of snow covering everything the trail up to A.B.C was no easy matter but with a bit of cooperation a bunch of us managed to forge the way in a strenuous two hours.

Well, being blessed with an amazingly clear day and a winter wonderland of snow all round you can take it that the view, which some say is the best in all of Nepal's treks, was the dog's bollocks (for the unedumacated that's a popular English phrase of praise) and we enjoyed the panorama while quaffing naturally-chilled bottles of beer. Magic!

After spending another night in Machapuchare Base Camp it was an early rise for the walk out of the Sanctuary as we'd been advised to descend quickly past the avalanche danger area before the sun rose too high and started melting snow on the mountain slopes. The path down, through 3 feet of snow on a trail that was mostly frozen ice underfoot was treacherous, the two of us were slipping all over the place. We must have spent a sizeable portion of the way through the snow on our asses but several hours later we'd descended past the snowline and we took a rest at a lodge.

When Dominic sat down and took off his rain pants here we all had a good laugh at his new pair of Nepalese trousers underneath which were sort of hanging in tatters on his legs. Most of the seams (especially the crotch of course!) had ripped apart during the tumble down the ice and the pants were basically a write-off. Nice one Dom!

We had intended finishing off the walk via a little bit of the Annapurna Circuit trek but Dominic's dodgy knees had taken a beating on the steep descent from the Sanctuary so we headed back to Pokhara directly and arrived there on the roof of a bus (the only way to travel) at the end of day 7, all in all a very successful week (and no reports of diarrhoea!)

One notable mention must go to the culinary delight called a "Snickers roll with custard" which I've only ever seen on that trek. It consists of a Snickers bar wrapped in dough, deep fried and served covered in custard, most delicious! I've mentioned this dessert to people and quite a few, when I've described the recipe, have declared it to sound disgusting!? This has led me to devise a useful test: you describe this dessert to a person and if they blurt out "Ugh, that sounds disgusting" it may then be concluded that this person is totally and completely insane! Handy eh? Another related dessert that we found was the "Mars roll and custard." I'll leave the discovery of its recipe as an exercise for the student.

After a bit of rest and recuperation (helped along with healthy doses of beer, buffalo steaks and banana splits) we organised our next adventure, a 5-day whitewater rafting trip on the Kali Gandaki river. Described as Nepal's "classic" rafting river it was reputed to offer a bit of everything which I suppose it did, but it was just that each bit wasn't quite enough. The rapids weren't that exciting, they wouldn't get us going "Holy shit, can't believe we made it through that!" but they were sufficient to put a smile on our faces.

Luckily, in our group of 9, we had a couple of plonkers to laugh at, an English guy and his wife. Australians generally refer to the English as "whinging Poms" and these two were definitive specimens, couldn't stop complaining about the littlest things, the sort of people who are incapable of enjoying something unless they can find fault with it. A sizeable portion of the 5 days were whiled away by Rob (from NZ), Dom and me doing irreverent impressions of them behind their backs.

I had an interesting encounter one night at dinner when I felt something on the ground moving along by my arm. On inspection it turned out to be a scorpion, a small one though, nothing to get excited about.

The trip ended just after the last but greatest rapid, the ominously titled "A Walk in the Dark." Unfortunately the boat guides directed us perfectly through it so nothing exciting, such as a boat overturning, occurred. Dominic was dragged out of the boat by Rob once and Rob had himself dunked as well but otherwise no-one was lost overboard on the trip.

After a few days in Pokhara (where we saw one of the most amazing sights of the trip, a Nepalese guy wearing a Tanita Tikaram t-shirt - you had to be there) and being delayed a while by a bus strike (my third in Nepal) we made our way south to the area known as the Terai, down on the plains of Nepal, where we visited Royal Chitwan National Park. The place felt a bit like being in an African game park, as we travelled over dirt roads on the backs of jeeps, stayed in a mud hut and spent time on wildlife viewing safaris.

Our first morning there we caught an elephant ride into the park. Each elephant accomodated four tourists sitting on a howdah, a mini platform on its back, with the "driver" sitting up front on the elephant's neck. Sadly our driver was inclined to whack Jumbo on the head with the back of an axe to get it to go faster! Anyway, we weren't too long in the park when we spotted two of Chitwan's most famed resident, the rhinoceros. It wasn't long before the pair were surrounded by a host of elephants bearing their camera-clicking tourist cargo, including Dom and myself. It was all very wonderful and, mission accomplished, the herd headed back to base to drop off their sated passengers.

After doing a four hour guided safari walk where we spotted various species of monkeys, deer and the like (but no sign of the park's other great inhabitant, the tiger) we spent the rest of the time mostly relaxing and enjoying the beautiful sunsets. We came across a Nepalese festival while cycling around the area and it was here that Dominic learnt to eat sugar cane, which is quite a tricky task it must be said.

After Chitwan we returned northwards to Kathmandu for Dom's last week. Here we caught up on the local attractions we'd missed first time around. We visited the nearby town of Patan with its own temple-filled Durbar Square, the Hindu temple at Pashupatinath and the massive Buddhist stupa of Bodhnath (Nepal, very approximately, is a half-Buddhist, half-Hindu kingdom). And with the sightseeing over with we were able to concentrate on the more important matter of shopping! Before this I don't think Dominic quite realised how much he would be swept up in the Kathmandu souvenir-hunting craze but it wasn't long before the two of us were ensconced in a frantic, feverish, feckless frenzy of flagrantly forking out fortunes of foreign funds in a shopping spree that would leave even the most hardened of gold-credit-card-wielding housewifes in the dust!

Two duffel bags (one massive, one modest) had to be purchased to carry all the souvenirs and on November 16th I packed a happy but financially depleted Dominic onto the plane back to Ireland! His adventures didn't stop there though as Nepalese customs took exception to his having four Gorkha army knives in his carry-on (picky picky! He suspects his sharing business class with the King of Nepal's son had somethig to do with it) so the knives had to be checked in separately which caused him to be then accosted in England by their customs officials and finally by Irish customs who confiscated them! Easy come easy go ...

We can't leave the subject of Nepal without paying sufficient tribute to our favourite breakfast venue, Hotel River. For 110 rupees (< $2, IRP1.25) Dom and I could and would, frequently at the drop of a hat, indulge in an all-you-can-eat extravaganza which might typically involve feasting on the following: copious cups of excellent brewed coffee, maybe some hot chocolate, a bunch of delicious croissants with preserve, an orange juice, a banana lassi (like a milkshake made with plain yoghurt), a bowl of fresh fruit with yoghurt, a bowl of muesli and a plate of bacon, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. Thanks Hotel River, we'll never forget you! Nor Nepal either, go there, you'll like it.

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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