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Adventure Travel, Far East: Inspired by Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, National Geographic

Far East Adventure Travel. Inspiring, entertaining. Let John Saboe take you on journeys filled with spiritual celebrations and rituals, ancient festivals, wildlife safaris, trekking and climbing quests and vast array of food cultures. Learn about village life, cultural differences, urban exploration, street food, history and architecture. Visit Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea. Stories and advice from one of the most exciting destinations on the planet-Asia.
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Now displaying: November, 2016
Nov 30, 2016
We arrived at Thorung Phedi just before dark. An 8 hour day with an elevation gain of over 1000 meters. Long, tiring, and risky before a summit of the Thorung La Pass. But I was fine other then feeling the long day on the trail. I’m not a huge fan of trekking in the dark. I feel more tired, frustrated, and generally uncomfortable, so sometimes these summit days don’t start out pleasant, but when the first light comes up in the sky my spirits are all of sudden lifted. I feel light, full of energy, and excited to reach our goal, in most cases, the hardest day of the journey. Yes there is a horse on the trek, some choose a horseback ride up to the top of the pass. For most it’s usually a 4-5 hour walk from Thorung Phedi. Some stay at Thorung high camp, just over 300 meters higher, which will slice an hour off your morning summit. Whenever you reach the summit of a pass, which inevitably is part of many treks in Nepal, the feeling of accomplishment, relief, elation, is mutual with all of your fellow trekkers. The Thorung La Pass at 5416 meters, is the widest mountain pass in the world. It’s always a place with dangerously high winds that start as early as 8am, so our time on the pass was limited to less than an hour before we started to descend. Just over a year ago this was the sight of one of the most tragic trekking accidents in the history of the Annapurna Circuit Trail. On October 14 2014, a snowstorm struck the Annapurna, Manang, and Mustang Districts of Nepal causing severe avalanches. In the end over 400 people were rescued from the area with at least 43 deaths, which included 21 trekkers. Because the previous few days brought fresh snowfall to the region, descending down to Muktinath and Ranipauwa, our next stop would be treacherous and tiring. Roughly 4 to 5 hours of carefully trying to keep from sliding on my butt was challenging and on more than a couple of occasions I was defeated by the conditions. Arriving at Muktinath, the religious site that is both sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and the neighboring Ranipauwa village where we would lodge, felt like Shangri La. We passed by Muktinath and headed straight for Ranipauwa, sometimes also referred to as Muktinath, to settle into our lodge and get acquainted with the village. After the long trek of summiting the Thorung La pass and the rough and tumble descent, gazing at Dauligiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world seemed like the perfect way to end the day. The next morning I had more time to walk through the village and enjoy the views of the Mustang region. This is one of the most wonderful settings in Nepal. The dry region filled with captivating views of Himalayan peaks, Buddhist monasteries, and pilgrims that have journeyed from all over South Asia to visit Muktinath. For some Hindus, the central shrine of Muktinath is considered one of the 8th most sacred shrines in Asia. This is a Vishnu temple, one of the oldest and most revered in South Asia. The prakaram or outer courtyard of the temple has 108 bull faces through which sacred water is poured. Many devotees will take baths, even in freezing temperatures in the pools at the complex. Buddhists revere Muktinath for the fact that the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, meditated here on his way to Tibet. Their name for the temple complex is Chumig Gyatsa-Tibetan for a hundred waters. We all took a turn catching some of the holy water. Hari, being a Buddhist, was all in with his hat off and splashing the sacred water on his face. I took the conservative approach while running my hand through all 108 taps. Some will run under the spouts with nothing more than shorts or a bathing suit on in a total devotional effort to bring good kharma and luck to their life. I just wanted to stay warm while participating in my spiritual quest. You don’t need to be Hindu to have one of the priests on duty perform a puja or prayer for yo either. Just a donation which can be whatever you think is fair. Further away from the main temple complex is another holy site, The Goddess of Fire temple, where 3 eternal flames are located. The natural gas spouts are called the holy flame from rock, holy flame from soil, and holy flame from water. The close proximity of the flames, holy flowing water, and the earth which surrounds it, are the reasons for Muktinath’s prominence as an important pilgrimage site. As with many holy sites throughout Nepal and India, photography of the flames is not permitted. Hindus in particular will travel from as far away as South India to visit the site. Some even fly in from Kathmandu by helicopter, but due to the rapid rise in elevation can only stay for a short time. After crossing the Thorung La Pass many will travel through Muktinath and Ranipauwa only stopping for a short few hours before making their way to Kagbeni. I highly recommend at least staying one night in Ranipauwa. The village is simple, charming and friendly. You will receive attention from the local trinket sellers, but it’s usually just good-hearted. The views of the surrounding Mustang region are breathtaking and there is an heir of peace here that probably hasn’t changed much since Guru Rinpoche’s meditative stop. Mustang was once an independent kingdom, only fully coming into the fold of Nepal in 2008. Up until 1992 the Upper Mustang was completely closed off to the rest of the world. Having visited their myself to view this still preserved Tibetan culture and relatively untouched region I appreciated the similarities the lower Mustang offers. And there is no need for a special permit to trek here, other than a regular Annapurna Circuit trekking permit. Along with tourism animal husbandry is still one of the main sources of income, along with farming. Sea buckthorn grows in abundance here. The nutritious pulp from the berries is used to make syrups, tea, other drinks and is also used in cosmetic products. The most atmospheric of all of the villages is probably Jhong. With it’s ancient crumbling fortress and hilltop temple it feels like the setting of a fairy tale, or a Star Wars or Lord of The Rings shooting locale. We climbed up to the very top of the hill where the temple was located to enjoy some of the sweeping views of this side of the Himalaya. What seemed like an apple tree growing out of the roof was really rooted in the little courtyard below, where we met one of the young novices of the monastery. This region could be it’s own little trekking trip, with wonderful walks through these villages and comfortable stays in Jomsom, Kagbeni, and Ranipauwa Muktinath. One our way to Kagbeni we stopped to marvel at the peaks in the distance including The Thorung La. As wonderful a trekking day this can be it’s important for comfort to be done the majority of the walking for the day by the early afternoon, as the winds are quite strong through the Kali Gandaki Gorge. By the noon hour we reached the wonderful crossroads of the Annapurna Circuit and Upper Mustang regions Kagbeni. A town loaded with layers of Bon and Buddhist culture, Kennies, guardians or protector statues and an old fortressed village. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel, the ancient village of Kagbeni and the conclusion to Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit.
Nov 21, 2016
There are two routes to Manang from Pisang. A lower trail that’s a little easier with less climbing and the upper route, slightly more challenging but also helpful for acclimating with bonus mountain views. We chose the route north of the Marsyangdi and headed for Upper Pisang. Annapurna 11 is part of the Annapurna chain but is an independent peak. It was first summited by a team made up of British/Indian/and Nepalese nationals in 1960. It is the second highest peak of the range at 7937 meters. The highest, Annapurna 1, is 8091 meters making it the 10th highest mountain in the world. Fantastic views of Lower Pisang from Upper Pisang, a much more traditional village of the region. Look for lots of opportunity to spread good kharma with the many prayer wheels at the village’s entrance. We saw a few signs of earthquake damage. These traditional village buildings saw the worst devastation in Nepal but this area was not as affected by quake damage as other regions. Our trekking for the day would include one stop for lunch at Ghyaru before settling into to the wonderful little traditional Tibetan style village of Gnawal. More suspension bridge crossings with amazing views of this drier region of the Annapurna Circuit that some feel is the most scenic. Climbing higher now at 3600 meters it’s time to slow the pace down slightly to allow for proper acclimatization. This side of the valley, although a little more challenging to trek will help you get used to the conditions of the higher altitude. Most trekkers will rest two days in Manang before attempting to cross the Thorung La Pass to help with adjusting to the higher elevation. This is the Disyang Valley. Syang is a village in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Disyang means the people who migrated from Upper Mustang to Manang. We arrived at the village of Ghyaru in time for a lunch break. Most all the villages resemble this style seen in the Mustang and Upper Mustang regions. The walled lanes help to shield visitors and residents from the harsh winds. In my opinion this trail is one of the most enjoyable in Nepal, for it’s incredible views of the Annapurna range and the stunning high Tibetan plateau landscape. It’s been an important route for yak and salt traders for centuries. You’re constantly reminded of the deep Tibetan Buddhist roots with stupas and mani walls almost around every corner. We arrived in Gnawal late in the afternoon with a shadow on the village and some cold winds to endure on the approach. With some of the best lodges in the country it was nice to arrive in Gnawal to find some wonderful rooms available for the night. After checking into my room I headed out to the upper part of the village where the sun was still shining to check out the gompa or temple. Sending out good kharma with a spin of the prayer wheels I headed back to the lodge to warm up by the kitchen fire and watch one of the porters entertain us with some improvisational dance. Later in the evening we were lucky enough to see a local performing artist group from Pokhara that specializes in traditional Tibetan and Gurung song and dance at the temple. Back on the trail the next morning for a trek of less than 4 hours to Manang, where we had a planned extra rest day for acclimatization. Should you develop any symptoms of high altitude sickness there’s a medical center that specializes in A.M.S. in the town. By road Manang has become more accessible in recent years allowing for more efficient transport of goods to the village and for the opportunity for some to enjoy this trekking region with a limited amount of time. There’s also a small airport that serves the whole area. There’s cultivation on terraces nearby the village and of course yak herding is popular here. Still with the new access it feels remote, and sublimely Tibetan. About 45 minutes before we reached Manang we walked through the little village of Braga with one of the nicest Buddhist monasteries in the region. The monks had left for Nepal for higher learning leaving the monastery vacant through the winter. Finally we arrived at our stop and rest before pursuing the hardest part of the trek, reaching the summit of the Thorung La Pass. Manang's main source of revenue is the trekking business but some still support themselves with crops and yak herding. After lunch and a break in our lodge I started exploring the village to discover we had a surprise for our itinerary. With one of the biggest trekking disasters in the history of the trail in the previous year we weren’t about to take any chances. We prepared ourselves for at least one extra day on top of the two we had already planned to spend in Manang. I spent the morning on day two wandering through the village watching everyday life in the snow. While some trekkers were disappointed abandoning the rest of their trip due to time constraints everyone else in the village just seemed to be going about life like it was just another day. Except the day’s chores included clearing roofs, catching animals, and building snowmen. In the afternoon to get some walking in and help acclimate we hiked back to the village of Braga to climb up to the monastery. Unfortunately unable to find the caretaker who had the key to the Buddhist monastery that’s vacant in the winter we had about the same access as these guys we crossed paths with. The next day, was brilliant. Bright sunny, a bluebird day. Time for the classic acclimatization hike in Manang overlooking Gangapurna Lake. After spending two nights in Manang with a planned third night we decided we would head straight for Thorung Phedi the next day, leaving out another acclimatization stop in Yak Kharka. This would mean a summit of the Thorung La Pass, the toughest day of the trek after a 8-9 hour day on the trail. Everything felt right, like this was the way the trek was meant to unfold. Even a herd of goats couldn’t stop us on our push to summit the pass the next day, but they did delay us by a few minutes. The snow backed up the village of Manang so there were alot of trekkers eager to move on with the change in weather. Pushing on right to Phedi would put us ahead of most who would make a stop for the night before the summit base camp. Along the way, some of the clearest best views of the Annapurna range. This was the longest day of the trek so a few stops en route for tea and rest were in order. Another stop at Khenjang Khola for some tea and more spectacular views of the Annapurna range. What originally was our stop for the night,Yak Kharka, has become our lunch break with our adjusted itinerary. We had to take a short lunch and move on so we can reach Phedi before dark. For now it feels like we’re leaving the Annapurnas behind as we make the last few kilometers to Phedi. I was very conscious of ensuring I was properly acclimating to this sever jump in elevation. Technically the rule of thumb is not to ascend and sleep at more than 500 meters from the previous day once you are above 3000 meters. The jump in altitude we were attempting in one day was over 1000 meters from Manang to Phedi. One precaution I took was to hire an extra porter to take the rest of the gear I was packing all the way to the top of the Thorung La, keeping my load light with minimal stress on my system. One last bridge over the Jargeng Khola river and we were on the same side of the valley as Phedi. We stopped one last time for a tea break before reaching our destination for the night. I spoke with Naris, one of the porters on our team about Yarsagumba, the lucrative crop that locals harvest in these hills every year. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel-Trekking the Great Annapurna Circuit continues with The toughest day of the trek. Summiting the Thorung La Pass. Yarsagumba Photo Credit-By The original uploader was Rafti Institute at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Lvova using CommonsHelper., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5088245
Nov 8, 2016
It’s a shame that many drive through this part of the circuit for upper Annapurna trekking and stays missing the epic river and waterfall views in this portion of the trail. The suspension bridge crossings that put you right in the middle of the energy path of the mighty Marshyangdi are breathtaking. This is now the third day of trekking and the mornings are feeling a little colder and crisper, so it’s important to get out right after the sun has risen so there’s plenty of time to walk in the warmer temps. In keeping with the original trail, which does take a little longer to walk, we have the opportunity to trek through more little villages for leisurely breaks. Across the valley what looks like a thin ledge carved out of the mountainside is the road that transports people and goods. From a distance the jeeps traveling the road almost appear to be literally on the edge of the cliff as they meander along. Another epic suspension bridge crossing with sweeping views of the Marshyangdi and surrounding valley. If you’re scared of heights you’ll eventually get used to these crossings-you have too! There’s no other way! After reaching Dhranapani, an important crossroads and trekking permit check-in office we agreed to just make this a lunch stop rather than an overnight stay and move a little further up the valley to Danaqyu village where we’d spend the night. This an important crossroads where the Manaslu trail meets up with the Annapurna Circuit. The Mansalu area was affected by the earthquakes of 2015 but things have since normalized. The Nepalese army along with help from locals and NGO’s have cleared away the fallen rocks from the trails over the past year. Prince Harry was even seen in this region in 2016 trekking and pitching in to help rebuild a school that had been damaged. Horses and goats on the side of the road and crossing paths with other herd animals was a sign we were nearing our stop for the night-Danaqyu. Dhranapani is a major crossroads for trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit and the Mansalu trail so it’s nice to kick back in a little village that has less traffic. Because there so many spots like Danaqyu on the Annapurna Circuit with great lodges you could trek this trail a few times and have a completely experience. This season following the devastating earthquakes was quiet to begin with. It would be another night in a lodge as the only guests. The next day’s destination was Chame, the administration center of Manang District. We had some climbing to tackle as our first challenge of the day, over 450 meters up to Timang. The promise of views of Manaslu and Annapurna II was motivating and helpful on a climb first thing in the morning. More bridges to cross, and animals like big yaks to yield to. It’s hit or miss whether you’ll see any of the Manaslu massif. On this day we missed. Mansalu is the 8th highest mountain in the world, first summited by Japanese mountaineers in 1956. Just as the British have claimed Everest as their mountain, the Japanese consider Mansalu a Japanese mountain. But just before our lunch stop at Koto on the way to Chame we caught the first glimpse of Annapurna II, at 7937 meters, the second highest peak in the 6 mountain range. It was a magnificent site and a wonderful welcome to this part of the region. The Annapurna translation from Sanskrit means “full of food” which makes sense as the normal translation is Goddess of the Harvests or the kitchen Goddess, the mother who feeds. Chame is the headquarters of Manang District, which is the least populated district in all of Nepal, with a total count of over 6500. Many Manangies are also traders having been given special permission by King Mahendra in the 1970’s to trade in Southeast Asia. Customs duties were waived and many now reside mostly in the Kathmandu Valley. They import electronics, watches, and other items and are allowed to export goods like precious stones, metals, and herbs among other things. The largest ethnic group in Manang District are the Gurung people, who over centuries have adopted Tibetan Buddhism, the signs of this are evident in the village with Buddhist stupas that hold relics and the remains sometimes of lamas, and mani walls for prayer. The next day we left with Lower Pisang village as our next destination. Not far outside of Chame we came across what I had been observing especially in this part of Nepal-signs of a new era of tourism, with young Nepali entrepreneurs bringing new ideas from the outside. Like this Apple Orchard using the latest strains in apple production. I spoke with the owner of this large orchard, Samraj Gurung about his inspiration for this new breed of apple orchard. After a tea and some fresh crisp golden delicious apples from Samraj’s orchard we were back on the trail. Hari my guide, who is Gurung himself joins in with a local senior for a mid-morning Buddhist chant. We’re now at Dhukurpokhary, home of the Paunga Danda rock wall, or gateway to heaven. A massive mountain of stone thatt literally looks like a giant wall reaching towards the sky. Locals believe that all souls of the deceased must ascend Paunga Danda after leaving their bodies. Our stop for the night Pisang. The area consists of a lower village at 3200 meters and an upper more traditional old Tibetan style walled village at 3300 meters. The lower village has more lodge choices and shops so we opted for a night there. Mani walls, the stone walls made of tablets with the inscription om mani padme hum, meaning “jewel in the lotus” are found everywhere here. Pisang reminds me of Nepal’s Upper Mustang Tibetan/Buddhist region and Tibet itself, environmentally and culturally. Many residents leave for the Kathmandu Valley or other places during the winter months but we’re still able to see some traditional village life, spinning prayer wheels, and the smell of juniper burning as Buddhist offerings. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit, Nepal continues.
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