Time: October-November 2013 (peak season)
Route: Kathmandu – Annapurna Circuit (from Bhulbhule to Beni) – Pokhara – Kathmandu – Chitwan – Kathmandu
Duration: 37 days including 24 days of trekking
Second half of October and November are supposed to be the best time for trekking in Nepal, with fine weather almost guaranteed, especially in November. We found the weather good and sunny for most of the time. Anyway it tends to get clouded and even rainy (with snowfall higher in the mountains) sometimes as a spill-over effect from tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. On our trek we had a few cloudy days, with cloudless morning, clouds quickly gathering around noon and even some rain in the afternoon and evening (I have also heard that it is similar to typical monsoon weather on the Annapurna trails). While descending from the Thorung La we had some snowfall and the next morning everything above ca. 3300 m was snowed over. I have heard that nobody crossed the pass the next day and the trail to Tilicho lake remained closed for a few days.
Temperature – everywhere above 3000 m there were freezing temperatures in the night and morning but then it got quickly warmer during the day, maybe to 10-15 degrees Celsius in the sun. People who crossed the Thorung La later than us during the cold spell told us even about starting in -20 degrees in the early morning before dawn. The lowest temperature we had was perhaps -8 degrees. Even in Kathmandu and Pokhara the temperature was not in the T-shirt range – maybe 10-15 degrees (a bit more in Pokhara), getting colder in the evening. Supposedly tropical Chitwan was warm during the days (for shorts and T-shirts) but got much colder just after dusk.
Changing money and ATMs
The best place for changing money was Kathmandu with plenty of moneychangers offering good rates for cash. All major currencies accepted, no difference between EUR and USD and the same rate paid for all denominations, even 5 EUR bills. Rates offered for EUR by Kathmandu moneychangers were between 132 – 133 Rs, while the interbank rate on http://www.xe.com/ was ca. 135 Rs. In Pokhara rates were much worse at ca. 129 Rs. For large transactions the moneychangers were willing to pay a bit more, by ca. 0,50 Rs per 1 EUR.
For people travelling from India – possession of 500 INR and 1000 INR notes is illegal in Nepal and they can be exchanged only illegally with some discount.
Most ATMs charge an additional 400 Rs fee per transaction (on top of your home bank fees) and some impose a daily transaction limit of 10.000 Rs. Altogether it makes using ATMs pretty expensive and unreliable – the best way is to bring cash in USD or EUR and to exchange most of it in one large transaction in Kathmandu.
Visas are issued on arrival for US$ 25 for 15 days, US$ 40 for 30 days or US$ 100 for 90 days (all multiple entry). A passport picture is needed for the visa. There is a picture booth at the airport before immigration control. Visas are easily extended in immigration offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara (the Pokhara office is within walking distance from the Lakeside tourist district). Extension costs US$ 2 per day but with a minimum of 15 days/US$ 30.
In arrivals hall of Kathmandu Tribhuvan airport there is a pre-paid taxi desk – we paid 650 Rs for a cab to Thamel. Next to the taxi desk there are two desks with pre-paid SIM cards of Nepali Telecom and Ncell, highly recommended as they are used to foreigners and subscribing to a SIM card there (passport-size picture needed) is faster and easier than in the city.
There are at least two moneychangers at the airport. The first one before immigration control is to be avoided, as it offers terrible rates and charges 100 Rs fee. The second one behind immigration, near the exit, pays semi-decent rates (much worse than in Thamel though), so it is a good place to change first $ 20 or 20 EUR or so for the taxi and SIM card.
We first planned to stay in Pilgrims Guesthouse (http://www.pilgrimsguesthouse.com/) in northern part of Thamel, supposedly a quiet place, which is not so easy to find in Thamel. However we decided to look elsewhere when we heard their prices – 1500 Rs for a dark and damp ground floor room, US$ 25 for a nice room upstairs, without much willingness to negotiate. A year before in low season our friends paid just 600 Rs for the upstairs room. We went to a side lane opposite to Annapurna Guesthouse (http://www.annapurnaguesthouse.com/). Nice quiet location, there was even some mountain view from our room. Probably a bit overpriced at 1500 Rs for a quite large double, ensuite, free wi-fi. Not a bad place, although the owner overcharged us for bus tickets to Pokhara taking US$ 10 instead of the standard price of 600 Rs.
On our way back we stayed in the nearby Hotel Budget, 1000 Rs for a double, ensuite, free wi-fi but it did not reach our room. Quite basic but corner rooms were much better than the rest.
Sightseeing in the Kathmandu valley means paying some hefty entrance fees, even more annoying as they are charged to foreigners for entering places which are freely accessible to locals. In most places a single ticket can be extended to a long-term visitor pass at no additional charge (very handy for Kathmandu’s Durbar Sq), with a passport-sized photo required. Prices are the following:
Kathmandu Durbar Sq – 750 Rs, includes a visit to Royal Palace
Bhaktapur – 1100 Rs
Patan Durbar Sq – 500 Rs, Patan Museum not included (additional 250 Rs)
Swayambunath – 200 Rs
Unfortunately, high fees do not mean good conservation and maintenance standards, maybe with exception of Bhaktapur where some efforts are visible. Most monumental temples of Kathmandu’s Durbar Sq are in variable state of disrepair, sometimes quite sad.
Transport between Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan
Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan are connected by tourist buses leaving in the morning (7 a.m. from Kathmandu and 9 a.m. from Chitwan), travelling at snail’s pace along the bumpy crowded road and arriving at the destination 7-8 hrs later. Standard price of any of those rides was 600 Rs, tickets can be booked in any hotel or agency. Buses are usually Indian Sutlej type, in pretty decent condition. There is also a “de-luxe” company named Greenline, charging US$ 20 for somewhat better and faster buses (but don’t expect miracles, as the road condition is quite miserable). Departures from Kathmandu are from Kanthipat, a short 20 minutes walk from Thamel. All buses stop for breakfast and lunch at some of the more “upmarket” roadside restaurants (usually overpriced and of dubious hygiene) and for toilet breaks at some really disgusting shacks (it seems as if the drivers are specifically instructed to choose the dirtiest toilet along the road).
We trekked almost the whole length of the Annapurna Circuit, starting from Bhulbule (we could have started 3 hrs earlier in Besisahar), walking till Galeshwar shortly before Beni, including hiking to Tilicho Lake and several shorter breaks and side walks. Altogether the trek took 24 days, with 19 days of moving forward (the rest was rest days or side trips).
NATT trails, guidebook, map and avoiding the road
In recent years some alarming news were heard that the Annapurna Circuit had supposedly been irretrievably destroyed by the construction of the road along the trail. On the Manang side, as of end October 2013, the motorable road reached Chame and a motorable bridge was already constructed on the Marsyangdi Khola but not yet joined to the road on the other (left, north-eastern) side. It looked like it may happen anytime soon. Anyway, that would probably still not open the traffic up to Manang, as a section of the road was missing behind the bridge on the Marsyangdi just below the Swargadwari Danda, between Bhratang and Dhukur Pokhari. On the Jomsom side there is a motorable road all the way up to Muktinath, with regular jeep traffic to Muktinath and bus traffic at least to Jomsom. There is even a jeep road linking the villages of Chongur, Jhong and Putak to Muktinath and Kagbeni.
Luckily, most of the trek can now be done bypassing the road by using the NATT trails marked by red-white signs. Several side trails were also added and marked by blue-white signs. Altogether we walked along the road only for a few relatively short stretches and even then it was not a bad experience, as the road is rather a rough track and is not so busy. The parts of the trek where we walked along the road are indicated below in the trek log.
For finding the NATT trails and planning our trek we used the 2013 edition of the very useful guidebook by Andrées de Ruiter and Prem Rai “Trekking in the Annapurna area” (available on http://www.nepal-dia.de/int__England/AE_Book/ae_book.html). It was invaluable, we realized several times that other trekkers missed some superb places by taking the easiest or shortest route instead of side paths recommended in this guidebook. We also used a 1:100.000 trekking map purchased in Kathmandu (but also available in Pokhara and in many places along the trail), which was OK, even excellent by average Asian standards, but obviously not enough to indicate every side path.
TIMS and ACAP permit
Trekking the Annapurna Circuit requires two documents – TIMS (Trekking Information Management System) card and ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). TIMS for independent trekkers costs Nepali currency equivalent of US$ 20, ACAP costs 2000 Rs. Both are very easily arranged from the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu, behind Tundikhel, corner Durbar Marg and Exhibition Rd, easy to locate, maybe 20-30 minutes walk from Thamel. Passport-sized pictures are required for both documents. Along the trail there are several checkposts where both documents are checked.
As we trekked in the very highest season, we were initially a bit apprehensive about the crowds of tourists on the trails. It turned out that our fears were exaggerated. In lower parts of the trek we met just enough trekkers to have a nice chat now and then. For several nights we were the only guests in lodges. It did get more crowded above Chame but then most organized groups followed the main road and the upper trail by Upper Pisang, Ngawal and Ghyaru was only a bit busy but not crowded. The only part that was actually crowded was the highest part of the main trail between Yak Kharka and Thorung La. Even there we had no problem to secure a room in lodges, even in Thorung High Camp. From Muktinath there are again several options, including taking a jeep down, so the crowds thinned. The wonderful villages of Kagbeni, Marpha and Tukuche were already looking half-empty at times.
Lodging, food and drinks
Easy availability of lodging a food is what makes the Annapurna Circuit so easy to trek independently, without a guide nor a porter. On average there are lodges every 2-3 hours, sometimes even more often. The only longer part without a lodge is the part over the Thorung La – starting from Thorung High Camp, the first basic lodge is at ca. 4200 meters, an hour or two before Muktinath. Anyway, even this part is very easy to trek in one day in normal conditions.
The lodges tend to be quite comfortable, many of them offer rooms with en-suite toilets or sometimes full bathrooms. What is more problematic is the cold. Usually there is some sort of heating in the dining room but very often locals had the annoying habit of leaving the door wide open – they are simply used to living in cold temperatures. The rooms are never heated and above 3000 meters temperature dropped below freezing point every night. Bottom line: a good sleeping bag, preferably down, graded for sub-zero temperatures, is a must. In most lodges additional blankets of varying cleanliness are available.
Most lodges have quite decent showers with hot water either from geyser (powered by gas bottles) or solar heating. In case of solar heating the water was usually not really hot, rather lukewarm, and leaving such shower for a freezing corridor or room was not exactly healthy. Above Manang there were no showers anymore, possibly saving the lives of some hygiene fanatics from succumbing to pneumonia.
All lodges offer hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Except for a few snacks that can be also bought in village shops along the trail, there is no need to take any food. Every lodge has a menu that is usually standardized and approved by a village committee, so prices were uniform among lodges in the same place. The room was very cheap – usually 200-400 Rs, with some negotiation it could be easily down to zero. To get such low room price, guests are required to eat at least dinner and breakfast at the lodge where they stay. Meals were quite pricey by Nepal standards, with dishes costing between 150 – 600 Rs. Our daily expenses on food and drink quite quickly added to above 2000 Rs per person per day.
One of the few food items that it actually makes sense to bring on the trek are teabags. Because of low temperatures it was very pleasant to order a full Chinese thermos of boiling water and have plenty of tea in the evening and for breakfast. “Big” or “medium pots” of tea were usually ridiculously expensive, so ordering boiling water, while not cheap either, saved some money. While on the Manang side “big” or “medium pot” of either tea or water usually meant a thermos, on the Jomsom site it was simply a much smaller teapot. Thermoses were always available on request, usually cheaper than teapots.
Bottled water was also very expensive on the trail and not recommended for environmental reasons, so we used water purification tablets. As usually, we used Micropur Forte, but there are also some local ones named Piyush.
For alcoholics – beer prices on the trail start from ca. 300 Rs and reach even above 500 Rs in the highest lodges. However, all lodges offer a local rice or grain distillate called rakshi (sometimes inadequately labelled “local wine”) for less than 100 Rs a cup. It was drinkable, sometimes even tasty and actually a better idea for cold weather than beer. On the Jomsom side of the trek, quite decent local apple brandy was available. Local Khukri rum was also available everywhere – it made a good addition to tea in the evening.
Costs and money
The solution is simple – take enough Nepali rupees for the whole trek plus some reserve. There were a few places to change money on the trail (including Kagbeni and Jomsom) but rates were very bad – 110 – 120 Rs for 1 EUR while Kathmandu moneychangers were paying 132 Rs. The only place with ATMs on the whole trek was Jomsom (see below, day 20).
Our costs averaged ca. 6000 Rs per day per couple, a bit more in the upper part of the trek, a bit less in the lower part. We were spending this amount mainly on food and drinks in lodges. Manang side was a little more expensive than Jomsom side but the difference was not so big.
Connectivity (internet and mobile)
In the arrival hall of the Kathmandu airport we bought a local pre-paid SIM card of Nepal Telecom (NTC). The card cost 200 Rs, one passport-size picture was needed for the subscription.
Nepal Telecom had a good reception during the Annapurna trek, basically in all inhabited places and also between the villages. There was no reception only for a few days close to the Tilicho lake and then last 2 or 3 days before the Thorung La. Ncell had reception only in a few bigger places (Chame, Muktinath, Jomsom) and only within the actual village. Ncell is better for cities though. NTC top-up cards were available in every village on the trek but the shopkeepers demanded somewhat inflated prices of 110 or even 120 Rs for a card of 100 Rs. We also found that a card for 100 Rs actually tops up your account only for 96 Rs or so. Anyway, costs for international calls were still very reasonable – below 30 Rs per minute for a call to Poland and even in the 10 Rs range for a call to some other countries. The quality of the voice connection was sometimes patchy (delayed answers, difficulties in making a call) but finally it did always work. When we asked for GPRS while buying the SIM cards at the airport, the NTC guy said it wouldn’t work and directed us towards Ncell, which we didn’t want, as we knew it wouldn’t have reception in the mountains. Later we subscribed for GPRS internet as instructed in the NTC office in Kathmandu but it didn’t work at all. Text messages (SMS) to abroad numbers did not work either.
Many lodges on the Jomsom side of the trek have free wi-fi. On the Manang side, there were very few with wi-fi and it was quite expensive. There are also a few internet cafes in some bigger villages like in Chame but they were very expensive, like 10 Rs for a minute. In Kathmandu or Pokhara internet cafes charged less than 100 Rs per hour. There were not many of them though, as most hotels and restaurants offer free wi-fi nowadays.
Contrary to what was said many times, in several lodges on the AC we could actually recharge our phone and camera batteries for free and there were electrical sockets in our room. Some lodges still charge 50 or 100 Rs for battery recharge but we easily managed with a free recharge every 2 or 3 days.
Getting to the trailhead
We took a tourist bus bound for Pokhara (standard price 600 Rs, even though we were overcharged and paid $10), departing from Kanthipath in Kathmandu at 7 a.m., and got off after ca. 6 hrs at Dumre. From Dumre junction in the middle of the town we took a local bus to Besisahar. We had to pay exorbitant 350 Rs for the 2 hrs ride, several times more than the price paid by locals. In Besisahar we were directed by locals to the northern end of the town, a 20 minutes walk from the arrival point, from where there was another bus to Bhulbhule. Again, we were charged a ‘special price’ of 200 Rs per person for the 1 hour ride and there was no chance to negotiate as everybody took part in the racket. Finally we reached Bhulbhule around dusk.
Missed part: Besisahar to Bhulbule. According to the guidebook, there is a nice trail on the other side of the river, taking ca. 3 hrs. Some other trekkers that we met confirmed that later.
Day 1. Bhulbule (840 m) – Ngadi (930 m) 1,15 h; Ngadi – Bahundanda (1310 m) 2 hrs; Bahundanda – Ghermu (ca. 1200 m) 1,30 hrs. There was a new road all the way from Bhulbule to Ngadi and it was very busy with new Chinese Dong Feng trucks. There were also a few busy constructions sites for hydroelectric projects between Bhulbhule and Ngadi. Altogether pretty ugly experience. Luckily it was just one hour from Bhulbhule onwards. The part from Ngadi up to Bahundanda (partly road, partly trail) was already peaceful and quiet and the trail between Bahundanda and Ghermu simply maginificent. Anyway, after arriving to Bhulbhule in the afternoon, it makes little sense continuing to Ngadi now, as lodges in Ngadi were right on the road. Bhulbule made a much more pleasant place for the first night.
Day 2. Ghemru – Syange (1100 m) 20 minutes + walk to the nearby waterfall; Syange – Jagat (1300 m) 1,5 hrs (one of the few parts we had to walk along the road), Jagat – Chamje (1430 m) 1 hr (by Rainbow Guesthouse, perfect place for a lunch with waterfall view); Chamje – Tal (1700 m) 2 hrs.
Day 3. Tal – Dharapani (1860 m) 3 hrs; Dharapani – Danakyu (2300 m) 2,15 hrs. The NATT trail from Dharapani to Danakyu by Thoche on the left (NE) side of the river was a bit tricky. First section of the marked trail was a bit overgrown at some places but passable. Then, near the little powerhouse the trail was very poorly marked and we lost our way. There are also some sections of old walking trail which are completely overgrown in the shrub forest near the powerhouse, so it added to our confusion. Once we reached the fields, it was easy to find the trail again.
Day 4. Danakyu – Timang (2750 m) 1,30 hrs; Timang – Thanchok (ca. 2700) 1h; Thamchok – Chame (2670) 1,30 h
Day 5. Chame – Bhratang (2850) 2 hrs, partly on the road; Bhratang – Dhukur Pokhari (3060) 1,5 hrs, partly on the road; Dhukur Pokhari – Upper Pisang (3300) 1h. Beyond Chame, there is one lodge in Talekhu and one in Bhratang. The NATT trail bypassing the road carved in the cliff beyond Bhratang, on the other side of the river, was closed by some branches very clearly put there to obstruct traffic on both entry points from the road (starting and ending point). It looked like the branches were there for a longer time. Possibly a landslide occurred somewhere on the other side of the river – we did not venture there to check it out.
On the place where the NATT trail to Upper Pisang branches off from the road near mani wall at the end of Dhukur Pokhari the NATT signs were painted over with blue colour. After some 100 meters the original red-white NATT signs appear again.
Day 6. Upper Pisang – Ghyaru (3670) 2,30 hrs; Ghyaru – Ngawal (3660) 2 hrs.
Day 7. Ngawal – Julu (ca. 3400) 1,5 h; Julu – Braga (3450) by upper trail, not marked, 2,45 hrs. Julu to Braka upper trail was maginificent, a high plateau with some pines, spectacular views and a lone giant yak grazing on the meadow. Pure bliss! Most important, we were completely alone between Julu and Braka, even in high season we did not meet even a single person there.
Day 8. Day trip from Braka to Milarepa’s Cave (ca. 4000) 4 hrs return.
Day 9. Braka – Manang (3500) 0,30 h; Manang – Praken Gompa (ca. 3900) 2,15 hrs return; Manang – Khangsar (3730) 2 hrs.
Day 10. Khangsar -Shree Kharka (ca. 4050) 2 hrs; Shree Kharka – Tilicho Base Camp (4150) 2,40 hrs.
There are two lodges in Shree Kharka. The first one, as approached from Khangsar, seems to be friendlier. In Tilicho Base Camp the first lodge, as approached from Khangsar, is newer and much better than the old one a bit further along the trail.
Day 11. Tilicho Base Camp – Tilicho Lake (teahouse above the lake at ca. 5000) and return, 4,30 hrs up, 2,30 hrs down.
Day 12. Tilicho Base Camp – Shree Kharka (2,30 hrs), rest day to cure a cold
Day 13. Shree Kharka – Upper Khangsar –Yak Kharka (down to ca. 3850 and up to 4050) 4 hrs; Yak Kharka – Churi Ledar (4200) 0,30 hrs. Shree Kharka to Yak Kharka was one of the best sections of the AC in my opinion, spectacular views during the whole day. There is a permanent iron suspension bridge instead of a previous wooden one on the Thorung Khola now. A small teahouse with simple meals is right at the bridge.
Day 14. Churi Ledar – Thorung Phedi (4500) 2,45 hrs; Thorung Phedi – Thorung High Camp (4880) 1,10 h. We hired a porter to carry our bags for the steep ascent from Thorung Phedi to Thorung High Camp by asking around in Thorung Phedi. He charged 2000 Rs.
Day 15. Thorung High Camp – Thorung La (5416) 2,30 hrs; Thorung La – Muktinath – Ranipauwa (3700) 4 hrs. We hired a porter for the ascent to Thorung La, arranged by staff at the Thorung High Camp for 4000 Rs (to the pass only, excluding descent to Muktinath). Lodge owners also offer a ride up Thorung La on a pack horse for US$ 100 per horse.
Day 16. Rest day in and around Muktinath, walks to the temple complex and to Jharkot (30 min below Ranipauwa).
Day 17. Round walk Muktinath – Chongur – Jhong – Putak – back to Jhong – cross the valley to Jharkot – Muktinath. An easy half day walk, including a long lunch break in Jhong. We could have also included Purang which is very close to Ranipauwa.
Day 18. Muktinath – Lubra (ca. 3000) 3,30 hrs; Lubra – Kagbeni (2800) 2 hrs. Going from Ranipauwa to Lupra and then continuing to Kagbeni was another of the highlights of our trek, across a pass with spectacular views of Dhaulagiri. There is now a regular lodge in Lubra, so it is also possible to stay there for the night. The Ranipauwa – Lubra section was marked by infrequent blue signs and a few signposts. The Lubra-Kagbeni trail is not marked but very easy to find. Directly below Lubra village we crossed the river on a small wooden bridge and went up the slope opposite the village, along a not very distinct path, to a big chorten-like pile of stones on the ridge. Altitude gain is ca. 150 meters from Lubra. Alternatively one can start from Lubra by taking the main trail towards Jomsom, then ca. 100 m below the village cross the river on an iron suspension bridge and continue uphill to the pile of stones on the ridge. From the pile of stones the path is very visible, it descends gently across a barren plateau with amazing views. It was very empty – no people and no road visible. At the end of the plateau it gets a bit steeper, descends almost to the Kali Gandaki and joins the jeepable road some 10 minutes before Kagbeni. Even though we hiked this section in the afternoon, it was mostly protected from the ferocious wind in the Kali Gandaki valley, so it was very enjoyable.
Day 19. Kagbeni and short walk to Tiri and Tiri Gompa in Upper Mustang.
Day 20. Kagbeni – Jomsom (2720) 2,15 hrs, mostly on the road, quite busy and dusty. Jomsom was the only place with ATMs on the whole trek. There were two ATMs near the airport. One did not accept Mastercard/Maestro cards, but no fee was charged for Visa cards. Daily withdrawal limit was 10.000 Rs. Another one accepts both Visa and Mastercard, has a withdrawal limit of 16.000 Rs and charges 400 Rs fee for each withdrawal.
Jomsom – Thini – Chhairo – Marpha (2670) 3,30 hrs. Warning: there is a water pipe crossing the Kali Gandaki river just above Marpha that looks very much like a bridge when seen from the high trail from Thini and Dhumba. We even went to check it, but it was not a bridge. The first place to cross the river is in Chhairo, below Marpha.
Day 21. Marpha – Chimang – Tukuche (2590) 3,30 hrs. Tukuche Guesthouse in the centre of the village was probably the best lodge on the whole Annapurna Circuit, in an old Thakali house with a climatic courtyard and traditional dining room. Very comfortable rooms with bathroom, great views from the roof and one of the few places with reliable hot water from solar shower. It’s a pity that the place was almost empty – there were only 4 people staying there, even though it was high season. Another similar lodge next door has already closed.
Crossing Kali Gandaki near Tukuche turned out to be quite problematic, as there were no wooden bridges in places indicated in our guidebook. The last place to cross the river above Tukuche was the suspension bridge ca. 30 minutes upstream from the village. There were no wooden bridges at all near Chokhopani. Next place to cross the river below Tukuche was only in Kobang, a half-ruined concrete bridge.
Day 22. Tukuche – Kalopani (2500) 5,30 hrs including lunch and a side walk to Naurikot. First part from Tukuche to Larjung along the road.
Day 23. Kalopani – Ghasa (2010) 3 hrs; Ghasa – Dana (1450) 3,15 hrs. Dana was one of positive surprises of our trek. The village is very atmospheric, has some superb Thakali architecture and great views from the valley with almost tropical vegetation to ice-covered peaks. It seemed much nicer than Tatopani and was definitely less touristy. There is a nice lodge in the upper part of the village, at the main jeep road. Dana is located on the right (western) side of the river, near the road, but the road does not pass right through the village. In order to visit it, we had to leave the NATT trail which continued on the left (eastern) side of the river.
Day 24. Dana – Tatopani (1190) 1,30 hrs along the road (but an alternative trail exists on the other side of the river); Tatopani – Galeshwar (900) 5 hrs (incl. 1 hr lunch) along the road. We did not plan to walk beyond Tatopani but because of the general strike there was no transport anymore when we arrived there at ca. 10 am. From Galeshwor we took a cab to Beni for 500 Rs.
Beni to Pokhara. In Beni we stayed at the basic Hotel Kalasha on the main street for 600 Rs per double. Later we realized that Hotel Yeti in a side lane above the second main street would be a much better place to stay for a similar price. Hotel Yeti has also a nice reasonably priced restaurant.
Because of the pre-election general strike, we were barely able to get to Pokhara the next day. Finally, after 3 hrs of preparations and negotiations, a single bus left Beni bus station with police escort and we had to pay 900 Rs (around the triple of the normal fare) for the ride. It took 5 hrs to reach Pokhara.
In Pokhara we stayed at Noble Inn at a side road in Lakeside (http://www.nobleinn.com/). A nice place, impeccably clean, with a large pleasant garden and some mountain views from some rooms. We paid 1100 Rs for a very spacious and comfortable double room.
River Bank Inn – after some negotiations we paid 1300 Rs for a huge room with balcony overlooking the river. The building is a huge concrete block but the room and terrace on the highest floor were nice. The owner offered us a package of jungle activities for almost double the price charged by agencies on the main street, so it’s better to avoid booking any activities with them.
Another place that seemed OK was the Holy Lodge, located at a more central place where the main road reaches the riverside.
There was a decent moneychanger in Chitwan, paying quite good rates, better than in Pokhara, only ca. 1 Re per 1 EUR less than in Kathmandu.
For visiting the national park and booking jungle activities it was definitely a good idea to shop around in the agencies on the main street in Sauraha, as there were quite significant price differences. We got the best deal at the Nepal Dynamic Eco Tours agency (http://callvans.wix.com/nepaldynamictours-), at their booth near the end of the Sauraha main road, for the total price of 10.540 Rs for two of us, including (prices per person):
- 1500 Rs national park entry fee (valid for one day and for the subsequent day for the community forests)
- 1050 Rs canoe ride on the river (1 hr) and walk back in the national park (3 hrs)
- 1520 Rs jeep safari in the national park and a visit to the gharial breeding center (100 Rs ticket not included)
- 1200 Rs elephant ride in the community forest near the village
Altogether, we saw most animals during the elephant ride in the community forest, including 3 adults and one baby rhino. During the jeep ride we saw many large crocodiles, a python and one rhino, partly hidden behind bushes. The boat ride and the walk gave us most adrenaline, even if we did not see any animals except a couple of crocodiles from a distance. The boat was a very rickety dugout canoe, easy to capsize, and the river was full of crocodiles (we saw one 3-4 meters long beast just opposite the village). Then in the jungle we heard from quite close distance some roars that our guide told us were tiger males preparing for a fight over territory. It seemed quite likely, as monkeys gave alarming sounds at the same time. Plenty of fresh rhino tracks as well. Quite thrilling when you are walking in the jungle and your guides are armed with sticks only. Altogether we were satisfied and we can recommend the Nepal Dynamic Eco Tours agency. Their guide for the walking tour was very knowledgeable and showed us many interesting details in the jungle. For the jeep safari and elephant ride you get a standard (quite good) service wherever you book, so it is the price that makes the difference.