Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meter Gauge lines in Uttar Pradesh Terai region

This is an unusual trip. I had 2-3 days to kill starting from Delhi before returning to Delhi just after financial year changes for some bank work. I reached Delhi on 30th for my bank work which was on Friday and decided to be back again on 3rd April. What better way to kill the time than finishing off some bucket list item of traveling in Meter gauge trains which may soon get converted. There was a rumour of couple of lines shutting down on 31st March so decided to travel on them on last day.

30th March

Today reached Delhi from Pune by early morning flight and after finishing the bank work came to New Delhi station for travel to Shahjahanpur by Shramjeevi express. The moment I entered the New Delhi station from Pahargunj side, it brought back the memory when I used to frequent this place as part of travel or railfanning. This time surprisingly it seemed clean and with less crowd which should have swelled as compared to few years back. I realized the reason for it being Anand Vihar terminal being built which now caters of lot of trains going east. There was a colorful digital display about trains like in airports. 
Display board at NDLS
It was afternoon and hot but still bearable as station was clean and not much crowd. I slowly made my way into the station going up and down platform 1 which is used for special trains like Bhopal shatabdi. Then I climbed the foot overbridge and came to view the skyline which seemed familiar with couple of building tops which were new. Went upto other end and came back to platform 5 where the train was supposed to come. The platform was crowded due to summer rush. The train goes all the way to Patna. I had my reservation at side lower seat in a sleeper coach. The train arrived and I promptly occupied my seat. There were definitely many more than 72 passengers which are designated in the coach but it was fine. The train started and made its way via Shivaji bridge, Tilak bridge, Pragati Maidan to Ghaziabad where it halted. From there it went to Moradabad, Bareilly and finally just after sundown it reached Shahjahanpur. Like a child I was glued to views outside with acres after acres of light brown wheat fields and trees.
In between station
We crossed Ganges at Garh Mukteshwar. The countryside was pretty but the towns seemed filthy on the route with garbage and uneven shanty buildings. 

Shahjahanpur has a historical connect. The Kakori conspiracy of looting train with British treasury was accomplished from here. The station has commemorative decoration narrating the incident. On reaching station I enquired about the meter gauge train the next day. The meter gauge section of the station was a little away where a crowded train had just arrived. I checked into an already reserved hotel close by and retired for the day.

Kakori conspiracy memorial at Shahjahanpur

31st March

Day started with checking out of hotel in Shahjahanpur. There was nip in the air. I quickly walked to meter gauge station and had tea and bought ticket. 
Shahjahanpur MG station
Shahjahanpur - Pilibhit timetable
The platform and train was already crowded. After clicking pics managed to get into coach and placed backpack behind the door. On enquiring to train driver, he said they haven't heard anything of line shutting down for gauge conversion. 
Train ready to depart

platform scene
The train started slowly and everyone settled and sun was up providing the warmth. There were couple of crossings, one at a Dhakia Tiwari and other at Bisalpur station. All along, it was same continuous view of wheat fields and trees. One would wonder how could such fertile areas be underdeveloped. The train got crowded to the hilt but there was no rooftop travel.
Crossing at Dhakia Tiwari

Enroute to Pilibhit
Typical countryside
Crossing at Bisalpur
There was huge crowd waiting at Pilibhit. The station has un-electrified BG and MG. The same train which came from Shahjahanpur would go to Mailani at 11am. I took this opportunity to go to Pilibhit town bazar looking for breakfast. Pilibhit town is a parliament constituency of Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi which we keep hearing about during election times. There were plenty of e-rickshaws which is one sign of progress which one could witness. The rickshaw took me through a long and narrow road with houses and shops around to bazar. Here I had oily Chole Bhature and Jalebi Dahi at a decent looking shop. The town seem to be relatively clean and bustling with business. 
Pilibhit station
Going into Pilibhit town
At station the train was ready to depart. While I waited, a train from Mailani came which would go to Shahjahanpur. There was huge crowd and free for all and stupidity of getting in first without letting insiders come out was at display. The train chugged on, the country side was pretty with field after field of golden wheat ready to be harvested. Along with it thin eucalyptus trees planted in line all swayed to one side due to wind. Then there was stretch of high and dense trees too. Some houses were picture postcard bang in the middle of field with tree providing shade. One house had a rope-bed with thatched roof waiting for someone to rest.
Picture card houses
Picturesque field
Only when some village or town came the scene changed from pretty to yuck with garbage and filth and stagnant pool of blackish water. Why don't they clean this up some time? At Kuraiya station lot of people got down. Then came station Akela Hanspur mean lone swan. There were lot to fields with white egrets and other birds congregating. 

Finally reached Mailni which is sprawling. The BG is already there as line to Lucknow is already under construction. I went outside to Mailani town like I did at Pilibhit but this one is a small single road town with very few people. Spoke to a shopkeeper who said this is due to line being closed. Once line starts people will be back. Had roti-daal for 30 rupees at dingy place. There was cleanliness at the station. 

I had booked my stay for tonight at Dudwa national park eco huts as there didn't seem to be any stay option at Mailani. Also there was opportunity to visit Dudwa. I had poured over Google maps and enquired with friends about how can I go from Dudwa station to Dudwa national park eco huts. There doesn't seem to be any road. Even though the eco huts are close to railway line but station is 3-4 kms away. There was not much information whether one can come to a nearby road or would train slow down or stop near eco huts.  Lastly, I inquired about getting down at Dudwa station to the train driver but he advised against it. Walking back on the track is possible but could be fraught with danger of animals. Not taking much risk decided to get down at Palia Kalan and then go to Dudwa to spend night.

The train for Bahraich left at 3:00PM and slowly the forest around the line became denser. There was a road running parallel which goes to Dudwa. Pilibhit is one of the district which has dense forest and home to Dudwa national park. First came station Bhira Kheri and then we crossed Sharda river to arrive at Palia KalanSharda river had decent amount of water and there were kids looking to pick coin offerings made by passengers. Spotted couple of spotted deer and another one later on the way to Palia. Palia is a decent town with industry. From Palia Kalan caught rickshaw to bus stand which had number of buses standing. The one going to Gauri Fanta would pass by national park gate and I could get down there. The bus was full by the time it left. Gauri Fanta was displayed on direction boards but wasn't listed on Google maps. Gauri Fanta is close to Nepal border. There were a number of trucks of Nepal oil corporation on the road. For land locked country like Nepal, transporting oil must be supported by India. There is another border town called Chandan Chowki which probably has abandoned railways line too. 

Mailani Jn station

Bridge over Sharda river
Palia Kalan
Welcome to Dudwa
The countryside was same full of wheat, sugarcane and trees and absolutely flat. This is Terai region in the foothills of Shivalik range but still there is no small hill or hillock. The road was single lane broken with truck traffic. The bus was an old bus. The buses abandoned in big cities come to ply here. The bus dropped me at the gate of national park. The attendant was surprised to see a single guest walking in like that. I opted for dormitory which is Rs 1000 but decent. Light would cut off but immediately restored probably generator. The dinner buffet was sumptuous.

1st April

Woke up at 5am to get ready for safari at 6am. My companion were a middle aged couple who were nice. Shared vehicle for safari with them which costs 2200. We got a Gypsy and set out at 6:30am. They were keen to do Elephant safari which takes one inside Rhino area. I was reluctant to do it as was wondering whether it would delay things for my 11:10am Palia kalan boarding. Also the Elephant ride was on whim of range officer who one had to talk to get ride and if some VIP comes it may cancel also. We took 2-3 rounds of park which was beautiful but we did not spot anything. We came back every time to check whether elephants are now available. There was a tea stall which was doing brisk business selling tea, pakoda, Maggi and it being Sunday there was crowd. While waiting for elephants to ride, there was great show of an adult and a baby elephant who were brought to drink water from hand-pump. They would put their nose on the outlet till they are full and then drink it. The young elephant was playful. 
Mother and child drinking water from hand pump
Watch tower at Dudwa
Jeep trail inside Dudwa
River inside Dudwa
Finally at 9:25am elephants came. I was sceptical of getting late but was tempted. Also the guide was assuring that he would arrange something for me to go to Dudwa station directly. So I persisted and was well rewarded for it. The elephant I was riding was named Chameli, a female elephant and her child Vinayak would accompany her everywhere as he is just 4 years old. Then I sat behind watching antics of playful Vinayak and other two elephants carrying tourists. There is a marked area for Rhino which were brought from Assam few years back and their strength has grown up to 35. After clearing some jungle we came to grassland with tall grass and there two Rhinos at the distance mother and child grazing happily. We came upto 10-20 meters close. They looked up couple of times but could not admire them very well as we turned back. 
Elephant ride in Rhino area
Vinayak following his mother Chameli
These jungles has good amount of grassland. There are cameras fitted which capture movement of any animal or us too. I was happy to go with elephant ride but worried about train. When driver of our vehicle promised to drop me at Dudwa station on bike I was relieved. The guy then arranged for a bike and dropped me at station going through a jungle trail for 3-4 kms. One could walk all the way but for fear of animals. I reached Dudwa by 10:45am though departure was at 11:24am. However the train was very late. It was to come around 12:15 and came at 1:15pm. So had good two hours idle time. I enrolled station master into letting me photograph who agreed after making sure it was for personal use. This might be the one of the few stations where hardly any passengers boards or alights. Only the station staff and the canteen operator take the train to go back to Palia Kalan. However, I was a passenger and promptly bought a ticket. Surprisingly the station had a UTS (Unreserved Ticketing System) computer system. The station is may have importance as a crossing station. Due to single line section, trains need a loop line to cross each other.

Dudwa station

Train from Bahraich approaching Dudwa
These are all Meter Gauge destinations which I visited
Passengers taking relief at station
Time to go
After first round of photography of station from all angles went to chat with station master. Looking at his office I realized how the working here is so detached from cities. The life here is laid back. The train working here is old style Neale's ball token and paper authority. The station master doesn't stay here but has family in Palia Kalan. He comes here three days a week and then goes back. He said its difficult for him to stay, how to bring family. Surprisingly there is a small snack canteen which sells food like Samosa, chips and biscuits to passengers of passing train. Their main business is feeding to train passengers who come hungry after long ride from earlier stations. Earlier there used to be lot of people coming in from Gorakhpur, Gonda but due to gauge conversion now it's restricted to Bahraich. Station master mentioned that earlier Dudwa used to be coveted posting due to timber when it was lucrative to get transferred here but now it is punishment posting. 

My train to Bahraich left at 1:15pm from Dudwa and was not crowded at all. It went through the forest of Dudwa for about 25km before coming to Belrayan. The forest was typical of Sal trees and grassland. After Belrayan came Tikunia. These were small towns and people boarded and alighted. Then we crossed Ghagra river barrage called Girija barrage near a station called Manjhra Purab. Here railway line was running parallel to river which was quite wide due to barrage. The again it went inside forest and came station called Bichia. After Bichia came Nishangada which is close to Katarnia Wildlife sanctuary. At couple of station some folks tried to get firewood into the coaches and station master roughed them for doing it. His point was they throw the wood while train is in motion and it may derail the train. Throughout there were small roads along the railway track probably going interior. The line is almost parallel to Nepal border which is 4-5 kms away. The roads all lead to some small villages along the border. After Murtiha came a slightly bigger town of Mihin Purwa. Then came Raibojha and finally Nanpara.  
Barrage over Ghagra River
Train going through forest
Mihin Purwa
Crowd at Nanpara
I happened to scan Nepal-India border on Google maps along this line and found that Indian side is forest and abruptly on Nepal side the greenery gave way to agriculture fields. Nepal hasn't protected this side of forests probably due to population pressure to produce food.

There was huge crowd to get into the train. The people were mostly muslims going to some event to Bahraich. Bahraich is muslim majority district in Uttar Pradesh which I came to know from a little research on Bahraich. The boys wore colourful skull caps and kurta payjama. There was lot of shouting and shrieking by women trying to get into train. I barely managed to hold on to at the door. There was no light in the coach. Nanpara is a junction with a line going to Nepalganj Road where Nepalganj is a town in Nepal, but there was no questions of looking for train going there as I was keen to reach Bahraich and it was getting dark due to my train being delayed by couple of hours.  After an hour I was relieved to reach Bahraich. Took an e-rickshaw and went to my pre-booked hotel. After freshening up went to a nearby eatery called Gupta bhojanalaya which served thalis for Rs 60. It was sumptuous with old style wood fired kitchen. I realized that in this region, breakfast or snack food is invariably Samosa or Aloo or Bread Pakoda or Bhajiya or Chole Bhature all oily stuff. Wonder why this region is keen on oily snacks and food.

2nd April

Day started a bit late thinking that Bahraich is close to Lucknow and wouldn't take much time by bus. I first went to railway station to click pictures and look at Broad Gauge station. Bahraich was again quintessential India town. Then came to bus stand which was rubble and without any paved surface. An occasional gust of wind would raise the dust and plastic garbage. It was sad display. 
Bahraich Station
Bahraich Bus Stand
I tried to get some biscuits but the shops selling water and chips didn't have biscuits!! So, just took water and chips as breakfast. The white coloured air conditioned bus was parked but locked and enquiry counter in the building had boys playing on mobile phones. The ordinary buses were lined and conductor was trying to get passengers. The bus would take 3.5 hours and go all the way to Lucknow Charbagh which is Lucknow train station where I was to catch Lucknow Shatabdi back to Delhi. All plans of savoring Tunday kabab at Aminabad vanished as I had to catch the train. I thought let me first make it to station and then see what is possible. The bus which I boarded stopped at Jarwal for some time. After that it went non-stop to Lucknow Charbagh. The area was chaotic, all buses, autos, road-side shops and people all blocking the passage of vehicles. Wondered if there is any traffic police. Then saw Lucknow metro at Charbagh. There was modernity elevated but chaos below it. There is an AC lounge at Lucknow station on Shatabdi platform and it it conveniently connected to road. One can park vehicle and climb few steps to stand in front of train on Platform 6. Had lunch at one of the bhojanalaya in front of station at Rewdi Wali gali. Pure veg and non-veg restaurants are next to each other in dingy state. 

Boarded Lucknow Shatabdi which left on time. The run of Lucknow Shatabdi was impressive with max speed at 130kmph. The food was same staple food which has been there for years. 

Lucknow Shatabdi pf-6
Snack served onboard Lucknow shatabdi
The purpose of this trip was multi-fold. First to visit the MG lines in Uttar Pradesh Terai region which I did fully except branch from Nanpara to Nepalgunj Road. Second was to visit Uttar Pradesh towns and interiors and observe life, whatever that means. Thirdly, to visit Dudwa national park as bargain. Overall, I visited Shahjahanpur, Pilibhit, Dudwa, Mailani, Bahraich, Lucknow though briefly or let's say railed through them!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Annapurna Base Camp - Nepal

Annapurna Base Camp trek has been on my bucket list for long time since more than 12 years when I first came to know about it. It was in my subconscious as tea-house trek which would conjure up pictures of quaint, thatched roof rural dwellings in hills with wood fired cooking, a complete rural setting. But in reality it was quite different, more about it later. The trigger for this trip was a newsletter from about upcoming treks. The moment I opened the page which had picture of Annapurna-I, I made up my mind to do this trek. I had done a trek Dayara Bugyal with Indiahikes with the founder himself way back in 2011 so didn't shop for any other trekking group.

Annapurna Base Camp

5th April

I reached Pokhara via an adventurous journey through land border with Nepal from Sanauli. On 5th April, 7PM our trek group was slated to meet. The participants were from different parts of the country and it was a nice & diverse group. We were a group of 15 trekkers, one Trek leader, one assistant Trek leader and 3 porters who were going to be with us. Trek leader was a Gorkha himself and from India. He was young & enthusiastic person who explained everything very well and patiently answered questions. After having dinner and purchasing some stuff we went to individual hotels with promise to meet at 8am at Basundhara park not very far from our hotels. 

Treks in Nepal require permission which were obtained for us by Indiahikes from TIMS (Trekkers Management Information System) who have check-posts at different locations where they need to checked.

6th April

Today was the day for start of our trek. Woke up on time at 7am and went to the same place where I had breakfast yesterday thinking how great it would be. But the place was closed and had to settle for continental breakfast which was ok and had to wait for it. On top, Nepal time being ahead by 15 mins ensured I was late to arrive at meeting point but there were more group members who were late. We finally started at 8:30am in a bus which went out of Pokhara and climbed first to Sarangkot. This is a place close to Pokhara from where entire Annapurna range is visible. Today it was cloudy but still we got a glimpse of how magnificent it could be. We went through villages with narrow broken roads but enough vehicles carrying tourists. Mountain tourism is the main economy of this country. At some points the vehicle had to go back and forth to accomodate the other vehicle. We were either looking at the views or surviving the twisting and bumps of bus going over bad roads. We stopped for tea at a roadside shop. Black tea or ginger tea with optional honey to be put is staple tea. We can put milk to make it like Indian tea but tea is not made like in India. Here water is warmed up and tea bag added rather than boiling water with tea. At one place bought poncho for rain which is nothing but bluish coloured plastic sheet with which our assistance trek leader cut delicately and made holes to tie it up. I was confirming whether this is sufficient which they assured it is. 

Finally we came to place called lower Ghandruk from where we were to start our ascent. We passed main Ghandruk and came to first camp site at Komrong. We had lunch at lower Ghandruk and after that we started our climb. It was cloudy and it was raining lightly which forced us to wear our rain gear. I wore my poncho which was awkward and looked out of place. Even though I was facing difficulty walking at it was coming in the way of visibility and holding trek pole or drinking water but it was breathable. Most of the folks with conventional raincoat were sweating profusely as rain coat is not breathable. Whereas a poncho by design is breathable as it is open. 

The route had ascent by steps or plain trail which we did talking and supporting each other. This being the first steps of our trek so we were all enthusiastic. We passed lot of villagers and ponies which are the main transport medium here. After three hours we finally reached Komrong our halt for first day.
Mountains at the start of the ascent
Bridge to cross a stream

The trek route with porters carrying the load

The tea house at Komrong was well kept. The rooms were tiny with just had plain walls, two separate single beds and a light. This was luxurious considering that in Indian trekking trails we don't get such facility and mostly we have to pitch tents. The beds were clean and they gave us a blanket too which was again clean and not smelling. They Nepalese standard for trek amenities are higher than India due to fact that these treks are frequented by westerners who demand such amenities.

7th April

Second day we woke at sunrise saw the view clearing up. Annapurna south and Machapuchare were clear though distant. The clouds were filling up the valley. Our guide pointed out where we had to go today. Though it seemed close but would take 5-6 hours to reach. We had to descend a lot first to cross the stream and then ascend to same height on the other mountain. The weather was inclement.
Machapuchare mountain
clouds in valley
Adjacent Kirana store where we stayed
As luck would have it, the moment we started walking there was heavy rain. We had to descend a lot to cross a stream using a tiny bridge. We just concentrated on walking downhill and on crossing the stream we stopped to have hot beverages at another tea house. From there the ascent was steep and we came upto a place where we had lunch. This place had a tree stump which jutted out. This provided a good photo op for everyone. This place also bifurcates the trail towards another place called Jhinu which we were going to take while coming back. From here our second campsite Chhomrong was an hour away. Till now due to cloudy weather and rain we couldn't admire the views so much. 

Views on the way

stream to be crossed

Helicopter at Chhomrong
All along I noticed that destinations are clearly marked by elegant signposts. However, the distance is not measured by length here but by amount of time it would take to reach there.
Sign posts for different destinations
Chhomrong was a decent sized town with a helipad which was just below our guest house. We watched few sorties of helicopter as well. There are helicopter ride available from Pokhara to ABC which take only few minutes as compared to our multi-day trek but what's the fun in that? The town had cellular tower and good closer view of Annapurna range. 
Chhomrong town

Prayer flags at Chhomrong

Helicopter sortie
After our tea and coffee the sky started to get clear and in some time the Annapurna range was clear. Next hour was spent in admiring the mountains - Annapurna south (7219 MTR), Hiunchuli (6400 MTR) and the star mountain Machapuchare (6993 MTR) which means Fishtail. The summit looks like tail of fish, two pointed tips with a curved ridge as if a fish has its head buried in the ground. The mountain is considered sacred, being home of Lord Shiva and this is the only high mountain which has not been submitted yet. Legend goes that in 1950s one trekker attempted to summit it but he came back from 150ft from summit on request of king of Nepal. Towards sunset the light turned orange and it gave orangish tinge to the mountains. We are not used to look up so high and find something so majestic. The purpose of coming for the trek had started fulfilling.
Annapurna South
A little bit about the tea-housesThese are basic lodging facility which cater to trekkers. They are permanent structures with rooms which are plain basic with beds. These could be 2-6 bedded but with mattresses, clean sheets, blankets and few dining halls and full fledged kitchen but common toilet and bathrooms. They cater to trekking groups who once arrive in the tea house just pass time chit chatting, playing some game or eating. Kitchen is the main point of action. They take order of food well in advance and prepare and serve efficiently at Dining Hall. One doesn't fail to admire at their efficiency when one by one they bring dishes and serve them to guests. A reason for this efficiency is food should not cool down in this weather. Dining Hall gets a little cosy from heat of people rather than being heated. Adverse conditions does not mean tea-houses serve limited stuff. They have huge menu which apart from basic Dal-Bhat-Tarkari (Lentils, Rice and Vegetables) also include food like Pizza, Pasta, Noodle, Lasagna and even Sizzler. However the taste is something which could vary. Once we ordered pizzas and they were really good. People from group also ordered Italian dishes and they were more or less satisfied.

8th April

Today woke up at Chhomrong at sunrise. The ice at mountain top started glowing when the sunlight fell on it. Slowly the sun rays were visible as they were able to make it to the valley and the part which was obstructed by mountain ridge. We had our timely breakfast - Porridge and Omlette for me. We started from the tea-hourse, this time our destination being Dovan with lunch stop at Bamboo. Today the weather at the start was amazing. It was like perfect weather with bright sunlight and pleasant warmth. First time on the trek people applied sunscreen and wore sunglasses. We again had to go down first to cross a stream and then climb up. There were stone stairs all along. 
Mountain snow glistening in the sunlight
Stone steps all along
Bridge over stream
We stopped for tea at a place called lower Sinuwa. After that we descended a lot to come to Bamboo. Now we were inside the narrow valley with high mountain so not much view of peaks. At Bamboo we had lunch and in no time weather changed and it started pouring. We waited for rain to subside but started when it was still drizzling so that we don't get late. From there our third campsite at Dovan was just one hour. Bamboo had forest of bamboo trees which gave it its name. At Dovan we had accommodation which was like multi-bed dormitory and a wooden glass panelled dining hall. Since there was not much view to be seen, we spent time chatting and playing games. Dinner was at 7:30pm which arrived bang on time.

9th April

Today was going to be the toughest day of the trek. Today we would go from 8460 to 12000 ft. Also the distance of more than 10km. We started from Dovan and reached Himalaya where we had tea. This seemed to be mid-point for trekkers going up or coming down as it was crowded. The gradient was steep and had boulders and stones in the path. Namaste, Good Morning or Hello is how trekkers would greet each other when passing by. We were now well within Annapurna sanctuary where ponies are not allowed and all the stuff is carried by porters. One could not fail to admire their hardiness in carrying the stuff to such steep inclines. Our trek group was spread and we would team up with whoever was walking alongside. The forest around was full of Bamboo, Rhododendron and other trees.
Steep ascent enroute Himalaya

At Bamboo
Rhododendron and Bamboo
Boulder filled ascent to Deurali
From Himalaya we went to Deurali which we could see from far, stone buildings with blue roof at the edge of mountain.
Deurali from distance
From then on we climbed further into narrow valley along Modi Khola. Khola means river in Nepali. The clouds started coming in from below and filled the entire valley. We were walking in the mist and clouds. The temperature dropped and it was quite cold. We were just carrying along as we can rest only on reaching Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC). By this time there was no one coming from opposite side as people coming down from ABC, start early and nobody would come in the afternoon. So, it was a lonely walk with only 1-2 people from trek group to accompany.
Along Modi Khola

Finally reached a point where the path to ABC was marked. Our guest house was 20 minutes from there. It was a relief to reach and rest. The entire valley was clouded and raining so there was no view. We retired for the night hoping tomorrow would be clear.

10th April

Today we were to go from MBC to ABC which is 2 hour trek which is not much but we would go from 3700 to 4130 MTR the highest point of our trek and final destination. While we were about to start, weather started clearing up and we saw Machapuchare and other peaks. As we started walking, more views started becoming visible - Annapurna south, Hiunchuli, Gandharvchuli and Annapurna-III and finally the 8 thousander Annapurna-I. 
On the way to ABC

Machapuchare and MBC

We could see the ABC camp from distance. There were congratulatory boards just before the camp and trekkers were posing for clicks on their achievement. ABC camp is surrounded by high peaks around and there was unmelted snow around and high wind. We were expecting a snow fall but it did not happen. We kept our bags and took a round of surroundings and observing the mountains whenever we got a chance from the clouds and mist. The expeditions to climb Annapurna-I start from here. But at this point there was no expedition going on. A little away from guest house there were memorial for people who summited or died while summiting the Annapurna-I and other symbols of being there and done that. Our trekking group too left a mark there for posterity. Annapurna has ihgh fatality rate for those climbing it. There is a book called Annapurna by French mountaineer Maurice Herzog who first submitted it. Apart from ABC trek there is a longer trek which goes around entire Annapurna range which takes 15 days. Due to cold it was difficult to stay outside for long, so we all huddles in the dining hall.
Congratulations on achieving the feat

Memorial at ABC

Our trekking group

Grand view of Annapurna-I
There were several trekkers who were there that day. The guest house was full. Probably there might have been some 300 trekkers at that time. The temperature was below 0 upto -4C during the day and went down upto -7C in the night. We had early dinner and we went of to sleep after wearing everything that we had brought. All the warm clothes were for this day.

11th April

Today we start of our descent. I woke up fresh and was happy to start going down. But today was going to be gruelling 15km walk mostly descent but some ascent too. Going down is tough on your knees and one has to be careful not to twist ankle or slip. Slowly we crossed all those intermediate stops we had made - MBC, Deurali, Himalya, Dovan and came to Bamboo. We stayed at Bamboo. We had climbed back to 7000ft which was safe elevation so we were relieved of AMS.

12th April

We climbed down from Bamboo to Jhinu. The starting was ascent by steps all the way to Upper Sinuwa. Then a little descent to Lower Sinuwa. Then to get to Chhomrong, we had to first descent steep and then a gruelling ascent to the town. The ascent to Chhomrong was really hurting as we are already tired of last 7 days. When we reached there it was really sunny and within an hour things changed and it rained heavily. As they say, in mountains weather changes very quickly was something which we witnessed so many times. Then after that there was a gruelling descent to Jhinu which was all steps. Here it was raining on and off but there was a comfort of having tea house booked. This tea house had attached toilet to the room. As our trek leader and other other trekkers mentioned that as compared to treks in India or where we have to pitch tents this was luxurious trek by any means. I did not have much experience of tented trek so I don't disagree. In the evening we had felicitation ceremony where our trek leader gave out certification of completion and vote of thanks to the team. We also shared our experiences. It was now time to reflect on that whole experience which was very good. Mountains make you go beyond your comfort zone and accept things and be humble as we just a small entity in front of them.

13th April

Today was the last day of the trek. Everyone woke with thought that we will finally be back to Pokhara. Last night heavy rain led to clear sky and mountains were glistening with the sunlight. We started from Jhinu. Today's trek was a series of ups and downs, crossing a stream. I remarked to a trek member that this is what is projected as ideal trek situation in promotional materials, bright sunny days with good views. After 3 hours we reached the road head at Siwai. At road head bus was waiting for us. During trek, smoke, booze and non-veg is not allowed strictly as policy. The group members were longing to have their beer. We had our lunch and beer as customary celebration and then left for Pokhara. It took 3 hours to reach Pokhara through gruelling road ride. After checking into hotel it was time to check upon things after being out of connection for 10 days. We had decided to meet in the evening for gathering. Today was Friday and new year Eve for Nepali new year, so Lakeside was well dressed up. The road was blocked for vehicular traffic and all the restaurants were packed and lot of people well dressed were out on the streets. There was music playing from every establishment. We found hard to find a spot which can accomodate 15 people but found one called Zorba. We had our booze and food. I bid goodbye to all trek members with promises of keeping it touch. That brought a memorable trip of my life to an end.