Cycling around Annapurna, Just do it, Nepal has something for everyone – Heinz Egli
Cycling around Annapurna
Cycling around Annapurna Nepal is not a new place for Heinz Egli, a Tourism Goodwill Ambassador for Visit Nepal 2020, a master chef, a role model hotelier and a person of global influence! He has been here not once, not twice or not even thrice but a whopping 7th time. So, Nepal does qualify to be his second home, or at least the place where he feels at home. But this time’s visit was extraordinary. He along with his 6 friends didn’t just hike but also biked around Annapurna beyond the Himalayan frontiers – totally immersing in the beauty of the Himalayas! And the most interesting part of the trip was, not only did they ride the bike, but the bikes also rode them quite often!
From Jagat to Dharapani
You might have gauzed the level of adventure involved in the trip by now. His team included Urs Besmer, Fritz Gross, Marco Foehn, Johhny Mathis, Stefan Herzog and Heinz Fischerall – all of them senior Hoteliers and Restaurateurs with more than 30 years’ experience in Hong Kong and China. As mentioned earlier, they were not here for their day in and day out job, but for the Himalayan adventure that would help them to meet mountains and people, build friendship and of course burn few calories!
The one and half week’s adventure started on 19th April – through snaky highway, continued towards the villages nestled on the lap of the Annapurnas, followed Marshyangdi River from the subtropical lowlands to the Manang basin and then crossed the Thorong La Pass (5416m- the highest point of the trip, which is also Heinz’s one of the favorite parts) before descending down to the deepest gorge in the world, the Kali Gandaki. From the lush greenery to the formidable expanse of land sculpted by the raw forces of nature manifested in its eroded cliffs and moraine valleys, from the snaky highways to impenetrable gorges and high passes – so to cut a long story short, the journey was just enough to turn anyone into a mystic, let alone Heinz and his team!
At Thorong-La Pass 5416m, the highest point of the trip
For Heinz, not a single moment or day was the best, but the whole trip! “Every day a new highlight, starting with the charity dinner at GATE School, coming out of the valley and seeing the majestic peaks, reaching the summit, relaxing in Pokhara and ending hours before going to the airport when receiving the Ambassador certificate!”
Heinz Egli receiving Certificate of Tourism Goodwill Ambassador for Visit Nepal 2020; Next to him Mr. Suman Pandey, President of Explore Himalaya
If you want to relive what Heinz and his team experienced, you can go through https://1drv.ms/f/s!AkLUjDw1n6gNguN4sWWmaP48fu6mOg for some of the greatest adventure pictures you can ever find. For now, let’s have a peek on the day to day account of their trip prepared by Heinz himself.
Day 1, 17th April 2019: Arrival in Kathmandu
The tour representative picked us up at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, and escorted us to the Hotel Marshyangdi in Kathmandu.
Day 2, 18th April 2019: Kathmandu
On our first day we all went to the GATE Hotel School where we were welcomed by Khem Lakai, the CEO of the school. Each one of us prepared a course for a gala dinner which was served to celebrities and friends from Nepal.
Day 3, 19th April 2019: Kathmandu to Jagat 1,300m
Early in the morning, we drove 170km westwards to the starting point of our trekking and biking in Jagat. Here we were joined by Laxman Sunar, the biking guide. The road was curvy and passed through the hills that connected us to countryside villages and farming lands. The drive moved along and crossed several main rivers flowing from the glacial mountains to the north; including the Trishuli River, a popular rafting point. At Dumre, we turned north towards Marshyangdi River to reach Besi Sahar.
The drive followed Marshyangdi River towards Syange (with a high waterfall), and we drove on to Jagat (a previous toll place on the ancient salt-trade way to Tibet).
Day 4, 20th April 2019: Trek from Jagat to Dharapani 1,860m
Moving along the east bank of Marshyangdi River, the track ascended slowly, before the valley opened into a large highland at Tal (1511m), the first village of Manang district. After crossing the broad flat gorge and the barley and potato fields, the trail climbs sharply on a stone stairway high above the stream. There were some sudden ups and downs on this section passing through jungles of blue pine to Dharapani (1,946m).
Day 5, 21st April 2019: Trek from Dharapani to Chame 2,670m
From Dharapani, the track passes a school, ascends, and again descends gently to Bagarchhap. Bagarchhap is a small village with distinctive Tibetan houses and peaceful vibes of Buddhist culture. The trail ascends to the mule track through pine and fir forests and then follows the stream for some time amongst the higher oak and maple trees. We passed through dispersed small villages before arriving in Chame (2,670m).
Day 6, 22nd April 2019: Trek from Chame to Pisang 3,200m
We followed the trails of Marshyangdi to Brathang from where we got a spectacular close-up view of Annapurna II (7,937m). Afterwards, we continued the trek via the forest with the amazing Paungda Danda rock face escalating more than 5,000 feet from the stream.
Passing a suspension bridge, we ascended for some time and then walked and rode downhill to the valley floor. Finally, we walk and biked across dry grazing land dwelling at Dhukur Pokhari. After moving for around half an hour from Dhukur Pokhari, we reached Pisang (3,190m). There we had great views of the Annapurna range and Pisang Peak (6,091m) seen from the village of Pisang.
Day 7, 23rd April 2019: Trek from Pisang to Manang 3,540m Upper trail
We followed on a difficult road onto the dry Nyesyang region that started from Upper Pisang and offered some of the best landscapes. Ghyaru is a captivating cluster-village with attractively built stone houses enclosed by meadows of wheat, barley, buckwheat, potatoes, and beans.
Then, along high cross with great landscape, up and down the valley, to Ngawal–an exciting village with Gompa and age-old juniper trees. The trail then slowly descends to Mungji from where we head to reach the renowned Thakali village of Manang. Here we enjoyed the best view of Annapurna range.
Day 8, 24th April 2019: Acclimatization Day: Hike to Chhunker viewpoint
Today it was acclimatizing/rest day. We hiked to Chhunker viewpoint where we got to relish the view of the pristine Gangapurna Lake with a backdrop of the Annapurna Range, Tilicho Peak (7,134m), Pisang Peak (6,091m), Chulo Peak (6,584m), Thorong Peak (5416m), and so on.Then we retraced back to our lodge for lunch, a typical Thakali meal. After some card games in the afternoon, we return back to the lodge for the overnight stay.
Day 9, 25th April 2019: Trek from Manang to Yak Kharka 4,018m
From Manang, we ascended alongside Thorung Khola in the main Annapurna Circuit trekking and biking trail. The trail ascends steeply to the village of Tenki, which was the last permanent settlement, around Thorung La. We headed a little further and then slowly outlined the meadows to Yak Kharka (3,900m).
Day 10, 26th April 2019: Trek from Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi 4,450m
It was a difficult trek to Thorang Phedi. After walking and riding further, we passed a suspension bridge and reached Ledar village. We climbed furthermore the pass via immense cliffs before reaching Thorang Phedi. On this trip, we were are able to witness one of the finest views of peaks like Gundang (5,312m), Syagang (6,026m), Thorung (6,144m), and Khatungkang (6,484). The word “Phedi” in Nepali denotes the foot of a mountain.
Day 11, 27th April 2019: Trek from Thorong Phedi to Thorong-La Pass 5,416m to Muktinath 3,800m
We had an even tougher ride today than that of yesterday. The bikers had to push our bikes on a steep trail till we passed Thorung-La Pass (5,416m), which is the highest mountain pass in Nepal. The panorama of the Himalayas looked stunning from the top of Thorong-La Pass. We then descended to the holy temple of Muktinath, the God of Salvation. This is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Holy water flows from the 108 carved taps surrounding the temple.
Day 12, 28th April 2019: Biking trip from Muktinath to Jomsom 2,710m via Lupra valley
An early morning visit to Muktinath Temple where we also could bathe under the 108 water sprouts, which is supposed to wash our sins away. After spending some time at the temple, we continued our bike ride and headed towards Marpha.
We had a relatively easy journey. Riding on rocky trails, we passed many walls and chhortens before we entered Lupra Valley. Chasing the stunning view of the Himalayas, we rode through Kali Gandaki Valley to reach the Apple Capital of Nepal: Jomsom. Jomsom is famous for its apple orchards and the apple by-products. Overnight we stayed at Om’s Home in Jomsom, which certainly was one of the most luxurious Hotels in the area.
Day 13, 29th April 2019: Jomsom to Pokhara by flight
Early in the morning, we boarded a flight back to Pokhara enjoying the scenic landscape. We decided to stay one night at the Pavilion Himalayas, which must be one of the most beautiful Hotels in the country, if not in the whole of Asia. The town of Pokhara offers splendid views of Annapurna (8,091m), Machhapuchhre (6,993m), Dhaulagiri (8,167m), and Manaslu (8,156m). Before checking in to the Hotel we visited the FAB Hotel School which trains children of underprivileged background. This was a very impressive and memorable visit.
Day 14, 30th April 2019 Full day in Pokhara
On our last day we enjoyed the Lakeside Village of Pokhara for shopping and relaxing. Overnight we stayed at the beautiful Temple Tree Hotel. I was able to invite my student, Yam for dinner at the world class Roadhouse Pizzeria.
Day 15, 1st May 2019: Flying from Pokhara to Kathmandu for 25 minutes and final Departure from Kathmandu
Relishing the astonishing panorama of Annapurna range, Lamjung Himal, Manaslu range, Ganesh Himal range, and Langtang Himal, we flew back to the capital. After a 25-minute flight, we reached Kathmandu and headed to Thamel. Here we met Suman Ji who showed us the way to a Palace nearby where I was awarded Tourism Ambassador Visit Nepal 2020. This was indeed a big honour for me and a great surprise too. After visiting Suman Pandey’s new restaurant, we were dropped off at Tribhuvan International Airport for our final departure.
Medical Camp in Nuwakot A group of 15 doctors and nurses from a medical association of America conducted 5 days’ Medical Camp in the villages of Nuwakot and Kathmandu. The team that was led by Donna Louise Tully included Cecilia Margarita Parajon, Cathlene Marie Heideman, Jeff Eager, Pooja Darshan Patel, Daya Dhansukh Bhakta, Kristen Biancone, Megan Wattenhofer, Love Volkova, Connie Ngo, Daisy Palma Villarreal, Logan Felton, Amanda Hutton-Parrott and Bryan Carton. The Camp that took place from 27th to 31st May was held in 4 places – Nuwakot Health Post and Gerkhutar in Nuwakot, and Baniyatar and Pharping in Kathmandu. The Medical Camp was organized as a part of a Medical Camp series being conducted regularly in the remote places of Nepal to provide free health services. This Camp is the second one in 2019. The Camp provided general health check-up, dental care, pharmacy services and awareness sessions on preventive care to a total of 820 locals. The most common problems found among the locals were arthritis, back pain, dental and eye problems, chest pain, lack of appetite and high blood pressure.
Day 1 and 2 (27th and 28th May): Nuwakot Health Post, Nuwakot
The first two days of the Camp was set in a small health post of Nuwakot. The first day’s camp started after 1 o’ clock as the team had travelled from Kathmandu the same day and reached the health post at about midday. Altogether 150 locals received different types of medical check-up services on this day. The second day’s camp started from 9 am till 4:30 pm and treated 230 locals.
Day 1: At Nuwakot Health Post
Day 2: Locals queuing up at Nuwakot Health Post
Day 2: At Nuwakot Health Post
Day 3 (29th May): Gerkhutar Club, Nuwakot
Today’s Camp started at 10 am. The team continuously served the locals till 3 am. The total number of beneficiaries on the 3rd day was 140. After the day’s service, the team concluded the 3 days’ Camp in Nuwakot and returned to Kathmandu.
Day 3: Gerkhutar Club
Day 4 (30th May): Kids School, Baniyatar, Kathmandu
The 4th day of the Camp was set up at Kids School, a pre-school in the north of Kathmandu. The Camp was run from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, and treated 200 people of which the majority was pre-school kids. The students also had talk sessions on general health practices.
Day 4: At Baniyatar
Day 4: At Baniyatar
Day 4: At Baniyatar
Day 5 (31st May): Shree Khokana Jana Secondary School, Pharping, Kathmandu
The last day’s Camp was in a public school in Pharping, a small town in the vicinity of Kathmandu city. The Camp started at 9.00 am and continued for next 6 hours. Altogether 100 locals got benefited from the Camp. With the day’s event, the 5 days’ Medical Camp was concluded successfully.
Everest Skydive has reached new heights this year with a record breaking stand up parachute landing by Paul-Henry de Baere at 20,160ft MSL (6145m) at the West Col of Baruntse. The record setting skydive that occurred at 7:36AM GMT+5:45 on 19th May 2019 was made using a Performance Designs Navigator 240 main parachute with a wingloading 0.8 and into an 10kt headwind. Paul-Henry de Baere, who is the Media Director of Everest Skydive beat Everest Skydive’s all-time highest altitude landing record of 17,192ft MSL (5240m) set by Everest Skydive teammates Wendy Elizabeth Smith and Tom Noonan in 2009. The World Record jump was made from “The Dragon”, a Eurocopter B3 helicopter piloted by Deepak Jung Rana, Executive Director for Summit Helicopters and Captain Deepak Pun, with supplementary support provided by Simrik Air with Captain Siddhartha Gurung and Tsering Bothe. Everest Skydive’s Operations Director Tom Noonan managed the expedition’s oxygen support from Baruntse Base Camp at 17,857ft MSL (5443m) and Yorick Vion managed the drop zone set-up. The team of Explore Himalaya was responsible for the arrangement of the entire logistics and operation.
Explore Himalaya organized a felicitation program to honour Paul-Henry de Baere and Everest Skydive Team at Marcopolo Restaurant, Chhaya Center on 21st May. During the program, Paul-Henry de Baere, Tom Noonan and of Yorick Vion were honored with garland and Khada by Bibhuti Chand Thakur – General Secretary PATA Nepal Chapter, Abdullah Tuncer Kececi – General Manager Turkish Airlines Nepal, Ramesh Kharel – Ex Nepal Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Rajan Pokhrel – Deputy Editor Himalayan Times and Abhinav JBR – Chairman of Turbo Motors Pvt. Ltd respectively. Mountaineers Maya Gurung and Pujan Acharya who climbed tallest mountains on all seven continents, international mountain journalist Billi Bierling, Miss Tourism Samriddhi Rai were also present in the program. A video of the record breaking landing was also premiered in the program. The program was moderated by Suman Pandey, the President of Explore Himalaya.
Our Words of Gratitude:
We have always been a proud partner of Everest Skydive since 2008. However, at this moment, we are brimming with joy as well to be a part of this ambitious expedition. What could be more beautiful than complementing our 12 years’ togetherness with Everest Skydive in such a delightful note! Operating an event of such stature in the Himalayan terrain is of course a serious challenge. However, we made it possible! But needless to say, it’s a team effort and the benevolence of the Mountains. Our deep reverence to the Mountains for patronizing us! In the meantime, we would also like to have an honorable mention to Everest Skydive’s Operations Director Tom Noonan, the man behind the back of the whole project. Thanks Tom and the entire Everest Skydive team for instilling us with passion and dream throughout! Thanks Yorick Vion for your great effort in drop zone set-up & welcome to the Team! We couldn’t help ourselves thanking Summit Helicopters Nepal and Simrik Helicopters also for your valuable support. Together we made it happen- you all are a treat to work with! Once again Félicitations PH- you are an inspiration! Keep living your dream!
Nuwakot Sindure Jatra, It’s quite understandable that Nepal always conjures up the world of towering mountains, distant valleys, misty grooves and highland cultures in everyone’s mind. And there comes the instant urge to ramble on the rugged trail and hug the mountains. However, Nepal is not just about meeting mountains only. It’s also a wonderful cultural trove of South Asia- immensely unique and surprisingly vibrant! We can encounter some of the best kept secrets in every nook and corner of this Himalayan Kingdom. Nuwakot’s Devi Jatra, popularly known as Sindure Jatra, is also one of them!
Masks of 12 different Gods and Goddesses in the Chariot of Goddess Bhairabi
Every year, Newari people of Nuwakot, 75 km north of Kathmandu Valley, celebrate Sidhure Jatra, which literally means “vermillion powder festival”, in the month of Chaitra or Baishakh (April). This festival starts from Chaitra Sukla Chaturdashi (14th day of bright fortnight as per lunar calendar, this year from 18th April) and continues for next 12 days. It takes place in Nuwakot Durbar Square, a historically and culturally important place having a significant connection with King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal. During the festival, people worship Goddess Bhairabi, perform various rituals and feast with family members and relatives.
The major highlight of this festival is the chariot procession of Goddess Bhairabi, one of the Das Mahavidyas, the Divine Mothers and the patron Goddess of Nuwakot. Considered as the longest chariot procession in Nepal and one of the oldest festivals dating back to pre Malla period, the festival is unique in its own way because of its association with tantric cult. The legend behind the festival is unknown but it is believed to be an ancient celebration rite to commemorate human ability to summon God in one’s body and attain “siddhi” or the mystical unison with the divine power. So, unlike other festivals, the chief figure is not a priest but a Dhami, a Shaman who is believed to possess the power of Goddess Bhairabi.
Dhami, the chief figure of Sindure Jatra
Beside its religious importance, the festival is also about people of Nuwakot and their way of life! You can see hundreds of people milling in the Durbar Square area from far and near. The colorful street markets, busy shopkeepers, awestruck devotees, enthralled musicians, jostling chariot pullers, the pervasive smell of the ritual assortments and the occasional gun salute – well this festival is quite an extraordinary experience that awakes all your senses!
Day 01: On the first day, the Dhami dressed in white receives an ablution ritual by Living Goddess Kumari of Nuwakot. The bath ritual that symbolizes the purification process takes place in an open altar in front of Bhairabi temple. Afterwards, he is dressed in a red ceremonial costume along with elaborate silver and golden accessories that include crown of nine headed Nagas, earrings, bangles, chain necklace, Astamatrika necklace etc. Then, a Bajracharya Guru, who performs all the rituals for the Dhami throughout the festival, offers a special sacrificial ritual to Goddess Bhairabi in the temple. The Bajracharya Guru is also the one who summons Goddess Bhairabi in the body of Dhami. Later on, a procession of Dhami, Dhamini (Dhami’s wife), Bajracharya Guru and other attendants proceed to nearby Budi Devisthan, the maternal home of Goddess Bhairabi. On the same day, another interesting ritual of erecting two wooden poles also take place, marking the official beginning of the festival. One pole is erected in the premises of Bhairabi temple. Another is erected at the maternal home of Goddess Bhairabi. Each pole should measure 42 haat, approx. 63 ft.
Living Goddess Kumari of Nuwakot
Day 02: The second day starts with a feast ritual in which Dhware, a State Representative, offers clothes to Dhamini and head dress to Lord Kumar, Lord Ganesh and Dhami. Vermillion powder is also put along the hair partition of Dhamini. After the state feast, the procession proceeds to the temple of Taleju Bhawani, the Guardian Deity of Malla Kings, where special ritual is performed by the Bajracharya Guru. After that, Dhami, Dhamimi, Bajracharya Guru and other devotees proceed to Devighat along with the chariot of Goddess Bhairabi carried by 36 Tamangs from Lachang. The chariot has the masks of 12 different God and Goddesses including Goddess Bhairabi, Astamatrikas, two dakinis Syangini and Byangini and Ganesh. Along with the chariot, one attendant also carries “Khadga”, a sacred weapon wrapped in white piece of clothes.
The chariot procession takes about 4-5 hours to reach Devighat, which is a confluence of two rivers Tadi and Trishuli. It is a home of Jalpa Devi, Goddess Bhairabi’s sister. These two sisters meet only once a year during this festival. Devighat also has a special mention in the history of Nepal as King Prithivi Narayan Shah was cremated on the bank of Devighat. After reaching Devighat, the Bajracharya Guru performs esoteric tantric puja with sacrifice of a black uncastrated goat. The Dhami, by the power of the Goddesses, gets the insight to foresee the country’s future, which he secretly tells the State Representative who later on sends the message to the State Head. After the whole ritual finishes, at about mid-night the chariot is brought back to Nuwakot Durbar Square. However, the procession doesn’t go to the temple directly. They rest at Dharampani, a nearby place approximately 500m down from the Durbar Square.
Dhami, Dhamini and other attendants resting at Dharampani
After resting there for few hours, in the late afternoon the procession continues to the temple accompanied by State Army with great fanfare. A group of people also play traditional music. Once the procession reaches Bhairabi temple premises, Bajracharya Guru again initiates a puja and scatter Sindur (orange vermillion powder) followed by Dware. Other attendants also smear vermillion powder to each other, the ritual after which the festival is named. Then after, the procession moves to Taleju Temple where the whole attendants have feast. After the feast gets over, Dhami and Dhamini return back to their residence near Bhairabi Temple and keep a night vigil performing various rituals.
A Devotee Scattering Vermillion Powder
Day 03: Early morning, the overnight puja ritual concludes with a sacrificial ceremony. Two buffaloes and one uncastrated goat are sacrificed in the open altar, in which the Dhami sucks fresh blood and eats raw flesh of the sacrificed animals. The Dhami is believed to have possessed by Goddess Bhairabi during the ritual. This particular practice seems to be bit unusual in one regard as the tantric ritual that particularly relates to consuming blood and meat is distinctly private in nature. However, this one is done as a public performance. Viewer’s discretion is quite required here if one can’t stand the sight of blood and violent scenes as the sacrificial ritual is quite extreme one. Then after, the Bajracharya Guru wraps up the ritual indicating the end of the major part of the festival.
The Bajrachayra Guru during the sacrificial ritual
Day 04-10: During this time, the Gods and Goddesses in the chariot are restored in their own respective places in Bhairabi temple. Devotees and locals those who belong to Newar community have family feasts.
Day 11-12: In the final days, locals gather around Bhairabi Temple to lower down the wooden pole raised on the first day. The other one in the Budi Devisthan is left for the next day’s ritual. The second wooden pole is also pulled down following the same ritual as the previous day. Chhyama Puja, a ritual asking for forgiveness for any mistakes, is also performed in Bhairabi and Taleju temples. With this, the festival finally comes to an end.
This year also a team of 18 doctors, nurses and health assistants from International Medical Relief (IMR) conducted Medical Camp for 5 days in 4 different places in the rural vicinity of Kathmandu. The Camp was organised from 24th to 28th March. The first two days’ Camp was held in Nuwakot Health Post, Nuwakot, and the other three days’ Camp was held in Tarkeswor, Godawari and Farping. The Medical Camp, which was aimed at providing free medical facilities and medicines to the locals, benefited about 600 people.
Day 01/02: On 24th and 25th March, a team of 18 health practitioners conducted two days’ medical Camp in Nuwakot Health Post, Nuwakot, 75 km away from Kathmandu. The Camp which started at 12 o’clock on the first day and 1 o’ clock on the second day, was run till 5 o’ clock on both days. Services like general medical check-up (diabetes, blood pressure etc), eye check-up and dental facilities like teeth removal and fluoride treatment were provided to the villagers. The total number of 200 patients (110-first day, 90-second day) received the facilities during two days.
Day 03: The third day’s Camp was conducted in Children Herald School, Jaranku, Tarkeshwor (about 12 km away from Kathmandu City) on 26th March. The same team of 18 along with two Nepali dentists provided general health screening, eye check-up and dental treatment along with free medicines. Altogether 300 students and locals were benefited from the Camp.
Day 04: The forth day’s Camp took place in Godawari Health Post, Godawari (about 15 km away from Kathmandu City) on 27th March. A team of 3 IMR doctors and 2 Nepali dentists served 61 patients of Godawari area. The Camp was conducted from 9:30 to 3 in the afternoon. In this place also, the doctors provided general test, eye check-up and dental treatment. They also distributed free medicines. A total of 61 patients received the services.
Day 05: The last day of the Medical Camp was set up at a community building in Farping, (about 19 km away from Kathmandu) on 28th March. The same team of 3 IMR doctors and 2 Nepali dentists provided medical facilities to 40 patients. The Camp was run from 10 to 2 in the afternoon.
After the 5 days of busy schedule, the team had a sightseeing tour in Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudha and Pashupati on 29th March. During the visit, they had a wonderful opportunity to witness the architectural and cultural grandeur of Nepal. The visit served both as a new experience and a refreshing break from their hectic schedule. On 30th March, after a week’s stay in Nepal, the team departed from Kathmandu.