Travel Story 

Annapurna Circuit, Part 1

Getting out of Kathmandu

From the window of our Thai Air jet we could see the summit of Everest, and off to the left the towering range of peaks where we planned to spend the next month on a 330 km trek around the Annapurna Massif. The shear brute size of the Himalayas is intimidating but Betty and I were experienced mountain hikers and we plunged ahead with the confidence of the very naive. The mountains, it turned out, were the least of our challenges.

A perfunctory look at our passports and packs and we were waved out of the Customs building to where the baggage container from the jet was parked in a jumble of taxis and people scrambling to recover their bags. The overhead door on the container had a broken latch and refused to stay up so I held it for the sari-clad woman behind me – a big mistake. I had just assumed the role of the broken latch and the bin filled with people scrabbling for their bags like shoppers at a bargain counter.

While I was holding up the lid, Betty, perusing the adds on the airport bulletin board, discovered a hotel at a fraction the cost of the guesthouse recommended by our Canadian travel agent. What the heck, we were used to roughing it – second big mistake!

The taxi was unable to take us all the way. The street became too narrow for a car so Betty walked ahead to check out our room. I waited with our packs near the taxi and was trying to fend off a persistent street vender peddling dope in a filthy canvas bag when Betty returned. "No! I did not want to buy his pot. Yes! I was sure it was very strong, but No! we didn't want to try it."

Betty reported the place was a grub-heap and had no door – just a burlap curtain between bed and street.

The guesthouse recommended by our agent turned out to be a decent place – clean bed and dining room, and some of the staff spoke English. We spread out our gear and decided we were set to go. All we needed now was some Nepalese cash and a trekking permit.

After a fitful sleep punctuated by barking dogs and the screams of monkeys fighting outside our window, we headed downtown in search of a bank. Approaching Durbar Square we were surrounded by a group of small boys each promising "best rate" "best rate". I pointed to one and the others faded away without protest. Following our boy down a narrow alley, ducking under a low door and climbing a steep set of stone stairs we entered a bare windowless room. The money trader was seated on the only chair in front of a table piled high with bills, Nepalese at one end American at the other, a pad of paper and pocket calculator in the middle. Our transaction was conducted in perfect English.

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