ORIGIN OF INVITATION
The UIAA General Assembly 2011 was held between 4 – 8 October in Kathmandu, with the Nepalese Mountaineering Association (NMA) as host. As is customary at these annual meetings, various outings and climbs were arranged by the host club for delegates and their partners during and after the meeting.
President Dave Jones was privileged to attend the General Assembly as the MCSA delegate, together with his wife Fay who paid her own way. They decided to take up one of the options on offer by the NMA, a ten day Trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary followed by three days in the Chitwan National Park, and to issue an open invitation to MCSA members for a party limited to 10 persons on a first-come basis.
There was a good response, with many serious inquiries, so the maximum party size which proved ideal, was soon reached. The final party for the Trek was made up of 9 MCSA members, drawn from all over the country, with two guests who were the regular hiking partners of two of the members. The age spread was from 40 years (Chris Leggatt of the South Cape who gave himself the trip as his 40th birthday present) to 71 years (Dave Jones).
The 11 members of the party, and their Sections, are as follows:
- Dave Jones – S. Cape Section
- Fay Jones – S. Cape Section
- Chris Leggatt – S. Cape Section
- Liz Bazin – Guest and partner to Chris
- Eric Hosten – S. Cape & E.P Sections
- Isolda Williams – E.P. Section
- Norman Owen-Smith – Johannesburg Section
- Margie (Norman’s wife) – Johannesburg Section
- Ingrid Swart – Kwazulu-Natal Section
- Cherry Deutschlander – Hottentots Holland Section
- Johan Smorenburg – Guest and partner to Cherry
Although this was a standard trek, contracted out by the NMA to a trekking firm called Khumbi-Ila Mountaineering and Trekking (Pty) Ltd, it does seem that our party were given V.I.P. treatment. The cost to the members of the party worked out at around R 500 per day for 14 days, but included the services of an experienced Sirdar, three Sherpas (guides), five Porters and covered all transport, trekking fees and park entries, plus three meals a day, lodge and hotel accommodation and all excursions in the Chitwan National Park. It would be difficult to offer anything like this in South Africa at nearly as favourable a cost.
The Annapurna Sanctuary and Chitwan was chosen from among the options on offer because it fitted neatly into a two week period, went to an area that Dave and Fay had not yet visited in Nepal and was not too strenuous. Transport from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where the trek started, was by bus because all of the trekking staff travelled with the party, but the journey from Pokhara to Chitwan and back to Kathmandu was by comfortable mini-bus. The only additional expense party members had to meet were for souvenirs, for liquid refreshments and for a voluntary gratuity at the end of the trek for the Sirdar and his staff.
Time before the trek was spent in Kathmandu and in the Kathmandu Valley by members of the party who managed to arrive early and also for two days after the trek ended. Very cost effective local excursions were arranged by those who requested them by the same trekking company. A very good rate was negotiated by a member of the party who often visits Nepal, at the Holy Himalaya Hotel in Kathmandu.
THE TREKKING INDUSTRY IN NEPAL
After a sticky period of insurrection in parts of Nepal occupied by Maoists and the demise, literally, of the Nepalese Royal Family, peace has returned to Nepal and its Climbing and Trekking Industry is firmly back on its feet. Political unrest with occasional demonstrations is now confined to infighting in the new parliament where the Maoists have a small majority but can only govern by means of fluid alliances. Petty crime seems to have disappeared, tourists are treated as valuable assets and violent crime is nowhere evident. This all came as a pleasant surprise, especially to those members of the MCSA Trek who live in our cities. Cost of accommodation and food is very reasonable with a good restaurant meal is available, even in the main tourist areas, for as little as R 20 a head. Although this cost will immediately double if beer or wine is ordered. The exchange rate between the Rand and the Nepalese Rupee is an easy to work out, 10 Rupees to the Rand and money changers are everywhere happy to receive American Dollars or else Euros. ATM’s can also now be found in Kathmandu but become pretty rare outside this main centre.
Statistics released by the NMA at the General Assembly reveal that the Trekking Industry is again growing rapidly. The MCSA party found the popular Annapurna region to be in heavy use by tourists with reports that the Everest region is even busier. But the Nepalese have responded to this growth by building more and more lodges and tea houses. What has fallen off are applications for climbing permits, especially of the expensive major peaks (Nepal has 9 or the world’s 14, 8000m peaks), but this could be in response to the world credit crunch. To compensate for this drop, there has been a marked increase in the number of so called Trekking Peaks for which more cost-effective and less complicated permits are now issued by the NMA rather than by the government. So this is a good time for modest climbers to bag their 6000m to 7000m peaks with good logistic support from ordinary trekking companies. For Trekkers too there are new trekking routes which have been opened up, some of a very challenging nature.
THE ANNAPURNA SANCTUARY
The Annapurna Sanctuary is a good way to start trekking in Nepal as it is relatively easy, getting to a maximum altitude of only 4200m at the South Annapurna Base Camp. The more strenuous Annapurna Circuit crosses a pass 5500m high and normally needs three weeks to complete. The scenery, especially as one approaches closer to Annapurna South (7219m) and the Fish Tail peak of Machapuchre (6997m) is spectacular. The Annapurna I ( 8091m) South Face and the South Annapurna Glacier which one views from the South Annapurna Base Camp, can only be described as overwhelming.
As long as you have a trekking permit, usually issued in Kathmandu, you do not have to hire either guides or porters, but in the busy trekking season in particular this is advised. A good Sirdar will find accommodation that will not easily be located the individual trekker. At the higher altitude lodges, advance bookings can be made but these are treated as flexible by the lodge keepers who still tend to work on a first-come basis. For our trek, the Sirdar sent a guide ahead early in the day to physically stand guard over accommodation that had been booked in these higher altitude lodges.
Although popular trek routes like that to the Annapurna Sanctuary are now getting pretty crowded, parties stretch out along the trail, each going at its own pace. So it is really only at the over-night stops that crowding becomes evident.
Our party, benefiting from the expertise and experience of our Sirdar and his Guides, experienced little trouble with getting fit and in coping with altitude, although two party members were advised not to go higher than our 3000m. This was because they would have had difficulty in keeping up with the rest of the party. Individual arrangements were made by our Sirdar to accommodate these two members, with both a guide and a porter allocated to them until the party could combine again.
THE CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
The Nepalese are very proud of their Chitwan National Park as it still has wild elephants, tigers and a viable herd of the eastern breed of rhinoceros, as well as other game. For South Africans used to the proliferation of game in our reserves, it is all a bit tame but nevertheless interesting.
Riding down a river in a dug out canoe and observing a rhino actually being harassed by game guards armed with noting more than bamboo poles was an experience. Also interesting and enjoyable was a guided walking tour through a tiger-haunted jungle, helping to wash elephants in the river and taking an elephant-back ride to observe the rather tame local deer. But for a typical MCSA member, climbing or trekking in the highest mountain range in the world, as we did before visiting Chitwan, or else white water rafting down spectacular glacier-fed streams, will probably feel like better value.