Walking Weekend

I love walking weekends, more so taking groups of young people out walking and exploring new areas and accommodation sites, so decided a while ago to plan one to visit the plane crash site locations in The Black Mountains with a small group of Explorer Scouts from the unit I volunteer with.

I’d wanted to go visit these sites for a while, even more so when we found out that we’ve been to the area a couple of times and missed the site on Carregh Gogh!! how could that happen? Well, I guess our navigation isn’t that great! Haha. (Still haven’t been into the National Show Caves even though must have been on the site more than a dozen times with groups…)

Anyway, first thing first – accommodation. It’s nice to have indoor accommodation after a long day’s walking and we like to explore new places so I found 1st Brecon Scout Hut, situated next to the River Usk in Brecon was ideal for us and very reasonably priced.

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It is a great meeting place for any Scout group- with a 12m x 12m hall, well-equipped kitchen, an office, a small meeting room, toilets and hot showers (and a Geocache nearby), they are very fortunate to have this and they maintain it well. Not many Scout groups have a river literally a few hundred metres from their front door!


So the initial plan was to walk out and find three of the crash sites, depending on how the group felt during the day. We took 7 Explorer Scouts (our Scouting permit restricts to a group of 8 under a hill walking permit, so wished we could have taken more.)

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Checking routes the night before.

The proposed route: Tafarn-y-Garreg > Ty Henry > Allt Fach > Fan Hir > Cefn Rhudd > Fan Brycheiniog > Fan Foel > Gwely Ifan y Rhiw > Gwal y Cadno > Llyn y Fan Fawr  > Fan Fechan > Beacons Way > Ty Henry > Tafarn-y-Garreg.

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Heading towards Fan Hir

The first site we visited has the remains of a single seater De Havilland Vampire FB5 which, whilst on a general training flight, crashed at SN826201 on 9th October 1953 after mistakenly descending into the mountainside through thick cloud (the plane following lost sight of them but managed to pull up in time and avoid crashing). The pilot, P/Off Baldock, died at the scene.

 

You can see the remains from Google Maps – they have been arranged into a shape broadly resembling the Vampire’s original form. Of course, parts have been taken from the site but you can still see the jet engine when you arrive.

 

 

 

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Google Maps view

You can see the remains from Google Maps – they have been arranged into a shaped broadly resembling the Vampire’s original form. Of course, parts have been taken from the site but can still see the jet engine when you arrive.

It took a while to find this crash as the grid reference we were following from a booklet was off (plus the Explorers played on the boulders) but I think, when they reached the site they were in awe of the wreckage.

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Vampire parts

The next site we decided to find was sitting just off the escarpment of Fan Hir at SN855223. This one was a lot more tricky to find as there wasn’t much of the wreckage left. This was an Anson L9149 which crashed in thick cloud and rain, on the 17th January 1939 and sadly, the pilot, F/Off E.R.N Coombes didn’t survive but his civilian passengers did.

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Not much left of the wreckage of the Anson.

There are a few more within the National Park (17 in total) so we’re certainly going to plan out routes to find them on future hiking trips. More details of some of them can be found at this website, which I think it a good resource to use. We all decided not to find the last one we’d planned on that day but instead head for the trig point and the Lake at the bottom of the mountain.

Obligatory trig point photo. Fan Brycheiniog (the highest peak of the Black Mountain range). Amazing few. Summit wasn’t busy at all.

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Fan Brycheiniog trig point.
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Fantastic views of the ridge.
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Llyn y Fan Fawr

The drone came out again over Llyn y Fan Fawr (Welsh: [glacial] ‘lake of the big peak’) to capture some amazing views. Drone pilot still in training…


The evening started off with us trying to find a pizza place that was open (no Dominoes in Brecon! What?!) and the morning was spent packing and cleaning the Scout hall before we set out for the Ystrafellte waterfalls – these are a huge favourite of the Explorer Scouts as you get the explore behind them and wade through a lot of water to get there (if you want, you could just follow the path…). So we took them there as requested by them.

Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn waterfall in all its glory. Very popular with gorge walkers.

The most impressive waterfall is Sgwd-yr-Eira (translated from Welsh as ‘fall of snow‘). On one of my previous trips here I jumped through the waterfall into the plunge pool and swum to the rocks but it was too cold to do that today sadly.

I arrived at the waterfall from the original walking route; the Explorers like to cross at Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn waterfall (SN 923 106) over the top but it was just too fast flowing for them to do so (I always wait on the opposite side to help any down over the rocks) so they turned back, I walked on and found myself at Sgwd-yr-Eira (SN 928 099) with nobody else there! How rare an opportunity!?

Of course, people did arrive, but for a while I was able to stand under the waterfall without anyone else and listen to the roar of the water overhead. Bliss. (Bailey was a tad worried so kept running in and out from beneath the water, I don’t think he much liked the water and the noise it made).

After exploring the area it was a slow walk back (up the 170 steps!) to the minibus and the journey back home to Swindon. I have vowed to go and find some more of the crash sites when time allows! A good weekend out with some great memories made.

I wonder what I am saying to others in this video captured by the drone?

– Just Joanne

Annapurna reflection.

Nepal had been a destination that I had wished to travel and trek in for years. I’ve had a fascination of Annapurna since I was at Plas-y-Brenin for Mountain Leader Training and Alan Hinkes was sat at our table whilst we ate dinner and mentioned his climbs to our group whilst eating his custard… (true story!)
He was giving a talk that night about his book and experience of climbing all 14 of the peaks over 8000m, the world’s highest mountains, and mentioned about Annapurna having a 50:50 survival rate (at least in 2002 it might have, currently the fatality-to-summit ratio is 32% making it the highest of any of the eight-thousanders). It is one of the deadliest mountains in the world because of the avalanches it experiences and the huge seracs (ice cliffs) which break off so many attempt it via it’s North face and not South.

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So yes, a fascination was planted and I suddenly wanted to see this ‘deadliest mountain’, this “Goddess of the Harvest” (Annapurna is a Sanskrit name that literally means “(She who is) Replete with food”) and wasn’t satisfied with Google images. So fast forward to my impulsiveness and booking tickets for The Adventure Show in London to go and see what was on offer so we can see this mountain.
Terry and I browsed and spoke to companies who would offer this trek at the show and settled on Exodus. Not only are they highly recommended, the Guardian’s best tour operator but they seemed to know the country very well and we wanted to go with a company rather than attempt anything ourselves just yet.

EXODUS-Logo-Horizontal-CMYK-global-adventures-since-1974-cs-01-CROP(We had issues with a flight in Delhi and Exodus sent us a nice letter and ‘gesture of goodwill’ vouchers for the inconvenience we experienced – fab!)

So we decided on something more adventurous; both of us have had many many days in the UK mountains in our time and enjoy walking. We didn’t want to go up and down a mountain (least I didn’t) but to go on a trek where we’d be immersed in the culture. Our timing was such that it needed to be during a school holiday (although not during the summer school holiday when the monsoons are in Nepal) and at the time I was fortunate enough to work part-time at my school based job – I approached the headteacher with an offer of working during the GCSE period for having an extra couple of days off over the Christmas period and she agreed. It was fated!

So, two years prior we paid a deposit and the trek was confirmed. The rest… well, that can be read about in this blog, day by day…

Now I’ve had time to reflect I ask myself, would I do it again?

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I look back at the photos and marvel at the views we had. How gargantuan the mountains we passed were, how cold it was, how long we trekked for and how much we thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, there were times of struggle (bad stomach, headaches) but that’s a given on any trek – you’ll have both good and bad days – you just got to keep walking…

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If you’re considering trekking the Annapurna Circuit I would highly recommend it. We went during December to avoid the crowds (we didn’t see any other trekkers on many days) and view the blue azure skies – yes it is cold, but you can layer up. We had glorious sunshine, no rain and very very few clouds during our trek so took some great photos and had great clear views.

Nepal is one of the most tourist-friendly countries and Annapurna Circuit is one of the most well-developed and popular treks. You’ll pass through a village approximately ever 2-3km where locals will help you if you need it so there’s no worry there but I would highly recommend a guide (and porter) as they’ll be able to tell you about the country and the sights you’ll see (ensure though that they’ll be taking you as much off the road as possible). Also, by hiring a guide and porter you’ll be providing them with a much-needed wage and they can liaise with other Nepalese for you.

We had special permits to trek in this area: a TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card and a trekking permit (for Annapurna area – ACAP – Annapurna Conservation Area Permit). During the trek, there was checkpoints in several villages (at least one checkpoint almost every day) of which our guides had to get our permits stamped.

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There were no worries about miscommunication (though I had a bottle = butter moment!) as many of the Nepalese speak good English. Shops are stocked well (check sell-by dates!) and have items you probably will need (Bounty, Mars and Snicker bars…). The food is good and nutritious and tea (and coffee) aplenty!
Toilets aren’t all squat toilets (although putting used toilet paper in the bin provided takes some getting used too) and cold showers are generally available at all lodges with many having solar showers.
Overall, you’ll be comforted to know that the Nepalese provide good basic accommodation, food and items all over this trek.

What’s the best advice I can give for this trek?
Take a buff/face cover as there was a lot of dust from the road which caused a lot of coughing. Jelly babies are a good pick me up. Photos/items from home are good to show others about your country and culture. Take clothes you’re willing to donate to the porters at the end of the trek and extra money to treat them to dinner.

Treat your porters well.

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***

So that’s it. I’m left with this experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, found very memorable and have left me a with a longing to return to Nepal. I can’t articulate just how much of an impact it has had on me but I can tell you it has planted a seed for another adventure overseas.

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What’s next? I’m looking at another long trek in Nepal and have made enquiries – I will try to fit it in, hopefully in 2019! For now, I have two big upcoming ‘adventures’ I will need to concentrate on this year… but that’s for another blog post…

Just Joanne.

Annapurna Circuit: Kathmandu.

3rd-5th January 2018.

The flight into Kathmandu from Pokhara was great. Not only was the plane the smallest we’ve been on but it was a pleasant flight with great views of some mountains.
The video shows the landing into Kathmandu.

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Back to Royal Singh Hotel, which we started our trip with on the first night. Very plush.

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Terry and I decided to venture out and look at the popular ‘Monkey Temple’ in Kathmandu (more commonly known as Swayambhunath meaning ‘Sublime Trees’ because of all the different trees in its location).

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Each morning before dawn hundreds of Buddhist (Vajrayana) and Hindu pilgrims ascend the 365 steps from the eastern side that lead up the hill, passing the gilded Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje) and two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa.

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The monkeys were a delight to watch. They moved quickly around the place and were constantly eating whatever they could find. We didn’t see many due to the heat of the day and speaking to local shop owners they mentioned that there is up to a 1000 within the trees around the Stupa where they dwell.

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Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple. They are holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the stupa stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.

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The stupa has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, the number one (in Devanagari script) is painted in the fashion of a nose. It is one of the most photographed stupa in all of Nepal apparently.

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Walking up the long stairway with 365 steps you are lead directly to the main platform of the temple, which is from the top of the hill to the East, from here you get a good view over Kathmandu and notice just how big it is.

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All around the area there are various shops and stalls to purchase items from. The sellers here negotiate very well and are reluctant to reduce their process by a lot.

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After leaving the stupa we decided we had to spend some time in Thamel, a commercial neighbourhood that has lots of hostels, shops, markets, restaurants, coffee houses and souvenirs shops selling an assortment of goods – yak scarfs (mufflers), t-shirts, fake outdoor equipment, singing bowls, hippie clothing, food, jewellery… there’s lots to find.

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Can you spot the real North Face product from the fake North Face?

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I purchased this Nepalese board game called Bagh Chal (meaning: Tiger Moving Game or Tiger Move). The game is asymmetric in that one player controls four tigers and the other player controls up to twenty goats. The tigers ‘hunt’ the goats while the goats attempt to block the tigers’ movements. It’s fun to play.

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Whilst shopping, we came across several stores dedicated to selling products made by women as part of a development scheme that aims to empower economically disadvantaged, disabled, abused, widowed, divorced, single and outcast women of rural Nepal by getting them involved in creative projects that teaches them skills they can utilise to help them become independent.
One such organisation is: Women’s Skills Development Organisation

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You’ll notice very quickly that Nepal likes their tea (we had one every morning as a wake up call, for tea break, for lunch, when we got to the guest houses and with dinner…) and they like their flavours – black, milky, lemon, ginger, masala, rhododendron, green tea, chia, mint… just to name a few.
Of course, it would have been rude to go to this lovely country, sample many of their different teas and not come home without any….

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Getting to and from Thamel required a few road crossings – the roads here are ‘organised chaos’! Lots of motorbikes, taxis and tourist MPVs dominate the road.

If you want to cross then the logical sense would be to find a ‘zebra’ crossing and walk over it – in theory the traffic stops for your crossing, not so in Kathmandu. You just need to wait for a lull in traffic then walk out hoping the vehicles will slow down and let you pass – we learnt to let a Nepalese person doing the crossing for us (they just step out with their right hand up) and walk beside/behind them.
A video to show what crossing is like:

After surviving several crossings we decided our final dinner was at a well-known restaurant called Rum Doodle. The restaurant is named after the world’s highest mountain, the 40,000½ft Mt Rum Doodle (as depicted by WE Bowman, author of The Ascent of Rum Doodle, a spoof of serious mountaineering books). We had the ‘Pong’s Revenge’, a bacon cheeseburger with egg, with chips which was delicious (still not as good as our yak burger in YacDonalds in Kagbeni – don’t think anything will be able to beat that burger)

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From the ceiling features numerous ‘feet’, all signed by members of treks – most notably treks to Everest and Everest Base Camp. There were literally hundreds hanging from the ceiling with the more famous signatures in frames on the wall.

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Apa Sherpa’s signature. 16 summits in 2007, 21 summits in 2017 (last summit in 201, he retired after a promise to his wife to stop climbing after 21 ascents). What an achievement.

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Sir Chris Bonington’s signature from his successful 1985 Mount Everest climbing year. There were other signatures from Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, Ang Rita Sherpa and Rob Hall.
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The staff were kind enough to give us our own ‘foot’ to decorate.

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So we added names of our group and location information. It would be great to visit again in a few years time to try and find our foot amongst the rest.

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After this meal we retired back to our hotel. Our flight was early in the morning so we went straight to bed. It’s been less than a week now since we’ve been back and it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

Just Joanne

Annapurna Circuit: Street Dogs

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Nepal has an interesting view to animals, especially dogs. The city of Kathmandu, Nepal is home to more than 22,500 street dogs. The Kathmandu city government used to poison more than 10,000 street dogs each year with strychnine, in an attempt to control the street dog population but now the government no longer poisons stray dogs in the areas where KAT (Kathmandu Animal Treatment) works. Now, intervention programs, such as Animal Birth Control and rescue programmes, have an impact on these numbers and helps keep the street dog population at a manageable level.
Outside of Kathmandu it is estimated there is near 500,000 street dogs all over Nepal. In villages, they guard tea houses and livestock.
Nepal is one of the few Asian countries without proper animal welfare legislation.

Puppies are commonly seen, this puppy (and the one in the featured image) was at the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. Their cute appearance was attracting them a lot of attention and food; mum was close by.

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Street dogs in Nepal don’t get the same grooming treatment that western dogs do, so it was common to see dogs with ‘dreads’ in their hair. In some cases they were all over the fur.

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Street dogs would lie down where ever they wanted. They’d usually be up all night and slept heavily during the day- we saw them in doorways, alleyways and even lying down in the road – the Nepalese just walk/drive around them.

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In a busy bus station this dog was sleeping peacefully considering the movement of buses and people around him/her.

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Many medical issues a dog might have will often go undiagnosed and treated as treatment can be expensive, so charities are vital to help them. This dog had a ‘head tilt’ and was fearful near humans.

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Some street dogs have scars from the fights they’ve been involved with…

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Territory for some is important, especially in towns where competition for food and mating is high due to a high dog population.

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Street dogs come in all different shape and sizes yet all we met had lovely temperaments.

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Several nights on the trek we heard dogs barking in the night alerting others to their presence.

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We’d heard stories of dogs biting humans and catching rabies – every year about 200 people a year die from catching rabies through dog bites and it is reported 16,000 people are bitten by dogs each year – but all the dogs we encountered were friendly and had no fear of humans.

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This dog was my favourite. A young male, just coming out of his puppy years, followed us at the last guest house. I let him into the dining room and he stayed all night. In the morning I found him sleeping outside our rooms.
I wish I could have taken him home. I hope he leads a good life.

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Dogs are honoured at a festival each year: Tihar is a five-day-long Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal and on the second day (called Kukur Tihar), people offer garlands, tika and delicious food to dogs and acknowledge the cherished relationship between humans and dogs.
Dogs occupy a special place in Hindu mythology, watching over the gates of Naraka, the Hindu concept of Hell.
But, it shouldn’t be once a year when these animals are honoured and thanked – it should be continual everyday – “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ― Josh Billings

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As mentioned, there are various charities and programmes to help these wonderful creatures. They accept donations, adoptions, sponsorship and volunteering to help street dogs. A couple of charities are:
KAT Centre | Humane Treatment for Stray Dogs in Kathmandu, Nepal
Street Dog Care
Snehas Care

Please, consider sending a donation to a Nepalese street dog charity, lets help these wonderful animals.

Just Joanne.

Annapurna Circuit: Day 18 – Birethanthi to Naya Pul to Pokhara.

Sunday 31st December 2017.

We had a nice leisurely walk to Naya Pul, where we waited and picked up our bus.

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Naya Pul was an interesting place, full of shops and lively bazaar town.

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We said goodbye to our porters who’d carried our bags around the trek and both the Lapkas (guides) for being so kind and helpful. They were all fantastic especially the porters who, whilst carrying 24kg loads each, managed to arrive at our final destinations on most days by the time we were eating lunch! Amazing.

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Goats tied to the top of buses and trucks were seen a fair bit on our travels…

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Our bus journey wasn’t very long, about an hour and a half (much shorter than expected) and we arrived in Pokhara around lunch time. Pokhara is the largest town in terms of space, but is the second largest in terms of population. It is a popular tourist destination because of the activities you can do – paragliding, kayaking, bike riding etc around the lakes and the small shops, non-star tourist hotels, restaurants and bars you can visit. I loved it here straight away.

Our hotel was very glam and clean. Situated next to Phewa lake and a short walk to the main hub of the town we liked this hotel – just what you needed after 18 days of trekking.

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We got a double bed room again!

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The view from our balcony over the lake was gorgeous!

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So, we walked along the lake side, past the numerous cafes and restaurants…

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Pokhara was having a street fair to celebrate the New Year. I didn’t take many pictures but I did so a lot of shopping!

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New Year’s Eve festivities Pokhara, Nepal style. It’s crazy. So many people on the streets, loud music, food, dancing – all happening at once! I took a very short clip of the madness.

New Year was celebrated with Terry. Fireworks were going off over the lake. We didn’t make any resolutions for the next year other than to have another New Year’s night someone where that’s interesting and different; this one certainly was!

Flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu the following morning:

Annapurna Circuit: Kathmandu.

Just Joanne.