Wednesday, 26 December 1979

NEPAL 1979/80: Jomson & Hanga Than

7 December 1979.  I was up at dawn and across the road to the airport where the airline office opened at 07:00.  I asked what chance there was of getting on a flight to Jomson that day.  I reckoned that I could wait for a day or possibly two for a flight but any longer and I’d be better off walking to Ghoropani, the main area that I wanted to revisit, which I could do in three days but wouldn’t then get to Jomson.  I was told to wait a few minutes but almost immediately the official returned and said they had a space on the next flight at 07:30.  Excellent, difficult decision averted, although it gave me no time for any shopping and trekking with one pair of socks wouldn’t be ideal.  The flight left on time and at 08:00 was descending into Jomson and a much snowier surround than when I’d left less than three weeks ago.  It was also a lot colder, feeling more so having come up from the heat of the terai.  I dumped my bag in the Nilgiri Lodge, that I’d previously frequented, failed to find a shop selling socks, although did buy some yak cheese and star bars.  At 08:30 set off to Kagbeni.  This time I kept to the west of the river at the start, a much flatter route, crossing back on a flimsy wooden plank bridge.  I birded the fields at Kagbeni before returning to Jomson and the fields there.  Young children with catapults were evident at Jomson chasing the birds which were noticeably shyer than at Kagbeni.  I was driven in at 16:30 by a strengthening wind making birding, and hopefully catapulting, very difficult.  Birds seen included 7 Wallcreepers, 10 Snow Pigeons, 40 Brown and 35 Robin Accentors, 2 Guldenstadt’s and 3 White-throated Redstarts, 10 Stoliczka’s Tit-Warblers and a female bunting that might have been a Yellowhammer (Nick Preston and Dave Mills seeing the first Yellowhammer for Nepal the following winter).  Wallcreeper memories included the first seen briefly on a gompa in Jomson before flying off, the second and third gave excellent views on the river plain on the way to Kagbeni with the fourth flying over while I was watching the third, which then flew across the river.  I flushed the fifth from a low cliff above the river and it flew and perched on a rock 10m away while the 6th (and best of the day) gave crippling views on the side of walls and the crumbly cliff around Kagbeni fields and was heard singing quietly.  I even took a photo in flight – oh to have brought a decent lens.  The final Wallcreeper was seen on my return to Jomson, flushed from one side of the river to the other.
looking down on Jomson and the fields
8 December 1979.  A lazy day walking from Jomson to Kalopani, leaving at 08:00 and stopping at 16:00.  Despite that I saw 2 Lammergeyers, 10 Snow Pigeons, 40 Brown Accentors, Blue-headed, Hodgson’s, 2 White-throated and 2 Guldenstadt’s Redstarts and 3 Black-faced Laughingthrushes.  Best of all were 5 Wallcreepers, the first gave excellent views by the path, the second flushed from a low cliff, flew over my head twice and across the river while the third flew from across the river onto the cliff above me where I watched it for 10 minutes before it disappeared from view.  The fourth Wallcreeper was on the path ahead of me where I watched it for a while before it flew off.  It had a few remnant traces of black summer plumage on its otherwise white throat – something all the others I’d seen well had lacked.  I picked up the final Wallcreeper from its shadow as it flew across the river and out of sight.  I’ve enjoyed my return to Jomson but as yet hadn’t seen anything different as a result.  Even the first part of December seems too early.
looking south on the way to Marpha
9 December 1979.  I was out at 07:15 and spent much of the morning birding around Kalopani and Lete before walking more purposefully as the trail followed the Kali Gandaki River as it descended to Tatopani.  Wallcreeper was again the day’s highlight, just one today although it was on a stione wall by a stream and disappeared into a crack.  I got a bit closer and it emerged just 3 feet from me and flew onto a low cliff where I got amazing views and could even see its nostrils!  A species I’ll never tire of.  Three Russet Sparrows and later a Grey-backed Shrike were a welcome new birds and I also saw a female Red-flanked Bluetail, 5 Grey-headed Warblers, 12 White-browed Fulvettas, 8 Red-headed Laughingthrushes, 8 Beautiful Rosefinches and 25 Rock Buntings.  From Tatopani the only way for me was up so I had a good meal and early night in preparation for the hard day ahead, although not before finding a shop that sold me a spare pair of socks.  They were made in Hungary and lasted me for several years.
Nilgiri from Lete
looking back at the bridge over the Lete  Khola
10 December 1979.  I left Tatopani as it was getting light at 06:25 and soon crossed the Kali Gandaki on the suspension bridge.  From there it was a 10 mile and 5000 foot climb up to Ghoropani.  I took it slowly, stopping to watch birds (and rest) when the opportunity arose and arrived at Ghoropani at 14:00 very pleased to be able to put my bag down in Poon Hill Lodge and drink a couple of ‘Hot Lemons’.  I then birded around the clearing until the light started to go at 17:15.  Despite concentrating on walking for much of the day I’d seen 56 species and another two new birds, Darjeeling Pied Woodpecker and Aberrant Bush Warbler.  I also saw 2 Lammergeyers right over my head, a male Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, 20 Himalayan Accentors, a superb male Red-flanked Bluetail, 16 Blue-fronted Redstarts, 2 White-collared Blackbirds and 25+ Black-throated Thrushes.  Another Wallcreeper was briefly seen on rocks on a grassy slope before it flew off.  It was sadly to be the last of 30 I saw on the trip.
11 December 1979.  In November I’d not spent as long at Ghoropani as I’d wanted to as I’d felt that I was too early in the winter for some of the birds to be in and hoped that I could squeeze in a return visit.  Now I was back and anxious to put my theory to the test as although I’d enjoyed the walk down from Jomson, I’d yet to see the birds to justify my return.  I was in the field at Ghoropani and along the Ghandrung Ridge to the point where it starts to drop away from 06:45-17:00.  It was definitely more wintery with more birds around.  A flock of thrushes feeding in trees near the clearing comprised about 40 Black-throated, 5 White-collared Blackbirds and a male Chestnut (the latter new for me).  Other new birds were a male Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, a female White-browed Rosefinch and best of all 6 Allied Grosbeaks.  I also saw White-throated, Blue-headed and 2 Blue-fronted Redstarts, 6 Spotted and 6 Black-faced Laughingthrushes, a Gold-billed Blue Magpie, 2 Nutcrackers, 9 Red-headed Bullfinches and 14 Beautiful and 6 Dark-breasted Rosefinches.  A good day.
12 December 1979.  Another day around Ghoropani and along the Ghandrung Ridge.  I was out as it was getting light at 06:45.  I found a pair of Rufous-breasted Bush Robins at the edge of the clearing and then flushed two Koklas Pheasants from along the Ghandrung Ridge.  At the end of the ridge, where it starts to drop away, I decided to go on a short distance and after only a few minutes noticed a movement on the slope below me.  I carefully raised my binoculars in a state of panic as the bird appeared bright crimson and after what seemed an age was looking at a male Satyr Traqopan little more than 30m away.  It gave superb views as it slowly walked away down the slope.  Seeing this brilliant bird fully justified my returning to Ghoropani and I went back along the ridge in worsening weather with a definite spring in my step.  but a combination of low cloud, hail and snow curtailed my birding at 15:00 by which time I’d not seen a single bird for over an hour. Other birds seen included Rufous-bellied and Darjeeling Pied Woodpeckers, Alpine Accentor. 2 Red-flanked Bluetails, 2 White-collared Blackbirds, White-crested and 3 Black-faced Laughingthrushes, a male Fire-tailed Sunbird and a Red-headed Bullfinch.
Ghandrung Ridge in the snow
13 December 1979.  I was up and out to go to the toilet at 05:30.  It was very cold and clear and I saw 3 shooting stars and heard a Brown Wood Owl but again regretted not having a torch.  I stayed out until 07:20 before returning for breakfast.  Despite two excellent days at Ghoropani I decided to continue and left Poon Hill Lodge at 07:50.  The forest below Ghoropani was excellent and seeing Long-tailed and 4 Plain-backed Mountain Thrushes delayed me somewhat.  Once out of the forest I picked up speed and kept walking down through Ulleri to Hille.  The ‘Stairway to Hell’ wasn’t much easier going down with mule-trains no more aware of the width of their loads than when I’d ascended a month earlier.  It was then a more gradual decline to Birethanti, across the river and a steep climb to Chandrakot.  It had been my target destination for the day but I arrived in good time and decided to press on, finally reaching Naudanda at 17:00 with the light starting to go.  A satisfying day, I’d recorded 67 species and I was now in easy reach of the main road at Pokhara.  Birds seen along my route included 17 Himalayan Griffons at a carcass, a Speckled Piculet, a pair of Grey-headed Woodpeckers (new for me), 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, 16 Plumbeous Redstarts, 5 Black-faced Warblers (very smart and also new), male Small Nuiltava, a Hoary Barwing and a female Maroon Oriole.
Fishtail view from near Naudanda
14 December 1979.  I left Naudanda at 06:55 and walked fairly steadily to Pokhara arriving at 11:15.  I’d missed the buses to Kathmandu that day so I booked one for the following morning, found a hotel and had a meal.  Highlight of the day was a large mixed bird flock below Naudanda which included 50 Pallas’s and an Ashy -throated Leaf Warbler, 5 Golden-spectacled and 10 Grey-hooded Warblers, male Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail, 7 Blue-winged Minlas, 2 Great and 8 Yellow-cheeked Tits, 2 Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo which seemed to be leader of the pack.  I also saw 11 Egyptian Vultures, 2 Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babblers, 2 Black-eared Shrike-Babblers (a very smart new bird), 2 Chestnut-crowned Warblers (also very smart), 30 Rosy Pipits (also new).
view of terraced hillsides near Naudanda 
distant view of Pokara Lake from Naudanda
pony train on the approach to Pokhara
 
15 December 1979.  I caught the bus to Kathmandu at 06:15 and arrived at 13:45.  I felt I’d been away from Kathmandu for longer than just over two weeks and spent the afternoon over-eating in Stylist Pie Shop (Lemon meringue, Apple crumble, Lemon meringue, Apple crumble).  No wonder I then felt pretty rough!.  Birds seen from the bus included 6 Egyptian Vultures, 3 River Chats and 2 Crested Buntings.  I had just over three weeks before I flew home from Delhi
 
16 December 1979.  A day in Kathmandu preparing for the final stages of my trip.  I booked a bus to Kosi for the following morning, booked a flight to Delhi for the evening of 2 January, bought some supplies for East Nepal and changed some money at the one bank I had found that accepted my Lloyds Bank travellers cheques.  I tried not to overdo the pies again but was only partly successful!
17 December 1979.  I was up at 04:15 to catch the 05:00 express to Kaknvitta having been assured it would drop me off at Kosi Barrage.  It was a slow journey over the foothills and down to the Terai ( the same route I’d followed going to Hetauda) but from there the bus rattled along a very flat reasonable road, interspersed by diversions around washed out bridges.  Some of the Chinese built bridges still stood but the Nepali constructed approached had gone.  Even so we made good progress.  A selection of larger birds were seen from the bus including a Black-necked Stork (new for me) and 6 each of Black Ibis and Asian Open-billed, Woolly-necked and Lesser Adjutant Storks.  I arrived at Kosi at 16:30 and birded in the vicinity of the Pink Tower until it got dark at 17:15.  It didn’t look as if it would rain so I decided to sleep on the roof of the tower and ate some of my supplies.  The village of Kosi was a little way away but I couldn’t be bothered to go there to look for food or accommodation.  At Kosi I saw another Black-necked, 4 Asian Open-billed, 8 Woolly-necked and 7 Lesser Adjutant Storks, 102 Spoonbills, a Bronze-winged Jacana, 3 Pied Kingfishers and 2 Dusky Warblers.
 
18 December 1979.  All day at Kosi Barrage, I was in the field from 06:15-17:15, mostly in sight of the Pink Tower where I’d left my bag although often too far away to do anything should anyone have chosen to run off with it.  It was a bit of a risk but it was too hot to carry it all the time.  I saw nearly 100 species and used up over 7 pages of my notebook listing them all and adding in some field notes for the more interesting ones.  Best were 34 Great Stone Plovers seen on the river bank which I eventually had superb views of by getting onto the sand bar most were on and slowly creeping up on them.  Another instance when I regretted not having a telephoto lens.  A mass of duck included 75 Ruddy Shelduck, 200 Gadwall, 2500 Pintail, 4 Red-crested Pochard and 4 Ferruginous Duck.  Wintering passerines were well represented with 10+ Bluethroats, 2 Paddyfield and 4 Blyth’s Reed Warblers (both new), 30 Dusky, 2 Smokey, 6 Tickell’s Wablers and 50+ Yellow-breasted Buntings.  I also saw 3 Painted Storks (also new), 285 Spoonbills, a male Pied Harrier, 8 Great Black-headed Gulls and 2 Avadavats.  I’d got some bananas from the village and returned to the Pink Tower for another night.  It was incredibly clear and I lay on as much as in my sleeping bag gazing at the sky which was phenomenal.  I noted 3 shooting stars, 3 pulsating stars that moved 1 degree every 1-5 seconds and ‘millions’ of other stars before falling asleep.
Kosi Barrage
the pink tower, I happily slept on the roof
Sandbar at Kosi, the two paler spota middle distance, 1/3rd in from the river on the right bank are Great Stone Plovers
19 December 1979.  I was up and birding as it got light at 06:15 again birding around the Pink Tower and Barrage seeing similar birds to yesterday but including two new birds, White-tailed Eagle and Chestnut-eared Bunting.  Other highlights were 23 Great Stone Plovers (not such good views as I didn’t go back onto their sandbar), 7 Citrine Wagtails, 5 Bluethroats, a Paddyfield and 2 Blyth’s Reed Warblers and 100 Yellow-breasted Buntings.  At 14:00, conscious that my time in Nepal was winding down, I decided to leave Kosi.  After an hour waiting by the road I flagged down a bus going to Kaknvita where I arrived at 18:45.  It was hot, noisy and very busy and with no prospect of moving on at that time of night I found cheap lodgings and some food.
 
20 December 1979.  Not a great day, I caught a bus to Birtamore at 06:00.  From there I took another bus up to Ilam where I arrived at 14:00.  It was too late to set off to Hanga Than so I found somewhere in town to say.  Not knowing what food would be available at Hanga Than I stocked up with biscuits but couldn’t find anywhere selling Nabico Glucose, my favourite.  I found what looked like a reasonable substitute and bought a shrink-wrapped pack of 12 packets and a few other odds and ends.  My presence attracted the attention of a local policeman who insisted on taking details of my passport.  Understandably he didn’t speak any English and was clearly not used to such documents and recorded me as Brown Brown not realising it related to my hair (actually almost black) and eye colour.  The buses were not conducive to birding and I noted just 11 species of which 3 Lesser Adjutants were the most notable.
 
21 December 1979.  A late start from Ilam as I met Mark Chapman and Ray O’Rielly in town as I was setting out and spent the best part of two hours chatting and exchanging information.  They had had a good time at Hanga Than which filled me with hope.  They had generally seem similar things to me elsewhere and although they’d been in Nepal for two weeks less I didn’t feel that I was letting the side down too much.  It was a shame that I’d not seen them the previous evening when they, Rod Martins and Craig Robson had got in from Hanga Than.  It would have been good to have had a much longer chat – the first birders I’d seen in 6 weeks.  They were on a much more adventurous trip than I was, heading ultimately for Japan which made me rather envious.  I reluctantly said goodbye and set off for Hanga Than at about 08:30.  It was mainly through agricultural areas and involved dropping down to and crossing a river before climbing up the other side.  I saw a few birds on the walk, most notable were 12 Rufous Turtle Doves, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a superb Orange-barred Leaf Warbler and a Red-tailed Minla behaving like a nuthatch.  I tried some of my biscuits and wished I had done so before buying 12 packets as they tasted awful, probably stored next to parafin, and soft too.  I got to Hanga Than, just below the remaining forest, at 16:45 just as the cloud came in.  Mark told me that they had been put up in the village but in the cloud I couldn’t follow the directions they’d given me so I made for the biggest house I could find.  I stood outside catching my breath when a woman emerged, saw me and disappeared back inside.  Not a good start but she soon reappeared with a little stool and gestured for me to sit on it.  I smiled at her and she smiled at me.  I then tried miming eating & sleeping and pointing inside.  Clearly she got the message as she beckoned for me to follow, cleared a bed in a spare room and indicated I put my bag there and then made a place for me next to two other women by a smoky fire.  Soon a cup of tea was produced and I was sorted.  The evening meal was rice and vegetables, no surprise there, but the rice tasted as if it had been cooked rather than grown with fertiliser and I found it almost inedible.  I managed what I could, mimed some terrible sickness and retired to my room. 

leaving Ilam

north of Ilam looking east

view from Hanga Than back towards Ilam
 
22 December 1979.  I left my lodgings at Hanga Than at 06:30 giving the man of the house, who had appeared and seemed to take charge, some money for my food and accommodation and indicating that I was going into the forest and would be back later to stay another night.  I had a superb day in the forest above the village despite the cloud coming down at 13:30 and my then walking around in almost zero visibility for another three hours before finally quitting.  Fortunately I was able to find my way back to my lodgings but there were times when I wondered if I might not as the cloud was so thick.  I saw 6 Maroon-backed Accentors, a female White-bowed Bush Robin, a very confiding Tailed Wren-Babbler, two Streak-breasted and a Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, 10 Scaly Laughingthrushes and two superb male Fire-tailed Myzornis.  All were new, the latter I described as easily the best new bird this trip, a feeling reinforced I’m sure by their behaviour with one being seen hopping a short way up a mossy bank like a Wallcreeper and hovering like a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler.  What a combination!  The Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler and Tailed Wren-Babbler were seen while going into the forest for a call of nature, the latter nearly always being too close to focus.  Other good birds seen included Barred Owlet, Eye-browed Thrush, 4 Red-flanked Bluetails, 12 Ashy-throated, 2 Orange-barred and a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, 6 Red-headed, 10 Striated and 14 Black-faced Laughingthrushes, male Gould’s Sunbird and a Gold-billed Blue Magpie perched on a cow!  Dinner was even more embarrassing with my hosts making a real effort and me not being able to eat much of it.  It was hard to say which I was enjoying the least, it or my awful biscuits.
returning to Hanga Than, my house was the right-hand one on the distant hillside.  Note walking bush, centre-right, one of the local women returning from/with the forest
 
23 December 1979.  Another day at Hanga Than.  I left my lodgings at 06:30 paying for another night and promising to return.  I birded up in the forest above the village, climbing slowly for most of the morning.  I started back anticipating an early return of the cloud but thankfully it held off until 15:30 and after another hour or so of trying to identify silhouettes in the cloud I was back inside at 16:45.  Only two new birds today, 4 Rufous-caped Babblers and a superb flock of 10 Brown Bullfinches which were much nicer than their name suggested.  Also 3 Kalij Pheasants (2 males), 3 Alpine Swifts, 7 Maroon-backed Accentors, 4 White-browed Bush Robins, 2 Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Chestnut-headed Tesias, a Spotted and 13 Scaly Laughingthrushes, and best of all another 3 Fire-tailed Myzornis.  Catering was exciting as previously and the man of the house had gone into Ilam, presumably to spend the money I’d been giving them for my food and lodging.  This made me feel a bit guilty that I’d not given it directly to his wife, after all she was doing all the looking after me.
24 December 1979.  I decided to have the first few hours in the forest above the village before heading back to Ilam and Kathmandu.  It was the most productive time of the day and between 06:30 and 09:30 I saw a 4 Kalij Pheasants (3 males), 2 Maroon-backed Accentors, a Grey-winged and 2 White-collared Blackbirds, 2 Fire-tailed Myzornis (brilliant as ever).  I grabbed my bag and paid the lady of the house who seemed delighted.  I walked fairly steadily, dropping down to the valley bottom and climbing up the other side to contour back to Ilam.  A Red-billed Leothrix was new for me and the pick of a reasonable selection of birds seen which included 75 Olive-backed Pipits, 2 Rufous-breasted Accentors, Lesser Whitethroat, 25 Orange-barred and 5 Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, 4 Red-tailed Minlas, 4 Grey-backed Shrikes and 10 Little Buntings.  I arrived in Ilam at 16:10 to find that there was a national bus strike and the only way to get out to the main road was on foot, not that there was any guarantee that things would be better there but at least I’d be a bit closer to home and would hopefully have more options.  Unfortunately it was 78 kms (50 miles) which at an average of 3 mph would take me 17 hours.  I'd been looking forward to some more agreeable food but decided to have a quick cup of tea and then set off immediately and see how far I got.  I left Ilam at 16:20 and started walking briskly while it was still light.  It got dark all too soon, yet another occasion I rued not having brought a torch, but there was enough moonlight to show me the road although not all the potholes.  I could read some of the intermittent km markers to keep track of my progress and kept walking until 02:10 by which time my feet were feeling a bit sore.  Happy Christmas!
view looking back to Hanga Than on my return to Ilam.  Hanga Than and the good forest above it is on the far right hillside

25 December 1979.  By 02:10 I had been walking solidly for almost 10 hours and covered 48 kms.  I felt that a few hours sleep would be advantageous, especially as I was at the top of a downward stretch and hoped there may be some short-cuts between the road’s zig-zags that would be evident in daylight.  I slept beside the road and woke at 06:00 with my feet still sore and a very stiff left calf.  I reassembled my stuff and left at 06:10 as it was starting to get light.  I found a few short-cuts, saw a Nepal Fulvetta (a new bird), had excellent views of a Wallcreeper by the road (which I judged to be a better bird than Fire-tailed Myzornis but it was pretty close) and stopped at a house where I was offered a cup of tea.  Lovely, or so I’d expected but it was completely spoiled for me by having pepper added to it.  Strange tastes they have in East Nepal!  Still recovering from my disappointment over the tea I found a Radde’s Warbler (the first record for Nepal) by the road and also saw 6 Hill Mynas and a Lesser Adjutant Stork.  I arrived at Charali at 12:10.  Buses seemed to be back to normal and I caught one to Kaknvitta.  With the state of my feet and my generally feeling run down I decided not to revisit to Kosi Barrage but instead go straight back to Kathmandu.  I got a ticket for a bus at 15:00 and left ten minutes later although after 40 minutes it turned around and returned – another strike.  My second attempt at leaving was when I awoke in the dark to the sound of horns.  Disbelieving my watch which said it was 22:00, it felt close to dawn, I got up to some confusion.  After an hour I was told that the bus definitely was not going until the morning so I went back to bed.  Certainly a memorable Christmas, but not one I was in a hurry to repeat!
 
26 December 1979.  I was up at 04:30 and the bus finally left at 05:40.  It was a long and after a while rather uncomfortable journey to Kathmandu where I arrived at 19:30.  Birds seen from the bus included 6 Lesser Adjutant Storks, Egyptian Vulture, 8 Little Green Bee-eaters, 2 Citrine Wagtails and 5 Brown Shrikes.  I was pleased to be back in Kathmandu.



Thursday, 6 December 1979

NEPAL 1979/80: Muktinath to Pokhara

22 November 1979.  Having slept poorly I decided, at some point in the middle of the night, to press on.  Unfortunately I then overslept and before I knew it, it was getting light.  I quickly packed and left Muktinath in a hurry at 07:00, already an hour behind schedule.  It was a much duller day with the weather having taken a turn for the worst with ominous clouds ahead.  I was also carrying my bag and making slower progress although my spirits were raised by groups of 5 and then 4 Himalayan Snowcock gliding across the valley calling (a quickening chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, …).  The last group landed showing their pale grey heads and tails contrasting with dark grey bodies and almost black underparts.  Further up 14 Tibetan Snowcock flew across the valley.  When they landed these were much less contrasting and noticeably paler – almost whitish - on the underparts than the Himalayan.  The weather continued deteriorating and at noon it started snowing lightly.  This time yesterday I’d started on my way back down.  I finally arrived at Thorong La at 13:00, the climb having taken an hour longer due to carrying a bag and a few more (birding) stops on the way.  By now the snow had settled and was covering the ground just enough to make the trail difficult to follow.  It was now decision time.  I had 4 hours before it got dark to cover the 10 miles to Manang, the next village.  It was all downhill so that was possible despite having been an hour late leaving Muktinath, something I was now cursing.  To get to Manang I needed to be able to follow the trail which I could only just make out under the settling snow.  Coming up the valley to the pass it had been easy to follow over bare ground with small cairns marking the way.  Under even a light covering of snow the trail disappeared in places and the cairns might not be so obvious, but as the trail dropped, as it did fairly quickly, I would expect the snow to be less and the trail easier to follow again, more so as the map showed it dropping into and following a valley.  I had to make a quick decision as time was against me.  Just before the pass I’d noticed that I was following a set of footprints in the snow.  This was reassuring, assuming that whoever made them knew where they were going!  I decided to press on and without further ado continued over the pass.  The snow continued, visibility worsened, the trail descended rather slowly and the footprints became less distinct.  I increased my pace but only succeeded in slipping a couple of times and slowed down for fear of falling badly.  I felt I’d passed the point of no return and kept going for a rather anxious 20 minutes before the trail started to drop more noticeably, the snow started to thin out and the trail became more evident.  Soon visibility improved, I could see my way towards the bottom of the valley and I relaxed although I Was still concerned about making Mustang before it got dark.  At about 16:30, with the weather closing in and the snow starting again, I came to a camp by an old shepherd’s hut which my map placed at just below 14,000 feet.  Some guides and porters with a large trekking group had made a camp there and a couple of the guides invited me to join them and found me a space in the corner.  The roof might have been a bit leaky at this point but I had no complaints and was very happy.  We had little common language and I probably sat there grinning at them for ages.  I was about 4 miles short of Manang and had walked 10 miles, climbed 5000 feet and dropped 4000.  I’d seen 23 snowcocks, 25 Himalayan Accentors, a Guldenstadt’s Redstart, a Stoliczka’s Tit-Warbler perched on bushes in the snow and 3 male Great and a female Spotted Rosefinch.  A very satisfying day.
starting up Thorong La day two, the frozen stream was not an encouraging start
cloudy, half-way up
above the clouds
made it, but what a difference 24 hours can make
over the pass, trail not that obvious
hard to put the words of Yes's South side of the sky out of my mind - 'a river a mountain to be crossed, the sunshine in mountains sometimes lost  ... "
dropping lower the trail became more obvious

23 November 1979.  I slept really well, although it was quite cold and a bit damp.  I said goodbye to my Sherpa hosts and left the hut at 06:40 heading down the valley.  I kept walking through Manang seeing nowhere I fancied stopping to eat and continued on my way finally reaching Pisang at 16:45.  It was a relatively easy 16 mile walk, mainly downhill following the Marsyandi Khola, first on the northern/eastern side and then after Braga the trail crossed to the southern side before crossing back at Pisang.  It passed through some decent looking woodland patches although being in a valley it felt somewhat restrictive, with perhaps the south bank more so than the north?  It was my first day without a new bird although I saw 13 Guldenstadt’s and 7 White-throated Redstarts, 20 Brown and 50 Robin Accentors, 3 Red-throated Thrushes, 3 Stolickza’s Tit-Warblers, 25 Nutcrackers and 560 Chough.  I also flushed a Solitary Snipe from beside the trail, saw what I thought was a Falcated Duck on the river (like a Wigeon in flight and a Gadwall on the water) and heard two snowcocks that I couldn’t locate.  Pisang was just below 10,000 feet and was noticeably warmer than the hut above Manang.
early morning from the hut, looking back up towards the Thorong La
view SE from the hut heading down to Manang, the fine weather didn't look like lasting ...
view NW from south of the hut
view north from further south of the hut
Gunsang from the north
view west from above Gunsang
below the snowline, dropping down to Manang
above Manang
looking n from above Manang
leaving Manang - typical Tibetan houses 
view south to Annapurna IV, south of Manang
looking north back towards Manang
Braga, built into the hillside
south of Braga, view north
south of Braga, looking further south
north of Ongre
south of Ongre with weird photographic degredation
distant Nutcracker top left, honest
north of Pisang, in under a day I'd dropped from above the tree line to conifer forests
approaching Pisang
24 November 1979.  With no birding sites to aim for I was just walking and stopping when I felt like it or encountered birds.  Being in the bottom of a valley any interesting habitat away from the trail involved a steep climb which I was usually reluctant to do.  This invariably meant that I was making reasonable progress and today I left Pisang at 06:30, crossed back over the river and walked 17 miles to Bagarchap, arriving at 16:45.  I was still following the river through some nice but small patches of forest.  I crossed it again south of Pisang and back to the south side at Chame where the valley narrowed.  The trail was good and the bridges study, although often they had a few broken or missing planks.  By Bagarchap I had dropped to little over 7000 feet and it certainly felt it.  There were few other trekkers on this route, the season was coming to an end as the weather got worse (fewer clear skies for mountain views), and villages were more widely spaced than on the Jomson side.  The deep valley I was in cut between the Annapurnas to the west and Manaslu to the east, although views of any mountains were infrequent.  Today’s highlight was a superb Chestnut-headed Tesia (a much wanted new bird for me) and I also saw 5 Red-throated and 25 Black-throated Thrushes, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, 5 each of Hodgson’s and White-throated Redstarts, single Little and Spotted Forktails and 3 Red-headed Bullfinches.
the bridge at Pisang
view west from Pisang

forest trail south of Pisang

bridge south of Chame
waterfall near Thangja
25 November 1979.  I left Bagarchap at 06:30 and followed the river, crossing it three times, as it descending to Bahundanda where I arrived at 17:30.  I had walked 16 miles and was now below 4000 feet.  It was much warmer and I was wishing I’d fewer clothes as I was carrying more than I was wearing.  I stayed in a new lodge run by a young couple, having been accosted by their young daughter as I entered town.  I’m not sure they were really set up to provide accommodation but after a decent meal I persuaded them to let me sleep on their floor.  A fairly forgettable day, birds seen included a Spotted Forktail, a Wallcreeper flying along the far side of the river (my worst view to date) and towards the end of the day 2 Great Barbets which were new for me.
looking S towards Jagat
approaching Bhaudanda
Bhaudanda
26 November 1979.  Another long day following the river and another 16 miles covered.  By now I was keen to get to the road-head at Dumre and back to Kathmandu.  I said goodbye to my hosts and left Bahundanda at 06:55 walking fairly steadily to Phalesangu where I arrived at 16:45.  I crossed the river once, at Lamjung, and was now on the west bank at an altitude of 2000 feet, the lowest I’d yet stayed in Nepal.  Best birds were a male Golden Bush Robin that appeared when I tried some random pisching by a patch of scrub, a Pale-chinned Niltava and five Himalayan Rubythroats.  Four of the latter were males, one singing, another calling and very active, one with white moustacials making it the Tibetan race and the other three without.  I also had amazing views of a Wallcreeper, my 11th of the trip which I watched wipe its bill on the rock face, 10 Grey-headed Parakeets and 2 Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babblers.
south of Bhaudanda
looking north from Nayagaan
north of Phalaesangu
27 November 1979.  I was now in range of Dumre and determined to get there.  I left Phalesangu at 07:00 and followed the west bank of the river all the way.  The trail was often beside fields and not very inspiring.  A male Slaty-blue Flycatcher was the highlight and I also saw a Goosander, 12 Indian Rollers, 2 Blue-throated Barbets and 2 Large Cuckoo-Shrikes.  I arrived in Dumre at 16:00 having walked 20 miles, although across easy terrain – A long day’s walk and I was glad to get off my feet at the end of it.


south of Phalaesangu
28 November 1979.  I caught the first bus back to Kathmandu at 06:30 and arrived at 14:00.  For much of the journey the river was on my side and I saw 4 Woolly-necked Storks, a Crested Kingfisher, 2 Brown Dippers, 21 Plumbeous Redstarts, 6 River Chats, 6 Blue Whistling Thrushes and 2 Wallcreepers (neither well).  Back in Kathmandu I found a better lodge and headed for Stylist Pie shop where I overdid the Lemon Meringue Pie and Apple Crumble before returning to my room with indigestion!  Kathmandu seems a lot more inviting after a long trek than it did fresh off the plane from the UK.

29-30 November 1979.  A couple of days in Kathmandu spent reading, relaxing, (over) eating and preparing for the lowlands.  Only a few common birds were seen.

1 December 1979.  I caught the 07:00 bus to Hetauda flushing a Wallcreeper from the roadside as we approached the rim of the Kathmandu Valley, my 14th for the trip and, according to Fleming’s Birds of Nepal, a first for the Kathmandu Valley?  The journey to Hetauda involved crossing a range of small mountains south of Kathmandu from where Mt. Everest could be seen in the distance from a viewpoint.  It was otherwise very tedious with few birds seen and us not arriving until 15:45.  I checked into a hotel, dumped my bag, and walked west out of town to the river.  I was now in the lowlands and it felt like it.  A little way out of town I could get to the large shingle banks of the river and after what seemed like a long time I found two Ibisbills feeding surprisingly unobtrusively.  My first new bird for five days, they were superb, bobbing once or twice like the nearby Common Sandpipers.  I also saw 2 Long-billed Plovers and a selection of other waders including Little Ringed Plover, River Lapwing, Temminck’s Stint, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank.  A Spotted Owlet on the way back into town was an excellent finish to the day.
distant view of Himalayas from bus to Hetauda
2 December 1979.  I got a bus west along the Terai towards Butwal.  Soon after Hetauda we skirted the top end of Chitwan and then just after Bharatpur we crossed a large river on a ferry that seemed little more than a raft.  This stop gave me chance to see a few birds including Black Ibis, Lesser Fishing Eagle and Black-bellied Tern, all of which were new.  We then tracked along north of Chitwan and near its north-western extremity, at about 14:00, I got off in a small village by the Arung Khola where I found lodging.  I would use this as a base to visit Tamaspur which backed on to the river which formed Chitwan’s northern boundary.  The only problem was that I was unable to locate anyone in the village who knew where Tamaspur was!  Fortunately Frank Lambert had drawn me a map which seemed to fit the area reasonably well and I set off down what I hoped was the right track, entering open (managed?) woodland almost immediately.  I walked fairly quickly down the track for an hour and a half hoping to hoping to reach better habitat at its end.  It was longer or, with a few distractions (Alexandrine Parakeet, Lesser Golden-backed and Yellow-naped Woodpeckers and Common Wood Shrike), I was slower than anticipated and had to turn back before getting to Tamaspur.  I got back to Arung Khola village quicker than I’d anticipated, at 16:45, with a good half hour of light left. 
tortoise at Tamaspur
3 December 1979.  I took supplies and enough water to last me the day and left Arung Khola at 06:40 walking down the track through the open forest and arriving at Tamaspur a couple of hours later.  It was a superb area of forest, scrub and the gravel river bank.  I saw almost 90 species of which 6 were new.  The highlights were 8 Peafowl, an adult Great Black-headed Gull, 5 Emerald Doves, 10 Pompadour Green Pigeons, Jungle Owlet, White’s Thrush, 2 male Siberian and a male Himalayan Rubythroat, 40 Olive-backed Pipits, .3 Tickell’s and 2 Dusky Warblers (one with no tail), Pale-chinned Niltava and Chestnut-bellied and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches.  I had a better idea of how long it would take to walk back and returned at 17:15.

4 December 1979.  Another day trip to Tamaspur.  I left Arung Khola village at 06:15 and returned at 17:15.  The walk through the open forest was a bit tedious but otherwise it was a really excellent day during which I saw 113 species of which 10 were new.  Highlights were a Wallcreeper flying across the Arung Khola river and hopping about on small boulders at the water’s edge, a Slaty-bellied Tesia and a flock of 12 Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes.  I also saw 2 Black Ibis, 2 Lesser Adjutant and 26 Black Storks, 17 Little Pratincoles, 2 River Terns, 4 Bluethroats, a Smoky Warbler and 16 Red-breasted Flycatchers.  The only disappointment was no hoped for Orange-headed Ground Thrush.

5 December 1979.  A third day trip to Tamaspur.  I left Arung Khola village at 06:20 and returned at 17:30 just as it got dark.  Today’s highlight was a Rhino I saw in scrub by the river.  I got excellent views as it did not seem too concerned by me, or perhaps was not aware that I was there, but I was careful to always have a tree between us.  Best birds included a 9 Black Ibis, 8 Peafowl, Red Junglefowl, 10 Blossom-headed Parakeets, White’s Thrush, a Tickell’s, 3 Smoky and a Sulphur-bellied Warbler, 2 Pale-chinned Niltavas, male Snowy-browed Flycatcher, 14 Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes and a male Avadavat.  I’d seen and enjoyed the antics of Alexandrine Parakeets each day and today one was creeping vertically down a tree trunk like a nuthatch.  Further value was provided by a rather pathetic caged individual kept by the owner of my lodge when it was let out to show me when it was clear I was interested in birds.  It sat on the edge of the table eyeing me up as I wrote up my notes and nipped me although did not draw blood.  I cautiously pointed my pencil at it and crunch, it took a lump of wood out of it and almost snapped it in two.  It looked as if its primaries had been cut off and its tail was very stumpy poor thing.  Today I was halfway through my visit to Nepal and had to decide what to do.  I wanted to spend a few days in the Kathmandu Valley and also go to east Nepal (Kosi Barage and Hanga Than) but looked to have a week or ten days free.  Options were to spend longer at these and here at Tamaspur, where I stood a chance of Orange-headed Ground Thrush, or head back to Pokhara in the hope of getting a flight to Jomson and spend a week or so walking out or failing that walk up to Ghoropani for a couple of days.  Being a month later more of the birds I’d hoped for but missed the first time might have come in, after all it had been snowing the day I crossed the Thong La.  Tamaspur was nice, despite the walk in and out every day, but I decided to press on in the morning.
Rhino,  very obscured slightly left of centre at Tamaspur
6 December 1979.  I was on the road in Arung Khola soon after first light and at 07:00 flagged down a bus to Butwal.  From there I caught another bus to Pokhara.  Neither were express buses and so the journeys were slow with plenty of stops.  Birds seen included 2 Black, 2 Egyptian and 30 White-backed Vultures, 2 Steppe Eagles and my 16th Wallcreeper of the trip.  I got off the bus opposite Pokhara Airport, a short way south of town, at 18:30, the last hour of the journey having been in darkness.  I found a hotel and while sorting my stuff out discovered another disadvantage of being on a stopping bus.  The express buses secured luggage on their roof under tied down tarpaulins making them tamper proof.  On these stopping buses no such tarpaulins were used and some kids had got on the roof at some stage and rifled the contents of my rucksack’s side pockets.  Not something I’d considered when putting my bag on the roof and doubly annoying when neither of the buses were that full so I could have kept it with me inside.  I’d not lost much but some annoying things – my two spare pairs of socks, one of which I’d washed out and was drying, some food, soap, shampoo and a few medicines.