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
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.

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